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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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Lutheran trump cards

You’re holding all of them

When I consult with other Lutherans, I often say something like, “Don’t forget ______. It’s one of our trump cards.” So as part of remembering the Reformation this Oct. 31, let’s see how we might play some of our Lutheran cards to be better witnesses in today’s world.

If you’ve ever played cards you know that, depending on the game, you hope for certain cards — a suit or a pattern — in your hand. Understanding the game and the cards makes all the difference.

You might call the Lutherans’ best cards the face cards. Use them well and you’ll find yourself playing with a full deck in faith conversations inside and outside the church. We aren’t the only tradition to have these face cards. But they are central to Lutheranism and, in some cases, other traditions have received them from us.

Here is an explanation of what I consider to be our four best cards. To see more, visit www.Day8Strategies.com/LutheranTrumpCards. Or grab a copy of the Augsburg Confession or Book of Concord and see what other ideas lie at the core of Lutheran beliefs.

The ace: There is no way to God
Perhaps you’ve seen this diagram in an evangelism tract left on your porch. There is a picture of a huge chasm (caused by sin) between God and humanity. Jesus’ cross is portrayed as spanning the gap. Make the right decision (accept Christ) and you go to heaven. Fail and a terrible destruction is your fate. It’s all up to you.

Now contrast this with the Lutheran understanding of the gospel, which is clear that there is simply no way to God, period. Our choices and efforts contribute nothing in that department, no matter how hard we try. This is actually freeing. Knowing this allows us to stop trying and to simply receive God’s arrival as a gift. In Christ, God has come to us. Scripture reminds us how God comes to us as an undeserved gift with the “Immanuel” of Isaiah, the “Word made flesh” of John and the “I am with you always …” of Matthew.

The king: Jesus reveals that God is love
The fact that God comes to us may or may not sound like good news in itself. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s line “I’ll be back” from The Terminator was an ominous promise.
But in encountering Jesus we discover that God is love. God’s love is revealed to be costly. For the sake of this love, Jesus is willing to suffer and die on the cross. God’s love is revealed to be persistent, as seen in Jesus’ resurrection greeting: “Peace be with you” (Luke 24:36).

The costly and persistent nature of Christ is the content of grace. In spite of what we may do, God always comes back again, and again, and loves us upon arrival. Believing this doesn’t make God love you. Believing this helps you trust that God already does love you (no footnotes and no exceptions).


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