Saturday, October 31, 2009

Spending Relaxing Time in the Beautiful Hocking Hills

Here in Hocking County, we're blessed to be surrounded by a lot of God-made natural wonders. A national forest and state parks with awesome cave systems are great places to go hiking and exploring.

Both my wife, Ann, and I came to this area when we were kids growing up in Columbus. More recently, over the New Year's holiday, 2002-2003, our family spent time staying in the cabins at Old Man's Cave State Park. We had a particularly memorable hike on the Cedar Falls trail with my brother and sister-in-law back then.

Now that we live in Hocking County, we make frequent forays to the caves. Recently, we hiked at Ash Cave and at Cedar Falls with our good friends, Don and Lisa. Most of the pictures below were taken by Don, who has a fantastic eye for composition and a real love of nature. [You can click on the pics to enlarge them.]


[Here pictured at Ash Cave is Lisa, my wife Ann (aka: My Honey), and me.]



[A great picture of the breathtaking Ash Cave.]


[The beautiful Cedar Falls.]

[More pictures to come later.]

Saturday Sports

Go, Buckeyes!

Go, Phillies!

[UPDATE: Wow!]

Does This Sound Familiar?

There are questions in France about why, two years after stepping down as president of his country, Jacques Chirac is standing trial for corruption charges stemming from his time as mayor of Paris in 1977 to 1995.

But the questions seem to have less to do with the substance of the charges than with an apparent French tendency to overlook bad behavior on the part of prominent people, especially if it goes back more than a few years.

Chirac's one-time opponent, Ségolène Royal, has responded ambiguously, “He deserves to be left alone, but justice must be the same for everyone.”

The second part of that statement reads like obligatory rectitude. But the first part sounds a lot like what many French leaders said when US authorities moved to extradite convicted rapist Roman Polanski from Switzerland. Polanski is older now, they said, leave him alone.

The statute of limitations may be up for some of the crimes Chirac is alleged to have committed, politics can't be dismissed as a possible motive for the charges, and financial corruption, as wrong as it may be, is, in a criminal sense, not as serious as Polanski's proven rape of a minor.

But the willingness to let old scoundrels off the hook, if, in fact, Chirac is an old scoundrel, seems endemic to French sensibilities.

Good for Medvedev

Here.

Good for Obama

Here.

Friday, October 30, 2009

"God Will Not Be Mocked...Especially When Steeples Are Falling"

[The following article was written by Pastor Jaynan Clark after the votes of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America Churchwide Assembly in August. In two votes, my denomination voted to part with the teaching of Scripture, allowing congregations to bless the monogamous unions of gay and lesbian couples and to call and ordain pastors in such relationships. The vote came after years of heavy lobbying and repeated rejections of similar proposals or ones moving in that direction.

[Two events to which Pastor Clark points are a storm which happened at the Orlando assembly several years ago and a tornado which hit at the site of this year's assembly in Minneapolis. I'm told that meterorologists could not explain how a tornado arose from the weather system that apparently produced it.

[This article was written by Pastor Clark in Minneapolis immediately following the vote.]

Pastor Jaynan Clark
President, Word Alone Network
a Pastor of the ELCA

Some things are not up for a vote.

Some things we as creatures do not have the right to even think we can change.

We as creatures have forgotten our place. Instead of prostrating ourselves face down on the ground before God, Our Father and Our Creator, in humble obedience and prayer, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America—as a shrinking “sideline” denomination—decided to continue its in-your-face unfaithful and disrespectful conduct toward God, Our Maker, ignoring all interventions, warnings and signs.

The ELCA put God’s Word and all of its teachings on the natural order, marriage and family up for a vote and the result was a resounding 66.67 percent approval for changing them.

How many times has the WordAlone Network called foul? How many speeches, articles, news releases have we put out trying to be clear but not angry—pointing out that the natural order is not up for a vote.

God is God, and He will not be mocked.

Yet, year after year the agenda gets pushed, assembly after assembly it gets more in our faces until this year, in this assembly, here in the city of the headquarters of one of the predecessor bodies, the old ALC (American Lutheran Church), things were different.

One could hear it, feel it, and just simply know it . . . this was the year that the ELCA was going to actually cross the line as an institution and make clear to those with ears to hear that it is not an orthodox Lutheran Christian church. The ELCA is a misguided, unfaithful, social institution giving birth to a new religion that only gives lip service to Jesus and His Word.

It is difficult to express to all of you the happenings of the past few days as things began to build up and fall down (go ahead and envision the Tower of Babel).

As a former missionary who served in Tanzania, East Africa, I prayed, watched and hoped that the visible nature of God as I had experienced Him there among the faithful Lutherans in Tanzania would be revealed this week.

In East Africa they have not yet gotten sucked in by this post-modern era to believe that being enlightened means being smarter than God; who still regard that as a First Commandment violation; who know that spiritual warfare is a reality and that Satan is not only real, as the Bible is so very clear on, but targets those whose witness will damage his kingdom. These faithful live, pray and worship differently.

The African Christians knew that I firmly believed that the storm that shook the convention center in Orlando back in 2005 and flickered the lights as the ELCA furthered its agenda to put God’s Word, the created order and its entire teaching about what is to be blessed and ordained up for a vote, came from the hand of God. The ELCA pushed on, as if there would be no consequences.

This churchwide assembly has thus far been like a freight train out of Hell. In the name of inclusion I’ve never felt so excluded. In the name of love, I’ve never felt so despised. In the name of equality and justice, I’ve never felt so discounted and marginalized.

In addition to being told by more than one speaker that we are guilty of the unforgiveable sin, I listened in disgust to racist comments made against the growing, vibrant Lutheran church in Tanzania. I heard the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch twisted and misused as concerned Ethiopian ELCA members, including a former bishop and Lutheran World Federation vice president, from the very church that the presiding bishop held up in his report as an example because of its multi-cultural nature and fast growth, were escorted from the convention center because “the paying customers were complaining.”

As one volunteer gathered money to buy these faithful witnesses visitors passes so they could continue to tell their story to the voters in the halls and on the sidewalks, hoping that if the voters won’t listen to those of us they have already written off they might, in their great push for inclusivity, listen to those praying and begging that the ELCA not take this fatal step. But ears were stopped up and hearts hardened.

As I told another ELCA Ethiopian pastor on the phone hours before the vote, we are going to make God very angry, and I only hope and pray that in the face of this sinfulness and the work of the Evil One He will act more like He does in Africa. We need another storm like the one in Orlando and maybe this time someone will heed the warning.

Yes, this happened. As speaker after speaker twisted God’s Word to say that we, the judgmental Pharisees, were just fearful people, disregarding WordAlone’s many years of trying to be respectful, loving, loyal opposition. Exclusion was hurled in our faces.

Yes, we are fearful but not of the assembly, not of the votes, not of the leadership. We have to and do fear God, Our Father and Our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ in the true sense of fear of the Lord and the wisdom that it ushers in.

For years we have prayed for clarity. We have it. According to National Public Radio, the tornado came out of nowhere. On the other side of the street from the Minneapolis Convention Center, the cross on top of Central Lutheran was bent toward the ground and tents and tables were turned over.

The very roof at the other end of the convention center from where the assembly would soon vote was damaged.

At an accelerating pace, the assembly moved forward, cut debate, refused to hear more amendments—especially ones on homosexual behavior or cohabitation—and rejected attempts to speak the Word from the floor of the assembly. The votes were punched into electronic handhelds and the results came up on the screen.

The numbers could not be denied. The statement on human sexuality passed by one vote bringing the percentage to a number not unknown to those who read their Bibles—66.67.

God, Almighty Maker of Heaven and Earth and Father of our one Lord, Jesus Christ, will not be mocked.

The writing has been on the wall for quite some time. WordAlone hears the call to witness obediently that God is not doing a new thing with sexuality, not trading the natural for the unnatural, not directing his church to act against His created order nor un-sinning sin or blessing it.

God is doing a new thing in this enlightened, post-modern, rational scientific culture that has denied his power for much too long, forgotten the reality of God’s wrath and usurped His authority. We could learn from the Ethiopians and other African Christians, and Christians from other parts of the world, where they haven’t decided to regard God as mere divine spark, impotent and unable to intervene.

But many still do not revere or regard the signs and wonders.

I humbly thank God for His intervention and His witness to His power that has given great assurance to those of us fighting the good fight. It isn’t about us and our agenda; we are only called to tell the story and obey.

My response yesterday was to quote the hymn, “Built on a rock the church shall stand even when steeples are falling.” The rock of the church is God’s Word, not a social statement on sexuality.

I am so glad that I am the president of the WordAlone Network and not the presiding bishop of the ELCA and the president of the Lutheran World Federation, for there are consequences for our actions and they will be global.




[The steeple of Central Lutheran Church in Minneapolis after the storm which hit just as voting members of the ELCA Churchwide Assembly were voting on two proposals which, effectively, officially repudiated the Bible as the authoritative Word of God in our denomination.]

[Pictured above left is Pastor Clark.]

What Kind of Friend Am I?

A runner or a stander?

Beyond the issues raised in the link above, here's another question: Are we runners or standers when it comes to living faithfully with and for Christ in our every day lives?

Do we stand by Christ, the Word of God in the Bible, and the will of God?

Or do we spend our days running in "the waffle house"?

When, on April 2, 1521, Martin Luther was commanded by the emperor and representatives of the pope to recant--to repudiate--his writings which demonstrated that we can only be saved by God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ and that the Bible is to be the supreme authority over our life, faith, and proclamation, Luther was a stander.

With his life in the balance, he stood with the God revealed to all humanity through Jesus Christ. He told the gathered authorities and petty royalty and princes of Europe gathered there:
Unless I am convinced by Scripture and plain reason - I do not accept the authority of the popes and councils, for they have contradicted each other - my conscience is captive to the Word of God. I cannot and I will not recant anything for to go against conscience is neither right nor safe. God help me. Amen.
Standers are often the first ones to be fitted for crosses and burial vaults.

Even today, it's hard to be a stander...
  • when faced with an overwhelming desire to be popular at school
  • when wanting to fit in with the people in our community
  • when facing the lure of sexual intimacy outside of marriage
  • when an ethical shortcut means more money in our pocket
  • when it's so easy to talk about a person you don't like behind their back
  • when the injustices and unemployment and hunger you hear about aren't happening in your own neighborhood or country (or so you think)
  • when hate crimes happen to "other people"
  • when your very own Christian denomination has repudiated the will of God.
I know how hard it is. I've been a runner more times than I care to remember. I battle with my faithlessness each day in daily repentance and renewal.

It's easier to be a runner than it is to be a stander. But in the end, runners don't really run away from trouble; they run away from God.

Standers have troubles, just as Jesus promises; but, in their standing, they really run into the arms of God. (See here and here.)

God, help me to be a stander!

In Christ's Name.

Amen

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Satan is real and powerful...

...but he cannot overpower us. (Please be sure to read Revelation 12:7-12, while you're at it.

This seems like a good time to break into a round of A Mighty Fortress is Our God, arguably the best hymn composed by Martin Luther*:
A mighty fortress is our God,
A sword and shield victorious
He breaks the cruel oppressor’s rod
And wins salvation glorious.
The old satanic foe
Has sworn to work us woe
With craft and dreadful might
He arms himself to fight
On earth he has no equal.

No strength of ours can match his might
We would be lost, rejected
But now a Champion comes to fight
Whom God Himself elected.
You ask who this may be?
The Lord of hosts is He!
Christ Jesus, mighty Lord,
God’s only Son adored,
He holds the field victorious.

Though hordes of devils fill the land
All threat’ning to devour us,
We tremble not, unmoved we stand;
They cannot overpow’r us.
Let this world’s tyrant rage
In battle we’ll engage.
His might is doomed to fail
God’s judgment must prevail!
One little word subdues him.

God’s Wod forever shall abide,
No thanks to foes who fear it;
For God Himself fights by our sid
With weapons of the Spirit.
Were they to take our house,
Goods, honor, child, or spouse,
Though life be wrenched away,
They cannot win the day,
The Kingdom’s ours forever!
*When inviting the congregation to join in singing this hymn last Sunday, I mentioned:
It reminds Christians that every day, we are engaged in spiritual warfare, but that in Jesus Christ, God can give us the victory; that our futures depend only on God.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

On Reading the Bible

This post from yesterday--actually the text of my Sunday morning sermon--warrants a little further explanation.

In the sermon, I talked about three truths that Lutheran Christians have always seen as foundational: Grace Alone, Faith Alone, Word Alone. The last truth is what I want to address here.

As soon as you say, as Lutherans always have, that the Bible is the authoritative truth source for all Christian proclamation, practice, and belief, it raises a big question.

"Are you saying that we need to take the Bible literally?" people wonder.

The Bible is composed of sixty-six different books, written over many centuries, and representing different literary genres. Of this library of books Pastor David Glesne points out:
...while we [Christians] take the Bible in its literal sense, not everything in the Bible is to be read literalistically. Because not all language is literal! We recognize different literary forms--poetry, parables, didactic portions, historical narrative. We do not read the Bible without regard to the ordinary rules of literature. There are different types of literature and different idioms of speech. When you tell your wife that you "bumped into Nancy at the mall today," you don't meant (or usually you don't mean!) you actually had physical contact with Nancy. You mean you met her at the mall. Similarly, we talk about the sun rising in the east and setting in the west. We are not talking literally here.
There is a similar varied use of language in the Bible.

Psalm 19:4, for example, says that, "In the heavens [God] has set a tent for the sun, which comes out like a bridegroom from his wedding canopy, and like a strong man runs its course with joy." That passage isn't saying that God literally places the sun in a tent by night, releasing it in the morning to run across the sky. The Bible, here, is interested in truth more than facts. The truth to which this passage points, through poetic imagery, is that all of creation is from God.

The New Testament records parables--stories--and metaphors that Jesus used. They too are to be read in their literal sense, but not literalistically.

Jesus never claims, for example, that there really was a prodigal son, except that all of us can be prodigals who wander far from the love of God for us and far from loving of God and loving neighbor in response to God's love; except that God waits for all of us to turn away from sin and back to God.

In another place, Jesus says:
If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life maimed than to have two hands and to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame than to have two feet and to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, tear it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell...(Mark 9:43-47)
We shouldn't abandon common sense when looking for what Martin Luther called "the plain sense" of a passage of Scripture. Jesus is not telling us either that our hands, feet, or eyes can literally cause us to "stumble," that is, to fall into sin. And He's clearly not telling us to lacerate ourselves. He is saying that we should rid ourselves of whatever habits, obsessions, or temptations may lure us into behavior displeasing to God.


Scripture isn't to be read casually or flippantly. But there are many places in the Bible with humor--Jesus calling the overanxious James and John "sons of thunder;" Peter, stripped down, heading to shore after a futile night of fishing, throwing his clothes back on, to jump into the water; or Elijah being carried into heaven alive after praying that God would allow him to die, are all examples of Biblical humor. At times, the Bible will make laugh out loud, even though I respect it as the most unique, wonderful, and holy book, inspired by God.

To take the Biblical writings in their literal sense without being literalistic is, as is often true in everyday conversation when we say things like, "I couldn't take another step," or, "I bet I ate 25 doughnuts that day," or, "I haven't seen you for a month of Sundays, to see the plain meaning of Scripture beneath the imagery.

Of course, there are passages of Scripture that are direct, as is true of other things we say and things we read. "You shall have no other gods." "The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost." “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life." "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."

There are books of the Bible that present historical accounts, which can be read more as you would a history textbook or the daily paper, though admittedly with a faith agenda.

Other books present prophecy, poetry, hymns, or apocalyptic imagery, each of which will be read differently, just as we read different genres of other literature differently.

The Bible is simple; it can be understood at some level by the youngest of readers.

But the Bible is not simplistic. The complexity of life is seen on all of its pages. You will never grow up so much that the Bible won't be calling you to grow still more.

One of the things that took me from atheism to faith in Christ is the Bible's unflinching realism about human beings. The people of Biblical faith are, without exception, flawed in different ways.
Yet God used, spoke through, loved, and helped these and countless other Biblical figures.

It's for finite, imperfect, sinful people like these--people who look a lot like me--that God took on flesh in the person of Jesus Christ, became a human being, died on a cross, rose from the dead, ascended into heaven, and sent the Holy Spirit to help us believe and sustain us in a new, never-ending life with God.

If the Bible told the story of perfect automatons of faith, people who never doubted, never sinned, never worried, and always stayed on the straight and narrow, I would find it utterly unbelievable.

But when I look back on those nights in the mid-1970s, when, as an atheist intrigued but skeptical about the Bible and Christianity, I dared to be involved in a class offered at my home church in Columbus--one built around a book called, Life with God by Herman C. Theiss--and delved into the Bible for the first time, writing passages out in long-hand mentioned in the Theiss book, I became convinced that through these flawed sinners, God was speaking to me. God was saying, "I made you. I died and rose for you. I want to give you new life."

In the end, what often gets said about the Bible is true. It is God's love letter to the whole human race. If you haven't done so yet, isn't it time you started opening your mail every day?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

What is a Lutheran?

[This was shared during worship with the people of Saint Matthew Lutheran Church in Logan, Ohio, this morning.]

John 8:31-36
It happened more than twenty-five years ago in New England, where Lutherans are about as rare as the proverbial hen’s teeth. In his office, the pastor of a newly developing congregation received a telephone call. The caller had a simple question. “What is a Lutheranian?” she asked.

Overlooking that mispronunciation, the caller’s question is still a good and important one. Answering it isn’t some esoteric, theological head trip. After all, we are a Lutheran congregation, people who believe the Lutheran Confessions' understanding of Christian faith. If we can’t answer the question, “What is a Lutheran?” how Lutheran are we really?

On this Reformation Sunday, 2009, I want to talk with you about what a Lutheran is. For the historical background on Lutheranism and the Reformation, please take the red insert home with you today.*

But to answer our question, “What is a Lutheran?” I ask you to take a look at the bulletin cover. There, in addition to pictures of the Bible, of Martin Luther, and of Luther’s personal seal, you’ll also find three words printed over a single larger word. These convey what Lutherans see as the three foundational truths of Christian faith:
  • Grace alone,
  • Faith alone, and
  • Scripture alone (or Word alone).
Lutherans are people who, first and foremost, believe in grace alone, faith alone, and Word alone. But, what does this mean?

When the thirty-three year old German monk and priest, Martin Luther accidentally began the Reformation movement, he found himself addressing both a religious elite that no longer cared about the Word of God, choosing to replace it with their own supposed wisdom, and Christian masses whose allegiance was to the Church as an institution, a habit, rather than a personal fellowship with the living God.

No wonder that the elites hated Luther.

No wonder that the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire, a loose confederation of states supposedly bound together by their allegiance to the Roman Catholic Church, put Luther under an imperial ban, meaning that any one was authorized to kill Luther on sight.

Luther’s faithful witness to the Lordship of Jesus Christ and to the authority of the Bible undermined those who wanted to replace Jesus with other Lords and the authority of the Bible with traditions and customs that brought them comfort, control, or power.

But the experience of Luther and the other church reformers was nothing new. If you take time to read the Old Testament, you see a recurring pattern in the life of God’s chosen people, the Israelites or Jews. God would call them to repent, trust in Him for life, and follow Him, and the people, feeling weak or vulnerable or afraid, would do so. For a time. Then, once they got a little food in their bellies, a little tract of land to farm, a bit of wealth or power, they would mostly forget God.

Or, they would make God over into an indulgent Santa Claus who didn’t care if they repented, believed, or followed, so long as they had a good time.

Or, they would tinker with their faith, adding their own rules, intermingling the worship of other deities, maybe ensconcing wealth as a sign of God’s favor and love.

It was to God’s people in these latter circumstances that God would send prophets to call people back to God.

We see this rejection of God and of God’s Word in the people Jesus confronts in today’s Gospel lesson from John. Just before our lesson, Jesus once more foretells His crucifixion and resurrection. Then Jesus lifts up those three distinctives of Biblical faith, three distinctives that would become the three cornerstone principles of Lutheranism. "Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in Him,” our lesson begins, “’If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” Lutherans don't claim to have a corner on the truth market. But the Lutheran Confessions hold up certain truths which, often it seems, the world would rather forget.

Lutheran Christians believe that we are free from sin, death, and futility in our daily lives, first of all, through God’s grace alone. Jesus didn’t come to us and say, “Perform these religious acts and I will set you free from sin, death, and futile living.” Jesus came to us and offered new and everlasting life as a free gift, an act of charity from God.

Paul writes in the New Testament book of Romans, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly [that’s all of us apart from a relationship with Christ]…God proves His love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.” The Greek New Testament word that is translated in our Bibles as grace is charitas, from which we get our English word, charity, a gift we cannot earn. We are saved by God’s grace alone.

The apostle John gets at this same reality in his first epistle, where he says, “In this is love, not that we loved God but that He loved us and sent His Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins.”

For the Christian, we believe, all depends on God's grace. Not our works. Nor our feelings. Not our thoughts. Only on God's grace. A friend of mine has the perfect response for those who ask Lutherans, “When were you saved?” “That’s easy,” my friend says, “on a hill outside Jerusalem two-thousand years ago.” What is a Lutheran? First of all, someone who believes that their salvation has nothing to do with them, but is a result of God’s grace, given in Christ, alone.

Lutheran Christians also believe we are saved through faith alone. Jesus told His fellow Jews that they would only be free to be the people of God if they persisted in trusting in Him.

Throughout the Gospel of John, we see Jesus described as the foundational Truth of the universe, God-in-the-flesh Who spoke creation into being. Life outside of a relationship with the God made known in Christ is a lie, disconnected from the only One Who can give us life.

That’s why, just a few verses after our Gospel lesson in John, Jesus will tell the same people that because they are unwilling to accept His Lordship and authority, His call to turn from sin and follow Him, they are really following a different father, “…[Y]ou cannot accept my word…” Jesus says, “[because] you are from your father the devil, and you choose to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in Him. When he lies, he speaks according to his own nature, for he is a liar and the father of lies. But because I tell the truth, you do not believe me.”

But faith, the gift God gives to those willing to receive it, can overcome what Martin Luther marked as our enemies—the devil, the world, and our sinful selves.

That’s why Jesus says elsewhere, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me…”

And to Martha, the sister of His friend Lazarus, Jesus says, “I am the resurrection and the life. Those who believe in me, even though they die, will live and everyone who lives and believes in me will live forever.”

What is a Lutheran? It’s someone who believes that God’s grace is taken in hand by those who dare to trust—to have faith in--Jesus Christ alone.

Finally, Lutherans believe that we come to know God through the Word alone. Above all, we know God through “the Word made flesh,” Jesus, and also through the definitive, authoritative, inspired Word of God, the Bible, a library of books inspired by God the Holy Spirit.

In Luther’s day, the Church added to and ignored the witness of God about Jesus and the will of God found in the Scriptures. Luther said that the Church dared not do or say anything contrary to the will of God revealed to us in the Bible.

Luther believed Paul’s words to the young pastor Timothy found in the New Testament, “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness…”

We may want to know much more, but everything you and I need to know about God, about ourselves, about how to live, and about who can be trusted, is found within the covers of the Bible. Knowing this truth will set us free.

That’s why the Lutheran Confessions say, “We believe, teach, and confess that the…writings of the Old and New Testaments are the only rule and norm according to which all doctrines and teachers alike must be appraised and judged…”**

We live in an era in which the Bible is routinely snubbed, dismissed, or misused. People ignore how unique and different the Bible is from all the other books of other religions.

The Bible isn’t the writing of just one person claiming a hotline to God, as is true of the books of Islam or Mormonism.

The Bible doesn’t claim to give us a means by which we can work or claw our way to heaven or a state of spiritual enlightenment, as is the case with eastern religions.

The Bible is a spiritually consistent revelation given by God to many people inspired by the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is a library of books that tell us how God reaches out to us, God saves us, God loves us, and how God wants to be reconciled to us.

And thousands of years of living with the Bible’s revelations of God, of Christ, and of the will of God have shown repeatedly that the Bible is more than just a collection of sixty-six ancient books.

It’s a book whose words from God have the power to change the lives of those who stand under their authority.

The New Testament book of Hebrews says, “The word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit…able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart.”

John ends the twentieth chapter of his Gospel by underscoring the life-giving power of the Bible, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not written in this book. But these are written so that you may come to believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that through believing you may have life in his name.”

God saves through grace alone, faith alone, and Word alone.

It was true in 33AD, true in 1517, true today, and true for all time.

What is a Lutheran?

At the least, Lutherans are people who stake their lives on those truths.

And when the world rejects or demeans or tries to tell us to reject the Bible's witness to these three essential truths, we must say with Luther, “"Unless I am convinced by the testimonies of the Holy Scriptures or evident reason…I am bound by the Scriptures…and my conscience has been taken captive by the Word of God…I am neither able nor willing to [reject dependence on Scripture]…God help me.”

And may God help us. Amen

*You can read that here.

**This is from Part One of the Formula of Concord, one of the foundational confessional documents of Lutheranism.