Category Archives: Lutheran

Living Grace

Baptized and raised in the Lutheran church, I have heard the word “grace” all my life.   I learned that grace is God’s unconditional love. We are placed in a right and loving relationship with God not by our moral actions or good work, but by God’s gift of grace through Jesus Christ as I trust in God’s promise of grace.

As a young adult I memorized Ephesians 2:8-9: For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God—not the result of works, so that no one may boast.   

Though I intellectually understand this, I don’t fully live into it.  Like many Americans I have grown up with the central concept of doing, striving and accomplishment – that I must work hard to get anywhere in this world, even in the church or with God.   The idea that I can live, breath, and experience grace as a daily gift is challenging for me.

Frederick Beuchner expands my images of grace in his book, Beyond Words (2004).

raspberries-and-cream-bpGrace is something you can never get but can only be given. There’s no way to earn it or deserve it or bring it about any more than you can deserve the taste of raspberries and cream or earn good looks or bring about your own birth.

A good sleep is grace and so are good dreams.  Most tears are grace. The smell of rain is grace.  Somebody loving you is grace.  Loving somebody is grace.  Have you ever tried to love somebody?

A crucial centrality of the Christian faith is the assertion that people are saved by grace.  There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do. There’s nothing you have to do.

God created the universe and each of us as a gift of grace.

God created the universe and each of us as a gift of grace.

The grace of God means something like: “Here is your  life. You might never have been, but you are, because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.  Here is the world. Beautiful and terrible things will happen.  Don’t be afraid.  I am with you. Nothing can separate us.  It’s for you I created the universe.  I love you.”

There is only one catch.  Like any gifts, the gift of grace can be yours only if you’ll reach out and take it.

Maybe being able to reach out and take it is a gift too. (p. 139)

How have you experienced GRACE daily?

Lord Jesus, teach me to live by grace.

Day One: Walking Wet

The start of a hike has not only a loaded backpack but also plenty of emotions and thoughts: worries that I might have brought too much, too little or the wrong equipment; excitement for the unknown that I will discover or the challenges that I must endure; curiosity as to whom I will meet on the trail or what self-revelation will surface. Eight days and 104 miles proved to be enough time for all kinds of emotions and thoughts to bubble up.

Preparing to kayak with my brother Rob and sister Kris prior to hike

Preparing to kayak with sister Kris and my brother Rob prior to hike

My brother Robert graciously drove me from Seattle to Lake Chelan in Central Washington and accompanied me on the ferry to the far end of the lake. Without the assistance of my awesome brother (and sister Kris) I would not be able to complete many of the mountain backpacks that I have accomplished over the past decade. Gratitude for family was an underlying emotion from the start.

After 2.5 hours the ferry reached the village of Stehekin. The only vehicles in the village have been shipped by barge including the shuttle bus that rattled over 16 miles of dirt roads to High Bridge, mile post 2580 on the Pacific Crest Trail. I quickly picked up my pack and started down the trail.

Full pack at Stehekin

Full pack at Stehekin

Actually it was up the trail, since High Bridge was the lowest elevation (1587 feet above sea level) I would encounter on the trail. I was in a deep river canyon, slowly making my way to the high alpine country I love. After stopping for a trail lunch, I steadily climbed into a forest that was thick with brush in places making it difficult to see the trail at times.

The clouds thickened and a light drizzle began. I considered using my rain gear but decided my own sweat inside the rain jacket would be worse. I hiked on as the drizzle became a steady rain. With the sections of thick brush, clothing was soon soaked. I marched on.

Having grown up in Washington, I knew rain. If one keeps moving, the body stays warm. I was thankful that my recent purchase of a broad rim hat kept the rain off my face and glasses.

Here is a short video of the wet brush, (you may need to use “full screen” to see it.)

I arrived at Cedar Camp at 5:30 pm, ten miles from High Bridge, soaking wet. I set up my tent, changed to drier, warmer clothes and greeted the others camping at this site. I discovered some were from Holden Village, a nearby Lutheran retreat center. I met Ben Stewart, a pastor and professor from Lutheran School of Theology in Chicago. I informed him that a new presiding bishop, Elizabeth Eaton, had been elected at the ELCA Churchwide Assembly the day before.

As I talked with other hikers from Holden, the forest continued to drip with mist and showers.  I was reminded of a phrase that I learn when I had visited Holden years ago, that as Christians “we walk wet.” The phrase was a reminder of our baptism into Christ. Though the water of our baptism may have long evaporated, we are still renew each day by the promises of our baptism, that we are beloved children of God, empowered by the Spirit. That thought warmed me as much as the freeze-dried chicken-and-rice meal I ate. I was “walking wet” in the wonder of God’s creation.

How do you walk wet?

Lord Jesus, thank you for the gifts of creation, family, church and renewal.

Bible Camps still needed?

campwapo_bannerThis week I have invested my time and energy with the children and youth of Resurrection Lutheran Church. I have been at Camp Wapogassett near Amery, Wisconsin. The children and youth here love to  play large group games, sing and dance at campfire, hang with friends and be in an intentional, intensive Christian community.

Part of each day is devoted t0 studying the Bible as a cabin group. Though this may not be a child’s favorite part of the week, it is still a crucial part. After all, Wapo is a Lutheran BIBLE camp. There is a purpose to having our children and youth grounded in the stories and teachings of this ancient book.

When I was in college, I served as a camp counselor at a Lutheran Bible camp in Washington State. The program director one summer was a psychologist who was skeptical of the value in spending time each day in studying God’s Word. He thought we would be better off simply focusing on human relationships and how we love and care for one another in meaningful ways. He was a persuasive individual and he did help us see the value in building healthy relationships with the campers and each other.

Yet some of us challenged his assumption that spending time in the Bible was unproductive. We reminded him that our Christian love for one another is shaped and nurtured by God’s love for us. Without the grace and mercy of Jesus Christ, our love can become sentimental and weak. Most of us were camp counselors because we had experienced God’s love in a powerful way through God’s Word. The Bible had touched our lives and so in turn, we want to share that “good news” with the children and youth who came to camp. I continue to see that same enthusiasm among the many counselors at Camp Wapo.

I recognize that taking time to study God’s word can seem boring to a child when there are nine-square games, swimming beaches and gaga pits just beyond the cabin walls. Still the very act of studying and discussing the stories of Bible plants the seeds of faithful living. I rejoice that we still have Lutheran BIBLE camps.

In what ways has Bible Camp touched your life?

Lord Jesus, bless and guide our Lutheran Bible Camps and their staff.

Running Out of Water

English: Dripping faucet Deutsch: Tropfender W...

Confirmation students often surprise me with the questions they ask. Recently we were discussing the Lutheran sacrament of baptism. They wanted to know, “why do we use water for baptism?”

The simplest answer would be that this is what Jesus used and commanded (though technically Jesus never used water since he never baptized anyone, see John 4:2). Though John the Baptist baptized Jesus with water, he remarked that the Messiah would “baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire” (Matthew 4:11).  However water remained the essential physical element for baptism in the early church.  As the Ethiopian Eunuch observed after his conversation with Philip about Jesus, “Look, here is some water! What is to prevent me from being baptized?’ (Acts 9:36). Since the early church, water has remained an essential element of baptism.*

Jesus might have chosen another physical element, but water was what he chose.   Water remains a basic part of life. Without water, biological life dies.  Jesus takes this simple, basic element and does something extraordinary.  That is the power and wonder of the baptism.

In my old church I was leading worship and preparing to do a baptism. I discovered a great-grandfather of the child was a former governor of Minnesota and he was present for the service.   I was a bit nervous knowing this. As I called the family forwarded to the baptismal font to start the service, I looked into the baptismal bowl. It was empty. No water. My nervous meter shot straight up.

Silver bowl with modernist base designI picked the empty bowl up and said, “An essential part of baptism is water and our bowl is empty.”

I started to walk towards the side door, saying as I walked, “There are two essential parts to baptism: the Word of God and water. I have God’s Word here (holding up my Bible), but I need water as well. And do you know where we get our water for baptism?”

I stepped into the kitchen.

“From the faucet right here in the kitchen.”

I turned on the water and filled the bowl.

“It is just ordinary water that we start with, but used with God’s Word it does extraordinary things.” I walked back into the worship area holding the bowl of water.

“And that is part of the power of baptism. God takes ordinary people, like you and me, and does extraordinary things we them. Turning us into the children of God.”

I placed the bowl of water back into the font and continued the baptism.

Later the former governor told me that was one of the most memorable baptisms he had seen.  It was for me as well.

Lord Jesus, thanking for taking ordinary stuff, like water and me, and doing extraordinary work with them.

*The gift of the Holy Spirit remains connected to the act of baptism, but certainly not restricted or limited to water baptism (see the story in Acts 10:44-48).

Lite or Light Christian

My baptism with Aunt Nola Mathre

My baptism with Aunt Nola Mathre

I grew up in a loving Christian home. My parents had me baptize when I was six weeks old and brought me to the worship services at church throughout my childhood. For the most part I enjoyed going to church. Sunday school, especially the Bible stories, was something I grasped easily. I grew up singing and believing the song, “Jesus loves me, this I know. For the Bible tells me so.” I never wandered too far from church or faith.

Several of my high school and college friends rebelled against the faith. Drinking, drugs or other addictive behavior pulled some of them out of the “safe” environment of church and family. Others just sorted of drifted away out of boredom or dissatisfaction. Meanwhile I continued to find meaning and identity as a Christian, even at a secular college.

Conversion by Caravaggio

Conversion by Caravaggio

Other friends had powerful religious conversions in which their lives made a 180 degree turn. They had been running away from God or ignoring him, but one day they embraced faith in Christ and their life changed. Like Paul on the road to Damascus, they had seen the light and struck down by God’s grace (Acts 9:1-5). Like Paul, they were zealous for others to come out of darkness and into the light.

I marveled at their stories of transformation. Part of my wonder was a sincere praise for God’s amazing grace towards His children. But part of my marvel was envy. I never had the “amazing” conversion story of being trapped in darkness and seeing the light. Among my evangelical friends, I felt somewhat inadequate.

Once, when I was camping after college, I started a conversation with two women my age. The conversation turned to religious faith and they asked me the fateful evangelical question, “When did you become a Christian?” I responded, “When I was baptized.” Since I was baptized as an infant, they could not comprehend this. I did not fit their standard of being old enough to “ask Jesus into my life.”  I was not “real” Christian in their eyes.

For some time I thought of myself as “Lite” Christian, not having the full-conversion experience that my evangelical friends had. But now I see myself more as a Light Christian, who has had the joy of living in God’s light all my life. Christ is the source of light and I am thankful for every time it shines on me. As Paul proclaims, For it is the God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” who has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ (2 Corinthians 4:6).

Have you ever wrestled with feelings of inferiority in your faith?

Lord Jesus, let your light shine in and through me.

Baptism ABC: E is for Engagement

Jack starts his week with worship at the Table at Christ Presbyterian Church

Jack starts his week with worship at the Table at Christ Presbyterian Church

This is my final post for now in the series: Baptism ABCs. E is for engagement which centers on the promises the parents, sponsors and congregation make during an infant baptism. They promise to engage the child in faithful behaviors so that the child will come to understand his or her identity as a child of God. As wonderful as the Baptismal promises are, they are of little value unless the baptized child grows to understand and embrace them.

At baptism the parents promise to bring the child to worship, to place in their hands the holy scriptures and to provide for their instructions in the Christian faith. The parents and child need the community of faith to assist in this maturing process. Part of that maturing process in the Lutheran church is confirmation where a child is instructed in the basics of the faith: Ten Commandments, the Creed, the Lord’s Prayer as well as the overarching story of God’s love recorded in the Bible.

At the end of confirmation instruction, the child stands before the congregation and declares her own trust in God. It is no longer the faith of her parents and sponsors but her own personal faith. She affirms the promises of baptism as her own.

My grandson Jack’s recent baptism sparked my series of baptismal reflections. Though Jack’s father (my son) was raised in the Lutheran church and baptized as an infant, Jack’s mother was raised in the Pentecostal tradition and was baptized in her later childhood. I sometimes wonder if at Jack’s confirmation Jack might benefit from the opportunity to remember his baptism in a special way.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAI wonder if a large baptism tank or a lake outdoors might be used so that he could be fully immersed into the water and rise up into newness of life (see Baptism ABC: D is for dying). I would not believe this to be a re-baptism, but rather as remembering his baptism in a direct experiential way. The promises of his infant baptism would remain but his memory of them would be reinforced. As I think more about it, I wonder if I might not join Jack in such a watery remembrance.

For now, as a grandpa or papa, my task is clear: to help Jon and Maggie engage Jack with the love, joy and peace of God. What an honor that is!

In what ways do you remember or affirm your baptism?

Lord Jesus, keep me engaged in faithful practices and vibrant life.

Baptism ABC: B is for Belonging

When my grandson was baptized on Sunday it was a family celebration. His parents, aunts, grandparents and friends were present to publicly welcome the tiny newborn into God’s kingdom. Though Jack slept the entire time, his baptism was filled with praise and promises.

Occasionally as a pastor I am asked to do a baptism outside of Sunday worship. I generally decline because one of the central themes of baptism is that the baptized person becomes part of the Christian community. Baptism is not an isolated event between God and the baptized.  Baptism is a community event in which the family of God, the church, welcomes and receives the newest member of the family.

In the book of Acts we see a clear expression of this. After Peter preached his first sermon about the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ in Acts 2, the people who heard it were cut to the heart and said to Peter, ‘Brothers, what should we do?’ Peter responded,

“Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the Holy Spirit (see last post). For the promise is for you, for your children and for all who are far away”. . . . Those who welcomed his message were baptized, and that day about three thousand persons were added (Acts 2:38-40).

(Side note: I often wonder how they did 3000 baptisms that day. Did they use a fire hose, a supersoaker or the Jerusalem municipal swimming pool?)

The key verse comes next. The newly baptized did not wander back to their old communities and ways. Instead they formed a worshipping community. They devoted themselves to the apostle’s teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers (Acts 2:42). The apostle teaching became what we know as the New Testament of the Bible. The fellowship they shared involved more that drinking coffee, but actually sharing their possessions with one another. The breaking of bread is a reference to the bread of Holy Communion or Eucharist. And prayer is prayer.  All are elements of a worshipping community.

The expectation is that the newly baptized needs the community to grow in his or her understanding of God’s grace and love. We do not live our faith in isolation; the community brings us strength, support, correction and comfort.   Jesus modeled this by living in a community of at least twelve disciples.

A wonderful moment for me at Jack’s baptism was when the pastor asked the entire congregation if they promised to support and encourage Jack as he grew in faith. The congregation joyously responded, “Yes, we do!” Jack’s home and family has just grown by a factor of ten.

How does baptism help you stay connected to God’s people?

 

Lord Jesus, Thank you for providing me with your fantastic family.