Monthly Archives: July 2012

A Perspective on Faith….from the Olympic level.

So one of my favorite athletic events is coming up: the Olympics!  While I’ll be working in every way to watch wrestling whenever they decide to show it, I love the Olympics the most because of some of the awesome stories that come from the athletes and their journey, to prepare for 3 years for this one moment.

I came across such a story in the Minneapolis StarTribune today.  It’s about Kara (Wheeler) Goucher, who ran Cross-Country about the same time as I was in high school.  She’s been a successful runner at every level, recently qualifying for the Olympics in London this year. 

Yet Goucher, like most athletes, and most people, struggles with issues of self-worth, image and confidence.  Yet, Goucher is unlike most athletes, and most people, in that she’s learned to be open about these struggles.  In her openness, she’s found transformation for herself. 

I can resonate with that too….because as someone who competed athletically, and now coaches, I see such struggles a lot – in myself and in my athletes.  And for me, that is where my faith comes in…..the courage to be vulnerable and acknowledge our weakness, because that is what frees us to live as God intended.  It allows us to be fully who we are.  Honestly, it is why faith matters for me….which has been my theme lately.  But I’ll share my story later.

As for Kara Goucher, I’ll let her story speak for itself.  I find it inspiring and hopeful, and I’ll be one of many rooting for her in London this year.  In case you didn’t click on it above, you can click here now to get her story.

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It’s Practice…..not the game. (ELCA National Youth Gathering)

“Our faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing.” ~ Martin Luther

My Facebook Newsfeed has been blowing up the past couple days as friends, colleagues in ministry, and former youth post pictures and comments from New Orleans, site of the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, for those that don’t know) National Youth Gathering. Over 35,000 youth and adults are gathered, representing the ELCA as they worship, explore New Orleans, and learn what it means to participate in God’s work of justice as disciples of Christ in the world.

I have to admit: I’ve never been to a National Youth Gathering in my lifetime, and I admit, I find it pretty cool that the national church denomination that I affiliate with can pull off such an event. There’s pluses and minuses to such events, like all things. But overall, I think it’s generally a more positive thing for the church than a negative thing.

Today at the Gathering, folks are participating in “A Day of Discipleship.” And I just want to highlight is that discipleship doesn’t last a day, and it certainly isn’t limited to an experience in New Orleans, at the National Youth Gathering. I hope that folks there, and all following it realize is that events and experiences such as the National Youth Gathering, “It’s practice….not the game.”

And thinking about things like the National Youth Gathering as practice is important, because this is what practice does….it helps us play the game better. But the thing about practice is that well…there’s nothing at stake. Practice is easy in a way, because it’s not as serious, there isn’t as much on the line, you can have a bad practice and there’s no harm.  There’s no pressure in practice situations and experiences.  And that’s ok…practice is meant to be a time to learn, discover strengths and weaknesses. It’s meant be a time to prepare.

But it’s not the game itself.  The game, competition, is all the things practice isn’t: there’s uncertainty, the situations can’t be controlled, it’s not as safe, there’s more at stake in playing and in the outcome.  As an athlete, and as a coach, the hours and hours of practice one endures don’t mean anything until you compete. The preparation, the things you learn and discover, never become fully appreciated until you actually test it all out on the court, the field, the mat, etc. In terms of our faith, events like the National Youth Gathering will never quite mean as much, have as much impact, if they don’t move us to become more actively engaged in living out our faith in the world each and every day.  If we only understand discipleship and faith to be situations and environments like a National Youth Gathering, then we miss out on participating in God’s call to participate in God’s mission in a complex, messy, and uncertain world.  Because, in my honest opinion, that’s where God’s real game is being played….

Martin Luther was right in saying faith is a living, busy, active, mighty thing. It is those things when surrounded by 35,000-plus people who inspire and support, making it easier to step out in faith. But it is those things even more so, when we’re in the minority, facing the struggles and pain and suffering in this world, and still having the courage and daring to engage.

It is my hope that youth and adults are learning and discovering new and wonderful ways to live out faith in New Orleans. My hope and prayer for them is that what gets expressed is a need and urging that God desires them to live out their faith just as much in more mundane, routine, and challenging places.  I hope they come to know that what they do today and all they do at the National Youth Gathering simply gives them clarity and hopefully inspires them to live out their faith actively even in the routine, the “ordinary” of life. I hope it helps them see God’s vision and call more clearly in places where it’s challenging to see it, know it, and engage in it.  I hope that their experience at the National Youth Gathering instills passion and courage to enter into and work in places where there’s suffering, pain, violence, unknown, and incomprehensible things going on.  I hope that their experience at the Gathering helps them see that discipleship is difficult….but also a life and death matter for God’s people…..it engages us in the game: a life where the outcomes and situations are uncertain, but where there’s a lot at stake when it comes to humanity and the world. To not make that move, the Body of Christ just becomes background noise in a world that is desperately needing a life-giving shout of hope.

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Why Faith Matters……Connectedness.

Eric is a friend & is currently finishing up his pastoral internship in Arizona.  I have to admit, Eric & I wouldn’t have gotten to know each other if it wasn’t for my fiancee and his wife being good friends, but even though we’d both agree we’re on different parts of the spectrum in terms of how we see the world, I’ve enjoyed getting to know Eric and calling him a friend.  

You can also check out Eric’s blog here.  His witness and words are good ones.  Enjoy!

“Why Faith Matters”

Eric Clapp

Last week, some scientists claimed to have found the Higgs-Boson particle – “The God Particle” as some have named it. It explains how mass comes to be in existence, making some scientists claim that this is how the world was created. Right away, the claim was that this makes believing in God obsolete. On Facebook and Twitter people were bashing on religion left and right saying this discovery proves that God didn’t create the Universe, then they make the leap to “God must not exist.” Now, I’m not here to debate the finer points of physics with you because, frankly, physics is hard. But I think this does say a lot about how we relate to our faith.

For a lot of people, faith matters because they believe we were created by God and, because we were created by God, that means all the other stuff in the Bible must be true. In essence, many Christians think that to disprove our creation disproves our faith. But if I’m honest with you, that’s not the reason I have faith at all.

My faith matters to me because it connects me to something greater than myself – my community. Going to church and being part of a worship community continually reminds me of two things. The first is that it’s not about me. The second is that it’s about my neighbor. My natural inclination, as a human being, is to be selfish, greedy, and to be on top. But, for me, faith is about emptying myself of those needs so that the people around me can be served.

As a pastor, this can be hard because I spend a lot of my time giving – whether it’s time, attention, or energy. A lot of times I come home pretty depleted. But I have friends, a community, and a God that gives me energy to do it all over again the next day. Faith gives me the courage to look outside of myself and see how I can help my neighbor. I think that if everyone in the world started their day by thinking about how they could best help their neighbor today, and then actually did it, we’d be in pretty good shape.

There’s a rabbi named David Wolpe who wrote a book called Why Faith Matters. In it, he writes, “Faith does not ask ‘Which medicine will cure this disease?’ but ‘How can I use the experience of illness to help others?’” That’s ultimately what it’s about for me. That’s why my faith matters. It’s not about proving or disproving science. But faith calls me out of myself to use my experience as a broken human being to ease the suffering and pain of those around me.

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Why faith matters…..Stories.

Here is the first of what I promised….responses on why faith matters.  Adam is a friend of mine, also in seminary, also wanting to be a pastor.  He’s currently doing his pastoral internship in Denver, CO.  He grew up in the Western suburbs of the Twin Cities area.  You can check out his blog here. Adam speaks about what faith means, from the place of his own story……

I’m almost always hesitant to tell people why faith matters to me because I’m almost always positive it’s going to come off as a load of crap.

I’d like to tell you all sorts of reasons why faith matters to me because of my belief in God, my belief that Christ went to the cross for me to free me from the power of sin and bring me to eternal life or my belief that the Holy Spirit continues to work through me and in the world and gives me that faith. For me, that is all true. I believe every one of those words.

I just don’t think it’s why faith matters to me. And for some reason it feels wrong to say so.

Maybe a better question than, “Why does faith matter to you?” would be “Why haven’t you given up on faith?” or “What keeps you rooted in faith?”

My favorite Bible passage comes from Colossians 2:6-7 and goes like this: “So therefore, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live your lives in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving.”

I think why faith matters to me, why I haven’t given up on faith, is because of how faith has been taught to me. I don’t mean taught as in the classroom or Sunday school kind of teaching. I mean the way faith has been taught to me through the relationships and the people who have shown me how faith is lived out. I have a few stories that I’d like to share to illustrate what I’m talking about.

Shortly after my grandmother passed away, I attended my high school youth group on the following Sunday night. I was doing just fine until we sang ‘Amazing Grace’ and I couldn’t hold in the sadness any longer. I left the room, went and sat on a nearby staircase and cried. A youth minister I had become close to came and sat next to me, put his arm around my shoulder and sat in silence as I cried. After close to five minutes he turned to me and said, “I just prayed for you,” and he got up and returned to the room. Faith mattered in that moment. It’s all we had.

My parents and I were cleaning out some closets in my grandparents’ old house and deciding what to keep and what to get rid of. In one of the closets was a safe and in the safe were stacks and stacks of old checks that my grandfather had written. Thinking not too much of it, we began looking through the recipients of these checks and began to notice a pattern. Hundreds and thousands of dollars over the course of years given to local churches, charities and funds my grandparents were involved with and supported. There were even a few written out to their grandchildren. As a young teenager, I learned what faith looked like lived out in the world. I got a glimpse of why faith mattered and why it continues to matter.

I have a friend who doesn’t believe in God. He doesn’t believe in much of anything when it comes to religion, especially not what Christians are putting forward. We’ve had many conversations about why this is and it always comes down questions that begin with, “How could I believe in…?” Believe in a God who lets these things happen. Believe in a church who believes these kinds of things. Believe in a book that says what it says. How could I believe in that? Amen, brother. I’ve never met a man who was more faithful to his family than he is. I’ve never met a man more faithful to his best friend, his wife-to-be. I’ve never met a person more faithful to the people he loves and to the things that mean the most in his life. Faith matters to him, it just doesn’t look the same. I learn faith from him.

I don’t give up on faith because faith is so embedded in my being that I’m convinced that without faith there would be no life within me. Faith matters to me because it matters to those whom I love and respect so dearly that to let go of faith would be to let go of the very relationships that give me that faith in the first place. I remain rooted in faith because of the way I have been taught faith, through Christ, yes, but through Christ in others, through Christ in those who may not believe in Christ.

So therefore, just as I have received Christ Jesus as my Lord and Savior, the Son of God, I will continue to live my life in Him, rooted and built up in Him, but strengthened in the faith that I am taught not only by Christ but by those whom Christ works within, those who change the way I look at the world, those who show me what faith really means.

And I will abound in thanksgiving knowing that sometimes faith just matters because it matters. And that answer is sufficient enough.

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Why Faith Matters……and why it’s important to say so.

A friend of mine, who’s also in seminary, and I have been discussing a lot lately about the whole issue of “Why faith matters?”  It’s not a new discussion….it’s actually the big focus for people who work and lead in the church: pastors, youth directors, theologians, long-time committed members, and so forth.  The statistics are clear: churches are shrinking.  Less people now days find value in faith tied to institutional religion (Christian denominations, etc).  Faith and Spirituality are private matters…a matter of preference and benefit to the person, if they are lived out at all.

I’ll admit: It seems like a dire picture.  But, I’ve learned in life things are never as bad as they seem (or as good, for that matter).  There are people today that find great meaning in faith; they find great meaning in their relationship with God.  And for folks like me, there is great meaning in calling Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior.  That last sentence is a bold one….and, let’s be honest: words like “lord” and “savior” are indeed loaded words.  They’re explosive in religious talk like the word “justice” is in our political talk.

As a Christian that follows the Lutheran tradition, one major aspect of our religious life is giving a faithful witness to Christ…in simpler terms, we’re to share with others why faith matters to us.  And most people of faith agree it’s something good to do.  But let’s be honest: most people don’t (or won’t) do it.

And for me, perhaps that’s the big problem.  I’ve found that my seminary education tells me that as a pastor, I’m to proclaim to others in my work as a pastor about why faith should matter to them.  I’m to proclaim to them a God who loves the world, who loves them.  I’m to make a case for why they should follow God and have a relationship with Christ, to point to God’s presence in the world.  Pastors and future pastors, you may not like it, but that’s the nature of our job.  Ultimately, we’re making a case for why faith matters. (That’s what it means to be prophetic!)

But there’s one little problem: We often don’t tell people why faith matters to us.  If we think our job is to “sell the faith,” make a claim for why faith should matter to people, then why isn’t our “product” selling? But think about it:  Why would anyone want to enter into a relationship with God if we don’t (or won’t) tell them why it’s so important for us?  Why would anyone seek or welcome God’s transformation for themselves if we don’t share how God has transformed us?  It’s a no-brainer for me: No wonder the church is losing relevance in the world today, why the numbers are falling.  Because our leadership and the committed to the faith don’t (or won’t) give a passionate account of how God has and is working in our lives.

So, I still hold onto the claim: FAITH MATTERS.  But, what’s also important is that we SAY IT.  We tell and share with others why our faith matters.  For some our story will resonate; others, not as much.  But I’m willing to wager this: the world tends to follow people who are passionate and convicted, while remaining humbly open and willing to listen to others.  And so on the topic of why faith matters, it’s important to say so.  But it’s just as important to be open and listen to why it is for others as well.

In the next few posts, I’m going to ask some folks to share why their faith matters to them.  And eventually I’ll get around to telling you why it matters to me.  But it’s in these posts I hope to get at the second part of my post for today: why it’s important to say so.  I think the world is waiting for us to say something, to say why we spend so much time thinking and living with God at the forefront of our lives.  I think the world is waiting for us to say that while we don’t all agree on the particularities of why faith matters, we do all share the common claim that faith does matter.  The world is waiting for us to say it confidently, and in a way that respects and honors that God speaks to all of us differently, and that we can learn from and appreciate what others have to say.

So with that, since the world is waiting, I’m off to find folks who think faith matters……and think it’s important to say why.  And I hope for those of you out there reading, you’ll find some time to say why too.  I’ve got a lot to learn from you, and like I said, the world is waiting.

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