Weekly Devotion

Carry the Cross: It’s Too Heavy

Then he said to them all: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.”

Luke 9:23 NIV

We all love to give excuses. I know I do.  Recently it snowed some heavy wet stuff and I was out shoveling. As I was giving thanks to God for sharing manna from heaven, one of my children approached. I was relieved to think I was going to get some help.  I handed the shovel off and started to work with the ice chipper so I could actually see the sidewalk.  After about two shovel fulls I heard the comment – “This stuff is too heavy and it is too cold out.”  I had a few excuses of my own to add so we went inside for hot chocolate.

Jesus challenged his followers that they were to “deny themselves daily, pick up their cross and follow him.”  Yet, like me and some of us, they were full of excuses.  Many of the crowds that had been following Jesus liked him for the miracles he performed and all the healings he had done.  They were excited to get free food and hear great storytelling. But as Jesus approaches Jerusalem he begins to talk more about the cost of discipleship.  Soon the large crowds dispersed and the true followers emerged.  Many of us claim we want to follow Jesus, but we don’t necessarily want to deny ourselves. We come up with a list of excuses of why we can’t read God’s Word, why attending worship is difficult or why we don’t want to join a small group to learn more about Jesus.  The season of Lent is a reminder that for 40 Days we also need to pick up our cross. The cross is not convenient. The cross is not a symbol of glory. The cross is a symbol of denial and sacrifice. How will you carry your cross the next 40 days?

In Christ’s service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn


Serving With a Purpose

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field…. The seventy-two returned with joy”.  
Luke 10:1, 2, 17 NIV

This last week I took time to drive bus to Mission Mexico where I have been going every year since 1993. I was contacted by a Christian school and a bus charter service because I was a licensed coach bus driver with a passport and experience in Mexico. Since our church had to cancel our trip this year I decided to help.  It was interesting to be “bus driver Paul” rather than “Pastor Paul” the trip leader.

Little-by-little the group asked clarifying questions about me and discerned that I had gifts beyond just driving bus.  First, they realized I liked praying so I was asked to pray. Later they asked if I would lead a devotion so I agreed and taught on three parables of lost things. One girl told me she was amazed that a bus driver had such in depth knowledge of Scripture.  Some song leaders saw me playing guitar one day and asked if I could help lead the music. Who am I to turn down an opportunity to teach another youth group the song, You Are My Brother, You Are My Friend? One of the participants found out I had a website called, PaulMarzahn.com and discovered I was a church consultant and began asking numerous questions about some troubles they were having at their church.

By the end of the week I was even helping teach a science class on the power of atmospheric pressure. I always feel blessed when I can serve. I feel especially blessed when I can utilize the gifts and abilities God has given me.

I have discussed on several occasions about the importance of serving where God is calling you using the gifts that God has given you. We affirm the Saddleback Church acrostic, SHAPE which reminds all of us that we are to serve according to our ministry shape. Our shape is defined as:

= Spiritual Gifts – Discovering and using the gifts given to you by the power of the Holy Spirit.
H = Heart – Following your passion for a ministry area or people group.
A = Abilities – Looking at your natural talents and abilities as a way to serve others.
= Personality – Recognizing how God wired you makes a difference in where you serve.
E = Experience – Knowledge, education, and life experiences help you make a kingdom impact.

My prayer for you this week is that you may discover and utilize your God-given SHAPE to serve. May you experience JOY like the disciples of Jesus when you take the time to serve.

In Christ’s Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Identify with Jesus

Once when Jesus was praying in private and his disciples were with him, he asked them, “Who do the crowds say I am?” They replied, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, that one of the prophets of long ago has come back to life.” “But what about you?” he asked. “Who do you say I am?” Peter answered, “God’s Messiah.”
Luke 9:18-20 NIV
The Academy Awards are Sunday night and the world will turn in to see who won a coveted Oscar award. To receive an award is to be recognized by Hollywood that you have finally made it. You are superior at your craft of acting or producing. The acceptance speeches at the awards are either incredible or incredibly boring. Some recite a long list of thank you’s until they are ushered off the stage with the sound of orchestra music. Others are speechless or overwhelmed. Some like Halle Berry cry and others like Cuba Gooding junior start by thanking God and family. To be announced on the stage is to be declared significant in the eyes of our modern culture.

“Who do you say I am?” is at the key to our identity. For some their identity is in what achievements or awards they have won. For some their identity is in what they do. For some their identity is in their net worth. Jesus has no achievements, significant job or finances. Yet, who he was was came not from these things but from who God claimed him to be. Peter is one of the first to proclaim that Jesus is the Messiah – The Christ. Later Peter, James and John accompany Jesus up a mountain where Moses and Elijah make an appearance. Known as the Mount of Transfiguration this is where the voice of God states, “This is my son. Listen to him.”

I don’t know about you but I can barely remember last year’s Oscar winners. In my thirty plus years of watching the Academy Awards I remember a handful of significant moments. Yet, the moment that Jesus was proclaimed the Messiah his title was etched into eternity. How do you claim your identity? What is your identity in relationship to Christ?

Cultivating the Soil

While a large crowd was gathering and people were coming to Jesus from town after town, he told this parable: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path; it was trampled on, and the birds ate it up. Some fell on rocky ground, and when it came up, the plants withered because they had no moisture. Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up with it and choked the plants. Still other seed fell on good soil. It came up and yielded a crop, a hundred times more than was sown.” When he said this, he called out, “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear.”
Luke 8:4-8
Everytime I walk out my door in Lakeville I think of our farm in Waterville. When we landscaped our house we went down to our farm and carried large rocks from our fields rather than purchase them. I remember growing up “picking rock.”

Because of the ice age and glaciers, our family farm was blessed with an abundance of rock.  My job was to glean the fields of these rock each spring and fall. The rocks seemed to return each season without fail and were peskier than any weeds. Little did I know that someday these rocks would be of value.  I have seriously considered doing my whole yard in rock just to cut down on mowing and watering.  My neighbors may have some thoughts on this.

Besides picking rock, we did a number of steps each year to improve our yield of crops. Preparation of the soil was a big deal. Cultivation was a series of steps or processes to make the soil ready for the seed. We would often plow (or chisel plow) in the fall to break up the soil and roots to rot over the winter. Fertilizer, potash and other nutrients are added to the soil. Then we disk it up again in the spring to break it down even more. These repetitive bouts of digging up the soil exposing organic material to the soil profile to help promote good crop growth. Airing the soil allows for good root growth and helps break up the manure and other fertilizer throughout the soil. In other words, cultivation helps to grow better crops.

In that same way, cultivating the soil of faith helps produce better disciples.  The task of each Christian is to share seeds of faith. We do that by cultivating friendships, dialoguing about spiritual matters and inviting our friends to small group, worship and other Christian activities. Cultivating helps strengthen our faith and allows us to share healthy seeds of faith with others.

In Christ’s Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Choose Friends Carefully |

“After this, Jesus went out and saw a tax collector by the name of Levi sitting at his tax booth. “Follow me,” Jesus said to him, and Levi got up, left everything and followed him.” (Luke 5:27,28)

I remember when I first started at Hamline University. It was a huge difference from my small town of Waterville. In Waterville I grew up with the same 62 kids. I had to choose close friends, but basically everyone in my class was my friend. I can think of very few with which I did not have an affinity or some close connection. I had my band friends, choir friends, drama friends, football-basketball-baseball-track friends, FFA/4-H friends and church friends.

But in college it was completely different. There were more students at Hamline then in my entire home town. I was no longer a big fish in a small pond but a small fish in a big pond. I also realized that many of the values of my small town were not prevalent in the metro area. For the first time in my life I had to think about who I wanted to befriend. I spent time with everyone in my dorm, but soon realized that many did not have a Christian worldview. They choose happiness over holiness.

They were more concerned about entertainment than evangelism. I started to find friends that held similar beliefs and encouraged me in my faith. I joined “Campus Crusade for Christ” and developed deep spiritual friendships. I also started a job as a youth pastor and Asbury Church became my new connection to deeper friends. I started to base my friendships on my values and not on proximity. Too many times we consider someone a friend based on spending time together. True friendship is based on much more than that.

Jesus chose his friends not because of who they were but how they would respond. Jesus did not choose the wisest, smartest or even the most religious. He chose those hungry for the reign of God. He chose those who wanted to live a better life. He was not friends with most his fellow clergy known as the “pharisees” or “sadducees.” He befriended those who the church of his day considered “sinners.” Yet, Jesus reached out to tax collectors who stole from others, violent zealots who would kill a Roman if given an opportunity and even women who were considered “unclean.” Rabbi Jesus encouraged them to walk close to him and learn from him as a friend. Jesus the friend of sinners changed the world because of his radical message of love and reconciliation.

In Christ’s Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Claim the Mission |

The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18, 19 NIV) 

I’ve been a big fan of Mission Impossible since I was a young boy. I loved the old TV series. Every week they would get into trouble and get out of trouble to fulfill their mission. Some way or another through change of disguise or switch of bags they would ultimately get the bad guy. The new movie series with Tom Cruise has a similar drama to it. Both the TV series and the movie series have a common element: the mission. “Your mission should you choose to  is…”

Jesus had an impossible mission. Yet, Jesus claimed his mission. He presented his mission for everyone to hear. Jesus shared that he was going to take care of the poor, the least, the lost and the left behind. We should all have a similar mission.

Former Vice President and Governor of Minnesota, Hubert Humphrey, emphasized the importance of caring for the edges of society. “The true moral test of humanity is how it treats those in the dawn of life — the children; those who are in the twilight of life — the aged; and those who are in the shadow of life — the sick, the needy, the poor.” May we all claim the mission of Jesus.

In Christ’s Love and service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Luke |

From the book of Luke: Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. With this in mind, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, I too decided to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught. (1:1-4) 
Investigate. Consider. Think about. Look deeper.  Carfeully study. If we are to understand truth we have to look at the facts and examine them. That is what Luke tries to present. As an author, he is trying to chronicle the life of Christ and the early life of the church. Luke wrote both Luke and Acts as one book. He wrote an “orderly account” for his friend Theophilus and other disciples of Jesus the Messiah.

We know that several authors including Luke contibuted to the writing of the overall Bible.  The Bible itself is actually a collection of many books and stories. About 40 authors are acredited to writing the Scriptures. Scholars estimate that 30 authors wrote the 39 books in the Hebrew Scripture and 10 authors contributed to the writings in the New Testament. Actually the Bible is a collection of writings from many oral contributors that were consolidated by the authors. We know that the teachings of Jesus were widely circulated among the early churches and shared frequently by his disciples. The letters of Paul were written to several cities as well as other letters (called epistles) that were shared among the churches.

During the next six months at CROSSROADS we are going to consider the life of Christ and what it means to us. We will investigate his early ministry around the region of Galilee. We will see how he taught and healed in Samaria and Judea. Lastly we will follow the life of Jesus as he spends his last days in Jerusalem. After Easter, we will examine the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus until he ascends to heaven. We will consider how Jesus lived and try to better understand his plan for our lives. The Apostle Paul states that we should also consider carefully all that is taught on how to be disciples. “Consider what I am saying, for the Lord will give you understanding in everything.” (Timothy 2:7) May we all better understand God’s wisdom for our lives.

Gifts |

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. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.” (Luke 2:9-12 NIV)
I love Christmas and part of the reason is because of the surprises that happen during this season.  God’s unexpected presence pokes itself up in the strangest places. I put some money in a Salvation Army red kettle by Cub Foods and started a conversation with the bell ringer. I learned he was without a job and I knew someone I had talked to earlier looking for his skill set. With a short phone call and an exchange of information he was soon employed again. God is good….. Some generous persons dropped off toys, another family food, another man flowers, another family blankets, etc… Before long I felt like the wiseman handing out gifts to people who nessed them. God’s unexpected love being shared in tangible ways with our community. God is good… I was asked to lead singing last night at CROSSROADS COMMONS. I has a vision over 15 years ago that we would have a church building some day and near the church would be a senior high rise. In my vision I was playing guitar and people were gathered singing. Last night was the fruition of a vision 15 years in the making. God is good…

The Shepherds in today’s Scripture were surprised with God’s unexpected message of love. They were told that the messiah had come and they were to go worship him. They must have been overwhelmed by the news. Why would lowly shepherds be charged with welcoming the king of kings into the world. Why? Because we worship a God that speaks to us in unexpected ways. God came and dwelled among us as “Immanuel.”  God is good……

Come join us tonight at 5:00 or 10:00 for worship. We have5:00 worship at both IGH and Lakeville Campuses. We have a 10:00 service at the Lakeville Campus. Come ready to receive God’s unexpected love.

Trouble |

“Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. 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. All this took place to fulfill what the Lord had said through the prophet.”

Matthew 1:19-20, 22

Sadly a lot of persons I talk with expect trouble around Christmas. In some families there is estrangement, division, tension, bitterness and even open hostility. How many embarrassing scenes will unfold? How many obscenities will be yelled? How many will even experience violence? A few years ago we had a college student come to Mission Mexico after the messy divorce of his parents. During our “bus games” sharing time, he shared it was the best Christmas in a long time. I asked him what made it so special. He said Christmas was special because, for the first time, in as long as he could remember there was no fighting. Whenever there is peace in the family, Christmas love reigns.

In this gospel story, Joseph is expecting trouble. Because his wife is pregnant before marriage, Joseph expects that his family and friends will accuse him. He knows he is not the biological father, but what does one do when trouble comes? Run away? Explain away? Or trust in God’s messenger and message?

Christmas is the dramatic reminder that Christ came to bring a message of peace to our troubled souls. In the midst of troubled times, Christmas offers us peace with God, peace with ourselves, and peace with others.

In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn

Fear |

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star when it rose and have come to worship him.” When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

Matthew 2:1-3

Fear is a great motivator. It’s also not what the Messiah, the King of Kings used to lead others. Herod the current king of Israel ruled with fear. “Herod the Great” was considered a great king by some but by many a fear mongering tyrant. He had some great building accomplishments such as rebuilding the city of Caesarea Maritima and remodeling the temple built during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah.

He also helped the Romans stamp out a revolt in 40-37 BCE. Near the end of his life he became fearful and in his fear lashed out at others. He had three of his own sons and several wives killed to instill fear and solidify his reign. He built a huge fortress to protect himself in Jerusalem and two alternative fortresses as well. One called Masada still stands until this day. When he heard that the prophecy of the Messiah had come to pass he was “disturbed” because he felt his throne was being threatened by this new born baby. He even killed children two and under in Bethlehem in hopes that he could kill this future king. The “baby killer king” reigned using fear and force.

Contrast that with Jesus who came to bring faith, hope and love. Mary and Joseph had every reason to be afraid knowing that the Herods of this world wanted to hurt them and their baby. Yet, the angel appeared to both Mary and Joseph and reminded them to not be afraid. In the bible God uses the phrase “fear not” 365 times. That is one reminder for every day of the year. Jesus came to rid us of our fears. John who followed Jesus reminded the world that “perfect love casts out fear.” Don’t allow the Herods of this world to cause you to be afraid. This Christmas season remember to expect love rather then to expect fear.

In Christ’s Love and Service,
Pastor Paul Marzahn