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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am a pastor, teacher, educator, who lives theology. I am actively searching for ways to participate in the life and being of God in Jesus Christ with the power of the Holy Spirit. I like to help congregations and people grow in their faith, and I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination.. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Wednesday, February 3, 2016

Law-Gospel in Lutheran theology

This distinction is Law and Gospel in the Word of God is vital to understanding how and why I read the Bible, the story of Jesus, and am a conservationist for the environment. This distinction is crucial (literally that means "of the cross") if you want to appreciate God's beauty and wonder. Law and Gospel, in the words of the great Philip Melanchthon, "All scripture should be divided in these two main topics: the law and the promises." (Article 4, Apology of the Augsburg Confession), is all about living life to the fullest as you are created to be.

Our job as Christians, and especially as theologians and preachers, is to always be trying to discover what is Law and what is gospel (promises)? Sometimes God's word challenges, like in a prophetic rant; and, at other times, comforts us as in a soothing prayer. But you never know what's what--it depends upon the situation. That bothers people sometimes.

Isn't it relativistic to say that God's word means one thing at one time and another thing at another time? Well, how else does God become a God of truth, or love, or justice, if God is not willing to speak to our actual human situations? Sometimes we do things that the God of justice desires, so God sends a word of promise (gospel). At other times, we don't. God then sends a word of law. (To send a word of promise/gospel when we work against God's justice would not really help God's purposes much, it seems to me. It would just keep encouraging unjust behaviors and attitudes.)

A lot of Christians, for example, believe that it is unjust to practice non-monogamous, non- married, and non-heterosexual sexual relations. For these Christians only monogamous, heterosexual sexual relations within the boundaries of heterosexual marriage are just. They arrive at such conclusions by reading God's word as law, both the words of the Bible, and the laws of nature. For them, this is God's challenge to us and our sexuality--can we have sexual relations only in this way?

For other Christians, sexual relations outside of traditional heterosexual marriage are part of God's promise. You can, for example, be homosexual and still enjoy sexual relations outside of marriage, because marriage is not allowed to you in many societies. In societies where gay marriage is allowed, now the promise becomes a bit more of a challenge. (Christians have never dealt well with sexual relations outside of marriage; in main part, because marriage is the bedrock metaphor of Christian community, and what Christian theologian, regardless of their sexual orientations, wants to admit there might be some fun outside of Christianity? Hence, sexual fun outside of marriage is a big no-no.)

But no matter how you view marriage, how you discern Law and Gospel in God's Word goes a long way to pinning our behaviors and attitudes. Not just in sexual relations, but all of our activities can have the Law/Promise distinction brought to bear upon it. Should I shop at Walmart or locally? Should I conserve the environment or placate those who wish to destroy it? What do I do with my parents who are now aging? How do I raise my children? All these questions ask us to listen for God's word, and to distinguish between Law and Gospel.

And distinguishing between them is not always easy, if ever...But that's why it's important, because without that distinction, "easy" is just another word for sin.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Here's a sermon that tries to be both a bit of Law and Gospel.

Wednesday, January 13, 2016

Advent means walking with grace

I like this sermon for three reasons:

1) It takes seriously a world that is out there trying to kill us...
2) It takes seriously the reality that God blesses us in Jesus, and frees us to love our neighbors
3) It's got some jokes

What risks does your faith inspire you to take? How do you reach beyond your comforts to be a presence of peace in a world of violence and hatred? Whom would you walk with tomorrow who could use a friend?

Advent is the New Year of the Church year, and as we begin 2016, I wish you a Happy New Year (and the presence of peace.)

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Why do YOU go to church?

Reading about religion on the internet or hearing about it on media, the major assumption seems to be the people have religion in order to work on social issues. People go to church, mosque, or temple (or even the mountains) to work on some problem brewing within our culture these days. Maybe it's racism, maybe guns, maybe abortion, maybe wage equality...there's many, and each page or click or show seems to trumpet a faith that seeks its fulfillment in some type of social activity.It's almost like the social gospel is the only gospel.

But I wonder...

You see, each week about 300 people come to hear me preach. What do they come to hear? A story from my whacked-out life, and how I experienced the grace of God, and the power of salvation, and the gift of freedom from something crazy I did? Maybe. (I do tell a good story.)

Do they come because they want to hear how to balance their faith with this current insert current political, social, economic crisis here? Maybe. Although you would only ever come once to one of my sermons, because although I often reference the "world" and its problems in my sermons, I never offer advice on the morality or ethics of the situation. Image result for churches

If they come to hear me preach (and I am willing to entertain that few, if any, actually do), judging by my sermons they must want to hear about equality of creation, freedom to love, and God, the Creator Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. And baptism and communion. Because that is all I preach about.

And that's precisely the stuff that never makes it on the internet pages or media shows. If the internet were to die, Christianity (and I assume other religions as well) would be just fine. If there was never another TV or radio or podcast of religion, Christianity would be just fine. Because none of that stuff is important to Christianity. Never has been. Christianity has always been about the love God shows us in Jesus Christ, and the power of freedom we have in the Holy Spirit to love God, our neighbors, and even our own selves. You don't need the internet for that. (and thanks for reading this on the internet)

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Let's Say 2040

I've never really thought about what year I might die. I've often stated that I would be happy dying between my 75 and 80th years, and if so, that puts me right around 2040 for a year I might die. (Mind you, this is all speculation. I could die in 2016 or 2050, who knows?) But that's only 25 years from now, and this leads me to wonder about all kinds of things.

For example, my mother could still be alive 25 years from now. She would be a little over 100, but plenty of people of her generation will make that number. (As long as Medicare and Medicaid hold out.) My grandson would be 26, older than his mother is right now. My daughter will be the age I am as I am writing this post. Weird stuff like that.

But here's one: after the 2016 election, I'll only have to endure this process 5 more times before I die. Since we often elect incumbents, that means I really have only three more Presidents left to make fun of. I mean, the last three presidents have been pure comedic gold for preachers. President Bush was so incompetent that the jokes practically wrote themselves. President Clinton was competent, but his personal life was so much larger than reality that there was nothing off-limits for him. Jokes come easy when there are no boundaries. And President Obama? I mean, the guy is going to be known forever for health care. I saw a permanent sign on a medical clinic in Omaha the other day that said "We have Obamacare." Really? And we can't make a joke about this? Sadly, though, my days of Presidential comedy are down to three more players...and one might be Hillary Clinton. (Do not tease me.)

I saw Harold and Maude when I was 17. I have never wavered from my appreciation of Maude. Nor of Harold. Image result for harold and maude It never occurred to me that 80 years would be so difficult to get to, 35 years ago when I first saw that movie. Life is hard. Here's the story I use as to why I do not relish time beyond 2040.

When I was 47 years old, on a cold Winter's day in December in Mandan, North Dakota, our congregation celebrated the 94 birthday of our organist's father. It was 7 degrees below zero, and with the 20 mile and hour wind, the wind chill made it feel like 15 below. With the sun, it was a rather nice Sunday, all things considered. Anyhow, as I left worship that morning, Henry was under the hood of his Buick beating the battery with a wrench. (It works, trust me.) I turned to his daughter and said, "If I have to live another 47 years just so I can do that--kill me now." The guy was twice as old as me, and he was still beating car batteries to life in the frozen prairie. What--EXACTLY--is the point of living?

Everything seeks life because we are always in the process of dying. Jesus knew that. But rather than try and tell people how to LIVE, he showed us how to DIE. And in doing that he freed us to LIVE without fearing to DIE. The grace of God is not that we live (or survive some kind of tragedy in that sick, twisted, anti-Christian "there but for the grace of God..." bullshit we spout) or that we die, but rather that we live in love with all of creation, and not use a fear of death or dying as an excuse not to live in love. Whether I make it to 2040 or not, I do want to live in love...even if it kills me.

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.

Happy New Year!

Happy New Year! I wish all my readers a blessed 2016!Image result for happy new year I want to dream out 50 years from now to 2066. (The recent birth of my grandson has led my thoughts to wondering what the world will be like when he is my age.) I will be dead; I hope for about 25 years. (I just realized that it looks like I'll be dying around 2039 or so. Never thought of that before...maybe another blog post?)

Who knows what kind of world my young grandson will be a part of? Climate change is going to have a lot to say about that I am sure. Where he lives and how he lives depends completely upon whether life is available to him or not. My daughter, who is a true millennial, hasn't really contemplated her future, and she is still in shock that she has lived this long. But there is no reason to think the world will end just because the climate changes? But it will be a radically new world perhaps...

That's what is most interesting to me. Since I have no sentimentality (I have a former girlfriend who has patiently been waiting for 35 years for me to let her know when I get my first sentiment. Maybe next year, Carla.), I really don't care about whether things we currently find valuable are still in existence. Here's some things I hope aren't around in 50 years:
Professional Sports (what's the point?)
Air conditioning. (Henry Miller was right.)
Fruits and vegetables in alcohol (they're drinks, not salads)
War (seems like every list should have this one on it)
Homeland Security (greatest illusion ever accomplished by politicians. Clearly there is no such thing)

If we eliminated these things, the world would be a better place...let's start with the fruits and vegetables in alcohol.

Here's some things I hope are around in 50 years
Sustainable food and water for everyone (world hunger is the biggest problem we have)
Blues clubs (actually I want to see art everywhere celebrating creativity and freedom)
Total equality for all of God's people, (with distinctions based upon needs and desires of a sustainable world)
My grandson (and I will now let Carla know that she has to wait no longer.)

One thing I don't worry about 50 years from now is whether God will be around or not. God was here before the world, and I am sure God will be here after it too. That's the funny thing about the God of Jesus Christ--there is never any doubt that God is around this planet and universe doing things. But what is in doubt is whether humans will be around? That's why Jesus came to earth, not to teach us how to be God, but save us from ourselves, and our inability to trust our humanity and the gifts of love we have all been given. Do you trust yourself? What's your plan?

May your tables be full and your conversations be true.