Weekly Devotion

Simply Christmas | Angels

An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people.
Luke 2:9-10

According to a CBS news poll done in 2013, 77% of Americans believe in angels. Other research has indicated 1 out of 10 have actually had angel encounters.  Most likely you have never experienced an angel personally, but believe they exist.  That is probably the case with our Shepherds in today’s Scripture.  They believed that angels spoke to important people and they did not qualify.  The Shepherds were not at Temple or synagogue and never expected an angel encounter in the wilderness. Now they are confronted by not just one but by a host of angels.  They were afraid just like Mary was when she heard the good news.  Yet, they overcame their fear and listened to the message.   We also can be fearful in the presence of God. God is perfect and we are not.  God’s holiness can be intimidating. Yet, like the Shepherds we need to continue to put aside our fears and focus on the message God has for us. God has a message for you and me. That message is not always an easy one but it is always the right one. Embrace the message God has for you this day.

In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn


Simply Christmas | Story of the Shepherds

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night.
Luke? ?2?:?8? NIV

As many of you know, I grew up on a farm in Waterville, Minnesota.  On our farm we raised horses, cattle and sheep. In some ways you could say I was a Shepherd. I not only raised sheep but I showed or demonstrated sheep at the county fair just like my dad and grampa had done years before.  Sheep were a part of the family.  As part of being a shepherd each day you would feed and count the sheep. This was fun during the summer but not so fun in cold December like this week. I remember one day counting the sheep as they came into the barn to be fed. I noticed I was two short of the total count. As a shepherd, you know your sheep by name. Each are unique and they have personalities just like people. Martha was missing and so was one of her little lambs called Elisha.  I searched around the pasture and out in the woods I could hear Martha “baaing.”  She was crying out for help. She was stuck in a thicket of briar bushes.  She was struggling to get set free but could not move.  Her little lamb Elisha was only a few feet away. I noticed Elisha was not moving. She had a branch around her throat and she was frozen to it.  Elisha wanted to be by her mother she strained against the branch to get to her and ended up choking herself to death.  She was then frozen to the branch in the cold. Her last breath straining to be by her mother who was stuck only a few feet away.

In today’s reading we encounter Shepherds. They are a motley crew doing their best to take care of their sheep on the hillside. Shepherds had to fend off wolves and mountain lions. They even had to be diligent to keep them safe from their own stupidity. Sheep are stupid animals and without the protection of the Shepherd they are easily hurt or destroyed. It is no wonder that Jesus called himself the Great Shepherd who came to take care of his sheep.  When we believe in Jesus we come under the protection of the Great Shepherd. It is no wonder that God shared the good news of his son’s birth with the Shepherds first on the hillside. Who else would understand better the responsibility of the savior of the world.

In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Simply Christmas | Mary

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God.” ?
Luke? ?1?:?29-30? NIV

My daughter Rebekah had our grandson last year a little after Christmas. While Deb and I went to a hospital for the delivery of our three children, she went to a “birthing center.” Here is the description of one such birthing center: “Each room feels more like a resort spa than a hospital. You can relax in a whirlpool tub or stretch out in a queen size bed…Because every woman’s pregnancy and personal preferences are unique, we offer a variety of childbirth experiences. Whichever path you choose, your care will be provided by highly experienced physicians and a certified nurse midwife.”

I can just see Mary coming to the birthing center. Yes, my personal preference is to have my child without a doctor or nurse-midwife. I want it outside in a stable and I only want my husband present. I don’t want any drugs to mitigate the pain, and can I travel right up to the time of delivery so that I can remain uncomfortable right up until childbirth. No crib or bassinet please. I want to use a feed trough. It is more quaint.

Mary’s story is our story. Childbirth is hard and messy. Life is hard and messy. In our world there is adversity. There is a lot of pain and suffering. There is darkness and discouragement. The good news is that Jesus came over 2000 years ago and is still present today to bring light and encouragement. His birth brought hope and love to a hurting world and still does today.

In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Simply Christmas | Joseph

But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.”    
Matthew? ?1?:?20-21? NIV

Christmas is on December 25th but for many Americans, the celebration begins the day after Thanksgiving. The day has been called “Black Friday” and is now creeping into Thursday.  Newspapers and websites boast of glad tidings with great joy at all the sales. You can celebrate Christmas with a big screen television, or an entire shelf of clothing at 50% off.  Unbelievable deals and the bonus of losing a night of sleep while shopping away.  I used to get up at 7:00am, then it became 5:00am, and then 3:00am, and then not going to sleep at all.  I remember waiting in line with my daughter’s Bekah and Rachel with a cup of coffee and a pocketful of coupons. I would make my list including times, stores, and the deals were best. Sometimes we would divide and conquer, where Deb would go with Bekah and I would take Rachel so we could hit two different parts of the store at the same time. It was fun and adventurous. But one year I remember it was almost dangerous. We were pushed and shoved. Someone started a fight in the store. The lines were so long I finally left my “treasures” in the store and just went home.

Somehow through the years I have come to appreciate the more simple things.  Maybe it is because I was raised on the farm. Maybe it is because I am getting older. But lately, I have liked things more simple. When it comes to Christmas, the story is quite simple. It is about God becoming a part of humanity to share the Good News that He wants to be in relationship with us. I love that God chose a simple carpenter to be the father of God. I envision Joseph teaching Jesus about all the important things he needed to know. He took him to synagogue and to the Temple in Jerusalem. He shared with Jesus the Scriptures. He also probably taught him the tools of his trade and what it meant to be a man. Jesus was fully God but also fully human. That fully human part was shaped by this simple man. Not a king. Not a priest. Not a politician. Not a Rabbi. Joseph is the one chosen to raise Emmanuel – God with us.

In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Next Step | Dancing With Passion

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith… mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love.
2 Peter? ?1?:?5-7? NIV

If you watch football or played football you are quite aware of the evolution of dance in the end zone. It use to be a simple spike of the ball. Then flips and gyrations and “in your face” antagonisms erupted. To calm things down, the NCAA has banned the passionate dance antics in the end zone. As cited on Wikipedia regarding end-zone celebrations: “A signature feature of many televised football games is the end-zone dance, by which a touchdown-scoring player cavorts for a few moments before his adoring fans. According to the NCAA rules, such displays are illegal and can result in a 15-yard penalty against the dancer’s team: Prohibited behaviors include ‘Any delayed, excessive, prolonged or choreographed act by which a player (or players) attempts to focus attention upon himself (or themselves).’”

It is hard not to dance when you are passionate about something or someone. When you truly love someone you want to join in the dance. Join us this week at CROSSROADS as Pastor Deb and Pastor Paul talk about bringing passion into your love life with God.

In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Next Step | Dancing With the Stars

And to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;
?2 Peter? ?1?:?6? NIV

I don’t know if you have ever watched the program “Dancing with the Stars” but the format is quite intriguing. They take a celebrity figure (Star) and pair them up with a professional ballroom dancer. Then the two work together to come up with a routine to perform in front of millions. Each week the  couples compete against each other to impress a panel of judges and the viewing public in order to survive potential elimination. Through a telephone poll, viewers vote for those couples who should stay. 50% of the public votes and the average score given by the panel of judges goes towards deciding who should leave.

As I was reflecting on our dance with God, I realize we are a lot like those unskilled but willing participants thrust onto the dance floor. God takes us as we are and by working together we begin to come up with a routine that works. Like our Scripture passage from 2 Peter states, we need to add “perseverance” to our list of character traits in order to be successful. Those couples who practice and persevere seem to do well. When the stars let go of their ego and listen to the dance professional they thrive. The costumes…..well that is for another devo time.

This week join us as we dance with God at CROSSROADS and take that NEXT STEP. We will have a live Ballerina’s join us at the Lakeville Campus to demonstrate for us how to move together in God’s Grace.
In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Next Step | Learning to Dance

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness;
2 Peter? ?1?:?5-6, NIV

I had no formal training in dance, but somehow in high school found myself in a Future Farmers of America dance competition. Disco was big back then, so we worked out a synchronized routine with another couple. Midway during the dance number we were to switch partners and finish the dance with our new partners in a big finale. I flung my partner Karen hard and she made it into the arms of my friend Steve. Steve flung his partner Debbie hard but somehow my reaction was a little off. Dance is supposed to be about ebb and flow. Let’s just say she ebbed while I flowed. With all the twirling and spinning some how I missed catching her. She literally spun right by me and off the stage.  My friend Steve continued the routine while my partner stayed off stage due to embarrassment. Needless to say my big swoop and dip at the end of the routine looked a little odd without a partner. I came to the realization a little late that I should have practiced my dance steps more.

This week we are discussing the importance of learning how to take that next step of faith. We will examine why learning to dance with God takes discipline and grace. We will also explore why we need to dance with a balance of knowledge and self control.
In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Joining the Dance

For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge.
2 Peter 1:5

I remember my first junior high dance. It was in Waterville, Minnesota held in the elementary school gym. We had a football game that evening and the dance was after the game. The gym was decorated with some stars and streamers at an attempt to create atmosphere in a 60 x 75 foot bricked in space. Chairs were lined against the wall and refreshments were in the hall. The D.J. was in the corner spinning real vinyl and chaperones were everywhere.

The guys were all lined up on one side and the ladies all on the other. Some of the girls were dancing with other girls to bad 70’s disco. The guys mostly stood around talking about the football game. Then “Staying Alive” played and one of the guys named Gerard walked across the room to ask a girl to dance. Some laughed, some stared, and others wondered how Gerard knew so many John Travolta moves. I was laughing when all of a sudden a girl asked me to dance. The lump in my stomach went to my my throat and I grunted something as I was dragged to the dance floor. That was how I joined in at my first dance. How about you? What do you remember about your first school dance? What do you remember about joining “God’s Great Dance floor?”

In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Dropping the F-Bomb | Starting Over

Peter came to Jesus and asked, “Lord how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me?  Up to seven times?” Jesus answered, “I tell you, not seven times but seventy times seven”.       
Matthew 18:21-22 –

After worship a few weeks ago, one of our youth came up to me and said he is really enjoying the F-bomb series.  He said we should have another series like it sometime. He stated,  “We should call it the FAITH series. Christians should be dropping that F-bomb all the time.”  He is right. Faith is a prerequisite to forgiveness. Only faith in a forgiving God can empower us to live a life of forgiveness. Only faith allows us to forgive seventy times seven.

When we offer forgiveness, we come as close as any human can to the essential divine act of creation. When we forgive, we create a new beginning out of the past pain. In essence, we create healing for the future by changing a past that that only brought discouragement. When we forgive, we walk in stride with God and heal the hurt we never deserved. God gives us a second chance to start over. That is what God’s grace is all about. It is the ability to start again. It it grace for us and we are also called to extend this grace to others. Where do you need God’s grace? Where do you need to start over?

In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Dropping the F-Bomb | Making Peace

For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins.     
Matthew 6:14-15

Some types of forgiving are easier than others. If someone cuts you off in traffic you may feel frustrated, but will probably let go of the offense. You may have someone insult you and that is a little harder to forgive. But forgiving and feeling a sense of peace are two different things. Peace is more than absence of conflict. When you make peace with someone, it is about moving beyond forgiveness toward establishing a “new normal” in your relationship.

I had an ongoing relationship difficulty with someone who was a friend and they stopped attending our church. After a while, the person came back and we discussed how we could forgive one another from our past hurts. One day we were working on a project together and before I knew it, we were laughing and laughing. I realized we had moved beyond forgiveness to a sense of peace with one another.

This week we will be looking at how to forgive difficult people, people who do not care and people who felt they did nothing wrong. We will examine not only how to forgive, but how to re-establish trust that leads to peace.

In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn