Category Archives: Lutheran

Root Beer Float

Every Tuesday I drive to a neighboring Lutheran Church for a Bible study with local pastors.  Together we study the scripture text for Sunday so that we can be better prepared to preach God’s Word.

Today, as I drove up to Amazing Grace Lutheran Church I noticed this “float” in their parking lot.  The congregation had used it in the local community parade, where they handed out both root beer candy and “church information on a stick.”  It was a creative way of inviting new comers to their congregation.

A couple weeks before, Resurrection Lutheran Church had participated in our local Woodbury days parade with our worship band playing  for the crowd.  It was a delight to see and hear them that day as they praised God and invite all to come for worship.

As I left Amazing Grace and took this picture, I rejoiced that congregations seek to find creative ways to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ.  Churches too often are seen as dry, boring places.   Resurrection and Amazing Grace both seek to express the Vibrant Life of Faith.

I also realized that Amazing Grace had quench my thirst by hosting the study of God’s Word.  What a treat!

Lord Jesus, let me drink again from the fountain of living water.

Citizens with the Saints

Eight youth and two adults from Resurrection Lutheran Church are on their way to the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) National Youth Gathering in New Orleans. They will join more than 36,000 participants from across the country for five days of service, study, and worship. They will gather under the theme of Citizens with the Saints, based on Ephesians 2:14-20:

Jesus is our peace. In his life and death on the cross, Jesus broke down the dividing walls so that we are no longer strangers and outsiders, but we are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God. The foundation of God’s house was built of apostles and prophets, and Jesus, the cornerstone, holds it all together.

Like many of the participants, this will be a mile-stone for our youth. Growing up in a congregation like Resurrection, where their confirmation class is from 15-20 classmates, our youth often perceive the church as a small intimate group. Gathering with several thousand other youth will expand their vision of what the church is and can become. The Holy Spirit power of 36,000 youth singing and rocking the Superdome will energize and renew the faith of many who attend.

A couple of years ago, I attended a similar Christian gathering called Catalyst. About 10,000 young adults gathered from across the nation in a small arena in suburban Atlanta. The packed arena of singing, cheering, stomping, passionate followers of Jesus Christ made my heart sing.

I am so proud of how Hannah Koehler, our first-year youth director, has worked to make this mission trip become reality for our youth. She attended a National Youth Gathering several years ago and the experience transformed her life. She and others on the trip are writing their own blog to keep our congregation informed.

I invited you to join me in praying for all the youth in New Orleans this week as they discover their place as Citizens with the Saints.

Lord Jesus, bless, encourage and nurture all the youth who have gathered in New Orleans this week.

Learning From Others

I read a great blog post from the longest-running Lutheran blog.  Pastor Clint Schnekloth (who serve in Arkansas) wrote Mid-life Lesson #20: Accepting help is a spiritual gift.  I encourage you to check it out.  I think many Americans have a hard time receiving assistance from others because we place such a strong emphasis on self-reliance.   The reality is that we are all interdependent and we need one another.  God created us to love our neighbor, and sometime loving the neighbor means receiving love from our neighbor.

Lord Jesus, help me to be able to accept help from others.

Go In Peace?

Every week at the end of worship, I walk to the back of the worship area and after the last song I say, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” The congregation responds, “Thanks be to God.” I have said those words over a thousand times in a variety of settings. I believe in the power of those words, that the congregation is sent into God’s world to be God’s ambassadors of light, hope and love. I proclaim the words with enthusiasm and hope.

Last week I was at our Synod Assembly, where representatives of the 115 congregations of the Saint Paul Area Synod of the ELCA gathered to do the business of the church and to reflect together on what it means to Live Lutheran. We started with worship and at the end I heard the words again, “Go in peace. Serve the Lord.” Of course, we were going “nowhere,” but remaining at our table and chairs for the Assembly. The oddity of the phrase triggered deeper reflection on the words, especially the idea of going in peace.

Peace in the Biblical sense is wholeness or fullness. The Hebrew word for peace, shalom, means that you have everything you need to be whole in your relationship with God, neighbor and self. To “go in peace,” means the worship has filled your cup of blessing and you leave worship whole and empowered to serve.

However in our culture, peace often simply means the absence of struggle or conflict. We are often use peace for a sense of calm and almost passivity. A peaceful lake is calm and tranquil. There are times in our lives when each of us needs a place of tranquil peace.  But such peaceful waters have the danger of becoming stagnant and dead if no outflow occurs.

I wonder if the word “peace” communicates what God truly wants from us? Could it be that instead of going in “peace,” God would want us at times to go with PASSION, the fullness of God pushing us out the door to serve with passion, energy and conviction? The energy and life of a cascading river might be a better picture of what God call us to be in the world.

God’s peace is not passivity but passion.

Go with passion. Serve the Lord.

Lord Jesus, energize my soul with your power and grace to serve you and your world.

What A Friend We Have

As my mother’s dementia progresses, one deep part of her remains: her love of hymns. She grew up in the Lutheran church and sang in choirs occasionally. She learned hymns as a child and continues to sing them today.

One hymn that we both love is “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.” I like to sing it with her when I visit,

What a Friend we have in Jesus, all our sins and griefs to bear!
What a privilege to carry everything to God in prayer!
O what peace we often forfeit, O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.

The hymn was written around 1855 by Joseph Scriven, a Canadian. He wrote it as poem of comfort and hope to his ailing mother in Ireland. Joseph was a member of the Plymouth Brethren and was known for his compassion and care of the poor and forgotten in his community. He never intended his poem to become a hymn, yet it continues to bring great comfort to those who sing it.

When I sing the hymn, I am reminded of the promise of Hebrews 7:24-25,

Jesus holds his priesthood permanently, because he continues forever. Consequently he is able for all time to save those who approach God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.

The book of Hebrews makes the case that Jesus is better than any ancient levitical priest who served in the Jerusalem temple, because Jesus’ sacrifice was pure and sinless.

Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need. (Hebrews 4:14-16).

The function of a priest is to give us access to the High and Holy God.  Jesus is our access to God, the one who hears our cries for help and mercy. We truly can take anything to him in prayer, even the love of our aging parents.

Lord Jesus, thank you for bearing all our cares and woes.

Touched by G.R.A.C.E.

Grace is something you can never earn or deserve, because it can only be given. God’s love and forgiveness is a gift of grace given to us in Jesus Christ. My confirmation pastor taught me that G.R.A.C.E. can be defined as God’s Riches At Christ’s Expense. No one can climb the ladder of moral righteousness to achieve God’s favor, rather God has come down the ladder to us in Jesus Christ.  Jesus’ death and resurrection are grace to us.

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is a gift of God. Ephesian 2:8

However, the word is so heavily use among Lutherans that it becomes common jargon.  Grace can lose its luster and awesome quality. I yearn for a fresh perspective on the gift of God’s grace to me. I yearn to be touched again by G.R.A.C.E.

Then tonight as I preached about God’s grace, it struck me, “This congregation is a gift of God to me.” I don’t deserve or merit their trust in my ministry. God’s grace is manifested in the welcome I have received as their pastor. The “awe” of that gracious gift overwhelmed me as I worshipped, prayed and preached among gracious people. Thanks be to God. And thanks be to Resurrection Lutheran Church.

Lord Jesus, touch us once again with your G.R.A.C.E.

Tempted or Tested?

Yesterday many Lutheran churches read Mark 1:14: Jesus tempted in the wilderness.  Jesus was in the wilderness forty days, tempted by Satan; and he was with the wild beasts; and the angels waited on him. A seminary classmate of mine, Bishop Larry Wohlrabe, preached on this text at the installation of a new pastor and posted his sermon on line.  Here is a section that I really appreciated from his sermon.

What does it mean to be tempted? Temptation is about something far, far worse than falling off your diet or reneging on your no-smoking pledge. Temptation is about doubting your God-given, God-claimed identity. Temptation for Jesus in the parched wilderness was about being distracted from his mission, side-tracked on his path to the Cross, for us and for our salvation.

So what we need to picture here is a battle royal out in the wilderness. Satan, whose name means “adversary,” assaults Jesus repeatedly over the course of a forty day period. Mark doesn’t give us a blow-by-blow account, but maybe that’s OK. Mark’s narrative leaves a lot to our imaginations, and perhaps that helps us identify with Jesus all the more.

Because we, too, have our own “good long times” in the wilderness of doubt and despair. You and I also are pressed to the max, pinned to the wall, by all the “wouldas, couldas, shouldas”—all the ways we doubt ourselves and despair of trusting that God is with us.

Bishop Wohlrabe continued by reminding the local pastor of her task as a preacher in her new congregation.

When they are in the wilderness, serve these folks the same life-giving Word of God that sustained our Lord Jesus in the desert. Proclaim to them the nearness of God’s Kingdom, God’s gentle and glorious rule over all things, in Christ Jesus. Amen.

Yes, Amen.  The ministry of God’s Word continues to give life to thirsty, testy, tempted people.  And God’s Word wins.

Lord Jesus, save us from the time of trial and sustain by your saving word.

Ashes and Water

Today, Ash Wednesday, begins the 40 days of Lent. In several Christian traditions, the placement of ashes upon one’s forehead is a reminder of our mortality and our need to repent. As Abraham spoke to Almighty God, “Let me take it upon myself to speak to the Lord, I who am but dust and ashes.” Adam was made from the dust of the ground (Genesis 2:7). We each return to the dust and ash when our bodies die and decompose. We may not like to face that fact, but the truth keeps coming back.

Ashes are also a sign of repentance, our need to turn back to God. The book of Jonah describes how the people of Nineveh responded to Jonah’s message to turn back to God.

And Jonah cried out, “Forty days more, and Nineveh shall be overthrown!” And the people of Nineveh believed God; they proclaimed a fast, and everyone, great and small, put on sackcloth. When the news reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, removed his robe, covered himself with sackcloth, and sat in ashes. (Jonah 3:4-6).

The imposition of ashes also connects us to our baptism. Many Lutherans and others were baptized with water on their forehead. It was a sign of washing and renewal, of dying with Jesus and rising again to new life. Paul writes how baptism is connected to Jesus crucifixion and resurrection.

But if we have died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him. We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. The death he died, he died to sin, once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. (Romans 6:8-11):

The ashes are thus a reminder that we have already died in our baptism. We died to sin and corruption, and have begun to live the new life in Christ. The ashes we place on our head will eventually wash away; the promise of our baptism is not so easily removed. The Holy Spirit holds us in Christ Jesus.

Lord Jesus, let me die to sin and death that I might live with you now and forever.

Go Where I Send You

Why would Jesus turn someone away? Someone who begs to follow him?

In Mark 5, Jesus casted out the demon named Legion from a man who lived in Gerasenes, a Gentile region of northern Palestine. When he was restored to his right mind, he sat with Jesus. His neighbors were in an uproar and begged Jesus to leave. As Jesus entered his boat, the man begged to be with Jesus, to be a disciple. Jesus refused.

But his refusal had a purpose. This man was given a very special mission. Jesus said to him,

Go home to your friends, and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and what mercy he has shown you (Mark 5:19).

This is quite similar to the mission that the apostles are given in the next chapter of Mark. I find it both ironic and hopeful that this Gentile, recently-possessed man is given the mission of proclamation prior to the carefully selected twelve. I also find it highly instructive that he would be given this task to go to his friends and neighbors, not some distant land or foreign culture. Also as one who has recently experienced mercy of Jesus, he is a passionate advocate for Jesus. New converts are often the most passionate and assertive regarding their faith in Christ.

As a Lutheran pastor, I know that some people are specifically called to be pastors and teachers of Jesus’ message. I am thankful for those who answer that specific call. Yet, as this story bears witness, we can all bear witness to what Jesus has done for us, how we have experienced the Lord’s mercy and joy. God may send us to a new location, but the more probable is that he will send us to our friends and neighbors to give witness.

The Gospel of Mark never mentions this man’s name nor reports on his mission, except that all are amazed at the man’s testimony. Let us together rejoice in God’s mercy and amazing grace towards us.

Lord Jesus, help me to be attentive to your voice and to be willing to use my voice to speak of your mercy.

Authority to Forgive

Though most of us spent decades in classrooms, rarely do we remember a specific class. Each hour of instruction tends to blend with the others to build a cumulative base of knowledge. Occasionally one hour of instruction will stand out among all the others. One such hour for me was my first year at Luther Seminary in 1977. The class was being taught by Dr. Warren Quanbeck, a renown Lutheran theologian.

One monring he was leading us through a story in the Gospel of Mark, the healing of the paralytic (Mark 2:1-13). He pointed out the controversy surrounding Jesus’ announcement that the man’s sins were forgiven. The religious scribes thought it was blasphemy for Jesus to claim such authority. Then Dr. Quanbeck asked a question that rocked my understanding of Jesus and forgiveness.

“If Jesus died in order to forgive us our sin, how could he forgive the sins of the man prior to his crucifixion?”

Like many Christians, I had grown up with a rather simplistic idea that Jesus “paid” the penalty for my sins by being a sacrifice to the righteousness of God. Often this line of reasoning turns God into a “mean vindictive judge” who demands the death of his only son. Dr.Quanbeck challenged that understanding by pointing out that Jesus was forgiving sin prior to his death just as God had been doing in the Old Testament. God’s business is forgiveness.

What put Jesus on the cross was the human inability to accept such gracious mercy and love. Throughout the Gospel of Mark we witness this tension with the religious official over Jesus’ authority. Ultimately they crucify Jesus precisely because he claimed the divine power to forgive sins. It was humanity’s ultimate rejection of God’s grace. But God would not be denied. To demonstrate Jesus’ authority, God raised him from the dead and turn the crucifixion into the very path to eternal life.

Dr. Quanbeck died less than two years after that class. But his instruction guided me into a deeper understanding of God’s grace and mercy. Thanks be to God.

Do you remember a class, teacher, or moment that rocked your understanding of God?

Lord Jesus, thank you for being so gracious towards me.