Category Archives: Articles

Article: Let’s Talk About Sin

21 So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. 22 For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; 23 but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. 24 What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? 25 Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

 So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  Romans 7:21-25

Sin. It is the reality of our existence. Selfishness, envy, anger, control, neglect, denial, hate, injustice, judgment and the list goes on. Our life is a struggle between what we want and what God calls us to be. St. Paul who wrote a letter to the church of Rome (quoted above) writes a lot about sin. When an author of Bible devotes a lot time to one topic, I tend to pay attention.

Even Paul admits to the struggle in his life. Think about that… someone we refer to as a “saint” struggles with sin like we do. It’s as if he is saying, “my heart tells me to do one thing and mind another.” Paul is expressing the human condition as a Christian. We are both “saint and sinner.”  That is it in a nutshell for all of us. This is who we are.

Sin is not a side item in God’s agenda, is it? When the Son of God came to earth, what was his primary mission? To die so that we may be forgiven. Essentially God decided long ago that blood was the currency of forgiveness to show humanity the cost of sin and rebellion. It costs lives. In the Old Testament, many innocent animals were sacrificed to provide forgiveness. In the New Testament, God sacrificed himself so that His blood would cover our sin.

Sin matters to God because it causes a break in our relationship with the people around us and a break with God. We are created for community and sin gets in the way of God’s purpose for humanity.

Earlier in Paul’s letter to the Roman church he talks about being a slave to sin and a slave to righteousness. He wasn’t talking about individual sins or good deeds but patterns of behavior. Paul understands that we will always struggle with sin in this life. Instead he wants us to look at the bigger picture. Are we on a journey toward righteousness (life with God) or on a path to greater darkness and selfishness (sin and separation)?

If humanity was good at following directions, we wouldn’t need Jesus… just the 10 Commandments. We discovered that we couldn’t help ourselves. We just can’t. God already knew that and sent his Son Jesus to do what we couldn’t do ourselves. He would bring: forgiveness, love and a new path to follow.

St. Paul reminds us of this when he wrote…

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus…For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering. Romans 8:1&3

 Forgiveness is ours because of Christ. Paths of righteousness have been opened to us if we choose to walk with Jesus.

God bless,
Pr. 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

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













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

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.


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





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

Article: Luther and the Two Kingdoms?

If you are a devotee of Lutheran theology, then you probably have read about Martin Luther’s doctrine of the “Two Kingdoms.” If you are “in the know,” then you already understand there is fierce discussion on whether this is a good doctrine or it needs to die once and for all.

For those of you who have not heard of the doctrine of the “Two Kingdoms” …no, this isn’t a prequel to the Lord of the Rings novels by J.R.R. Tolkien, however it is Martin Luther’s undeveloped thesis about the difference between God’s (spiritual) Kingdom and the earthly kingdom or realm.  To put it a different way, the difference between what is doing inside our hearts and the visible signs of authority in the world like the government and even church structure that keep people “in line”. Both are given by God but both are separate, distinct and needed. See diagram below.

Luther insists that it is vitally important not to confuse or combine the two kingdoms. Through the Gospel (the good news of Jesus love) God rules His “spiritual kingdom” and forgives sins, justifies and sanctifies.

At the same time God does not abolish the “earthly kingdom” with its ability to rule with power, the sword and laws.

Luther points out that any attempt to “rule the world” with the Gospel (the spiritual kingdom) is a “double error”, carrying a “double penalty”. If the world was ruled by the “spiritual kingdom” the Gospel would be destroyed and the gospel would become a new law to take the place of the old (human) law.  As a result, humans would make Christ into another Moses (a prophet bringing laws rather than the Son of God brining freedom from the law.)

To quote Luther, “What would be the result of an attempt to rule the world by the Gospel and the abolition of earthly law and force? It would be loosing savage beasts from their chains. The wicked, under cover of the Christian name would make unjust use of their Gospel freedom.” (On Secular Authority)

Also… “To try to rule a country, or the world, by the Gospel would be like putting wolves, lions, eagles and sheep all together in the fold and saying to them, ‘Now graze, and live a godly and peaceful life together. The door is open, and there is pasture enough, and no watchdog you need fear.’ The sheep would keep the peace, sure enough, but they would not live long.” (On Secular Authority)

Both kingdoms are needed in this world and they need to remain separate. If the “spiritual kingdom” is commingled with the “earthly kingdom” the message of the gospel will be diminished if not corrupted. If the “earthly kingdom” commingled with the “spiritual kingdom” the same thing would occur. It makes no difference who makes the first move at co-opting the other, the good news of Jesus Christ would be compromised.

Why is this important? Back in 1954, Senator Lyndon Johnson proposed the “Johnson Amendment” for the tax code that keeps nonprofit organizations (like churches) from engaging in political activities. This was an uncontroversial amendment at the time and passed without discussion.

Just recently, an executive order was issued that attempts to water down the Johnson Amendment and directs the Department of the Treasury that “churches should not be found guilty of implied endorsements where secular organizations would not be.”

In other words, there is a subtle invitation of the “earthly kingdom” for the “spiritual kingdom” to move closer without impunity. Luther warns against such coziness.

When a Christian church completely identifies with one political party or another, they have lost their way. The Church of Jesus Christ belongs to God alone. Yes, the church should speak up (through the lens of the gospel and God’s expectations for holy living) but should never identify itself with a specific party even if individuals do so.

The Christian Church in America is not oppressed or discriminated against. Churches in China, Pakistan and many other places are.

The National Council of Churches of which the ELCA is a part of recently issued a statement. Here is a portion of that statement:

“Churches should and do speak truth to power. But, churches should not be intervening in political campaigns, endorsing or opposing candidates, or forming political parties. That would be dangerous both for the integrity of houses of worship and our democracy. 

 Despite this new executive order, we urge churches and clergy not to fall prey to the false notion they are victims of discrimination because they receive tax-exempt status in return for staying out of political campaigns. We affirm the role of the churches in proclaiming the power of God through Jesus Christ, preaching with a prophetic voice that both names God as the source of all salvation and holds the state accountable in the service of the common good.”

 Lots to think about, I know. This is a reminder for the church (not individuals) that we should speak up about injustice of all kinds, inequality of all kinds and abuse of power in the name of Jesus Christ but that the church will never be an “arm” of one political party or another.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben



Article: Instant Gratification

A story is told – by Fredrick Beuchner I believe – called “The Happy Hypocrite.” It is a story about a man who was born with an awful facial deformity. He grew up alone and lonely. When reaching adulthood, he decided to move from his town to begin a new life. On his way he discovered a beautiful mask that fit his making him look handsome. At first the mask was uncomfortable and he was afraid that people would find out who he really was, but he continued to wear the mask everyday.

In his new hometown, he made many friends and fell in love. But one day a wicked woman from his old home came to his town and discovered this man’s true identity. In front of his friends and fiancé, she forced him to remove his mask. When he removed the mask, it revealed a handsome face. His face had conformed to the mask.

Becoming like Christ is analogous to this. Go ahead and put on Christ. At first it may feel unnatural or uncomfortable, and maybe you may think, “who am I trying to fool?” But everyday just keep putting on Christ and everyday you will grow to look more like him.

Of course, this is not a true story, it is a parable about life change. We all love the dramatic stories of a changed life. I have often pondered Martin Luther’s promise to go to seminary if St. Anne saved him from a severe thunderstorm. (Legend states that St. Anne is Jesus’ maternal grandmother.) Or how St. Paul was stricken blind on the road to Damascus and Jesus told him to stop persecuting him (and the Christian family). Shortly after, Paul became a Christian.

However, most spiritual growth happens in baby steps. Yes, occasionally there is a giant leap forward (for some) but most people grow in small incremental ways like the man in the mask. It took time for his face to conform to the mask.

I believe one of the best ways a person can grow spiritually is to be connected to a church (like Bethel). Being in close contact with other Christians and worshipping God will eventually transform you… but it won’t happen overnight. Sometimes the change is so subtle that you won’t even notice it at first.

We all prefer “instant gratification.” We love the promise of instant change that many advertisements promise but the wisdom of the ages states, “If it is too good to be true, it probably is.”

St. Paul writes about transformation in his letter to the church of Rome. “Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” (Romans 12:2) Essentially, he is saying, change the way you think about things. The best way to do that is to change what is being “inputted” into your brain.  We are barraged with all kinds of messages where ever we go, even at home. Sunday morning is the place to receive a different kind of message. A word of hope, love, kindness and peace. But not just a word… you can experience those things as well. Come and see for yourself.

This Sunday we will continue to explore “The Joy of Bethel” and why we gather as believers. Come and experience community this Sunday, it just may change you.

God bless,
Pr. Ben


Article: Joy

Greg Anderson said, “Focus on the journey, not the destination. Joy is found not in finishing an activity but in doing it.” I don’t know who Greg Anderson is, but I totally agree with his statement.

Joy is found in doing- not arriving. This is especially true for the Church. We will never be done until Jesus shows up and tells us we are done. We do not know when that will happen, so we just “keep on keeping on.” That might be frustrating to some, but not if you believe the quote above.

None of us ever ask, “when are we going to stop worshipping on Sundays?” As if to say, “Haven’t we done that enough?” Or, “Haven’t we met our quota for caring for people?” No, we keep doing these things. Not because we are required to, or that there is a threshold we must meet. There isn’t even a finish line where we can say to each other, “Just little more to go and then we will be done.” Nope. This isn’t about the destination, it is in the journey itself that we find joy.

Most of you who are reading this are connected to Bethel Lutheran Church. (I can’t imagine many other people wanting to read my ramblings!) At Bethel, why do we do what we do? Why do we point to our core values of Hospitality, Christ Centered Community (fellowship and worship), Spiritual Growth, Responding to Needs and Generosity (so much)? They are not obligations. We don’t have to do anything. Why even talk about them or do anything for that matter?

I have a one word answer for you: joy.

I want every Christian (whether you are connected to Bethel Lutheran Church or not) to be filled with joy! Joy is one of the “fruit of the Holy Spirit” as found in Galatians 5:22-23. Joy is the evidence of God working in our lives. Joy produces holy action which is way better than obligation!

Everything that we value as a church is connected to relationship either with God or one another. The more we invest ourselves in the lives of others and with God, our joy will increase! As your pastor (at least to most of you), I want you to experience a deepening of joy as you connect to God and each other.

At church council last month, we agreed that we want all people to “experience the joy of doing life together.”

I have experienced churches that do not have the “secret sauce” of joy. People fight for control over things like ministries and who is in charge. People fight over money and the lack of everything. That is no way to live.

Not only should we guard the joy that we have but we should share it as well! Life is too short to be grumpy and controlling!

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. 1 Thessalonians 5:16-18

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Grace is Messy

Occasionally, I run across an article that is well written and insightful. (Admittedly, I am not the best writer and I am jealous of those who can!)

The article below, despite its title, has no profanity in it. I hope you find it inspirational and moving.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

F-Bombs and Bikinis: What It Really Means to Be a “Christian”
By Preston Sprinkle

Christian subcultures are an entertaining phenomenon. Multiple brands of Christianity claim the same Lord and read the same Bible, and yet they promote a set of values sometimes as different as apples and orangutans.

I once heard a story about a Christian woman from the East Coast who confronted a West Coast youth-pastor, who allowed “mixed bathing” at youth events. “I can’t believe any so-called Christian leader would allow boys and girls to swim together!” She expressed her concern, all the while puffing on a cigarette. The youth pastor couldn’t help but smile, speechless at the irony.

I attended a conservative Brethren church when I lived in Scotland. Some of the women wore head coverings and none of them spoke in church. When I had our Irish pastor and his wife over for dinner, I asked them what he would like to drink. “Beer please,” the preacher said. “And for you, madam?” “I’ll take a glass of Chardonnay, thank you.” Were they liberal or conservative? I guess it depends on which subculture you come from.

When you try to cut out Christians with a religious cookie cutter, you not only tarnish diversity, but you trample on grace. It’s one thing for Christian subcultures to cultivate unique values. But it becomes destructive when those values are chiseled on Sinaitic tablets for all to obey.

It’s even worse when Christians expect instant holiness from recent converts—holiness, that is, in areas where we think we’ve nailed it.

It’s a shame that some believers have scoffed at some of Shia Labeouf’s recent comments about converting to Christianity, pointing fingers at the fact that he still uses bad language weeks after becoming a Christian. It’s worth noting that some are speculating that Labeouf’s conversion may have actually been more of a rather dramatic example of method acting than a true conversion but, regardless, many Christians chose to focus on his language instead of his heart. God only knows the true believers from the false. But to judge a man’s faith because there’s a residue of potty mouth?

Bad language may take years to weed out. Even more difficult to extract is the pride that drives judgmental Christians to mock the Spirit’s work in a man seeking his Creator. That sin could take decades to discover. Grace means that we are all works in progress, and God shaves off our rough edges in His timing. Just look at the thugs God works with in the Bible.

I know we’re programmed to see the 12 apostles as saints with halos and contemplative faces. But actually, they were criminals. These guys were more like prisoners than pastors, and few of them would have been let inside our churches today.

Take Peter, for instance. Peter walked with Jesus for three years, witnessing miracle after miracle, sermon after sermon. Still, on the night before Jesus’ death, a servant girl asked Peter if he knew Jesus. “I do not know the man!” Peter responded. And he even evoked a curse on himself to prove he wasn’t lying (Matthew 26:74).

Can you imagine if your pastor did that? “Good morning, church. I just want to say that I don’t even know who Jesus is!” We have a hard time forgiving pastors who commit adultery. I don’t think we’d know how to handle a pastor who had a public bout with doubt.

Then there’s James and John, whom Jesus nicknames “sons of thunder.” Apparently, they never made it through an anger management seminar. On one occasion, these two hotheads wanted to nuke an entire village because they wouldn’t let them spend the night (Luke 9:51-56). The whole village—women and children. Luckily, Jesus stepped in to prevent the destruction. These two holy apostles would have been better fit as bouncers outside an expensive casino in Vegas owned by a mobster, than preachers of the gospel of love.

My favorite pair is Simon the “Zealot” and Matthew the tax-collector. How did those two thugs get along?

Matthew’s vocation was nothing less than political and religious treason. Tax-collectors were Jewish agents of Rome, who mediated pagan oppression through taking money from innocent people. Imagine if you found out that your childhood friend was making a living off funneling money to ISIS. Would you use him to plant a church? Apparently, Jesus did.

Tax-collectors were more than extortionists. They were known for living excessively immoral lives and hanging out with all the wrong people. Religious Jews, in fact, believed that tax-collectors were past the point of repentance. Matthew didn’t have a moral bone in his body. But of course, after becoming a Christian, he immediately stopped sinning and never used bad language ever again.

Yeah right.

Simon, as a “Zealot,” probably grew up on the other side of the tracks. The “Zealots” were named such not because they were prayer warriors. They were just warriors—Jewish jihadists. The “Zealots” were known for killing their Roman oppressors or other Jews who were sell-outs. They were aggressive, violent and they did anything but love their enemies. Had Simon met Matthew on the streets, there’s a good chance one of them would have been found lying in chalk.

To build His Kingdom, Jesus handpicks what could be compared to the leader of the Black Panther party and the leader of the American Nazi Party. I doubt anyone closed their eyes at that first prayer meeting.

You cannot sanitize grace. You can’t stuff it into a blue blazer and make it wear khakis. Grace is messy, offensive and it sometimes misses church. To expect God to pump prefabricated plastic moral people out of a religious factory is to neuter grace and chain it inside a gated community. If God’s scandalous relationship with the 12 thugs means anything, then we should expect a variegated spectrum of righteousness and be patient—or repentant—when such sanctification doesn’t meet out expectations. God meets us in our mess and pushes holiness out the other side.

Not anti-mixed-bathing holiness. But the real stuff. The holiness that serves the poor, prays without ceasing, redeems the arts, loves enemies, elevates community above corporate success, and preaches the life-giving Gospel of a crucified and risen Lamb in season and out.