Grounded in Christ — Sent to be a Blessing.

Zion Lutheran Church

How to Build a Life

Rich Fool

Jesus said, “So it is with those who store up treasures for themselves but are not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:21)

The quote above is the last line of a story Jesus told about a rich man who stored up lots and lots of wealth in bigger and bigger barns. But when he gets his wealth stored up, he then dies and gets to benefit from none of it. His entire life’s work was wasted. Jesus sees this as the ultimate example of foolishness – focusing on the stuff that is limited to this life without focusing more attention on the things that are of eternal value.

If you are a relatively normal person, you probably struggle with this as well. How much should we save? How much should we spend? How much should we give away? How do we live a life that is both engaged in the present and also grounded in eternity?

These are the questions that shape wisdom with regards to our money and possessions. Conventional wisdom says that we should find some balance that fits our resources and our values. First fruits giving ensures that we build generosity in first. Structured savings ensures that we don’t just spend everything that we have left and don’t plan for the long-term realities of life. Living on the remainder allows us to have the things we need and to sustain ourselves in ways that allow us the chance to be happy and productive people.

Jesus knows that this isn’t easy. The temptations to do the wrong thing and to act stupid with what we have can seem like the best way to enjoy life and control our destiny. But the cost maybe losing sight of what matters most and damaging our souls.

It may be wise for each of us to learn from Jesus and get our lives in balance and focused on the right things. We were not created to simply desire more and to accumulate. We were created to receive grace from the God to whom all things belong, and then to use these gifts wisely in ways that bring life to others.

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What’s In Your Way?

Whats in your way

Jesus, looking at him, loved him and said, “You lack one thing; go, sell what you own, and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; then come, follow me.” (Mark 10:20)

We often think that when God gives us something hard to do, it is an act of discipline and maybe even borders on punishment or a test. After all, if we don’t want to do something, then having to do it is not fun. It may even cause us stress and make us angry.

But this week’s text has an encounter with a rich young man and Jesus. The young man wants to know how to inherit eternal life. The answer, in his case, is to sell all that he has and give the money to the poor. Then come and follow Jesus.

It is not what he wanted to hear!

But the text also says that Jesus did this precisely because it was the loving thing to say. This rich young man had counted on his wealth to be there. It was the trusted and reliable thing in his life. In the process, God was an interesting but optional ingredient in his day to day decisions. Money, not God, was his place of security.

For just that reason, Jesus identifies the money as the thing keeping him from entering eternal life. It is the thing that stands between him and utter dependence on God. It isn’t that the money is necessarily bad. But he had enough money for it to be his source of security and as a result, he didn’t find it possible to depend on God.

The young man went away crestfallen and unable to let go of the one thing in his life that was killing him. Jesus couldn’t say, “If that is too hard, try something easier.” All he could say is, “This is the thing that will bring you life – it is the honest and loving answer to your question.”

What in your life gets in the way of trusting God fully? It may be money or possessions. It may be something else. But whatever it is, getting our life in order means putting God first and other things follow. Whenever something else goes first and then God follows after that, we are clinging to something that stands between us and being fully alive.

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You Heart and Your Stuff

Treasure and Heart

“For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” Matthew 6:21

The statement above from Jesus is often misquoted. People prefer to say, “Where your heart is, your treasure will be also.” But that isn’t what Jesus said. Our heart follows our treasure – we don’t necessarily treasure what is in our hearts.

This is important in a world like ours. In our country, we are overwhelmed with things. Most families have more than one of a lot of things that people in other parts of the world have none of (cars, TV’s computers, etc.). The more we have, the more defensive we become. It is rich people who live in houses with security systems locked inside of gated communities. Something about our stuff shapes us and if we aren’t careful, to much can actually make us afraid!

Often, people live in fear and can’t let go of things. Closets overflow. Extra rooms become closets. Basements become inaccessible. Garages are turned into personal warehouses. If this is you, then this lesson is a great chance to learn another way to live from Jesus – the master of simplicity and faithfulness.

There has been a movement in our society to encourage people to simplify. Less stuff can make a better life. There is less to clean, less to maintain and less to lose. Clutter is reduced and both time and space are often both freed up. But something often forces us to cling to things, desire more things, and in the process our heart is changed. A glad and generous heart can become clingy and defensive.

This week, take a little time to look at your life. What things so you have? Of them, which ones could you live without? Which ones, if you got rid of them, would it actually improve your life to be freed from?

Jesus knew that the lure of the material could throw our hearts out of balance. As we learn from him, letting go of things that don’t matter may not just free us from clutter, it may set our hearts free as well.

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Jesus Is the Point

Communion Emmaus
Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry, and whoever believes in me will never be thirsty.”
(John 6:35)

For the next two weeks, we will reflect a bit on communion using John 6.

Not everyone who believes in God believes the same things about God. For example, many of the founding fathers of our country were quite strong believers in God but did not believe God was involved in an ongoing way with the world. These people are from a belief system known as “deism.” Deism believes in God. It believes God made the world and set the ground rules for how life works. But they don’t see God as doing anything on a day-to-day basis. The classic example to explain how deists think is the old wind up style alarm clock. God made the clock, wound it up, and now it is running. The world is the same way – God made the world and get things started but now we are living with the results and God isn’t intervening on what happens.

At the other end of the spectrum are those people who believe that God has a plan for everything and that life is well scripted by God. We hear this viewpoint sometimes when someone dies, especially a younger person. Someone will say, “Well, when it’s your time to go, it is just your time to go.” Some people even claim that they don’t wear seatbelts because they know, “If it’s not my time to go, I’ll be fine.” In this kind of thinking, God is in charge and predestines everything. God’s script for your life and fate are almost the same thing. So fatalism thinks that outcomes are set in stone and we just live out our destiny.

Lutheran Christians teach neither of these extremes. We believe that God made the world and everything in it (like deists) and we believe that God is intimately involved in the world and in our lives (like the fatalists).

But we also believe that life matters and that God’s involvement always presses towards life in the kingdom of God in ways that include a variety of choices and paths along the way and that human life and the decisions we make are part of the journey toward God’s reign. Not every detail of your life is scripted before you are born.

Because of this, we believe that our relationship with God matters. God has come to us in Christ and opened windows into the mind and heart of God. In the life, death and resurrection of Jesus we see God’s commitment to being fully in the world and God’s willingness to participate in all things fully – even suffering and death. No one, even God, is immune to the struggles along the way. In fact, the gospel message is grounded in God’s promise that life wins and Christ’s demonstration that God will be with us in and through anything, even death itself.

This is why we belong to a tradition known as “sacramental Christianity.” When we gather as a community of faith, we believe that our gathering matters both to us and to God. We believe that when we show up for worship that God shows up too. It is Jesus who stands at the center of our worship and gathering around Jesus in worship is rehearsal for the rest of our week as well. We celebrate Jesus’ presence in bread and cup during worship. But we live in Christ’s presence every minute of every day.

 

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Faith Matters

Faith Hebrews Quote

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen. (Hebrews 11:1)

The book of Hebrews is a later book in the New Testament. It’s focus is to address Christians from a Jewish background and help them stay the course in their new commitments to be followers of Jesus. Tensions were high and the cost of discipleship could include alienation from family and neighbors, imprisonment, or even death. It was easy to give up and simply try to blend in with more ordinary people – just try to look normal and not stand out.

Into this environment, the author of Hebrews wants people to hear words of encouragement and hope. Don’t stop believing that Jesus is the one. Don’t give up on the newfound faith that is yours.  Cling to the truth that Jesus is the one who brings life and that believing this is the most important thing.

In our modern era, we have inherited a definition of faith that is centered in content. Do we believe the right things? Do we understand the right ideas? Do we have the facts right? All of these can be useful at some level. But they are not the Bible’s primary concern.

The Bible was written and assembled to help people believe that Jesus was the one in whom they could place their trust. Details about Jesus’ life were shared, not to get you to know the facts, but as pointers to get you to believe the big thing – Jesus is Lord. With that kind of faith, lives were being changed. People without hope who were longing for a different kind of world than the one in which they lived received a promise. Jesus is ushering in the Reign of God. The world is changing. And the just and peaceful world for which you long will one day arrive. Faith is the assurance of things hope for; the conviction of things not seen.

There are a lot of divisions in the Christian community today. Most of them have to do with (dis)agreement about history, theology and details. A lot of people have a lot invested in keeping us divided – it protects their status as leaders and experts in their little world. But the Bible’s basic message should bring us all together. In Jesus, God is doing something amazing and the world for which we all long is coming. The hopes you have are justified and real. Maybe you can’t see it yet, but believe. Salvation is on its way.

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Jesus Wants One-ness

Jesus prayed, “I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.” (John 17:20)

Unity Word Cloud

This week we are diverging from our planned summer series. The reason is simple. We had an incredible team of people take an incredible trip to Spirit Lake Reservation in North Dakota. They saw, learned and experienced some amazing things during their week there. Perhaps most important is Jesus’ desire and commitment to bringing people together. God’s dream is that all people will be united in the same way that the Son and the Father are truly one.

In the verse from the prayer that Jesus is praying above, he is nearing the end. Judas has already departed to betray him. The soldiers are coming to arrest him. Unless he simply flees for his own safety, something contrary to his identity as the Messiah, it will not be long before Jesus is in jail and probably dead. This is his last one-to-one time in prayer before the arrest. Anything after this is going to be on the fly. What should he pray about?

Jesus chooses to pray for those of us who will remain. He isn’t dying just to get us into heaven. No, his arrest and death are really about changing the world in which we live into the world God is dreaming and committed to finishing. Jesus’ death will be about our lives. Jesus wants all the factions in the world who are so easily swayed to be against each other and at each other’s throats to find unity. Real unity. That kind of unity can only come from God.

Because the world we live in is getting smaller every day, the experiences we have grow bigger at the same time. It used to be a long way to meet someone from an Indian reservation in Illinois. It used to be a long way to meet a Muslim from Egypt. It used to be a long way to meet a Hindu from India. It used to be a long way to lots of people and places. But now the world has gotten small.

Pastor Ray Bakke, a noted missional thinker said we used to bring Christ to the nations and we messed it up, doing more to colonialize others than to bring Jesus to them. So God is doing a new thing. In this global world, God is bringing the nations to us.

Whether in Indian lands in North Dakota or the new neighbors that God has given us from all sorts of places right next door, we are constantly in contact with fellow people who God has made. Jesus’ desire is for us to learn to be one. This week is a little chance for us to reflect, learn and practice as a congregation. But what we practice when we are together on Sundays is also what we live out each day throughout the week. It is both the reality of our new world and a chance to be the answer to Jesus’ final prayer.

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Jesus – The great high priest who knows you best

Jesus - High Priest

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.” (Hebrews 4:15)

Ever feel like life is throwing one curve ball after another at you? It can seem like sometimes there is no end to the challenges we face. Each one of us, when these streaks come, is also likely to think, “No one knows what I am going through.” In fact, if a friend says, “I know just how you feel,” it may even make us angry. We think, “No one knows how I feel!”

But the image of Jesus we get in Hebrews is one of complete identification with us. Jesus takes on our human form and deals with our human struggles. He is “in every respect tested as we are.” While struggle often makes us want to retreat and find a hole to climb in, there is no escaping this simple truth. In Jesus, God comes to be with us in all things and both stays with us in our pains and knows what it is we are feeling as a result.

This is a critical point. There are times when each of us feels more or less alone. Sometimes it can feel like we are alone, even when there are people around us. In fact, nothing feels so alone as the feeling of loneliness in a room full of people. But the witness of scripture is very clear. We are never alone. And we are never not understood. It may only be God in Christ who understands us and stands with us. But that is the witness of the scriptures. Jesus knows you better than anyone. Jesus most likely knows you better than you even know yourself.

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Jesus is one of us.

Jesus is human

“Therefore he (Jesus) had to become like his brothers and sisters[f] in every respect, so that he might be a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make a sacrifice of atonement for the sins of the people.” (Hebrews 2:17)

We often need to remember that there is more to God than meets the eye. God is amazing beyond our imagination. God is capable beyond our wildest dreams. God is wise beyond our ability to discern wisdom. In fact, that is one of the reasons that there are so many religions, images of God, understandings of God, etc. Much about God is intuited but not known. We can only wonder.

But the author of Hebrews wants readers to know that something amazing has happened in Christ. When God came to us in Jesus, God came to us and became like us “in every respect.” There is nothing about us and our flesh and blood that is not also true for Jesus. Jesus knows what it is to be one of us because Jesus is one of us.

For the author of Hebrews, this is important because it means that Jesus’ work is offered up as one of us. What Jesus does, he does as a person, and fulfills all that God can ask of people. As the great high priest, Christ’s offering also shows us what life is for all of us who are God’s people. As he offers himself, we see life lived sacrificially and we see God receive that gift fully. Life is restored. We join in that work and live sacrificially as well.

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God has spoken to us

God speaks to us

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son… (Hebrews 1:1-2a)

Since the beginning of time people have sensed that there must be something beyond our experience. People believed that there must be something or someone responsible for our existence. These thoughts wondered if the god or gods who made the world were primarily friendly or not, could be trusted or not, and could be accessed or appeased in ways that would make them do good things for us or treat us well.

Early in Israel’s history, not long after God freed the people from slavery in Egypt and gave them the covenant and the ten commandments with it, it became clear that people needed reminders of whose they were and who they were. God sent prophets, people who spoke with God’s word and with clarity into a situation. It was the prophet’s job to make clear what God wanted. Israel had many prophets over the centuries. Their role was essential to keeping the people connected, alert and on track. When they got off track, the prophet brought strong words to refocus the people. Sometimes they responded. Sometimes they didn’t.

In Jesus, God speaks to us differently. Rather than speaking through someone else, God in Christ has chosen to come to us and be among us. A word from Jesus takes out the so-called “middle man.” There is one less filter, one less distance to cross.

In what the book of Hebrews calls “these last days,” God has taken up residence among us. A word from Jesus is not a word sent by God to be given to us. It is a word from God that God has come to us to bring directly. The book of Hebrews wants the reader to know: In Jesus, God is among us. We are not alone.

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What do you want?

Coveting

 

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17) 

Our cultures have changed so the list above may seem a bit foreign to many of our experiences. But the idea behind this verse is central to living a healthy and meaningful life. You shall not covet…

We live in a consumer culture in a system that is designed to get you to covet. Much of what drives the American experience is grounded in coveting. Magazine ads, TV commercials, Google ads that pop up based on your search data are all designed to get you to want something you don’t have and eventually to get you to do something about it. Who hasn’t seen an ad for something you hadn’t even been thinking about and thought, “Wow, that looks cool. I want one of those.”

The goal of much of our existence is to be sure that you are pressured to be dissatisfied with who you are and what you have. No matter how happy you thought you were a minute before the commercial came on, the advertiser’s goal is to make you feel inadequate at the moment and also to show you what you need to get, do, or buy in order to feel fulfilled and whole again. Yes, coveting drives the economy. Coveting makes Christmas Christmas.

In contrast, the Bible pictures a world where people are connected and care about what they have in ways that elicit gratitude. Gratitude for what we have is the opposite of coveting. Gratitude comes from a sense that we have good things and that what we h ave is enough. While there is still poverty in America, even many of us who struggle to make ends meet have too much stuff we wanted but don’t need and as a result we lack resources to have what we need. Only in America can you have way too much and way too little so easily!

So, the command to not covet is also a charge to live contented lives. It is a call to live wisely, grounded in good decisions about the things we have and the relationships in our lives. Being good stewards of those will bring more meaning and purpose to who we already are. Longing for different things and people may only make us miserable. There’s a lot of pressure in our world trying to make us miserable, but the Bible’s message is one that encourages contentment and gratitude whenever possible. So, take stock of what you have and say thanks when you can. In general, it beats wishing you had someone else’s life instead of your own.

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