Purpose of Education…

Today President Obama spoke about his hopes and dreams for improving education here in our great country.  You can read more about it here.   I certainly don’t argue with him about the need to improve our educational system.  But I would like to take issue with him (and basically every President previous that I have known) about the REASONS WHY he wants to improve our education.  According to Obama and the general thinking of our age, the general purpose of education is to drive the economy and provide jobs for everyone.  Now, I am not arguing that education is a (or “the”) main driving force of our economic engine.  It is.  And not only is it important on the larger national scale, it is also important for us individually in the struggle to get a job and sustain our families economically.

HOWEVER…  The question is if this should be THE purpose in education?  Is EVERYTHING about seeking after the cares of this world?  Perhaps this week’s scripture lections will teach us differently.  King Solomon speaks of the vanity of seeking after the things of this world.  Jesus speaks about the rich fool whose only care is building bigger barns.  And in Colossians:

Col. 3:1-2 (ESV)

If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God.  2Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.

At The Lutheran Academy we have a much different aim for education:  to equip God’s people for SERVICE to God and our fellow man…  The purpose of education is to identify and nurture those gifts which God gives each person – so that their lives might be a beautiful praise to the Lord.  The purpose of education is to set our minds not on earthly things, but on HEAVENLY things.

Yes, through our education we might very well be blessed in obtaining the things of this world.  Praise be to God from whom all good things come.  But these things are secondary.  They are by-products of a heart set on loving and serving God and our fellow man.

Take it or leave it.  But there is blessing in trusting the Lord on this!

Hymn: “The Family Tree”

Our sermon series called “The Family Tree” is finally over, and so is the verse writing!  Below are all the nine verses to the hymn.  I hope you enjoyed it!

HYMN: “The Family Tree”  by Rev. Kristian Bjornstad

(This hymn is set to the tune of “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  Its words were originally crafted to accompany a sermon series on the Christian Family, but they may be used however one would like.  The nine verses roughly follow LCMS lection themes for the first nine Sunday’s after Pentecost, series C.)

What a Tree to shade and keep us.
Ever strong for family.
Father, Mother, Sister, Brother,
Bound in fleshly bonds of love.
Beaten, worn and torn asunder
by the lying Evil One.
Bring us now under your shelter
Heal us by the Blessed Tree.

Calv’ry’s Tree to shade and keep us.
Grand enough for all to share.
Parents, children, kindred brethren
All together celebrate!
Children are a Godly blessing
Bringing happiness and joy
Treasure, love and nurture each one
Under His Redemptive Tree.

Tree of Life that nurtures families
Yielding us it’s lavish fruits;
Husband, Wife, they come together
Bound by holy vows of love.
Sharing life and every struggle
Joy and happiness are found
Giving, bearing and forgiving
Side by side under the Tree.

What a Tree to save all families
Beauty, strength with tenderness.
Roots implanted in the bedrock
Of eternal love and peace.
Hatred, strife and hurtful malice
Lay to waste our harmony.
Bring repentance to our hearts, Lord.
Grant our households one accord.

Blessed Tree o’er all things tow’ring
Sovereign over all the world.
Choose this day whom you will worship
Rich rewards are His to give.
Let devotion to our families
Never shame our Love for God.
Jesus’ won for us salvation –
Lift your eyes unto the Tree.

Shout for joy to God, you families;
Sing the glory of his Tree;
Come and see what God is doing
He is awesome in his deeds.
Godly families pray and worship
In their working gladly share
With the world a hope and gladness –
Bringing all under the Tree.

In the Tree we see God’s Glory
Suff’ring, pain and sacrifice
Brings release for contrite sinners
Pilgrims in a foreign land.
Free to be the Lord’s dear fam’ly
Living now as to the Lord.
“You shall walk in all my statutes.
This is true: I am the Lord”

Sacred Tree for gathered fam’lies
At the Master’s feet we share.
His the Gospel of Salvation
His the Way, the Truth and Life.
Lives distracted, anxious, troubled
With the cares of daily life;
Families heed the goodly portion
Never will its blessing fade!

Cherished Tree of Faithful Families
Under which our prayers are prayed.
Jesus hears our sighing whispers
Spoken from our wav’ring hearts.
Asking, seeking, and imploring
Christian families thrill to know
Under this same holy Christ Tree
Father God pours out His gifts.

Kidney Donation Announcement

This past week Wednesday was spent in Baltimore, MD at Johns Hopkins Medical Hospital undergoing the final evaluation and testing to become a kidney donor.  The doctors are very confident of my ability to qualify medically and I am awaiting the final “OK” to schedule the operation to donate my kidney to congregational member Mark Koenig.  This process to this point has taken about 3 months now.  It has not been difficult at all, but only a bit slow.  I am asking for your prayers that we might be able to arrange the operation for the end of August – as that figures the best into my schedule!


+ I do thank my wife especially, and also the church council, for being so very willing to go along with this plan!  As the doctors of course repeated over and over again, there are risks involved with any surgery.  However they are very low indeed for this particular surgery!  I assume much more risk just driving down to Baltimore for the surgery.

+ Although it is considered major surgery, everything is done laparoscopically (through holes in the abdomen) and so recovery time is quite short. I hope that I MIGHT be able to preach the Sunday sermon the week following the surgery.

+ There should be NO practical limitations or impacts on my life with only one kidney until perhaps if I reach a very old age – at which time I might have to go on dialysis.  On the other hand, Mark’s quality of life should be improved dramatically.  The reality is that dialysis is not a cure for Mark’s kidney disease.  According to the doctors, every year that he is hooked up to dialysis there is a 10% chance he will die.


+ Firstly, of course, I hope to contribute to the good health of Mark.  Mark has been a member of Peace for a couple years now and he has seen quite a few transplant opportunities fall through over that time.

+ Secondly I DO hope to be an encouragement for others to donate a life-giving gift!  That means YOU!  There are about 170,000 individuals in the US awaiting a lifesaving kidney donation.  You don’t even have to know anyone specifically in need to donate!  What I have learned is that you can give your kidney (I think the word is) “altruistically“ – to whoever needs it the most and whoever matches your blood type best.  You can learn much more about it at www.donors1.org.  I want to thank Marcia Rudat, RN and Parish Nurse at St. Stephen’s Lutheran Church in Dickson City, for encouraging me in this endeavor!  She is highly involved with the Gift of Life Donor Program along with our own church Elder Kevin Woolverton.  Thanks also to Susan Crosbie, RN, our own Parish Nurse for her encouragement and prayers as well!

+ Thirdly, it is a growth opportunity for myself, and I pray that God would bless me through it all.  I pray (and you can too, please) that God would bless me with greater faith and love and courage to serve Him in my whole life.  I also pray that God would give me a new perspective on life from a hospital bed!  I have never been seriously ill.  I haven’t been to the doctor in ages.  I am hoping that I will have a greater understanding and sympathy for those who ARE ill and lying in the hospital bed wondering HOW the next procedure or test is going to go.  Of course it won’t be QUITE the same, but I am hopeful that some of the experience will be helpful for me in ministering to the people that I love, the members of this congregation.

Thank YOU so much for all your prayers and love for both Mark and I!  We covet them!

Your servant in Jesus – Pastor Bjornstad


June 28-29
LCMS World Relief and Human Care Disaster Relief Conference
St. Louis, MO

(A VERY SHORT BUT EXCELLENT CONFERENCE! I was attending as a poor fellow now appointed as the Eastern District Disaster Relief Coordinator.)

Cell Phones take over.
I don’t fly so very much, but before I left this time I wanted to be prepared to speak with my seat-mate and give a witness to Christ – if I possibly could. I brought along some small prayer cards that I have been trying to hand out and looked forward to the opportunity. But as soon as I came down the isle after boarding the plane I realized that there was very little chance that I was going to be able to share much of anything with anyone. Almost everyone was seated, plugged into and staring at their cell phones and gadgets. I sat down next to this one fellow who was trying to close a business deal on his iPhone before he had to shut it off for takeoff. In the few minutes he had it off I introduced myself and tried to make a couple comments about how I loved Apple products, etc., but the only thing he said was his name when I shared my own and extended a hand shake. Anyway, I am praying for Chad! Finally on the way back I got to sit next to an iPhone-less elderly Arab man who obviously really needed the Gospel. Unfortunately he couldn’t understand a word of English! I did get to shake his hand and help him unbuckle his seatbelt. I will pray for him as well.

The God Perspective.
It is a very amazing thing to fly and see our great country from the sky. From the Great Lake Michigan, the heights of Chicago, the snakes of freeway, the expanse and jigsaw puzzle of great fields of every kind of crop. So many gifts. So rich a land. So blessed beyond all imagination. And to think of all the people! Millions upon millions! Rich, poor, happy, sad, young, old, faithful and godless. Every one of them is known inside and out. Every hair counted. Every one loved by our Lord. Every one is forgiven in the cross of Christ. But so many have not heard! So many have rejected His free gifts. So MANY will not benefit from that cross!

Sitting down with Lee Belmas.
Not having any idea of who anyone at the conference was I walked into the room of about 50 folks and just sat down next to the first welcoming sort of fellow I could see. I shook hands and introduced myself. He gaped just slightly, and with a big smile shared that his name was Lee Belmas and that he was a member of St. Mark’s Lutheran Church in Wausau Wisconsin. My father only worked at that church from 1981-85! He remembered me when I was in High School! Not only that, a bit later I overheard his conversation with a fellow across the table as they were sharing how they had both received kidney transplants some years ago. He was such an encouragement to me as I am preparing to donate my own spare kidney!

The Learning.
The highlight of the conference was a powerful presentation by Tim Hetzner, President of Lutheran Church Charities, on funding the disaster relief work of your congregation. He spoke generally around the events surrounding the feeding of the five thousand. However, he touched on a number of issues to an absolutely transfixed audience. Some of the highlights:
We profess in the creed that God “created” the world. But we need to go a bit further and affirm that God OWNS the world, the universe and EVERYTHING in it. He just didn’t create it and just let it go. He is intimately involved in EVERYTHING that is and happens.
Then why do disasters happen? We ask “God, why do you allow this all to happen?” “Why didn’t you stop it?” Actually God does stop many disasters. We just don’t know when he does because the disasters never happen and life goes on normally. But when he does allow them, he does so that the Kingdom of God might be advanced.
This being the case we must understand that in EVERY disaster there will ALWAYS be an opportunity for the church to proclaim the Gospel and advance the Kingdom of God. ALWAYS. EVERY TIME. This is the PLAN and WILL of God! This means something for the church, right? It means that we should not be surprised at disasters, but be eager to be the body of Christ and His presence in the midst of them, bringing his mercy and Gospel to all those who are discovering that they are in need.
Best quote of the conference: “Don’t wait for disasters to occur. Create them!” Of course he isn’t advocating a literal reading of this statement. But this is the lesson: take the opportunity to sharpen the caring and mercy skills of the church in every smaller “disaster” that takes place. A BIBLE TRUTH: Every one of us has been created to love and care for each other! AGAIN: We were CREATED to LOVE AND CARE for each other! It is good for us!

TEACHING ON “COME LORD JESUS”: We pray a “Lutheran” prayer: “Come, Lord Jesus, be our guest” at our dinner tables. But let us stop and think about this. Is it our table? And who is the guest? Actually it is Jesus who invites us to His table! We are the guests!
But let us, for moment, go along with this prayer full of false doctrine! If Jesus IS our guest, how do we treat that guest? Do we treat our guest with an empty plate? Or do we give our guest the first and best portion of the meal? And so then the next question is: “Who are we to consider to be Jesus?” Jesus answers this question: The one who is hungry. The one who is in need. So let us not be so reticent to give those who are in need the best of what we have, even better than what we ourselves serve ourselves!

LET’S GET ONE THING STRAIGHT: The teaching of ten percent tithing is not biblical. What is biblical is that we own nothing. God owns it all. We cannot GIVE anything back to God. God has given us what we have so that we might be good stewards and bless others. And we do this that our heavenly Father would be glorified in every way.

CONFESSION: Although I attempt to practice a true and honest stewardship of all that the Lord allows me to manage, I confess that I have been very reticent to preach the full force of this teaching. It is really much easier to tell people to just give to God a percentage and then you can spend all the rest just the way you want! I realize that I need change this and be honest with you, my congregation.
There is not a money problem in the church and in the world. There is only a faith problem.

Mirror, Mirror, on the Wall.
Walking into my room at the very beautiful Crown Plaza Hotel (where our conference was) I glanced around the bathroom. There was, of course, the very large mirror that spanned the entire width of the wall above the sink. But on the wall to the left of the sink was another, smaller, rounded mirror that could be maneuvered away from the wall into any position you needed. But as I glanced over it I noticed that the image that it returned to me was not at all what I had ever seen before! What I saw instead of my full face was huge nose hair and the magnified stubble of my beard! It was quite the sight to see close up all my imperfections -which I have never before even bothered to look at (being the “man” that I am!) Wow! So THAT is who I really am! It is kind of like that with my spiritual life too. If I don’t look into that mirror called the scripture, it is easy to ignore my fallen and rebellious heart. But if we take the time and ask God for the courage, He will not only show us our sins, but magnify our beautiful Savior Jesus Christ – and through faith in His grace, bring us to heaven. Mirror, Mirror, on the wall, who is the fairest one of all? Jesus – indeed! Not me! Praise be to God.

A happy (______ ________) family.
Monday evening during the dinner break I went for a walk instead of eating. There was quite a nice park nearby the hotel with a walking trail through some woods. It was an absolutely stunning evening and as I began my walk I was confronted with an astonishing sight: A young man and woman (presumably married), pushing a carriage stroller with a baby. And along side them was a most cheerful little girl holding a leash to a small little dog. They were walking together as a family in a beautifully kept park. And they were so obviously happy. And? So? So what was so astonishing? This family was African American! Now as you were reading along in that description of the family, let’s be honest, you were envisioning this family as being the perfect white suburban family. Here in Scranton we just do NOT see this scene. And, although I am conflicted about the value of that stereotype and it’s assumed bliss, it was still wonderful to see!

News from Haiti: “Building Homes and Hope in Haiti”.
Those who attended the convention were able to see the powerful impact that the mercy ministry in Haiti has had on the staff of the LCMS World Relief and Human Care. There is news on what the LCMS is going to be doing over the next three years in ministering to the needs of this devastated country. I truly hope that we can contribute here at Peace Lutheran and our area congregations together to the healing and rebuilding of Haiti. The LCMS has purchased three larger tracts of land in Haiti. The plan is to construct basically three whole “villages”. Haitians in need of a home fill out an application and those who are deemed most qualified are given a temporary housing unit and begin living on a tract of land. Then congregations raise the money and hopefully actually come to Haiti to build a permanent home for each family. Also in each of these “villages” a health clinic, school, orphanage, chapel, and business office are also built in order to serve the population. A congregation (or group of them) can choose to build a $4000 two room house with no plumbing, a $6000 one bedroom house, or a $8000 two bedroom house (each with kitchen, bathroom, and plumbing.) Let’s start planning NOW! You can see more at www.lcms.org/bhhh.

The Story behind the Story.
The theme of the conference was “The Story Behind the Story”, and the executive director of LCMS Disaster Relief Rev. Merrit spoke at length about the many stories behind the stories in Haiti after the earthquake January 12. Behind every person’s desperate need in the midst of disaster was a story of their lives and what brought them to this point. These stories bring value to whatever mercy we might be able to bring them through the church. It is in knowing the stories that we can experience the blessing of sharing love and compassion. And, most importantly, it is also beautiful to know that behind every story there is THE “story” of Jesus Christ and His love.

Reflections by Mellissa.
After dinner Monday evening an emergency nurse from Minnesota shared her week long (9 day?) mercy mission that took place a week after the earthquake in Haiti. It was absolutely amazing and thrilling and touching to hear of her privileged service at that time of need.
+ Called and left at a moment’s notice having never served in any kind of medical mission like it.
+ Working 12-14 hour shifts (after sleeping on 1.5 inch foam padding on concrete) with a team of doctors and nurses tending to the wounds of hundreds of Haitians being helicoptered and trucked in.
+ Smoke rising from a nearby ditch signified the burning of body parts that had been amputated.
+ Makeshift trailers served as a hospice unit and morgue. Her triage ward was the chapel of this retreat center turned emergency hospital.
+ There was much joy and laughter even in the midst of such terrible sickness and tragedy. All through these times, the witness of the Gospel was prominent and the miracles of Jesus were many! Mercy overcomes!

Taste of Heaven.
On the way back to Scranton I was getting a bit hungry exiting out of the first plane at Chicago. How fortuitous it was then that some overly full first class passenger had left a bag of “Selects Premium Snack Mix” on their seat! I snatched it up in a jiffy as I went by. “Honey Sesame Sticks, Corn Chips with Flax Seeds, Cheese Corn Sticks, Almonds” Yum, yum! I was saved from having to spend anything more on eats! God is GOOD!

I like flying though puffy clouds. They are like cotton candy. So beautiful. Thank you God for clouds!
I like to come home to my beautiful family. Thank you God for family.
A king sized hotel bed is pretty lonely without a spouse to share it with!
Check out a ministry of Comfort Dogs at www.LutheranChurchCharities.org