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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!

 

 

benbergren dot com 1400-700

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!

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Sermon: Shields and Rewards

God makes some pretty amazing promises to Abraham that are also promises to us. These promises will help us throughout our life if we lean on them!

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Article: Water

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Water is the essential for life. Without it, we die. Everything that lives on this planet requires water for its survival. Nothing-new there, right? What I find fascinating is that God uses water and water imagery throughout the Bible to remind us of a spiritual truth. Without God (spiritual water) we are spiritually dead.

We all know what it feels like to be walking through the “valley of the shadow of death.” There is no hope and you can see no reason to keep walking…but you do. When you are lonely despite the fact you are surrounded by people. When all you want to do is curl up on the couch and avoid life itself. Those are the times we need “living water” to revive and remind us of how much we are loved- even if we are incapable of love in that moment.

In the book of Job, one of Job’s friends (Bildad) puts it this way,
“Can papyrus grow tall where there is no marsh? Can reeds thrive without water?  While still growing and uncut, they wither more quickly than grass

Such is the destiny of all who forget God; so perishes the hope of the godless.  What he trusts in is fragile; what he relies on is a spider’s web. He leans on his web, but it gives way; he clings to it, but it does not hold.” Job 8:11-15

 Papyrus is fragile he says! It withers quicker than grass without water. And then he points out the most shocking thing—we are like papyrus without water when we are without God. Bildad mentions two types of people: Those who forget about God and those who do not know God.

At some point in our lives we forget about God. For many of us, it is during extreme hardship (or college). God will never forget us, but as in any relationship “it takes two to tango.” When we disconnect—we wither.

Thank God, Jesus is always looking for his lost sheep, his lost coin and his lost children (Luke 15). We don’t stay lost or withered forever—Jesus makes sure of that. But during those times, it seems we will never recover what we have lost.

As all life needs water to live—we need spiritual water to thrive. Jesus said to the woman at the well,

“Whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

It makes you wonder, what is in that spiritual water that Jesus offers? God offers himself. But with the gift of God himself we receive something so precious… HOPE.

Hope tells us that there is a future. Hope tells us we have a purpose in this life. Hope tells us that God is up something. Hope tells us that God won’t leave us behind. Hope tells us there is more to this life than meets the eye.

“In God’s great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you…” 1Peter 1:3-4

We are born into a new life with Christ that promises us a hopeful future. Not an optimistic wishful opportunity on the horizon. God has made some outlandish promises but remember this: God doesn’t break promises.

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23

God is the water of our life. Without it, we wither and die. Maybe that is why Jesus chose water as a sign of adoption into his family. As a baby is surrounded by water in it’s mother’s womb, we have been surrounded by the water of God that is teeming with hope.

“A human can live about forty days without food, about three days without water, about eight minutes without air…but only for one second without hope.”

God bless you all,

Pr. Ben

 

benbergren dot com 1400-700

Sermon: What Does the Lord Require?

Require? That is a strong word for people who live into the grace of God. However, the words of Micah remind us of what God is asking of us as children of God. This was also the theme of Leadership Lab where I am one of the directors. Do, Love, Act are actions words. It is time to act!

benbergren dot com 1400-700

Sermon: 5 Things I Learned at Vacation Bible School

The things the children learned at Vaction Bible School are things all of us need to know! The Bible isn’t just “kid stuff.” If you are interested here is a link to the video of what happend at Vacation Bible School: https://youtu.be/psvW9IrR_lo .

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Article: Sin is Not Always Sin

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Do you know what makes everyone uncomfortable? Sin. No one wants to talk about that. Let me take that back. We like to talk about the sins of others. We just don’t want to talk about our own. Right?

Are you still reading? Good. Those who are easily offended have moved on! Let’s get down to business.

St. Paul in his letter to the church of Rome (also known as Romans) defined sin this way, “everything that does not come from faith is sin.” Romans 14:23b A “definition” is much different than a list isn’t it? Often when we start talking about sin we revert to lists of things we (and everyone else) shouldn’t do.

Yet, Paul gives us a definition. Sure there are some things we should not do as Christian because they are self-serving and self-gratifying but those things point back to the definition he provided. Anything we do that does not point to Jesus Christ is sinful. That is a whole lot of stuff including every day sort of activities. They may not be harmful, but they do not “come from faith” and therefore are sinful.

Paul isn’t trying to turn us into Pharisees nor is he reverting back to his previous profession as a Pharisee. Paul is trying to point out that life is full of sin and sinful people, including us. Yet if we look at the whole chapter (Romans 14) we start see a bigger picture. Take a look; I dare you! If you read the chapter literally you would think that it is all about what you eat. It is way more than that. Paul is talking about sin! He just happens to apply it to the big issue of his day: eating certain foods that were sacrificed to false gods.

He is quick to acknowledge that what is sin to some people is not sinful to others. What??? Can you imagine? Not all sin is universal.

Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. One man’s faith allows him to eat everything, but another man, whose faith is weak, eats only vegetables. The man who eats everything must not look down on him who does not, and the man who does not eat everything must not condemn the man who does, for God has accepted him. Romans 14:1-3

Paul says don’t argue about stuff that is debatable or not settled. Judging someone and calling them a sinner based on our list of sins is the wrong approach according to Paul. The litmus test is this: Does this action come out of our faith? It is clear by Paul’s example that it depends upon the person and their motivation.

It is not enough to say, “That is a sin” or “That is not a sin” because someone maybe doing something out of devotion to God which is an act of faith. Yes it is true many people have done some horrible things throughout history with Godly intentions. This definition is not complete. We must also turn to the words of Jesus, which we all know so well, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” Matthew 22:39

Ahhh, things become clearer. Now we have two criteria for evaluating sin: Does it point to Christ and is it loving?

If the answer is no to either, we might have a problem. Paul puts it this way in Romans 14:13 “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister.”

Paul says, appearances matter. Judging others without knowing their heart is a problem (we can never know another’s heart) AND doing something that might make someone stumble because of their faith is weaker or stronger is also a problem—even if it is not a sin!

For example: if Baptists regard drinking alcohol as a sin, then Lutherans shouldn’t drink in front of Baptists even though Lutherans do not regard drinking as a sin.

This is not the only example. We must regard the faith of others when exercising our freedom. As Paul also said, “Everything is permissible for me”—but not everything is beneficial.” 1 Corinthians 6:12

We need to think twice before judge someone and call them a “sinner.” We are all sinners. Instead, let us not be stumbling blocks to one another.

benbergren dot com 1400-700

Sermon: The Thing that Precedes Love

Instead of giving you my opinion regarding the violence of the past week in the USA, I will show you what the Bible says we need before love. Without it the cycle of violence will continue here, there and everywhere.

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Sermon: Core Values- Responding to Needs

We finish up talking about our Core Values! Responding to needs has been a value of the Christian church since the beginning! Listen in as I talk about why that is important and why it is the only choice for us!

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Hell No?

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According to my count “hell” or “hades” is mentioned 21 times in the New Testament. The Apostles’ Creed also states that “Christ descended into hell” or at least it used to say that. The newer translation says, “he descended into the dead.” We Lutheran’s don’t like to talk about hell. It is like the elephant in the room.

I am called to preach the good news of Jesus and not the bad news of hell—that is why I won’t spend a lot of time from the pulpit talking about it. However, I need to talk about it sometime. So why not here and why not now?

If you boil down all the Christian theologians you end up falling into essentially two camps: hell exists or hell does not exist. (Yes, I realize this is an oversimplification but I only have so much time!)

Some folks want to dismiss hell either as a metaphor or literary device used to scare people or that hell was completely vanquished on the day Jesus rose from the dead. Either way, hell is non-existent and everyone gets to go to heaven someday… no matter what.

I don’t have all the answers and I am not an after-life scholar but these ideas raise more problems than solve them. If hell were a metaphor, why would Jesus the Son of God need to come and die on the cross to forgive sins that do not have any lasting punishment associated with it? Doesn’t make sense for Jesus to die to save people from nothing but a bad metaphor. It also doesn’t add up if Jesus was misleading people only to scare them into following him. The ends do not justify the means.

On the other hand, if Jesus’ death and resurrection actually closed down hell on the day of resurrection why would Jesus say to the apostles, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (hell) will not overcome it. I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven.” Matthew 16:18-19

Or why would Jesus say…

“But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” Matthew 5:22

 Or even…

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”. John 3:16-17

 Why would the world need saving if hell was boarded up on Easter morning? The theological term for this is “Universalism” which is nothing more than Jesus saves everyone whether they believe it or not.

I love the idea of universalism. It makes my job easier. Everyone is saved! Yay God! Let’s just play nice until Jesus comes back!

Look, it is God’s prerogative to do whatever God wants to do. He’s the boss. If at the end God wants to save everyone, He has the ability, the power and the grace to do so. I can’t even speculate on who goes to hell (and neither should you). All we can say confidently is that we know that those who believe in Jesus are going to heaven. Even saying that, we can’t truly know who knows Jesus and who does not… only God knows a person’s heart.

Back to the point, Jesus and those who recorded the words of scripture tell us there is a heaven and there is a hell. The only clear path to heaven is through Jesus. (There are others, but not as easy or certain as this—just ask me sometime.)

God loves humanity. God wants humanity to know Him like a father. God wants the people of the world to be a part of his family so that he can lavish His love upon them. God wants to share His life with us. God went to extreme measures to show us the extent of His love: He sent Jesus.

God does not want people to be without His love and His family (the church)- yet God never forces His will upon us. He wants our love because it is genuine and not coerced. That my friend is free will.

Jesus at the end of his time on earth left us Christians (his family) with the mandate to grow God’s family by telling others of His love and NOT to tell people to go to hell. I know we don’t tell people that! By not saying anything, we might be doing that very thing. Jesus asked us to share the hope that we have (1Peter 3:15). If we have hope in Christ we should joyfully share with those who are hurting, lost, lonely and misguided.

If you are reading this and you are not sure about your “hope in Christ” please contact me, I would love to share Jesus with you and what he has done for me in my life.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben