Grounded in Christ — Sent to be a Blessing.

Zion Lutheran Church

Citizens of Heaven

Citizens of Heaven

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. (Ephesians 1:3)

The letter to the Ephesians is thought by many to be a circular letter. That means it was written to be circulated to more than one recipient. Each copy would have a different town identified in the copy. The one that we have that made the Bible was to the people of Ephesus.

When the Apostle Paul wrote this letter, he was excited about the church and what it represented. God had done something amazing in Jesus and connected eternity and the world. By faith, people were joined to the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. As a result they received the very best of all that God had to offer. This was not because God wasn’t already offering it. It was because without faith, we lack the eyes to see and grasp all that God is doing

The arrival of Jesus changes that. Once we encounter the God who comes to us in Christ, we discover the goodness of God and the sacrificial love that God gives to us. We discern that in the midst of the various struggles of life, God continues to work and brings life out of death and hope out of despair.

The result is that we live our lives as both residents of the world and also as citizens of heaven. We see the temporal and impact it with the love and grace of Jesus. We see the eternal and trust that no matter what we encounter here, it will not be enough to destroy the promise of “every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places.”

You are free to live a life of praise and thanksgiving. Why? Because your faith in Christ tells you that God has promised you everything that eternity has to offer. So rejoice, even when times are tough. Because of Christ, there is always a light shining into our future.


The Trinity

Trinity D

Jesus said, “And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Advocate, to be with you forever. This is the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, because he abides with you, and he will be in you.”  (John 14:16-17)

The above text is the one of the pieces of Jesus’ last evening with his disciples. It is near the end of Matthew’s gospel as the soon to be crucified Christ prepares his disciples to continue his work. People are to discover through the followers of Jesus that the God who made the world, redeemed the world and continues to work in the world is looking for allies. Followers of Jesus are to continue his work. This verse is one place where the doctrine of the Trinity is pointed to within the pages of scripture.

The Trinity is often lifted up as a difficult concept to understand. And of course, it is. But it has been said that the Trinity is not so much a puzzle to be solved, as it is a mystery to stand in awe of. The Trinity is not about intellectual mumbo jumbo. It is about a God of love who is too amazing to fully comprehend.

This week, we look at the Trinity and we will do so intellectually, artistically and contemplatively. In each way we discover a bit more about how amazing God is. And at the same time we also discover how much more there is to know than we will ever fully understand.


Beloved, Let Us Love One Another

1 John 4-7

“Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God.” (1 John 4:7)

We often want to take credit for being kind and loving. It makes us feel good about ourselves. Who doesn’t want to feel good about himself or herself?

But scripture paints a different picture of how humanity works. Good and loving things do not originate with us. As much as most of us want to take great pride in being “good people” or “truly loving,” the Bible says that all goodness and all love originate with God. In fact, the next verse following the one above tells us that, “God is love.” We do not love because of us. We love because of God.

This can be especially helpful when we see love in other people. Like us, if love is present it does not start with them, it starts with God. So, when we see love expressed in meaningful and helpful ways in the lives of others, it can be a great chance to witness. Instead of saying, “Thanks. You are such a nice person,” we can instead say, “Thanks, I really experienced God working through you.” Witness like this is simple, gracious and allows us to give credit where credit is due.

So, watch for examples of love wherever you are. And when you see love in action, instead of thinking what a nice person it is, celebrate what a wonderful God we have!


Testing the Truth

Truth Test

Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God; for many false prophets have gone out into the world. (1 John 4:1)

When 1 John was written, Christianity was new and on the margins. There was no reason to claim the name of Jesus to gain credibility with most people. The name of Jesus carried now real weight in a world where most people were not Christians and where in many cases, it was illegal to be one. So, when the author tells the audience to listen to see if someone brings something in the name of Jesus, it made a lot of sense as criteria. Why would anyone link himself or herself to Jesus unless they really had something from God in Christ to say?

Fast forward a couple of thousand years and things are very different. Christianity is the biggest religion in the world with over a billion adherents. In our country, even thought religion is generally declining, Christianity is far and away the biggest and most powerful religious force in our society. Today, especially in some circles, claiming the name “Christian” will get you and audience and even some clout. So, today there is incentive to use the name of Jesus, even if your message isn’t from God.

That’s why the above verse is so important.  Jesus has already warned that there will be many false prophets in his name. Today, with the internet, you can find all sorts of “Christian” messages that make Jesus cringe. You can find “fake news” that starts with rumors and Internet bait, but can even find its way to major papers and network news. If we aren’t careful, almost everything we pass on may be false!

So scripture reminds us that we need to take the time to sort through things. If something seems too good to be true, it likely is. If something tries to get you to fall back into judgment and condemnation of others, it is probably not from God. If something announces that God in Christ loves you (and the people you struggle to love as well), then that probably sounds like the gospel. Odds are good that it might have come from God.


The Need for Grace

Savior Needed

“If we say that we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.” (1 John 1:10)

We all want to feel good about ourselves. Our instincts and our culture both base our self-worth on being good, useful and morally upright. Often, when someone we know dies, we comfort one another by saying, “They were such a good person.”

But scripture reminds us that all of us are sinful. All of us make mistakes, think and act based on our own desires rather than God’s, and often ignore the needs of others while taking more than enough care of ourselves. Most of us try to do the right thing most of the time at what we do. But most of also all too easily ignore all that we don’t do. In fact, it may be that our sins of omission are often greater than the sins we commit.

That’s why confession is such a central part of what it means to be a Christian. The ability to own our sins allows us to rely on God’s grace. It reminds us that God is God and that we aren’t. It points us to our need for the love of God that comes to us in Christ. And when it goes well, it shapes us to be more gracious and less judgmental with others when their sins cause us pain or annoyance. To admit to needing grace is a humbling thing. Humble people are less likely to beat up others when they make mistakes.

Oddly enough, our imperfections are not the disaster we often make them out to be. In fact, if we would all simply admit that we are fallible and need grace, many of our attitudes and relationships would change almost immediately. So, don’t resist admitting that you need grace. It is the path to grace and because of grace we discover that in the end – love wins.


It Starts With Love

1 John 1

“We declare to you what we have seen and heard so that you also may have fellowship with us; and truly our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” (1 John 1:3)

Why share the faith we have in Christ? So that the fellowship we have with God that Jesus makes possible is something others can have as well.

Many of us have been raised to think that the central part of being a Christian is belonging to a church. Being a “member” was a sign of respectability and an important part of American life only a few decades ago. Many of us grew up with that notion.

But over the last few decades a lot has changed. If someone asks, “Do you belong to a church?” it may be followed by, “Why?” or even, “Really?” Many have seen the institution decline, heard leaders proclaim hate and bigotry from the pulpit, or seen stories of scandals. Why belong to a church?

But the Bible proclaims a reality that is deeper and older than the struggles of the American church. In 1 John we read a letter from someone who knows Jesus loves them. In Christ they have discovered a living and vibrant relationship with the God who made the universe. It has been life changing and even worldview changing for him.

Part of that reality is that once someone discovers that the Christian faith is more about a relationship with God than it is about belonging to an institution that there is a deep joy that emerges from within the believer’s heart. That joy presses outward and the same love that is received from God in Christ now presses out to others. The goal: that others know and discover the love and grace of the God that made them as well.

This is the Christian life. We are loved and we love. And we show and tell others about the place where love begins – within the heart of God.


The Fruits of the Spirit

Holy Spirit F

The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things. (Galatians 5:22-23)

A lot of brands of Christianity are most concerned with what you are not supposed to do. They have lists of right and wrong, in and out. And of course, there are things we are not supposed to do! So sometimes the things on these lists can be helpful reminders of things to avoid or eradicate from our behavior.

But we have to be careful. Often we overstep and decide that since we as Christians aren’t supposed to do it, neither should anyone else. We judge, legislate and even punish. We can easily (and often are) be seen as people who are more likely to condemn. Many people, especially younger adults, say that the main thing they see in Christians is judgment. And they want little to do with it.

The list of the fruits of the Spirit above is not things that are forbidden. Rather, these are things the Holy Spirit inspires. God is working to encourage us and transform us to look more like Jesus, not with rules and prohibitions, but by inspiring us to be filled with goodness and caring that can only come from God.

This week is Pentecost. We celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit. In our congregation, we will celebrate the confirmation of three young people at the early service. They will stand and share how the Spirit is working in their lives and affirm their baptisms with the love and support and in the presence of the congregation. Our prayer for them, and for all of us, is that we are able to see the fruits of the Holy Spirit in all that we do.


A Jumble of People

Unity in the Church

There is no longer Jew or Greek, there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all of you are one in Christ Jesus. (Galatians 3:28)

The early church discovered something amazing. When the God of Jesus gets involved in human life lots of things change! People who would never have anything to do with each other are suddenly thrust into a life of faith with each other. In Paul’s letter to the Galatians they have found that there are both Jews and Greeks in the church (who could have imagined?). They have discovered that men and women are sharing leadership (a radical thing at the time). And they have found that slaves and their owners are all sitting around the communion table together (slaves were used to serving their masters but not sitting with them to eat!). It was unimaginable and yet it was happening.

The church is filled with all sorts of people. Some of the people in the church seem a lot like us and we click. It seems like old friends or family. Hang around long enough and they become old friends and family.

On the other hand, the church is also filled with people we would never choose to hang out with. But if we are honest, over time we find ourselves just as connected to these people who are different as we are to the people with whom we clicked right away. We find that our church family is more diverse than many of our homes and we discover that our circle of friends is stretched and even filled with compassion for people with whom we have little in common.

The reason for this is that we share the most precious thing in all the world. We are all connected to Jesus and made into the body of Christ through faith. It is not our own doing. It is a gift. And with it comes the miracle of a community of people that the world might never imagine. But to be within it requires no imagination. It is already present in our shared life together.



Christ in Us

“I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but it is Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:19-20)

The early church had a lot to sort out. After all, the most history-changing event ever had just taken place in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. People saw things one way before the coming of Christ. But his coming called many things into question and his death and resurrection literally called everything into question. If God had come in Jesus and if Jesus had died and rose again, then what did that mean? And how were followers of Jesus supposed to live in the new light that had come to us in Christ?

Galatians was written to people still trying to figure this out. The Apostle Paul has helped start communities of faith but as he has moved on to other places, they have had to figure out how to continue his work without him. That has resulted in ongoing struggles between within group of new Christians. How should they let people in? What are the rules for everyone once they are in? Is this a new kind of Jewish group or is it something completely new?

In response to the news of this debate, Paul writes a letter back to his friends in Galatia. His focus is that putting too many restrictions on new people is not helpful. There are already plenty of places with too many rules for people. This is not about a new way to apply the law. This is all about grace and we belong and participate in this because of what God has done in Jesus. In fact, once we are part of this new community our old selves are no longer at issue. For we our old selves are crucified with Christ. Just as he died on the cross, so when we are connected to him, our old selves die as well. And what is in their place? Jesus Christ now lives in us!

The word Christian implies that we are “Christ-bearers.” Where we go, Jesus goes. What we do, it is the ongoing work of Christ. We are not alone. In fact, we bring Christ with us in all that we do.


A Changing Church for a Changing World

Choices A 

The apostles and the elders met together to consider this matter. (Acts 15:6)

There has always been a need to figure out difficult things, debate different ideas and make important decisions. Because people do not live only as individuals, doing what we want, we have to figure out how to connect, live and work together. While it would seemingly be wonderful to simply adopt a libertarian attitude toward life – doing what we want – the nature of God and the gospel means we have clear responsibilities toward each other. We don’t live in a vacuum. We live in community.

The early church discovered that this truth pertained to them pretty early. As the excitement of the gospel brought new people into the church, the desire to contain and control was still real. While the Spirit was offering new life, we are both saint and sinner at the same time. We are called and shaped by Jesus and declared righteous by God. We are easily self absorbed and selfish and still fully human and in need of grace. This tension is the tension in which we live.

The tension that caused the meeting mentioned in the verse above was related to how new people became part of God’s church. The early church was Jewish at its core. The people were Jews who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. Not all Jews believed this, of course. But the new Christians thought of themselves as a movement within Judaism. To join the church was to be a Jew and to confess Jesus as Lord.

But things had happened where people had come to faith in Jesus who weren’t Jewish. Peter had baptized a bunch of them by now and these new Christians seemed to be as excited and authentic in their faith as the ones who had been Jewish. Could you be Christian without being Jewish? The leaders came together, listened to the stories people shared, listened to how Peter had experienced God at work in his ministry, and reflected on what to do. In the end, they decided that faith in Jesus was what was needed to be part of Christ’s church. That was it – faith in Jesus.

In a changing world the church is always called to stay alert to the movement of God. Just as God had led the church to reach new people in new ways during the first century, God continues to call the church to be open to changing in ways to include new people in new ways within the life of the church today. This is not easy. Many of our instincts call us to put up barriers and retain control in ways that get in the way of what God is up to. But we are called to join in with what God is up to, always open to God’s ever widening circle of grace.

We live in a world that is increasingly diverse. In our schools families speak dozens of languages and come from nations all around the globe. In our neighborhood, people from a multitude of racial and ethnic backgrounds are now our neighbors. And each of these people are both people whom God made and loves and our neighbors. To do God’s work, we will have to be as open to change as the first disciples. But as we are, we will see amazing things happen and discover the miracle of God’s ever widening circle of grace.