Transformed People Transform Cities (and the world)

On October 31, 2017, the world will recognize the 500th anniversary of the Reformation. It would be quite the understatement to say that the transformation that took place in the life of a Catholic monk, Martin Luther, transformed a city or even the Church. Truly, Luther’s personal, internal transformation changed the world, rewriting the political landscape as well as the Christian landscape. When Luther nailed his 95 theses to the door as a way of inviting conversation about things that appeared to him to be blind spots in the life of the church, he had no way of knowing that the ripples from that action would still be moving outward 500 years later.

It’s been said that Luther might not have been more scholarly than others, more insightful, or more courageous, but he appeared to be more honest. His awareness of his sinful thoughts and motives drove him to despair until he rediscovered the foundational truth of the Gospel, that it’s about what Jesus did, not what you or I do.

In my previous life as a Lutheran pastor, I found many helpful settings in which to tell Luther’s story with the goal of transforming our stories as well. Many videos have been made on Luther’s life, and one of my favorites never made the mainstream. In Martin Luther: Heretic, there’s a great scene where Luther, the teacher, is explaining his new insights to his students, and a lively debate ensues. Luther explains that we’re saved by grace completely apart from works – a revolutionary concept in an age filled with penance and opportunities to work for our spiritual status. A student stands up and objects, “Are you telling me that as a Christian I can do whatever I want? Hogwash!” To which Luther shockingly replies, “Yes, that’s what I’m telling you. Do whatever you want. Now let me ask you a question. What do you want to do?”

The student is confused, so Luther continues in his typically earthy fashion. “Do you want to go get drunk at a tavern? Do you want to go sleep with several young maidens? What you want reveals who you are, who you are in your heart.” The student is not satisfied with this answer, so he replies in the fashion Luther had taught them, with Scripture: “That can’t be. The Bible says ‘you will know them by their fruit.’” And Luther without missing a beat says, “Yes, and right before that, the Bible says that the tree makes the fruit, not the other way around. What kind of tree you are reveals what kind of fruit you produce.”

So let me ask you the same question Luther asked 500 years ago. [Quick aside. If we were having a conversation over lunch, you’d be able to tell from my body language that there’s not a hint of condemnation in these questions. In fact, they’re the same questions God recently confronted me with in such helpful ways that they awoke me from spiritual sleep I wasn’t even aware of!] What do you want to do? What do you think about? When you wake up in the morning, where do you turn first – to the newspaper, facebook, sports? Where do you turn for comfort in times of discomfort? What gives you identity and validation – your work, your family, or your Savior? When God reshapes our hearts, conforming our wills to His, transformation begins again or for the first time, and the whole world can be the beneficiary.