What was the Lutheran Reformation all about?

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Have you ever wondered what the Lutheran Reformation was all about?

This year, Lutherans and Roman Catholics will continue to work together to heal their relationship with each other – as we mark the 500th Anniversary of the day, in 1517, when Martin Luther nailed his “95 Theses” to the door of the church in Wittenberg, Germany. Luther’s “95 Theses” criticized the Church’s continued efforts to sell indulgences, and insisted that the Pope has no authority over Purgatory and that the doctrine of the “Merits of the Saints” has no foundation in the gospel. While the actual posting of this document wasn’t radical (the doors of churches were used as public bulletin boards in Luther’s time), the contents of the document created a deep rift within the Church and Martin Luther was, eventually, declared a heretic.

The relationship between Lutherans and Roman Catholics has not been easy. Martin Luther penned many vicious attacks against both the Roman Catholic church and the Jews of his time – which have been denounced by modern-day Lutherans. The Roman Catholic church tried to respond to quickly-changing dynamics in the Church by launching its own “Counter Reformation” and a fierce conflict arose – culminating in the Thirty Years’ War (the deadliest of the European religious wars – where nearly 8,000,000 people lost their lives). Lutherans and Roman Catholics became deeply divided. But, as time continued to pass, the conflict began to slowly cool. The Second Vatican Council, which began to meet under the leadership of Pope John XXIII in 1962, explored ways to build bridges between the Roman Catholic Church and other Christian denominations. In 1999, the Lutheran World Federation and the Roman Catholic Church released a “Joint Declaration on the Doctrine of Justification” – that lifted-up areas of theological agreement between Lutherans and Roman Catholics – and, recently, the Lutheran World Federation and the Pontifical Council for Promoting Christian Unity released its document entitled, “From Conflict to Communion.” Just this morning, Pope Francis arrived in Sweden to join in a solemn commemoration of the Lutheran Reformation – believing that encounters of this nature bear testimony to the fact that, even though Lutherans and Roman Catholics still remain divided on dogma, Christians can – and must – work together and pray together in our quickly-changing world.

In this week’s message, “What was the Lutheran Reformation all about?”, we focus upon the key Biblical issue that stood at the heart of Martin Luther’s arguments against the prevailing practices of the Church. This is NOT a divisive message that’s been designed to deepen the rift between Lutherans and Roman Catholics! Instead, it’s a message that’s meant to lift-up St. Paul’s teaching of “justification by grace through faith” – and that can help people to better-understand the key Biblical truth that drove Martin Luther forward in the face of strong opposition. This is a message that drives us to the foot of the Cross – where “peace with God” can still be found – and where we can continue to re-discover the God who offers us forgiveness, strength and healing through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Blessings!

Confession is Good for the Soul

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Honesty and authenticity are an important part of our spiritual journey.

In the story of Jacob (Genesis 32:22-33:4), we learned that our spiritual journey can include times of wrestling with God when we discover that we’re sitting where we’re sitting in life because of choices and decisions that we’ve made in the past. In the story of Naaman the Syrian (2 Kings 5:1-14), we learned that we often need to remove the heavy layers of armor that we use to cover our quirks and flaws, and that we need to become more honest with ourselves, with other people, and with God before we can be healed. And now, we turn to the power of confession. Honest and authentic confession helps us to better understand “where we are right now,” so that God can begin to work in our lives and move us toward a brighter future.

In this week’s message, “Confession is Good for the Soul”, Jesus tells us a story about one of the most unlikable men in the entire Bible. We’re, also, called to think about how we could be changed and transformed if we allowed God to touch parts of our lives that we like to hide from the eyes of God and other people.

This is a challenging message, but it’s also a message filled with hope. And it’s a message that reminds us that God can meet us “wherever we are right now,” and lead us toward a better place – filled with abundant blessings and God’s goodness.

Blessings!

 

My God and My Fitbit

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I’ve recently stopped wearing my Fitbit.

As a pastor, I spend many hours sitting at my desk and working in front of my computer’s screen. I spend even more time sitting in hospital rooms and on the comfortable couches in parishioner’s homes. I enjoy reading, and I’m in the process of writing a book. I enjoy relaxing in my recliner at the end of busy days. I needed something to measure my level of daily activity and to encourage me to “step-it-up” a bit. And my new Fitbit seemed to be the best answer.

I first starting using my Fitbit about a year ago. The 10,000-step challenge seemed to be a great target for daily activity. I would watch my steps add-up during the course of the day. I found myself taking a “walking break” during my office hours. I was excited and felt a sense of accomplishment every time I felt my Fitbit vibrating on my arm. Everything seems to be “just right.” But, as time passed, something changed.

The 10,000-step challenge was, honestly, a pretty big stretch for me and when I got to the end of the day without reaching my goal I felt deflated. I lowered my goal to 9,000 and, then, even lowered it to 8,500. Every time I lowered the bar and still didn’t meet my daily goal, I felt guilty. It’s hard to live your life constantly “missing the mark.” It’s hard to live your life – trying to do the best that you can do – only to end the day with a sense of total and complete failure.

As a Lutheran, I’m keenly aware of this challenge. The “Law of God” sets the bar really high and often leaves me feeling guilty. I, sometimes, hurt people and speak to them in unkind ways. I’m not always generous in offering my time and financial resources – even to worthy causes. I, sometimes, find it hard to forgive people when they hurt me. I “miss the mark” in some way every day. The “Law of God” continues to remind me that I’ve failed, and the Church is sometimes good at reminding me of my failures as well.

I guess that I’ve lived many years of my life picturing God in the same way that I pictured my Fitbit. God was up in Heaven watching everything that I did. God shook His head every time that I went astray and pointed His condemning finger at me when I failed. God always imposed goals that I couldn’t possibly meet, and I felt guilty every time that I knew that I hadn’t lived my life in the way that God intended. God became almost like Santa Claus – sitting at the North Pole, and keeping a list of my successes and failures. God constantly kept His eye on me from a distance – and God was even compiling a list of things that I had done wrong; so that, He could present it to me when I died and wanted to enter Heaven.

But, through the years, I’ve discovered that God really isn’t like a Fitbit. The “Law of God” continues to exist and apply to my life, but the “Gospel of God” reminds me of God’s love and embracing forgiveness. God forgives me when I fall flat on my face, and God lifts me up strengthened and renewed. God continues to warmly love and fully embrace me when I can’t find a way to forgive people who disappoint and hurt me. The “Gospel of God” reminds me that living my life at peace with God isn’t really about meeting my 10,000-step goal, or fulfilling the “Law of God,” in a perfect way. The “Gospel of God” proclaims that peace with God is freely offered to me through Jesus Christ. God welcomes and embraces me – even as I find myself struggling to live my Christian life in a faithful way. And that’s a word of Good News for me – and it’s a word of Good News for you, too! Do you know that the word “Gospel” means “Good News”?

And so, I’d encourage you to use your Fitbit if you find that it’s helpful. But, I’d also like to encourage you to think about what it means to live your life – feeling that you need to take enough steps (or do enough other good things) to be at peace with yourself and to be at peace with God. It’s hard to remember that God’s primary disposition toward us is welcome and embrace. And it’s sometimes hard, even for the Church itself, to keep that message of “Good News” clearly before God’s people.

God loves you even when you miss the mark and don’t accomplish your 10,000-step goal. You don’t have to be perfect to experience the warm love and the full embrace of the God who sent His Son into the world because He loves you.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through Him.” (John 3:17)

Blessings!

Wrestling with God

Provision

We all go through times when we struggle and wrestle with God.

Christ has promised to be with us as we journey through life (Matthew 28:20) and Saint Paul reminds us that God’s grace is always sufficient for today (2 Corinthians 12:9). We have a God who has the power to bring great healing into our lives (2 Kings 5:1-14). And yet, as we faithfully journey through life – moving from “what we are right now” to “what God wants us to be” – we can, also, face times when our journey isn’t easy and when we even find ourselves wrestling with God.

In this week’s message, “Wrestling with God”, we explore the times in our lives when we long for God’s intervention. We reflect upon the times in life when God calls us to confess our sins. We remember that God has tremendous power, and that God has the ability to transform us into something new. And we see all of these things in the story of a man named Jacob.

This is a message about personal encounters with God, and about how God can use times when we come before Him in worship and prayer to change our lives, and to send us back into the world both renewed and made whole again.

Blessings!

 

God’s Healing Power

Calm to the Waves

In this week’s message, we explore one of my favorite stories in the Bible!

The story of Naaman, the Syrian commander, is a story of illness and isolation. It’s a story of big dreams and times of disappointment. It’s a story where God doesn’t bring healing in ways that are expected. It’s a story where we discover that God can bring tremendous times of healing into our lives; but, where we’re also reminded that the process of healing can, often, only begin after we’ve learned to become more honest and more authentic with ourselves, with other people, and with the God who loves us.

“God’s Healing Power” is a message designed to speak to people who are struggling to make sense of life as they live in the gap between “who and what we are right now” and “who and what God wants us to be in the future.” It’s a story of God’s power. It’s a story that reminds us of God’s ability to work in our lives – sometimes, in very simple ways. It’s a message created for YOU – a real person – living in a world where there’s often a huge gap between what God intends for our lives and futures, and what we see on television.

Blessings!

Grace Sufficient for Today

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Have you ever noticed that everything seems to be really BIG these days?

I sometimes feel like I’m being haunted by my Smartphone. Every disaster is thrust before my eyes moments after it happens. I’m notified every time political candidates speak. I’m constantly immersed in a whirlpool filled with stories about bad things happening to good people. It’s overwhelming.

In this week’s message, “Grace Sufficient for Today”, we’re called to remember that God’s still living and moving and breathing in our world. God’s walking beside us and is gently sheltering us beneath His wings. And in times when we cry-out “Increase our faith!” Jesus lifts a little mustard seed before our eyes.

We don’t need to eat elephants whole! We don’t need to jump into the ring, grab the bull by the horns and wrestle it to the ground every time a problem or challenge arises in our daily lives. We can, instead, learn to trust in God’s day-to-day provision. Because, when we know that we know that we know that we’re being safely held in the palm of God’s hand, we can know that we know that we know that we’re going to be OK.

Peace!