Born Again?

baptism windowHave you ever been asked, “Are you born again?” or “Are you saved?” If you say “Yes” to the question, the interrogation may continue with “When?” If you say “No,” the conversation may end because you are judged to be a heathen. It may however continue with efforts to get you to come to a church that has the answers to your “problem.”  If you struggle to know just how to answer these questions, you are not alone.

The notion of being “born again” is rooted in scripture. In the Gospel according to John, we are introduced to a man named Nicodemus (John 3:1 ff). He is a wise teacher of the Jewish people who comes to Jesus under cover of darkness to ask questions. Jesus engages him in a conversation that leaves Nicodemus confused and scratching his head. Jesus tells him that all must be “born from above” (John 3:3). The Greek word used is deliberately ambiguous. It can be also translated born “anew” or, born “from the beginning, or in an interesting turn, born “for a long time.” And yes, some choose to say born “again” – though I’m not a fan of that choice, because to me it lacks the God-driven, long-term sense of John’s usage. If forced, I’d propose maybe, born “again, and again, and again….”

The other scriptural mention of “new birth,” is, for me, much more helpful.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! By his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, (1 Peter 1:3 NRSV)

Notice how it clarifies who does the “birthing.” It is not us, but God’s action.

For a certain Christian folks, being “born again” means making a decision to follow Jesus. It is often draped with emotional or spiritual experiences of conviction, repentance or spiritual ecstasy. For many (maybe most) Christians, this notion of establishing a relationship with Our Lord is precisely backwards. The “decision” that establishes my relationship with God is not mine. It is God’s. The cross saves; the cross tells me that I am, in fact, born again. The only action I take is in my response, every day, to that fact.

Baptism is, for most Christians across time and space, the event that proclaims God’s action to initiate a rebirth “from above.” We are most certainly called to respond to the grace of God’s action by taking up the way of discipleship. I think it is that second part of the “new birth” that folks who ask this question are really getting at when they ask questions about being “born again.” Does your relationship with God create a new life? A new person? That’s always a good question.

Today, September 25th, is the anniversary of my re-birth. On that date decades ago, I was washed in the water and the Church announced that I was a child of God; the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God decided to raise me up. For a while, my parents rose each day faced with what that glorious announcement meant for me. When I was confirmed, I took the responsibility from my parents and heard again of God’s decision to claim me. As Luther taught, from that day forward, every day was an occasion to respond to God’s grace and mercy. I’m still doing that every day as I make the sign of the cross and begin the day with a prayer. I do it as I read the scriptures and find myself called and convicted; as I serve my neighbor because the world is not about me; as I repent of the stupidity I commit each day and am honest about my life as (Luther again) sinner and saint all in one package that God has decided to love.

This weekend, we will celebrate with a whole bunch of 9th graders as they affirm their baptisms and take up the task of that daily walk with Jesus. As they are confirmed, they will hear the announcement of God’s decision to raise them up and be given every new day as an opportunity to respond to God’s love and grace and God’s children.

No doubt, they will get asked questions. I thought I’d end by giving them answers I use.

“Are you saved?” Absolutely!

“When?” On a cross, outside Jerusalem, in the early first century.

“Are you born again?” Yes. Every single day.

“How do you know?” God sent and surrounded me with holy messengers (the Church) to tell me, over and over and over again.

 Pax Christi – Pastor Tim

 

Copyright  2019 Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

You’ve Got the Rhythm!

I usually have a playlist to listen to when I am exercising on the elliptical machine.  The rhythm of the music keeps me moving in the right direction of accomplishing my task of burning those calories and strengthening those muscles.  Oh sure, I could do the exercise without the music, but it’s the rhythm of the music that motivates me to get exercising and to keep it up.

There is a new rhythm to life that occurs when the school year starts, when the air begins to cool, when summer wanes, and our evenings darken earlier.  Fall brings football, music and band lessons.  Clubs that haven’t met for the summer are starting to pick up momentum again.  This week church school, adult learning, and affirmation of baptism classes begin.  It’s the time of the year for making choices and setting priorities for the fall and winter months.  It’s the time to set the rhythm for the next nine months.

Luke shares wisdom that is helpful to all of us as we set our priorities and select the rhythm for our lives by sharing Jesus’ frank words about discipleship.  In Luke 14:25-33 Jesus urges us to count the cost of following Jesus.  It’s a path that involves giving up what’s not important, it’s about sacrifice, and it’s about serving others.  It’s the road less traveled when the norm is not to be involved in a faith community.  Count the cost when meetings interrupt your sabbath time, when commitments take you away from worship.  Count the cost.  Following Jesus is following a God who is love and humility.  We learn about loving Jesus and each other in worship.  We learn about God’s love and humility in church school and adult learning.  We learn how  people of faith can make a difference in the world. None of us have discipleship all figured out.  We learn about serving others in a variety of ministries with which we have a relationship with others.

We all struggle with priorities. This fall I urge you to consider making Jesus a priority.  Let Jesus set the rhythm in your life, and your family’s life and see how that rhythm works for you.  Granted there will be a cost, but it will bring real life.  We can say “yes” or “no” to being disciples.  Moses urges the Israelites who are about to enter the promised land to choose life by loving the Lord, obeying God and holding fast to God.  Those who choose life, choose God.  Those who choose to follow Idols, as Moses claims are destined to “A life of death and adversity”.  We have an abundance of idols in this world.  Idols are really anything that we place above God.

I commend you to pray about the rhythm that brings life to you and your family and live life accordingly.  Count the cost of what will bring life.

Grace and Peace to you my sisters and brothers as you discern the rhythm of your life and the cost of whatever you follow.

In Christ, Pastor Pam Schroeder

New Heaven, New Earth

During the season of Easter (which lasts into June, not just one Sunday), we will gather in worship under the theme New Heaven, New Earth. This image set the tone in the very first reading of scripture we heard as Easter dawned. “For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind.” (Isaiah 65:17)

This new creation is evidenced in all four of the gospels as they tell of the resurrection. Each state that the women went to the tomb “on the first day of the week” either very early, or while still dark. The language launches us backward to the opening verses of Genesis where creation begins on the first day of the week in chaos and darkness. A new creation is happening in the resurrection of Jesus.

New Heaven SquareWhat this new creation is all about is anticipated in other places. Isaiah sees the end to violence and lives lived in oppression; a creation where wolf and lamb peacefully coexist (Isaiah 65); where swords are beaten into plowshares (Isaiah 2:4); where all the nations of the world are gathered in peace at the feast table of the Lord. (Isaiah 25).

In 2 Peter 3:13, we hear of a world where God’s agenda of peace justice and righteousness are the norm and standard: But, in accordance with his promise, we wait for new heavens and a new earth, where righteousness is at home.”

Perhaps the most compelling vision of the promise of God’s creative activity is in the last book of the New Testament. “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more…  And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:1,3-5)

So, how do we respond to these visions and proclamations of a “new heaven, and a new earth?” On the one hand, if you love life the way it is and hope that heaven is simply a continuation of all that already is, this word of newness can be unsettling. We humans hate change and the loss of control. It sounds like lots of change beyond our control. It is.

One of the spiritual challenges of faith is to always be discontent with the status quo. I am not who I shall be, and certainly not what God calls me to be. The world may seem comfortable in front of my TV watching Netflix, as I much snacks I don’t need. But that patina of comfort and success is very, very thin. It rubs away with even a tiny amount of reflection and spiritual elbow grease. My comfort is often at someone else’s expense. My “happiness” is a mask for the anxiety, pain, and trouble boiling beneath. I’ve just gotten good at denying it.

If we are aware of suffering – our own and the world’s, then these images of a new heaven & earth might make us throw up our hands in joyous dependence and passively wait for God to just get ‘er done. I can surrender to my helplessness and wait for God to install the big fix.

The truth is that this new creation is already begun. In the resurrection of Jesus, God began the process of pulling, pushing, recreating us and everything into something new. The signs of that new creation are all around us if we look. When healing happens – new creation. When peace triumphs over war and violence – new creation. When tears are wiped away and mourning turns to dancing – new creation is already here.

That said, the new creation is not yet a fulfilled reality. We are living in the already/not yet of God’s new heaven and new earth. That means we are anything but passive. We have seen verified the veracity, the truth, of the vision of a new heaven and new earth resurrection. Knowing how the future will unfold, what the outcome is, we become active in anticipation of a new heaven and new earth that will triumph over the brokenness of this world.

We are to live as joyful malcontents. Malcontent because we are dissatisfied with every rotten and stinking thing about this world and refuse to accept it as normal. Joyous because we know how the story ends. Our ethics and moral values are shaped by the future vision of peace, justice, healing, life, and everything else shown in the vision of a new earth and heaven. We wait, not passively, but actively bringing about and proclaiming God’s new creation. We are part of the process of creating a new heaven and new earth.

Pax Christi, Tim Olson

 

copyright © 2019, Holy Trinity Lutheran Church

Take My Life…

giving handsThe old hymn sings. “Take my life that I may be, consecrated Lord, to thee…” This is the song of a disciple who has come to realize that to follow Jesus is to place your whole life, your whole being, into the hands of the Redeemer. It is, perhaps, what Dietrich Bonhoeffer meant when he spoke of “Costly Discipleship” and “Costly Grace.” We give our lives to Christ because Christ has already done that for us.

Giving “my life” to Christ is a great spiritual image to propel us deeper into the life available in and through Christ alone. Yet, “my life” can sometimes be a little abstract. It can be a purely “spiritual” or “inward” notion that lacks concrete definition. The hymn goes on: “Take my silver and my gold, not a mite would I withhold…” Now, that’s concrete. I can see my life as a gift from God. Seeing my money, my wealth as anything other than “mine” is hard. The truth is, it all comes from God and is all dedicated to God, if we dare to follow Christ with our lives.

Giving to the church is a touch subject for many – touchier than even sex and politics. This shouldn’t be the case because, first and foremost, giving to the church is a faithful response to what God has given us. Every breath, every heartbeat, our daily bread, and every paycheck is a sign of God’s gracious love. Certainly, we work hard, using the gifts and skills God has given. Yet, without God, none of it is possible. An offering is giving God something back.

Giving to the church is giving to God. When the impoverished Macedonian people scraped together a generous offering for the starving folks in Jerusalem, Paul wrote, “For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints–  and this, not merely as we expected; they gave themselves first to the Lord and, by the will of God, to us… (2 Corinthians 8:3-5)  

Giving to God’s work in the church blesses us. Scripture challenges us, “Bring the full tithe into the storehouse, so that there may be food in my house, and thus put me to the test, says the LORD of hosts; see if I will not open the windows of heaven for you and pour down for you an overflowing blessing.” (Malachi 3:10) This is not some strange “investment theology” where offerings are returned in a transaction. It is a witness to the spiritual truth that generous hearts grow full of love, while stingy ones whither.

 Giving to the church is a responsibility. To offer worship, pastoral care, learning ministries, and all the other things the congregation does for members, in the community, and the world, we need to spend about $1.5 million each year. That is about $1,875 per family. Thankfully, we don’t “bill” a fair share. We faithfully pray for God’s grace to be shown in the generosity of each member as they have been gifted and called.

Giving to God answers a call. Scripture teaches that at least the first ten percent of what we receive in all things is to be dedicated to God’s work through God’s people. If every household in the congregation tithed, we would receive $6.7 million a year – think of what a difference we could make.

Planning your gift helps you and the congregation. People who make commitments to give (which are always changeable and not promissory notes) become more generous and spiritually vital. The studies prove it. When the congregation knows what to expect, leaders can be faithful in planning for the future. None of us would take a job knowing only that we would be paid “what I can afford, when I can afford it.”

As we walk through our Let Your Light Shine generosity emphasis this year and considering how we will all give back to God our offerings in the coming year. I’m praying for all of us to open our hearts and hands, signing “Take my life, Lord.”

On behalf of the congregation, I’m asking you to make a plan to give generously in the coming year. Don’t let someone else give for you, join in the mission of the Body of Christ not just in thoughts and prayers, but in generosity as well.

The peace and love of Christ to you.

Pastor Tim Olson

 

copyright 2019 © Holy Trinity Lutheran Church, Ankeny, Iowa