GO Therefore: What on earth am I here for?

“What on earth am I here for?” This is a great question. It invites us to deeply reflect on an important part of what it means to be human. It invites us to deeply reflect on our purpose and what makes our life meaningful and worth living.

It’s also a question that, when left unanswered, can bring up all kinds of insecurities, anxieties, and even fears. Left without an answer to this question, we can easily drift into one of the greatest existential crises of our time: meaninglessness. And without meaning, our lives can seem fairly bleak.

There are a lot of ways a person could answer this question for themselves. Those who confess some sort of faith often look to that faith for answers. I would argue that even those who confess no faith are often answering the question in “religious” ways, even if those “religious” ways don’t speak of a deity or use typically spiritual words. These big human and religious questions will be asked and answered, whether we confess a god or not.

For Christians, answering the question, “what on earth am I here for?” means looking to Jesus, the Bible, and our own experiences of grace. The Bible reveals God’s story and invites us to reflect on our own stories in light of the character of God we read there. God most clearly shows us who God is through the person of Jesus. Jesus healed the sick, fed the hungry, cared for orphans and widows, spent time with society’s outcasts, and criticized the legalistic religious zealots, not to mention the many miracles he performed as signs of what God’s kingdom has the power to do.

Again, for Christians, answering the question, “what on earth am I here for?” means looking to Jesus, what he did and how he behaved. We do our best to imitate these things, knowing that we cannot do them perfectly, or even very well sometimes. The old, slightly worn-out phrase, “What Would Jesus Do?” tells us at least a little bit about what we’re here for.

In our own Christian tradition, Lutheranism, we’ve attempted to live out this purpose in big, impactful ways. Lutherans have sought to provide solid education for nearly 500 years. In fact, Lutherans have a history of being some of the most vocal supporters of educating girls as well as we have educated boys. Lutherans have histories of parochial schools, colleges and universities. We’ve also established hospitals, often caring for people who may never be able to pay for their medical bills. We’ve created organizations like Lutheran Social Services, assisting with mentoring, counseling, financial counseling, fostering, adoption, and refugee resettlement. When Lutherans answer the question, “what on earth am I here for?” we often answer it in big ways that model after the person of Jesus.

However, Jesus is not simply a model for how to behave and answering the question isn’t only about things that we should do. “What on earth am I here for?” has its root in a bigger human question, “Who am I? Or, even more accurate, whose am I?” As a Christian, I believe that not only have I claimed God, but God has claimed me. I am a child of God. This is who and “whose” I am.

Every night when I tuck my kids into bed we trace the shape of a cross on each other’s foreheads with our index finger and say, “You are a child of God.” This simple action is also rooted in these questions, “who and whose am I?” I am a child of God because of Jesus; and even more importantly, because of what Jesus did on the cross. What he did was not glamourous. It does not look like a victory. But it does look a lot like how he lived: sacrificial, giving, humble, meek, and mild. Jesus humbled himself and died on the cross, and by doing so claimed me as his own.

The world wants me to be something and someone else. As an example, the economy wants me to be a consumer; and by extension, the question of what I am here for is answered by how much I have to spend. The government wants me to be a citizen; and again, by extension, the question of what I am here for is answered by how loyal I am to the state.

The world will always try to tell you what you are here for. The world will always try to define who you are and what you should be doing. The big human and religious questions will always be answered, whether we’ve thought about them or not. They will be answered for us if we do not answer them for ourselves.

I’d love to invite you to consider these big questions. Don’t let the state or the economy or anything or anyone else ask and answer these questions for you. Consider the questions, “What on earth am I hear for?” And, “Who am I?” And even, “Whose am I?” Stem the tide of that existential crisis our world is facing by answering these questions for yourselves. And join me in answering them in a specifically Christian way. It has brought a whole lot of meaning and purpose to my life and I know it will yours, as well.

Pentecost 2018
Pastor Chris Zuraff


GO Therefore: Be Good for Something

“…be not simply good; be good for something.” Henry David Thoreau

Our mission team from Gloria Dei Lutheran Church returned from Nicaragua a little over a week ago now. It was yet again a faith forming and faith transforming experience. Most trips like this are if you approach them with the understanding that God is already there and already at work ahead of you.

 
For me, the most impactful parts of these trips are the human connections we make. The scenery is certainly beautiful; active and inactive volcanoes stand like sentinels over the fragile landscape. New-to-me trees, grasses, bushes, flowers, and row crops pepper the fields. Free-ranging hens, roosters that can’t seem to tell midnight from dawn, sturdy oxen, gaunt-looking cattle, and tiny geckos are a part of daily life. The birds make different sounds than I’m used to, often mocking me with their familiarity of the warm, blue skies. Meanwhile, I stare up at the sun, which seems to be so strange when I am that close to the equator. Or maybe it seems strange because I am the stranger there.
 
We definitely are the strangers when we travel to Nicaragua. But not unwelcome, even in these days. Familiar faces from past trips are always bright with welcoming smiles, but so are the faces of those we don’t know. Our loud and clumsy Spanish is often met with gratitude because at least we tried to speak the language. We’re never told to go back where we came from, we’re never met with angry or disapproving stares. Instead, we are greeted with a hearty “¡bienvenidos!” or “buen dia.” The welcome feels genuine, sincere, and authentic; all the things I wish Americans could be for those who are visiting or emigrating from another country. The people are warm and friendly human beings who desire real connection with us.
 
Like I said, the humans are the best part of the trip for me. We do medical mission work on our Nicaragua trip. It’s one way that we connect with these beautiful human beings. But it’s not the only way. Believe me when I say that there is plenty to do for those of us who have no medical training. There are young men to joke around with, young women to cook beside, children to sing with, babies to hold, and old women who need someone to sit near them. There are anxious hands to hold, toothbrushes and combs to distribute, and crying toddlers to console. The human connections are so rich, and fruitful, and blessed.
 
The connections are blessed, I believe, because it’s in those connections 
that we meet Jesus. “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” Jesus said. Jesus also said, “Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me, welcomes the one who sent me.” And once, on Mount Olivet east of Jerusalem, Jesus was teaching his disciples about feeding the hungry, welcoming the stranger, and visiting the sick. Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Jesus is there in the human connections. For me, that is the most impactful part of mission trips.
 
Because I do things like mission and outreach work, some people have called me a good person. Those a little bit closer to me, my family or my coworkers for example, know the truth. Yet, Christ forgives me for those times when I fall short of being the good person I ought to be; and then Jesus calls me to do something with that newfound forgiveness. More than good, I am called to be good for something. And that’s what faith in Christ calls us to when we go on trips like this. Come join us sometime!
 
Let’s GO!
Pastor Chris Zuraff
Gloria Dei Lutheran Church, Sioux Falls, SD


GO Therefore: Reaching Out Right Where You Are

Hello Gloria Dei!
 
I’ve been wanting to write about this for a long time. It’s been on my mind for nearly a year, so it’s about time to get it down on some of that “pixelated paper.” I’ve been thinking a lot about my own call to serve God as a pastor of the church and what that means in the long run. I know what I’m expected to do day-to-day. I have my to-do lists, my agenda items, my never-ending pile of unanswered emails, and my overflowing calendar of meetings. These tasks could keep me busy every day for the rest of my life. But not all of these things are what I’m called to. Not all of these things match up with the gifts God has given me, the time God has allotted me, the passion God has stirred in me. Some of these things, left undone by me, would be just fine on their own. Or they might get done by someone else more called, more passionate, and definitely more efficient than me.
 
One thing I’ve learned in serving the church is that I am not called to do everything. And neither are you. God has given each of us different gifts, different allotted amounts of time, and different passions. God has not made us all the same, put us in the same positions, or expected that we will be exactly alike. You are not called to serve God in the same way I am. Not everyone is made to be a pastor. And I am certainly not made to be a nurse, or a teacher, or a stay at home parent!
 
We are each called to serve God in unique ways. As pastor of Mission and Outreach, I know I probably sound like an old, broken record asking you to donate things like toothbrushes and Macaroni and Cheese or to sign up to volunteer at various ministries. But I know that not all of you will serve in the same way. You are uniquely called, gifted, and passionate people of God. You have your own calling, in your own ways.
 
At Gloria Dei, my call is to help you fulfill your own calling from God. My call is to encourage you to live out your unique calling through whatever gifts, time, and passions God has given you. We offer lots of ways to do that at Gloria Dei. Global mission work, local mission work, service right here at church, donating items for projects we have going on, financial donations, and many more.
 
I would encourage you to pray about your unique calling. Talk about it with your spouse, your friends, and your pastors. Look to Scripture for God to speak to you about what it is you might be feeling called to. I would encourage you to keep an open mind and heart about it, to really challenge yourself to perhaps see some new places or ways to serve. You might think you can’t serve for this reason or that reason. But maybe you can.
 
For some of you, this will mean heading to Nicaragua or joining us on Sunday, February 25th at 11:30am to dream about another global mission trip. For others this will mean serving right here in Sioux Falls at Food to You, or the Banquet, or St. Francis House. For still others it will mean  delivering Meals on Wheels, or quilting, or donating         toothbrushes and toothpaste and combs. For many of you, it will mean giving to the Outreach Ministry of the Month in your green offering envelops or electronically.
 
Whatever way God is calling you, we want to help you live that out. I firmly believe that God can use you right where you are. I firmly believe that you can reach out right where you are. So, where is that? I’d love to help you find that out.
 
Let’s GO Gloria Dei!
Pastor Chris

 



GO Therefore: Consumers or Participants?

Consumers or Participants?

The word, “church” has taken on a dangerous connotation over the years. Church has been misunderstood to be the place where we go when we want to hear God talked about. Church is misunderstood to be the place where we go to take in all of the religious offerings that have been produced for us. Church is misunderstood to be a marketplace where we sample and consume the things that please our religious palates and sensibilities. Church, at least for a large portion of our society, has been misunderstood to be the manufacturer of religious goods and services for the sake of our consumption.

This is not the church. YOU are the church. Church is not the building, not the programs, and most certainly not the paid professionals! You are the church on earth, the body of Christ in the world, His hands and feet.

Americans have been conditioned to consume by our economic, political, and societal forces. Everything in American life is here to be bought, sold, or consumed. We’ve been taught that if we want something we have to work for it, and if we work hard enough we can have whatever we want. This is a dangerous mindset for the church because it means that while we are sitting back waiting for someone to produce our religious goods and services, we are ignoring the call of Jesus to be His presence in the world. We are ignoring the great treasure, gift, and responsibility to go into all the world, baptizing and teaching in the name of Jesus.

Jesus does not call us to be consumers but active participants in the world He is creating. This world Jesus wants to create is a world of peace, kindness, compassion, humility, justice, grace, hope, and love, among many other good things. These are not collectables or trinkets consumed in a sermon and taken home from church, only to be shelved in the dusty curio cabinets of the human heart. These are actions because, “faith is active in love,” as St. Paul talks about in his letter to the Galatians.

We, who are members of Christ’s body, members of His church, are not consumers of religion. We are active participants of the faith. We don’t come to church, we are the church. And Christ has called us to be the church in the world.

With all of that in mind, while I may have the title of Associate Pastor of Mission and Outreach, I am not called here to produce religious goods and services for your consumption. Instead, I am called here to constantly speak Christ’s word of forgiveness and freedom so that God actually sends you out into His world with in love and service to those in need. I am no more of a professional in ministry than you are. Gloria Dei members, you already know this. You know this deep in your bones. It’s part of your DNA as a mission-start congregation in Sioux Falls. It’s simply built in here and it’s so amazing to see it all in action!

I’m excited that many members of Gloria Dei are already actively organizing and planning mission and outreach opportunities, not for your consumption, but for your participation. We’re creating a network of people at Gloria Dei that want to shake of the consumer mindset of religion and want to follow Christ’s call to be active participants in this holy work. We hope you’ll join us!

Let’s GO Gloria Dei!

Pastor Chris Zuraff


GO Therefore: Food to You – Ukrainian Refugees in Sioux Falls?

Food to You – Ukrainian Refugees in Sioux Falls?

Back in mid-September, Gloria Dei members and friends had the chance to volunteer with a mobile food pantry called Food to You. On this particular Thursday night, Food to You was being hosted by Messiah New Hope Lutheran Church just to the north of Gloria Dei on the east side of Sioux Falls.

A number of volunteers busily prepared for the 100 or so families we expected to meet that night. Pallets full of fresh vegetables donated by POET, frozen meat donated by Feeding South Dakota, and fresh bread donated by Brake Bread ministries and area bakeries were sorted and prepped for distribution. As the families arrived, the room full of volunteers turned into a room full of smiles and friendly faces. Gloria Dei members greeted each family with dignity and grace and the love of Jesus. It was amazing.

I learned something interesting that night: Sioux Falls is home to a fairly significant population of Ukrainian refugees. Refugees, as many of you already know, are people who have fled their home country due to some sort of violence or oppression beyond their control. Many of these particular refugees began arriving in the U.S. in the early 2000’s. Some have landed in Sioux Falls.

My role the evening of Food to You was to help carry the boxes stuffed with food for each family. Carts were provided and we wheeled the heavy boxes out to some not-so-road-worthy vehicles. In spite of the condition of the vehicles, the attitudes of each guest were attitudes of gratefulness and joy. I spent a number of my trips in and out of the building walking along side of and visiting with Ukrainian refugee families. I was fascinated by their stories. They fled Ukraine seeking refugee from the communist regime and the threat of war in Ukraine and Russia. They came to America seeking the promise of freedom. They are hardworking people with that elusive American dream and they were so grateful to have a little extra help with food to make it through the week.

The next day, as I was scrolling through Facebook, I came across an Argus Leader news story about a Ukrainian couple who had settled in Sioux Falls and opened a tailoring business on east 26

th

street. Some of you may recognize the business as Olga’s, across the street from the Cherry Creek Grill and Bagel Boy. Check out the story here:

http://www.argusleader.com/story/news/2017/09/15/becoming-south-dakotan-immigration-and-citizenship-stories/667066001/

Wanting to know more, I did a Google search and found this article from Lutheran Social Services of South Dakota. It does a good job of covering why these refugees have fled, check it out:

https://lsssdblog.wordpress.com/2014/03/26/nobody-wants-war-hearing-from-ukrainian-refugees-and-immigrants-in-sioux-falls/

Many stories, like those of these incredible Ukrainian families, are the stories of people we get the chance to meet when we participate in mission and outreach through Gloria Dei. I’d love to have you join us sometime. Come for the good feelings that serving brings; stay for the amazing relationships we get to make with God’s children all across Sioux Falls, South Dakota, and around the world!

Let’s GO Gloria Dei!

Pastor Chris


GO Therefore: The Rest of the Story

Church on the Street – The Rest of the Story

So much of what happens with mission and outreach takes place out of Gloria Dei’s view. We know about the ministry, hear it being promoted in worship, and see the lists of people responding to volunteer, but we often don’t hear the rest of the story. Those of you who’ve participated in this great ministry can attest to the sometimes powerful impacts it has, not only on those we serve, but on us especially. September seemed to be a great month for mission and outreach ministry. There was a TON of stuff going on.

There were several pretty incredible, impactful connections for those who had the opportunity to participate. One of the most powerful moments for me took place when a few of us gathered to worship with Church on the Street. Church on the Street, or COTS, is the South Dakota Synod’s newest worshipping community. They worship right in the heart of Sioux Falls, but not in a church building. Mission developer, Rebel Hurd, quite literally brings the church to the street. One Saturday in early September, a few Gloria Dei members gathered for worship with Rebel and the good people of COTS. As we arrived, Rebel excitedly shared with us some big news for the day: we were going to have not one, but THREE baptisms (thanks to the Spirit, later in the morning we added a fourth)!

Rebel leaned in as she spoke and said in a hushed, almost crackling voice, “the story of this baptism is amazing.” As she continued, Rebel shared with us that one of the baptisms was a newborn baby girl. COTS was throwing a baby shower for the family after worship that day. The newborn girl and her mother had a powerful story. Rebel shared that the mother was staying in one of the shelters in Sioux Falls before the baby was born. When it came time for the baby to be delivered, the mother went to a Sioux Falls hospital. The baby was delivered without complication and everyone was thankful. Two days later, the hospital discharged the mother and newborn; however, it was late evening. The shelter where the mother had been staying closed their doors at 8pm. After a few panicked phone calls the mother was told she would not be allowed to stay in the shelter for the night. The newborn baby girl slept underneath the coat of her mother in a park her first night out of the hospital.

It was a gripping story, powerful enough to move us to tears as we welcomed the child into the Lord’s family that Saturday morning. Just like always, the Spirit showed up in the water and the Word that day, but this time it seemed to mean even more than usual. It was a gift to be witnesses and participants in worship that day. Church on the Street is the kind of ministry that you, Gloria Dei, help to support. Thank you. There are always lots of ways to get involved with ministries like this at Gloria Dei. Keep your eyes on our webpage: https://www.gloriadei-sd.org/go-therefore

Let’s GO Gloria Dei!

Pastor Chris


GO Therefore: September 19, 2017

I took the summer off from writing and keeping up with this blog. It was a nice bit of Sabbath rest, allowing for reflection on my first year of ministry here at Gloria Dei. Summer was a great time to vacation and spend days off with my wife and children. But let’s be honest, when you have kids, you look forward to the regular routine of school again!

As things have begun kicking off here at Gloria Dei again this fall, I’ve been actively working together with many of you to plan and lead mission and outreach opportunities locally, around the state, and across the world. It’s been exciting work and I am thankful for God leading every step of the way. Let’s be honest again, without the leadership of the Spirit, none of this would happen. We have an amazing God who is constantly out ahead of us preparing the way for us.

Already, planning has begun for our trip to Nicaragua. As is often the case with international missions, there is a lot in flux. Many of the moving parts that were in place last year have since moved and changed. Our missionary, Sergio, has taken a call to teach and work in the Lutheran church in Germany. We are thankful for his partnership and know that God is there ahead of him, calling him to that ministry now. As we work to figure out how God will provide for our trip to Nicaragua this coming February, I’ve also spent time reflecting back on last year’s trip. The following is an entry from a journal I kept both in country and the weeks following.

“One of the last days in Nicaragua, our medical mission team gathered in the home of an old maid. Our group of tired, sweaty Americans jumped quickly from the yellow bus. Even our smell disrupted the pastoral, idyllic scene in the small village we had abruptly entered. The old maid’s home housed a beautiful kitchen. A stone oven fired in the corner, billowing black smoke from the wood fire. The woman appeared from another room, stepping gingerly out from behind a sheet that was her bedroom door. She greeted us in the front room, a room that beckoned us in as it had no doors or sheets to speak of. At one end of the room stood a simple table made from tree branches and salvaged boards. The table was draped with a delicately laced doily. A simple wooden cross stood in the center of the table and rocked unevenly as I grazed the table’s rough edge. In a moment, it became clear that the table was not only part of this woman’s home; it was, in fact, an altar and this front room was a sanctuary. As we unpacked our medical supplies, the altar table became an exam station. Blood pressure cuffs laid were the blood of the lamb was blessed and God’s people communed. Doctor’s notepads, for writing prescriptions, took seat where the Great Physician promises to do His work at every holy supper. The sanctuary bustled with activity. When the time came, we dined there, too. Chicken and rice and beans. Handmade tortillas. I couldn’t keep track of everything that happened there that day. As we loudly leapt from the bus through the open doors of that front room, we were transported from the sanctuary, to the altar table, to the clinic, to the dining room. It was a mess of holiness, held together by the work of the Holy Spirit.”

I look forward to this year of mission work, both locally and in places like Nicaragua. Please keep checking back here to hear more of the stories.

Let’s GO Gloria Dei!

Pastor Chris


Go Therefore: Nicaragua Connections April 2017

INSIDE:
Nicaragua Connections
Needs Right Now
Monthly Partnership Ministry April – St. Francis House


Go Therefore: New Neighbors March 2017



Go Therefore: A New Look

A redesign or relaunch is never easy. Here Pastor Chris explains the new Go Therefore idea in more detail and how he plans to use it to call our attention to opportunities to “GO” and serve. Take a moment to read his words to us, then prayerfully consider how you can “GO!”