Category Archives: Meditations
By Pastor Nathan Richardson Heartland Community Church
What fear and doubt do
Zechariah was visited by an angel in Luke 1 and he was “gripped with fear.” I am sure at some point in your life you have been scared, whether watching a movie, a friend surprising you, being held at gunpoint or being told that you have cancer. This can be a scary thing.
Fear can be paralyzing, not knowing what to say or how to react. Some people when scared have a reaction to fight back with words or in a physical way. Others react with flight by running away. These are very common reactions when we are afraid.
Fear can lead us to do a lot of things. Fear can hinder our faith. But it also can cause us to avoid. Let me explain. I am afraid of roller coasters. The combination of the height and speed just seem unnatural to me. At times, fear leads to I don’t. My fear of roller coaster leads to the fact that I DON’T ride roller coasters.
The angel told Zechariah that his wife was going to have a baby. Zechariah basically laughed off this comment and said, “How can I be sure of this? I am an old man and my wife is well along in years.” Zechariah was filled with doubt. He didn’t believe what the angel was sharing with him. Zechariah’s doubt led him to say I CAN’T.
He knew that he and his wife had never had children and why would that ever change at his age. Zechariah was more focused on what he could not do rather than what God can do. Is not this what we do so often by focusing on our own limitations, imperfections, failures, hurts and doubts. We rely on what we can’t do as our only experience. Zechariah was right, he would never be able to get his wife pregnant. But there is something at work in this that is more powerful than Zechariah and Elizabeth.
Due to his doubt, Zechariah had his voice taken away. So he could not go home and share this news with his wife. But I am sure that Zechariah was ecstatic a few months later to hear his wife was pregnant. God provided this couple with a miracle and even though Zechariah and Elizabeth could not do it, Christ could, and Christ did, and he still can.
Faith is bigger than our self. We might not believe it, but that does not mean it cannot happen. Because of my limitations I don’t have great faith in myself. Because of others imperfections I don’t have great faith in others. But I do have a great faith in Christ and his ability to transform myself and others. Do not let your fear of something tell you that God won’t. Do not let your doubt tell you that God is not able. In fact I think we should doubt our doubt more than we do our God.
Philippians 4:13 says, I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” Focus on the second part of that line. We only have strength through God. Matthew 19:26 says, Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
By Pastor Jenna Couch Zion Lutheran Church, Jubilee
If you had to answer the question, “What kinds of things are you tempted by in this world,” how would you answer?
Maybe some would be able to name the temptation right away, while others might have to think about it.
There are many temptations in this world everyday; some are easy to resist, while others may be harder. But, temptation is everywhere.
Some of the pastors in the Jubilee Conference are involved in a book study in Cedar Falls. We just started “The Screwtape Letters” by C.S. Lewis.
If you’ve never read it before, it’s a chilling but fascinating story. It’s about two devils from the underworld; Screwtape, who is writing letters to his nephew Wormwood, advising him on how to properly tempt a “patient” as they call him. This “patient” starts out as an atheist, which makes it easier for Wormwood to manipulate his thoughts, but so far in the first seven letters, the “patient” became a Christian, which grieved Wormwood and his uncle, but they aren’t letting up.
The advice that is given in these letters is utterly disturbing, but it gives the reader quite a bit of foresight about how the temptation process works. An overarching theme that Screwtape gives his nephew is to continue to find ways to get the “patient” to turn in on himself. As uncomfortable as some of this is to read, it’s a pretty adequate description of the ways in which temptations can pull us away from God and turn us in on ourselves. And when we turn in on ourselves, we die. Sooner or later, we die a rather lonely death because life had been consumed with 1 person; ourselves.
I realize that this book probably isn’t sounding like a great book for a pastor, or Christian for that matter, to be reading, but I promise you….there is MUCH Gospel to be proclaimed in this book. Even while Screwtape would have his nephew Wormwood believe that everything God is and stands for is to be considered The Enemy, as God is frequently referred to in this book; what he is portraying as bad or opposing qualities, we uphold as Holy.
I’d like to share an excerpt from the book that better conveys what I’m talking about here.
“To us, a human is primarily food; our aim is the absorption of its will into ours, the increase of our own area of selfhood at its expense.
But the obedience which [God] demands of its [humans] is quite a different thing. One must face the fact that all the talk about His love for [humans] and His service being perfect freedom is not (as one would gladly believe) more propaganda, but an appalling truth. He really does want to fill the universe with a lot of loathsome little replicas of Himself—creatures whose life, on its miniature scale, will be qualitatively like His own, not because He has absorbed them but because their wills freely conform to His. We want cattle who can finally become food; He wants servants who can finally become [children.] We want to suck in, He wants to give out. We are empty and would be filled; He is full and flows over. Our war aim is a world in which Our Father Below has drawn all other beings into himself; [God] wants a world full of beings united to Him but still distinct.” (C.S. Lewis, Screwtape Letters, pp.38-39).
Here, Screwtape is lamenting to Wormwood about how God operates in this world. Their goal is to try to convince their “patient” that nothing and no one else in the world matters more than their patient’s own feelings or thoughts. They know that God is genuine, and that God calls people to places bigger than themselves. And that infuriates them. They can’t compete with benevolence and God’s call to people thinking outside of themselves. That thwarts their evil plot to dominate people with their own twisted selfishness.
Whatever temptations that are out there; they are a part of life, but they are something wholly other than what God has intended for us as God’s children.
Now, while C.S. Lewis’ book is fiction, there is beautiful truth in the way he describes God. God IS overflowing. God does call us to serve and God has united us together as part of creation through Christ. And that’s the “good news” that Jesus went around Galilee proclaiming. Jesus called people to repent and to believe. Both are things that render Screwtape and Wormwood utterly powerless.
Jesus is still very present in this world today, still proclaiming the message to us that God’s kingdom has come near; calling us to repent and believe in the Good News. As the Screwtape letters indicate; there is far more power in belief in God than in temptation; for they are utterly powerless against God and God’s work through us.
So when we pray later today, and week after week “Lead us not into temptation, and deliver us from evil,” we pray with a confidence that no power on earth can ever compete with a God whose giving for creation is overflowing with love.
By Pastor Jenna Couch Zion Lutheran Church, Jubilee
Today is Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent; the season of penitence, of fasting, of reviewing our sinful nature and journeying with Christ toward the Cross.
The question on everyone’s mind this week: What are you giving up for Lent?
Have you decided? Are you giving up anything? Some take this Lenten discipline very seriously. Many people have different Lenten disciplines that they partake in to help focus on the Sacrifice Christ made for us.
Giving up something for Lent is indeed a good practice, but what happens when those 40 days are over? When choosing a discipline, if we choose to do one, could it be one that we continue past the 40 days of Lent? Could it be something that is life-giving, that maybe even benefits others rather than simply denying ourselves? One of the assigned Scripture readings for Ash Wednesday is Isaiah 58:1-12. This text calls into question certain types of fasting and the reasoning behind it.
“Why do we fast, but you do not see? Why humble ourselves, but you do not notice? Look, you serve your own interest on your fast day, and oppress all your workers. Look, you fast only to quarrel and to fight and to strike with a wicked fist. Such fasting as you do today will not make your voice heard on high. Is such the fast that I choose, a day to humble oneself? Is it to bow down the head like a bulrush, and to lie in sackcloth and ashes? Will you call this a fast, a day acceptable to the LORD? Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?”
I absolutely love reading. God redefines what it means to fast in this text. Fasting is not solely about serving our own interests, or to make us more disciplined or deprived of our favorite treats for five weeks. Fasting, when described in this text, assumes a deep self-examination of ourselves to discover where our heart, and thus, our treasure, really is. Fasting, according to this reading from Isaiah, seems to be a call of repentance from the things that prevent us from serving others and a renewed commitment to fighting injustices in this world.
When we receive those ashes on our forehead, that trace of the baptismal Cross, how will God work in us as we seek to serve our neighbor in love, to uphold our baptismal promises to live among God’s faithful people, to come to the word of God and the Holy supper, to read the Scriptures, work for peace and justice; all in response to the abundant grace and mercy that was given to us in and through the Cross?
Ultimately, in this world, it’s really not about US or what we do. It’s about what Christ has done in this world is FOR us. As we walk in this Lenten journey together, may God walk with us, stirring in us new life in the one who gave his life for us; Jesus Christ our Lord.
By Pastor Jenna Couch Zion Lutheran Church, Jubilee
Share Your Story
I just recently returned from a Youth Ministry conference in Detroit, Michigan. It was called the Youth Ministry Extravaganza and put on by the ELCA’s Youth Ministry Network. The theme this year was “Story,” and many of our speakers spoke about the importance of stories in our lives; especially when it comes to our faith.
During the main group sessions, many speakers shared various stories with us just for fun, about themselves, and about the Gospel. Throughout the four day conference, we worked through the entire Gospel of Mark as it was told to us in story form. What a wonderful way to hear the Gospel! I sat there and listened to the different stories that were being told throughout the weekend. I was mesmerized by how others’ stories drew me into their experience.
Stories are powerful means of communication. Walt Wangerin, an author of several books, was one of the speakers at this conference.During his presentation, he said that through stories, the people listening experience the story in some way shape or form. In rational conversation, communication lives in the mind. It has less impact. Stories draw us in to experiences because there are usually emotions involved in the story. When we can feel the story, it has more impact. Another speaker at our conference pointed out that Jesus knew that experience + relationship = story. Think of how often Jesus talked in parables. They were short stories that had a point to them and drew people in. There are few greater gifts in this world than offering people a space to share their story.
So many times I think we forget that the Gospel is in fact a story. It is a story about God’s amazing love for creation, even amid and despite our disobedience and mistreatment of others. It is a story about a love so strong that God decided to enter into the story through Jesus and dwell with us in it. We are part of God’s story. How do we share God’s story and our story to others in a way that draws them in?
I’d like to encourage you to find ways to share stories with others and to listen to others’ stories. Stories are an incredibly powerful way to experience God. How is God with you in your story? How will you share God’s story with others? I’ll be sharing more about stories in the next couple weeks!
By Pastor Jenna Couch Zion Lutheran Church, Jubilee
What’s Your Calling?
Theologian Frederick Buchner once said, “The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world’s deep hunger meet.” This quote is one of my favorites when it comes to the concept of being called because it helps define, perhaps a little more clearly, what it really means to be called. It’s kind of a tricky thing to name it.
Reflect on this statement for a moment. What kinds of things in this world bring you great joy?
Lately, when I think of an example of someone whose deep gladness helps feed the world’s hunger; I think of Kid President. For those of you not familiar with him, he’s a 10-11 year old boy who makes these awesome videos that tend to get shared on social media quite a bit. He has a YouTube channel with his videos, as well as a Facebook and Twitter page you can follow.
At a young age, he already has quite a prophetic voice in this world. And it’s a voice this world needs to hear. In his videos, his joy is incredibly evident, and even contagious, as he spreads his message about how to make this world just a little more awesome. Some of his messages or quotes on his page include:
Stop whining; start shining (a message we could all take to heart more often in this world!)
Start making the whole world better by making right where you are a little better.
Resolution idea; what if we all made it our resolution to make this year awesome for somebody else?
Heroes are just ordinary people who do extraordinary things and inspire other people to do extraordinary things.
In his video “For the Heroes: A Pep Talk from Kid President,” he highlights some awesome things that people are doing from all around the world; from a 12 year old boy named Nathaniel who is not okay with the fact that there are people who don’t have access to clean water and is working to raise money for people in central Africa to get access to clean water- to 55 year old Bob, who is working in Uganda to help build a school there so that the kids know they’re loved. One of the things he says in this video really struck me. He said, “Kids can change the world, and grownups can change the world; but it’ll go a whole lot faster if we work together! Heroes are made when ordinary people like you and me decide to be extraordinary!”
It’s clear that Kid President’s calling is to inspire others to help make the world more awesome. Though his messages aren’t blatantly religious, he is a great example of how God can call and work through even the youngest of people to make a difference in this world.
God calls each and every one of us in this world. God calls us individually as the people that we have been created to be, and God also calls us corporately, as the Church: the one Body of Christ.
Today, I leave you with a couple of questions to consider. How has God called you as an individual, and as part of something larger than yourself? What great joy of yours would respond to a need of this world? Listen to where God is calling you. May your response be that of Samuel’s in 1 Samuel 3:9 “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”