Article: Joy

Greg Anderson said, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” I don’t know who Greg Anderson is, but I totally agree with his statement.

Joy is found in doing- not arriving. This is especially true for the Church. We will never be done until Jesus shows up and tells us we are done. We do not know when that will happen, so we just “keep on keeping on.” That might be frustrating to some, but not if you believe the quote above.

None of us ever ask, “when are we going to stop worshipping on Sundays?” As if to say, “Haven’t we done that enough?” Or, “Haven’t we met our quota for caring for people?” No, we keep doing these things. Not because we are required to, or that there is a threshold we must meet. There isn’t even a finish line where we can say to each other, “Just little more to go and then we will be done.” Nope. This isn’t about the destination, it is in the journey itself that we find joy.

Most of you who are reading this are connected to Bethel Lutheran Church. (I can’t imagine many other people wanting to read my ramblings!) At Bethel, why do we do what we do? Why do we point to our core values of Hospitality, Christ Centered Community (fellowship and worship), Spiritual Growth, Responding to Needs and Generosity (so much)? They are not obligations. We don’t have to do anything. Why even talk about them or do anything for that matter?

I have a one word answer for you: joy.

I want every Christian (whether you are connected to Bethel Lutheran Church or not) to be filled with joy! Joy is one of the “fruit of the Holy Spirit” as found in Galatians 5:22-23. Joy is the evidence of God working in our lives. Joy produces holy action which is way better than obligation!

Everything that we value as a church is connected to relationship either with God or one another. The more we invest ourselves in the lives of others and with God, our joy will increase! As your pastor (at least to most of you), I want you to experience a deepening of joy as you connect to God and each other.

At church council last month, we agreed that we want all people to “experience the joy of doing life together.”

I have experienced churches that do not have the “secret sauce” of joy. People fight for control over things like ministries and who is in charge. People fight over money and the lack of everything. That is no way to live.

Not only should we guard the joy that we have but we should share it as well! Life is too short to be grumpy and controlling!

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Discipleship: Caring for Creation

On Saturday people gathered to remember the 47th Earth Day and advocate for science and scientists. What does this have to do with being Christian? Plenty. Long before Earth Day, God gave instructions for taking care of His “very good” creation.

Article: Grace is Messy

Occasionally, I run across an article that is well written and insightful. (Admittedly, I am not the best writer and I am jealous of those who can!)

The article below, despite its title, has no profanity in it. I hope you find it inspirational and moving.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

F-Bombs and Bikinis: What It Really Means to Be a “Christian”
By Preston Sprinkle

Christian subcultures are an entertaining phenomenon. Multiple brands of Christianity claim the same Lord and read the same Bible, and yet they promote a set of values sometimes as different as apples and orangutans.

I once heard a story about a Christian woman from the East Coast who confronted a West Coast youth-pastor, who allowed “mixed bathing” at youth events. “I can’t believe any so-called Christian leader would allow boys and girls to swim together!” She expressed her concern, all the while puffing on a cigarette. The youth pastor couldn’t help but smile, speechless at the irony.

I attended a conservative Brethren church when I lived in Scotland. Some of the women wore head coverings and none of them spoke in church. When I had our Irish pastor and his wife over for dinner, I asked them what he would like to drink. “Beer please,” the preacher said. “And for you, madam?” “I’ll take a glass of Chardonnay, thank you.” Were they liberal or conservative? I guess it depends on which subculture you come from.

When you try to cut out Christians with a religious cookie cutter, you not only tarnish diversity, but you trample on grace. It’s one thing for Christian subcultures to cultivate unique values. But it becomes destructive when those values are chiseled on Sinaitic tablets for all to obey.

It’s even worse when Christians expect instant holiness from recent converts—holiness, that is, in areas where we think we’ve nailed it.

It’s a shame that some believers have scoffed at some of Shia Labeouf’s recent comments about converting to Christianity, pointing fingers at the fact that he still uses bad language weeks after becoming a Christian. It’s worth noting that some are speculating that Labeouf’s conversion may have actually been more of a rather dramatic example of method acting than a true conversion but, regardless, many Christians chose to focus on his language instead of his heart. God only knows the true believers from the false. But to judge a man’s faith because there’s a residue of potty mouth?

Bad language may take years to weed out. Even more difficult to extract is the pride that drives judgmental Christians to mock the Spirit’s work in a man seeking his Creator. That sin could take decades to discover. Grace means that we are all works in progress, and God shaves off our rough edges in His timing. Just look at the thugs God works with in the Bible.

I know we’re programmed to see the 12 apostles as saints with halos and contemplative faces. But actually, they were criminals. These guys were more like prisoners than pastors, and few of them would have been let inside our churches today.

Take Peter, for instance. Peter walked with Jesus for three years, witnessing miracle after miracle, sermon after sermon. Still, on the night before Jesus’ death, a servant girl asked Peter if he knew Jesus. “I do not know the man!” Peter responded. And he even evoked a curse on himself to prove he wasn’t lying (Matthew 26:74).

Can you imagine if your pastor did that? “Good morning, church. I just want to say that I don’t even know who Jesus is!” We have a hard time forgiving pastors who commit adultery. I don’t think we’d know how to handle a pastor who had a public bout with doubt.

Then there’s James and John, whom Jesus nicknames “sons of thunder.” Apparently, they never made it through an anger management seminar. On one occasion, these two hotheads wanted to nuke an entire village because they wouldn’t let them spend the night (Luke 9:51-56). The whole village—women and children. Luckily, Jesus stepped in to prevent the destruction. These two holy apostles would have been better fit as bouncers outside an expensive casino in Vegas owned by a mobster, than preachers of the gospel of love.

My favorite pair is Simon the “Zealot” and Matthew the tax-collector. How did those two thugs get along?

Matthew’s vocation was nothing less than political and religious treason. Tax-collectors were Jewish agents of Rome, who mediated pagan oppression through taking money from innocent people. Imagine if you found out that your childhood friend was making a living off funneling money to ISIS. Would you use him to plant a church? Apparently, Jesus did.

Tax-collectors were more than extortionists. They were known for living excessively immoral lives and hanging out with all the wrong people. Religious Jews, in fact, believed that tax-collectors were past the point of repentance. Matthew didn’t have a moral bone in his body. But of course, after becoming a Christian, he immediately stopped sinning and never used bad language ever again.

Yeah right.

Simon, as a “Zealot,” probably grew up on the other side of the tracks. The “Zealots” were named such not because they were prayer warriors. They were just warriors—Jewish jihadists. The “Zealots” were known for killing their Roman oppressors or other Jews who were sell-outs. They were aggressive, violent and they did anything but love their enemies. Had Simon met Matthew on the streets, there’s a good chance one of them would have been found lying in chalk.

To build His Kingdom, Jesus handpicks what could be compared to the leader of the Black Panther party and the leader of the American Nazi Party. I doubt anyone closed their eyes at that first prayer meeting.

You cannot sanitize grace. You can’t stuff it into a blue blazer and make it wear khakis. Grace is messy, offensive and it sometimes misses church. To expect God to pump prefabricated plastic moral people out of a religious factory is to neuter grace and chain it inside a gated community. If God’s scandalous relationship with the 12 thugs means anything, then we should expect a variegated spectrum of righteousness and be patient—or repentant—when such sanctification doesn’t meet out expectations. God meets us in our mess and pushes holiness out the other side.

Not anti-mixed-bathing holiness. But the real stuff. The holiness that serves the poor, prays without ceasing, redeems the arts, loves enemies, elevates community above corporate success, and preaches the life-giving Gospel of a crucified and risen Lamb in season and out.

Sermon: Easter- Listen to the Voice

Today is the most important day in Christianity: Easter! Jesus utters the most tender word ever spoken in scripture. Jesus is calling your name today- are you listening? (Bonus track at the end!) Happy Easter!

Article: Jesus Obituary

If Jesus had an obituary, what would it say? If they put it in the newspaper on Saturday, would they print a retraction on Sunday?

Here is one possibility…

But we know the rest of the story, don’t we? This was not the end. This was just the beginning…

Pr. Ben

Sermon: Palm Sunday- Behind the Scenes

We enter the most holy week of the year for Christians. It begins with Palm Sunday. There is so much going on behind the scenes as Jesus processes into Jerusalem. I try to unpack all that is happening that is not covered in the story. You might be surprised!

Article: Don’t Fast Forward to Easter

Wow, what a week at Bethel! Even if you haven’t been at church this week, there is a lot going on.

We began the week with filling Easter eggs for our annual Easter egg hunt, others made fleece blankets for those in need, some students were in a class to learn more about Holy Communion and we hosted a reception for the visiting committee of the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC).  All of this happened on Sunday after church!

Yes, our school is currently perusing accreditation from a well-established accrediting organization! Long before the visiting committee arrived our principal assembled a 200 page report for them to read and assess our school. The next time you see Dawn, be sure to thank her for hard work.

We will receive notification of our request for accreditation in June.

As the infomercial spokes people often say, “But wait, there’s more…” We had our annual Scholastic Book Fair for our school, a Lenten supper and worship AND we are re-carpeting the sanctuary (and other finishing touches). Now add to that all the other things we do week in and week out at Bethel and all the preparations for Holy Week.

Oh, that’s right, it is Palm Sunday this weekend! As most of you know we have two completely different services this Sunday. At 8:45am we will worship and sing our favorite traditional hymns like “All Glory, Laud and Honor.” Two hours later at 10:45am we will experience music from Jesus Christ Superstar.  I invite you to come and experience the beauty of our re-furbished sanctuary and one of two wonderful worship options.

So, we have Palm Sunday this Sunday and then a week later we show up and it will be Easter! Not so fast! Sure, a lot of people will be doing just that, but you will be missing out on something that will grow your faith.

This Sunday we will symbolically enter Jerusalem as the preparations for Passover are being made. We will hear how the people honored Jesus as King and a Savior of the people.  Then we will make our way up to the Temple where Jesus will tip over the tables of those taking advantage of those who came to Jerusalem for the Passover celebration by overcharging people for various things.

On Thursday, we will remember the giving of the New Covenant of Holy Communion right after Jesus’ and his disciples celebrated the Old Covenant of Passover.

Then on Friday we will gather to remember the death of Jesus for our sake.

All of this before Easter morning. I encourage you to make the journey with us as we make our way from the road into Jerusalem, to the upper room and then to the hill where Jesus was crucified before we gather at the empty tomb on Easter morning. As Christians, this is the most important week of the year. I guarantee that if you make the journey, Easter will be even more special.

I hope to see you this Sunday and next Thursday, Friday and on Easter morning.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Esther 8-10- We are Them

We finish the Esther sermon series. We wrap things up and learn a little about Purim too. There is a little twist at the end when we think about this story in the context of Jesus’ teaching on love.

Article: The Garden… Revisited

At the Wednesday Lenten Service, I talked about being reLENTlessly misguided. When Jesus was the Garden of Gethsemane on the Mount of Olives between Jerusalem and the town of Bethany he was arrested. The Passover meal had ended and they left Jerusalem for Bethany because they were most likely staying at Mary, Martha and Lazarus’ house.

Jesus stopped to pray because he knew what was about to happen… his death. While he was praying and the disciples were napping, Judas shows up with the Temple guard to arrest Jesus.

Depending upon which gospel you read the story varies a bit. In one account, Judas greets Jesus with a kiss. Any way you slice it, Judas betrays Jesus. All the gospel accounts agree on that.  Jesus doesn’t try to run or fight back. He surrenders himself to the guards. Jesus knows where this is headed: The cross. He also knows that by the shedding of his blood (like an Old Testament sacrifice as by prescribed by God), Jesus will be able to forgive the world of its sin.

All of a sudden, Peter (Rocky) grabs a sword and decides to fight to the death to protect Jesus. He lunges at the closest target, a man named Malchus who is the High Priest’s servant.

I get it, Peter loves Jesus. However, it is a little ironic for Peter to resort to violence to protect the guy who said, “love your enemy.” I can just imagine Peter yelling, “I’ll kill anyone who tries to hurt the Prince of Peace.”

What does Jesus say to him? “Put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword.” Matthew 26:52 He was reminding Peter that a person reaps what they sow.

What a mess! Judas betrays, Peter resorts to extreme violence and the rest of the disciples run away. Everyone around Jesus drops the ball.

This is more than a moment in history. This is a story about us. We are those disciples. We too, fail in our faith. Sometimes we betray Jesus by our selfishness, other times we resort to being judgmental to protect Jesus and the gospel message. Sometimes we just walk away. This is a snapshot of us.

It is really hard for me to shake at my head at the situation because the sins of the disciples are our sins too.

Where does that leave us? We must decide which path to take after we go our own way.

All the disciples, especially Judas and Peter are full of regret but the path they choose from this point on is vastly different.

Judas turns inward. He isolates himself from others after he realizes that he cannot fix the problem he caused.

  When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. “I have sinned,” he said, “for I have betrayed innocent blood.”

“What is that to us?” they replied. “That’s your responsibility.” 

 So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. Matthew 27:3-5

 Judas saw himself as unforgivable, un-redeemable, beyond the grace of God. Judas closed himself off from everyone and his story ended tragically.

Peter and the rest of the disciples did not follow the path of Judas. Like Judas, they were full of regret and shame but they did not isolate themselves from each other. They stuck together even though they had no idea what would happen to Jesus on Easter morning.

Sin can have devastating effects on our psyche if we don’t stick together.

I quoted this verse from Isaiah 1:18-20 on Wednesday…
“Though your sins are like scarlet,
they shall be as white as snow;
though they are red as crimson,
they shall be like wool.
If you are willing and obedient,
you will eat the best from the land;
but if you resist and rebel,
you will be devoured by the sword.

There is a promise for those who want to be “washed clean” of sin and a promise for those who don’t. We see these two outcomes in the story of Jesus’ disciples. It was clear that Jesus didn’t want Peter to “die by the sword” or be devoured by it.

I choose to be as white as snow and stay connected to you and to Jesus.

That is why I make a spiritual pilgrimage to the cross every year. Let’s go together and be made new.

God bless,

Pr. Ben

Sermon: Esther 6&7- Methods Matter

We get to the pinnacle of the story! There is so much to learn: gratitude in the moment, arrogance and humility, hospitality and responding to needs!