Monday, December 22, 2014

Never Give Up

Life has many challenges.  I often think of it as a roller-coaster.  There are highs and there are lows, and we can't really see around the corner.  

Difficulties and challenges are simply part of life in this fallen world.  When faced with problems, trials, and tribulations, we have to decide whether we will let them defeat us, or exercise faith and press forward in courage.

I love stories of courage - courage in the face of seemingly insurmountable difficulties.  One of my favorite movie moments is in  "Last of the Mohicans." Savage Mohawk warriors, bent on revenge, were pursuing Hawkeye, Chingachgook, Uncas, Major Duncan Heyward, Cora Munro, and Alice Munro. 

Their gunpowder was wet, and they had no hopes of staving off what would surely be a fatal attack for all of them.  The men in the bunch, led by Hawkeye, determined that they would have to leave the women to be captured, re-arm themselves and come back to save the women.  That way, there was at least some hope.  

When Hawkeye takes leave of Cora, over the thunder of the waterfall pounding outside the cave where they were hiding, Hawkeye (played by Daniel Day Lewis) tells Cora Munro (played by Madeline Stowe) "stay matter what occurs.  I will find you."  He assured her - no, promised her - that he would come back.  He would return for her.

The Bible tells us that "The eyes of the lord search the whole earth in order to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him." (2 Chronicles 16:9).  If we want to experience the saving power of God, we must wholly turn our hearts to him, trusting him with everything. When we don't trust him and take matters into our own hands, the result is far short of miraculous, and sometimes it's even disastrous.

In Sunday's sermon, "Let There be Light," Pastor Seth encouraged us to hang on to hope, to know that even when it feels chaotic, even when it feels like we're hanging in mid-air and nobody is there to catch us, and our prayers seem to just hang there - we can go back to the Word of God. Nothing is impossible with God; Gabriel was sent to Mary so long ago to tell her, a virgin, that she was going to have a Son, one who would be the Son of God, who would take away the sin of the world. 

No matter what challenges we face - whether it's health-related, a troubled marriage, financial woes, or simply a dream that has never been realized, we must never give up.  

Don't give up on your dream. Don't give up on your marriage. Don't give up on your health. Don't ever give up. God is in control. If you'll let Him, He will see you through. The final chapter of your life is yet to be written. 

God has already written the story of our lives - we just haven't read it yet.

Friday, December 19, 2014

100 Years of Pentecostal Blessings in Fosston

In 2003, Lowell Nystrom published a short report on the beginnings and growth of the Pentecostal movement in Fosston.  In the next few weeks, we will be releasing short installments of this report. The following paragraphs are Lowell's own introduction to the narrative.

God's Major Revival
The modern-day Pentecostal revival started to occur in the late 1890's and early 1900's. History shows that people in many places throughout the world - including the Fosston area - began to experience an outpouring of the Holy Spirit similar to that of the early church as recorded in Acts. People experienced intense conviction of sin and the need to repent and commit their lives to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior, followed by an experience of being filled with the Holy Spirit, accompanied by the ability to speak in unknown tongues and to exhibit other gifts of the Holy Spirit as described in 1 Corinthians 12-14. A strong interest in reading the scriptures, fervent prayer, holy living, and witnessing to others resulted. Typically, four basic doctrinal positions were emphasized, including personal salvation, baptism in the Holy Spirit, divine healing and Christ's second coming. Most Pentecostals still maintain these core beliefs.

The Pentecostal movement has not been a revival led by major or well-known leaders, but rather occurred among small groups of people, often in remote areas where they had no communication with others experiencing similar blessings from God. From these beginnings, the Pentecostal and Charismatic revival has spread quickly and broadly throughout the world to where it is estimated that over 500 million people were involved by the year 2000. The Charismatic (Pentecostal) Movement has had significant impact on most denominations over the last 50 years. This has truly been and continues to be God's doing.

People in and around Fosston were very early pioneers in this major revival. Early history is difficult to establish because these events were not well documented. However, there are various accounts indicating that the Pentecostal message was being preached in Fosston, possibly before 1900. By 1903, a group was forming that could be referred to as an "assembly" or "church." After 100 years, it is time to commemorate and celebrate what God has been doing! 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Good, Good Father

Recently I've been listening to a song my brother, Evan, told me about called Good, Good Father. I've basically had it on repeat at work for about three weeks, actually. It's a simple declaration of who God is, and who we are in relation to him. He is our good father; we are loved by him. The song also has me thinking about James 1:17, which says, "Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the father of heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows." (NIV) No gift was ever, or could ever, be greater than Jesus, who descended into the wreckage of humanity at the appointed time to destroy the "Eat, drink and be merry" myth of the Roman empire, as well as the "Do more and God will love you more" myth of the Pharisees. Into this spiritual and cultural bedlam - which was complete hedonism on one end and complete legalism on the other - Jesus steps with his one/two punch of truth and grace that demolishes the cultural foundations of two societies. He, the light of the world, looked into the inky blackness and said, "I will take my light there." And he did take his light there and, in just three years of public ministry, upended the world forever.

But it isn't in the shock and awe campaign of the ministry years that we first meet Jesus. We first meet him as a baby born of a virgin in a cattle stall. And, I'm sorry, but for all the singings of Away in a Manger I hear, I can never quite get on board with the line, "The little Lord Jesus, no crying he makes." I doubt that very much. My guess is that his birth was every bit as agonizing, messy and harrowing as any other. My guess is that the little Lord Jesus made plenty of crying. My gut tells me that Mary was as terrified and exhausted as any other woman who goes through a birth experience. My assumption is that Joseph was an emotional basket case, just like any other would-be father standing by his wife's side: part frantic, part trying to act tough, part expecting the worst. I very much doubt that Jesus just slid into the world without a peep, in the easiest delivery in history, and here's why: that version cheapens the whole story. We are talking about the God of the universe, the author of the cosmos, coming to earth to save all people from all sin for all time. One sacrifice that would restore a relationship between God and man that had been broken for thousands of years. Jesus wasn't spared a single iota of suffering in his death, so why would he and Mary and Joseph be spared suffering in his birth? Paul tells us Jesus "gave up his privilege and was made in human likeness, taking the role of a slave and being born as a human being (Phil. 2:7)." To me, that means that he was, in every way, like us (which is reiterated in Hebrews 4:15). It's the ultimate act of humility for the author of life to subject himself to the limitations and frustrations and temptations of humanity so that he could say to us, in our anger or grief or pain, "I understand what you're going through, and, even though I might not deliver you from it, I'm walking it with you." After all, God didn't take the cup from Jesus; he didn't magically whisk John the Baptist out of prison; he didn't take Paul's thorn away; he didn't prevent the disciples from gruesome deaths; he didn't save and deliver everyone from everything every chance he got. What he DID do, though, is save us from our sin once and for all time, and to fully understand that is impossible, but to begin to understand what kind of love it is that we're talking about, we have to understand how immeasurably vast God is, and how far he came to save us. That's the Christmas story.

I'm sorry if I ruined Away in a Manger for you. That wasn't the point. But maybe instead of that song, you can listen to Good, Good Father today (link is below) and think about just how good God is, and how much he suffered in sending his son to die for us. And don't forget to dwell on one more thing today: that this same God - the Father of Heavenly Lights himself - knows everything you are going through, and he's walking it with you.

Merry Christmas!

Good, Good Father

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Unnamed Holy Jumper of 1908 Discovered

Well, what's good preaching if it doesn't include a little investigative journalism? Many of you will remember a reading I did several weeks ago out of the Lowell Nystrom pamphlet chronicling a newspaper article in The Thirteen Towns from 1908. The article briefly discussed feelings of people in the area toward the Pentecostal movement in the Fosston area, referring derogatorily to the people of Hill River and Queen townships as "the holy jumpers." It also discussed one unnamed man, aged 21, from Queen, who "lost his reason" and "was taken to Crookston and from there to Fergus Falls, suffering from a deranged mind" after "attending meetings of a particular sect." That particular sect was Queen Church, or course.

Yesterday I had a conversation with some of the holy jumpers whose families go way back and, in the midst of this, something someone said about the baptism of one of their relatives sparked this thought in my mind: "Hmmm, that sounds an awful lot like that 21 year old who "lost his reason and had to be carted off to the asylum." We did the math and it turned out this guy would have been, you guessed it, 21 in 1908, when the Thirteen Towns was breaking the story in all its grisly details. Naturally, I'm not going to tell you who it is; what fun would that be? You'll have to come on Sunday to find out during our final installment of Big Church called, Big Family. Until then, happy jumping, you lovely holy rollers!

Friday, December 5, 2014

Back to the Future

The bloodlines run deep and wide in Bethel Assembly. Ask many people of the older generation a question about Family, and you’ll find that they’re related to nearly everyone in the county in one way or another. When I started delving into the church history of Bethel I went to the usual suspects for info: Aimee Cole, Christine Hanson, Evelyn Woolliscroft, Lloyd Anderson. They pointed me in the direction of some very interesting reading and memorabilia, including the pamphlet put together years ago by Lowell Nystrom called 100 Years of Pentecostal Blessing in Fosston. It was in this pamphlet (which relies heavily on the handwritten notes and diaries of Lowell’s mother, Ethel) that I learned of a preacher named Jacob Bakken who had, sometime around the turn of the 20th Century, walked some 75 miles from Audobon, MN to Fosston to share his faith, hold revival meetings, and help establish a church body based on the move of the Spirit. It was Jacob Bakken that appointed Andrew Matson and Christ Ulseth, both of Hill River Township, to lead the first group of Fosstonites embracing the move of the Holy Spirit that was sweeping the nation. These gatherings were the beginnings of the Hill River Assembly, which met together for several decades until fractures and disagreements led to a brief dissolution of the Assembly in the mid-1940s.

It was also in the Nystrom pamphlet that I learned of some of the persecution faced by early members of the Pentecostal movement. One newspaper clipping from 1908 had the members of Queen pegged as “… the holy jumpers,” and stated that “This fanatical sect are causing considerable disturbance in Hill River and Queen, and their invasion of different communities about is said to be most unwelcome to the majority of people.” (Nystrom, 100 Years of Pentecostal Blessing in Fosston, 5). Nystrom also talks about his ancestors having to bury their infant daughter on their own land since they were no longer welcome to bury their dead in the Asphult Lutheran cemetery due to their wild beliefs (Nystrom, 2).

100 Years discusses the early conventions, which began as far back as 1909. These were originally hosted in large homes, and later in tents or barns to accommodate the crowds. Nystrom notes that “Significant crowds must have attended these conventions. A note about one such meeting stated that the crowds were smaller than normal so only about 400 people were fed for lunch” (Nystrom, 5). These conventions were a hallmark of the early Pentecostal movement in the area, and stayed that way until the early 1950s.

Finally, from Lloyd Anderson, 88 year old son of Bethel, and before that, Queen Assembly, I learned that the beginnings of the Queen Church (which would later be mostly responsible for building Bethel in Fosston in the 1940s) were right in his living room. His mother, an aunt, and a neighbor began meeting to pray, and from there a movement of the Holy Spirit was sparked that continues to this day!

The point is this: Bethel Assembly was born out of nothing other than a raw, unpredictable, and very powerful move of the Spirit of God. Today, in 2014, we can look back and trace the names and common heritage that got us here, but, like the early church, without the breath and power of God moving in the midst of it, it would have likely come to nothing.

We remember where we come from, and we use that to inform our direction for the future, which is straight back to the Spirit, who never leaves us, and who will deliver wisdom to us if we ask. And maybe, if we’re hungry, he’ll put the fire of God in us again, so we might do things as outlandish as walk 75 miles to preach the gospel because the message of Jesus is worth the sacrifice.

Submitted by: Pastor Seth Johnson

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