June is that glorious month of the year where graduation celebrations and end of the year work parties give way to summer. Vacation dreams and well-deserved time off become the norm of society all around us, within our own homes, and a “lean time” pastors become accustomed to when it comes to “summer numbers” attendance wise.
You know I have great disdain for passive aggressive tactics, so let me be clear: I will miss you when you are on a well-deserved vacation throughout the summer, but do not take a vacation from God. I encourage you to enjoy the blessings of some rest, relaxation, and time off from the “grind” of life duties we undertake from September through May (and half of June).
I challenge you in the same way my family is challenging ourselves for this summer. Our children have finished their current grade level with their home school coop community, and we are currently taking on the challenge of staying sharp over the summer. Both will be taking on more difficult topics, assignments, and approaches in the Fall. We all can appreciate this challenge at the start of the new school year from our time as students. Their summer challenge, and ours alongside them as their parents, is to help them stay sharp this summer. It is quite a challenge to help them rest without losing their educational sharpness. Our family is trying to avoid burning out on one extreme and setting ourselves up for a frustrating Fall from too much “vacation slack” in June, July, and August.
How can we all stay sharp over the summer, as Christians? It begins with how we value our time in June, July, and August. Are we seeing it as a Sabbath Rest where we literally “rest in the Lord” by continually growing in our knowledge, understanding, and practice of his Holy Word? It is possible to grow in his Word while enjoying the summer months!
Or…are we seeing this summer as a vacation stagnation? Stagnation is the state of not flowing or moving. It is perfectly understandable to take a summer break from the hustle and bustle of many aspects of our lives. But it is unacceptable, and even ungodly to stagnate in our faith walk any day or month or three-month stretch of the year.
So, what is your plan to stay sharp in God’s Word this summer? I am confident you have great plans with details and dates of when you’ll be taking a well-deserved vacation. As your brother in Christ and your pastor, I charge you to take the same care in planning the details of how you are going to walk closely with your King and Savior in this three month stretch of June, July, and August.
If you’re unsure where to begin, why don’t you build a daily walking schedule with God’s Word with our June memory work?
In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth. The earth was without form and void, and darkness was over the face of the deep. And the Spirit of God was hovering over the face of the waters. And God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light. – Genesis 1:1-3
Here is another challenge and invitation to help you stay sharp this summer. I will be leading a summer Bible Study on particular Sundays (dates below) after worship from June through July. When you are in town, please join us as this is an intentional effort to help me and all who join to stay sharp as Sunday School and Bible Study groups take a well-deserved break this summer.
June is indeed a glorious month that welcomes a three month stretch of well-deserved breaks. May God bless you as you avoid vacation stagnation and instead be filled with his Holy Word as he intends with a Sabbath Rest, daily, this summer. In Jesus’ Name. Amen!
To help you stay sharp and in the Word over the sumer I will have a summer Bible study series. See below for the schedule.
Pastor’s Summer Bible Study
*all these will take place after our summer worship service
Alleluia! Christ is risen!
The month of May is a time of celebrating the Easter Season, preparing for Pentecost, and counting down the days to summer break from school
My children have spent a significant amount of time during this school year preparing for their end of year presentations, “Faces of History.” These presentations are multi-faceted and I am thankful they’re getting experiences to practice public speech at their age. My firstborn…my daughter, Lorelei, selected Queen Elizabeth I from a pool of historic figures in the Medieval Ages.
I learned a lot from Lorelei’s reports on what she was reading through the year. Two events from Queen Elizabeth’s life stood out to me, especially before her rule, when Lorelei shared them with me. First, when her mother, Anne Boleyn, was put to death by her father, King Henry VIII, because she did not provide a son. This injustice transpired when Elizabeth was only two years old. The second event was when Elizabeth was imprisoned by her sister, Mary. She suspected Elizabeth of being involved in rebellion even though there was no evidence.
I admit that I was hung up on these trials, tribulations, and heartbreaking injustices towards Elizabeth. Yet, I learned from my daughter, that there was so much more that occurred throughout Elizabeth’s life. Those tragedies were real, but there was more of her story to be told. Lorelei was navigating through so much information and deciding what would be pertinent to include in her end of the year speech. The tragedies and injustices against Queen Elizabeth I were very real and it must have been incredible to keep going forward with her life. I believe we all can relate.
Yes, life goes on, but how? Where is our sense of hope and direction? We are in the joyous season of Easter. However, like Elizabeth, we all have endured and may be enduring this very day – trials, tribulations, injustice, and sorrow. I was surprised how my daughter was able to continue with the eyes and mind of an eager student, to learn the entirety of Elizabeth’s life story. My daughter taught me through her school work, how this is applicable to how we walk through this Valley of the Shadow of Death as Christians.
We can follow my daughter’s example as an eager student and seek out the answers of hope for the big picture of our entire existence; We acknowledge the sad parts of our life’s story without being swallowed up by them. How? By our own strength or ability? Absolutely not! Rather, receiving the daily bread of God’s Word is the answer to how.
God says, Sing for joy, O heavens, and exult, O earth; break forth, O mountains, into singing! For the LORD has comforted his people and will have compassion on his afflicted. But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me; my Lord has forgotten me.” “Can a woman forget her nursing child, that she should have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, yet I will not forget you. Behold I have engraved you on the palms of my hands.” – Isaiah 49:13-16a
I am confident that Elizabeth’s faith was tested and afflicted by the maddening injustices she faced in life. I am confident you and I can relate and apply that to our own lives. I pray we would hear God’s promise clearly even as we acknowledge that we are struggling to navigate through this Valley of the Shadow of Death.
May we have eyes of faith and hope like Queen Elizabeth I and my daughter, Lorelei. God did not forget Elizabeth, he has not forgotten you. Even more precious to the Lord are each of you than my daughter is to me. God’s unfailing love for you is incredible. I pray this strengthens you in the months to come. In Jesus’ Name. Amen!
At that hour Jesus said to the crowds, “Have you come out as against a robber, with swords and clubs to capture me? Day after day I sat in the temple teaching, and you did not seize me.” – Matthew 26:55
This month we will journey with Jesus through Holy Week. Then we will joyfully welcome the Easter Season. How did your Lenten journey go with Jesus at your side, just as he promises to be? What did you learn from your daily devotions in Rev. Zehnder’s Being Challenge or from a Lenten sermon that was new for you from God’s Word?
I learned something this Lenten season that I am fairly confident I was taught by my parents and then reinforced throughout my college and seminary education: Gathering with others for worship of the One True God was not an optional thing for Jesus, therefore it is not an optional thing for me. Basically, Jesus commands us to obey the Third Commandment. Go to church! An important part of being the church is meeting together with the church, around the gifts promises to give in his Word. This is one of the many challenging applications of Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there I am among them.”
Saint Matthew drives the point home in 26:55 (posted at start of this article) that Jesus “went to church” in a manner that was anything but optional or casual. It was so important that Jesus makes mention of it when he is about to be arrested the night before his crucifixion. Who are we to think we can go without this blessing if this was a daily habit of our King and Savior?
As you and I prepare for the beautiful Season of Easter and Spring in its full bloom, I challenge you to ask how you continue the point of the Being Challenge even though the 40 day devotion journey has ended (assuming you read this after Easter Saturday!).
Consider the habits of Jesus as Rev. Zehnder shares this final reflection in the book, “As I studied each instance when Jesus practiced a habit…the top four were very clear: study, prayer, solitude, and fellowship/community.
As I analyzed the data looking for a fifth habit of Jesus, I noticed a verse that was repeated on different occasions. Matthew 26:55, Luke 19:47, Luke 21:37, Luke 22:53, and John 18:20 all mention the frequency of Jesus teaching at the temple. … At certain times in his life, Jesus went to the temple every day. The temple was in Jerusalem, and synagogues were local congregations, similar to our churches today. This is where the fifth habit of Jesus, choosing church, came into the picture.
These five habits are the keystone habits of Jesus Christ, and therefore, ought to be the habits we incorporate into our lives to grow in our relationship with God.” – p. 273 Being Challenge
May the Holy Spirit convict our hearts to be more like Jesus. I pray that your post-Easter habits build on the Christ-like habits we studied, reflected upon, and practiced during the Season of prayer and fasting.
Finally, I hope the Light of God’s Truth pierces the spiritual darkness, the darkness that tempts us to treat these important habits as something optional. May we bow down to Jesus, rightly understand what he commands us, and properly put into practice what we ought to. Go to church. It was of utmost importance to Jesus, who are we to consider it as optional or of casual importance? It is good to be like Jesus: study, prayer, solitude, fellowship/community, and choosing church. God’s name be praised in the habits of our lives. In Jesus’ Name. Amen.
For it was fitting that he, for whom and by whom all things exist, in bringing many sons to glory, should make the founder of their salvation perfect in suffering. – Hebrews 2:10
Lent began later in February this year but the vast majority of our prayer and fasting fills up the entire month of March. Now that the initial “newness” and excitement of Ash Wednesday has worn off, how is your Lenten journey shaping up?
I pray the Being Challenge and connecting with fellow Christians over conversations of daily devotions is a blessing through which the Holy Spirit draws your attention to the founder of our salvation, Jesus Christ.
Admittedly, I am struggling with the temptation to put off my personal devotions by many “good” distractions. I have so many important duties related to Lent that I need to get done: Holy Week events, Easter Sunday itself, sunday sermons to write, bible commentaries to scour, midweek homilies (shorter sermons, theoretically) to write, a Thursday Being Challenge check-in class, … and that’s just work duties! Hopefully you get the idea that I am facing a calendar bursting at the seams just as you likely are.
When we feel like we have no time, it is the perfect time to seek to be like Jesus – put everything down, find a quiet (desolate) place to be with God, and just pray (cf. Matthew 14:13).
The challenge can be overwhelming when our brain is “fried” and we’re emotionally spent by work and personal life. It is challenging to find the right words to pray. When I am unsure where to start my time of prayer and meditation, the treasure of biblically based resources at our disposal, like our hymnal, can aid us in guiding us into a time of prayer and Bible devotions.
O Christ, you walked the road our wand’ring feet must go. You faced with us temptation’s pow’r and fought our ancient foe.
No bread of earth alone can fill our hung’ring hearts. Lord, help us seek your living Word, the food your grace imparts. – LSB 424:1-2 “O Christ, You Walked the Road
It is incredibly comforting that Jesus walked this same road of struggle, anguish, unending busyness, and worry that we face in life. It is breath-taking that Jesus faced the full power of temptation and did the opposite of us, he succeeded. Jesus, alongside our loving Heavenly Father, desires to bring many of us into glory; that is: forgiven and reconciled to our Maker, and recipients of his eternal gift of resurrection life. This hymn echoes what God declares in Hebrews chapter two.
We can give thanks knowing our Creator recognizes and validates the very real struggle we have in earthly reality, as verse two of the hymn illustrates. Our hearts are hungering to be filled with that which this world cannot offer fulfillment.
I am thankful to have this platform of a monthly newsletter to encourage you to keep taking stock of how your daily walk is going with your Maker, your Savior, your King – during this season of prayer and fasting. If you’ve already felt the “Lent momentum” slowing down and your eagerness to grow spiritually waning, I pray the Holy Spirit would bless you with his strength through his Holy Word. May you be blessed by the Being Challenge devotion and every opportunity you find to be like Jesus, going to a desolate (quiet) place to pray honestly to our God. God bless you in knowing just how much delight God takes in hearing from you in the middle of your mess in this season of Lent.
For surely it is not angels that Jesus helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted. – Hebrews 2:16-18
Grace, mercy, and peace are yours from God our Father, through Jesus Christ his Son, our Savior. Amen.
Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. Hear God’s cry to you: Repent! Turn away from your sin! Turn back to me. Receive what I am offering you, forgiveness of sins.
Today we begin the penitential season of Lent: a time of prayer and fasting. Fasting, setting things aside to make more time, more room for study in God’s Word, praying God’s Word. Let’s start this Lenten Season in the best way possible, with the Word of our Savior, Jesus:
And when you fast, do not look gloomy like the hypocrites, for they disfigure their faces that their fasting may be seen by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward. But when you fast, anoint your head and wash your face, that your fasting may not be seen by others but by your Father who is in secret. And your Father who sees in secret will reward you. – Matthew 6:16-18
Fasting, a common practice of first century Judaism for various reasons: spiritual discipline, an aid to prayer, or even a form of self-punishment for sin; the wording here implies Jesus assumed his disciples would fast.
When we hear Jesus teach about fasting, are each of us considering this as individuals or as a group? Certainly, this is to be considered by each individual and to keep one’s personal piety choices between oneself and our Heavenly Father, but is this season given to us by God to be one of isolation from our fellow believers? Are we preparing to fast and pray as hermits or as community?
Yes, it is good to keep our personal fasting plans confidential so we are not tempted to make a show of it to impress others, as that would only serve as a distraction and defeat the purpose of fasting – focusing on God and his Holy Word. Yet, even as we privately and individually set something aside to make more room, more time to be intentionally praying the Holy Scriptures; may we not see this as something intended for isolation. I mean, look at the rest of verses 16 through 18. We do not want to be showboats about our fasting and Christian piety, but we are certainly going to be fellowshipping with fellow believers during Lent.
As Jesus says, we are going to be seen by others, may we offer them an example of humility; keeping our efforts in fasting to ourselves and instead, let them see us praying with them, for them, in community. In a humorous paradox, we are going to be hermits in community.
Do you remember our Old Testament Lesson for this Ash Wednesday?
The prophet Joel, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, writes: Yet, even now, declares the LORD, return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the LORD your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love; he relents over disaster. – Joel 2:12-13
This is the invitation from our merciful God, even as he is grieved and angered over our sinful nature and over our sinful actions (thought, word, and deed). This is an invitation from our merciful Heavenly Father who speaks to each of us, as individuals, but not only as individuals, but as the new nation, a redeemed community. He invites you to repent, turn around, turn back, return to God with all of your heart (singular)…and then the same Holy Word of the LORD invites you to rend your hearts (plural), we as a community of believers, sinners one and all, by the work of the Holy Spirit upon our hearts: We repent, pray, and seek God’s Word together, as the body of believers.
It is even more clear that we are hermits in community when we recall verses 15 through 17, Blow the trumpet in Zion, consecrate the fast; call a solemn assembly; gather the people. Consecrate the congregation; assemble the elders; gather the children, even the nursing infants. Let the bridegroom leave his room, and the bride her chamber. Between the vestibule and the altar let the priests, the ministers of the LORD, weep and say, “Spare the people, O LORD, and make not your heritage a reproach, a byword among the nations.
The command to the blow the trumpet here is not for one individual, but rather, as one of our church fathers, Saint Athanasius (293-373) reflects: it is a warning trumpet, and it earnestly commands us that when we fast, we should do it in a holy manner, for God is holy and has pleasure in his holy people.
Hermits in community. We will receive the sign of the cross upon our foreheads on this Ash Wednesday. We receive the cross and Word of the Lord individually, but also in one another’s presence, as the body of Christ.
I invite you to take the rest of this day to ponder what it means to you when you hear Jesus continue, Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. – Matthew 6:19-21
Hermits in community. What do you treasure the most in your heart? Will you hear the invitation of Jesus to set that down, set that aside, and receive what he alone can give: forgiveness, grace, mercy, peace, victory over the grave, eternal communion with the One True God and the family of faith he’s given you both on earth and for all eternity!
When we find ourselves stumbling, bumbling, fumbling, failing to perfectly fast and set things aside for more praying of Holy Scripture, I pray that the Holy Spirit would draw our eyes, minds, hearts, and entire being to the Son who stretched out his arms upon the cross to make us the forgiven people of God our Father.
We will be hermits in community this Lenten Season. I challenge you to be prepared to consider what it means for you individually as a part of the Church, the body of Christ, the eternal family Jesus brought us into by his innocent suffering and death upon the cross…what does it mean to you when you hear about these five treasures God gives you this Lent:
These are God’s eternal gifts given to you, but not just for you, in Christ Jesus alone.
Fellow hermits: Dust you are, and to dust you shall return. Fellow hermits in community - Hear God’s cry to you: Repent! Turn away from your sin! Turn back to me. Receive what I am offering you, forgiveness of sins. Lord, fill us with your Holy Word this Lenten Season. Thank you for this gift to each of us and to all of us together, as the family you have made us in Christ Jesus alone. Amen.
“That is music to my ears!” Have you ever heard that phrase or exclaimed it yourself? What could inspire such a reaction in each of us?
When I was in middle school, the teacher announcing it was time for recess was music to my ears.
Consider your favorite sports team winning its respective championship; or you hear the news that your team’s bitter rival is eliminated from playoff contention. That can be music to your ears.
In my late twenties, I found myself calling my parents every few weeks to tell them I understood what they were trying to teach me when I was a kid. Music to my parents’ ears!
We will begin the blessed season of Lent this month. There will be a time to be about those “Lent things” – prayer, fasting, intentionally setting time aside for study of God’s Word – these “Lent things” are music to God’s ears.
I challenge you to reflect on the very real spiritual battle we face on a daily basis. Consider this quote from a book by C.S. Lewis. It is correspondence between two demons on how to be about their father’s work, Satan’s ultimate goal: the destruction of you, me, and every human being.
“Music and silence – how I detest them both! … Noise, the grand dynamism, the audible expression of all that is exultant, ruthless, and virile – Noise which alone defends us from silly qualms, despairing scruples, and impossible desires. We will make the whole universe a noise in the end. But I admit we are not yet loud enough, or anything like it. Research is in progress.” – p. 132-133 The Screwtape Letters
The very real spiritual battle we face is the temptation from outside ourselves and within ourselves to be filled with noise. Anything that prevents us from remembering God’s great love for us because the noise has us so busy, exhausted, and overextended. If the noise can help us never hear or read how we are of immeasurable worth to our Heavenly Father…that would be music to Satan’s ears.
I challenge you to be aware of this very real battle and ask yourself how you will be ready for it as Lent begins. Our church family of All Saints has the opportunity to be blessed by both Music and Silence through the daily devotions of the Being Challenge by Rev. Zach Zehnder.
Three of the five keystone habits we will be reading, sharing, and praying for each other with in these Bible devotions are: 1) study scripture, 2) prioritize prayer, 3) seek solitude. Habits that bring us into intentional time walking with our God and one another. I would love for you to join us on Sundays or one of our weekly Small Group gatherings to learn about the gift of music and silence, growing together in God’s Word, during Lent.
What is music to God’s ears, according to Jesus himself? “Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” – Matthew 7:24
The Lord bless you and keep you through the gifts of daily devotions – music and silence – where God protects us from the destructive noise all around. Gather around his Holy Word this Lent with us. Believers coming together? Music to our Heavenly Father’s ears!
The truth about life is the juxtaposition between so much being broken and so much to be thankful for. We are hopelessly broken creatures living in a terribly broken world. In stark contrast to this bitter truth is the truth that there is so much to be thankful for.
I invite you to ponder your favorite Thanksgiving memory; was it from a recent year or from many years ago? Was it a memory of the fellowship in preparing the house and the food for family and beloved friends? Or do you remember the delicious dessert brought by a grandmother or friend? Or, if you are anything like me, the memory of the morning football game outside with the laughter of kids and grown-ups, the crunching of autumn leaves underfoot…while we try to live out our football dreams without a hospital visit before the Thanksgiving feast with gathered loved ones.
The gift to gather around a meal and share the gift of fellowship with family and friends at Thanksgiving mirrors the incredible wealth we experience as Christians every week. Think about it…God gathers us around his table to receive his eternal gifts of forgiveness, joy, and hope in his Word and Sacraments even as we still live as pilgrims, sojourners in a broken, sorrow-filled world. There is so much to be thankful for even as we acknowledge how difficult it is to look at the world around us and even the broken state of our own heart, mind, and soul. God provides us sustenance for our earthly journey in himself and his gifts to us!
As I remember Thanksgiving memories from the near and long-ago past, I see so many beloved faces and hear so many voices from those no longer with us among the living on earth. I miss them terribly. Even as I deal with that bitter sorrow, I am comforted in knowing that reality is much more than the present longing for the past while simultaneously being thankful in the present. As we begin the month of November, I am thankful that because of the accomplished work of God through his Son, Jesus, Christ, the faces I no longer see and the voices I no longer hear are not something doomed to remain in the past, dead, and gone. I am thankful for Jesus giving us hope that the past and present indeed have a future in him.
I believe in the Holy Spirit, the holy *catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life + everlasting. Amen.
What does this mean? … In this Christian church he daily and richly forgives all my sins and the sins of all believers.
On the Last Day he will raise me and all the dead, and give eternal life to me and all believers in Christ. This is most certainly true.
I give thanks for the truth of God’s eternal gifts meaning so much for us in the present. God brings us comfort as we deal with the truth of our present reality – the juxtaposition of the world being broken and yet, we have so much to be thankful for. I am thankful for the daily bread of God’s Word that applies to all of us among the living. It is good to have time to give thanks for our one and only hope, the Savior, Jesus Christ, Victor over Sin, Devil, and Death. May we hear him and share him as we still have days afforded to us on earth!
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. – Daniel 12:2
Jesus said, “All who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of judgment.” – John 5:28-29
So it is with the resurrection of the dead. What is sown is perishable; what is raised is imperishable. It is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown in weakness; it is raised in power. – 1 Corinthians 15:42-43
Christ will transform our lowly body to be like his glorious body. – Philippians 3:21
May we be blessed to receive, remember, recite, and re-share the Good News God gives to us in this month of thankfulness and every future month he affords us on earth. In Jesus’ name. Amen!