Sabbath Keeping

Posted June 26, 2013 by Pastor Todd Nelsen
Categories: Uncategorized

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Note to followers of PT’s Passing Thoughts:  I apologize for my lack of posting.  In December of 2012 I decided to accept a position as a Church Development Consultant with Miller Architects and Builders in St. Cloud, Minnesota.  This postion meant leaving the wonderful call of serving Fields of Grace Parish in Rural Lafayette, Minnesota.  Since that time I have been able to return to parish ministry on a part time basis as Associate Pastor for Stewardship Development at First Lutheran Church in St. James, Minnesota.     I was approached this past weekend by a follower of PT’s Passing Thoughts who wondered if I was just going to post once every 6 months.  I assured him, that I would get back to it soon.   So after a hiatus, here is a new Passing Thought…

 Sabbath Keeping

Six days you shall do your work, but on the seventh day you shall rest, so that your ox and your donkey may have relief, and your homeborn slave and the resident alien may be refreshed”.  Exodus 23:12


            It had been so long, I almost forgot what it was like.  The “it” I am referring to is leading worship.  Having spent just a little time off from pastoral duties, I had wondered to myself, if I had it in me anymore?  Happily, I am able to report, that the ember of the spirit was still glowing and all it took was a fresh breath of wind to bring it back to a kindle. When the service of installation was completed, I felt alive, refreshed, and renewed. Thank you to Pastor Christian Johnson and the members of First Lutheran Church in St. James, Minnesota for being part of returning me to the spiritual practice of Sabbath Keeping.


A new beginning at First Lutheran Church Saint James, MN

            The word Sabbath comes to us from the Hebrew word “Shabbot” which can be translated at to “cease or desist”.  After accomplishing the perfection of creations, God suspended all other work, evaluated that which was created, “it was very good” and then “ceased” working and rested.  Sabbath is such an important concept, that God gave it to the children of Israel as a covenant gift.  “Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy…For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.”  Exodus 20:8,11  This rest can and does come to us as a gift.  It is a time of “ceasing” from the busyness of the week, and centering oneself and the relationship God has established with us.

            In the brief time I was away from serving as a pastor, I had too quickly forgotten the balance of  “ceasing and centering”.  The ceasing part was easy to get use to, but I got off balance on the centering side of the scale.  That is not to say that I was a “church skipper”,  I actually found myself in worship services as part of my work with Miller Architects and Builders, but I was often distracted from worship because it wasn’t my primary reason for being present.  When I was able to attend worship for the purpose of “ceasing and centering” the experiences were great.  Those experiences brought to mind this scripture, “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!” Psalm 122:1

            Now some of you might be thinking, “but as a pastor, worshiping is part of your work.”  In one sense that is true, but in a much greater sense, walking with the body of Christ as a worship leader, I find a sense of refreshment and renewal in worship.  The work of worship (if you can call it that) is a grateful response to the blessed gift of rest, refreshment, and renewal.  In this time of summer relaxation and refreshment, I hope that you will find your “ceasing and centering” balance point so that you may proclaim:  I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the Lord!”


Just Another Passing Thought!




The Word of God Came To John

Posted December 4, 2012 by Pastor Todd Nelsen
Categories: December 2012

“…the word of God came to John son of Zechariah…”  Luke 3:2

Some of us have heroes of the faith, people who do great and extraordinary things because of their relationship with God.  For some people, these hero’s are the patriarchs and matriarchs of the Bible, folks like Abraham and Sarah, who receive the promise, trust God’s faithfulness, and become the forebears of a great nation.  Others have as their biblical heroes, people of power and strength, like David or Sampson, who draw upon God for their strength and courage.  Still others have as their hero’s one of the disciples, committed followers of Jesus who were willing to leave it all behind to fish for people.

My hero is John the Baptist.  Why?  Because John the Baptist is an unlikely hero.  As Luke tells us the story of the beginning of John the Baptists ministry, he provides us with some historical context.  He does this by listing the power brokers of the day, ” In the fifteenth year of the reign of Emperor Tiberius, when Pontius Pilate was governor of Judea, and Herod was ruler of Galilee, and his brother Philip ruler of the region of Ituraea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias ruler of Abilene,  during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas, the Word of God came to John, son of Zechariah.”  Luke 3:1-2.  In the midst of all the big shots of geopolitical, regional, local and religious importance, God’s Word comes to John.  In terms of power and prestige,  Zechariah’s son John is a nobody.  And yet, the Word of God comes to John, who will prepare the way for Jesus.

This gives me hope because Luke is about to unfold a story which shows how God works in that which is often overlooked.  God will be at work in the lives of two distant cousins, John who will “prepare the way” and Jesus who will repair the wayward.  And in the telling of the Good News of Jesus we will hear over and over again how God uses the least and the least likely to bring about our salvation.  In the wilderness a Wild and Wooly preacher will prepare the way for the one who is to come.  He will fill in the potholes on the road, he  will straighten out the paths, he will help us see the roadblocks and the obstacles that get in the way of or relationship with God.  And the one who is coming will remove the final obstacles and roadblock, our sins and bring us to the promise of new life.

As you continue your Advent-ure in faith how is God’s word coming to you?

Just Another Passing Thought!

Looking Forward

Posted November 27, 2012 by Pastor Todd Nelsen
Categories: December 2012, November 2012

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 “The days are surely coming, says the LORD, when I will fulfill the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah.”  Jeremiah 33;14

We are now in a time of transition, as we move from our celebration of Thanksgiving and lean into the season of Advent.  On the secular side of the coin, people are busy shopping for “the perfect gift”, decorating their homes, baking holiday goodies, writing Christmas letters, and making arrangements for family Christmas gatherings.  In many ways, this is a time of looking forward.  People look forward to holiday concerts, receiving Christmas greetings from distant friends and relatives, getting together with friends at Christmas parties and open houses, and of course children look forward to the arrival of the guy in the red suit with a bag full of toys. So what is it that you are looking forward to?

As we enter the season of Advent the church finds itself in a time of looking forward.  Jeremiah reminds us that we are invited to look forward to promises that only the LORD can fulfill.  This promise is one of an everlasting covenant, an agreement of grace and forgiveness that God will establish with his chosen people.  Our thoughts are drawn to the one whom God will send, “the righteous branch of David” (Jeremiah 33:15) who will usher in a time of justice and righteous in the land.  This righteous branch is Jesus, who comes to put us in a right relationship with God.

In the busyness of the season, sometimes we can lose track of what is important.  We look forward to all the events which surround our celebration of the promised Savior’s birth, but this sometimes distracts us from the central message of the good news  that God has come to live among us and with his arrival salvation has come.  As we begin this season of Advent I invite you to ponder this question, “What is it that you look forward to?”

Just Another Passing Thought!

I Am Grateful!

Posted November 22, 2012 by Pastor Todd Nelsen
Categories: November 2012

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“So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”  Colossians 2:6-7

This week families, friends, and neighbors will gather around bountiful tables filled with delicious Thanksgiving feasts.  As part of this annual ritual, many people take time to reflect upon the things for which they are thankful.  Often during this time of reflection there is a focus upon naming the blessings of family, good health and well-being.  Our celebration of thanksgiving is an important reminder to the necessity for us to recognize the source of our blessings and offer our gratitude.

The Thanksgiving Holiday should also remind us of the importance to daily express our gratitude for the abundant blessings God bestows upon our lives.  On those days when the wind is howling across the prairie carrying with it snow and freezing temperatures, we should thank God for warm coats, hats, and mittens.  When your children bring home report cards, are you grateful for teachers, school para-professionals, and all the individuals involved in education?  As you drive down the road, passing the fields of the farmers in our communities, do you pause to think about the processes that turn seed to bread?

Being grateful and expressing our gratitude is a necessity  in our lives as Christians.  It helps us to recognize that all of life is a gift, the big things and the little ones.  Daily expressions of gratitude lead us into a deeper relationship with the one who provides daily bread.  Being grateful also builds up the relationships God has given us in our family, friends and neighbors.  Gratitude also reminds us that on our own we can do nothing, but when we live our lives with an attitude of gratitude, we can recognize the innumerable blessings God bestows upon his people.

Our gratitude also helps us to see the needs of our neighbors.  When we consider our blessings, God invites us to share the abundant blessings we have received.  We are not called to be hoarders of God’s generosity, but vessels, which God uses to pour out blessings upon others.  Maybe this Thanksgiving you and your family can begin a new tradition of sharing blessings.  Gifts to a local food shelf, a meal delivered to a neighbor in need, or a visit to a nursing home or assisted living can become wonderful new way of giving thanks.

As you celebrate this thanksgiving, may you recognize God’s abundant blessings in your life.   And may each of your days be filled with gratitude and overflowing thanksgiving.  So be encouraged by these words of the Apostle Paul,  “So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.”

Happy Thanksgiving!

Just Another Passing Thought!


It Is Not Good To Be Alone!

Posted October 3, 2012 by Pastor Todd Nelsen
Categories: October 2012

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Then the LORD God said, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”  Genesis 2:18

The Bible begins with two stories of creation, which are told in the book of Genesis.  In the first story of creation in the first chapter of Genesis, after God has worked wonders in creation, God evaluates the works of creation by saying it is good.  By the last day of creation, in this first story God’s assessment of creation is elevated to being very good.  In the second account of creation in the second chapter of Genesis we are told of the intimate creation of the man, formed out of the dust of the earth, brought to life by the breath of God, placed in the beauty of God’s new garden of creation.  This newly created man is given a task, to till and care for the garden, in this he becomes the first farmer.

As we read this story of creation, by all outward appearances, things seem to be fine, or as God might evaluate the situation, very good.  There is a beautiful garden, water, trees, plants, and a caretaker to watch over God’s garden of creation.  Yet, God observes that not everything is in place yet.  God’s assessment is that something is missing.  “It is not good,” God says, “that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper as his partner.”  In this self-critique of creation, God sets the course of creating and valuing relationships.  So afterward, all sorts of animals are created, which the man is given the task of naming, but none of these are suitable partners for the man.  So out of the man, God creates a partner, a woman.  “At last,”  the man exclaims, “bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.”

It seems clear to me, that God has created us to be in relationship with others.  God’s evaluation that it is not good for us to be alone recognizes the importance of our interdependence with others.  It really isn’t good that we should be alone.  We need to companionship of a close friend, a spouse, parents, children.  As God’s creation, we are social creatures who find meaning and understanding in our relationships with those who differ from ourselves.  And as hard as we might sometimes try, we cannot live in isolation.  God has created us in a way that causes us to depend upon the presence and giftedness of the other.   I happen to believe that we need others in our lives , not just for the purpose of survival, but so that we might just get a glimpse of the face of God.

Created In The Image of God

This Sunday (The Twentieth Sunday After Pentecost)  we will hear the story of God’s creation of the gift of relationship as it is told in the second chapter of Genesis verses 18-24.  In this time of political discourse about marriage and what constitutes marriage, we could all too easily boil this scripture down to a defense of marriage.  (please note that I am not saying that is a bad or unacceptable approach)  However, I believe when we do that we miss the greater gift that God gives to us in this creation story, and that is that it is not good for us to be alone.  So God creates us to be relational beings.  We are created in the image of God, so that we can be in relationship with God.  We are created in the image of God, so that in relationship with others we might reflect God’s image to the other.  We are created in the image of God, so that in relationship with others, God’s image might be reflected back to us.

It is not good for us to be alone.  So God gives us one another, partners and helpers and reflections of God’s wonderful and amazing grace.

Just Another Passing Thought!

Change and the one who changes not.

Posted September 17, 2012 by Pastor Todd Nelsen
Categories: September 2012

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“Praise be to the name of God for ever and ever; wisdom and power are his.  He changes times and seasons; he deposes kings and raises up others. 
  He gives wisdom to the wise
 and knowledge to the discerning.”  Daniel 2:20-21

It is September and we are now witnesses to God’s beautiful transition of seasons from summer into fall.  The fields of corn surrounding our communities have changed from a deep rich green to harvest gold.  Trees in the groves and wooded areas are yielding their cool summer colors to brilliant yellows and reds.  More temperate days are followed by cooler evenings.  Once again we are experiencing “good sleeping weather”.

As schools have opened children and parents have changed their schedules.  Bed times are earlier, and morning activities greet bleary-eyed children just a bit earlier then they had during the summer.  Changes are occurring in local churches as well.  Sunday school and confirmation classes have begun, or are soon to begin.  Some congregations are beginning new Bible studies, or stewardship campaigns.  In the parish I serve, Fields of Grace Lutheran Parish, the worship times have changed.

This autumn the landscape of our neighborhoods have changed as yard signs encouraging the support of political candidates and positions pop up in our neighborhoods.  In this political season, we are bombarded with messages encouraging us either to make a change or stay the course.

And no matter the season, sometimes change occurs in our lives that comes to us unexpectedly and even unwanted.  In these times of change we are caught unaware and thrown off-balance.  Tragedy strikes, the that which occurred eleven years ago this week, and the whole world is changed.

In the midst of all of the change we are experiencing, stands one who “changest not” as the hymn Great Is Thy Faithfulness proclaims.  Our gracious God, leads and guides our journey in the midst of change.  God is the one who blesses the harvest of once green fields that have changed to gold.  It is God’s handiwork, which paints the colors of the leaves which have turned into their fiery autumn colors.  Providing gifts of wisdom and understanding, God’s hand is involved in shaping the political landscape to raise leaders who protect and preserve the blessings of freedom, justice, and liberty.    And when change occurs that throws us off course, we are invited to cling to his steadfast love and faithfulness, which will never abandon us.

As we transition from summer into autumn, may the presence of the one who does not change, bless you in the midst of all the changes life will bring.

Just Another Passing Thought!

In The Midst of the Mess

Posted August 23, 2012 by Pastor Todd Nelsen
Categories: August 2012

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“Bless the Lord, all his works, and in all places of his dominion. Bless the Lord, O my soul.  Psalm 103:22

Bishop Jon Anderson, of the Southwestern Minnesota Synod, of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, often asks the following question when meeting with a group:  “What is the sweetest thing God is up to in your context?”  It’s a good question because it prompts people to consider God’s activity in the midst of what we sometimes believe is mundane and ordinary. This question helps stretch the imagination and look into the ordinary to see God doing the extraordinary.

On an occasion or two, I have borrowed this question and given it my own little tweak.  When I meet with small groups of people or on a one on one basis, I like to ask, “Where is God in the midst of the mess?”  I ask this question, because lets face it, life is messy. But I also ask it because I have experienced that in the “midst of the mess” is often where God does his best work.  The bible sure seems to prove that true, one only needs to look at how God deals with broken people, to seek god in the midst of the mess.  For instance, as Jacob is venturing back home to hopefully be reconciled with his brother Esau, he tackled by an angel of God and wrestles with him until the break of day.   When it appears that the match is a stalemate, Jacob seeks a blessing and the man gives him a blessing and a new name, Israel (God wrestler) because he has struggled with humans and God and has overcome.

At times in the midst of the mess, life seems like a wrestling match.  Sometimes it seems as if God is the opponent and we are contending against an unmovable object.  Other times it seems that God is the coach sitting on the edge of the mat, shouting words of encouragement, asking us to give our best, celebrating our victories, and picking us up off the mat when we are defeated.  And still other times God acts as the referee, making sure we wrestle by the rules, keeping us on the mat, and preventing us from stalling when action is needed.   In the midst of the mess, God is there and all we have to do is open our eyes, ears, and heart.   Then we must pay attention to his presence.

The Psalmist says, “Bless the Lord, all his works, and in all places of his dominion.”  These words of wisdom direct our attention to a God who is actively involved in the midst of the mess.  All of God’s works, where ever and whenever they happen are worthy of being blessed.  As a matter of fact they are deserving of a blessing.  So it is fitting that we bless God for his active presence in the midst of all of the circumstances of life.

Stuck at a railroad crossing?  Take a moment to give God thanks for the extra time you had to sort through the events of the day.  Struggling with issues at home?  Look for God’s guiding presence as you address the issues before you.  Washed away in the busy-ness of the day?  Pause for a prayer break.  In the midst of all the messy moments of life, pay attention to the works of the Lord in all of his dominion.

So, where is God in the midst of your mess?

Just Another Passing Thought!


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