This was the final newsletter column of my pastoral career. I was part of four parishes in 31 years. They are all different, but they share common challenges as Christianity across the country has experienced great change over three decades. Disciples need disciplines for the Spirit to transform us. These four disciplines have been practiced by Christians for 20 centuries. Take these common observations as a form of pastoral advice.
Continue to become proficient in your study and understanding of the word of God.
Lutherans may not agree with a fundamentalist slant on the Bible, but you have to hand it to them—they know how to get around in “The Book.” Martin Luther changed the world because he was in love with his Lord revealed in Scripture. It’s been enlivening and exciting to be part of small study groups throughout these decades. It’s also been disappointing to discover that some Lutherans can’t articulate the basic difference between Exodus and Acts.
Spend time daily in the word. Start new study groups. Ponder slowly a tough passage. One sign of a strong church is biblical fluency. (2 Timothy 3:16-17.)
Show up for worship.
We are given an amazing gift each week in the celebration of communion. Faithful discipleship cannot be sustained without this sacrament. Jesus assumed regular reception of the bread and wine as the early church was forming.
As you might imagine, I’ve heard a multitude of excuses over the years for worship absence. In most cases, these excuses are rather flimsy compared to what’s being missed. I’ve stopped trying to understand how Christians can spend an entire Saturday tailgating and watching the game, but cannot find a couple hours for church on Sundays. Communion is central for the health of a disciple. Don’t neglect this amazing gift. (Luke 14:15-24.)
Remember your baptism.
If you don’t know the date of your baptism, I must caringly wonder why. In (psychologist Abraham) Maslow’s old hierarchy of needs, identity is one of the keys to health and maturity. Baptism shapes our Christian identity. For a Christian, life begins and is viewed through this watery lens. You were ordained for ministry in baptism, a sacrament that exceeds (in biblical importance) any ordination. Your baptism date defines and shapes all other dates—birth, marriage, national holidays. If you don’t know your baptism date, discover it.
Luther made the sign of the cross over his body at dawn and at bedtime in remembrance of his baptism. The cross is the shape of the baptismal life. The Christian life is the sacrificial life. (Romans 6:3-11.)
I’ll never forget a talk with my dad. “Your mom and I,” he said, “did not have a lot of money when we were first married. But we committed to giving generously early on. It wasn’t easy; still difficult some months.”
If you don’t give a percentage of your income away to others, I invite you to start. There is joy in sacrificial giving. (2 Corinthians 9:6-8.)