Article: Greed is just one our problems…

He who loses money, loses much; He who loses a friend, loses much more; He who loses faith, loses all. – Eleanor Roosevelt

 Doing nothing for others is the undoing of ourselves.” ― Horace Mann

 In a society governed passively by free markets and free elections, organized greed always defeats disorganized democracy. ― Matt Taibbi

 For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs. – St. Paul of Tarsus

 No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money. –Jesus of Nazareth

Unless you gave up the following the news for Lent, you already know about the tragedy that occurred in Parkland, Florida yesterday. There are 17 families grieving the loss of a loved one because they were killed by a disturbed lone gunman.

It causes me to shudder when I think about Christians receiving ashes yesterday with the words, “remember that you are dust and to dust you shall return” for some in Florida it was prophetic.

It leaves us asking that same questions that we have already asked several times already in 2018, “Why?” and “How can we end this?”

The status quo is not acceptable. Cold blooded murder is not acceptable under any circumstance as a Christian. Not that I need to say that, but I guess I do.  The killing of innocent people is not the “trade-off” for the constitutional right to bear arms. There is no such thing as acceptable losses in order to preserve the freedom to own an automatic or semiautomatic weapons from a Christian point of view.

Some people will want to tell you that this is only a “mental health issue” and not a gun issue. Others will say that if someone wants a gun bad enough, they will procure one. Still others will say, it is “too soon” to talk about solutions knowing that it is never the right time. Another group will tell you that it is the time for “thoughts and prayers” and we should not try to “problem solve” in this moment or at the time of other tragedies in our recent past. All of these arguments are excuses for inaction.

As you know, we have a school at Bethel and we are located across the street from Cupertino High School. I suppose that makes me think about these things a little more seriously. As I write this, I can hear our children playing on the playground.

Is there a solution to this madness or should we expect a new normal or violence in the United States?

I refuse to believe that school violence or mass shootings is our new normal. There is no doubt that there are many things that contribute to the increase in violence: family and societal breakdown, the lack of political compromise, a mental healthcare system where people are not receiving the care they need either from a lack of personal assets or community funding and the list goes on.

And there is one more thing contributing to this ongoing problem: greed. Greed has the ability to make you do and say things that are contrary to your core values. The promise of more money can cause your moral compass to spin. A person who has traded their morals for money have lost their way.

The amount of money being spent by organizations to support politicians directly or indirectly is staggering and disheartening. It is the kind of money that will make a greedy person drool. I am not singling out the “gun lobby” on this. There is way too much money in politics period. This type of money prevents honest discussions and compromise on a whole range of issues including common sense gun laws, background checks and the sale of deadly weapons at unregulated gun shows in various states.

Money gets in the way of fixing a lot of things at the national and state level because lawmakers are beholden to their donors whether directly or indirectly.

Greed is not the only problem  but it is a big problem in finding solutions that protect people especially when we elect and trust lawmakers to work for the good of the community and not just special interests.

Within the first amendment of The United States Constitution it states that the government shall not abridge “the freedom of speech, or of the press…” yet we have libel and defamation laws. Even the Supreme Court once ruled that yelling “fire” in a crowded theater does not constitute free speech because it is “dangerous speech” (Schenck v. United States, 1919). Can we not have stronger protections as it pertains to the second amendment?

Is it not time to put the sixth commandment above the second amendment?

Everything I have written about are “heart issues.” As a nation we have a serious heart condition. It is time to do some soul searching and problem solving.

Last night at Ash Wednesday service I said that “Love is the most powerful force in the universe.” I stand by that statement because it is love that raised Jesus from the dead and love that turned Saint Paul from killing and persecuting Christians to becoming Christianity’s greatest theologian. It will take our active love and concern to slow this cycle of increasing violence.

Let us pray…
Lord of Love,

We pray for everyone affected by gun violence, domestic violence and senseless violence. We sense there is something really wrong with the ways things are in our world. The problems seem insurmountable and never ending. We despair at the mess humanity has created for ourselves.  Fill our hearts with your love so that we are protected from the sin of violence and greed in our own lives. We ask that you use us as your children to bring real change and lasting peace to our communities, our nation and your world. Please show us the way. In Jesus Name we pray, Amen.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

 

 

Sermon: Jonah 4: Still Not Getting It

We finish the book of Jonah today and it is an awkward uncomfortable ending. Jonah regresses and we finally see his heart and it is not pretty. In Jonah 4 we discover that we should not be like Jonah and that a hard heart will prevent us from seeing spiritual truth.

Article: Transfiguration

If you go to Bethel Lutheran Church (I assume most people reading this are from Bethel) you are going to hear about Jonah’s response to God for not destroying Nineveh this Sunday. (If you need to catch up, you can listen to the first 3 sermons of this series on this website.)

BUT… it is also Transfiguration Sunday, but we aren’t really going to talk about it on Sunday because of Jonah. Sorry. Especially if that is your favorite church holiday. It is not a total loss, I am going to talk about the Transfiguration right now!

As the church calendar unfolds, this is the perfect Sunday for Transfiguration Sunday. Why you ask? Because it is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. This Sunday we are reminded in the gospel reading that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 9:2-9)! Then on Wednesday we begin the journey toward Calvary, toward Golgotha, toward the cross. We need the reminder of the Transfiguration before we get to Good Friday. We must not forget that Jesus the Savior took on sin and death for our sake. The Transfiguration reminds us that Jesus is not just another rabbi but God Himself!

The story of the Transfiguration within the gospel of Mark is found right in the middle of the story. Mark reminds us right in the middle of the gospel that Jesus is the Son of God. It is the second reminder we have received in the gospel story. Near the beginning, John baptizes Jesus and we hear the voice of God declaring that Jesus is God’s son. Mark doesn’t want us to forget this as we move toward the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The message is clear, “Jesus is special.”

Shortly after the Transfiguration in Luke’s version of the gospel story it says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Luke 9:51  That is why this Sunday is perfect for Transfiguration Sunday! Spiritually speaking, we begin our journey toward Jerusalem starting on Ash Wednesday with the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God on our minds.

I hope you make time to come to Ash Wednesday services next week (12pm or 7pm). I will be talking about love and why the season of Lent is all about love and our decision to return to the source of love. Jesus went to the cross because of God’s never ending love for us (John 3:16).

Last Sunday at our Congregational meeting, I talked about the importance of engaging people in loving conversations beyond our circle of friends at church. We are great extending hospitality to others but what is the next step? Growing closer in Christ Centered Community. Why is this important (beyond these being our core values)? Because it is a sign of God’s love in our lives and the lives of others.

Love is a powerful tool that is at our disposal. Let us stay close to the One who loved us so that we may love others in His name.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Jonah 3: Starting Over

We continue in the study of Jonah and something amazing happens when Jonah obeys… things go better for him! Same is true for us too. Listen how we can apply Jonah’s story and Proverbs 3:5-6 to our lives.

Article: Evil

This might seem a little odd but let’s talk about evil. There are many within the Christian community who would deny the existence of Satan, the devil and demons. They often claim that references to such things in the Bible are myth and not to be taken literally.

I was curious about how many times these words show up in the Bible so I did a little research and this is what I discovered.

Satan is mentioned 58 times in the Bible.
Demons is mentioned 87 times in the Bible.
Evil Spirit(s) is mentioned 40 times in the Bible.
The devil is mentioned 37 times in the Bible.

That is quite a bit! It comes to a total of 222 times. That is not insignificant. Even Jesus talks about such things. Did he teach about these things as if they were figments of our imagination? Not at all. I would go as far to say that Jesus believed these things to be very real and not mythological. (Hint: we should too.)

One would think if the Son of God knew such things were fake, he would just tell us and not perpetuate a falsehood. Yet when Christians dismiss evil personified, they are also dismissing Jesus’ teaching authority and Jesus himself. That doesn’t seem very tenable for a Christian. Even Jesus taught us to pray, “deliver us from evil…”

Over the years, I have talked to other pastors who have encountered unexplained, negative spiritual phenomena and have asked for help. They often comment, “why don’t they teach us this stuff in seminary?!?” Which of course is a very good question. Why don’t they?

Yes, in the world there are people who are encountering bad stuff that is not of human origin. And yes, in my work, I have encountered it too. You don’t often hear about it because people don’t want to talk about it or be judged as weird or worse.

This is nothing like Ghostbusters. This is serious stuff. I do not think for a moment that Jesus is perpetuating myths in the scripture. I also think that evil prefers that people dismiss it as nonsense. There is no better way to operate in secret when people do not think you exist.

Do I think that some of the exorcisms that Jesus performed were more medical related than demon possession? Yes. Remember, the human authors of the gospels interpreted what they saw or reported what they heard from eyewitnesses. Does that mean all exorcisms were health related? Nope.

Do I think that all the bad things that happen in the world have demonic origins? No again. Humans do a pretty good job of doing terrible things without any help from below. However, I do not believe all suffering and misery is of human origin.

Even though Jesus conquered sin and death through His death and resurrection, there is still evil in this world (just look around). It will continue to exist until Jesus returns. Whether we see it or not, there is a spiritual battle going on. Someone wants to save humanity and someone wants to destroy it.  Despite what some Satanists think, the devil doesn’t want followers. He wants to destroy and will deceive people for that very purpose including his followers.

St. Paul clarifies the struggle we face in Ephesians 6:12:

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the principalities (the first thing, the origin of evil in this case), against the authorities (over humanity), against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

 What are we to do with this information? Nothing. That’s right nothing. Our calling as Christians is to cling to Christ and Him alone. Christ provides all the protection we need. There is no need to go out and look for evil to banish. As a matter of fact, it is a dangerous thing to do battle with these forces. Seriously. Those who mess around with such things often bite off more than they can chew, spiritually speaking. Instead, continue to grow in your trust of the Lord and God will watch over you.

My prayer for you is that you understand that there is more going on “behind the scenes” than you might think. Be spiritually aware and spiritually awake so that you continue to seek God and not a dangerous dead end.

God bless you now and always,
Pr. Ben

 

 

Sermon: Jonah 2: Slow Down

We continue on in the story of Jonah. In chapter 2 we find Jonah in the belly of a big fish. After 3 days he calls out to God in prayer. What took him so long? This chapter reminds us to slow down and check in with God.

Article: Lists and Love

Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10

These are profound words. Yet, they are often glossed over.

Believe it or not, this gets to the heart of what we believe. This is the center of our theology.

The ever-persistent Saint Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome so that they would know everything he did because he couldn’t visit them in person…yet.

Throughout this letter, he reminds the church in Rome that Gentile Christians are equal to Jewish Christians and that Jewish Christians are no longer under the Law of Moses. Instead, all Christians are given faith in Christ to live a life of love.

“The Law” is a hard habit to break and it is an easy trap to fall into when trying to follow Christ. It is alluring to simplify one’s faith into things you should do and things you shouldn’t do. Be good, don’t be bad. Jesus likes good people. Christians only do good things. Stuff like that. It is easy and simple to teach to people of every age.  Besides, even the New Testament is filled with lists of sins to avoid.  That seems pretty clear right?

Lists of behaviors to embrace or avoid may be extremely practical for some but it does not constitute our faith in Christ.

God doesn’t grade on performance. God doesn’t put gold stars next to your name in the Book of Life.  God didn’t give instruction of how to live as an end, but as a means to an end. Many Christians (pastors included) forgot what that end is. The purpose of all practical instruction (but not clearly stated near those lists) is to better love God and love the people around you.

Here is one of those lists:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed… Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place… Ephesians 5:3-4

 This is sound advice for everyone. Not just Christians. This would be a positive message for anyone. More plainly, I wish every citizen of the world lived up this instruction. If someone dared to live into these instructions, would that make them a Christian even if they didn’t believe in Jesus? No. A Christian trusts in Jesus Christ the person. Moralism (being a good citizen) doesn’t require God.

Being a good person doesn’t make a person a Christian any more than a person who goes swimming is a fish. I wish every person was good, but that doesn’t mean they are a Christian. Why is it that we (within the Church) equate being good (and following lists) with being a Christian?  Sometimes I think it is laziness and the path of least resistance.

Long before there is a change in outward behavior, God changes our hearts. What does God change our hearts with? Love. The love of Jesus that forgives. The love of Jesus who would rather die than shut us out and leave us outside of God’s love. The love of Jesus who rises from the dead on Easter morning to show us that love wins.

Sadly, I have encountered “Christians” who have never experienced that kind of love. Or their moralistic behavior leads me to believe they have not felt the love of Jesus because they are fixated on behaviors and not love. Thankfully, I have only met a few, but they scare me.

Yes, there are times when we all speak up and say, “Don’t do that.” That’s not what I am talking about (in case you’re thinking I was vaguely talking about you, I’m not).

Behavior follows change. God does the changing in love with love.

Lists are good in the Bible if we know their place and their function. Lists are bad if we make them the centerpiece of our belief system. One doesn’t need faith if we are going to follow lists.

People change when they are loved. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10 That’s all God is trying to do. Love us so we can love others and point them to the source of all love.

Besides, at various points of my life I have been on the naughty list. I am thankful for the forgiveness that God offers in love.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Jonah 1: Unintended Consequences

We begin a part series on the book of Jonah. This is not just a kid’s story. Every decision has consequences but God never gives up on us. Oh and the picture below is integral to the sermon…

Article: Minister of Loneliness

I came across an interesting news story out of Great Britain. Here is the headline, “Britain Appoints First-Ever ‘Minister of Loneliness’ to Tackle Social Isolation.”

Loneliness is such a pervasive but silent problem that the English government is doing something about it. Will they be successful? Only time will tell. This news story reminds me of a song that was written many years ago by a group of British musicians…

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie, writing the words
Of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near…

Yes, Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles. There is no doubt that loneliness can be a problem for people of every age. This is not limited to those who are older or are homebound. As enjoyable as social media is (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.…) those platforms cannot replace human contact and face to face interaction.

It is clear from the earliest writings in the Bible that we are created for community. Remember when God was looking down on Adam and he was the only human? God commented, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” This means way more than the traditional interpretation that has been assigned to it. We are created for community and (not isolation) because we are created in the image of God who exists in community.

God is One but in the mystery of God there are three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God’s very nature is communal and we were created and wired to be connected to one another. One of the reasons we worship together is so that we will be together. Yes, we can worship God as individuals but if that is all we do, we miss the importance of human connection. See, God knew what He was doing when he created us and then gave us the gift of the Church.

I love coming to church on Sunday (except for the getting up early part). I love coming to worship because I get to be with all of you (if you are a Bethel member). You lift me up and I hope that I do the same for you in Jesus’ Name. I feel less human when I haven’t touched base with my church family.

I am reminded of the words from the New Testament book of Hebrews. In the 10th chapter, the author gives a specific encouragement that I hope we all take to heart. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

 We can’t encourage one another without being together. I don’t know about you but I find being in the company of brothers and sisters in Christ much more uplifting than receiving an email or reading a lame old newsletter article! (Thanks for continuing to read, by the way.)

I don’t want to be known as the “Minister of Loneliness” on Sunday morning. I would much rather be known as pastor. Why? Because pastor in Spanish means shepherd.

I am a better person because you are in my life.  I hope to see you soon.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon: King’s Reliance on the King

“Let us turn our hearts today to Martin Luther King.” -James Taylor. That is exactly what we do and we discover that King continually preached on Biblical themes throughout the his public ministry. Maybe he wasn’t being political at all, but biblical.