SERMON: FUNERAL OF LARRY CHRISTENSON

(My mentor of 47 years, a man with an international reputation, died on December 26, two and a half months before his 90th birthday. He will be deeply missed by family and friends. Here is the message I gave at his funeral. Blogs are usually one page; this is three).

Dear Nordis, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, sister Joanne–we grieve with you for the immense loss of our dear friend and brother Larry. We rejoice with you in an exceptional life. Heaven has recorded the lives he influenced through fathering, praying, pastoring, speaking, writing.  “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15).

I called Larry a month ago. I was speaking at the House in Eagan, and they wanted to hear the stories about Lutheran Renewal and the Holy Spirit Conference. I asked Larry about his initial experience of the Spirit. It was August, 1961. He had a free Thursday night and Bethany Foursquare Church was having special meetings. He went up for prayer after the message. He returned home, went to bed, at midnight sat up and spoke in tongues for ten seconds, and fell back to sleep.

What Larry didn’t know was that God was touching people all across the country and around the world in similar ways.  God had mercy on mainline churches and began to visit them a half-century later than what happened in 1906. God was then using an African-American pastor to turn the tide of church history. William Seymour came to Los Angeles from Kansas and preached on the baptism of the Holy Spirit at a church on Bonnie Brae St. The next Sunday the door was bolted shut. He found a rented facility on Azusa Street and continued. God began to move, and people gathered. The LA Times wrote a critical article about strange meetings that were loud and bizarre.  Churches denominations scorned them, but God didn’t–and the movement took hold. Thousands were saved, healed, filled. The fire of God spread from Azusa Street all over the world.

The 1960’s were one of the most difficult decades in recent American history–the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and Dr. Timothy Leary telling college students to tune in, turn on, and drop out. God answered by moving powerfully, both with spiritual renewal and the Jesus Movement. Prayer meetings began to spring up all over. Protestants, Catholics, and Evangelicals were being touched by the Holy Spirit.

Larry called Trinity members in one at a time after his encounter and invited them to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit. By the next spring he had prayed with the majority of the church, so he preached at Easter on Resurrection and Renewal and prayed for people who wanted to have a personal Pentecost. No split like some churches experienced, only ongoing unity.

The response of the American Lutheran Church leadership to what was happening with Lutherans around the country was cautious, as might be expected. Psychiatrist Paul Qualben was sent to Trinity Lutheran in 1972 to interview some of those who had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, because Trinity was one of the key churches in Lutheran renewal. There were two assumptions: one, that the people were unstable emotionally and two, that this would pass. They found the people that Larry had mentored and prayed with well-adjusted, happy, feet-on-the-ground Christians–just like Larry. The movement only grew in exponential ways, so that the same year of the interviews the first Lutheran Conference on the Holy Spirit was held at the Minneapolis Auditorium–and 9000 showed up!

I remember when we were at a Trinity Lutheran family retreat in the Southern California mountains. The majority of the church turned out for this once-a-year weekend. We were worshipping the Lord at an evening service. We sang the first verse of Beautiful Savior. Nordis Christenson sang a solo on the second, and we sang the last verse in a cappella. Then we begin to quietly sing in the Spirit as we sometimes did and as Larry had encouraged us. It was beautiful and and peaceful. Some people fairly new to Trinity said yes to the Holy Spirit as we sang, including Karen Luttio. The Scripture says, “I will sing with my spirit and I will sing with my understanding” (I Cor. 14:15b). She entered in–and never turned back!  

Increasingly, Larry was called upon to share beyond denominational lines. He connected with the Catholics and the Pentecostals, often at the same time. He helped to lead and spoke at the International Charismatic Conference at the Kansas City Chiefs stadium in 1977 on the unity of the Spirit, a conference that drew 50,000 people from all over the world.

Larry moved to St. Paul in 1982 to direct the work of International Lutheran Renewal, a ministry that took him around the country and around the world. His books continued to sell. I once visited Bethany Publishing House in Bloomington with him. As we came into one of the rooms of about fifteen workers, we could not see their faces. They all had copies of The Christian Family and were hiding their faces behind them. It sold two-million copies and was translated into many languages. Larry and Nordis did seminars around the country. He also wrote the The Christian Couple, with lots of help from Nordis.

Larry was a student of the Word, and he memorized large portions of Scripture. In one sermon he quoted the book of Hebrews, all thirteen chapters. It was a forty-minute message–I timed it. He was probably quoting Ephesians when he slipped and fell. That is the book that he had been reviewing, having memorized it years before. He used it as a backdrop for prayers on his daily four-mile walk. He had a list of fifty people he prayed for, including children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He once told me, “I pray for all your children by name–every day.” I didn’t tell him, “Larry, that’s more than what I do.”

So what is his legacy? He helped people to understand the life of the Spirit. God used a quiet, introverted intellectual, one who knew that Word and Spirit went together. The Spirit authored the Word, and the Word breathed the life of the Spirit. Larry helped us to recover a forgotten truth that broke out at the beginning the twentieth century and decades later was received and appropriated by 650 million around the world. Larry’s three books on the Holy Spirit, Speaking in Tongues, The Charismatic Renewal Among Lutherans, and Welcome Holy Spirit (which he edited) have done much around the world to bring home this living truth. I just connected with the Lutheran leader in Norway. They are translating Welcome Holy Spirit into Norwegian, because it is the most solid theologically on the work of the Holy Spirit by a Lutheran. They have taken many of his books to India, where Lutherans, including bishops, have embraced the renewing work of the Spirit. Same for Tanzania.

When I served with Larry, we prayed every morning at 6 AM.  You learn something about a man when you pray with him daily for eleven years. I learned to listen. He taught that to all of us. We had a communion service once a month on Sunday afternoon from three to eight. Sixteen of us served (eight at a time at four different stations in the chancel) and after communion we listened, then gave what we felt were prophetic words. A young lady came to the altar one Sunday wondering if she was to stay in California, return to Minnesota, or go to Japan as a missionary. After receiving communion, Bud Hahn, one of the elders who had been mentored by Larry, said, “You are in the right place.” Three years later I married her. Bud knew nothing about her situation–but God did.

She felt as if God Himself were speaking right to her and giving her peace. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13,14).

One reason Larry was such a good father is that he was a good son. He loved his dad, an athletic director and coach at St. Olaf College. A sports complex on the campus was named after him. One year Larry asked his dad, then retired, to come and coach the football team of our church school in which Larry’s son Arne was playing quarterback. We all loved seeing Larry with his son and his father talking strategy on the sidelines.

I wasn’t Larry’s son, but he sometimes treated me like a son. He said to me when I was thirty and had been at Trinity four years, “It’s time to get married.” So I listened and started the pursuit. A few weeks later he said that he and Nordis were going to Santa Barbara and asked if I wanted to go along. Then he added, “Karen may be going with us.” So I figured I should maybe talk with her.” He said, “I already did. Less that two months later I asked her to marry me. Larry didn’t, I did. That’s good mentoring. Larry and Nordis were looking out for us.

Nordis, you had an open door policy in your home.  You had the Mary Sisters in your home for a year. That launched their ministry in the States. Then you had young adult women who were serving in our church. That included three who married pastors, including myself. You and Larry team-taught on the family around the country. You made a great team. You took in Lilla, a widow, because she had no relatives and was slowly dying. You died to yourselves and lived for others, going the way of the cross.

Larry’s strongest message was on the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. But charisma without character is hollow. Paul calls is a zero: ”If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have not love…”  It was character behind Larry’s message on the Spirit that made it true and powerful. It was self-sacrifice for others, quietly, consistently, daily. That is the way you both lived.

Today I say “thank-you” on behalf of the millions whose lives were changed by you and your husband. I close with two things I heard Larry say more than once: the first was, “Expect everything of God and nothing of man.” The second was a line from a joke. Larry enjoyed Norwegian jokes. He would point his finger and say with as thick a Norwegian accent as he could muster: “If Yesus tells yoo too doo someting, den yust doo it!” Larry was a man of the Spirit because he lived under the lordship of Jesus Christ, and “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ apart from the Holy Spirit.”

 

14 thoughts on “SERMON: FUNERAL OF LARRY CHRISTENSON

  1. What beautiful memories!
    You shared a great love and by your message, that same loving, kind & compassionion lives in you.
    I’m sure he is very proud of the man you are!
    Thank you for sharing, I’ve been blessed!

  2. Thanks Paul for great memories and tribute. I too was blessed and renewed by Larry’s and your ministry while visiting fellow Australians Don & Kay Fox. I still remember your encouraging prophetic prayer for me at mid-month communion re Spirit-deposits in international service. Blessings, Geoff.

    • Wow! Long time no talk or see. Good to hear from you, Geoff. It was Holy Week for me leading up to this event. I treasure the gift God gave me in this man. I feel a fresh impartation for the next two decades as God gives me strength. Thanks for connecting. We stay connected to Don and Kay, of course!

    • Good to hear from you, Jeff. We, of course, stay in touch with Don and Kay. The week leading up to the funeral was Holy Week for me. Many tears. Now I feel a fresh impetus of the Spirit.

  3. Great tribute to Larry and the rich legacy he leaves behind! As a young pastor who had the opportunity to first meet him at a pastor’s conference at Trinity in the 1970s, and sit under his teaching/writing over decades, I can testify that he was instrumental in shaping my ministry. Thanks Paul for sharing your anointed message with us!

    • Tom, it was the highest honor I’ve ever been given. I cried throughout the week of preparation. It was like Holy Week for me. God has been merciful in the transition. Thanks for your comments.

  4. Thank you for such a loving tribute. I started attending Trinity in 1969 as an 11 year old, Pastor Christenson has forever been the model of a “pastor” to me. His patient, kind and joyful demeanor washed away any apprehension that I had when I spoke with him. My deepest condolences go out to all who have suffered the loss of a great mam, but I am buoyed by the belief that his soul is joined with heaven.

  5. The last time I saw Dr.Christensen was at the small but significant conference in Kansas City. To the very end he was doing what Jesus did- contending for the unity of the Spirit and for Jesus’ prayer in John 17 to be answered. I’ll really miss him!

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