CHARACTER AND CHARISMA

FLYING WITH BOTH WINGS

I made the long trip over the big pond. It’s too obvious to say, but it would not have happened with only one wing. The same applies to our life in the Spirit, the fruit, the supernatural character of Jesus, and the gifts, the supernatural ministry of Jesus.

The Corinthians flew with one wing and kept crashing. Paul wrote, “You do not lack any spiritual gift…”(I Cor. 1:7). This gave them great potential. But the the fruit didn’t balance the gifts. They were divided into quarreling factions.

I once invited a young man to teach at our church. He did a good job, but a discerning elder said, “He’s going to mess up if he doesn’t learn about submission.” Mark divorced his wife and left town, creating a trail of problems in the wake. His character hadn’t caught up with his charisma.

Paul made clear in the love chapter to those same Corinthians that tongues without love only produced noise, that prophecy unlocking mysteries or faith moving mountains amounted to zip without compassion, that sacrifice to the point of martyrdom proved fruitless without love. Powerful functions disconnected from healthy relationships discredit the action.

Then should we say, “What we really want is fruit?” Great, but the plane will still not take off. Love alone does not offload demonic oppression, skin cancer, or gnawing depression. We don’t want to simply create noise. But neither should we settle for the right motivation without manifestation. So Paul wrote, again to Corinth, “To each one the manifestation of the Spirit is given for the common good” (12:7).  The Spirit is made evident when the fruit is developed; otherwise it would not be called the fruit of the Spirit. But the power of the Spirit is likewise made visible when a prophetic word is shared with pinpoint accuracy or a knotty problem resolved with divine wisdom.

Christ-honoring, Bible-believing Christians who demonstrate the fruit of the Spirit but tolerate at best or ignore the gifts may think that they are better off than carnal charismatics who can’t get along. Paul makes sufficiently clear that an airlift requires two wings. He even put them together in one verse: “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire spiritual gifts” (14:1).

He is not choosing the fruit over the gifts. In fact, he takes three full chapters to deal with the question of gifts that they had addressed to him in a letter. Paul answered abuse not with disuse but with proper use. And that meant exercising the gifts out of a humble heart, one that cared for others and that overlooked offenses. Want to upgrade your gifts? Upgrade your love. Get both wings functioning. Works every time!

 

SERMON: FUNERAL OF LARRY CHRISTENSON

(My mentor of 47 years, a man with an international reputation, died on December 26, two and a half months before his 90th birthday. He will be deeply missed by family and friends. Here is the message I gave at his funeral. Blogs are usually one page; this is three).

Dear Nordis, children, grandchildren, great-grandchildren, sister Joanne–we grieve with you for the immense loss of our dear friend and brother Larry. We rejoice with you in an exceptional life. Heaven has recorded the lives he influenced through fathering, praying, pastoring, speaking, writing.  “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Ps. 116:15).

I called Larry a month ago. I was speaking at the House in Eagan, and they wanted to hear the stories about Lutheran Renewal and the Holy Spirit Conference. I asked Larry about his initial experience of the Spirit. It was August, 1961. He had a free Thursday night and Bethany Foursquare Church was having special meetings. He went up for prayer after the message. He returned home, went to bed, at midnight sat up and spoke in tongues for ten seconds, and fell back to sleep.

What Larry didn’t know was that God was touching people all across the country and around the world in similar ways.  God had mercy on mainline churches and began to visit them a half-century later than what happened in 1906. God was then using an African-American pastor to turn the tide of church history. William Seymour came to Los Angeles from Kansas and preached on the baptism of the Holy Spirit at a church on Bonnie Brae St. The next Sunday the door was bolted shut. He found a rented facility on Azusa Street and continued. God began to move, and people gathered. The LA Times wrote a critical article about strange meetings that were loud and bizarre.  Churches denominations scorned them, but God didn’t–and the movement took hold. Thousands were saved, healed, filled. The fire of God spread from Azusa Street all over the world.

The 1960’s were one of the most difficult decades in recent American history–the Kennedy assassination, the Vietnam War, and Dr. Timothy Leary telling college students to tune in, turn on, and drop out. God answered by moving powerfully, both with spiritual renewal and the Jesus Movement. Prayer meetings began to spring up all over. Protestants, Catholics, and Evangelicals were being touched by the Holy Spirit.

Larry called Trinity members in one at a time after his encounter and invited them to say “yes” to the Holy Spirit. By the next spring he had prayed with the majority of the church, so he preached at Easter on Resurrection and Renewal and prayed for people who wanted to have a personal Pentecost. No split like some churches experienced, only ongoing unity.

The response of the American Lutheran Church leadership to what was happening with Lutherans around the country was cautious, as might be expected. Psychiatrist Paul Qualben was sent to Trinity Lutheran in 1972 to interview some of those who had received the baptism of the Holy Spirit, because Trinity was one of the key churches in Lutheran renewal. There were two assumptions: one, that the people were unstable emotionally and two, that this would pass. They found the people that Larry had mentored and prayed with well-adjusted, happy, feet-on-the-ground Christians–just like Larry. The movement only grew in exponential ways, so that the same year of the interviews the first Lutheran Conference on the Holy Spirit was held at the Minneapolis Auditorium–and 9000 showed up!

I remember when we were at a Trinity Lutheran family retreat in the Southern California mountains. The majority of the church turned out for this once-a-year weekend. We were worshipping the Lord at an evening service. We sang the first verse of Beautiful Savior. Nordis Christenson sang a solo on the second, and we sang the last verse in a cappella. Then we begin to quietly sing in the Spirit as we sometimes did and as Larry had encouraged us. It was beautiful and and peaceful. Some people fairly new to Trinity said yes to the Holy Spirit as we sang, including Karen Luttio. The Scripture says, “I will sing with my spirit and I will sing with my understanding” (I Cor. 14:15b). She entered in–and never turned back!  

Increasingly, Larry was called upon to share beyond denominational lines. He connected with the Catholics and the Pentecostals, often at the same time. He helped to lead and spoke at the International Charismatic Conference at the Kansas City Chiefs stadium in 1977 on the unity of the Spirit, a conference that drew 50,000 people from all over the world.

Larry moved to St. Paul in 1982 to direct the work of International Lutheran Renewal, a ministry that took him around the country and around the world. His books continued to sell. I once visited Bethany Publishing House in Bloomington with him. As we came into one of the rooms of about fifteen workers, we could not see their faces. They all had copies of The Christian Family and were hiding their faces behind them. It sold two-million copies and was translated into many languages. Larry and Nordis did seminars around the country. He also wrote the The Christian Couple, with lots of help from Nordis.

Larry was a student of the Word, and he memorized large portions of Scripture. In one sermon he quoted the book of Hebrews, all thirteen chapters. It was a forty-minute message–I timed it. He was probably quoting Ephesians when he slipped and fell. That is the book that he had been reviewing, having memorized it years before. He used it as a backdrop for prayers on his daily four-mile walk. He had a list of fifty people he prayed for, including children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. He once told me, “I pray for all your children by name–every day.” I didn’t tell him, “Larry, that’s more than what I do.”

So what is his legacy? He helped people to understand the life of the Spirit. God used a quiet, introverted intellectual, one who knew that Word and Spirit went together. The Spirit authored the Word, and the Word breathed the life of the Spirit. Larry helped us to recover a forgotten truth that broke out at the beginning the twentieth century and decades later was received and appropriated by 650 million around the world. Larry’s three books on the Holy Spirit, Speaking in Tongues, The Charismatic Renewal Among Lutherans, and Welcome Holy Spirit (which he edited) have done much around the world to bring home this living truth. I just connected with the Lutheran leader in Norway. They are translating Welcome Holy Spirit into Norwegian, because it is the most solid theologically on the work of the Holy Spirit by a Lutheran. They have taken many of his books to India, where Lutherans, including bishops, have embraced the renewing work of the Spirit. Same for Tanzania.

When I served with Larry, we prayed every morning at 6 AM.  You learn something about a man when you pray with him daily for eleven years. I learned to listen. He taught that to all of us. We had a communion service once a month on Sunday afternoon from three to eight. Sixteen of us served (eight at a time at four different stations in the chancel) and after communion we listened, then gave what we felt were prophetic words. A young lady came to the altar one Sunday wondering if she was to stay in California, return to Minnesota, or go to Japan as a missionary. After receiving communion, Bud Hahn, one of the elders who had been mentored by Larry, said, “You are in the right place.” Three years later I married her. Bud knew nothing about her situation–but God did.

She felt as if God Himself were speaking right to her and giving her peace. Jesus said, “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come” (John 16:13,14).

One reason Larry was such a good father is that he was a good son. He loved his dad, an athletic director and coach at St. Olaf College. A sports complex on the campus was named after him. One year Larry asked his dad, then retired, to come and coach the football team of our church school in which Larry’s son Arne was playing quarterback. We all loved seeing Larry with his son and his father talking strategy on the sidelines.

I wasn’t Larry’s son, but he sometimes treated me like a son. He said to me when I was thirty and had been at Trinity four years, “It’s time to get married.” So I listened and started the pursuit. A few weeks later he said that he and Nordis were going to Santa Barbara and asked if I wanted to go along. Then he added, “Karen may be going with us.” So I figured I should maybe talk with her.” He said, “I already did. Less that two months later I asked her to marry me. Larry didn’t, I did. That’s good mentoring. Larry and Nordis were looking out for us.

Nordis, you had an open door policy in your home.  You had the Mary Sisters in your home for a year. That launched their ministry in the States. Then you had young adult women who were serving in our church. That included three who married pastors, including myself. You and Larry team-taught on the family around the country. You made a great team. You took in Lilla, a widow, because she had no relatives and was slowly dying. You died to yourselves and lived for others, going the way of the cross.

Larry’s strongest message was on the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. But charisma without character is hollow. Paul calls is a zero: ”If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but have not love…”  It was character behind Larry’s message on the Spirit that made it true and powerful. It was self-sacrifice for others, quietly, consistently, daily. That is the way you both lived.

Today I say “thank-you” on behalf of the millions whose lives were changed by you and your husband. I close with two things I heard Larry say more than once: the first was, “Expect everything of God and nothing of man.” The second was a line from a joke. Larry enjoyed Norwegian jokes. He would point his finger and say with as thick a Norwegian accent as he could muster: “If Yesus tells yoo too doo someting, den yust doo it!” Larry was a man of the Spirit because he lived under the lordship of Jesus Christ, and “no one can say ‘Jesus is Lord’ apart from the Holy Spirit.”

 

KEEP YOURSELVES FROM IDOLS!

Really? Just like that? Ist John–a powerful letter from a man who had walked with Jesus longer than anyone. He writes toward the end of his difficult life. His epistle to churches in what is now Turkey proclaimed strong declarations: God is light and God is love. Bold, in-your-face exhortations grow out of these two statements: we need to walk in the light and we need to show love to brothers and sisters. Failure to do so proves that we are not in the family. John is not afraid to use the word “liar” for those who say one thing and do another.

At the same time, Pastor John talks like a father. He calls them “my little children.” And he closes his message of 105 verses with one final admonition: “keep yourselves from idols” (I John 5:21). As a father, he affirms them joyfully and warns them strongly. If you see a blind man walking toward a cliff, you would warn him, wouldn’t you?

Strange ending, however. No benediction, no farewell, no greeting the saints, just a sober admonition. It must have been heavy on his pastoral heart.  First time in his letters and Gospel that he uses the word “idols.” But churches like Ephesus saw them on a regular basis, and they had pull for these former pagans.

What are the four idols that we are most prone to bow down to?

PLEASURE

“It can’t be wrong when it feels so right”–a popular song that preaches the gospel of feel good.

That gospel has reached down to grade school. An increasingly secularized society goes after what it likes–which eventually destroys them. Very sad. We are called to die to ourselves and thank God in the midst of suffering. Jesus didn’t enjoy the cross–He endured it. Better to do what we should than what we could. When we find our pleasure in God, it doesn’t end up biting us. My mentor Larry Christenson used to say, “Expect everything of God, nothing of man.”

PRESTIGE

It feels good to be appreciated, loved, honored. Social media has made fame a fetish. How many likes determines how the day went. I wouldn’t bet on it. Jesus chose the servant role. King comes next time around. Same for us. We get to reign–some day. For now we serve! Go low. If you are counting likes, ask what the Father likes.

POWER

Satan is willing to give people power if they bow down. Some decide the risk is worth it and sign on. But Satan is not kind to his customers and tears them apart for believing in him. The subtlety of power is enticing. That is why Jesus told us to be under rather than over. For the Christ-follower, the lower we go, the higher we get. But some don’t want to pay that price, and like the disciples choose the best seat, the front of the line. Feels good–for a little while.  

PROSPERITY

Money is not the root of all evil, but the love of money is. For some, getting more means wanting more. Money and time are similar in that they both make good servants and terrible lords. When we are controlled by money, it just became our god, an American idol. My dear friends, keep yourselves from idols!

LETTUCE

The writer of Hebrews serves up a good salad. Three times. Let us draw near, let us hold fast, let us consider how. He has just written brilliantly that Jesus tops the superstar Moses, that the new covenant far surpasses the old. Then it’s time for a meal. Therefore…

LET US DRAW NEAR

Why wouldn’t we? Because we know that we have failed. We have made promises we have not kept. We resolved in 2018 to read the Scriptures and kept putting it down for a novel. We have wanted to reach our neighbors, but we are cowards. How can we draw near?

One way: the blood has done its work. We can come “in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure water” (Hebrews 10:22). We can say, “Father” with courage, because “we have confidence to enter the holy place by the blood of Jesus” (19). Good news! Even though we have blown it often, we can still feel like winners instead of losers, victors instead of victims. Come on in!

LET US HOLD FAST

It’s one thing to hold on, another thing to keep holding on. Sometimes pressures wear us down. We feel like giving in. We have fought the battle of purity too long. And we hear the writer saying, “Hold fast.” How can we when things around us are collapsing? Everything that can move is. Stability is elusive. When things are going our way, we’re on the team. When multiple problems shake our foundation, we wonder if giving in might take some of the pressure off.

The writer lets us know that we can hold fast “without wavering, for he who promised is faithful” (23). Good news! Sounds likes it’s more up to Him than up to us.We can hold on because we are being held. The knowledge of forgiveness, cleansing, right standing, an inheritance, and a sure future enable us to not lose our grip.

LET US CONSIDER HOW

Meanwhile, we are not here to collect toys. Better to endure than to enjoy. Who enjoys warfare? We are in a battle, not on a picnic. Like Jesus, we are here to serve the purposes of God, not to settle down and think this is all there is. This is a test, the prelude before the main event. We are living for what is not yet. We put all our marbles in the age to come. We live strategically. “Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” (24,25).

Got it, I think.  We are here on mission, not maintenance. We are not trying to get by. We are influencing others. It’s not about ourselves. When we’re just trying to hold on, it is about us–our needs, our stability, our happiness. That’s not how the kingdom of God works. We die to ourselves and live for others. That means we show up for church with the goal of blessing others, not getting blessed! Please pass the salad!

WHAT? ME FAST? (part 2)

 

  1.  What spiritual benefits can I anticipate?

Hard to say, but here are some that people attest to: a deeper sense of God’s presence, more focused prayer, a deeper love for Jesus, greater faith, fresh revelation, new victories in areas of defeat, displacement of apathy with fervency, a greater ability to identify with the needs of others, a clearer mind to do the agenda.

Two testimonies from church members where I was pastor: Betty came into my office all excited after a ten-day fast, seven of which were with water only. She said, “It has been so spiritually and physically invigorating. I didn’t get tired until the eighth day. That’s when I went on light juices. I woke up every morning with a different song on my heart.”

June, a young mother of six, went on a three-day fast, because she was concerned for an older son. She awakened the second night with something like a vision of an angel wrestling with Jacob. This gave her confidence that God would be victorious in her son’s life after a time of struggling. Time confirmed the vision.

  1.  Are fasts normally planned in advance?

In the Old Testament, people often began fasting spontaneously as the result of mourning or of need. More typical in the New Testament are times of premeditated abstinence. When Jesus was speaking with the Samaritan woman, the disciples returned from town to offer Him some food. He responded, “I have food to eat that you know not of” (John 4:32). They thought that someone might have slipped Him a sandwich.   Not really–He had gotten caught up in His Father’s business and did not want to stop for eating.

At the end of His forty-day fast Jesus told the devil, quoting from the Old Testament, “Man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of God” (Matthew 4:4).

Some fasts may be directed by the Spirit, even though they are not written on the calendar. The practice of regular fasting prepares us for the unplanned ones.

  1.  Could I damage myself if I fasted for a long period of time?

It is unlikely. Wallis says in his excellent book God’s Chosen Fast, “During a prolonged fast the body is living on surplus fat, and at the same time it is acting like an internal incinerator, burning up the waste and the decaying tissues of the body. Only when this refining process is complete does it commence to consume its sound living cells, and that is when starvation commences.”  This phase comes between the third and sixth week.”

  1.  How is fasting related to other forms of abstinence?

God-directed abstinence from any pleasure brings positive results. Fasting is the most common form of physical denial. Paul recommended sexual abstinence by married couples as another way of strengthening a prayer focus (I Corinthians 7:4).  Abstaining from talking can be an effective way to correct bad speech habits. One woman observed that she was critical of other women, especially beautiful ones, so she decided to refrain from makeup and to wear only plain clothes until the problem was resolved. It worked. As Jesus said, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself…” (Luke 9:23). Self-denial, fueled by the Spirit, releases grace.

WHAT? ME FAST?

Moses did it. Hannah did it. So did David, Ezra, Nehemiah, Paul–and Jesus Himself. But they didn’t have to contend with full-color ads for chocolate chip ice cream, supermarkets stocked with cheesecake, and boulevards lined with everything from Taco Bell to Red Lobster.

Who fasts today? Why? What is this ancient discipline supposed to do for us? Should everyone be doing it?

  1.  Are there different kinds of fasts?

Yes. A normal fast means no eating at all. The Hebrew word for fasting means “to cover the mouth.” The Greek word means “to abstain.” While “fasting” from TV may be a good idea, it is not a biblical fast in the same sense as going without food.

A partial fast means going without certain kinds of food, such as the menu plan of young Daniel and his friends (Daniel 1:8). He did something similar as an old man (10:3). And John the Baptist’s diet certainly reduced kitchen cooking!  

  1.  Must I fast?

No, but Jesus did assume that fasting would be a regular part of a person’s devotional life. He told those who wondered why His disciples didn’t fast, “When the Bridegroom leaves, they will” (Matthew 9:15). Jesus has been gone for two thousand years.  

  1.  I’ve tried fasting but haven’t seen any positive results.

You are not alone. Look to the Lord, not to the results. You are responsible only to submit to God’s Word. The benefit may come years later or in a way you cannot perceive. Trust the One who calls you to the fast, not the fast. Some people say the same thing about prayer. We don’t rely on prayer but on the God who hears prayer.

For some years I had fasted one day a week and didn’t see any clear benefits. Then I changed to one or two extended fasts a year instead.I experienced spiritual exhilaration and closeness to the Lord during those days, but I have also found that fasting has cleared up my mind and enabled me to get more work done.

  1.  Not only have I not seen positive results, but my prayers also seem to have  backfired when I have fasted.

Something similar happened to Christ. After forty days in the wilderness without food, one would have hoped the spiritual battles would ceased. They had just begun. The devil appeared for a showdown. Fasting brings us into the arena of spiritual warfare. The end of a fast may mean the beginning of a war. Persist even if you do not see victory. Scripture gives enough examples to encourage endurance.

  1.  What should I do while fasting?

Pray as much as your schedule allows–although fasting is a separate discipline from prayer, and the two are not always linked in Scripture. Don’t try to do strenuous physical work, although you might be surprised by the strength you feel. You can fast and go about your regular activities. But the more you pray, the more you will feel sustained by God. Drink plenty of water.

  1.  Is fasting healthy?

Yes, when followed under good spiritual and medical counsel. It purifies the bloodstream, cleanses the body of toxic acids, improves circulation and digestion, conserves energy, gives the stomach a rest, brightens the complexion, cleans the mind, and even helps to break addictions like tobacco or alcohol. How is that for positive reasons?!

 

HOW TO MAKE RESOLUTIONS WORK

“I’m starting a new hobby–procrastination. Or maybe later.”

“I am going to start believing in something. I believe in cheesecake.”

“I resolve to spend more time with underprivileged kids: mine.”

Most of us feel a need for some changes. New Year’s seems like a good time. We chucked the old calendar. Can we toss out old habits as easily? Not a bad way to think, and there’s biblical precedent for doing it on New Year’s and on other times, like…

Daily. The day started for the Hebrew the night before: “There was evening and there was morning—the first day” (Genesis 1:5).  Here are questions to review the day: “Did I live for others today? Did I miss any God-appointed opportunities?” Start the day right—when you hit the sack! We take up our cross daily (Luke 9:23). And the name of the Lord is to be praised “from the rising of the sun to its setting (Psalm 113:3).

Weekly. Each Sabbath brought a new opportunity for a Hebrew. A day of rest meant time for reflection. Worshipping Christians find an opportunity in taking communion: “Let a man examine himself…” (I Cor. 11:28). We are not to “forsake the assembling of ourselves together…”

Monthly. Hebrews built their calendar around the moon. The Hebrew word for month (“hodesh”) means “new moon.” The new moon brought a fresh month. Time slowed down and work ceased, bringing a chance for rest and review. Some friends take a day a month for reflection.

Yearly.  The Hebrew agrarian society harmonized with nature. Key seasons came at springtime and harvest. Feasts were holy days, marked by worship and reflection. Rosh Hashana, the Jewish New Year, is celebrated in the fall. It gave them (and still does) a time of serious introspection, confession, and resolve, ending ten days later with Yom Kippur, day of atonement, the most serious day for repentance and renewal in the Jewish year.

The God who says, “Behold! I make all things new,” gives us the desire to make some changes as well. Businesses take inventories. We can do the same. However–

We cannot change. Resolutions fail if founded upon our ability. Paul acknowledged that willpower did not get the job done (Romans 7:15,18). Resolutions should maybe start with the confession, “I can’t.”

God changes us through the Holy Spirit.  The gospel of Jesus Christ is good news, not good advice. Jesus came because we couldn’t change. If we could, no need for the cross. God works from the inside out–by the Holy Spirit. The law says, “Do.” The Gospel says, “Done!” Think about stating your resolutions as an invitation. Instead of, “I am going to exercise more,” try saying, “I am trusting You to work in me self-control.”

If we catch the rhythm of change throughout the year, we don’t have to put all our marbles in the New Year’s basket. Otherwise we cave in by Valentine’s Day. The calendar provides us with a rhythm for resolution.

One final word: who we are determines what we do. Those who only focus on the imperative, “I must change my eating habits,” don’t get the results they want. The indicative leads to the imperative. The Christian life is more about receiving than doing. If we know we are princes and princesses, how we live follows. When we get the indicative down (who we are), the imperative (how we’re commanded to be) comes more as an invitation than as a standard. Identity drives behavior. So–remember who you are, and have a happy New Year!

 

A PERSONAL TRIBUTE TO LARRY CHRISTENSON

I was finishing my last year at Luther Seminary, Larry’s alma mater.  I was told that I could choose my internship. I had heard of Larry Christenson but had not met him. He knew my father, also a pastor. I wrote, “I am evangelical, conservative, and I speak in tongues.” He told the elders, “Sounds like we’re his last hope. We’d better take him.”

He took me to lunch on my first day and said, “People will try to separate us. Let’s not make that happen.” People did. I was thankful for the counsel and knew how to head it off. We had a rich and seamless relationship. He mentored me for forty-seven years. In later years it was mainly by phone or email, but still the same sound wisdom.

We prayed every day for eleven years at 6 AM with two elders, not counting weekends and holidays. Do the math, close to three thousand times. I had heard people say that prayer is two-way communication. I just never met anyone who took that seriously–until I prayed with Larry. About a third of the time was listening. I didn’t know what to do at first. Were we trying to think of something to pray about? He would sometimes write things down during the silence. I figured it was a note like, “Don’t forget to pick up milk.” I found out later that he was listening to God. Little by little I began to learn how to hear the voice of God. Larry had his feet on the ground, but his ears were attuned to heaven. Hearing the voice of God became one of the greatest joys of my life. He taught me more by what he did than by what he said.

A year after I came to Trinity Larry left for a year to do studies. He trusted this upstart enough at the ripe age of twenty-seven to lead the congregation. A missionary home on furlough helped to guide the ship. Ten funerals that year shaped my pastoral ministry–and regular calls from Larry.

He was the smartest man I ever knew, a true intellectual. He didn’t fit the caricature of a Holy Spirit person. People sometimes expected a charismatic leader to lean a bit on the emotional side. Wrong. Or maybe wear his religion on his sleeve. Really wrong. Larry was not religious. He took on this recovering Pharisee and worked it out of me. He had radar for pretense–and strong words.

I think he might have traded straight A’s and Phi Beta Kappa to be a football player. He deeply loved his father, who was an athlete, then a highly successful coach. The athletic center at St. Olaf was named after Ade Christenson. One of his best years out of the twenty-one Larry served at Trinity was when his son Arne played quarterback on the TLS football team as a senior. Larry did a lot of traveling, but he didn’t travel that year. Another father of two of our football players urged him not to travel that year–and Larry was listening. He stayed home to help his dad coach. A favorite picture is seeing grandfather, father, and son talking strategy together on the sidelines. (Normal length)

At thirty, I was extremely single. I didn’t have marriage on my mind–I had ministry.  He changed that with one sentence: “It’s time to get married.” As best I could, I always listened to his words. Then some months later he strongly encouraged me to consider Karen Luttio. He asked one day if I was interested in going with him and Nordis up to Santa Barbara. He said that Karen might be going along. I said sure. So I figured I should probably talk to Karen. He said, “I already did.”  When he asked Karen if she wanted to go, she answered, “I teach that day.” His response: “I’ve already taken care of that.“ He was the principal. So Larry asked Karen out on our first date. That was April 18. We were engaged in June and married in August. I asked her to marry me–Larry didn’t. But he was at the wedding upfront, along with my dad and her dad, my best man (a pastor) and the monsignor of the Catholic Church where we were married. Things were covered.

Karen had been living at his home for two years leading up to our wedding day, so you could probably say that he and Nordis got Karen ready for me. His guidance in my life was paralleled by his guidance in Karen’s. This is his greatest gift to me. Karen’s disciplined and vital devotional life was shaped by her parents–and her second parents, Larry and Nordis. I am often enriched by what comes to me from Karen’s daily look into the Scriptures.

When I read the two sexuality documents coming from the ELCA (Evangelical Lutheran Church of America) and his response that dismantled them piece by piece with his keen intellect, I said to him, “I’m sure glad that we’re on the same team.” He debated in college; I much preferred supporting him to debating him. People expected something different from a person leading what was to many a questionable movement, the charismatic renewal. They were disarmed and surprised.

He loved telling jokes, not often in messages but frequently at informal meetings or in conversation, like at our men’s breakfasts or at our weekly mentoring meetings. My questions that came scratched out on paper often directed the agenda. Larry’s answers were unpredictable. I would never get an “off-the-top-of-my-head” answer. It was a deliberate response, often leading me back into the Scriptures that he knew well or into prayer that he practiced often. He was a man of the Spirit. It often came back to that when I had discussions with him. Though he was brilliant, he would not trust his intellect–He trusted the Spirit of God and encouraged me to be led by the same Spirit.

Once I questioned whether I was coming down too hard on someone and needed to be more gracious. He listened, then responded, “Everyone needs to hear grace and truth. Only Jesus is full of grace and truth. What you are bringing is truth. Someone else will bring the grace.” I was grateful for his wisdom.

I had followed him as senior pastor at Trinity, when he moved to St. Paul to direct the work of Lutheran Renewal. I never expected to follow him again. We still have a gravesite in San Pedro. But he called in the fall of 1994 and wanted to know if I was sitting down. I said I wasn’t but could if I needed to. He asked if I would be one of the speakers at the Holy Spirit Conference the next summer. That was an easy “yes.” Then he said, “The Lutheran Renewal board would like you to be the next director.” So I sat down. It had never occurred to me–not once. I requested a month to pray about it. Halfway through, Karen said, “Shouldn’t we start praying?” I asked, “Do we need to?” She answered, “No.” It seemed right, but it meant leaving parents who had retired from thirty-seven years in Japan, and we had told them we weren’t going anywhere. But we did–with five of six kids and a moving van stuffed with stuff. (The idea of a Southern California Lutheran Renewal office didn’t fly)!

As I prepared to assume the responsibility, one of Trinity’s leaders said, “Don’t try to walk in Larry’s shoes.” That gave me an idea. I looked in shoe stores for the biggest pair and found nothing too impressive. Then Karen reminded me of the Timberwolves. I called Target Center, told them what I was doing and that if they gave me a pair of shoes, I would mention it in the installation. They said, “Come on down.” On the counter was a pair of size 18 Nike Airs. I probably could have purchased them for $300. I put them on when I was installed to illustrate that I couldn’t possibly walk in Larry’s shoes, a brilliant leader known around the world, a million-copy best-selling author, a true father in the faith.

But I followed Larry in other ways as well.  After he lived many years at 1603 W. 7th Street, we bought the house and lived there for fifteen. We bought a car together and traded off using it, though I used it much more. After he wrote a book on the Holy Spirit, I did as well, though his sold many more.

What are Larry’s main legacies? Certainly the 1.2 million copies of The Christian Family, plus the seminars he and Nordis did around the country, impacting family life for many. An even greater legacy is bringing the Pentecostal movement into mainline churches. The Azusa Street Revival of 1906 was shut down by most denominations (shame on them), but in the 60’s it was revisited, and Larry was one of its primary proponents, both in speaking and in writing. Up to 15,000 came yearly to the the Minneapolis Auditorium for the International Lutheran Conference on the Holy Spirit in the 70’s and 80’s.

He was a Lutheran pastor and theologian, but he ran comfortably with Catholics and Pentecostals. He didn’t trip over theological differences, as long as friends were solid on the Trinity, the Lordship of Christ, and the empowering presence of the Holy Spirit. He didn’t mind sparring with them regarding Lutheran doctrines like infant baptism, but the friendships were clearly made of love, and doctrinal differences did not pull them apart.

Other than my dad, no man has influenced me more. And in terms of theology, “no one” includes my father. In some ways he was like a dad. Rodney Lensch, one of the leaders of the Lutheran Charismatic Renewal, once said to me, “We envy you, Paul. You get to be mentored by Larry.” I did–for almost half a century.

 

THE CHRISTMAS STORY

We don’t always deal well with the silence of God. A godly, priestly couple hoped for children. “They were both righteous before God, walking blamelessly…” (Luke 1:5). If you knew they were not going to have a child for a long time, would you tell them? God was silent. The neighbors were not. They gave her the “b” word, “barren,” as in “barren desert.”

God chose to visit the priest on his turn in the temple, decades later. Gabriel showed up and scared the old man.  He announced the birth of a son  who would be “great before the Lord” (15), would be filled with the Holy Spirit from the womb, and would be used to bring revival. Had resentment toward heaven set in for hope deferred? We don’t know, but he asks for a sign. Come on, Zach. When was the last time an archangel showed up for church?

He went into a nine-month timeout.  Elizabeth went into seclusion for five months, making it rather quiet in the priestly home. She didn’t want neighbors mocking:  “Elizabeth is hallucinating. Miss Barren thinks she’s pregnant.” Five months would stop brutal tongues.

Then Gabriel pays a return visit up the road about seventy miles. A single young girl is soon to carry the Son of God. She asks, “How will this be, since I am a virgin?” (34). No thoughts like, “I had better hurry up and marry my man.” Didn’t have a husband–wouldn’t need one. The Holy Spirit would come upon her, and the power of the Most High would overshadow her. She said two things: “I’m the doulos (bondservant) of the Lord.” In other words, no will of my own. I serve the will of the Lord. Then she said, “Let it be…”  Call it total submission!

The angel lets her know that another miracle is taking place in Aunt Elizabeth. Mary wisely decides that she is going to need the counsel of her relative and lets Joseph know she will be gone. Who better could prepare her for a life of rejection? When she returns she will be showing. Ridicule came to Elizabeth for having no baby. It will come to Mary for carrying one.

Elizabeth has been rejoicing in God during her retreat. He lifted the shame. They had been favored, not forgotten. She was so much in the Spirit, that when Mary arrived, her five-month old baby “leaped for joy,” sensing the presence of Jesus less than a centimeter in the womb of Mary. She prophesied, blessing Mary for believing the impossible word of the angel. After five rich months of seclusion, she took three months to pour into the young adult who would raise her Lord.

Elizabeth gave birth a month later. When Zechariah wrote down the name of the son, not Zechariah as tradition anticipated, but the name given by the angel, his speech returned. What was inside came out–praise and prophecy. Resentment, if there was any, had been dealt with. People were stirred when he announced the saving work of God and the contribution this little baby would one day make.

When a prince is born, the world knows. Hardly anyone was stirred when Mary’s boy was born, just a few shepherds, on the low end of the social totem pole, and a massive choir of angels in the sky announcing the birth, maybe a bit baffled by the crowd. Days later as the couple paid their tax, the Roman official said, “Name? Joseph. Married? Yes. Name? Mary. Children? Yes. How many? One. Name?”  Joseph paused: “Jesus!”

DOES GOD HAVE FAVORITES?

God moves comfortably in the realm of the impossible. We, like the old priest, might look for reasons why something can’t happen. God found a girl prepared to sign on without resisting. Her brilliant response: “Let it be.”

Luke sets her story right after Elizabeth’s. Her priestly husband’s response contrasts Mary’s. He received some shocking news with skepticism. God has favorites—people He favors because they favor Him.  

HIGHLY FAVORED

The back-to-back birth stories provide rich contrast. The senior couple prayed many years for a child, while Mary was still a virgin. The shame the elder couple felt in barrenness was lifted with the pregnancy, while shame came upon Mary when she began to show.

Even geography figures into the drama. The priest came from Judea, while Mary lived in Nazareth, a place of questionable reputation. Both participated in a miracle, one because of age, the other bypassing the normal route toward parenthood. A pregnant virgin is an oxymoron is there ever was one.

Both received visits from Gabriel, with five months intervening. Both women marveled at the grace of God shown them. And by divine action, both women carrying children marked for greatness came together at the home of Elizabeth. The young mother-to-be needed the strength her older relative could provide, but she had no idea how that encouragement would come—through prophetic proclamation of pinpoint accuracy.

Favor with God overrides the blessing of man, and that is how Mary towers above others. Elizabeth spoke appropriately and with volume, “Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the child you will bear. But why am I so favored, that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” (Luke 1:42,43).

She then closed her astounding message with yet more strength-giving words: “Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished” (43). This provided a stirring entrance into the song of Mary, words set to music ever since (46-55)..

THE REAL FAVORITE

The spotlight now turned from the girl to the God who favored the girl, the God her Savior, whose “mercy extends to those who fear him,” as Mary certainly did, who “has performed mighty deeds with his arm,” who “has helped his servant Israel” through that mercy. It was being shown not just to a small nation but to the world, as the Mighty One sends His Child to be born of a virgin, whose birth will divide history, marshal armies, split up families and nations, and force a decision from every person who will ever live.

How should we honor Mary? Had the apostles wanted to assign her significance beyond what Elizabeth gave her, they would have given her mention in the rest of the New Testament. Their silence is telling. We can say what Elizabeth said and what she said herself.  She is to be honored greatly for her faith and humility and for raising the Son of Man, and yet according to her own words, she is dwarfed by the true hero of heaven. We magnify the person Mary magnifies.

What impossibilities are staring you in the face today, challenging your circumstances, defying your peace, threatening your joy, mocking your future? How is God asking you to respond? The bottom line message from Mary is that she believed God. May you do the same—and walk in God’s favor!