All posts by Ben

Article: Are We Very Religious?

The craziness of my life caught up with me this week. I have the flu. It is June and I have the flu. The sound we make at home when something doesn’t go right is, “Mlahhh.” (Think of Snoopy from Peanuts when Lucy is mean to him.) Needless to say, this has been a “mlahhh” week. Rachel and I often text that phrase to each other instead of words like, “Ugh.”

I am not going to describe the symptoms of the flu, I am pretty sure you already know what having the flu feels like. It is yucky. I am hopeful that I will feel normal by Sunday, but if I do not, I will still be at church! After all, I have a sermon to preach, sacraments to administer, eat doughnuts (donuts?) with dads and go to the homecoming concert of Common Ground. You should go too, it is a wonderful production! It is at 7:30pm Sunday night in the sanctuary.

Yet, even though I am sick, I keep moving forward and continue to think about God. For example, on Tuesday I asked Rachel (Mrs. Pr. Ben) if she would consider us “very religious?” I don’t even know why that question popped into my head, but it did. Her response was interesting. Rachel said, “Yes, people would view us as very religious.”

I suppose she is right. People would see us as being very religious. Please don’t roll your eyes at me, I’m sick. Cut me some slack. Hear me out…

Most people would say, “I hope they are a very religious family because Ben is a pastor. He is supposed to be religious and Rachel too for that matter.” Yet, I don’t see myself or my family as “very religious.” Please keep reading—I don’t want you to jump to conclusions. There is plenty of time for that after you finish reading the article.

The reason I don’t see myself as “very religious” is this: I live my life in faith. I don’t think about being religious or acting in a way that people will perceive as being religious. I am, for the lack of a better word, just being me. I live within the context of God’s grace and I respond in faith by the things I say and do. I do not expect others to live like me nor do I judge non-Christians by the same measure I judge myself.

I am free and not bound by specific religious behaviors. However, I am free to pray, think about God, worship and engage with fellow Christians. I do these things because I want to not because I have to. If that makes me religious, then so be it.

Sometimes, I think the Pharisees (religious authorities of Jesus’ day) saw themselves as very religious and looked down upon those who were not. They took pride in how much they knew and they also took great delight in shaming others who were not as religious as they were.

I’ll pick following Jesus and being free over being a Christian Pharisee any day of the week.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: When Welcome is More than Welcome

When we get to self-absorbed we have less patience for others. The remedy for that is to be a person of welcome. It may mean more than just saying hi to others…

Article: Who is Welcome?

On Wednesday night at our “First Wednesday Speaker Series” we watched the documentary “A Time for Burning.”  The documentary is a 1966 film which explores the attempts of Pastor Youngdahl of Augustana Lutheran Church in Omaha, Nebraska, to persuade his all-white congregation to reach out to black Lutherans on the city’s north side. The film was directed by San Francisco filmmaker William C. Jersey and was nominated as Best Documentary Feature in the 1967 Academy Awards. The film was commissioned by the Lutheran Church in America.

It is a thought provoking documentary even though it is fifty-three years old. On one hand one can watch it and then say, “look far we have come.” I don’t. When you look around the church on Sunday morning, what do you see? It is still mostly white. I am reminded of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s words, It is appalling that the most segregated hour of Christian America is eleven o’clock on Sunday morning.”

Pastor Youngdahl in his attempt to bring Lutherans together by having voluntary cottage meetings with both white and black Lutherans, he was forced to resign. Many people from his congregation essentially said, “The pastor is moving too fast. The timing is not good.”

To put it bluntly, those were lame excuses. It was not too fast and the meetings were completely voluntary. No one was being forced to do anything. This is what “power” does. It tries to stop anything that it is not comfortable or status quo. “Let’s just keep the peace and not upset the apple cart.” Power tries to preserve power. Letting others who are different into the system constitutes a loss of power.

But the Church and the Gospel are not about power. As a matter of fact, Jesus always sided with those who were without power and on the outside. People like: fisherman, tax collectors, prostitutes, the sick, the poor, children and foreigners. The people of power hated Jesus and saw him as a threat. People like: Pharisees, the Sanhedrin, the Roman Governor and the Chief Priests.

Jesus loved and cared for people who (in the opinion of those in power) were outside of God’s love. These people were sinners and therefore unloved by God (according to the power people). When people see others as less than human or unloved by God because they are “sinners”, there is an effort to keep them “contained”, marginalized and outside the Church.

We have seen the Church change its mind about sinners, power and outsiders over past 2000 years. It began with allowing Gentiles to be recognized as Christians. For many years, American Christians justified slavery and the oppression of our black brothers and sisters with the Bible. We even changed our minds about women serving as pastors. Today we struggle with other issues of inclusivity that threaten to split some churches or at least cause some to leave.

In the documentary, we saw that the mayor of Omaha (a white man) was more progressive and inclusive than the white churches of that community. It is sad for me to see the government ahead of the church when it comes to equality and that seems to be the case today for many churches.

It is not our job to decide who is worthy or welcome. We are all unworthy and we all continue to sin. In other words, we are ALL in the same boat. Our job in the church is not to judge sin. Our calling is to love and point people to Jesus. If we mistakenly think we can stop sin in our neighbor we are delusional. Think about it, we can’t even stop sin in our own life!  Only Christ can heal brokenness.

The Church should be a place for ALL people. Not some people or people like me. We need to stop using sin as litmus test for who is granted admission to the church. Using that yardstick, none of us are welcome.

The Church in the United States still wrestles with the sin of racism. Some more than others. That is not the only issue that excludes.

In the documentary, the children of the parish had no problems making friends with people who are different than themselves. Today it is no different. Our children lead the way as well. Let us listen to them. It is quite possible that they may teach us something about the grace and love of Jesus.

I highly encourage you to watch this documentary.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Sermon: Every Miracle has a Message- Pentecost

Today is Pentecost Sunday. The day the Holy Spirit was given in a mighty way to the early church. But what does it mean for us in 2017? Listen in and find out.

Article: Life Together

Well, I thought this would be a quieter week. Let me re-phrase that. I was hoping for a typical week. You know, be gone for four days and you hope to get back into your routine. Not so much.

The good news is that our house finally sold. That is a big relief even though we took a loss on the property. However, we are glad that chapter in our life is over. (Bethel, you are really stuck with me now!)

Right after we returned, we learned that Rachel’s step-mother was in the hospital and close to death. She passed away on Wednesday evening.

Rachel is already in Chicago for her mother’s (Memaw) retirement party. Rachel will now extend her time away until next Tuesday. I will now be traveling to Chicago on Sunday evening and then drive to Western Illinois (Galesburg, IL) so that I can preside at funeral. Yes, I will be doing the funeral. My father in-law told me that Bonnie asked if I would preside at her funeral. I am very touched and I am honored to do so.

Also, I will be able to stay at my parent’s home and possibly see my son Carl too. All in 36 hours. Rachel and I will drive back to Chicago on Tuesday morning to catch a flight home.

So much for a typical week this week and next. Being bored is not overrated and if I could apologize to my grandparents for all the times I said, “I’m bored” I would.

Rachel and I have not only been busy but we also have been on a roller coaster of emotions. I don’t say that to play on your sympathies. Far from it. I am telling you because I want to be transparent.

With all that going on in my life, we also will have a joyous Sunday at church! We have two students confirming their faith and there is a baptism too! If that wasn’t enough we are remembering the giving of the Holy Spirit to all believers! This is the kind of Sunday that a pastor finds very fulfilling if not exciting.

What do all these things have in common? Christ Centered Community. Life will have ups and downs. Sometimes all at once! Yet when things aren’t going well, I get strength from other Christians. Specifically, I draw strength and support from the people of Bethel (you). When there is something to be joyous about, guess who I want to celebrate with? Yep, the people of Bethel.

Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Romans 12:15b-16a

 That sums it up for me. To live in “harmony” means we should listen to others make sure you are in the same key! Without listening, there is no harmony. If anyone wants to experience the joy of being in community the first step this: Realize that life is NOT all about you. That doesn’t mean that others shouldn’t listen to you. Not at all. It does mean that if we are doing all the talking we are missing the joy of doing life together.

But it all comes down to this…I couldn’t get through life without the love and support of my church family. I know with your love and support- “I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength.” Philippians 4:13

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: The Joy of Bethel: Generosity

We finish our sermon series on the joy of Bethel talking about generosity. Generous Giving is the highest commitment one can make but it also has the capacity to bring the most joy. Listen and discover why the culture tells us something different.

Article: The Land of Disappointment

It is Wednesday afternoon. I’m in my hotel room and I am working on “church stuff.” If you are not up to date on all the latest details of my life—let me fill in the blanks.

On Sunday we had a wonderful Celebration of Art day AND we had churros. One of those two things alone would make it a great day but we had both and I had two churros! Yum. Also a big thank you to all who had a hand in making the Celebration of Art a wonderful experience this past weekend! It was awesome!

I left church Sunday afternoon and flew to Chicago because we were told that our house was finally going to sell after being on the market for two years. First the home was supposed to close on Friday and then it was moved back to Wednesday (today—the day I am typing this). This only gave us two days to completely vacate and clean our house. This would only take one day if I only had deal with what I left behind in Illinois. However, I also needed to get my mother in-law (Memaw) moved too. Thankfully Rachel (Mrs. Pr. Ben) came out to help!!!

After working pretty much non-stop Monday and Tuesday (all day and into the evening), the house was empty and it was clean.  Time to go check in to a hotel and sleep in a real bed for the first time since Saturday night. Time to relax.

As we were checking in to our hotel we received a call from our attorney and realtor—the closing on our home is delayed. As of now, we no longer have a closing date and the house is still ours. We were told that the delay may be temporary, but we don’t know for sure. We were  just twelve hours from officially selling our house!

I told several people at church last Sunday, “It ain’t over, ‘til its over.” (Yes, that’s a Yogi Berra quote from about 1973).  I hate to say those were prophetic words, but they are certainly true at this point.  So, if you are in church on Sunday, you don’t need to ask if we closed on the house. We haven’t.

We changed our flights and we are coming home tomorrow (Thursday). By the time you read this article—I will be back in California.

Needless to say, I am disappointed. Here is the definition of that word just so you know that I am using the correct term. “Disappointment: the feeling of sadness or displeasure caused by the defeat of one’s hopes or expectations.”  Yep, I’m disappointed. My hopes and expectations have not been met.

BUT…

This is beyond my control and there is nothing I can do about it. Because of that, I try not to spend much too time or energy on things I cannot control or fix. That doesn’t mean I am not disappointed but it does mean I don’t add fuel to the fire of my worry.

I also know that this setback was not caused by God or somehow diminishes God’s love for me and my family.

I am reminded Jesus words in times like these. “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?  Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.” Matthew 5:27&34

 Instead Jesus gives us an alternative. “But seek first God’s kingdom and His righteousness…” Matthew 5:33

 The best way for me to do that is not to dwell on what I can’t control (selling and closing on our house in Illinois) and focus on: God, God’s Kingdom, and God’s righteousness (relationship).

Honestly the best way for me to focus on those things is to pray and meditate (think). Bill Hybels once said in relation to these verses in Matthew 5, “If you have time to worry, you have time to pray.” That is so true for me.

This is what I have been doing since last evening. I will do what I can when I can. But when I can’t do anything, I’ll think about God, God’s promises and pray.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

Sermon: The Joy of Bethel: Responding to Needs

What do you do with increased knowlege? You act on it! Knowledge is a means to an end. Listen and hear how to move from spiritual growth to acting in the world. And yes, another TV show theme song!

Article: What Things?

“What things?” Jesus asked. Luke 24:19

Do you think Jesus had a sense of humor? Or was that he occasionally liked to be a smart-aleck? Jesus asks this very question of two followers of his. Yet they did not recognize him.

See, they were talking about all the things that had happened in the past week in Jerusalem. Specifically, they were talking about what happened in the final days of Jesus before his trial, execution and burial. Little did those followers (of Jesus) know that He (Jesus) was raised from the dead earlier in the day and was now walking with them.

Jesus was not recognizable for some reason and so he played dumb and asked them what they were talking about.

This evoked a fairly strong response from Cleopas. “Are you only a visitor to Jerusalem and do not know the things that have happened there in these days?” Luke 24:17

I can just picture Jesus smirking and quietly egging this guy on by asking “What things?”

Jesus received a passionate response regarding…well…himself. Cleopas talked about who Jesus was and what happened to him. He even relayed the rumor about the empty tomb.

Finally, Jesus receives an opportunity to reply. He said to them, “How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!  Did not the Christ have to suffer these things and then enter his glory?” And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning himself. Luke 24:25-27

Now think about that for a second. Jesus literally goes through the Hebrew Bible (verbally) and points out all the things that were prophesied about Him over the past 1500 years. To put it plainly, he schools them. I would love to hear Jesus explain the scriptures!

Imagine for a moment we took only the most important things said about Jesus in the Hebrew Bible and tried to determine the probability of Jesus doing those things.

A number of years ago, Peter W. Stoner and Robert C. Newman wrote a book entitled Science Speaks. The book was based on the science of probability and vouched for by the American Scientific Affiliation. It set out the odds of any one person in all of history fulfilling only eight of the sixty major prophecies found in the Old Testament concerning the Son of God.

Stoner and Newman worked on that math problem and here is what they came up with: The probability that Jesus of Nazareth could have fulfilled even eight such prophecies would be only 1 in 1017. That’s 1 in 100,000,000,000,000,000.

Jesus spent time on the road to Emmaus explaining to those two followers (who did not recognize him) all the things said about him in the Hebrew Bible and it became abundantly clear that Jesus fulfilled the things said about him.

By the math alone, the probability of someone randomly fulfilling just eight of the prophecies written about the messiah is astronomically small. That is just short of impossible. Yet, Jesus shows those two disciples (without the math) that someone did in fact fulfill the things said about the Son of God.

It wasn’t random, or blind luck. God dropped hints for over 1500 years about one who would come and redeem the world. God did this so that people would recognize the Son of God when he arrived. Sadly, many did not. However, this is a reminder to us so many years later that Jesus is the Christ and our Lord and Savior! We don’t need math for that but it does show us that there is a reason to believe!

God bless,

Pr. Ben

Sermon: The Joy of Bethel: Spiritual Growth

We take the next step with another TV show theme song. How do you increase the joy in your life? Spiritual Growth. It will change what you see and what your seek.