Dear Friends,

What’s not to love about October in Florida and Georgia? In Florida the temperatures begin to slowly descend to a more pleasant heat, while in Georgia the leaves begin to glow and then fall, reminding us of the cycle of life, and that death brings new life forth. October also happens to be my birth month, and the older I get, the more I seem to think about that cycle. Jesus said in John 12, “I tell you the truth, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds.” This Scripture passage has always reminded me that death brings forth life. Obviously I am not a proponent of reincarnation, but I am a huge fan of eternal life. When I die to my sin, new life emerges, empowered by Jesus. Knowing that God always has a plan, I can be confident that when some door closes, God is close by, ushering me toward a new one! That’s kind of the story of the Reformation!

I wonder if Luther was motivated by the fact that new life was around the corner. Led by Paul’s words to the Ephesian church, Luther knew that the traditions of the church that had been passed down and often emptied of their meaning became ways that only led to hopelessness and despair that demanded change. People seemed to be guided more by fear of God than faith in Him. It was a literal dead-end. God touched Luther’s heart and opened his eyes to the truth of His Word. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:8–10). Doing all the right things, but doing them for the wrong reasons, doesn’t please or appease God!

It’s all about grace—knowing that God bestows His favor on us, not because of the good things we attempt to do, not because of our theology, or our hymnody, or our pious living. It’s purely a gift! Strip it all away and God would still love us in Jesus. We are His workmanship! He finely crafted each and every one of us and recreated us in Jesus with great purpose. He calls on us as His witnesses to bring life to the world by sharing the good news of salvation in Jesus. He is the giver of new life, who on the Cross bore the burden of our sin, and made the great exchange—His life for ours! We bring nothing to this. That was the message that motivated Luther and made him so passionate about reform.

Luther’s heart’s desire was to see the Church he loved prosper in the grace of Jesus. He wanted people to experience the new life that he, through the Gospel, had experienced. He had a new found freedom that he wanted all people to understand. We are saved by grace, not by the things we do or fail to do, but solely by the merits of Jesus Christ.

That same truth stands as boldly and as strongly today as ever. Our Synod has recently published a new logo for the 500th Anniversary of the Reformation in 2017, with the tag line, “It’s Still All About Jesus!” I love that phrase. It’s what drew me to a life of service in the church. I grew to love our liturgy and traditions. I cherish our theology, the architecture, stained glass windows, the hymns, because they point me to Jesus! What draws people to the church isn’t any of the peripheral things, but rather it is the love of Jesus, and seeing that love flow through His people. It is always all about Jesus.

Having a Reformation birthday, it always seems ironic that God called me into the ministry of the Lutheran Church. Honestly I fought it, especially early on. It had nothing to do with my faith, or my desire to serve Jesus. From the earliest of my faith memories, I have always loved and wanted to serve Jesus. I wanted others to know His love, forgiveness and grace—things I had personally experienced, and still do! I wanted people to know His healing power, His abiding presence, to hear His clear voice in His Word speaking directly to each of us. Isn’t that really His call to discipleship on each of our lives? Jesus saved us so that we could do the good works that God prepared in advance for us to do, not to somehow earn His favor or show Him how great a Christian we are—in Jesus God couldn’t love us more! But as His children, saved and redeemed through the blood of Jesus, we now get to share Him with the world.

What a great joy and privilege that is! It would mean dying to ourselves. Paul, in Galatians 2, reminds us, “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Can you imagine the Reformation that would take place in our day if we, who claim Christ as Savior, fully lived out our faith? Imagine if everyone lived as a representative of Jesus how that would change our approach to and participation in worship, or our congregational meetings, or council meetings, or even meetings with strangers on the street? It’s really all about Jesus, and Jesus is all about relationships.

I grew up seeing my pastor live out his theology and doctrine in such a visible way that I wanted to be like him. There was no doubt that he loved Jesus, and while I don’t think I understood it at the time or could have identified it, he was a Lutheran through and through. Looking back, everything we did was Lutheran, but the focus was always on serving Jesus in our day to day life. To me, that’s just what a Lutheran does! I remember using page 5 and 15 (and occasionally 32) and singing the liturgy—wonderful memories of my faith formation. But the greatest impression was the living testimony of a pastor who wasn’t out to change the world, but simply to touch the people in our community with the love of Jesus! Pastors are important people!

During this month of October we have the privilege of honoring pastors during Pastor Appreciation Month. I strongly encourage congregations to lift up these men of God. Pray for your pastor, and be Jesus to him, as he strives to be Jesus to your community. Celebrate God’s call on his life, the gifts God has placed within him, and encourage him in a world that has increasingly become hostile to pastors and ministry in general. Remind him of his privilege to share the love of Jesus with all people, and, again, pray for him regularly. Someone has said that if you want a better pastor, pray for the one you have and trust God! These servants are men who are learning to serve in an environment very different, in most cases, than they were trained to serve in. And the partnership you share with your pastor not only deepens the relationship, but it also strengthens your ministry within your community. Take time to celebrate your pastor during Pastor Appreciation Month.

October is a great month of celebration. We get to celebrate our heritage as Lutheran Christians in the Reformation. We get to celebrate our pastors. Mostly we get to celebrate our faith in Jesus as we live it out in such a way so that others can see it and know His love. It’s still all about Jesus! It’s about living in such a way that His beauty is seen in us. It’s about cycling through our life, confident of His leading, and strengthened day by day in the knowledge that in Jesus all things are made new, including each of us. We are now the seeds of hope and joy, planted in Jesus to bear fruit for Him as we die to ourselves and grow in sharing the new life He gives us with the world around us. There’s nothing we can do to add to or take away from what Jesus has already done. However, in another sense, we each add a lot to it as we live out a proclamation of Jesus in our lives. Saved by grace, saved for works, we celebrate this month of Reformation boldly proclaiming it’s still all about Jesus! Amen!

Being reformed like you,