Author Archives: Mark Zimmermann

Psalms for Every Time

PsalmsThe Psalms are called the Church’s songbook, which is it. So it is a book we need to go to often for comfort, help and strength at many times in our lives. Here are some Psalm suggestions for reflecting on at specific instances:

When feeling insignificant: Psalm 8

When lonely: Psalm 23

When seeking God’s light: Psalm 36:7-9

When thanking God: Psalm 30:1-5, 11-12

When sick or suffering: Psalm 103:1-5

When feeling attacked: Psalm 70

When hungering for assurance: Psalm 118:1-9

When unsure about where to look for help: Psalm 121

When wishing to praise God; Psalm 150

Let the Psalms be your go-to resource in every circumstance you encounter.

Types of Prayer

prayer typesWe all know how important prayer is in the Christian life. Then why is it so hard to do sometimes? One thought I had is that I find myself at a loss as to how to go about it. A prayer book from my alma mater, Valparaiso University, lays out 6 types of prayers to consider when you are not sure of how to start the prayer process. Take a look at these prayer patterns and think of ways to incorporate one or more of them into your schedule on a regular basis.

Examen prayer: This is the deliberate examination of God’s presence or absence in one’s life. The practice involves sitting quietly and asking the Holy Spirit to make you aware of Christ’s presence with you at that moment. Consider how you have not noticed or been mindful of Christ. Make confession of your unawareness of him. Ask for increased awareness of his presence, Give thanks for Christ’s presence with you.

Praying the Scriptures: In this practice, you identify a section of Scripture you wish to pray, like the Psalms. You find a quiet place to read the Scripture. You reflect on what the Scripture is saying to you and pray that the Holy Spirit will give you a greater understanding of God’s Word and its impact on your life.

Intercessory prayer: This type of prayer focuses on praying for the needs of others. In this approach you make a list of individuals and their specific needs. You organize your prayer into types of requests: for the sick, for those celebrating, for those going through hard times. Praying for others takes the focus off of yourself and puts anything that is going on in your own life in perspective.

Lectio Divina: We have mentioned this type of prayer before in this blog, but it is worth revisiting. It is a type of prayer from monastic tradition that involves reflecting on or ruminating over  a single verse, phrase or word from Scripture and letting the meaning of that selection wash over you and fill you with greater knowledge of God.

Silence prayer: Go to a quiet place to pray. In silence we become more receptive to the voice of God. We allow him to speak to us in the quietness and do not clutter our minds with our own words or opinions. Focus on your breathing. Let your mind center on an image for God like a cross or a candle. Calm your body down and feel God’s love surround you.

Walking the sacred path: Take a walk as a prayer. Walking a labyrinth or other path as a prayer has been the topic of a blog post before as well. The purpose of this type of prayer is to physically walk a designated path of some kind. Think of your prayer during your walk as a journey, with a beginning, a middle and and ed. Reflect on what you see. Really listen to the environment around you. Feel the motion of your body and walk with purpose as you pray. Imagine God walking with you. Let him speak to you along the way.

These are great ways to expand your prayer life and grow in your connection to God.

No Foolin’

empty tombHappy Easter! What a wonderful coincidence that Easter lands on April Fools’ Day this year! It is so symbolic and ironic on many levels. Consider these verses from Scripture in light of the triumphant resurrection of Christ from the dead on this day:

For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. (1 Corinthians 1:18)

For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. (1 Corinthians 1:25)

For the wisdom of this world is foolishness in God’s sight. As it is written: “He catches the wise in their craftiness”; and again, “The Lord knows that the thoughts of the wise are futile.” (I Corinthians 3:10-20).

On Good Friday, many at the foot of the cross of Christ thought Jesus was foolish. They thought he was a fraud. But on this Easter Day, it is they who are the fools and Jesus who is our Risen Wisdom.

On the cross, Jesus may have looked weak and foolishness, but it was in the weakness that the power of God was revealed and came to fulfillment at the empty tomb.

They thought they had Jesus all figured out on Good Friday, but today Jesus makes it clear that he is the one who has everything figured out for our eternal salvation.

Praise the Lord and alleluia to him.

 

Your Elevator Speech

elevatorThe word evangelism can strike fear in the hearts of many Christians. The thought of knocking on doors to talk to strangers about your faith in Jesus or the idea of standing up in front of a group to say what you believe about Jesus can be very intimidating.

But evangelism doesn’t have to be like that.

I turn to the words of Peter and John in Acts 4 as a guide for a good approach to evangelism. The two disciples were called in by the leaders of the church at the time to essentially stop evangelizing about Jesus to the crowds in Jerusalem. Here was their response:

“Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20)

Our attitude as Christ’s followers should be that we cannot help but talk about Jesus wherever we are, whatever we are doing. We have seen him at work in our lives. We have heard in God’s Word his message of our salvation through his death and resurrection of his Son.

Even the church leaders in Jerusalem could not help but notice something extraordinary was going on with how Peter and John were evangelizing:

When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus (Acts 4:13).

This verse helps me remember that I do not need to be a Bible scholar to evangelize and I don’t need to have just the right words to say. The truth of my faith in Jesus will come naturally from my mouth and I do not have to be afraid because the Holy Spirit will give me the confidence I need. I may be an ordinary person, but God can help me do extraordinary things through him.

A common question these days in the field of evangelism is, “What is your elevator speech?” In other words, what can you say about your faith in Jesus to someone you are standing next to in an elevator for a brief time? The answer is simple: Tell what you have seen and heard about Jesus. Whoever is listening will get the message loud and clear.

 

 

 

Accompaniment

accompanimentOur sister company, Twenty-Third Publications, came out with a publication recently called The Art of Accompaniment, a term expressed by Pope Francis in The Joy of the Gospel. Here is the link to the booklet:

http://www.twentythirdpublications.com/artofacniesc.html

By the term “the art of accompaniment,” Pope Francis is referring to the call of the Church to walk with people in compassion and love in whatever circumstances of life they are given.

The concept of the art of accompaniment can be applied to our journeying with younger generations through their milestones of faith as well (baptism, First Communion, confirmation). Our presence at these events and our encouragement of them in their faith can go a long way in keeping them grounded and confident in their relationship with Christ.

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The Magna Carta of Christianity

RomansMy pastor recently called the book of Romans the Magna Carta of Christianity, because it states what makes our faith unique and includes the details of our faith that are non-negotiable.

A perusal of Romans reveals the following non-negotiables:

The righteous will live by faith (Romans 1:17)

No one can be declared righteous in God’s sight by works of the law (Romans 3:20)

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe (Romans 3:22)

Count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:11)

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39)

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The Contemplative Pastor

contemplative pastorRenowned theologian Eugene Peterson reminds us in his book, The Contemplative Pastor, that what a church needs most is a pastor immersed both in God’s life and our own lives. For Peterson, the question on a pastor’s mind should be: “Who are these particular people and how can I be with them in such a way that they can become what God is making them?”

A daunting and humbling question, to be sure. But it got me to thinking about the massive role we have come to expect from our pastors. We want them to be active yet reserved, a visionary but realistic, an authority and yet a friend.

Pastors are human, too, and, therefore, cannot be all things to all people.

So it takes us back to Peterson’s question. Finding a good match between a people and the unique person that a certain pastor is is key.

Each pastor has a different style and approach that may work in some churches, but not in others. So it is about both a church and a potential pastor being honest about strengths and weaknesses and what is a good fit and what is not.

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Judge Not

judge not“Judge not lest you be judged,” Jesus clearly states to us in Scripture (Luke 6:37). But it’s easier said than done when we are living in an ever increasingly judgmental society.

It can seem like no big deal to join the chorus of voices who are judging others out of hand for all sorts of things they have said or done.

But as the saying goes, every time you point one finger at someone, there are usually ten fingers pointing back at you. There by the grace of God gooes each one of us. We are all sinners and we all make mistakes.

The difference for us as Christians is to replace judgment that may be welling upside of us for any given person, with forgiveness and love. Because that is how we would like to be treated if the roles were reversed.

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Pillows

pillowIn the middle of the growing contentious issue regarding refugees in America, I came across a moment of brightness in the conversation. I found it in the story of Pastor Paul Stumme-Diers, of Bethany Lutheran Church in Bainbridge Island, Washington, who had an idea:

“I recognized pillows as a symbol of hospitality. Who invites a guest without offering a pillow? And I found a great deal on pillows at a local retailer. What a fitting way to celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Reformation and the ministry of Jesus, who associated with the outsiders, Samaritans and lepers, and who himself was a refugee as an infant” (Pritchett, Rachel, “Providing Comfort,” Living Lutheran magazine, November 2017, p. 39).

The church blessed 500 pillows in their sanctuary by tossing them into the air before delivering them to Lutheran Community Services (LCS) Northwest, which provides services to refugees.

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Blessed Are You NOW

blessedIn a recent article in Living Lutheran magazine, author Tiffany C. Chaney makes an interesting observation about the Beatitudes found in Matthew 5:1-12. She writes,

“The text doesn’t say ‘Blessed are those who used to mourn or those who were poor in spirit or those who made peace before.’ The blessed are in the midst of serving God now; they are deep in the trenches. They are being persecuted and reviled and more, even now. And yet they are blessed” (“Living Saints,” Living Lutheran magazine, November 2017, p. 23).

The present-tense reality of being blessed in the midst of trials really struck home to me. I realize that in the midst of struggles, I often look toward to some future time when blessings will come my way. But the fact of the matter is that blessings come when I am feeling sad, when I can feeling a lack of spirit, when I feel far from peaceful.

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