For God’s worldly performance, God deserves an ‘F’

Someone asked me recently, “Pastor, what is a successful church?” By church, I suppose he meant congregation. Great question! Let’s take out our metrics and tools and get to work.

But, before we do, consider this: At its absolute zenith, in its simplest form, Christianity is the story of a God who died one day in order to redeem his people. On that day, participants were distraught, hiding or whipped into a frenzy. Doesn’t seem very successful to me. Don’t you think God deserves an ‘F?’ I say we all give God a big fat ‘F!’

Time to measure Trinity Lutheran Church, Manhattan Beach, or any congregation, for that matter. For starters, we still preach Christ crucified. We still believe that Jesus rose from the dead and will come again. We still believe that until he comes again, we are Christ’s body, continuing the work that he started (cf. Lk 4:18-19). Any current hiding, angst, and frenzy, therefore, is predictable because that’s what people do when God is up to big things.

One of the songs Trinity’s 11 o’clock worship band plays is entitled “There’s Something Happening Here,” a reference to Jesus being present in our lives, delivering his kingdom. Big, Gospel things are happening here at Trinity, Manhattan Beach.

By the way, ‘F’ is for FOLLOW.

 Pastor Luther






Broken in Boston

Most tragically, only a few months ago we were writing and reading about the Sandy Hook shooting, and now this.

We do not live in a free society. We lost our freedom, or gave it away, however you want to look at it. We are imprisoned by evil and its consequences–violence, sin, death, destruction, injury, fear. There seems no escape.

Many conversations have already advanced to ‘now what? or ‘how do we move forward?’

For the time being, let us stay here, in the present moment. For especially in the moment, there is comfort and hope.

The Psalmist (13) gives us the words to pray:

How long, O Lord? Will you forget me forever? How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I bear pain in my soul, and have sorrow in my heart all day long? How long shall my enemy be exalted over me?
Consider and answer me, O Lord my God! Give light to my eyes, or I will sleep the sleep of death,
and my enemy will say, “I have prevailed”; my foes will rejoice because I am shaken.
But I trusted in your steadfast love; my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord, because he has dealt bountifully with me.

Say your prayers. Keep the faith, knowing that faith keeps all of us.

Pastor Luther

Bible Series Segments 2&3: Promised Land and Prophets

I am taking the second and third installments together simply because I watched them together with one of our congregation’s CLAY (Community Learning About Yahweh) Bible study groups. Now, I certainly appreciate the impossible task of re-telling God’s entire history with humanity in 10 hours of video, yet the producers’ choices are even more curious this time. For example, I would not rank Sampson in the top 50 most significant Biblical characters, yet the time and attention to him was substantial. What about Elijah/Elisha—certainly more important to the New Testament narrative and Judeo-Christian faiths? I hardly think “good theater” explains the matter, for Elijah and Elisha out-pace Sampson in this regard, too, as does Jonah and the big fish and other phenomenal narratives.

Since the Bible is the telling of God’s history with humanity, and God’s decisive act with humanity is Jesus, then the Bible is finally about Jesus. Martin Luther called the Bible the cradle for Jesus. Now the story of Naomi and Ruth nears critical importance.

If you were to name 7 Old Testament stories and 7 New Testament stories that best communicate the Bible, what would your choices be and why?

Pastor Luther

Bible Series Segment 1:Creation through Exodus

Mark Burnett, The Bible series co-producer (with Roma Downey), said he undertook this History Channel project because the Bible is easily the greatest book in the world’s history. As such, he is accomplishing literary theater rather than doing theology. Perhaps this was most evident in the first installment when there was considerable emphasis on the role of Lot and his wife while the stories of Jacob and Joseph were completely omitted. Collectively, the portions presented seemed to repeat a particular pattern— God’s leaders were consistently driven to their wits’ ends only to have God intervene at the last moment to destroy resistance while moving the remnant people forward. Noah, Abraham, and Moses each reiterated ‘God will provide,’ while imploring followers to ‘have faith.’

To date, is The Bible series a good introduction to people who have little or no Bible knowledge? What value is it to those who watch from a fundamentally-familiar or well-informed perspective? What ‘jumped off’ the screen when you watched? Questions, comments, observations?

Sandy Hook is a reality not a problem. And there is hope!

In the aftermath of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, many people have many questions. These questions require several avenues of discussion to even begin fashioning responses. At the same time there is much to say—and we need to talk about this event—there are hardly words to appropriately do so. This is one of those situations we can’t really decide on answers as much as we can address the matter and struggle through it. Finally, our responses cannot be limited to words and thoughts; instead, we must find ways to actively engage all people at all times in healthy relationships. For as much as this school shooting is beyond comprehension, God’s grace in Jesus Christ is even more profoundly mysterious. Consider these proposals as you work your way through this tragedy and others—sadly enough—to come.

1. All of us are capable of the kind of behavior that the shooter, Adam Lanza, perpetrated, given a particular set of circumstances—histories, relationships, experiences, biologies, psychologies, environment, etc. If I had the life Adam Lanza had, I may have “snapped” similarly.  We cannot judge, only empathize. That is not to say he is not to be held accountable; he is. Accountability is another issue. Anger and sadness and fear and anxiety are all normal responses. Incredibly, some parents of the slain children are able to extend compassion and forgiveness, too.

2. No one is beyond God’s grace in Jesus Christ, and we all require it. Adam and his family need grace, just like we all need grace in order to reconcile and find peace. Jesus’s gift of forgiveness is for all people for all things for all time—those who lived before his earthly life, those who lived after, and those people yet to be born. The question then, is not so much, ‘is Adam forgivable?’ as it is, ‘why didn’t he know grace and forgiveness in his life before killing others?  What relationships broke down and why? How did he lose hope? Adam’s mother and father and teachers and friends and neighbors and acquaintances and strangers all played a part. You and I do the same for each other every day we live—either extending grace or stealing hope. Whatever overtook Adam was chasing him down since the day he was born. More evil than grace for Adam. Again, that is not to say he should not be held accountable. He should. But the reality is that we all played a part in this terrible act one way or another, and so we are all accountable. Our actions cannot condemn us any more than we are already condemned. We are condemned as and when we are born into an evil world. God redeems us by the power of the Holy Spirit who causes us to believe in the Jesus story which is God’s grace for the world. The good news is that nothing we do can neither separate us nor bring us closer to Jesus. Jesus is in charge of forgiveness and salvation, and Jesus chooses to extend it to those who need it most. Our need for forgiveness is as big as our need to forgive.

3. While these Connecticut murders are especially tough because they are so close to home and the victims so young, we can never forget that 100’s of thousands of children in Syria and Iran and Iraq and the Sudan—to name just a few in this decade alone—have suffered the same. We must also be devastated and outraged and sad and resolved to do something for these children and families, too. We must all learn to see ourselves in relationship with all people all the time. More importantly, we must learn to extend grace to all people at all times everywhere.

4. For as much as we may want justice for Adam Lanza and others who commit atrocities, at the end of the day—every day—all of us can be thankful that God is not fair. The last thing we want is a fair God. Thankfully, we have an unfair God who judges all people according to Jesus, not according to our own deeds and misdeeds. If any of us were judged on our own merit, we would all lose out on salvation, since God’s standard is perfection. Salvation is God’s gift to all of us who don’t deserve it. The real danger is trusting in our own good citizenship. The opposite of faith is not non- or unbelief. The opposite of faith is trusting in our own goodness and will. God gives to all who believe in Jesus the same standing that his only son has. God will judge Adam the same way he judges all of us. The day Jesus returns and we all stand in front to make an accounting of our lives, do not make a case for your own behavior. Beg for mercy, asking to be judged according to Jesus.

5. The good news in the middle of all this is that Jesus is coming again to finalize God’s plan of redemption for all of creation. Peace does not come after violence; peace comes in the middle of it; peace comes to defeat violence, swallowing it up, consuming it. Our world is a mess. Our nation is a mess. Our state is a mess. Our city is a mess. Our schools are messes. Our families are messes. Our lives are messes. But Jesus is coming again soon, and until that day, he comes to us and is with us and in us, giving us hope and confidence until that last day. On that day, no more violence. Until then, keep the faith, knowing that is it faith in Christ Jesus that keeps all of us.

Pastor Luther

God of the Internet, too!

Televangelists gave people the option of worshipping in their homes instead of congregating with other people in a worship space. In the same way, social media gives people the option of being in virtual relationship with others instead of face-to-face meetings. What is the future of a faith whose distinguishing characteristic is God taking human form to live among God’s people in flesh? What is God up to in technology? How does technology favor and hinder faith? –Pastor Luther.