Even though my parents were religious searchers I grew up unchurched for the most part. There was no building that I could point to and say, “That’s my church”! Nor were there people that I could point to and say, “That’s my Pastor” or “That’s my Youth Minister”. By the time that I graduated from High School I was an angry at God, unchurched and de-churched youth. I was certain that all religious people were hypocrites! Now I know that just most of us are hypocrites, but not all of us. It was in my junior year of college that Jesus became real for me. I am solidly Lutheran. I did not decide for Jesus. Jesus decided for me. All of a sudden he was real. I believed in him and had the clear sense that I was supposed to be a Pastor. All of this was very confusing to me. I thank God for those patient and faithful people who helped me understand the stirrings of my soul.
Now that I believed and had the future direction of my life figured out, I still had one question to answer. What denomination should I become a part of? Some faith groups seemed too black and white for me and some too gray. I met with one popular Pastor in the small college town I was living in. When he told me what I had to do to become a member of his flock, I became dejected. As much as I wanted to be holy and virtuous,I thought “I could never be that good, that virtuous or that Holy. If that’s what it took to get into heaven, I was in real trouble”. Then, at the point of my greatest despair, I heard about grace.
I have been thinking about grace a lot lately since I experience it every day. And, for some reason, God has decided to keep me around. This years’ stewardship theme at Mount Olivet is “Grace Changes Everything”. No truer words were ever spoken! Grace means that God loves you just as you are. What is even more wonderful about grace is that it is a free gift. There is nothing you can do earn it or buy it. Grace means that God loves you just as you are on your best day and on your worst. God is wildly in love with you!
I don’t kid myself. I know that going to a Lutheran College and having a Lutheran girlfriend all factored into my choice, but when a Lutheran Pastor explained to me that we are saved by grace through faith I was sold. I thought to myself, “While I can’t be perfect and super Holy, I can trust God’s grace and try to say thank you to God and try to the best of my ability to live a life that glorifies God and makes the world just a little bit better of a place. I learned that through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ God had already done for me what I was unable to do on my own. My job was to believe it and say thank you by living a life that would be pleasing to God.
I have loved preaching and teaching about grace these past years,but the biggest challenge that I have had with grace is believing that it applies to me. While it easy to tell others that they are the recipients of grace, it is hard to believe that it applies to me. Because I am a human being, there is a little voice of darkness in my head that likes to tell me that if God really knew me, God wouldn’t like me. Maybe you hear that same voice too? God does know me. God knows me better than I know myself and God knows you in the same way and loves us anyhow! That is grace! Believe it! Accept it and try to be a bearer of grace to others.
My health continues to be up and down. On Tuesday I spent an hour and a half on my indoor recumbent bike. On Wednesday friends picked me up, took me to a bike trail and we biked to the Stone Arch Bridge and around U.S. Bank Stadium for a total of over 13 miles. The next day I put in over an hour on the indoor bike before hitting the treadmill at Courage Kenny. Needless to say, I was exhausted at the end of the day. It is hard to express what a huge fan I am of Courage Kenny! My Oncologist has told me many times to never be satisfied with my current condition and I am not! Despite my hard work, my progress is coming much too slowly for me…but I “Press on”. Ruth and I both had a dark day last week as we found ourselves grieving our old life. Thankfully those emotions have passed. One of the problems with the voice of darkness is that it reminds you of whom and what you don’t have instead of how God has blessed you.
It is hard to express my thankfulness and gratitude to you who are praying for me and my family, for your constant encouragement and kind words. Because of the gift of grace we can indeed “Look upward, travel onward and be not afraid”.
Blessings to you,
Pastor John Hogenson