All posts by Ben

Article: Being Right

It seems that everyone in the world is consumed with idea of “being right.” If you doubt me, just go look at Facebook, Twitter or your favorite flavor of cable news. Everyone is right and talking over each other.

Sure, there is still a difference between right and wrong, but we even argue about that.

The problem with “being right” and seeing yourself as the only enlightened person in the room, social media or dinner table is this: we feel justified to treat those who are “wrong” with contempt.

It fascinates me (and saddens me) to see people treat others so badly just because they are “wrong.” There is something lodged down deep in our hearts that tell us that “being right” is the highest ideal above anything else including love. It stands to reason if we are right, the other person is wrong. If the other person is wrong, we are within our rights to treat them terribly because they are bad people too. Most likely, that person feels the same about you and will engage in the same behavior. It is a lose/lose situation.

Now if a person is not a Christian, they can do whatever they want as long as it is lawful. There is a lack of civil discourse right now but I do not believe that I have the right to impose my values on someone who does not believe in the Prince of Peace and the Lord of Love. In other words, I am addressing the Christian community, not society at large. Besides, I would be pretty arrogant to think that I have sway over that many people including those who do not believe that Jesus Christ is Lord.

Within the Christian community (the Church) we too have succumbed to the theology of “being right” and the associated bad behavior that comes out of this mindset.

Let me be as clear as I can. We still need to be vocal about behaviors and actions that hurt others: sexism, racism, ageism and discrimination of any kind. We also should be vocal when “the system” oppresses “the least of these.” When it is within our power to do so, we should work to educate and change the things that are repressive. A firm “no” is appropriate when dealing with these types of issues.

However, just because we might be right occasionally (don’t fool yourself thinking you have cornered the market on truth 100% of the time) that does not give the Christian license to treat other people with contempt and scorn. Demonizing other people does not solve problems. That does not mean you must agree with the other person either.

When St. Paul talked about the 3 most important characteristics of being a Christian, guess what did not make the list? That’s correct, “being right” doesn’t crack the top 3.

And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love. 1Corinthians 13:13

 Love is the highest ideal. That is a huge declaration for Paul who is an intellectual. Even he sees that love is more important than intellect or even faith. Wow.

No one is advocating for conflict avoidance and sugar coating everything. We can disagree and be agreeable. When that is not possible, we do not need to lash out with name calling and angry rhetoric. Giving ourselves space from someone we disagree with is preferable to “burning relational bridges.”

Gracious God, help us to follow you and you alone. We are reminded in scripture that having divided loyalties is unhealthy. Come to our aid once again and hold us closely. Let love drive our interactions with others and let our thirst for justice keep us moving forward. Your Kingdom come, Your will be done. In Jesus’ name, we pray. Amen.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

Sermon: Reformation 500: In Luther’s Words- Why Take Communion?

We continue to look at the words of Martin Luther. Today we examine who is worthy to come to the Lord’s Supper. St. Paul seems to say one thing, Martin Luther says something else. Listen in and hear how we reconcile the two possible points of view.

Article: Am I My Brother’s Keeper

Then the Lord said to Cain, “Where is your brother Abel?” 

“I don’t know,” he replied. “Am I my brother’s keeper?”  Genesis 4:9

 This comes from one of the oldest stories in the Bible. The story of Cain and Abel. If you haven’t read this story, take the time to read it. You can find it in the first book of the Bible in the fourth chapter.

I am not going to look at the whole story, just the verses above because I believe it is a question worth exploring.

Most of you know that Cain kills his brother Abel because he is both jealous and angry that God accepted Abel’s offering.

Before Cain can hurt his brother in any way God comes to Abel and tries to help him think through his emotions before he does something rash. In other words, God cares and gives Cain the opportunity to reflect on what is going on inside of himself before he takes it out on his brother.

Needless to say, Cain doesn’t reflect.

Knowing what happened to Abel, God casually asks Cain, “Where’s your brother?”

Cain gets all snarky on God (who already tried to help him once responds)—“I don’t know. Am I my brother’s keeper?” I think you probably could a “Geesh God” at the end of that statement.

That is the question, isn’t it? Even for us. Are we responsible for others?

The answer is both “yes” and “no”.

First the no. We are not responsible for the words and actions of others. We can’t control others and it is an unhealthy endeavor to think we can. Whether it be through manipulation or intimidation. Every individual is responsible for their own words and actions. Even God did not try to control Cain.

Yet, in this world we see all sorts of unhealthy behavior where people try to get other people to do what they want. Whether it is bullying, codependent or passive aggressive behavior, all of it is an attempt to manipulate others.

However you want to look at it, we are not responsible (nor should we be) for the words and actions of others no matter how close you are them relationally speaking.

BUT…

We are called by God to be responsible for the care of our brother. In this story, the word used is “brother.” (Because they were brothers.) This call for care is not limited to family. Jesus unambiguously clarified the question, “Who is my neighbor and should I care for them” in the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37.

Although we are not responsible for the words and actions of others, we are called to care for the world around us.

In the Small Catechism, Martin Luther addresses this as he explains the meaning of the Fifth Commandment…

“You shall not kill.”
What does this mean?
Answer: We should fear and love God, and so we should not endanger our neighbor’s life, nor cause him any harm, but help and befriend him in every necessity of life.

 I know I am not telling you anything new here. Maybe I am reminding myself as I see all the pain and suffering over the past several weeks (hurricanes, Las Vegas shootings, the North Bay fires). Instead of spending time being angry, we should use that time and energy doing what we can to help others.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

 

 

Sermon: Reformation 500: In Luther’s Words- Do Not Be Alone

As we continue to hear the words of Martin Luther, we are reminded to surround ourselves with Christians when we are feeling down and want to stay in bed with the blankets over our heads. Listen in as I explain why it is important to stick together in times of trouble.

Article: A Shared Reflection from Las Vegas

As most of you know, I am one of the directors of a summer camp experience called Leadership Lab. 17 years ago, my youth director and I took a group of youth from Las Vegas to Leadership Lab. Ever since then, students and staff continue to come to Leadership Lab for a week of faith development and inspiration. Selfishly, I am proud of the legacy of that decision to drag students halfway across the country to attend the summer camp that I have been a part of since 1985.

One of those students, Keri Ann Triunfo wrote this after the tragedy in Las Vegas this past week…

Early this morning, in the wake of tragedy, I went outside to see an orange sky. The wind blew with harsh determination, causing the air to feel cold. It was as if nature itself was in mourning, and I couldn’t help but feel as if God was angry.

When suffering strikes our nation like it did last night, it’s easy for some of us to believe that God is punishing us. That he has taken up his hand against us in wrath and vengeance, like Sodom and Gomorrah. Las Vegas especially, has been likened to that ancient city by some. But those people don’t take into account the innocent women and children exploited here. Where is their justice? Why are they punished? They don’t take into account the brothers and sisters in Christ who are faithfully serving the Lord with their families and churches in this city. No, this massacre was not an act of God. 

The God we serve sent his son Jesus to us, to become a part of humanity. To share in our weaknesses. To feel our pain. To feel sorrow, frustration, fear, joy, love, and even to experience death. Matthew 5:45 tells us that The Lord makes the sun rise and rain fall on both the just and the unjust. Truth be told, bad things happen because our world is broken at the seams. We are broken people. But our Father has not abandoned us.

When these things happen, it’s important for us to remember that the function of the Holy Spirit, is to be our Helper. Our comforter, advocate, intercessor, counselor, and strength. 
In these times of despair and uncertainty, I urge you to remember that our God is not one of wrath, but of compassion, mercy, and love.

So, when I say that I feel God’s anger, I believe it is his empathy on our behalf. I believe he is beside the families, and loved ones of those whose lives were needlessly taken in a moment. I believe he is with the first responders and off duty authorities that risked their lives to protect civilians. He is with the civilians that dove into harm’s way to protect the people beside them, and assist the wounded. He is with the ones that had to watch in horror as countless others were killed or maimed before their eyes. God is here amidst the heartbreak and fear, sharing once again in our sorrows, and in our frustration

Romans 8:38-39 For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come,nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Very moving, very thoughtful and very faithful. Please keep all people affected by gun violence in your prayers, including the people of Las Vegas and beyond.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Reformation 500: In Luther’s Words- Now What?

Martin Luther reminds us that we don’t have the ability to earn God’s favor. Yet God chose us out of His love. Since we don’t have to worry about our standing with God, now what? This the question I will answer in this message.

Article: A Difficult Sunday

St. Paul writes,
“For, as I have often told you before and now say again even with tears, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction, their god is their stomach, and their glory is in their shame. Their mind is on earthly things. But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body.” Ephesians 3:18-21

This past weekend was full of passion for many people. There were some who were supportive of the NFL players who took a knee during the national anthem to protest incidents of police brutality and racial injustice and there were some who were not.

As I read the combustible volley of words on social media Sunday afternoon, the verses above came to mind. Specifically, “But our citizenship is in heaven.”

 I love living in the United States of America, but as a Christian I am reminded that I am only passing through and will spend more time in heaven (eternity) than I will here on Earth. Paul prompts me and all Christians to look up to heaven and not be consumed with “earthly things.” While Paul doesn’t list what those “earthly things” are, we can be confident about what it means to be a citizen of heaven even before we get there.

In the simplest of instructions, Jesus tells us to “love our neighbor as ourselves.” Matthew 22:39 This is quite different from, “If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that? And if you greet only your brothers, what are you doing more than others? Do not even pagans do that?” Matthew 5:46-47

 That is our natural default. We tend to like those who see things the way we do. Jesus challenges us to do more than being nice to those who are like us or are related to us. Hate is never an appropriate response.

We are encouraged to love everyone including our enemies: perceived or real. That is hard stuff. This would include those we don’t agree with. We don’t have to agree with them, but as a citizen of heaven we should attempt to love them.

Yet this weekend reminded me that we still have a serious problem with race in our nation. As a white man, I will never understand the struggles that people of color have had and still have in our country. It would be ignorant for me to say, “I do not experience injustice or inequality, therefore no one does.” Not only should we be aware of such things, but as Christians we should be responsive to those who experience such things.

For those who believed the Sunday NFL was the wrong venue to bring this issue to our attention, I would ask, “What is the right venue?” I ask that honestly because the same is often said about peaceful street protests. It is clear for many, “never” is the appropriate time. There is never a comfortable time to talk about injustice and racial inequality.

It is clear that by Sunday afternoon, there was a national debate going on. Discussion clarifies and it allows us to hear various points of view.

As a Christian, how should we respond to those who are struggling? Paul when writing his letter to the Hebrew Christians shows us an example of how citizens of heaven should respond to those in peril…

Remember those earlier days after you had received the light, when you stood your ground in a great contest in the face of suffering. Sometimes you were publicly exposed to insult and persecution; at other times you stood side by side with those who were so treated. You sympathized with those in prison and joyfully accepted the confiscation of your property, because you knew that you yourselves had better and lasting possessions. So do not throw away your confidence; it will be richly rewarded. Hebrews 10:32-37

Lots to think about.

 As a citizen of heaven we should understand something about where we are headed. John gives us glimpse in Revelation 21:3-4

“Now the dwelling of God is with people, and He will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 

 One day, we will be living up close and personal with God. Everything that causes heartbreak in this life will be gone. Not just the things that cause me sadness, but the things that cause others to be brokenhearted (like the things mentioned above).

“The old order of things” will be a thing of the past. What is that, you ask? Lots of things: sin, pain, violence, sickness, injustice, racism, money, government, laws, pollution and the list goes on. One day, the only thing that will matter is that we will be living with God where we will live in peace and joy with Christ and one another.

Until then, we are still citizens of heaven and we should live into the words we pray every Sunday, “Thy Kingdom come, Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven…”

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

Sermon: Reformation 500: In Luther’s Words- All Ready Taken Care of

This is the first sermon in a new series- Reformation 500: In Luther’s Words. We will spend the next 5 weeks looking at various quotes of Martin Luther to better understand Martin Luther and that his theological writings still have relevance for us today. We begin with the difference between “doing” and “believing.”

Article: Integrity

The Bible mentions the word integrity 22 times and uses 5 different words (3 Hebrew and 2 Greek) to describe integrity.

According to these “root words”, integrity describes someone who is honest, truthful, upstanding, righteous, morally upright and incorruptible. These are great descriptive words of for being a person of integrity. When we talk about Christian integrity we are not talking about “salvation issues.” Jesus came to save sinners (us) and not those who try to be good. The truth is we are broken.

Living with integrity is all about our response to what God has done for us through the person of Jesus Christ. In other words, integrity is all about sanctification (the process of being made holy)!

A Christian author (I forget who) once said, “Integrity is being the same person in private as you are in public.”  In other words, we aren’t doubleminded (see the book of James) or being hypocritical. Integrity is when we act the same way in front of people as we do when no one is watching.

This past week our organist posted the article below on integrity. It is not faith-based, but the list is so good, I wanted to share it with all of you. I am sure you will Christian characteristics within the list below. I hope you find it useful.

 13 Characteristics of People Who Have True Integrity
from awarenessact.com

1. They value other people’s time.
They value their own time so they also value the time of other people. They know you have plenty of other places you need to be and won’t hold you up. If you spend time with them, it is likely they will thank you for that as well.

 2. They give credit where it is due.
They do not take credit for things they did not do. They will always credit those who deserve it. If you help this person with a project he or she will likely mention your name so you can take credit for your work.

3. They are authentic.
They are their truest forms. You won’t catch them in a lie or being fake.

4. They are always honest.
They are honest people that feel no need to lie as it is important for them to get to where they need to get in life honestly.

5. They never take advantage of others.
They are not the kind of people who will take advantage of someone else. They love to build people up and help them get where they need to be. Taking too much from someone else will never be an issue with someone who has a lot of integrity.

6. They do not argue over disagreements.
They will talk through things in a civil manner or not talk at all. You cannot and will not force this person into arguing over something completely ridiculous. I find this to be a very respectable trait.

7. They give most people the benefit of the doubt.
They try to see the good in everyone. I think this is because they feel like maybe there are more people in this world that also have integrity. That being said, if you take advantage of them too much they will get rid of you.

8. They know when something is bothering someone.
They have a great intuition that lets them know when something is going on. If someone is down in the dumps they will notice. Chances are they will actually do what they can to cheer you up.

9. They believe others.
They accept your word as truth until it is disproven. That being said, they do not take lying well. And once you lie to them, it is unlikely that they will ever take your word again.

10. They apologize first.
If they have done something wrong they will come to you and apologize. This is just how they are. They own up to their mistake and try to make things right.

 11.They are humble.
They do not quite know their own worth. While they are very important and do so much good they don’t quite see it. You should remind them of it.

 12. They do good when they can.
They are always helping other people. They love to know that they have improved someone’s life. It gives their lives meaning.

 13. They are always kind to those who need it.
Giving kindness can go a long way. When someone looks like they need a little pick me up these people deliver. They can brighten up almost anyone’s day.

If you are someone who has true integrity, thank you for being who you are and thank you for all that you do. You really do actually make a difference in society, please keep up the good work. If you feel no one else is proud of you, know that I am.

Sermon: Why Joy is Vital

Earlier in 2017 I talked about joy and how it is driving force of our church. Today I revisit the topic of joy after our Labor Day Retreat that talked about “joy in the journey.”