Saturday, October 25, 2008

Martin Luther, Reformation Sunday, and the Grace That Saves Us

[This presentation about Martin Luther and the Reformation is something which I've written and taken through multiple rewrites and updates since I became a pastor in 1984. I've included it in several worship bulletins, used it as a sermon, handed it out to classes, and published it here several times. Tomorrow, October 26, will be celebrated as Reformation Sunday by Lutherans and many other Christians around the world. This explains why.]

He was born in November, 1483, in the German principality of Saxony. His father was a one-time coal miner who, through hard work, had risen to middle class status, the owner of several mines. His mother, who would exert so much influence over the boy was, in the custom of those times, a full-time housewife and mother.

His name was Martin Luther. From an early age, he exhibited great intelligence and many talents. As time passed, he would become an extraordinary preacher, theologian, and musician. These pursuits were far from his father’s intentions for young Martin. Hans Luther wanted the boy to become a lawyer in order to care for him and his wife in their old age.

That, in fact, was the trajectory on which Martin’s life was moving when a shattering experience intervened.

He was heading back to the university he attended when a ferocious thunderstorm arose. A lightning bolt knocked Luther to the ground. Understandably terrified, Martin cried out to the patron saint of miners. “Saint Ann,” he said, “save me; I will become a monk.”

I once told this story to Father Seavey Joyce, who served Saint Ann's parish in the same small town (Frankfort, Michigan) where I did my seminary internship. Seavey listened and wearing an impish smile, said, "I guess that goes to prove that even saints make mistakes." (He was kidding because Seavy also told me once that he was sure that one day the Roman Catholic Church would name Luther a saint.)

But of course, it wasn't Saint Ann who’d made a mistake. It was Martin Luther. In fact, in his moment of terror in the thunderstorm, he made several mistakes. Mistake one: Calling for supernatural help from anyone other than the God we know in Jesus Christ. Mistake two: Making a deal in the hopes of placating what Luther thought was an angry God. God doesn’t make deals.

But Luther became part of a long tradition of people who have done the right things for the wrong reasons.

In the Old Testament book of Genesis, for example, we find the true story of a young dreamer named Joseph. His father, Jacob, doted on the boy while virtually ignoring his ten other sons. Resentful, Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery and then took the coat their father had given to him and spattered it with blood. They showed it to Jacob. He concluded that Joseph had been killed by a wild animal.

The brothers had done the wrong thing. But it turned out that, unbeknownst to them, they played into God's plans for Joseph. Joseph was set down a difficult road that ultimately led him to become, in effect, the prime minister of Egypt, second in command after the Pharaoh. In that position, Joseph oversaw the storing of crops during seven bumper years in anticipation of seven years of famine, a famine that affected the entire Middle East.

Ultimately, Joseph was able to use the stored crops to save the lives of his very own family members and many others. Later, he was able to tell his brothers that when they sold him into slavery, "You meant it for evil. But God meant it for good so that many might be saved." Joseph's brothers had somehow done the right thing for the wrong reasons.

In the New Testament book of Matthew, we find the story of people who came to see the Christ Child. We call them "wise men." But they were really little more than astologers, people who made horoscopes and superstitiously believed that stars foretold occurrences on this planet. It's the sort of the practice that the Bible condemns completely. We're to depend on God and on nothing and nobody else. Yet, these wise men who followed the stars for the wrong reasons, at the end of their journey, came to the right conclusion: This baby was the Savior of the world.

Martin Luther’s entry into the monastery for the wrong reason turned out to be very right, indeed! I don’t think that his father ever forgave the young Luther for taking the vows of a monk and "abandoning" his family. When, several years later, Luther also was ordained a priest, his father, Hans, expressed the belief that Martin’s call might not have come from God, but from the devil.

Martin Luther, in fact, was a deeply disturbed young man, probably neurotic. He felt himself utterly and completely guilty of sin. He couldn’t imagine that a morally perfect God could or would forgive him. At times, Luther hated God. He believed that God was playing a vicious game with the human race: Demanding moral perfection and when none of our race were unable to attain it, gleefully sending us to hell.

Noting how disturbed Luther was, believing that a fully occupied life would crowd out his worries and fears, and recognizing how intelligent Luther was, his superiors decided that he would study to become a doctor of theology. He would teach at a new university being started in the Saxon town of Wittenberg.

At first, a new regimen of work, which included administering fourteen monasteries, pastoring a local church, and teaching at the new university, did nothing to assuage Luther’s loathing of God and of himself.

But then, something happened to change Luther’s life and world history. (And, over time, through the Reformation Luther began, my history.) Like most seminarians and priests of his day, Luther had never studied Scripture. He did so now, as he prepared for the classes he was teaching.

In the Bible, Luther found a God different from the one often preached in the Church of his day. He saw a God of grace and love Who reaches out to His children, Who charitably understands their fallen humanity, Who forgives and empowers right living, and promises eternity to all with faith in Him. He saw a God Who hates sin while loving sinners, Who calls all to repent for their sin and believe in His Son, Jesus.

He began to see this picture of God as he studied the book of Genesis in preparation for lectures to his students at Wittenberg. He met this God again in the Psalms. And, perhaps most clearly of all, Luther saw this God in the majestic New Testament book of Romans.

A key passage for him was Romans 1:16-17:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel; it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed through faith for faith; as it is written, “The one who is righteous will live by faith.”
With his deepening knowledge of the Scriptures and the original Hebrew and Greek in which the Old and New Testaments, respectively, had been written, Luther’s understanding of God blossomed.

Up until this point in his life, Luther, like most of the people of his time, labored under the mistaken notion that righteousness was a state of moral perfection, a status God commanded of us, although none of us could ever attain it.

Now, Luther saw that righteousness is having a right relationship with God and that it can’t be secured by anything we do. He saw that while God does demand moral purity from us and that our sin earns us everlasting condemnation, God Himself took on flesh in the Person of Jesus Christ so that He could die in our place on the cross and all with faith in Jesus won't be condemned. Instead, God gives all with faith in Jesus forgiveness and everlasting life. That's what Romans means when it talks about salvation and salvation as God's gift to believers in Christ. Period.

Realizing all of this now, Luther, who studied in the tower of the monastery at Wittenberg had what was later called his “tower experience.” While studying God’s Word, Luther had an overpowering sense of the depths of God’s love for all of us--including himself. Coming to know that rigteousness is God’s gift which we can access when we turn from sin and entrust our lives to Christ, Luther said, was like having the gates of heaven thrown open to him! The faithful person would try to respond to the love of God given through Jesus Christ, of course. But, Luther knew, we can’t earn God’s love. It’s a gift called grace.

The once-neurotically ashamed Martin Luther became a joyful champion of the new life that God gives to all with faith in Christ. As he grew in the confidence he had in Christ and in God’s love for him, Luther grew bolder in sharing what he had learned about God from the Bible.

On October 31, 1517, he posted 95 theses--or propositions--for debate on the church door in Wittenberg. In those days, a scholar who wished to engage in discussion about important issues posted points on the doors of churches. Church doors were the Power Points, bulletin boards, or blogs of that time.

Luther’s theses were prompted by a common practice in the Roman Catholic Church of his day. The Church then taught that there was a place called “purgatory,” a sort of holding room that the dead supposedly went to between death and eternity. Purgatory was supposed to be a place where people were purified for entry into heaven. To raise money, the Church often authorized the mass sale of pieces of paper known as indulgences. These indulgences allowed people to buy hundreds or thousands of years out of purgatory for loved ones or even themselves.

Luther, certain that eternity was a free gift, was deeply offended by this practice. He would later say that if there were such a place as purgatory and the Pope, as head of the Church, had the capacity to free people from the place, he should do so out of simple Christian compassion and not accept a penny for doing so.

When Luther’s preaching against indulgences began to impact the bottom line on their sale, the Church went after him. At a gathering in the German city of Wurms, before the emperor, Luther was ordered to recant, or repudiate, all of his writings. He refused.

Ultimately, he came under what was known as an “imperial ban.” That meant that both the Church and the powerful Holy Roman Empire, a confederation of principalities and nations, agreed that if any one saw Martin Luther, he was to be killed on sight. Luther was labeled a heretic, a perverter of the Christian faith.

For the balance of his life, Martin Luther remained steadfast in proclaiming the God we see in Jesus Christ, the God of grace and God of glory. Among Luther’s last words were, “We are all beggars,” an acknowledgement that none of us is better or more important than others in God's eyes and that all with faith in Christ are the recipients of God’s charitable gifts: forgiveness and new life. We cannot earn them, but thank God, He loves to give them to those humble enough to surrender to Christ! Luther died in 1546.

We celebrate October 31 each year as Reformation Day because on All Saints Eve, Hallowed Evening or, as we call it, Halloween, in 1517, Luther’s 95 Theses began a major reformation of the Church. That reform movement goes on to this day.

Martin Luther learned and then taught from God’s Word that our relationship with God and our freedom from sin and death don’t come from our works or from doing proscribed acts of ritual, religious or otherwise. These things come to us freely from a God Who, in Christ, shows us that He isn’t our enemy, but our very best friend.

Friday, October 24, 2008


We all get stuck in our lives, uncertain about the directions in which we should move. This is especially frustrating for Christians who want to express gratitude through lives honoring God for the free gifts of forgiveness and new life which come from Jesus.

That grace should lighten our anxiety over discerning the right directions for our lives, the directions for which God designed us. We should know that even when we get things wrong, if our motivation is to live loving and useful lives, God will still be pleased with us.

Nonetheless, our unease can be understandable. The Bible witnesses to a personal God Who cares about us personally. He gives all human beings certain abilities and more deeply blesses Christians with spiritual gifts meant for us to use in making the church and the world better. God wants to imbue our lives with purpose and direction.

But sometimes, overwhelmed by the condition of alienation from God that all humans are born with, we get stuck.

My friend and colleague, Pastor Glen VanderKloot, recently presented a wonderful piece by contributing writer Whitney Hopler on how believers in Christ can hear God's voice and find direction for their lives. Hopler's article distills a book called Speak Lord, I'm Listening: How to Hear God's Voice Above the Noise by Larry Kreider.

The first method for hearing God's voice commended by Kreider and Hopler is one with which Lutheran Christians like me are sure to resonate, given our emphasis on the central role of God's Word in the lives of Christians:
The Bible: God may cause a portion of Scripture to jump off the page for you while you’re reading it. He may make you aware of how it applies to your life right then and use it to lead you in a particular way. The Bible is your final authority – the standard by which you should check everything else you think God may be saying to you. Remember that nothing God says in any other way will ever contradict what He says in the Bible. Get to know the Bible well by reading and studying it often. Be sure to keep the context and original intent of Scripture passages in mind. [italics added by me]
The Bible, which we Lutherans confess to be the authoritative source and norm of our life, faith, and practice, should be the filter through which we view all things, including our lives, motives, and places in the world.

I like the rest of the list of ways to hear God's voice as enumerated by Hopler, too.

For some, the idea that God can speak to us will be foreign. We're like the people of eleventh-century BC Israel. Of that time, the Old Testament book of 1 Samuel observes, "The word of the Lord was rare in those days; visions were not widespread" (1 Samuel 3:1). The observation seems to be made with a kind of incredulity. "Can you believe it?" the passage seems to ask. "People were so far away from God that they didn't hear His voice."

I'm convinced that the God Who made the universe and Who became one of us in Jesus Christ is still speaking to us, if we will only listen. I say that as someone who, I admit, crowds God's voice out of my life way too often, doing that through my activities, some of them which, on their face, appear commendable or holy. But whenever we prevent God from speaking to us, we can bet that we're not about anything commendable or holy!

To be clear, in talking about "hearing God's voice," I don't mean an audible-"If you build it, he will come"-in-the-cornfield hearing, although I discount no possibility. God is sovereign. Therefore, God can choose to speak to us in any way God wants to speak to us. God even used an ass to speak once. (Some people say that God does that in the pulpits of many churches every week.)

[Above, Balaam, his ass, and the angel blocking their way. Balaam was so consumed with doing what he wanted to do that he couldn't see the angel God sent to turn him back. The ass could. When the ass refused to go on, God spoke to Balaam through the ass. I'll leave it to you to apply this to your own life. Click on the image to see all of it.]

Go to Hopler's article. If you're feeling stuck, maybe her words of wisdom will help you hear God's voice and get you unstuck.

He may still haven't found what he's looking for...

But soon, you'll be able to find Bono on the pages of the New York Times. Reportedly, he will write from six to ten columns for the paper every year. That's good. Bono is a smart guy with important things to say.

Prize Given to Imprisoned Dissident Highlights China's Atrocious Human Rights Record

See here.

Buckeyes Face Huge Test!

My beloved Ohio State Buckeyes play host to Penn State's Nittany Lions tomorrow night and I don't mind telling you, I'm nervous. While the Buckeyes are a great team which has made steady progress with freshman QB (and PA native) Terrelle Prior at the helm for the five games since a crushing loss at USC, Penn State is a formidable team.

The bottom line: If the Buckeyes win tomorrow night, they'll deserve the Big Ten title that will almost surely come their way for the third consecutive year, assuming they win out the rest of the season.

By the way, the Buckeyes who get so little love nationally after going to two consecutive national title games (and losing) have received little affirmation in the polls for their steady improvement in the past five weeks. Depending on who you believe, they're ranked ninth or tenth in the country. But the more objective computer rankings put them at fifth nationally. Penn State is ranked third, both by the computers and in the polls. If the Buckeyes pull off the upset, will the coaches and sportswriters who vote in the polls start to show Ohio State some respect? We'll see.

For more information on the game, go here and here.

Go, Buckeyes!

Forbes Names Columbus a Great 'Bang for Your Buck' City

I've often said that my hometown, Columbus, Ohio, is a Sunbelt City nestled in the most beautiful part of the country, the Midwest. Columbus' diverse economy insulate it from many of the gyrations experienced elsewhere and the cost of living there is surprisingly low for a place with so much culture and conveniences and so many interesting places to live and shop.

These facts were recently underscored by Forbes magazine's selection of Columbus as one of the US cities providing the biggest bang for a buck. Columbus placed sixth in the top ten.

All five of the towns ahead of the state's capital and largest city are in the Sunbelt. But none of them enjoy changing seasons or Ohio State football!

Check out the Forbes article here. (Thanks to this site for drawing my attention to Forbes' ranking of Columbus.)

What Money Can't Buy

From my colleague and friend, Pastor Glen VanderKloot...

WELCOME to the daily issue of ONLINE WITH FAITH.
ONLINE WITH FAITH is a ministry of Faith Lutheran Church,
2313 Whittier Avenue, Springfield, IL, 62704, Glen VanderKloot,

We encourage you to worship and be involved in a local congregation.

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A Thought for the Day

Money can buy a house, but not a home.

Money can buy a bed, but not sleep.

Money can buy a wedding ring, but not love.

Money can buy a clock, but not time.

Money can buy an education, but not wisdom.

Money can buy jewelry, but not beauty.

Money can buy insurance, but not safety.

Money can buy a crucifix, but not a Savior.



Ecclesiastes 5:10 NLT

Those who love money will never have enough.
How meaningless to think that wealth brings true happiness!


Lord, thanks for reminding me that money is not the answer. Amen


To subscribe to Glen's daily inspirations, send an email to and put SUBSCRIBE on the subject line.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

The Opportunity in the Financial Crisis

"If for this life only we have hoped in Christ, we are of all people most to be pitied."

The words come from the first century preacher and evangelist Paul and were originally addressed to a band of Christian believers in the Greek city of Corinth. Some of them evidently, were saying that Jesus' resurrection wasn't real. They treated the Easter story like a myth that anesthetized them from dealing with reality, bringing them happy religious feelings.

Paul gave them a reality check, though. He reminded them that Jesus' resurrection was no myth:
...I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time...(1 Corinthians 12:3-6a)
Christian hope is rooted in an historical event on which otherwise undistinguished and less than courageous people staked their lives.

Not only is Christ's resurrection an historic fact, its significance goes beyond this life alone. Christ doesn't promise us easy lives. But He promises that those who build their lives on Him will be with Him for eternity.

This is important for us to remember in the current financial crisis and economic uncertainty.

The prime reason for this crisis is that people have staked too much hope in the finite rewards of the world. Our hopes have to go beyond this world.

Jesus once told a parable that bears looking at these days:
“Take care! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions.” Then he told them a parable: “The land of a rich man produced abundantly. And he thought to himself, ‘What should I do, for I have no place to store my crops?’ Then he said, ‘I will do this: I will pull down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.’ But God said to him, ‘You fool! This very night your life is being demanded of you. And the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21)
For too long, we Americans particularly, have been, in Jesus' phrase, "fools." What do we win when we make financial success the object, the god, of our existences? Some comfort in this life. But the god of material comfort will bring us no comfort--and no life--in eternity. In the end, it's dumb to invest our biggest hopes in something guaranteed to stop paying dividends, which is what money does at the moments we die.

Actually, as I consider the financial crisis, I see great opportunity in it, opportunity for transforming us from a voraciously consuming society into something different, better. I'm excited by what it might teach all of us and how it might change us. My thoughts dovetail with those of Methodist bishop William Willimon, who recently wrote to members of his Alabama conference of congregations:
John Wesley famously said that the “people called Methodists” should “make all you can, save all you can, give all you can,” with the emphasis decidedly on the third part of that exhortation. Early Methodists dressed simply and lived simply. They founded societies for thrift, not in order to hoard but in order to give.

In a new book, The Decline of Thrift in America, historian David Tucker notes that throughout much of American history we saved up to 15% of our income. Thrift was an all-American virtue. Since the 90’s as credit got easy and borrowing became a way of life, there was a dramatic change. The average American now owes more credit card debt than at any time in history.

After one of the most tragic days in U.S. history, how did the President urge us to deal with our grief? “Go shopping.” Spending had replaced thrift as the chief American virtue. Those who had accumulated wealth for themselves and their families were lauded as representatives of the “American dream.” Our biggest trade deficits in history, along with unfunded spending on multiple wars are now bearing their bitter fruit. Reports from many of our pastors suggest that we are moving into a time of very painful recession.

Perhaps now is a good time to recover some Christian virtues that we thought we had outgrown. I pray that we will be given new moral direction that will point us back (or is it forward?) to...Christian values, like thrift. Times of financial crisis are good times to be reminded of what’s really valuable, from a Christian point of view.
I liken the credit binging that precipitated the current financial crisis to addiction. The whole economy became addicted to easy credit based on the chimera of ever-increasing real estate values.

Now, the whole economy is in detox. It's painful. Hopefully, it won't create innocent victims.

In the end though, we may learn the virtues of saving, thriftiness, appropriate spending, and sharing from this financial crisis.

It may also alert us, both those who already confess Christ and those who don't yet do so, of our common need of, as the Twelve Step movements put it, our "higher power."

Jesus Christ is the Lord Who has conquered our sin and conquered death and is able, because He has "in fact" risen from the dead, to give us a hope unaffected by the collapse of banking firms, the tightening of credit, or the decrease of inflated real estate values.

In this life, we have the promise that God stands by us. But our hope goes beyond this life, to a resurrection that all who believe in Jesus Christ will share.

Money is a necessity today. It need not be our god. In fact, it must not be. We can invest our hope elsewhere. When we put our hopes in Christ, the dividends will never stop paying off!

Sunday, October 19, 2008

It Will Change Your Life

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

1 Thessalonians 1:1-10
To start off this morning, I'd like to show you a few books from my personal library.

This first one is a paperback version of the New Testament in the Good News translation. It was given to me by my parents’ church in Columbus when I graduated from college. This Bible is especially important to me because this was the one I read when I first fell in love with Jesus Christ! It was on these pages that I came to learn more about Who Jesus is and the depths of His passion for me and you and everybody.

Acts was the first book of the New Testament I read in this edition. I remember being especially stirred when I read this verse, which came after an account of how the apostles, the leaders of Jesus' post-resurrection Church had been beaten for their faith in Christ: “The apostles left the Council [that had beaten them and told them to never speak in Jesus' Name again], full of joy that God had considered them worthy to suffer disgrace for the Name of Jesus.” To this day, I can hardly read that passage without choking up. Imagine it: These followers of Jesus derived joy from having the privilege of suffering for their allegiance to Him! By contrast, I complain about being inconvenienced by people for whom Jesus died and who Jesus has called me to love.

Next book from my library: Later, through the American Bible Society, my early mentor in the Christian faith, Martha Schneider, secured a hardback version of the whole Bible in that same translation. I gave it to our daughter Sarah a few months ago.

When I went to seminary, we were each required to have a copy of the Oxford edition of the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, no longer in print. I used this Bible throughout my seminary career and into my early years as a pastor. After it got worn out and had nearly fallen apart, no matter how much Scotch, masking, or duct tape I put on the binding, I bought another one to replace it.

It was from this Bible that I read on the night before my family and I trekked to our very first congregation twenty-four years ago. Just before I went to bed, I read Paul’s letter to a young pastor named Timothy. In the book called First Timothy, Paul gave Timothy advice that I felt that I needed as a then-young pastor myself: “Command and teach these things. Let no one despise your youth, but set the believers an example in speech and conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Till I come, attend to the public reading of Scripture, to preaching, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophetic utterance when the council of elders laid their hands upon you. Practice these duties, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress. Take heed to yourself and to your teaching; hold to that, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers.”

Later, I bought this Study Bible. I still use it sometimes. Later still, I bought this Life Application Bible. Like the others, it’s now showing its age, too, although I haven't had to resort to duct tape on the binding on it yet. I’ve had it for about ten years and still use it. A few years ago, I’ve added The Message translation to my arsenal of Bibles.

Now, I’m not showing you all these different Bibles to impress you. (Chances are, you’re not impressed anyway.) My point is this: Since 1976, reading the Bible has been an almost daily part of my life. And if you were to open most of these editions of the Bible I've laid out, you’d find in them underlines and notes. You'd find questions in the margins. If the Bible is God’s Word, as I believe it is, then what you would see in those notes and underlines and questions is the record of my ongoing dialog with God, the conversation to which God invites all of us on the pages of the Bible.

This morning, I freely confess that I sin and mess up every day of my life. I do things that are wrong and say things I shouldn’t say. And I think things which, if any of you were mind-readers, would cause you to want to avoid me at all costs. The Bible hasn’t made me perfect. But it has introduced me to the God Who loves imperfect people like me and is committed to helping those who daily surrender to Him. It's shown me the God Who's committed to changing us into all that God made us to be in the first place. I feel like the backwoods Christian who said, “I ain’t what I wanna be and I ain’t what I’m gonna be. But thank God, I ain’t what I was.” A big reason for that is because in the Bible I've met the God Who is patient with me and keeps on loving me and counseling me even when I sin.

When we spend time reading God’s Word, it brings changes to our lives, usually in ways we can’t readily articulate. I told the Sunday School class this true story recently: Years ago, a London newspaper printed a letter to the editor from a disgruntled church member that said something like this: “I’ve been in worship virtually every Sunday for the past thirty years and I have recently realized that I can’t remember a single sermon I’ve heard in all that time. Therefore, I’m going to quit going to worship. It’s obviously a waste of time.” Several days later, another letter to the editor appeared. It began: “My wife has always cooked the meals in our family these past thirty years. Recently, I have realized that in scanning my memory, I can’t really remember more than a handful of specific meals she has prepared. Therefore, I’m going to quit eating.”

Daily taking the time to read God’s Word, like weekly worship, is another way God feeds us and nourishes us. I certainly don’t remember every specific conversation I’ve had with God as I’ve read and written on the pages of my Bible these past thirty-two years. I don’t remember more than a few of them with any specificity. But I do know that when I take the time for this daily discipline, God enters my life that day. I receive God’s counsel. I find what displeases God and for what I need to ask forgiveness. I see how God provides for me and how God wants to be with me forever. I experience God’s grace that loves me and accepts me just as I am. I’m encouraged in my downtimes, guided through life’s mysteries, and brought down to earth when my ego is riding high. But it takes time spent reading and paying attention to God's Word for all of these things to show in our lives.

I'm a slow-learner when it comes to almost anything in life. It took me years, for example, to learn how to blow up a balloon. I’d want to give up too soon and end up with these pathetic, half-sized balloons. Or, I’d take my fingers off the tops of them and they’d fly all over the place as the air let out. You can only blow up a balloon if you steadily, bit by bit, blow air into it, making sure that you hold the tip of it together, and then, making a knot in it.

The moment God begins forming faith in Christ within you--something we Lutherans believe starts at Baptism--you are part of God’s kingdom. But growing up in the faith, living in the confidence that God willingly gives His children, being able to face whatever life throws at us, and becoming the high-impact people of faith we’re made to be, that is a process. It happens bit by bit. It happens through things like regular worship, regular prayer, regular service, regular giving, regularly encouraging others with the love of Christ, regularly inviting others to worship with us, and regularly reading God’s Word.

This is what Paul is talking about in our second lesson for this morning, composed of the opening passages of his first letter to a church in the Greek city of Thessalonica. He begins by saying how thankful he is that the Christians in this Aegean Sea-coastal city are so faithful to Jesus Christ. He writes: “For the Word of the Lord has sounded forth from you not only in Macedonia and Acaia, but in every place your faith in God has become known... [And then Paul goes on to write:] For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, so that we have no need to speak about it.”

Do you see what happened? The Thessalonians had daily feasted on the Word of God. It had become integrated into the very marrow of their souls. The results were predictable. People who lived miles away heard about how Jesus Christ was at the center of their lives and how His Word made a huge positive difference in how they lived and faced each day.

When we daily take in God’s Word, each verse becomes like one of those time-released medicine capsules that, at just the right moments, positively work within us and then bring into being things like joy, compassion, hopefulness, a commitment to justice, and deep faith. This phenomenon, in turn, is seen by others and as was true of the Thessalonians who influenced other people, we will bring God’s Word to those around us. God’s Word enters us and our lives become God’s Word for others.

I urge you to make reading the Bible a daily part of your real life. Wear out your Bibles! Make notes in the margins! Memorize verses that are meaningful to you! Ask God to explain passages that you don’t understand. Ask God to help you apply the things that you do understand. Ask God too, to set off the power for living with joy, peace, and hope that comes to all who let God’s Word act as their guide through life.

[This sermon was inspired by one from the staff of Prince of Peace Lutheran Church in Burnsville, Minnesota.]