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Article: Imago Dei

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Did you know that if Facebook was a nation it would be the largest country in the world? Yep, there are about 1.7 billion people on Facebook.  Yes, I know not everyone uses Facebook or social media of any kind but there is a reason people continue to invent and use such technologies. Connection. We are made for community.

The earliest story in the Bible God comments on the nature of humanity when God says, “It is not good for the human to be alone. I will make a helper who is just right for him.” Genesis 2:18 NLT

You are correct it doesn’t say, “It is not good for humans to be alone, I will create Facebook and Twitter for them to stay connected.” Yet, the popularity of these websites tell us something about our nature. We seek connection with one another. Of course there are introverts who need down time from others but even they need the interaction of others.

We believe we are created in God’s image. There are various aspects to this “Imago Dei” (image of God) least of all our physical appearance. The very being of God is rooted in relationship. God exists in relationship. The Trinity is a God of relationship. Yes, it is a mystery that God is three in one but this also points to the closeness of the relationship between the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. Then we are reminded by God in the first book of the Bible that we are created in God’s image including the fact that we are made for relationship.

Tools like Facebook are an example of how we are created for relationship. If connection was not important- no one would have invented such a thing.

Long before the internet, Jesus gave us the gift of the Church so that we could be together. Not only does Sunday worship foster our relationship with God but also with one another. God created us for relationship but God also provides a place for connection.

This week I read a story about a pastor traveling with a Brazilian seminary student. Along the way the pastor asked the student if he would like to stop for a cup of coffee. The student said, “I would be honored.” The student thought this would be a time to talk and foster a deeper connection with the pastor. Instead the pastor swung into a Starbucks and went through the drive-thru because he thought this was only about the coffee.

Once they were on their way the student was very quiet and when pressed about his silence he said, “I thought you were asking me to be your friend. I thought we were going to sit together and share life.”

At Bethel, we have a “coffee hour.” It is not about the coffee; it is about fostering stronger relationships with one another.

That is one of our values too. We believe Christ Centered Community is vital for us at Bethel. You are missed when you cannot make it to church on Sunday because we are stronger together than we are apart.

Living in fellowship is sharing life… all of life.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

benbergren dot com 1400-700

Sermon: Lost & Found: Lost and Unaware

We began a sermon series last week– the first sermon can be found here- http://www.bethelcupertino.org/worship/sermons/sermon20160911.m3u . Today we exlore what it means to be lost and how that is offensive and that the solution is also offensive to many.

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Article: Safari Parks and Hospitality

A Lorikeet perched on Rachel's hand.
A Lorikeet perched on Rachel’s hand. Taken at the safari park.

If you read last week’s article I wanted you to know that I did make it to San Diego and everything was just fine. I also returned with only a 20-minute delay on Monday morning. Nothing but “First World problems.” All is good.

While I was in San Diego, I had the privilege to go the San Diego Safari Park. The funny thing is that it is not in San Diego. It should be called the Escondido Safari Park, but alas, it is not. That was not what impressed me. What surprised me was their friendliness.

Not unlike a church, the safari park had people who worked there and there were a lot of volunteers. Every person who wore a uniform engaged us and warmly chatted with us. They didn’t wait for us to come to them, they came to us and greeted us first.

I remarked to Rachel that this organization has their act together. She agreed. It is one thing to engage a person when you need something like, “Where are the bathrooms?” or “Where is the exit?” and receive a polite answer. It is quite another thing for everyone people to catch your eye and say, “Good morning, is there anything I can help you with today?” Without fail, everyone we talked to that morning who worked at the safari park treated us like we were VIPs. Remember, not all of those people were paid, many were volunteers!

I can’t help but think of a one of the shortest sentences in the Bible. When Paul wrote to the church in Rome he gave a bunch of instruction in chapter 12. Nestled within that instruction he says this.

“Practice hospitality.” –Romans 12:13b

 Two simple words. The people at the safari park reminded me of what it feels like to feel welcomed and cared for.

“Hospitality to all” is a core value to us here at Bethel. How we treat people is important to us. Not just in words but in our actions too. Jesus was in the people business and because this church is His,  we too should be in the people business. John Maxwell once said, “People don’t care  how much you know until they know how much you care.” It is so true. People can’t hear of God’s love at church if they don’t experience our love first.

Hospitality holds a higher value in middle Eastern society than it does in the United States. It prompted Abraham to offer food and drink to his three visitors (God) in Genesis 18.

It is what prompted Lot (Abraham’s nephew) in Genesis 19 to protect the two angels in his home in Sodom from the men who wanted to do unspeakable things to them. While Lot’s idea of how to protect them is appalling to us — he offers his daughters to the crowd instead — the point is that the Law of Hospitality is so strong that it even supersedes the obligation to protect one’s own family.

We will never be in a place that that expects us to forsake our family for the good of the stranger, but it is a reminder to me that the world can be an ugly place. It just may be that someone who comes through our doors at Bethel is looking for a refuge from that ugliness. A place free of labels, hate, judgment and a whole host of other things.

How we treat others is a reflection of God’s love in our own lives. If we sense that God loves us, sinful as we are, then we can be sure that God loves the stranger in our midst.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

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Article: Journey and Destination

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In his book “Growing Strong in the Seasons of Life”, the author Charles Swindoll tells a story about the 19th Century agnostic Thomas Huxley (some of you might know that it was Huxley who promoted Darwinism and Humanism in his attacks on Christianity).

Huxley was in Dublin and was rushing to catch a train. He climbed aboard one of Dublin’s famous horse drawn taxis and said to the driver -“Hurry, I’m almost late … drive fast”.

Off they went at a furious pace and Huxley sat back in his seat and closed his eyes. After a while Huxley opened his eyes and glanced out the window to notice that they were going in the wrong direction. Realizing that he hadn’t told the driver where to take him he called out ‘do you know where you’re going?’ The driver replied “No, your honour, but I am driving very fast’.

It is a little bit ironic that I am currently (Wednesday afternoon) stuck on a plane to San Diego with my wife at SFO. We are on the tarmac with a 30 minute delay tacked on to an already one hour delay. The people who on their way to Seattle (via San Diego???) were just told to get off the plane to take a different plane to Las Vegas which would connect to Oakland which would eventually get to Seattle at 9pm tonight. Wait, what? It is not that bad for us other than sitting in the plane with no air conditioning and the person behind me complaining about the airline.

Update… (I know you are just reading the next paragraph but this is an ever changing situation) I am now typing back at the terminal. Yeah, the flight just got cancelled. The pilot apologized that he broke the plane. Ha! I am not going anywhere as of yet. Unlike Huxley in the story above- I do hope to get to my destination sometime before I fly back on Monday morning. Hmmm do I get my car out of long term and drive? I hope not.

I have no agenda the rest of this week other than read and work on my computer. Rachel (Mrs. Pr. Ben) has a conference to attend and present at. She needs to get to San Diego, I am just tagging along.

This is not about my travel troubles. This is a much bigger spiritual issue. I know where I am going. Every day I am one step closer to seeing Jesus face to face. That is where I am headed and I want to bring as many people along with me as I can. However, it is not just the destination, it is the journey too. My life is not just sitting in a spiritual terminal waiting for my heavenly airplane to depart. Poor Huxley didn’t know where he was going in the moment or spiritually speaking!

Life is both a journey and a destination. To neglect either one is to miss half of your life. I do not plan on missing anything. As a church, we have been gathered to “do life” together. In the same we cram ourselves on a plane to go somewhere different—we assemble at church to be reminded of our destination and our journey together.

I am thankful for both. I want to live life with the joy of knowing Jesus (and you too) as well as seeing Jesus face to face when I arrive home for the last time.

Enjoy the journey and look forward to going home!

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

benbergren dot com 1400-700

Sermon: Hate???

In Luke 14 Jesus tells us we need to hate everyone else if we are to be his disciples. What??? That is definitely not good news. Listen in as I try to make sense of this.

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Article: More Love, Less Religion

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“This is the God of the gospel of grace.  A God who, out of love for us, sent the only Son He ever had wrapped in our skin. He learned how to walk, stumbled and fell, cried for His milk, sweated blood in the night, was lashed with a whip and showered with spit, was fixed to a cross, and died whispering forgiveness on us all.”
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

God is so good. We sang that refrain several times on Wednesday at our first chapel of the school year. It is true. Sometimes we forget or minimize it. Other times we treat that truth like it is Christmas—something that is meant for children but it has worn a little thin for us older folks.

Yet, the truth remains, “God is so good, He is so good to me.” It is easy to reduce Christianity to a philosophy or a way of life. You know what I am talking about. I know many people who believe these words as gospel truth: “Be good and go to heaven.”

The problem with that is two-fold. I am not good. I want to be, but I am not. (Just ask my wife—I bet she is not convinced that I even want to be good.) I don’t need someone to testify to that truth because I know it in my heart, and in my mind and in my soul. That’s the first part.

The second problem is this, even if I could be good I would miss out on the most important thing: Jesus.

Life isn’t about being good. (Life isn’t about being bad either, just in case you needed further clarification.) Life is about getting close enough to Jesus so you can know (and feel) how much He loves you. It will change you. It will leave you wanting more and more and even more. That is all I want in my heart of hearts… more of Jesus’ love.

I don’t want to be more religious. I just want more of Jesus in my life because it is in knowing Him (not knowing ABOUT Him) that I can rest in his grace. When I daydream, I think about sitting at Jesus’ feet and asking Him questions. The same daydream never gets old. I feel like I could sit there forever and one day I probably will.

I want that for you too. I am not even sure who reads these words anymore, but I want you to know that all I want for you is more of Jesus’ love. It is better than anything else I have ever experienced. Even better than Barbeque.

However, there is one word of warning. Once you have experienced the love of Jesus nothing else will satisfy.

Let me end the same way I began… with a quote from Brennan Manning.

“Rome is burning, Jesus says. Drop your fiddle, change your life and come to Me. Let go of the good days that never were – a regimented church you never attended, traditional virtues you never practiced, legalistic obedience you never honored, and a sterile orthodoxy you never accepted. The old era is done. The decisive inbreak of God has happened.”
Brennan Manning, The Ragamuffin Gospel

 From the bottom of my heart, may Jesus bless you with His presence,

Pr. Ben

benbergren dot com 1400-700

Sermon: Build Up-Huskies, Humpbacks and Horse Trainers

We are asked to build people to give people a glimpse of Jesus when they most need it. Find out what Huskies, Humpbacks and Horse Trainers have to do with this!

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Article: Incarnational Evangelism

I ran across this article today from a website called gravityleadership.com. It was so good, I wanted to share it with you…

One of the most difficult aspects of Christianity for me to embrace and practice has been the whole evangelism thing.

Evangelism just doesn’t feel natural to a lot of us.

It’s like evangelism is the awkward guy at the party who can’t follow the conversation and always talks a little too loudly. It’s fine, he’s nice enough, but you just don’t know how to relate to him.

 So what’s the deal with that? Are we “ashamed of the gospel” and need to get over ourselves? Are we trying too hard to be “relevant” or something?

Maybe, but I think something deeper is going on here.

 Evangelism as winning arguments?
Here’s what I mean. My hesitations with evangelism stem from seeing it done badly.

Many evangelism techniques from a generation ago seem to be focused on how to confront strangers with the “truth,” win an argument, and thus win them to Jesus.

After all, if you were serious about your faith, if you really loved Jesus, you’d care enough about people’s ultimate destiny to give them an opportunity to get saved, right?

  • “Excuse me, ma’am, if you died tonight, do you know without a shadow of a doubt that you’d go to heaven?”
  • “If God doesn’t exist, then why is there anything?”

Then you were equipped to answer their objections, “proving” that the Bible was true! Because of your ability to intellectually destroy them, they’d be forced into falling on their knees and confessing that Jesus is Lord.

If you were smart and relentless and committed enough, you could argue people straight into the kingdom, saving their souls!

But I wasn’t buying it. To me, this kind of thing looked like ethically questionable bait-and-switch tactics, coercive conversation outlines, and hard sell techniques filled with fear, guilt, and shame. Nothing I wanted to be involved in.

Plus, (spoiler alert), it doesn’t work! Even if they “get in” because of the fear, guilt, and shame, they’re not actually getting saved from anything. They’re just signing up for more bondage because we scared them into a relationship with God! Yuck!

Embarrassed by coercive evangelism
I have to confess an intense double embarrassment regarding these kinds of evangelistic strategies. On the one hand, I was embarrassed to use these techniques on others, and also felt embarrassed when others occasionally used them on me.

One time when I was walking through an airport someone handed me a tract and asked me if I knew if I was going to heaven.

I sort of answered awkwardly that I was already a Christian, but that wasn’t part of his conversation script, so he kept trying to bring me back to how I knew I was going to heaven…

Ugh! At that point I just felt slimed and walked past him.

Isn’t that interesting? I was “on his team,” so to speak, but I felt like a pawn in his game. There was nothing authentic about the conversation. He wasn’t interested in me, just interested in getting another notch in his evangelism belt.

I just didn’t have the stomach to do that to people. It didn’t feel right. It wasn’t effective, but I assumed my attitude was the problem, and I was ashamed that I wasn’t more passionate about “sharing my faith.”

Evangelism by osmosis?
I responded to these confrontational evangelism techniques in the way that many others do—I backed off and simply tried to connect with people outside the church. I tried to get to know them as people, not prospects.

Which felt like such a relief! I figured this was how people would get to know Jesus and come to faith, through simple friendships where we were connected in our similarities.

I was practicing a kind of “sneaky evangelism” where I hoped that by being loose acquaintances with people, they would eventually just sort of become Christians by osmosis.

But even though it felt better, it seemed to bear about as much fruit as the coercive method (almost none).

As I’d get to know people, they’d find out I was a Christian, but that didn’t seem to mean much.

They’d talk vaguely about going to church as a kid, or even how they go to church occasionally now. Me being a Christian was basically just an interesting fact about me. Like someone with a nose ring or a passion for ballroom dancing or a Haitian ancestry.

My faith was a curiosity at best. It didn’t explain anything remarkable about me. It was just an interesting religious preference, like some people enjoy meditation and others go to church. To each their own.

Connection and distinction
So if coercive evangelism doesn’t work, and neither does “osmosis evangelism,” where does that leave us?

Here’s the thing: whenever you find yourself having only two unsatisfying options, there’s probably another dimension to the problem you’re not thinking about.

So instead of thinking about these 2 ways we all fail at evangelism as opposite ends of a spectrum, think about them as emphasizing two necessary elements in an evangelism strategy that works.

We need connection to the people we are trying to reach, as well as distinction from them. Like this:

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Osmosis evangelism fail
But of course the other way most of us fail at evangelism is when we swing to the other extreme: high connection, but low distinction.

This is when we turn down the distinction and turn up the connection. We simply become “friends” with people, hoping they’ll become Christians by osmosis. At the end of the day, you can’t call anyone to anything, because there’s nothing really distinct about you.

“Come join us, because we’re exactly like you!” is not a compelling vision, nor does it even make sense! You can’t join something if you already belong. If I’m no different than you there’s nowhere for you to move. This is why osmosis evangelism doesn’t work.

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 Incarnational evangelism
This is the false dichotomy we get stuck in…

  • Without distinction, there’s nothing to call people to, but without connection, there’s no people to call!
  • Without connection, no one will listen. Without distinction, you have no message.
  • Without connection, your distinction looks suspiciously like a colonization program.
  • Without distinction, your connection doesn’t lead anywhere.

So what’s the third way? What’s evangelism with high connection and high distinction? What the upper-right quadrant? It’s incarnational evangelism.

Evangelism Graph

This is evangelism in the way of Jesus, because Jesus, as the incarnation, is the perfect embodiment of connection AND distinction at the same time. Jesus is 100% human (connection), and 100% God (distinction).

He embodies connection by fully identifying with us in becoming human. He also embodies distinction from us in remaining fully divine and calling us toward divine life.

One of the most remarkable things about Jesus’ ministry was that “sinners” wanted to be with him, even though he was so clearly not like them.

Jesus reached out to connect with people, and he called them into the thing that was distinct about him: life in the kingdom of God. (End of article.)

Connection (to others) and distinction (from others) are both important when we leave church on Sunday morning until we gather again a week later. Don’t miss this—everyone on the planet craves connection to others and distinction from others. We all want deep friendships (connection) and to some degree we all stand out from the crowd (distinction).

As Christians we have been entrusted with three things: a message, a relationship and the power of change. Jesus asked us to share His story of love with the people around us. Jesus also asked us to introduce others to Him. Finally, Jesus gave us the Holy Spirit who gives us the power to live and love differently.

Let us not be ashamed of these most precious gifts. Coercion and judgmental attitudes does not work and neither does osmosis. Following the lead of Jesus will change the world because he saw our two biggest needs and used them to draw us to Himself.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

benbergren dot com 1400-700

Sermon: Prayer and Peace

What happens when we pray? It is more than our spiritual shopping list. God does more to the person praying than God does to change circumstances. This internal change is more imporant than you might think! Listen in!

 

 

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Sermon: Dare NOT to Compare

It is so easy to compare yourself to others. Yet the Bible tells us the only fair comparison is with ourselves. Why is this important? Listen in and find out!