SUNDAY MORNINGS, Picture by Theresa Kocha

I love Sunday mornings. There is a special aura in the rising sun and a nuance in the song of the birds.  I wake in confusion usually…I always struggle to figure out what day it is and what my schedule for the day is…and then I remember that it is another blessed Sunday. I will either preach or sit back and listen. I am filled with the beauty of His Word and feel transformed. I read His Word and converse with Him every day but I find that when another preacher is teaching and translating – it takes on a different glow. It isn’t about the sanctuary or the building- it is my attitude of feeling more, inviting more – yearning for more. In my praise and worship there is a sense of giving and servanthood in giving up myself to another.

Growing up, Sunday morning meant the CBS  Sunday morning program which I loved.  But as a kid, I rolled over and groaned on Sunday mornings when I realized there would be no school and most neighborhood kids would be unavailable because they were at Gramma’s house or at some church activity while I had to avoid the darkened living room where my father was watching football on two TV’s. There was no reason to go to town so we were stuck at home to entertain ourselves with games or in my case-immersion in a book in a corner.My Gramma lived thousands of miles away and didn’t cook.

When my five kids were growing up Sunday was a gardening day or extra time to catch up on laundry. Ron and I were usually busy with something on Sundays so church seemed out of the question. I would talk to God about a million things while I worked. He was always available, always ready to comment on my thoughts. On Saturday afternoon our kids went go to church with Leona and Fred (my in-laws), so I didn’t feel I was neglecting their spiritual growth. They went to Catechism on Wednesdays with Gramma and I would have time to clean up after supper and maybe write, work or study for a little while.

Somewhere in the middle of all the chaos of growing older, I discovered that I longed for Sunday morning to be more meaningful. I wanted to luxuriate in the Word. My pastor seemed to speak into so many of the thoughts I had during the week. He addressed my sorrows, my fears – my angst. When I thought I was going crazy from sickness and life strain, I would lean back and let those words remake me and guide me. Fortunately I had a pastor whose message was so loving and full of understanding. There was none of the condemnation I heard from other people. “Come, come to the water…” he’d say. We would sing songs like “As the deer pants for the water, so my soul pants after You.” Then, I was healed one Sunday morning. I actually felt the wound stop bleeding and the skin close. The pain was over and I was renewed.

Sunday morning is my solace and my prayer. Thankyou Father for resting with me here.

History’s Little Mysteries

One of the things I love about studying history is the sense of how interpretations are overlapped by time. So often what we think is “truth” is opinion, even when we are looking at “facts”.

In my Jewell Johnson Mysteries I hope to recreate the past and then several possible interpretations. In book one, “Let the Secrets Die”, I introduce the central character, Jewell Johnson’s father. In Epitaph, Sigurd Johnson meets his untimely end. Do we know why? Maybe.

You meet Sven, Mary and Jewell Johnson who each will play a big part in his life. Sven and his brother Nels come to Northern Wisconsin from Sweden and the things they see are real, from Minneapolis’s Depot to Lake Makoons. By the way, Makoons is the Ojibwe word for ‘Little Bear’. When I was a girl swimming at Round Lake there was a big old resort that sat on the side of Hinton Bay. I used to swim out into the lake and stare at that big ol’ place. It is no secret that Anthony Judson Hayward and Philetus Sawyer were very important to the past in Hayward. The man who did most to begin the town is Robert Laird McCormick and there is not a street or a monument of any kind left to remember him…why? That remains history’s mystery.

I studied local history, genealogy, anthropology and archaeology all of my life, digging into local history in towns and villages all over America. I love the little inside stories and I will sit and listen for hours when elders tell their personal history. Have you ever seen a swarthy guy and wonder why he is so angry looking? I did-and I would make up stories about him in my mind. What about teachers, waitresses, clerks, bank tellers, bag-ladies and everyday people you meet and chat with? I am always interested in their stories no matter how big or small. Gangsters, lumberjacks, a sheriff or Tribal Elders are all fascinating to me. Those collected stories have become part of Jewell Johnson’s story.

Jewell’s next adventure again begins with a chapter called “Epitaph” and more details about how Sigurd died. In “Done Running” and book three, “The Secrets of San Pedro La Laguna” the reader will uncover deeper and deeper levels of the peculiar secrets of Sigurd Johnson and how events led inevitably to his death.



June Nights

image001A Northern Wisconsin perfect balmy June night

stars glimmering across the sky, a gentle breeze rattling the Quaking Aspen leaves, and sighing through the pines. I want it to stay like this forever; my shadow is cast across the freshly mowed and fragrant lawn as I stare into the face on the laughing moon so huge above. There goes the Big Dipper but who are those stars- or are they planets? I don’t remember the names of the constellations any more because no one talks about them like my mom and dad did long ago. “There’s Orion, see his belt?” mom would say, her warm breath on my upturned face. A loon cried and mom answered back as we meandered down the road in front of the farm. “See Venus and there’s Jupiter, aren’t they lovely?” In the field a sleeping cow moaned, probably irritated by our chatter. The sweet soft smell of our Bridalveil Spirea bush is mixing with the last few blossoms of the lilacs but it is still too chilly for the hungry mosquitos.

When my mom was my age I had graduated from HIgh School and was not paying much attention to her. I regret that now. My life seemed so important in 1973 and now, well I just wish I had my mom to tell me the secrets of the universe again before she tucked me into my bed upstairs in that room, right up there where my grandson lies sleeping soundly tonight. I pause to rest on the wicker settee on the fairly new deck, thinking about how my eyes don’t see the stars and the moon like they used to. Long ago there was much less sound, cars never raced down our road and you never heard a far-off blaring radio, just perhaps the heart beat of a family drum on Little Round Lake. There was no pink tinge to the southern horizon from the Casino lights.

I stand up and spin around in my pj’s there on the deck for a few seconds in the moonlight, dancing like a young girl again, smiling at my foolishness. My eyes roll back sheepishly as I discover I locked myself out again and my husband is sleeping- so I climb through the window I forgot to lock. “Silly old woman; look at her,” I heard my father say with a smile from somewhere far away beyond that starlit night. “Goodnight guys!” I wave through the kitchen window.

Love Your Brother, Sister, Neighbor

Did you ever sit down and just write down the names of your friends and acquaintances?

Do that, and then think of something good about them: maybe they are a good cook, a ‘fun’ partner, a confidant, have nice hair, pretty eyes, cute ears, an interesting or humorous attitude- just anything that is nice. It is hard to be angry with or hate someone when you find something nice about them. I know that sounds a little Pollyanna-ish but that is what my parents taught me.

I find it hard to dislike people for more than a short while. Something always pops up and I remember something I like about them…except Idi Amin. I didn’t know him well enough to get past the fact that he was a brutal murderer. Or maybe Caligula, but he lived a long time ago.


A Hunting We Will Go

It is five a.m.

Hunters in drive formation.

The hunters begin to rouse in my house. The alarm clocks buzz and the toilets flush. Like mice in my country cabinets there is shuffling, clunking and the ‘click’ of light switches on and off. When I smell the coffee I climb out of my warm bed and wander into the kitchen in my old housecoat where men in orange have gathered, their rifles on the dining room table and shells in their pockets to share that last cup of coffee before they head for the woods and fields. There is a familiarity in the wool pants and socks and their orange coats that takes me back forty-five years.

I used to be the first one up. I loved the preparations for the hunt and the anticipation of the day. Ron made breakfast for all of us. The kids and I packed our lunches and stuck candy bars and parafin dipped matches in our pockets for emergencies. Everyone reviewed the list of stuff you need; your extra shells, the rifle clip, gloves, hand warmers, a compass and extra truck keys. You checked the weather and temperature and by sticking your nose outside and then went back and changed again. Men, women and kids bundled up and excited, headed out to stand silently in the woods for hours, if need be, to get a quick shot and bag next winter’s dinner.

Perhaps it is the swaggering confidence of we who will provide meat for the winter that is attractive. I enjoyed how we planned our drives through the woods like generals on the battlefield. Maybe it is the sense of camaraderie as we review past hunting exploits; the trophies, our mistakes and near misses. Maybe it is the time we take to renew old friendships and think about days gone by.  I miss all of this. I am so sad. This year I will participate but not carry a rifle, again. For me the cold is agony and the difficult forest hiking equals a week of pain. Tendonitis in my shoulder  limits my ability to lift and aim my weapon. Later on, depending on the temperature, I will dress warmly and attempt to help drive the herd in the woods. I will sit here and reflect with a smile and a second cup of coffee on the good times we had and the fragrant memories of the past.

Velvet Elvis: Are you rich in Christ?

How rich are you? Is money everything? Isn’t it easy to say that Christians are rich in the Holy Spirit and money doesn’t mean anything to us? Flows right off your lips doesn’t it? Last week one of my friends asked me what we are going to do now that I don’t work at the Co-op. I said we would get by; we live pretty close to the bone anyhow and now we will just tighten up the old budget. She gave me the look that said “big talk, don’t believe you…” Well, it is true. We have seen poverty in its many forms. Things are not important if you have shelter, clothing, food and family…oh, yeah and one more thing. What would that be? Jesus is the foundation of all riches in this life. Raise your hand if you agree.

I was just perusing the internet and ran across an older article about Rob Bell, the former Pastor of Mars Church and more recently author of a book called “Love Wins”. At age 34, Rob Bell took his message national in 2005 with “Velvet Elvis: Repainting the Christian Faith,” as his first book. The title is inspired by the actual black velvet painting of Elvis he has tucked away in his basement. He said that whoever “painted” that picture was creating a work of art for a time and a place but that time and place have now passed. Bell says Christianity is a lot like that painting: it is not static and artists paint a new one for each new generation.

So Rob Bell is equating the Christian faith with what most of us would consider a cheap and worthless painting? His simile is that perhaps old fashioned faith it had value in its time period but then loses value to a new generation. Is Bell rich? Mr. Bell, I says to myself, I says, “Mr. Bell, you don’t believe in the Bible. You have built your church on shifting sands; you and it are going to collapse under your own weight.”

In another post I found he wanders back to the Bible and get philosophical about who Jesus is when Bell says, “For many people the message of Jesus was presented as an individual message of salvation for their own  individual sin: “Jesus died for you.” I affirm that wholeheartedly, but in the scriptures, its scope goes in the opposite direction. It begins with the Jesus who dies on the cross and rises from the dead. But as the New Testament  progresses,  you have writers saying that “by his shed blood he is reconciling everything in heaven and on earth.” Peter says in Acts, “He will return to restore everything.” So it is a giant thing that God is doing here and not just the forgiveness of individuals. It is the reconciliation of all things. It is the putting back together of the whole universe how God originally intended it to be. One way to look at it is that the message is an invitation into God’s giant, global universal purposes that “I” actually get to be a part of.””

Somehow I feel like when Bell said this he lost the main theme of the New Testament and I think he is lost out there somewhere.
Colossians 1:6-12 is talking to individuals and to each of us personally; Paul was speaking to the individual Christians of Colossa. Paul is writing this due to an assault on the believers in Colossa. Many different heretical teachings were being thrust upon this new church and they were confused about the identity of Jesus the Christ. Paul exhorts them to return to their roots, remembering the joy of knowing Christ because He first knew them, not just as an amorphous group but one on one, as individuals.

I found a later post on where Bell said; “I don’t follow Jesus because I think Christianity is the best religion. I follow Jesus because he leads me into ultimate reality. He teaches me to live in tune with how reality is. When Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except through me,” he was saying that his way, his words, his life is our connection to how things truly are at the deepest levels of existence. For Jesus then, the point of religion is to help us connect with ultimate reality, God. I love the way Paul puts it in the book of Colossians: These religious acts and rituals are shadows of the reality. “The reality…is found in Christ.””

I would not dispute his reasoning here. In Colossians 2:5 Paul says “For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is. 6So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, 7 rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness. 8 See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the elemental spiritual forces of this world rather than on Christ.”

So I was thinking about Bell’s revelation that reality is found in Christ. Whoa! Surprise! He talks about religious acts and rituals and that they are shadows of the reality of Christ. My heart tells me that communion is not an empty religious act or ritual. As we take communion today go ahead and ask Jesus if His sacrifice is worth remembering now and then. I’ll have to read his book to see if baptism is an empty ritual, perhaps marriages and funerals are archaic too. Bell is the son of a Federal Judge, a water skiing instructor and rock band member before he went to Fuller Seminary in California. He said that he didn’t do so well in classes for preaching because he tried different methods to get the message out. No disrespect intended but his credentials are a little thin. Of course Rev. Billy Graham was a farm boy with little to commend him when he started preaching Christ crucified and about how his faith was grounded and anchored in the Bible.

Bell also more recently wrote “Love Wins” and quit his pastoring position at Mars church to reach a wider audience with his love
message. Mr. Bell says that one of the most controversial issues of faith is the afterlife. He asks if a loving God send people to eternal torment forever. Bell says he is putting hell on trial-he says that eternal life doesn’t start when we die. His book asks if Gandhi is in hell because he wasn’t Christian, or whether only those who accept Jesus can go to heaven. That takes you back to your childhood doesn’t it; wasn’t that a kind of question you asked of your parents?

Well, what do you think, is Gandhi in hell? Have you considered it? Mahatma Gandhi once said: “A man who was completely
innocent, offered himself as a sacrifice for the good of others, including his enemies, and became the ransom of the world. It was a perfect act.”
Who is he talking about? Jesus Christ. Do you think he understands the man Jesus? There remains doubt about if he knows Christ as Savior…and I would dare to say only God knows the answer to that.

Ghandi also said : “Thus if I could not accept Christianity either as a perfect, or the greatest religion, neither was I then convinced of Hinduism being such. Hindu defects were pressingly visible to me. If untouchability could be a part of Hinduism, it could but be a rotten part or an excrescence. I could not understand the raison d’être of a multitude of sects and castes. What was the meaning of saying that the Vedas were the inspired Word of God? If they were inspired, why not also the Bible and the Koran? As Christian friends were endeavouring to convert me, so were Muslim friends.” Christian Universalism is the belief that God is all Sovereign, loving, powerful, wise, just, and ultimately rules over everything. It includes the belief that salvation is only by faith in God and was finalized by Jesus Christ “who gave Himself a ransom for all” (1 Tim 2:6). The definition of Christian Universalism includes the belief that God “will have all men to be saved and come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). Some folks have taken the step to believe that all religions are the same and equal. No religious group wants to believe that God might have communicated to some other group and not to them personally. That would be letting go. Jesus the Christ tells us to let go and hang on to Him. The Bible tells us throughout the written history of mankind that God was represented here on earth by one Christ who was born, killed, rose and sits on the right hand of God the Father. I have faith that this is right.

In his book (which I will not read) Rob Bell is apparently saying that Jesus is right, Buddha is right, Brahma is right, Confucius was right, Muhammad was right and Lord Krishna is right. How about you? What do you think? Who do you think is right? Do you choose Jesus Christ? Mr. Bell’s supporters says he is a poet and artist with a unique way of communicating. I find myself very uncomfortable with his offering theological questions and then being unable to make cogent intelligent responses beyond tweets and colorful big stage productions.

Consider Colossians 2:3, “In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.”

In Philemon 6: “That the fellowship of thy faith may become effectual by the acknowledging of every good thing which is in you in Christ Jesus.”

Hebrews 1:3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.

Colossians 1:15 He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.

2 Corinthians 4:4 The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

Can you hear the voice of God calling out to us not to listen to the voices that draw us away from Jesus the Christ? Rob Bell and his
followers are not Satan but they are clearly misled into believing that Jesus Christ does not make a difference and have a presence in our daily existence. Have you experienced Jesus the Christ? I believe that folks like Bell have fixed their eyes on fallen angels, not on the Son of God. Do not believe for a minute that He is not here with us right now, almost visible because of our faith. This former hardware store clerk will stand nose to nose with the former water ski instructor and say, “I don’t think so

A collector who spent $4 at a Pennsylvania flea market in 1991 for a dismal painting because he liked the frame found himself the
possessor of a first printing of the Declaration of Independence. It is expected to bring $800,000 to $1 million at auction. A man found an interesting picture last year in a Nashville thrift store and paid $2.48 for it. The 1823 copy of the Declaration of Independence sold at auction for $477,650. That describes some Christians. They seem to think that Jesus is hanging around, but
they just don’t realize what He’s worth. They don’t realize the fortune that they have in Jesus Christ. My dear friends, let’s not forget the supreme treasure we have that is Christ!

Reading: John 12:31-32 “31 Now is the time for judgment on this world; now the prince of this world will be driven out. 32
And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

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