Skip to content
ELCA Blogs

Faith Lens

April 14-20, 2010–Rooted in Baptism

Contributed by Jose Valenzuela, Alleluia Lutheran Church, Phoenix, AZ

Warm-up Question

What are some of the challenges you face in being both a follower and leader?

Rooted In Baptism

Some fear that our neighbor to the south, Mexico, is spiraling into a civil war rooted in the drug trade.  Since 2006, Mexican president Felipe Calderon has declared war on the drug war in the country, which has, in turn, fueled a bloody war among the different Mexican drug cartels.  As one cartel is dismantled, several others battle each other for control in the power vacuum.  In September 2009 experts estimated that over 13,000 people had been murdered in Mexico due to drug related activity alone.  According to US crime rates, there were approximately 16,000 murders in US in 2008 of all varieties.  Last week cartels openly attacked Mexican army posts along the border.

As the violence taking place in Mexico spills over into the United States there has been an increase in kidnappings, weapons trafficking, and murders related to the drug war in Mexico.  Making the drug war even more problematic is the fact that most of the drugs produced in Mexico are shipped to the United States to feed our nation’s drug habit.  In addition, there seems to be a limitless number of desperate Mexicans seeking a quick way out of poverty.  The tempting lure of money in the drug trade seems to bring in more and more members to the powerful cartels. 

As Mexico continues its war on drugs, many are becoming fearful and pessimistic that this war can actually be won.  A growing number of people in Mexico and the US are considering calling the Mexican war on drugs a failure and going back to the drawing board.  Some experts have even suggested that if a new strategy is not crafted soon, Mexico runs the risk of becoming a failed state.


Discussion Questions

  • What should the United States’ role be in the war on drugs in Mexico?
  • What responsibility, if any, does the United States’ have in the drug war in Mexico? Why?
  • Does our country have a drug problem?  If so, whose problem is it?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, April 18, 2010 (Third Sunday of Easter)

Acts 9:1-6 [7-20]

Revelation 5:11-14

John 21:1-19

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

I grew up in Arizona.  After I graduated from high school I spent the better part of 15 years moving around the country going to colleges, getting married, starting my career, and starting a family.  In 2002 I was living in Brooklyn, NY, serving a parish as a Youth Minister, when I started to hear the calling to come home.  During the summer of 2002 my family and I moved back to Arizona to be closer to family.  Mostly I wanted to be closer to my grandparents as their health declined. 

Three weeks after I moved back to Arizona, my grandmother suffered a massive stroke. Three weeks after that she suffered a second “big one” and she died.  A few days after her funeral, I had fallen asleep in my recliner while watching TV late at night.  I woke to the sound of footsteps near my bedroom and looked to see my grandmother standing in the doorway to my bedroom.  She walked out of the room and simply said to me, “Mijo, go to bed and rest. It’ll be fine.  Just rest.”  I got up, went to bed and wept.

My grandparents were born and raised in Mexico.  My grandmother came to Arizona as a child, but she always considered herself to be Mexican.  When she became an American citizen, she fully embraced the America life, but she never forgot where she came from.  Her life was devoted to her family. At the time of her death, our family understood what we stood for because of her.

As Jesus drew his ministry here on earth to a close, his final interactions with his disciples were intended to communicate what he expects from his followers.  Quite simply, his followers are expected to lead by Christ’s example. I find it interesting that Jesus meets the disciples where their lives together started, at their roots. 

Many of us find it difficult to come to terms with our roots.  I know that as a second generation Mexican-American, part of my identity resides in Mexico, even though I’ve never resided there. And a part of my identity resides in this country, even though I have been regarded by many in my daily life and in my Church as not being American enough.  So I often struggle with the question: Whom shall I follow?

The way I reconcile it all comes down to baptism.  Through my baptism I am a child of God. In the sacrament of baptism I receive many acts of grace from God.  At the same time God has very high expectations of God’s family.  Spending time in community, in prayer, in scripture, working for justice and peace for all of humanity—these are the things that God expects.  So how will I do this?  How will I get all this done? 

I will follow you, Lord…

Discussion Questions

  • Describe a time in your life where you felt very lost and were looking for something or someone to grab on to. 
  • How does understanding or maybe not understanding your roots influence your relationship with God?
  • What does it mean to “follow Jesus”?

Activity Suggestion

Make a family tree that goes back to your great grandparents.

Closing Prayer

Holy and mighty God, you have filled us to the brim with life and goodness.  You have given us the gift of community and the gift of feelings.  Thank you.  In the midst of our searching and finding, may we find glimmers of you.  Watch over us, lead us, direct us, help us when were lost and keep us humble when we feel found.  And help us to be mindful of the many in this world and community who are still searching.  May your good news be proclaimed with love, dignity and respect.

February 17-23, 2010, Fighting Temptation With Purpose

Contributed by Angie Larson, Clive, IA

Warm-up Question

What do you think is your life’s purpose?

Fighting Temptation with Purpose


Shin Fujiyama, now 25, was born in a fishing village in Japan.  Born with a hole in his heart, he had childhood health problems.  The doctors told him that he didn’t have long to live. “Somehow I was cured,” says Shin, “and I became a normal kid and I had a second chance.”  Shin went on to study pre-medicine at the University of Mary Washington.

During his sophomore year at school, life took a dramatic change.  Along with his sister Cosmo, Shin signed up for a Christian mission trip to Honduras.  On this trip he found his life’s purpose.  The group did their mission work in the hurricane ransacked town of El Progreso.  Hundreds of children lived there without adequate housing, health care, or access to education. While the group was constructing a school, a ten year old girl named Carmen gave a letter to Shin.  It shared her dream that “one day every family in my village will have a safer home.”  This touched Shin greatly. 

Upon his return to college he and his sister began a philanthropic organization named Students Helping Honduras (SHH).  Shin began his fundraising campaign with two people, selling pens and pencils.  Anxious and frustrated about the poor response, he considered giving up, but his passion burned deep.  Next, the group moved to selling Christmas cards to provide uniforms and tuition for the community of El Progreso.  Since its inception in 2004, Shin has raised over $750,000 and SSH has grown to 25 campuses.  The group focuses on continuing to rebuild the village where Carmen lives. 

After graduating in 2007, Shin and Cosmo have postponed medical school and deferred well-paying jobs.  The mission of SSH is to build a movement of young leaders to empower orphaned and vulnerable children in Honduras. 

1. What would your reaction be if you received Carmen’s letter?

2.  Do you think Shin will ever go to medical school?

3.  What obstacles could get in the way of Shin’s fundraising?

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, February 21, 2010 (First Sunday in Lent)

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year C at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Deuteronomy 26:1-11

Romans 10:8b-13

Luke 4:1-13

Gospel Reflection

In Luke 3, just before the gospel text in this study, we get a glimpse of who Jesus really is.  During Jesus’ baptism the sky opens up and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove over the river Jordan. Accompanying the Spirit, the voice of God proclaims Jesus’ identification, “This is my Son.”

In this study’s gospel text, Jesus has just spent forty days in the wilderness.  The scripture says that, “He was famished.”  He is weakened by hunger and open to temptation.  The devil sees this as an opportune time and comes to Jesus.  He first tempts Jesus with bread.  However, Jesus has seen his purpose forty days before and can stay strong through the temptation.  Next the devil tempts Jesus with power; he shows him all that he can give Jesus authority over.  Again, Jesus stays strong.  Finally, the devil even tempts Jesus using scripture.  Jesus, strong in his purpose, is able to resist that temptation as well.

While your purposes are not the same as Jesus’, there is still a reason why you are here. When you have an understanding of your purpose it helps you fight the temptation to do something that would cause you to lose focus.  Your personal demons come out when you cease to be yourself.  Your identification, a child of God, is given to you in your baptism. When you have a clear understanding of your identification and purpose, you are better able to overcome the temptation which comes your way.  Temptation might be doubt or frustration.  It might be power, popularity, and material goods.  It might be messages from the world trying to get you to be or act in a way with which you are not comfortable.  May you fight temptation, knowing that you are a child of God and that God will carry you through.

Discussion Questions:

  1. How does knowing your purpose keep you from temptation?
  2. What do you think are some ways that you can seek your purpose in life?
  3. What are some possible obstacles and roadblocks that could get in the way of accomplishing your purpose?


Activity Suggestions

  1. Challenge youth to seek out their purpose.  Ask them to make a list of things that give them great joy.  Have them pray about what God is calling them to do.
  2. Come up with a purpose of your group’s time together.  What is the goal?  How can you accomplish that purpose?
  3. Discuss the following story and what it might mean. In the story of Alice in Wonderland the Cheshire cat meets Alice crying at a crossroad.  The cat in his mysterious way asks Alice why she is crying.  Alice replies that she is lost.  The cat asks her, “Which way do you want to go”? “I don’t much care where,” replies Alice.  “Well then, it doesn’t matter which path you take,” replies the cat. 

Closing Prayer

Blessed Savior, thank you for helping us see how you direct us in our lives.  Help us to avoid roadblocks, temptations, and obstacles that may prevent or deter us from following you.  We know that you will provide us with strength to recognize those dangers and push the demons away, for we belong to you. In your name we pray.   Amen

January 21-28, 2009 – Something fishy about “sea kittens”

Warm-up question: What’s the strangest name you’ve ever heard for a pet?

There’s a new creature swimming in our rivers, lakes, and oceans. Well, sort of. The folks at PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) have launched a campaign to rename fish “sea kittens.” The strategy is one of several attempts by PETA to discourage people from eating certain kinds of meat. Past projects included referring to McDonald’s and Burger King as “McCruelty” and “Murder King,” and the 2003 “Holocaust on Your Plate” slogan, which compared some farming practices to tactics employed by the Nazis in World War II.

PETA launched the Sea Kittens page on its Web site ( with the intent to appeal to children and their parents. The friendly animated characters link to interactive pages where users can create their own sea kitten, read sea kitten stories, and sign a petition. The term “fishing” is replaced with “sea kitten hunting.” Fish are portrayed as intelligent, adorable, and as experiencing emotions of pain and loss.

The Sea Kitten campaign hopes to create awareness about brutal fishing practices. PETA also wants to discourage people from eating fish in general. The petition, which has over 5,000 signatures, asks the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) to “stop allowing our little sea kitten friends to be tortured and killed. Who’d want to hurt a sea kitten anyway?!” The site goes on to declare, “The promotion of sea kitten hunting is a glaring contradiction of FWS (Fish and Wildlife Service) mission to ‘conserve, protect, and enhance fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats.’”

Discussion Questions

  • How do you feel about the “Sea Kitten” campaign?
  • What are some ethical ways of fishing? How about unethical ways of fishing? Would you sign a petition that asks the FWS to “stop promotion of fishing?” Explain your position.
  • As stewards of God’s creation, what stance do you believe Christians should take on this issue?
  • How does changing the name or identity of something alter your opinion, understanding, or view of an issue? (e.g., Sea kitten instead of fish, conflict instead of war, online advertisement instead of spam, protective coating engineer instead of painter, etc. Think of some others.)

Scripture Texts (NRSV) for Sunday, January 25, 2009.
(Text links are to
oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year B at Lectionary Readings.)

Gospel Reflection

Mark seems like the kind of guy who would rather study Cliff’s Notes (an abbreviated overview) than read an entire book. His gospel is short and to the point. The first chapter (45 verses) tells of John the Baptist’s ministry, the baptism of Jesus, the temptation of Jesus, the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, the calling of the disciples, Jesus teaching in the synagogue, removing demons, cleansing lepers, and even Jesus’ first preaching tour. So much for beating around the bush!

The gospel text for today tells of how Jesus called his first disciples — Simon and Andrew; James and John. Two sets of brothers. All were fishermen. This is significant for many reasons, not the least of which was the social standing of fishermen. People who caught fish served an important purpose in society, as they provided one of the major food resources for the community. However, fishermen had very little connection with most people, other than their fellow fishers. They kept to themselves. They were dirty and smelly. Many fishermen had no home — they just lived in their boats. They were rough-and-tumble, salt-of-the-earth kinds of people, certainly not the kinds of people that would be thought of as religious leaders!

Yet these were exactly the kinds of people that Jesus wanted to have around.

Jesus called these two sets of brothers to help him show the world that God is a God for everyone; not just the educated, wealthy, religious folk. He turned the word “fishermen” around into “fishers of men” (which we know includes ALL people, not just men). Imagine the confusion that Simon, Andrew, James, and John were experiencing. Not only were they leaving behind the familiar life of fishermen, but they were now going to have to fish for people. This is just the beginning though. Jesus would lead these men on a three-year journey where everything was turned upside-down. Swords would be turned into ploughshares, rough places made plain, lowly are exalted, sick made healthy, and dead were raised to new life.

Though these young men were the same people, they had a new identity. There were no longer fishers of fish, they were fishers of people. In the same way, Jesus changes our identity from “lost, broken, sinner” to “child of God.” It’s amazing how one little name change can make a huge difference in our lives and view of the world.

Discussion Questions

  • What would you say if a strange man showed up at your school and said, “follow me, and I will teach you to fish for people?”
  • Why do you think Jesus chose fishermen to be his first disciples? Why not highly educated, publicly recognized religious leaders?
  • How does changing the identity of the chosen disciples (from fishermen to fishers of people) change the way they viewed themselves?
  • Whether they’re called “fish” or “sea kittens,” the animal is the same. Whether these men were called “fishermen” or “fishers of people,” they were still the same men. All that changed was other people’s perceptions of them. What kinds of labels do you put on other people? How do those labels impact the way you treat them, respect them, or trust them? How would you treat people if you gave them all the same label, “child of God?”

Activity Suggestion

Fishing for people is not about sticking a hook in their mouth and dragging them into your boat (the church). It’s also not about sitting in the “boat” and hoping fish will just magically jump into it. Being a fisher of people means two things:

  1. engaging
  2. inviting

Ask everyone to think of one or two people they would like to go fishing for this week. Give each person some construction paper, marker, and a pair of scissors. Have everyone cut out a fish and write the name(s) of the people they want to go fishing for during the upcoming week. Talk about ways to engage these people in conversation about Jesus. Share ideas for how and when to invite them to your church. Encourage everyone to keep their little fish cut-out in their planner to remind them to go fishing for people.

Closing Prayer

God, you have given us a new identity as your children. Help us to trust in your promises, and to share them with others. Amen.

Contributed by Erik Ullestad
West Des Moines, IA