Grace Alone

This coming weekend my congregation will celebrate Reformation Sunday. This is always a special Sunday in a Lutheran church. It’s not special because we’re celebrating the man, Martin Luther. It’s special because of God’s grace. We celebrating going back to God’s Word and rejoicing in the fact that on our own, we’re lost — hopelessly and eternally. But God doesn’t leave us on our own; he sent his Son to do what we could not, to suffer what we should have suffered, to die that we might live. That’s why the Reformation is worth celebrating.

I realized that this is the first time since 2007 where I won’t be preaching for Reformation. My associate pastor will be doing that this time. I look forward to hearing from someone else about God’s grace to me. 

I also found a quote from Martin Luther himself where we see his emphasis on grace.

All who seek entry into His kingdom must seek it by nothing but grace. Christ has regard for no one because of his pile of gulden, his beauty, his wisdom, his golden hair, or because he wears a garment embroidered in gold or silver, or a gray coat. No, it is grace alone that counts. His is to be a kingdom of grace, belonging to those who are wretched and poor, whether they be men or women, rich or poor. 

~Luther’s Works 22:190




Treading Water

I remember taking swimming lessons as a kid and learning how to tread water. It was kind of exciting to be able stay in one place in the water without sinking. But the novelty wore off quickly; soon I realized that treading water was a way to use a lot of energy to go nowhere.

There have been times I felt I was treading water in life. I was doing my work, I was spending time with my family, I was doing everything I would normally do. The problem was I didn’t feel like I was going anywhere. I felt stuck, flailing around and wasting energy without actually accomplishing anything. There wasn’t so much anything going wrong as much as just an absence of things being right.

There are plenty of possible explanations for this, of course. But just last night in Bible class we discussed a verse that I think gives a valuable perspective on our lives and how to live them without just treading water. The verse is Ephesians 2:10: We are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. Continue reading

Never Be Surprised

I live in Western New York, and my area is in the  news for a not-so-good reason. I’m talking about the latest member of congress to resign in disgrace. (Technically, he didn’t serve the area where I live, but it’s close enough.) I’m not going to recount the details of the scandal or even mention his name here. I’m more interested in the reaction to what happened.

It goes something like this: “I’m shocked! How could he be so stupid? How could someone so trusted, with so much responsibility, with a wife and a family…how could he do this?” I suppose it’s natural for us to be surprised by such a fall from grace from someone so prominent.

But I want to tell you: never be surprised. I’m not making a statement about politicians and their trustworthiness. I’m talking about human beings and their propensity to sin, to mess up, to blow it. As a pastor, people often try to be on their best behavior around me (not unlike a politician smiling for the camera!) Usually, when some sin or mistake in their lives comes to light, they’re embarrassed. They think I will be so shocked and surprised that they would do something like that.

Well, I’m not surprised. You shouldn’t be either.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jeremiah 17:9) There’s no getting around it. Human beings are sinful. They do things that are wrong, before God and people. This sin infects all people. Even the Apostle Paul mentioned how sin kept creeping into his life. I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. (Romans 7:18-19)

I’m not saying this as an excuse. I’m not saying it’s okay, that the congressman couldn’t help his actions or that other people who do terrible things can’t help it. I’m not excusing them. I’m taking away everyone’s excuse. Sure, we don’t all end up in public scandals. We don’t all commit crimes that cause us to be imprisoned. But we are all sinful. We are all imperfect. And as such, we fall under God’s judgment.

It’s just another example of what our only hope really is. In Greek they’d say, Kyrie Eleison! Lord, have mercy! Christ, have mercy! There is nothing good in me. I deserve God’s wrath and punishment. But in Christ, God has had mercy on me. In Jesus Christ’s living perfectly in my place, and in his dying to pay the price my sins owed, I am forgiven, I am right with God, I have eternal life. In Christ, everyone who believes has all of this and more!

In summary: never be surprised by sin. I never am anymore. But I’m always surprised at God’s grace to me.