One Flesh

“’Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ This mystery is profound, and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church.”  (Ephesians 5:31-32)

It seems that the apostles couldn’t read a passage from the Old Testament without seeing Jesus in it.  Here we read that a passage from Genesis, written about Adam and Eve’s union as husband and wife, is really about Christ and the Church.  Just as Adam and Eve became one flesh, so have Jesus and His believers.

Have we fully apprehended that mystery?  At the very least, it carries this stunning truth for us: the Spirit at work in the body of Jesus is at work in us, too.  The Holy Spirit bore Jesus into the world, and ultimately into the grave, only to raise Him again in the power of a new creation.  United with Jesus through the wedding vows of Baptism, we experience this same Spirit through the power of repentance and forgiveness.

Repenting, we go by the Spirit into the grave of Jesus; forgiven, we are a new creation, free of guilt and accusation by this same Spirit.  Here’s why we preach repentance and forgiveness, and here is why faith comes with repentance and forgiveness: It is the Spirit of eternal life at work, wedding us to the risen body of Jesus, flesh of His flesh.

LET US PRAY: God, You have taken me to be Your own, for better or for worse, in richer and in poorer, in sickness and in health, and not even death can part us.  Forgive me for my wandering heart and ways; for I trust You to be as You have promised, merciful and kind forever; in Jesus’ name.  Amen

Pr. Steven K. Gjerde

Zion, Wausau

Devotional for Labor Day Weekend 2018

Devotional for Labor Day weekend, September 2, 2018, based upon Luke 5: 1-11

I have heard that one-third of all Americans say that they hate their job. According to many, the worst part is the commute. Many feel that they are working in the wrong career. Many who have found success in their employment say that they have not also found – or no longer find – satisfaction.

In Luke 5 Jesus has a word for frustrated and unfulfilled workers. As Jesus is preaching, Simon Peter, Andrew, James, and John are cleaning their nets. As the crowd grows, Jesus has an idea. He gets into one of the boats, the one belonging to Peter, and asks Peter to put out a little way from the shore. Then He sits down and teaches the crowd from the boat. Jesus does not ask Peter if He can use his boat. He simply gets into the boat, asks Peter to put out a little bit from the shore, and then starts using Peter’s boat as a pulpit. Jesus can do that because all boats belong to Jesus. Your boat – my boat – Peter’s boat – everybody’s boat. All boats belong to Jesus.

Your boat is wherever and however you spend your day, making a living and living your life. Your boat is the office you work in, the classroom you teach in, the department you manage, the family you feed and drive around, the things you volunteer for. All that is your boat. On this Labor Day weekend Jesus is tapping you on the shoulder because He wants you to give Him your boat.

And so Luke 5 tells us that when Jesus finished speaking, He says to Peter, “Put out into the deep water and let down your nets for a catch.” Peter answers Him, “Master, we have worked all night long but have caught nothing. Yet, if you say so, I will let down the nets.”

Who can blame Peter? His shoulders ache. The nets are put away. A midmorning fishing expedition has no appeal – especially after a fishless night. And yet he complies. In full daylight and in full sight of the crowd, he dips the oars into the water and hoists the sail.

Somewhere out in the middle of the lake, Jesus gives the signal to drop the nets. And when they do, they catch so many fish that their nets begin to break. They signal their partners in another boat to come and help them. They come and fill both boats so full that the boats begin to sink.

So here they are – Peter and his partners standing knee deep in fish. The size of the catch nearly sinking both boats. What is the message here?

Some would say, Take Jesus to work with you and you will get rich. The presence of Jesus should guarantee more sales, bigger bonuses, longer vacations, and earlier retirement. With Jesus in your boat you will be able to go from Galilean fishing to Caribbean cruising.

But that is not the message that Peter got. Surrounded by fish, Peter does not see dollar signs. Rather he sees his Lord. Mighty enough to control the seas. Compassionate and kind enough to help a very frustrated fisherman.

Suppose you do what Peter did and take Jesus to work with you and to wherever else you go. Jesus showed Peter where to cast the nets. Let Jesus show you where and how to do your work. Let Jesus be the reason you do your work. Because, you see, everything changes when you give Jesus your boat.

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Devotional for August 26, 2018

Devotional for August 26, 2018 based upon Ephesians 6: 10-20

One person said, “When I became a follower of Jesus, I thought that everything would be smooth sailing and that nothing would rock my boat. Since then I have found that becoming a Christian is actually like enlisting in the army. There is a battle going on.”

Yes, according to the Bible, there is a battle going on. There is an entire spiritual world that would like to bring you down. Satan is a real being, who has been roaming the earth since the Garden of Eden. And he is effective. So what kind of a position does that put us in? According to Ephesians 6, we are engaged in a life-and-death struggle against all the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

Spiritual warfare is going on all around us. You do not need to look any further than the recent ELCA youth gathering to realize that there is a battle going on, including for the hearts and lives of young people. Satan, our enemy is real, powerful, deadly, dangerous, and devious. But, thank God, his power is limited and he is defeated. When our Lord Jesus Christ died on the cross and rose from the dead, He won the decisive, turning point battle against Satan. But now, like a mortally wounded animal, which knows that it is dying, Satan wants to take us down as he goes down.

Because we have an enemy, we have been given armor. But it is critical that we wear that armor. Paul was in a Roman prison at the time of his writing. He was at least being guarded by, if not actually chained to, a Roman soldier. I can see him looking at the various pieces of the soldier’s armor as he is writing his letter to the church at Ephesus, telling them about what God has given them to put on.

First, the BELT OF TRUTH. Truth is like a belt that holds everything else in place. One of the things that was most disturbing about the recent ELCA youth gathering is the number of lies that were spread about human sexuality as well as the fact that the traditional view of human sexuality was called a lie.

Second, the BREASTPLATE OF RIGHTEOUSNESS. Like a bullet-proof vest, the breastplate protected the body from the neck to the thighs. Most importantly, it protected the heart. Are we sufficiently disturbed by the attack on Biblical heart-values that was made at the recent youth gathering?

Third, the SHOES OF THE GOSPEL OF PEACE. In battle you need a good pair of shoes to keep you balanced and confident and able to move quickly. So a soldier put on a good pair of boots, to assure him of a good grip. The Roman soldier’s shoes also made him able to march over the toughest of terrain. If young people do not have a close relationship with God, how will they be able to endure the tough circumstances of life?

Fourth, the SHIELD OF FAITH. The Roman soldier covered his shield with animal hide, which could put out flaming arrows before they could destroy his shield. If young people are not given Biblical truth, they will not have a faith that even Satan – with all his flaming darts of accusations and doubts – cannot destroy.

Fifth, the HELMET OF SALVATION. Who would be foolish enough to go into battle without a helmet to protect the head, brain, and central nervous system? So why would anyone go to war against Satan without the helmet of salvation to protect their thought life? Are we sufficiently disturbed by the attack on the thought life of the young people who attended the recent ELCA youth gathering?

Sixth, the SWORD OF THE SPIRIT, WHICH IS THE WORD OF GOD. With the sword of the Spirit, we can keep Satan at bay, just like Jesus did. Every time Satan tempted Jesus, He responded with the exact same answer, “Devil, it is written!” He kept on hitting him – and hitting him hard – with the same three words, “It is written! It is written! It is written!” until, bloody and beaten, Satan had to flee. How can we hope that young people will be able to repel Satan if they do not know, and if they have been taught to doubt and place less value upon, the Bible as the Word of God?

The armor will do us no good if we do not put it on. And we need to put it on and learn to use it before we need it. It is much more difficult to put on your armor after the battle begins.

After they shoot the gun, it is too late to put on the bullet-proof vest. In the same way, after Satan stabs you in your heart values, it is too late to put on the breastplate of righteousness. After you smash your toe on the circumstances of life, it is too late to put on the shoes of the Gospel. After Satan shoots a flaming arrow of despair at you, it is too late to pick up the shield of faith. After Satan knocks you in the head with a club of doubt, it is too late to put on the helmet of salvation. And after Satan starts swinging at you, it is too late to figure out how to use the Sword of the Spirit. Put your armor on today, and learn how to use the weapons today – before another temptation comes or another tragedy strikes.

And then one more thing. Even with our armor on, we still need an ally. So Paul concludes this passage by telling us that the Lord Himself is our ally and we have access to Him and His power through prayer.

It’s not just the armor. It’s also who is on our side, as well as whose side we are on. Whose side are you on? Are you fighting in the battle, or have you gone AWOL, hoping that someone else will fight the battle for you?

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Food for the Weary Way

“And he asked that he might die, saying, ‘It is enough; now, O Lord, take away my life, for I am no better than my fathers.’ And he lay down and slept under a broom tree. And behold, an angel touched him and said to him, ‘Arise and eat.’”  (1 Kings 19:4b-5)

Elijah had good reason to prefer death to life.  Hated, hunted, and doubtful, he figured that he was the last prophet of God in Israel.  He felt as you and I may sometimes feel: alone, dispirited, and failed.

Yet then God granted him sleep, as God grants to all His beloved (Psalm 127:2), and the good angel came with good words: “Arise and eat.”  God cared for His own, as a shepherd cares for His sheep.  He comforted Elijah not only with physical nourishment but also with His own, merciful and divine fellowship.

Here is the God who greets you in Jesus Christ.  “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  “Take, eat.  Take, drink.”  With such tender words He nourishes and raises us up, too.  Though we may feel sorry for ourselves, He has a journey for us to walk.  Though we may mark ourselves for dead, He marks us for life.  Come to Him; rest in His arms; eat and drink His Supper; then rise, and be on your way.

LET US PRAY: Lord, feed me.  I’m hungry, and I’m not smart enough to know what food is best.  Nourish me with Your bread of life, and send me on the way of life.  Amen

Pastor Steven K. Gjerde

Zion, Wausau


Devotional for August 19, 2018

Devotional for August 19, 2018 based upon Ephesians 5: 15-20

In six verses the apostle Paul describes proper behavior for good living. He tells us to be careful how we live, and then he gives us three things that we must do. Be wise, be sober, and be thankful. It is a short list. But if we would just live our lives around these three things – being wise, being sober, and being thankful – what a difference that would make.

First, BE WISE. Paul says, “Be careful then how you live, not as unwise people but as wise, making the most of every opportunity.”

Wisdom. How do you gain wisdom? The Biblical author James says that if we ask God for the gift of wisdom, He will be more than happy to give it to us. But, as usual, we need to be careful what we ask for, because God usually gives the gift of wisdom not immediately, but instead over a long period of time. We cannot download the gift of wisdom. There is no app that we can add to our cell phones so that we can immediately have the gift of wisdom. Rather people usually gain wisdom only over time – from many hard knocks, by learning from many mistakes, and through many tough experiences in life.

Paul says, “Making the most of every opportunity.” If we are not careful, we will miss out on many good opportunities. What good opportunities have you missed out on? What good opportunities are you missing out on right now? Every day we are bombarded with choices. We need the gift of wisdom to make the right and best choices.

And then Paul tell us why we need to be wise and to make the most of every opportunity. “Because the days are evil.” Wise people know that there is much evil and many evil influences and evil influencers in the world. Wise people have the ability to judge and discern and they will choose what is true, right, lasting, and good. Wise people will seek to live according to the will of God.

Second, BE SOBER. Paul says, “Do not get drunk with wine, for that is debauchery; but be filled with the Spirit.”

The Bible is not against drinking alcohol. It was not grape juice, but wine, that Jesus made out of water at the wedding in Cana of Galilee. The same apostle who told the Ephesians not to get drunk also told his young friend Timothy to drink not just water, but also a little wine, because of his many health, including stomach, ailments. And at one of the most holy times in the life of our Lord Jesus – at the Last Supper – wine was served, and Jesus was the one who served it.

A little alcohol is not a bad thing, but people can make it into a bad thing. They can fill their lives with it. They can drown in its power. Paul tells us instead of filling our bodies with wine, to fill our lives with the Holy Spirit. For if we do, we will have life and we will have it abundantly.

Third, BE THANKFUL. Paul says, “Sing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs among yourselves, singing and making melody to the Lord in your hearts, giving thanks to God the Father at all times and for everything in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

Reminds me of the story of the man who went to his rabbi and complained, “Life is unbearable. There are nine of us living in one room. What can we do?” The old rabbi thought about it for a moment and then replied, “Bring your goat into the room with you.” The man was incredulous, but the rabbi insisted, “Bring your goat into the room with you. Do as I say and then come back in a week.” A week later the man came back looking even more distraught. “We cannot stand it,” he told the rabbi. “The goat is absolutely filthy.” The rabbi told him, “Now go back home and take the goat out, and then come back in a week.” A week later the man came back looking radiant. He explained to the rabbi, “Life is beautiful. We enjoy every moment of it – now that the goat is back outside and there are only nine of us in the house.”

It’s all a matter of perspective, isn’t it? We can be grateful, or we can be bitter. We can seek wisdom, or we can live as fools. We can be sober and learn what the will of the Lord is, or we can fill ourselves with wine.

It’s all a matter of how we live. We receive the consequences – the results – of the way we live. So Paul tells us, “Be careful how you live.”

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Devotional for August 12, 2018

Devotional for August 12, 2018 based upon John 6: 35, 41-51

Every culture on earth has some form of bread, be it bagels, biscuits, baguettes, tortillas, pita, matza, or even lefsa. People get together to “break bread.” In the Arabic language the word for bread is the word for life. Bread is basic to life. It sustains, nourishes, draws people together, and both tastes and smells good. So much so that it can help you sell your house if you bake some bread soon before someone comes over to look at your house.

That is what Jesus was saying when He said, “I am the bread of life.” Jesus is essential to life. Everything that bread represents – sustenance, relationship, goodness, and delight – Jesus claims that He is.

Notice that Jesus did not say, “I can give you the true bread from heaven.” Rather He said, “I am the true bread from heaven.” “You can live without manna, Moses, and religion, but you cannot live without Me.”

And that’s what makes Jesus’ claim so outrageous for many people. That’s why it became such a problem for the crowd. Jesus was telling them that He is more important than anything else in life. That was more than the crowd could take. That is why many stopped following Him.

There is no middle ground with Jesus. You either stone Him or you serve Him. You either receive Him and revere Him or you reject Him. You either follow Him or you turn away.

The people in the crowd that day were impressed by the miracles of Jesus. They also admired the teachings of Jesus. But they did not want to have to admit that they needed Jesus. They would rather have manna. They would rather have a list of rules. They would rather be religious than to have to be in a relationship with Jesus.

And many people today stumble over the same thing. They would like to experience the miracles of Jesus. They admire and would like themselves and other people – especially their children – to live according to the teachings of Jesus. But they would rather take their chances and try to do it by themselves than to have to admit that they need Jesus.

Every time we come forward to receive communion, we confess that we need Jesus. We admit our need for a relationship with Jesus. We are saying that we cannot live without Jesus – in this life and in the life to come.

Maybe we do not fully understand the nature of our need and how it works. But we know we need something that we cannot provide for ourselves. We cannot obtain it in any other way except to come forward and receive it.

Jesus is the bread of life. We cannot earn it, buy it, work for it, or come to the point of deserving it. All we can do is to receive it as we believe in the one whom God has sent.

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Devotional for August 5, 2018

Devotional for August 5, 2018 based upon Exodus 16: 2-4, 9-15

There was a song we used to sing when I was growing up entitled “Trust and Obey.” The words of the chorus went like this –
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way
To be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.”

The story of God’s giving His people manna is a story of learning to trust and obey. God provided each day enough manna for that day. They could not hoard or stockpile manna, for any they did not eat that day would spoil by the following day. They had to trust that the God who provided enough manna for each day every day up until today will also provide for tomorrow. They had to learn to trust.

And they also had to learn to obey. On the sixth day, Friday, they were told to gather enough manna for two days, for there would not be any manna on the seventh day, Saturday. But, as is typical of human nature, Exodus 16 tells us that there were some people who did not obey. On Friday they did not collect enough manna for two days. On Saturday, they went out looking for manna, but they found none.

Exodus 16: 21 says, “Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed.” Reminds me of the words to another song –
“Morning by morning new mercies I see.
All I have needed Thy hand has provided.
Great is Thy faithfulness, Lord, unto me.”

Do you trust God that He will take care of you and provide for you? Or do you wonder if the One who has brought you this far might let you down now? Do you trust, and do you obey?

There is no other way to be happy in Jesus than to trust and obey.

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Devotional for July 29, 2018

Devotional for July 29, 2018 based upon John 6: 1-21

Those were the first words out of my mouth when I tried to find a document that I wanted to work on. About a minute before I had been unable to access the files on my flash drive. A window came up on my computer, which said, “Click here to scan and repair.” I clicked there, but instead of scanning and repairing, it erased everything on my flash drive.

Now fortunately I do have paper copies of most everything on my flash drive. I am one of those digital-later-in-life people who do not totally trust computers, so I make sure I have paper copies of almost everything. And on my computer’s hard drive I had earlier versions of most of the documents – just not the final version. But most fortunately of all, I remembered that most of the documents that I still wanted I had sent to someone else. I could retrieve them from “Sent” emails. I still had them because I had sent them. I had them because I had given them away.

The pastor of one of the churches where I attended when I was in seminary once told of his brother, who also was a pastor. His home office suffered a terrible fire. All of his books, and all of his sermon files, were destroyed. Fortunately, he had made a habit of mailing copies of his sermons to family and friends. After the tragic fire he said, “The only sermons I had left were the ones I had given away.”

The feeding of the five thousand must have made such an impression upon the disciples, because all four Gospels record it. But only John’s Gospel tells us where the five loaves and two fish came from. According to John 6: 8-9, one of the disciples, Andrew, who (as always) is called Simon Peter’s brother, said to Jesus, “There is a boy here who has five barley loaves and two fish. But what are they among so many people?”

What if the boy had not given Jesus his lunch? Five thousand people would not have been fed, and we would never have heard of him and the story of his generous giving because of his deep faith and trust in Jesus.

We have all heard it said, “The purpose of an apple is not just to produce an apple tree. The purpose of an apple is to produce a whole orchard of apple trees.” If every apple – indeed, every apple seed – has within it the potential to produce a whole orchard of apple trees. If that kind of expansion and multiplication from one seed to a whole orchard or field is something that we can see, then why should it surprise us – why should we doubt – that Jesus is able to speed up the process of making a small amount into something great? Something small – given in faith and trust and obedience to Jesus – becomes enough. In fact, it becomes more than enough. The disciples gathered up twelve baskets full of leftovers. They had more left over at the end than what they had when they first began.

The apostle Paul wrote to the Philippians, “My God will fully satisfy every need of yours according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus” (4: 19).

Like the boy, we may only have five loaves and two fish. Like Andrew, we may wonder, “What are they among so many?” The needs are so great, and what I have to offer is so small.

But, like the boy, we can trust Jesus. Like the boy, we can give what we have. We can give generously from what God has given to us. For God is able to supply our needs. God is able to take what we give and then bless it, multiply it, and make it do more than it ever would have done if we had held on to it for ourselves.

Like the Israelites who tried to collect more than enough manna, we will find that hoarding stinks. Like the boy who gave his lunch, we will find that what we give to Jesus, He will make it into more than enough. Like the pastor and his sermons – like myself with the documents on my flash drive, we will find that we only are really able to keep what we give away.

What do you have to give – what will you give to Jesus?

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE

Dancing for the Right Reason

“And [King Herod] vowed to her, ‘Whatever you ask me, I will give you, up to half of my kingdom.’”  (Mark 6:23)


Half a kingdom: that’s all that Herod was willing to offer.  And even for that half-kingdom, his wife’s daughter had to please him with a dance.  Do you see how different your Lord is?

Your Lord doesn’t give you a half-kingdom but a whole kingdom, and for this great gift He doesn’t even require a song and dance.  Your Lord gives you His kingdom for His own sake.

The resurrection of the body, the hope everlasting, the daily joy, the forgiveness and mercy, the favor of the Father, the fellowship of the Church, the life to live, the death that is but a sleep, the new creation that comes with Jesus—all these things are yours, not because you pleased your king, but because your King died for you.

Now there’s a reason to dance!

LET US PRAY: Almighty Lord and King, Your gifts so far exceed all that I can imagine that I tend to forget them, or at least, to forget their magnitude.  Help me to remember the great mercy that You have shown me, and to be awed by it, that I may ever praise and delight in You; for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

Pastor Steven K. Gjerde

Zion, Wausau



Devotional for July 22, 2018

Devotional for July 22, 2018 based upon Mark 6: 30-34, 53-56

How do you handle interruptions? I would have to confess that during my early years in ministry I did not handle interruptions well. I had so many meetings that I was attending, so many Bible studies that I was leading, and so much programming that I was coordinating that I did not have time for interruptions. So when someone had a crisis, was facing surgery, or was approaching death, I did not realize that this was a unique opportunity to provide ministry and to bring Christ into their lives. Rather I wondered how I would now be able to also handle this situation, with everything else that I needed to handle.

It was only over time that I learned that I needed to build margin into my life. I needed margin in my financial life, so that I would be ready for unexpected expenses. I needed margin in my emotional life, so that I would be able to handle unexpected crisis. And I needed margin in my schedule, so that I would be able to respond well to the special opportunities for ministry that arise in the daily life of a pastor.

I have always been deeply moved by the way in which Jesus handled interruptions, such as in our Gospel lesson for this coming Sunday. Mark 6 tells us that the disciples had just returned from their first experience at being on mission. They were eager to tell Jesus about everything that they had seen, done, and taught. Jesus said, “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Jesus knew that they needed time away – time alone with Him – to process what they had just experienced. For Mark tells us that they were so busy, that they did not even have time to eat. I know that for me, if I am too busy to eat, I am too busy.

And so they went away by themselves in a boat to a deserted place. But the crowds saw where they were going and got there ahead of them. When Jesus and the disciples arrived at the location where they had hoped to be alone, they saw that the crowds were already there. The crowds were interrupting them and their plans. But rather than being annoyed, Jesus had compassion for them and began to teach them many things. This then also became the occasion for the feeding of the five thousand.

Here Jesus has given us a powerful example of how to view and respond to interruptions. Not as annoyances. Not as a foul up to our personal plans. But as a special opportunity to provide ministry.

How do you view and handle interruptions? May we all be like Jesus in every way, including in the way in which we view and handle interruptions.

Dennis D. Nelson
President of the Board and Director of Lutheran CORE