Praying

There was an Argentinian writer named Antonio Di Benedetto who lived in the mid-20th Century. In 1976, the Argentinian military overthrew the government. Soon after this, Di Benedetto was arrested for unclear reasons. He spent 18 months in prison, where he was tortured. During this time, two of his fellow writers, Ernesto Sabato and Heinrich Boll, pleaded his case before the military. After those 18 months, the military released Di Benedetto from prison, thanks to his friends’ petition.

One of the greatest blessings God has given us is prayer. This gift demonstrates God's love for us. He warmly encourages us to come to him with all our troubles and worries. He also promises that he will hear and answer us when we pray. Why wouldn’t we want to pray to our God with promises like that?

But, if you’re like me, you step back and look at your life, and you realize something: prayer is often the furthest thing from your mind. There may be numerous times where we become lazy and forget to pray at all. On the other hand, when we do pray, sometimes our prayers focus only on ourselves. We think only about our struggles and our needs. Let’s face it: our prayer life can be pathetic.

But here we see our God’s grace again. Not only does our God give us the blessing of prayer, but he also gives us a helper. Someone who prays on our behalf! Every time he prays, he offers a perfect prayer. He does it all for us!

Di Benedetto had people pleading his case during his troubles. God has done the same for us. Who is this person who prays for us? Paul tells us who he is: “In the same way, the Spirit helps us in our weakness” (Romans 8:26). What an amazing thought! God’s love for us moved him to send his Holy Spirit to pray for us! Join us this Sunday as we look at how the Spirit works as our intercessor!

God’s Blessings on your week!

Vicar Reich     

Longing

Imagine you’re attending the University of Wyoming Homecoming Parade here in Laramie. You find a spot on one of the street corners along the parade route. Your children are standing there with you. They’re excitedly trying to look around the corner, constantly asking, “Is it here yet?” You’re excited too. You've always loved parades. Soon, you hear the low rumble of the parade moving a few blocks away. Your children ask again, “Is it here yet?” The parade comes closer and closer. Then, when it turns the corner, your hope becomes reality!

“Is it here yet?” That’s a question full of hope. It’s also a fitting question for Christians like you and me to ask. We all are filled with a longing—a longing to be with Jesus in heaven! When Jesus died for us, he gave us the hope of heaven, something we long for every day.

But do we always look hopefully to heaven? If you’re like me, there are days we forget to look to this bright future. The troubles and sufferings in this life easily distract us. They entangle us and turn our focus to this life rather than our life in heaven.

Do we still look for heaven? Yes. But then it becomes a matter of which heaven. Are you looking for the heaven Jesus promised? Or are you looking more for heaven on earth?

Paul tells us something amazing: “I consider that our present troubles are not worth comparing to the glory that will soon be revealed in us” (Rom. 8:18). Sometimes, that can be hard to believe. How could anything outweigh our current troubles?

Here’s the difference: the troubles of this life, while difficult, have an end. Heaven does not! Like Jesus, heaven is eternal. In heaven, our joy will never end!

Here’s a cool thought: Jesus longs to share his heaven with us! Everything Jesus endured on this earth, he endured because he wants you to be with him in heaven forever. Join us this Sunday as we dig into how this hope of heaven shapes our lives now!

God’s blessings on the rest of your week!

Vicar Reich

Reversal

Think for a moment about something you enjoy. Maybe it’s that book or series of books that you easily lose yourself in. Or maybe it’s your yearly family vacation, because time with family is precious to you. Or maybe you have a favorite TV show, because the story-lines always hook you in. You become so engrossed with these activities that you never want them to stop. But then they do end, and you find yourself wanting more. Why does it have to end?

If you’re like me, perhaps you sometimes feel that way about life in general. When we experience unexpected success, we become joyful and hope these good times would continue. Let’s face it, at times life seems just too good to end.

Then reality hits. A close loved one suddenly dies. You’re stunned. This person loved life just as much as you. You did everything together—day trips, attending sporting events, you name it. Plus, neither of you had any serious health problems. Maybe you began to forget, that this life will one day end. And then when it does end, you find yourself overwhelmed by grief, trying to make sense of it all. Why does it have to end?

Paul tells us plainly why life ends: “Death came to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). When sin came into the world, death came with it. But our sinful nature distracts us from this truth. We often forget about the reality of death, and focus only on the good things in life. 

But what if you knew death was not the end? What if you knew death was nothing harmful but actually a pathway to something even better than this life?! As hard as that can be to imagine, it's true!

Jesus came to this earth to take our punishment and brought for us a gift--a gift which “is not like the trespass” (Rom. 5:15). This gift reverses death's power and gives us eternal life! Join us this Sunday as we dig into this gift and see how it impacts both the way we look at life and death!

God’s Blessings on your weekend!

Vicar Reich

Reconciliation

Reconciliation is hard, isn’t it? And reconciliation is hard enough when you’re talking about people who love each other. But when you’re talking about enemies? It’s that much harder.

Even if you are a bit fuzzy on the details, many of you may remember the genocide that took place in Rwanda in 1994. It’s estimated that in 100 days, the Hutu people living in Rwanda killed approximately 800,000 of the Tutsi people. 800,000 men, women and children killed in 100 days. Can you imagine?

20 years later, in 2014 a photographer named Pieter Hugo traveled to southern Rwanda and captured a series photos that might seem incomprehensible to you and me. In one, a woman rests her hand on the shoulder of the man who killed her father and brothers. In another, a woman poses with a casually reclining man who looted her property and whose father helped murder her husband and children. In many of these photos, there is little evident warmth between the pairs, and yet there they are, together. In each, the perpetrator is a Hutu who was granted pardon by the Tutsi survivor of his crime. [1]

It's one thing to reconcile with a spouse after a time of marital unrest. It’s one thing to reconcile with any loved one or family member after an argument. But to reconcile with someone who killed your father and brothers? With someone who looted your property? In some cases, with someone who raped and murdered your loved ones? That sounds almost unthinkable. And yet, in each one of Pieter Hugo’s photos, you see a perpetrator and survivor standing side by side. The photos are powerful to say the least.

This Sunday at Living Shepherd, we’ll continue walking through the book of Romans. As we do, this week we’ll have a chance to marvel at the amazing truth, that “when we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him” none the less! (See Romans 5:6-11)

I look forward to digging into the powerful truth of reconciliation with you this Sunday!

Pastor Z.

 

[1] Susan Dominus. https://www.nytimes.com/interactive/2014/04/06/magazine/06-pieter-hugo-rwanda-portraits.html

Not Guilty

Against all hope, Abraham in hope believed and so became the father of many nations, just as it had been said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” Without weakening in his faith, he faced the fact that his body was as good as dead—since he was about a hundred years old—and that Sarah’s womb was also dead. Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what he had promised. This is why “it was credited to him as righteousness.” The words “it was credited to him” were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness—for us who believe in him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification.

Romans 4:18-25

I want you to try to put yourself in the shoes of a criminal. You’re on trial. In fact, final arguments have been made. The jury is now deliberating and you’re waiting. You’re waiting for the verdict.

And here’s the thing. You did it. Whatever you’re on trial for—you did it. All the evidence points to you. You know what the verdict is going to be. Guilty. You’re going to be spending a lot of time in prison…

But what if the jury comes back and declares you not guilty of all the charges made against you? Can you imagine what it would feel like to walk out of that courtroom, free?! Can you imagine what it would be like to hear the verdict "not guilty" when you deserve to hear "guilty?"

This is why Jesus matters. He's the only one to ever live who deserved to hear a "not guilty" verdict. And yet, he received a "guilty" verdict. Jesus suffered the punishment we deserve, all so we could be declared "not guilty."

Join us this Sunday to dig into the verdict that gets us into heaven!

God's blessings on your weekend,

Pastor Z.

At-one-ment

But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.

Romans 3:21-25a

atone – “Middle English – at-onen, become reconciled < at one, in accord; see AT & ONE." If you happen to have a Webster’s New World College Dictionary, this is the first thing you’ll read when you look up the word atone. Atone is an English word that was created from two other English words (at & one) to help communicate a concept that is unique to the Old and New Testaments.

Many translations of the Bible call the lid on the Ark of the Covenant the “atonement cover.” (See Exodus 26:34) Here in Romans chapter 3, Jesus’ sacrifice for the sins of the world is called a “sacrifice of atonement.” That means the cover on the Ark of the Covenant was the place where God taught his people how he would make them “at-one” with him again. (See Leviticus 16) In fact, the sacrifices that were performed in connection with the “atonement cover” all pointed ahead to Jesus’ “sacrifice of atonement.

And if we need to be made at-one with God again, that means we’re not at-one with him by nature. “There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God… But! We are also “…justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” That means we’ve been declared “Not Guilty” of the sins that separated us from God. Jesus’ “sacrifice of atonement” redeemed us—that is “bought us back!”

Thanks to Jesus, you are now “at one” with your God!

Blessings on the rest of your week!

Pastor Z.

Unity

This Sunday at Living Shepherd we’ll be taking a look at unity. If you think about it, unity is something people desperately want. Often times, people desire it so badly they’re willing to look anywhere and everywhere to find it.

But here’s the problem. Only unity found in the Word of God will last. When unity is found anywhere else, it will not last. Only in God’s Word do we see how Jesus has made us one with God through his perfect life, suffering, death and resurrection. This is a unity that can never be broken. Join us this Sunday as we look at how this God-given unity influences our relationships with others!

God’s blessings on your weekend!

Vicar Reich

Pentecost

Afternoon Everyone!

Tomorrow we celebrate the festival of Pentecost. If you think about it, each person of the Trinity has their own festival. Yes, the birth of Jesus (the Son) is a major focus of the Christmas festival, but not without focus on the Father who kept his promise to send a Savior (HIS Son). The festival of Easter focuses us on Jesus and his power over death. The festival of Pentecost focuses us on the Holy Spirit and his power to change hearts. As we focus our attention of the Holy Spirit's work that first Pentecost, we are comforted to see the Holy Spirit works still today in your life and mine!

Join us tomorrow to dig into the work of the Holy Spirit!

Pastor Z

Ascension

When you hear the word “Ascension,” what comes to mind? If you grew up in a church, maybe you’re thinking of a picture of Jesus rising to the heavens with his arms spread out, clouds in the background and the sun shining.

But if that wasn’t your context growing up, does the word “Ascension” bring anything to mind? Anything at all?

It’s not a word used all that often. Airplanes ascend. Of course there are athletes like Michael Jordan who once were cut from their High School Basketball teams and then ascended to global stardom. Kings and queens ascend to their thrones…

And I’m really grasping at straws on that last one… 😊 What’s the point? What’s the point of Jesus’ ascension.

In the Apostle Paul's letter to the church in Ephesus we have an oft overlooked, but awesome explanation of why Jesus' Ascension matters. In Ephesians 4:9, 10 God says, "What does “he ascended” mean except that he also descended to the lower, earthly regions? He who descended is the very one who ascended higher than all the heavens, in order to fill the whole universe."

The fact that Jesus ascended into heaven means he first descended to live among us (Christmas!). And so Ascension is the capstone on our journey from manger to cross to empty tomb. Salvation is complete! Your sins are forgiven and you're at peace with your God.

Join us this Sunday to celebrate Jesus' Ascension!

Blessings on the long weekend,

Pastor Z.

The Counselor

There is no doubt about it, counseling is a blessing. So why is it that “counseling” tends to have a negative connotation to it?

Think about it, if a friend says to you, “My spouse and I are going to marriage counseling…” Are you happy for them or concerned?

And forget what the counseling is for… If a friend says to you, “I’m going to counseling.” Are you happy for them or concerned?

Let’s kick the negative connotation to the curb, Counseling is a good thing! A counselor walks beside you through life’s difficulties! A counselor is your advocate!

These are just a few of the reasons it’s so cool to know God describes himself as our Counselor. This Sunday at Living Shepherd, we'll take a look at a few of those reasons. Join us!

God bless your weekend,

Pastor Z.