Friday, October 31, 2014

Always Reforming

Here we are on Reformation Day and I tell you I am in awe of the power of God revealed in words like Renew, rebirth, reform. God reformed the church and the world forever through a German, Augustinian monk who had the audacity to translate the Bible into words people could understand and to proclaim a message grounded in Scriptures that we are saved by grace through faith in Christ alone.

And God still is reforming us.  I had the chance to hear the author/Lutheran pastor, Nadia Bolz-Weber, earlier this month.  Talk about change…  Talk about reforming… She’s not your Grandfather Ludwig’s Lutheran pastor.

She is a woman, first of all, stands at 6 foot 1 inches tall with spiky short hair, covered in tattoos and by her own admission she swears like a truck driver… with all due respect to truck drivers.

She was raised the conservative Church of Christ: a church more defined by their don’ts (like don’t drink, don’t smoke, don’t dance, don’t play musical instruments in church) than their dos. She rebelled from this upbringing got her first tattoo at 17, became an addict and stand up comedian, and only after meeting her future husband, an ELCA seminary student, did she finally discover her true calling.  

She is the pastor of House of All Sinners and Saints in Denver, Colorado and is the authentic embodiment of the renewal and reformation that God is doing for the world, for the church and for each and every one of us in Jesus Christ.

Jesus says in John 8, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Jesus teaches that the life we are living now is a trap… it is slavery… and it is not based on truth because we continue to live as slaves sin.

I like how Nadia puts it, “the christian life is a life of continual death and resurrection.” Continually we are called to renewal… Continually we are called to reformation because every day through repentance and forgiveness Christ breaks us free from the worlds lies of fear and despair. Christ makes us free and reveals the truth. It is the Word that propels us on a journey of reform and renewal. With a living faith, everything never just stays the same. The one who has claims you in baptism has remade you and is remaking you from people of fear into people of hope.

Again, I see in Nadia as the embodiment of this reformation. She shared in her lecture that this past summer she was blessed with a sabbatical and used that time to travel to Greece and Turkey. You might be surprised to know that though Nadia seems to be the emblem of everything changing; she actually represents a that reformation is always grounded in tradition. She loves ancient liturgy, especially the fact that liturgy has its own integrity and doesn't demand her’s.

So while traveling in Turkey Nadia visited an ancient Byzantine cave church. She was moved to chant as she felt surrounded by the great cloud of witnesses. The irony of her presence and action in that place didn't pass her by. There she was: A female, Lutheran pastor, former addict, covered in tattoos, child God, follower of Jesus, in the midst of a Muslim country chanting in a sacred space whose original community disappeared centuries before.

She wondered how often the Christians who called that space their church feared for the future as the world was closing in on them. She wondered if they were convinced that their way of life was going to end and that all would be lost… even the Gospel of Jesus Christ. And she thought: what a horrible shame it would have been if those Christians allowed themselves to be frozen by fear and unable to see the hope of Christ.

Could they ever have imagined that centuries later, disciples of Christ, followers of Jesus, would continue to go there? Would continue to share the gospel… would continue to chant the ancient liturgies and and continue proclaim Christ crucified… Christ resurrected from the dead?

Because if that ancient community had been frozen in fear... they were missing the truth that is revealed in Scripture. We are death and resurrection people. We are people of constant renewal and reformation.  What a shame it is when people claimed and loved by Jesus allow the chains and lies of fear to control. The truth has always been and will continue to be that are free in Jesus and his Word will endure forever.

If fear and despair control you and freeze you to your place… allow yourself to continue in the Word through worship and study. Being freed through grace you are free engage in this Holy Word so you know what that grace actually means for you. In that word you will finally know the truth… you will finally be free.

Today is a day of reformation. Don’t be scared to give up the lies that have tied you down…. the patterns of manipulation and contempt that may have become very comfortable for you. Don’t be soothed by the old lies of blame and disgust… Instead, find truth in Christ and life in his abiding grace. God is on the loose transforming us all into his kingdom. From Luther… to Nadia… to you. Hallelujah! Amen!

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

It's All on the Line

It's all on the line tonight in the World Series. It's Game 7! One team will be crowned the champions while another team will forever carry the label of "loser." The Texas Rangers are the last team to lose a World Series Game 7, after they had been only one strike away from winning the Series in Game 6. Ranger fans still feel that sting. My favorite team's only appearance in the World Series went the full seven games in 1982. Like this year's San Francisco Giants, they were up 3 games to 2, needing to win just one more in the opposing team's ballpark. Unfortunately, that didn't turn out too well for the Milwaukee Brewers, losing those final two games to their eventual arch rivals in St. Louis. Brewer fans' feelings about the Cardinals were forever cemented that October and a label of "losers" have gone with it ever since.

Baseball, like life, is played out for the long haul. Decisions are made with each pitch and hundreds of decisions are made per game. All of that occurs in a season that has 162 of those games. When you add the potential of playoffs: teams can play almost 200 games. Tonight's game will be the Royals 177th of the year, not including exhibition games.

But now it's down to one game.  One decision can make or break it. One decision can make the difference between being known as a champion or just another loser. With a loss, Kansas City fans will still only hold 1985 as dear. (There has not been much talk about 1980 over their run this month. They lost that Series.) With a loss, this Giants team will be forgotten in the shadows of the bright light of those championship teams in 2010 & 2012. That's a whole lot riding on one game... on one decision. It's all on the line.

Life give us plenty of all-on-the-line moments, though we may not realize it. We will go through the decisions of a day or take a look at several days within a week or a month and think that not much is at stake. We goof up. We hurt people. We sin. We reconcile. We say "we're sorry." We hold grudges. All-in-all it's part of life and life goes on. But every so often we are faced with choices that do put it all on the line. The choice we make might very well sever a relationship forever. A simple slip-up, while we're not paying attention, might injure ourselves or others.

Again, baseball is a helpful analogy. Playing 162 games may lead us to believe at the time that the blown game back in May really wasn't a big deal. But hindsight might say otherwise. Look at this season: when all was said and done it was only two little games that separated the Seattle Mariners from Kansas City's playoff spot. Boy, don't they seem like worlds apart now. Each game matters. Each choice has consequences.

As flawed people, how do we make the most of each pitch, each at-bat, each choice that we make? We're going to goof up plenty along the way. But remember, the difference between a player batting .350 and batting .250 is huge. It is the difference between playing or sitting on the bench. It is the difference between being an All-Star and being a utility player. Likewise there is a huge difference between children of God, sinners, who walk the way of Christ and those who don't.  It's not difference between batting 1.000 or batting .000. No, disciples still sin and make poor choices and people living solely in the world do make many good choices. But over that long haul, the difference between walking with Christ and not may be a whole lot like the difference between batting .350 and .250... or the difference between the Royals and the Mariners.

Jesus has come so that we might have life and have it abundantly. Walking in Christ and training to walk in Christ through daily prayer, study, service, and acts of gratitude can produce wonderful fruit for children of God. Spiritual disciplines becoming spiritual habits opens up the door of God's Kingdom at hand right now. Practicing a living faith leads you to naturally make the choices that bring life. You're now ready to bat .350 and experience that abundant life right now.

God loves the winners and losers equally. Christ died on the cross for the .350 and the .250 batter. We are all sinners and fall short of the glory of God and we are all offered forgiveness. But in order to thrive and enjoy this abundant, meaningful life that God desires for us, it takes training... spiritual training. And after all that training, when you face those moments when it's all on the line, you will be ready. You will have fought the good fight and run the race as best you could.

Wednesday, October 01, 2014


It's easy to be aware of God's hand in creation this time of year. I had the chance a week ago to head out to the area along the Mississippi River where the states of Wisconsin, Iowa and Illinois all meet. The leaves are turning and the corn is ready for harvest. The rolling hills and bluffs make the autumn colors pop.

What a beautiful creation God has made for us. 

What a beautiful creation God had made for me.

It's a blessing to be aware of your surroundings and to be aware of your own personal connection to those surroundings. The busyness of life and the automatic nature of our day-to-day lives make it easy for us to miss the God of Wonders who is on the loose ready to guide you in your life. Therefore, the spiritual exercises of prayer, devotion, study and meditation help you become more aware of the Divine presence. God, you surround me.

Regular spiritual practices reveal God's hand in the beauty of nature and even in the humdrum. Yes, even what you see on your daily commute is a gift from God. What if you were to prepare your breakfast in awe of your kitchen and all that the Lord has provided for you there? What if you picked up your paper, or smartphone, or tube of toothpaste and acknowledged: God, you made this for me. Thank you. 

Sometimes when we think about the big picture we find it hard to focus on the small details within the picture. Yes, God provides for our every need... and God does this for all people... but God also provides you: second person, singular. That sidewalk you stroll on, the work space to practice your vocation at, and the books you can learn from are gifts for you to use. Thank you God for my coffee mug... a vessel to hold this magnificent hot tasty beverage. I am blessed. 

Spend some moments being aware of your surroundings. Ponder how God has created you and provides for all your needs. Take a moment to be grateful... even for the most common things. God provides. Aware of the presence of your Creator in providing you with so much, you might just think: Lord, I must be the richest person ever to live. Thank you.