Author Archives: Mark Zimmermann

The Image of God

image of GodIn the story of creation, we read: “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them” (Genesis 1:27). Many have wondered what exactly “the image of God” means. There are several schools of thought. One group thinks that it refers to our ability to reason. Another philosophy is that it means that God is reflected in us in our bodies: our physical characteristics and the way we walk and talk. Still others say it is about our relational nature and the relationships we have with God and creation.

I tend to lean toward the last description. He gave human beings a special place in the world, and he desires a close, personal bond with us. His love for us is on a much deeper and different level than it is with plants and animals, for instance. And God selected humans to rule over every living creature (Genesis 1:28).

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Pivotal Questions

pivotal questionsI was wondering recently about how pivotal questions are often asked at significant moments in the story of salvation. Why is that? Consider these:

At the empty tomb on Easter morning, the angels ask the women: ““Why do you look for the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:6).

When the risen Jesus appears to the disciple in the upper room, he asks, “Why are you troubled, and why do doubts rise in your minds?” (Luke 24:38)

After Jesus has ascended, two angels ask the disciples, “Why do you stand here looking into the sky? This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven” (Acts 1:11).

These seem like basic questions, but they actually get to the heart of what is going on. Those to whom the questions are asked are experiencing confusion. But each question is designed to bring them comfort.

In the Easter quote, the women were sure that Jesus was dead, but the question reveals the good news that Jesus is alive.

In the upper room quote, the disciples were undoubtedly afraid by the sudden appearance of Jesus, but Christ’s question to them assures them that they do not need to be afraid at all.

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The Church: A Mountain or a Funnel?

mountain churchAt a recent conference I attended, one of the speakers, Todd Jones, talked about how the church should be a mountain and not a funnel.

Here’s what he meant: In most business models, an organization is a funnel in which a message is sent out to a crowd, then a community and then the committed. This is the paradigm espoused by the retail industry. Blanket the most people you can with your message, hone in on who is interested and then reach those who are wiling to buy what your are selling. In the model, the idea is going from large to small. Thus the visual is a funnel.

But in the early Church, a different organizational model was used: the mountain. A small number of committed people (the 12 disciples) spread the word about Christ to the community (those in Jerusalem at the time of Pentecost) and then when that community was filled with the Holy Spirit, that community fanned out to the crowd (the people far and wide in Ephesus, Corinth, Thessalonica, etc.). In this model, the trajectory is going from small to large, so the visual is a mountain.

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The Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon

same carsI like when I find out there is a name for something that I noticed in the world that I thought was peculiar. You know how after you buy a car and then you see that make and model of car again and again on the road all around you? Well, that experience has a name: the Baader-Meinhof Phenomenon. It also has been called frequency illusion.

Scientists have found that the reason for this is that our brains like patterns. Our brains are constantly searching for things that are alike, a characteristic which is helpful for memory, but it does cause the brain to highlight things that may not be that important. Since the brain is bombarded with an abundance of words, names, and ideas every day, it is only natural that we might run into the same information twice or more within a short time. But when repetition like this happens, the brain elevates the information because the repeated instances make up the beginnings of a sequence. It is then that something called the recency effect kicks in, which is a cognitive bias that inflates the importance of recent stimuli or observations. This increases the chances of being more aware of the subject when we encounter it again in the near future.

I find this fascinating from a Christian perspective. While we may be able to chalk up these coincidences and patterns up to brain function, I have no doubt in my mind that often the Holy Spirit has something to do with it. How many times have we noticed someone or something on our drive to work or our walk at lunch that we had not paid attention to before … and then we noticed that person of thing again? We as Christians must consider that it is the Holy Spirit hard at work pointing us in the direction of something we need take seriously or act upon.

Keep your eyes open for patterns that the Holy Spirit is sending you to nudge you in your acts of faith.

 

Fast-Forwarding Through Suffering?

fast forwardKathryn A. Kleinhans, dean of Trinity Lutheran Seminary at Capital University in Columbus, Ohio, posits, “It’s tempting to fast-forward through Jesus’ suffering and death to Easter lilies and the happy ending. In a broken world, we long for happy endings” (“Easter: The Best News in the World,” Living Lutheran, April 2018, 45).

In fact, the disciples themselves wanted to fast-forward through Jesus’ suffering or avoid it altogether. One time after Jesus explained to his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem to suffer and die … and then rise. Peter proclaimed, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” (Matthew 16:22). And two other times Jesus told the disciples that his suffering was coming before his resurrection, but they did not understand.

In our lives today we too often seek to push a fast-forward button through the inevitable suffering in our lives, But there is no such thing as a fast-forward button through the suffering in our lives. Part of being a Christian in the world entails suffering. Martin Luther even calls it a mark of the Church. And as humans in a sinful world, suffering is the result of our brokenness.

The Bible even says, “For it has been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him” (Philippians 1:29). There is no getting around it for Jesus or for us.

But we are assured that there is value in the suffering. As St. Paul tells us, “Suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope” (Romans 5:3-4). We are made stronger people through the suffering.

The best news of all is the suffering will not last forever. Just as Jesus rose from the dead three days after his suffering and death, the day will come when suffering will end and we will rise, too, to the overflowing joy of heaven.

As St. Paul declares, “I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8:18). The happy ending of heaven will be even sweeter for us because of the suffering.

So though we cannot fast-forward through suffering, we can move through it with grace and resolve because Christ fought through the pain to free us forever. Alleluia!

 

Your Faith Walk

guitarChristian musician Peter Mayer has this advice for aspiring musicians: “If you’re a songwriter, guitarist or singer, do it every day. Let those voices seeking a home know that yours is available. Do the practice, playing of gigs, writing and rehearsing more than you talk or post about it. Fail at least as much as you succeed, and you’re on the discovery road” (“I’m a Lutheran,” Living Lutheran, February 2018, 13).

After reading words, I realized Mayer’s advice to musician here is a blueprint for Christian living as well in our walk of faith. Here’s what I mean:

As Christians, we need to live as Christians every day. There is no day off from serving, praising, praying, loving, confessing our sins and receiving forgiveness. Do your Christian faith every day.

Be open and available to carrying out the mission and the calling that Christ has for you. Always be ready to say yes to opportunities that come your way that are in line with your God-given gifts.

Actions speak louder than words, we know. So be people of action. We can say we will do this or that very easily sometimes. But it is the follow-through that takes the most effort and has the most impact.

Never be afraid to fail. We all know stories of famous people who failed many times before they reached success. We as Christians are no different. We cannot live in fear of not doing well and then do nothing at all. Failure leads to learning and helps us to do better the next time we are called into action for Jesus. No one can do everything right all the time. Once you accept that fact, it frees you up to keep trying. And God will bless your efforts in the end.

The Christian life is about discovery. Become a lifelong learner. Keep growing in your knowledge and fear of the Lord and let him keep leading you on.

The path of every Christian will lead directly to a deep relationship with Christ. As Peter Mayer would  say, “Know and experience this mighty love of God in Christ” as you walk in his way.

 

Farminaries

farminariesBelieve it or not, there are such things as farminaries, agricultural acreages where those in seminary serve to promote the role of food in the life of the Church.

In many ways, these projects are fulfilling Scripture. In Genesis 2 God called humanity to work and take care of the land. And in John 21 Jesus told Peter, “Feed my sheep.”

In addition, Fred Bahnson, director of Wake Forest University’s School of Divinity’s Food, Health and Ecology, explains that when seminaries provide a space for growing and eating food, seminarians are better prepared to grasp the biblical story in the context of the agrarian society in which it emerged (Christianity Today, January/February 2018, 81).

Indeed, a large number of Jesus’ parables and activities in ministry revolved around food (the parables of the mustard seed, the sower, the fig tree, etc, and the important ministry moments of the miraculous catch of fish, the feeding of the 5000 and the Eucharist, for instance).

When we study food through the biblical narrative, our relationship to all of creation becomes covered in humility and gratitude, those involved in farminaries have found. When seminarians see and are involved in the work that goes into growing food on a farm, they recognize more fully that food is a gift from God and something that should not be taken for granted.

In addition, ministers equipped to talk about food are ministers prepared to address concerns related to food: hunger, obesity, eating disorders, etc.

Food banks, food drives and CROP walks are just some of the ways in which churches are involved in feeding the hungry. And support groups like Overeaters Anonymous often meet within the walls of churches. So it is only natural that farminaries are becoming more prevalent.

The church is not just for potlucks anymore! And that’s a good thing.

 

Uber Lessons Learned

uberWhen Pastor Elijah Mwitanti was between pastoral calls, he took a job as an Uber driver for 18 months and quickly realized he had a new mobile congregation.

“Trying to satisfy the ‘friendly atmosphere’ aspect of the [Uber] contract brought the pastor in me out into the open” Mwitanti realized. God had put him in that car and at that time “to be a connection between people and God” (Living Lutheran, April 2018, 40).

Here are the lessons he learned through the experience:

  1. People were willing to engage in meaningful and uplifting conversations when approached in a nonjudgmental way.
  2. People were more responsive to small talk than he expected.
  3. People had an interest in knowing about him.
  4. People were receptive to his comments about his faith.
  5. People were civil and respectful.

Mwitanti returned to the pulpit with a greater sense of appreciating the need to connect with people on a personal level, not being afraid to initiate conversations with whoever entered through his church door.

Mwitanti’s experience makes me realize that I am often reticent to approach people in church to start conversations. But that may just be what God is calling me to do at that time and that place. People are more open and welcoming than we may think, and there is so much we can learn from each other about our faith lives and about what our Savior has done and is doing.

It often takes just one simple conversation starter to get the ball rolling. See what you can do to be a God connector with someone you don’t know at church.

 

 

Little Gospel Moments

live micIn all the articles that appeared after the death of Billy Graham, this story from A. Larry Ross, Graham’s director of public relations, jumped out at me: “At a TV studio sound check, many interviewees will count to 10 or describe what they had for breakfast. Graham always quoted John 3:16, so that if he didn’t get a chance to present the gospel in the interview, at least the sound man heard it” (Christianity Today, April 2018, 112).

Graham recognized a time when he could insert the gospel in a small, nonthreatening way into a rather mundane activity. I am amazed by those like Graham who can do that so easily and without much fanfare. I think of several people I know who were able to share their faith in small ways with nurses and other medical staff while they were sick in the hospital. I also know of people who write Gospel messages on envelopes sent in the mail for all those who handle them to see the Good News.

Our lives are filled with the potential for so many little Gospel moments. When you see a chance to plant the Gospel in some small way, take it. A simple “Jesus loves you!” may be all it takes to strike the heart of faith in someone. I have gotten into the habit of closing each email I write with the words “In Christ’s active service.” That way all who receive my messages, no matter what the email may be about, know that the message of Christ is the most important message to me. And it is the greatest message for them to know.

So much of life is mundane routine, but if we find ways to interject the Gospel into them, our approach and our attitude can be much more energetic and enthusiastic. If we are called to be bearers of the Gospel, then lets bear that out in every big and little way that we can!

 

 

The Peace of God

sharing the peacePastor Diane Roth recounts the story of how a friend of hers was touring cathedrals in Spain, and the tour guide cautioned to beware of thieves. So in the middle of a cathedral, the friend was startled by a woman who approached her with some words and a hand outstretched. The friend remembered the warning and shrank back. Only later did the friend realize that the woman was saying, “La paz de Dios,” the peace of God. She was sharing the peace (Christian Century, March, 14, 2018, p. 23).

Several thoughts come to mind as I consider this story. How often do I hesitate to share the peace of God with others during the passing of the peace in church because of how people look or how people approach me or how I am feeling? There are multiple barriers that we ourselves throw in our own paths that prevent us from fully sharing the peace of God with others. We need to stop shrinking back, but reaching out to those we see in church who may be sitting alone or visiting or just unknown to us.

The other thought that comes to mind is that the peace of God can often surprise us and present itself when we are not looking for it. We may be so caught up in fears about one thing or another, that we miss God speaking directly to us saying, “Peace be with you!” through a word heard from a passerby, a comment on the TV or a billboard on the highway, for instance. God has often creative and unusual ways of spreading his peace to us. We just need to be open to hearing and seeing them.

We must always remember that it is the peace that passes all understanding that God gives to us. We truly can’t comprehend the gift of peace from our Lord fully. We only need to accept it and share it. May the peace of God be with you always!