HOPE AND LIFE GIVING
I live in the Sonoran Desert about forty miles northeast of downtown Phoenix. The Sonoran has been called the greenest desert in the world, because we normally have two rainy seasons. There is a winter rainy season, as in many other deserts, but we also have a summer rainy season, which we call the monsoon season, when we have major thunderstorms which rival anything I ever experienced while living in the upper Midwest.
However, July and August of 2020 were the driest on record, and this past June (2021) was the driest on record. In between we had very little in terms of winter rain. The desert was dry, most of the plants looked dead, and the saguaros were all shriveled up.
But God in His goodness provided abundant rain during the month of July. The desert is green again. Plants along the road have sprouted flowers. The saguaros look happy. And shrubs that had looked dead have now sprouted new leaves. It is amazing what water can do in the desert. Water is very hope and life giving.
This past summer I have experienced two events that were very hope and life giving – a week of Nexus in July, and the NALC convocation in August.
NEXUS – “ALL THINGS NEW”
Nexus is a week of Bible study, theological reflection, fellowship, and vocational discernment for high schoolers. It is organized by and held at Grand View University in Des Moines. Many thanks to our friends and supporters, whose generosity made it possible for Lutheran CORE to be the sponsor of Nexus this year. Twenty-two high schoolers and seven college-aged mentors grew in their faith and were challenged to hear and respond to God’s call on their lives.
The theme for Nexus this year was “All Things New.” The week centered around the question, “Can God redeem a really hard year?” As the promotional material said, “We’ll dig into scripture to see the good news, how all things are being made new in Jesus, and how we get to be part of it!”
Morning devotions centered around the book of Ruth. Ruth was a person who experienced all things being made new. Leaving her homeland of Moab with her mother-in-law Naomi, she traveled to Bethlehem because Naomi had heard that “the Lord had considered his people and given them food.” (1:6) How dangerous it must have been for those two widows to make that journey. On the morning when I led devotions the focus was on Ruth 2. Verse 3 in that chapter says, “As it happened, she (Ruth) came (to glean) to the part of the field belonging to Boaz.” Ruth’s whole life changed, and she became an ancestor of David, and therefore, through Mary, an ancestor of Jesus, because she came to glean to the part of the field belonging to Boaz. I shared with the students parts of the story of my life where God made all things new. I told of how God directed the circumstances of my life to accomplish His purposes and to make things work together for good. We can trust the One who led Ruth to come and glean in the part of the field belonging to Boaz. I asked the students, “What in your life has been the equivalent of coming to glean in the field belonging to Boaz?”
The Old Testament lesson each morning was taught by Dr. Mark Mattes, while the New Testament lesson was taught by Dr. Ken Jones, both of whom are on the faculty of Grand View University. Dr. Mattes taught from the book of Ezekiel. Two of the points that he made that really stood out for me are the following –
- Ezekiel was a prophet. Prophets say things that cause conflict. In the same way leaders today will run into conflict. Leaders need to develop skills to handle conflict. They need to ask God to help them develop the fruit of the spirit of self-control so that they can respond well rather than react badly.
- The dry bones in the valley in Ezekiel 37 were probably from soldiers that had lost in battle. Just like for those soldiers, we can feel defeated by the circumstances of life. Like the house of Israel we can feel that “our hope is lost and we are cut off completely.” (verse 11) Like those dry bones we need the renewing power of the Holy Spirit. We need to hear God’s word of hope. When our lives and life situations seem and feel hopeless, we need to remember that God is with us. God is for us. God can make all things new.
One of the mornings Dr. Jones talked about Mark 15: 37-38, which says, “Then Jesus gave a loud cry and breathed his last. And the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom.” Dr. Jones shared how many people interpret those verses as saying that humans now have full access to God. Another way to understand them is that they are saying that God will now refuse to be boxed in. God is coming after us. He will show up in ways that we do not expect. Dr. Jones challenged us by asking us, “What are you going to see – that you did not expect to see – when God shows up?”
NALC CONVOCATION – “GOD THE FATHER CREATES”
The NALC Theology Conference and Missions Convocation, held the week of August 3-6 in Corpus Christi, was centered around the theme “God the Father Creates.” At a time when many church bodies are afraid and unwilling to use Biblical language of addressing God as Father because they feel that it smacks of male dominance and white supremacy, it was so refreshing – it was hope and life giving – to be with a group of Lutheran Christians who realize what a privilege it is to be able to call God Father.
Especially powerful for me was the presentation by Dr. Eric Riesen on the language in the Lord’s Prayer, “Our Father who art in heaven.” Dr. Riesen is president of the North American Lutheran Seminary. He quoted Albert Einstein, who said that the most important question is whether the universe is friendly or not. Dr. Riesen said that it is amazing that the hidden God, who has been revealed in the cross, sent His Son so that we might receive adoption as His children. He sends His Spirit into our hearts so that we can cry, “Abba! Father!” (Galatians 4: 6) The God who transcends all human understanding is a God whom we can call Father. Being able to call God Father is a primary gift of the Spirit. When we are united with Christ, God is also our Father through adoption. Thinking of it in those ways – in those Biblical ways – I do not see why anyone would be hesitant to and would not want to call God Father.
There were many other highlights of the week for me, including the following –
- Just being able to be together in person again. That is something that we all missed last year with the convocation’s being virtual in 2020.
- The concern and passion of the NALC to raise up a whole new generation of pastors. Realizing how many NALC pastors will be retiring in the next ten years, I was encouraged to hear the goal of raising up three hundred new pastors, the challenge to every congregation to raise up a new pastor, the challenge to retired and soon-to-retire pastors to continue to serve a congregation, and the variety of ways that have been laid out to prepare future leaders for the church.
- The appreciation, affirmation, and support that I received from so many people who stopped by the Lutheran CORE table. I have a huge sense of the importance of the work of Lutheran CORE, and I was encouraged by the large number of people who affirmed what we do.
- The presentation on the final morning by Melissa Ohden. Melissa is a survivor of an attempted saline solution abortion. Author of the book, You Carried Me, she powerfully told the story of how she learned to deal with the pain of knowing that her own family had tried to kill her, and then how she learned to forgive and seek to make contact with her biological family. She also told convincingly of the negative impact that an abortion – or an attempted abortion – will have upon an extended family. I have tremendous admiration for anyone who is able to tell their own life story in such an open, honest, and redemptive way. I have great respect for anyone who is able to turn their pain into a passion and their passion into a ministry.
VIDEO BOOK REVIEW – “THE SPIRITUALITY OF THE CROSS”
Lutheran CORE continues to provide monthly video reviews of books of interest and importance. Many thanks to Russell Lackey, pastor of Luther Memorial Church and campus pastor at Grand View University, for making this month’s video review. His review is about the book, The Spirituality of the Cross, by Gene Veith.
In this book Veith deals with five major tenants of the Christian faith as understood by Lutherans – justification, the means of grace, the theology of the cross, vocation, and living in two kingdoms. Veith explains them in a way that Russell Lackey describes as easy to understand and one that helps lay people talk about their faith with others. Over the years Pastor Lackey has given copies of this book to council members, people in new member classes, and college students who grew up Lutheran but do not understand what it means to be a Lutheran.
This review, as well as nine others, have been posted on our YouTube channel. Here is a link to that channel.
Many thanks to those who have made the reviews. We continue to publish a new video book review during the first week of every month.
When you look at a video review for the first time, please click on the Subscribe button. As enough people do that, it will eventually help us to get a channel name that will include our organization’s name.
Praying that you also are experiencing God’s hope and life-giving power, grace, and blessings,
Dennis D. Nelson
Executive Director of Lutheran CORE