Winter in Illinois is tough. It’s cold. They skies remain grey. The wind whips. And it snows.

Snow is actually a consolation. I’m happy during a snow storm and for about five hours following.

trunk of tree under snow in forest
Photo by Marta Wave on

Ice is not a consolation.

Snow is beautiful. It is soft. It deadens sound. It reflects light. It can be moved with a shovel.

Ice can be beautiful. It’s beautiful in the same way a cocktail of arsenic is.

I hate ice. It fights back. It laughs in the face of a snow shovel and then breaks it.

I am never happy when ice is around–not even during the storm.

And yet, as I shovel my driveway, I choose to focus on the snow.

I’m grateful to have a driveway, a garage, and not have to put a chair on a parking space bought with the sweat of my brow only to have it stolen.

Attitude is they key. Even ice can be dealt with as long as you choose to focus on what beauty may be found.

Happy New Year!

January 1, 2021 — Leave a comment

The year has turned over and now its 2021. Most of you are saying, ‘thank God!’

The new year is a blank slate.

There’s nothing written on it.

2021 is God’s gift to us.

man with fireworks
Photo by Rakicevic Nenad on

So, what will you do with your new year?

Maybe the better question is, who will you be in 2021?

We tend to think of making the most of the new year for improving our health, our discipleship, our relationships, and the like.

What that really means is becoming the sort of person who chooses to eat healthily, exercize regularly, spend time with God daily, and nurture the important relationships in his life.

2021 is about becoming a new person, not just getting stuff checked off your resolution list.

So, let’s join together and encourage one another as each of us takes more steps toward being the sort of people that Jesus would want us to be.

Let that be your gift to God.

Happy New Year!

University campuses have always been dangerous places. You never know where you might end up should you dare set foot on one. I doubt that Martin Luther had any inkling that one day his exercise of academic freedom (commingled with spiritual anguish) in the ancient university town of Wittenberg would set in motion a renewal movement that would change the church forever—both in its Protestant and Roman Catholic expressions.

Almost 500 years ago, Luther strode up to a large wooden door. Paused. Then unfurled a hand-written scroll. With a few swift strokes of a hammer, the nail bit into the door’s wood. There the scroll hung, curled slightly by the breeze.

It was a young professor’s invitation to seriously and publicly discuss a medieval Catholic doctrine that was tearing apart the fiber of his soul: salvation. What is repentance? How are we made right with God? What role does the church and, more specifically, the Pope play in granting the forgiveness of sins?

It was October 31, 1517—the beginning (if it could be called that) of what we today refer to as the Protestant Reformation. Many churches celebrate Luther’s bold action today (known too as All Hallows Eve or Halloween, of course). But it’s also fitting that Reformation Day falls right before All Saints’ Day (November 1), given that the Reformation emphasized, among other things, broadening ministry to those outside of ordered ministry (bishops, priests, or deacons) and religious vocations (those who belonged to a monastic order, as Luther himself did).

Sinner and Saint: Making Sense of Salvation

Luther’s grievance flowed from the internal tension between his lived experience of being a Christian, his ministry as an Augustinian priest and preacher at Wittenberg, and his role as a teacher of theology in the divinity faculty. As a priest and professor, Luther was obliged to believe and teach the (medieval) Church’s doctrine of “progressive” salvation (soteriology)—the idea that salvation takes root in the life of the believer through seven sacraments, which dispense grace to Christians so that they can be saved over time. The sacraments were baptism, confirmation, the Eucharist, marriage or ordination to Holy Orders, confession, responsive penance, and, in the end, administration of the Last Rites that aid in the transition from this life to the next.

This foundational medieval Catholic theology was problematic for Luther for two principal reasons. First, Luther faithfully participated in the sacramental life of the church and yet found that his soul was still anguished concerning his own salvation. As long as salvation equaled moral perfection, he lived in utter defeat, turning from his sin only to eventually fall once more into transgression of God’s law. And he feared the “righteousness of God” (Romans 1:17), which he understood as God’s holiness, purity, other-ness, unity, and perfection. Indeed, to Luther, the righteousness of God was the basis of God’s wrath toward sinners.

Second, Luther came to believe that the church had misunderstood the what and when of salvation. As he prepared lectures on Paul’s letter to the Romans, Luther discovered that what he—along with the rest of medieval Catholicism—had read as “the righteousness of God” could also mean “the righteousness from God.” This changed the meaning of the verse altogether: “For in it [the gospel] the righteousness from God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written: ‘The righteous shall live by faith.’” In this interpretation, God’s righteousness becomes the gift of right-standing before him on the basis of his gift of faith to the believer.

Luther came to experience peace with God only as he grasped that he was at once both a sinner and justified (given right standing before God) on the basis of faith in the gospel alone (simul justus et peccator). This means our relationship with God cannot be altered by performance. It can only be altered by God’s declaration, like that of a judge, that we are not guilty by virtue of Christ’s sacrifice. And the result of this making-right is reconciliation with God and the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, whose inward ministry causes us to grow in holiness (sanctification).

Why We Should Celebrate

On Reformation Day we celebrate how God worked through a troubled young academic theologian in the context of a university. Through Martin Luther—and others—God altered the course of Christian history, returning it to a more authentically scriptural understanding of salvation.

As with Luther, this is no merely academic exercise. How we understand salvation affects how we experience salvation and life as a follower of Christ. If sinner and saint cannot exist in a single person then we are all doomed to a life committed to placating God by fulfilling his law, a task possible only for Jesus. It is a profoundly liberating experience to realize, as Luther did, that God’s righteousness is given to us and we are declared “not guilty” because of Christ, even as we experience life day-to-day as a people who still sin. The reckoning has been made and now we follow Christ, trusting that he will transform us to be more like him.

PASTORAL PRAYER | October 18, 2020

Our Father and Our God,

We give you thanks that we may approach your throne not as strangers and aliens, but as adopted members of your family through the Lord Jesus, our elder brother.

We thank you that our sins have been covered by Christ’s perfect record and that the penalty for them has been born by him too.

As we reflect on our own lives and our life together as a church help us to honestly ask and answer the question: what are we willing to do? 

What are we willing to do in order to bring honor and glory to your name?

What are we willing to do in order to connect people to the Lord Jesus so that he can transform their lives?

What are we willing to do so that we can have an effective ministry and mission in this community?

And if we find, within ourselves, the answer returning to us as “not much,” help us to lay our unwillingness before your throne and turn from it. 

And if we find ourselves thinking, “I don’t really know,” by your Spirit guide and inspire us with one thing we can do to make a change in our own lives and in our congregation.

And if we find ourselves longing to see change come about, give us the grace to encourage and build others up as together we lean into your mission for us.

We need your help. We are weak, but it is in our weakness that your great strength is revealed.

And now, we turn to the needs and concerns of this day.

We pray for the peace of the world, that a spirit of respect and forbearance may grow among nations and peoples.

For those in positions of public trust especially that they may serve justice, and promote the dignity and freedom of every person.

For all who live and work in this community.

For a blessing upon all human labor, and for the right use of the riches of creation, that the world may be freed from poverty, famine, and disaster.

For the poor, the persecuted, the sick, and all who suffer; for refugees, prisoners, and all who are in danger; that they may be relieved and protected.

We pray for this congregation–for those who are present, and for those who are absent–that we may be delivered from hardness of heart, and show forth your glory in all that we do.

We pray for our enemies and those who wish us harm, and for all whom we have injured or offended.

We pray for ourselves; for the forgiveness of our sins, and for the grace of the Holy Spirit to amend our lives, we pray to you, O Lord.

 And we remember all who have commended themselves to our prayers; for our families, friends, and neighbors; that being freed from anxiety, they may live in joy, peace, and health, we pray to you, O Lord.

And now, as our Savior Christ has taught us, we are bold to pray:

Our Father,

Who art in heaven; hallowed be Thy name. 
Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done
On earth, as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread;
And forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil;
For Thine is the Kingdom, and the Power, and the Glory, forever.