All posts by Ben

Article: From Bishop Holmerud

If you are not signed up for the Sierra Pacific Synod e-newsletter, here is what Bishop Mark Holmerud wrote about “hate” and the events of this past week. I hope you find it helpful as we discern who we are and what our response should be to those who hate.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

“Could it be, could it be, that we are called — for such a time as this?” a song by Jonathan Rundman

Hate. Hate speech. Hate rhetoric. Hate crimes. Hate groups.  Hate is the common thread and the impetus behind the 917 Hate Groups that have been identified as operating in the United States. The “Hate Map” of the Southern Poverty Law Center shows that there are 79 such groups in California and 4 in Nevada. These groups advocate hate in all forms — racism, neo-Nazism, white nationalism, anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim sentiments, xenophobia and anti-immigrant beliefs, misogyny, and violence towards the GLBTQ community.

I’m sure the list of those whom these groups identify as objects of hate is more extensive than we want to believe, and more present in this part of our country than we may be aware. At least that’s been true for me. I had no idea there are over 83 hate groups operating in our backyard – in the territory of our Sierra Pacific Synod. I imagined the “stronghold” of these groups was in the southern part of our country, in places where violence has been erupting for years, where the lynching of black people was once common, and where people needed to press for their right to ride on public transportation and sit at lunch counters. Not true. It’s here. It’s now. I have recently been made aware that there are planned demonstrations in the coming months by white supremacist and neo-Nazi groups here in northern California. Perhaps there are planned demonstrations in northern Nevada as well.

The events in Charlottesville a few days ago and many other recent acts of hatred and violence are a clarion call for us to pray, to be aware, to be vigilant, and to speak out where such hate emerges from the shadowy depths where its adherents are emboldened to act out of fear and hate. Could it be that we are called for such a time as this to be voices of the light and peace of the Gospel to be proclaimed with even more ardor and purpose? To make clear, as Presiding Bishop Eaton has called us to do, that “White supremacy has no place in the kingdom of God, only the love and healing of the reign of the Prince of Peace.”

If you are feeling called to speak out, The Southern Poverty Law Center has provided a helpful guide called “Ten Ways to Fight Hate” to move us from the uncertainty of knowing how to respond to hate and violence to taking small steps toward speaking out, organizing, standing with those who also wish to decry hate speech and hate groups in our communities.  I invite you to contact your local ecumenical and interfaith groups, civic and governmental leaders and community organizers who are seeking to address the presence of these 83 groups in our area, and the 917 that exist in this country. I am and will be committed to providing support and resources in as many ways as possible to speak of Christ’s love in the face of this monstrous evil. I encourage you to follow the links below to learn how you can be involved in this Gospel call to action.  I believe this is a time in which we have been called to speak and act.  May God be with us as we step forward in faith.

Ten Ways To Fight Hate – From the Southern Poverty Law Center website

  1. Act
  2. Join Forces
  3. Support the Victims
  4. Speak Up
  5. Educate Yourself
  6. Create An Alternative
  7. Pressure Leaders
  8. Stay Engaged
  9. Teach Acceptance
  10. Dig Deeper

Bp. Mark

Sermon: Leaving Security Behind

The events of Friday and Saturday in Chalottesville VA have overtaken our country. What is our response? What false securities do we hold on to? I try to answer those questions in this message.

Article: Book Recommendation

I read quite a few books over the course of a year. Most of them, I listen to. I try to be productive in the car. On average, I go through (read/listen) about 84 books a year or 7 books a month. I don’t actually count or keep a list but this is fairly accurate statistic based on my monthly consumption of books. Some of it is pleasurable reading, some of it is church related.

If you have noticed (maybe you haven’t), I don’t recommend many books. I do give recommendations on a one on one basis (I did last week) but I don’t often give blanket endorsements. As I think about it, the last time I publicly said, “everyone should read this book” was The Shack by William P. Young released in 2007. I didn’t read and recommend it until 2008. That was 9 years ago.

I understand you haven’t been holding your breath for this but I just read a book that fellow Bethel member, Randy Shattuck recommended to me. The book is titled, The Myth of Equality by Ken Wytsma. The subtitle is, “Uncovering the roots of Injustice and Privilege.”

Who is Ken Wytsma? This is what is said about him on his website: Ken Wytsma is the founder of The Justice Conference, the global pastor of Antioch Church, and the president of Kilns College in Bend, Oregon. He is the author of Pursuing Justice, The Grand Paradox, and recently released, The Myth of Equality: Uncovering the Roots of Injustice and Privilege.

Ken is a white “evangelical” pastor and author.  Yet he writes with  an unbiased clarity and precision. He looks at inequality and injustice through both the lens of American history and from a Biblical perspective. He concludes the book by discussing practical ways Christians can address the issues raised in the book.

I highly commend this book to you. Read it with an open mind and resist being defensive (if you are white).

If enough people read it at Bethel, I would love to have a discussion about it.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

You can order this book here (hardcover, Kindle or audiobook):



Sermon: What to do?

How do we engage the world as citizens of the Kingdom of God? How we answer that actually matters. Pr. Ben has been wrestling with this question for a couple of weeks. By turning to scripture, Jesus points the way.

Article: I Don’t Want to be a Pharisee

I don’t want to be a Pharisee. You know, the religious authorities and teachers of the Law of Moses that Jesus tangled with during his earthly ministry. I know that may sound like a silly thing to say but the day I entered the seminary to become a pastor, I began my training as a religious authority… also known as a Pharisee. Of course, I am not Jewish, but I don’t want to be a Christian Pharisee either.

When we think about Jesus’ earthly ministry, it seems like the only people he had problems with were those who were in charge. Back then the Pharisees and the Chief Priests pretty much ruled the roost in Israel. They called the shots. You might be asking yourself, “What about the Romans who were occupying the land? Weren’t they in charge?” They were, but the day-to-day activities of the average person living in Israel were governed by the Pharisees. People tried to avoid the Roman soldiers at all costs.

If we are to believe the gospels, which I do, most of the religious leaders of that day cared more about themselves than they did about the people under their charge. They were supposedly the most learned and the most religious, yet Jesus pointed out time and time again that their actions were contrary to the will of God. In other words, they were hypocrites.

In one poignant moment, Jesus said this, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness.” Matthew 23:23

Jesus called them out for doing things for appearances only and missing the things that God cared about most: justice, mercy and faithfulness. Wow. I don’t want to be the one who does things for appearances or just to be liked. I don’t want to appear religious (I’ve already blown that) and neglect the things that really matter to God.

I have said this hundreds of times, but it is still true in regard to mercy, “I would rather have Jesus tell me on judgment day that I was too easy on people than have him say- why were you so hard on people and kept them from truly knowing me.” Jesus showed mercy to all who were not sure that God cared about them because of their decisions or status in life.

I still want to grow in my faith. I do not believe I will ever arrive at the destination of “enough faith.” I want to surround myself with people who also want to grow in their faith and I continue to be open to God’s guiding hand in my life.

Jesus uses the word “justice” too. There is more than one word in the original Greek that translates as “justice” in English. This word (krisis) actually means the ability to discern right from wrong so as to judge a case or a matter. Jesus is saying the religious authorities (Pharisees) lack the discernment between right and wrong.

For example, in Mark 7:10-13 Jesus says, “For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and mother,’ n and, ‘Anyone who curses their father or mother is to be put to death.’  But you say that if anyone declares that what might have been used to help their father or mother is Corban (that is, devoted to God)— then you no longer let them do anything for their father or mother.  Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” 

That is fairly direct. Don’t miss the last line. This isn’t only about caring for parents; this is one example among many. In this case, money took precedent over people. They didn’t have the ability to see what God values most: people. Not money, not prestige or respect, not even power.

Our God cares about people. God sent Himself in the person of Jesus to draw people close to Him. Jesus took time to correct the misperceptions about the nature of God because the people representing Him (the Pharisees and the Chief Priests) cared more about themselves than they did about the people under their charge. But it wasn’t just a few people. It was the entire nation of Israel.

Jesus called them out for being unjust, unmerciful and unfaithful. Jesus showed us who matters in the Kingdom of God: tax collectors, prostitutes and sinners. Jesus reminded us that neglecting others who struggle (including parents) isn’t God’s way of doing things.

Like I said, I don’t want to be a Pharisee. I want to follow Jesus and His teachings until I can sit at his feet and see him face to face.

Yes, I know. The things Jesus said eventually got him killed… and most of his disciples too. I guess that is a risk I am willing to take.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Where is Pr. Ben?

Most of you know where I am this week. I am at a summer camp called “Leadership Lab.” I am one of the directors of this 55-year-old camp. For the past 32 summers, I have returned to this place to serve. But it isn’t a place. Yes, we do rent Augustana College in Rock Island, IL for a week, but the location isn’t the important part. It is the people.

Leadership Lab could be held pretty much anywhere and over the years it has been at Illinois State University in Bloomington, IL and Western Illinois University in Macomb, IL. The location is but a minor detail.

Leadership Lab as in “laboratory” is a place for Lutheran youth to learn about Christian leadership, their faith and themselves in a week long experiential camp. But it is way more than that. It is a clear expression of the Church of Jesus Christ. For one week, this group of people, who gather from as far away as Cupertino, California (me), become a congregation of people who love, support, learn, laugh and even cry together. It is safe place to “let down” and be yourself. It is truly a judgment free zone. I have formed life-long friendships with people who have attended Leadership Lab. It is more than a friendship. We are brothers and sisters in Christ.

I can’t help but think of the phrase, “blood is thicker than water” which means your family will be there for you when no one else will. That may not always be true of all families, but it is always true for the family of God. The head of our household went to great lengths to protect and watch over us. Jesus gave his life so that we might be protected from losing our lives one day.

I am privileged to be a part of something that is literally life-changing. I get to see young people grow in their faith and not only learn about God, but to experience His gentle touch in their lives (in front of my very eyes). It is humbling to know that I help facilitate that experience.

This year, one our worship leaders went through Leadership Lab as a student. He is a young guy and he remembered coming to Leadership Lab his first year and saying to himself, “One day, I want to lead worship here.” And he now does. Wow. I have seen youth volunteer to sing, share poems, care for one another and experience the freedom of being in a safe place away from all the worries of life.

Since this is a program that progresses through 7 levels, youth can come back every year and experience something new throughout their high school and early college years. Many of our staff went to Leadership Lab as students, including myself. I wouldn’t be a pastor today without this program.

If you would like to watch our worship on Saturday morning (which is contemporary and geared to the youth) we stream our worship on Facebook. It will be online at 8:45am Saturday morning on this  Facebook page:

You first have to “like” the page and then you can watch us live. Be forewarned, I will preaching on Saturday at Leadership Lab so you will have to see my face also.

Bethel, thank you for supporting me in this ministry. I appreciate it more than you can imagine. I also thank my beautiful and supportive wife Rachel (aka Mrs. Pr. Ben) for putting up with my week-long absence too. She understands that this is an important part of my life.

Yet, when it is over on Saturday afternoon, I can’t wait to get home to see Rachel and be with my church family at the beginning of the week.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Forgiveness: The Path Forward

Forgiveness isn’t forgetting but it is letting go. Sometimes that is a process. And sometimes God needs to remind us that it is good for us. Listen in and hear how Jacob and Esau (twin brothers) remind why forgiveness is important.


I ran across another great article this week that I wanted to share with you. I found it both helpful and enlightening! Enjoy!

Even when you’re not on vacation!
By Pastor Kathy Hawks of Our Redeemer’s Lutheran Church in Seattle, Washington

Summer — such a delicious time of year!  Even if the pace doesn’t slow as much as we’d like, the focus shifts and the weather (usually) is glorious!

In keeping with our Spiritual Life Hack explorations and focus on how faith practices can transform our spirits and our lives, here are some ways to relax and deepen your enjoyment of the season — whether you’re traveling or at home, on vacay or cleaning out the garage.  I’ve put them in order of least to most challenging (at least for me!):

  1. Music.

What music relaxes you in a way that connects you to your deeper self and God? Gospel? Hymns? Classical? U2? Folk? Whatever it is, keep it on hand. In fact, why not make yourself a playlist you can play on your phone, in the car, or while you’re walking?

  1. Breathe.

Notice your breath, filling and leaving your body.  Draw it in for 5 counts, hold for 3, and release it for 5 counts.  Repeat 5 times.  Do it upon waking, before sleeping, when you realize you’re stressed, when your brain is racing and you want to be more present.

  1. Practice feeling gratitude.

We can all make lists of why we SHOULD be grateful. But taking 60 seconds to actually experience the goodness of all God has given — that’s a different and very anxiety-reducing practice.  Try it upon waking, upon going to bed, when you sit down to eat, when you exercise, when you do something you love to do or are with people who make you smile or listen deeply.  Gratitude opens us to God. What if this became your default attitude?

  1. Be still.

Notice your breathing, in and out, in and out. Use your senses: what are 5 things you see?  4 things you hear?  3 things you touch?  2 things you smell? 1 thing you taste? Close your eyes, allow silence to fill you. Savor it. You may sense God’s presence.

  1. Choose a summer Bible verse mantra.

Is there a Bible verse that puts things in perspective for you and helps you let go?  “The Lord is my shepherd…who leadeth me beside still waters…”. “Be still and know that I am God.”  “Lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age.”  “Peace I give to you…not as the world gives.”   And there are MANY, MANY more! Pastor Gretchen and I would be delighted to help you find one to put on your screensaver, or dashboard, or bathroom mirror, or wherever.  Or make it a habit to internally say it whenever you do certain daily things, so it becomes a habit.

  1. Pray throughout the day.

John Somm just shared a great three-word all-purpose prayer with me:  “God, guide me.” It can be that simple. Or you may find power and clarity in praying about something specific in the moment.

  1. Be present in the moment.

Notice God In the moment.  So many ways God shows up: little children (for “theirs is the kingdom of heaven”), in nature, in kind and loving interactions- however small, in “the least of these”, in conflicts resolved and relationships reconciled, and on and on.

  1. Give in to a generous impulse.

Bring some luscious strawberries to the neighbor you don’t really know.  Write that check to aid famine victims. Do the thing at church or another volunteer organization you keep meaning to do. Doing any such things even just once is golden.

  1. Unplug and unscreen.

Yes, you can! Start small, like an hour before bed. Many of us remember when we actually lived our whole lives this way!!  You might feel lonely and at loose ends, or you might find yourself better able to do # 10-3.  Either way, your spirit will be nourished, and the likelihood of connecting with God and others goes up exponentially.

  1. Observe Sabbath.

Not every Sunday, but you owe it to yourself to do it at least once.  I have done it a few times and it is AWESOME! Make meals ahead. Do only things that nurture your spirit. (You know what they are; other things just get in the way. But God commands this!   Nap.   Stare at the night sky.  Take a walk.  Write a letter or call a friend, just ‘cause.  Leave those screens alone!  It’s amazing what power there is in knowing that sabbath is a “thing” people have done for millennia, and it has rejuvenated and blessed them.

Sermon: 5 Things I Learned in Vacation Bible School

This week we hosted our annual Vacation Bible School. It was a wonderful week! Listen in and hear about the things we learned while I was at VBS!