Several times a month, Zion sends a devotion to Zion members via email. Here are recent devotions.
Devotion for February 14, 2019
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” (1 Corinthians 15:19)
Some of the oldest African American spirituals, born in a time of slavery, strain with the hope of a better world. They are deeply Biblical songs, reverberating with images of exodus and prophetic visions, crafted for Christian lips that longed for freedom.
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
Today, some preachers promise, “Your best life now!” They perceive, correctly, that believers are born anew even now by faith. But they forget that the new life of faith is unfinished and partial. There is, as St. Paul writes, a far better life yet to come, the fulfillment of faith. Just ask the family standing by the grave of a young father, or the young woman surviving abuse, or neglected children or lonely old men and women.
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.”
It’s not “pie-in-the-sky;” it’s peace on earth. It’s the frank recognition that sin, death, and the devil are all bad, and that because of them the world and we are not yet all that God would have us be. It’s the courage to look at the grave and say, “You are not the end;” to look at the abuse and say, “You aren’t the final word;” to suffer the neglect and the loneliness and find, despite them and perhaps even within them, a new thing that God is doing for us in His risen Son, Jesus.
“If in Christ we have hope in this life only, we are of all people most to be pitied.” But don’t pity us! Don’t pity yourselves! You have a life beyond this life, a life that has come to you in Jesus and to which you will rise.
LET US PRAY: O Hope of all the ends of the world: end this world! As you have begun the fulfillment of all things in the risen flesh of Your beloved Son, raising up in Him a beloved Church, a new nation of chosen people, so also bring all things to completion for the praise of Your glory; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
Devotion for February 6, 2019
“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:5)
God knows you. He doesn’t know you the way that your friends or coworkers know you; He doesn’t even know you the way your mother or father or spouse knows you. God knows you inside and out.
He knows how your muscles stretch over you bone and the sound that your breath makes deep in your lungs. He knows the curve of your nerves, the imperfections of your liver, why you remember some things and not others, and why you twist your hair like your father or tend towards hilarity like your mother. On the mornings that you wake up and say, “I didn’t have any dreams last night,” He knows better. He knows all the dreams you’ve ever dreamt. He knows your future; He is with you as you read this devotion.
God knows you better than you know yourself, and not only you, but all of creation, from soil to star. His knowledge of life stretches beyond our own, and that knowledge not only leads us to praise Him, but also to hear Him, which really is the perfect means of praising Him. For all the big questions in life, from when life begins to how God abides with us at its end and beyond, we turn to His word, hear His gracious promises, and say, “amen!”
LET US PRAY: Almighty God, whose works endure forever, how could I ever know You? I barely understand a blade of grass, and would I dare to comprehend Your majesty? Yet You were pleased to reveal Yourself through Your Son, Jesus Christ, full of grace and truth. School my heart and mind in His word, and fill me with praise and thanksgiving for You; through Christ my Lord. Amen
Pastor Steven K. Gjerde
Devotion for January 30, 2019
“God has appointed in the church first apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then miracles, then gifts of healing, helping, administrating, and various kinds of tongues.” (1 Corinthians 12:28)
Few things offend modern sensibilities more than the thought of a hierarchy. After all, aren’t we taught one of the key truths in the Declaration of Independence is all men are created equal? This is certainly true. Differently confessed, we say during the baptismal liturgy, “We are born children of a fallen humanity.” All sinners are equal in the sight of God, both because we all have sinned (Romans 3:23) and also because we are bearers of the image of God (Genesis 1:27). All are indeed equal in those regards.
However, in the life of the Church equality does not mean an absence of difference, an absence of structure or hierarchy. The Church reflects the divine ordering of God. As Christ is the head of the Church, and man is head of the household (Ephesians 5:23), so too is the Church lead by apostles, prophets, and teachers. The apostolic office has long since ended with the deaths of the original apostles who were called by Christ Himself.
However, prophets and teachers are still offices in the church. Prophets preach and teachers teach the faith. Prophets, in other words, are men called to preach (while also doing a fair amount of teaching!). Teachers are those who help catechize the faithful and the inquiring. These two offices are most important because the Lord has a Word to speak and a new life to give. This new life needs to be patiently taught. May we all offer our humblest respect and admiration to those who preach the Gospel and teach the Christian faith!
LET US PRAY: Lord of all wisdom, you provide your beloved Church with faithful servants to preach the Gospel and teach the Christian faith. As I thank you for those called to such important offices, help me to submit to their authority, be led by their words since their words are your words. By your Spirit help me to grow in faith, hope, love, and devotion to you. This I ask in the name of Jesus, my Lord and Savior. Amen.
Rev. Christopher Johnson
Devotion for January 23, 2019
“To each is given the manifestation of the Spirit for the common good.” (1 Corinthians 12:7)
The Holy Spirit works in the church for the common good. Personal agendas, pet projects, powerful personalities, and a desire to be in control are some big issues which have constantly reared their ugly heads over the centuries in the life of Christ’s Church. As it is today, so it was also in the early Corinthian churches.
Saint Paul’s reminder here is to surrender your rights. Look to build up the body of Christ. The gifts the Holy Spirit has bestowed to you – whether it is the gift of wisdom, knowledge, healing, prophecy, and so on – is meant for the betterment of all in the church. If your gift is causing you to openly overvalue yourself to the Church or causing you to seek other like minded individuals at the expense of the harmony of the Church, then your gift is not being used for the glory of God and for the common good.
Being challenged by St. Paul, how then might we use our Spirit-given gifts for the common good? There are a multitude of gifts and many ways in which to employ those gifts for the service of God and the common good of the Church. If we aren’t sure, then it is time we connect with another brother or sister in Christ or our pastors to help shine God’s light on where we have been endowed by the Spirit of the living God.
LET US PRAY: Lord God, you have given to me your Spirit and with Him also His gifts. Prevent me from thinking too highly of myself and of not valuing my other brothers and sisters in Christ highly enough. Curb my heart and mind from desiring accolades and recognition but simply to desire the building up of your body, the Church, for the glory of your holy Name. And it is in your Son’s holy Name I pray. Amen.
Rev. Christopher Johnson
Devotion for January 16, 2019
So you must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 6:11)
In the long, weary winter months, light can become a long lost friend. Grey skies, dark clouds, bitter cold, and snow leave us longing for warmth and how warmth is created – by light. A common foe for some people during these months is Seasonal Affective Disorder which happens due to a lack of light. People need light!
Baptism shines God’s light on two areas of our life: Our sin and the remedy for sin, Jesus’ atoning sacrifice and triumphant resurrection. Even though drown in baptism, sins still clings to us. Our whole life is a battle against sin. Daily do we need to drown our sin in repentance and receive again and again the Lord’s promised mercy. Baptism continues to do its work in us by shining a light on that spiritual need of forgiveness lest we develop some sort of spiritual affective disorder.
Baptism directs our gaze away from sin and to the light of the Gospel, to the light who has broken into this present darkness, Jesus Christ. This is why St. Paul can say “consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ.” Sin’s ultimate grip on us is dead because of Jesus claiming me as his own in baptism. Darkness is dispelled, light has entered in! In its place, the Lord places his life, his eternal life, his unending life that began at baptism and will carry us into the world to come. What a most blessed exchange and gift!
LET US PRAY: Father of lights, you have given to me your Son and all he has; purity, peace, life, and light. I thank you for your gifts from above. I thank you that would claim me as your own child in baptism. I thank you for the light of your countenance which turns away sadness and makes me glad. Never stop shining your healing light upon me, gracious Lord; Father, +Son, and Holy Spirit.Amen.
Rev. Christopher Johnson
Devotion for January 9, 2019
“This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the Gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6)
The “Light of the World” (John 9:5; 1:9-13), Jesus Christ, has made himself known to this world, to both Jew and Gentile. Just imagine the scandal: The Jewish Savior is also the Savior of the entire world, of all humanity. He who was born in Bethlehem, raised in Nazareth, taught, healed, and preached in and around Galilee, was crucified and risen from the dead in Jerusalem, and ascended to the right hand of the Father at Bethany (Luke 24:50) is the Savior of the world. Theologians call this the scandal of particularity. Saint Paul calls this a “mystery.”
The people who were the most shocked by this scandal at first were the Jews. They shouldn’t have been (and some weren’t). The Old Testament prophesied the light of God shinning upon the Gentiles (Isaiah 42:6; 45:22). The bigger issue the Jews had with the Gentiles, however, was their rampant immorality. We might say today, “We can’t have those kinds of people coming into church!” And everyone knows what you mean when you say “those kinds of people.” Indeed, the early church did struggle with “those kinds of people,” and had to patiently teach them and show them how to live in light of the glorious good news of Jesus Christ.
The people who are most shocked by this scandal now are modern Gentiles. We might hear something like: “How unfair is it for God to do things they way he did! What about this people group in South East Asia, or that people group in the Amazon, or this ethnic group over hered? Why couldn’t God make himself known to them as he did to the Jews?” The faithful Christian can respond: “God has made himself known in Jesus Christ and is everyone’s Savior! Let’s go and tell all those people what God has done for them in Jesus Christ because they can be heirs of the promise just like anyone else!”
LET US PRAY: Oh Lord, how scandalous are your ways! Yet all your ways are good. You have unveiled the hope of salvation and eternal life in the Gospel of your dear Son. Help me to share with others what this joyful inheritance means so that friends, acquaintances, other Jews and Gentiles who don’t know Christ may receive the gift, become members of the body of Christ, and partakers of the eternal promises in Christ Jesus. And it is in his holy name I pray. Amen.
Rev. Christopher Johnson
Devotion for January 2, 2019
“Let the word of Christ dwell in your richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)
As the Christmas season wanes in these final days before the Epiphany of our Lord (January 6th), we receive wonderful words from the hand of St. Paul. Because you have been raised with Christ in baptism (Col. 3:1), having been first put to death in baptism (3:4), let Christ continue to do in you what needs to be done that you would grow in faith, hope, and love. If uninhibited Jesus will do just that! What can stop Jesus from doing his work in you? One answer and one answer only: You. Hence the word “let” in our focus passage above.
The season of Christmas is powerful reminder the invasion of the kingdom of God has commenced. The Lord has come in person, in the flesh. The great, big God of the universe became small in Jesus Christ, and became small for you. God became small that you would understand more deeply why He has come. God became small that you would realize more completely the spell fallen humanity is under. God became small, and became small for you, that you would receive all He is and all He has to give.
This God become small has something big to give: His love, His life, His eternal mercy, His forgiveness, His salvation, Himself. Why wouldn’t we then “let” the Lord do what He needs to do in us? Why wouldn’t we “let” His word dwell richly within us? With His word dwelling richly in you, who knows what might happen? You might just start singing to God with thankfulness in your hearts!
LET US PRAY: Holy Father, you have given me the gift of your beloved Son. He who was small, vulnerable, and weak at his birth would once again be vulnerable and weak as he gasped for breath on the cross. All your Son has done has been for me, for my salvation, for my present and for my future. Because of that, gracious Lord, how can I not let Jesus have free course within me, making me more and more pure, more and more holy, more and more your adopted child? As His word dwells within me richly, may I sing your praises out thanksgiving and adoration for His sacrifice and humility. In Jesus’ name I pray. Amen.
Rev. Christopher Johnson
Devotion for December 26, 2018
Thus says the Lord:
“Even the captives of the mighty shall be taken,
and the prey of the tyrant be rescued,
for I will contend with those who contend with you,
and I will save your children.
I will make your oppressors eat their own flesh,
and they shall be drunk with their own blood as with wine.
Then all flesh shall know
that I am the Lord your Savior,
and your Redeemer, the Mighty One of Jacob.”(Is 49:25-26).
It seems a bit odd that the scripture selections for the day after Christmas should be full of such contention. We have been rejoicing together with family and friends and the coming King the, the ruler of the universe, who is to establish his throne with justice and equity: our true Prince of Peace.
And yet, in the first few days of the Christmas season we are remembering the martyrdom of St. Stephen the deacon—who was stoned to death (Acts 7:54-60)—and that of the Holy Innocents (Matt 2:16-18). Tidings of comfort and joy…Really!?
The reality is what we know to be true; in this world there is still rampant violence, injustice, hate and a gambit of other sins that seek to corrupt God’s good creation. But in the midst of all this brokenness, Jesus Christ our Lord has come…and guess what he’s still coming!
Just as he came in the weakness of our flesh—the Son of God subjecting himself to a life in the midst of hate, violence, envy, fear, doubt and such injustice—so too does he continue to come to you. He come to you even here, amidst the brokenness of your own world. He comes in meekness and mercy as a child, to a child, but continues to grow even in you. He is God’s contention against sin: yours and the whole worlds! He puts it to death on the cross and rising bodily so that in his Church; with his Word and with his Sacraments he can continue to proclaim to you the victory!
It has already begun. The heavens have been opened up for you (Acts 7:57), so let us cry out together in a loud voice, rejoicing with all the angels, shepherds, and all of creation as we bear witness like Stephen that this Christ is our God the Lord our Savior, who redeems his people as the Mighty One of Jacob.
Let us Pray: O Lord we offer to you that same symphony of unceasing praise for the priceless gift of you Son, sent into our flesh to redeem the creation. By the power of the Holy Spirit, grant that his abiding presence might attend to us all our days as we remain pilgrims in this world, so that with hearts of faith we may even now dare to rejoice in our great Prince who provides us the peace which transcends all understanding. Amen.
Devotion for December 19, 2018
Lord now you let you servant depart in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples; a light to reveal you to the Gentiles and for glory to you people Israel. (Luke 2:29-32).
Are you getting enough sleep? We always balk this question when some concerned party asks. And we think to ourselves; “Man do I really look so terrible that you would ask me that?”
Very few Americans actually give themselves the recommended amount of sleep (9 hours!). Especially with all the goings on around the holiday season, I doubt many are spending the essential time tucked away in bed! As important as out sleep is to our own mental and physical health, it is equally important to our spiritual health!
The righteous and devout Simeon new how much he needed rest, and yet the Holy Spirit would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ (Lk 2:26). Simeon, tired and old had to stay awake….until one day at the temple he beholds God—flesh and blood—right there in the person of Jesus. He takes him into his arms and rejoices in song.
This Song of Simeon, more commonly known in the church as the Nunc Dimittis—which in Latin means “now, let go”—is a song of rest. It’s a song of that peace which transcends all understanding that all hearts sing when they receive the blessed stillness their Lord brings. It’s the very song you sing after you have received him in the supper he provides.
Being so full of the Lord, you have the assurance of things hoped for; that is, the forgiveness of sins, a new life with you Lord Jesus, and salvation through the grace of God. So, there’s really nothing for you to do but rest! Be still and know that through faith, the promises of God will be fulfilled, and just as you have seen your Lord come meek and lowly as a child at Bethlehem, so too will you behold him as he comes with angel armies, and the whole heavenly host.
Let us Pray: Lord Jesus Christ, you have promised to always render that abiding peace to all whom you have called to be your own. Through the Holy Spirit set my heart at rest in the promises you have given; that I might find blessed reprieve from my many labors commending my body and soul and all things to you. For you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen,
Vicar Joe Pinzl
Devotion for December 5, 2018
“In that day mankind will cast away their idols of silver and their idols of gold, which they made for themselves to worship…Stop regarding man in whose nostrils is breath, for of what account is he?” (Isaiah 2:20-22).
What high regard we have for each other, that this season would be full of gifts given and received.
Advent can often be overlooked as a season of preparation: of diligent waiting and prayer. Make no mistake, the world is preparing this time of year, but for what? For the parties and events that fill our calendars? For the love that should be shared year round but seems to carry particular potency this season? Or is it for that day where we exchange gifts which attempt to convey how much we truly care for one another?
But as Isaiah says, all of these things will be cast away. In this season we do not simply regard our fellow man; rather, we regard the man. We regard Jesus Christ, God made flesh, come to die for us; to deliver us; to save us from our sins as a propitiation by his blood (Rom 3:25).
So, in Advent we prepare to receive this Risen man, our Lord Jesus. And when we receive him—like obedient children waiting for Christmas—we become, like him, complete. In other words, we become holy (Lev 11:44; 1 Pet 1:16). Celebrations, get-togethers, parties, romance, and mountains of presents don’t make the season bright. Jesus does. And in regarding him, who breathes into us that breath of new life, we can have more regard for others. We can be content with gifts given and received, with parties and events, because God’s love has lavished us with more than we thought we ever needed.
LET US PRAY:O Lord God, you gave us the sunshine and blue sky; the moon and stars. It is you who order our days, and it is you who give them shape and life. By your Word and you’re your most Holy Spirit, abide in us in these last days, O Lord, as we await the joyful coming of your Son. Having been purified by His blood, may we then love in this time with pure hearts born of the imperishable seed through the living and abiding of your Word. Amen
Vicar Joe Pinzl
Devotion for November 28, 2018
“One of the two who heard John speak and followed Jesus was Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother.” (John 1:40)
Are you ready to walk with St. Andrew?
According to the Gospel of John, St. Andrew was the very first disciple to follow our Lord Jesus. Every believer follows in his footsteps, treading the path first blazed by this fisherman-turned-apostle almost 2000 years ago. Are you ready to renew your journey along that path?
You see, in just a few days, on Sunday, December 2, the season of Advent begins. It marks the start of a new Church Year, and therefore, a new cycle of preaching our way through the life of Christ. It begins with His promised arrival at Bethlehem and continues all the way to His resurrection and ascension. By organizing our worship in this way, the Church immerses us once more in the teachings of Christ, just as St. Andrew did centuries ago.
In fact, the Church has a playful way of making this connection every year: Advent (and thus the new cycle of preaching Christ) always begins on the Sunday closest to November 30, which is St. Andrew’s feast day. You might say that Andrew stands at the head of our annual journey, helping us take the first step by his own example.
Thanks be to God for this saint, and for another year of celebrating the life of Christ!
LET US PRAY: All praise and glory to You, O Lord God, for Your servant Andrew, the first disciple whom Your Son called to follow Him. By the same Holy Spirit who led and inspired this holy apostle, so also strengthen and enlighten us, that we may spend the year ahead listening to Your holy Word, meditating on it, and taking joy in it at all times and places; through Jesus Christ, Your Son, our Lord. Amen
Pastor Steven K. Gjerde