Category Archives: Articles

Article: Spiritual Refugees

…remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near through the blood of Christ. 

For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new person out of the two, thus making peace, and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit. 

Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and aliens, but fellow citizens with God’s people and members of God’s household, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone. In him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by his Spirit. Ephesians 4:12-22

What a beautiful thought conveyed by St. Paul in his letter to the church he started in Ephesus so many years ago. Recently my wife, Mrs. Pr. Ben (aka Rachel) read this passage to me after church one Sunday.  We were struck by the language that Paul used to describe our human condition and God’s solution to our isolation. I am sure it is not lost on you that some of these same words are being used today as our nation continues to struggle with the issues surrounding immigration.

Paul reminded the non-Jewish believers of the church he started in Ephesus were once foreigners and they did not possess citizenship within the Kingdom of God. Only the people of Israel were a part of God’s family and kingdom. Up until the time of Jesus there was an “immigration ban” on entering the Kingdom of God. There was a spiritual “barrier” even a “wall of hostility” that prevented anyone outside of Israel from drawing close to God.

Everyone who is not Jewish is a gentile. All gentiles (in Hebrew the word is “goyim”) were on the outside looking in. Even if they wanted to be Jewish, they could not. There was a spiritual barrier between God ‘s chosen people and everyone else. This caused conflict and hostility to the point that it felt like there was wall that could not be scaled.

In God’s story of humanity there were only 2 nations: Israel (the people of God) and everyone else. Essentially, the borders were closed and there was a ban on immigration. Only those born in that spiritual nation could be residents.

The problem is that God doesn’t like walls or barriers even if the people of God do. Instead of reinforcing the walls or building them higher, God did something amazing.  God tore down the wall and built a bridge. The bridge’s name was Jesus.

Instead of having a group of insiders and a group of outsiders God decided that there would only be insiders. Instead of having citizens and aliens/foreigners there would only be residents of the Kingdom of God. There was no screening to see if someone was well-intentioned because God knows that no one is worthy. Everyone was and still is welcome.

On that spring day two-thousand years ago, Jesus died on the cross so that the borders to His Kingdom may be opened to all who wish to enter.

Let us welcome those who enter His embassy (the church) seeking sanctuary and refuge. I know that when I come to church on Sunday morning, I sometimes feel like a refugee fleeing the terror of this world so that I may find a safe place to rest.

God bless,

Pr. Ben

Article: Looking Ahead

Last Sunday we had one of our two congregational meetings of the year. I talked about several things but I reflected that as a leader and as your pastor I need to be thinking about Bethel in multiple levels of time all at once.

I need to be thinking about:

  • The day-to-day operations of Bethel
  • What is happening in the coming year
  • What we should be planning for in the next 5 to 10 years

That doesn’t necessarily mean a strategic plan but it might. However, I do know that I need to be aware of long-term trends both in the church and in our society.

The importance of this hit home last night when I had the opportunity to hear John Maxwell speak. (If you don’t know John Maxwell, you are missing out. He is a pastor, author and leadership expert.) This is what John Maxwell said about any leader: “A leader must be able to see more than anyone else in the room and they must be able to see it before anyone in the room.” He also said, “If you aren’t seeing more than everyone else and before everyone else in the room, then you better get in line because you aren’t the leader but a follower.”

John Maxwell was being blunt in his assessment of leaders and leadership. This isn’t just true for pastors but for any leader in any capacity. As he continued speaking he told those listening that we should strive to be “more-more” and be “more before” (see more and see it before others). This isn’t about being the best or being in charge. This is about making sure we are prepared for the current moment and being prepared for the future.

There are many things we need to be thinking about as it pertains to the future of the church, however I want to talk about the only one I mentioned on Sunday: Invitation.

What is preventing us from having an active worshipping community of 400, 600 or even 800? Invitation. If each family in our church invited another family on the same Sunday, guess what would happen? We would double in size.

If we don’t invite, Bethel will most likely stay the same size and then slowly shrink. This is not about institutional survival. Jesus has already told us, “…on this rock (the truth of Christ) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18 The Church will continue on because Jesus promised it will, but individual congregations come and go.

I believe we should invite others because we have something the world doesn’t. We have Jesus. We have joy and love. We have community and we have reconciliation. The people you know need what we have. This world is starving for these very things. Even if you feel uncomfortable talking about such things, invite them to Bethel. I promise you that I will talk about these things to anyone who will listen.

Let us be light for this dark world! Not just in this time but 100 years from now!

God bless,

Pr. Ben


Article: Bishop Eaton’s Press Release

Occasionally our presiding bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America releases a timely statement that addresses specific current events. This past week Presiding Bishop Eaton released a statement regarding the president’s executive order regarding the temporary ban of refugees from specific countries.

Please take the time to read this thoughtful and balanced statement. Our bishop takes the scripture seriously and I appreciate that.

Bishop Eaton’s Statement: 

January 30, 2017

Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Yesterday, we heard these words in the Gospel reading from Matthew 5:1-12, the beginning of Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. In the Beatitudes, Jesus lays out a vision for life in God’s realm, characterized by seeing those who are often most disregarded, including the meek, the mourning and the peacemaker, as bearers of God’s blessing. Over the coming weeks, we will continue to hear this Gospel, including Jesus’ call for his disciples to be carriers of God’s light and hope and reconciliation to a world deeply in need of them.

In this spirit, earlier last week I communicated with the Trump administration asking that it not stop the U.S. refugee admissions program or stop resettlement from any country for any period of time. The Bible calls us to welcome the stranger and treat the sojourner as we would our own citizens. I agree with the importance of keeping our country secure as the administration stated in its executive order last Friday, but I am convinced that temporarily banning vulnerable refugees will not enhance our safety nor does it reflect our values as Christians. Instead, it will cause immediate harm by separating families, disrupting lives, and denying safety and hope to brothers and sisters who are already suffering.

Refugees being resettled in the United States have fled persecution because of their race, religion, nationality, political views and/or associations. They wait for years for the chance to go home. But sometimes, there is no home for them to go back to. We know from our partners at Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) that only 1 percent of all refugees are chosen for resettlement. 

People of faith helped start and still sustain the refugee resettlement program in the United States following World War II. As Lutherans, many of our ancestors faced the pain of having to flee their homes and the joy of being welcomed in new communities across the United States. As we have done throughout history, millions of Lutherans across the country honor our shared biblical values as well as the best of our nation’s traditions by offering refuge to those most in need. We are committed to continuing ministries of welcome that support and build communities around the country and stand firmly against any policies that result in scaling back the refugee resettlement program.

We must offer safety to people fleeing religious persecution regardless of their faith tradition. Christians and other religious minorities suffer persecution and rightly deserve protection, but including additional criteria based on religion could have discriminatory effects that would go against our nation’s fundamental values related to freedom of religion.  

I invite ELCA congregations into learning, prayer and action on behalf of those who seek refuge on our shores. The ELCA “Social Message on Immigration,” AMMPARO strategy and LIRS resources are good places to start. You can also make a donation to Lutheran Disaster Response. Those who have been part of resettling refugees or have their own immigration experience have important stories to share with their communities and testimony to make. I also encourage you to consider adding your voice by calling your members of Congress to share your support for refugees and using online advocacy opportunities through current alerts at ELCA Advocacy and LIRS.

In Matthew 25:35, Jesus said, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Our Lord not only commanded us to welcome the stranger, Jesus made it clear that when we welcome the stranger into our homes and our hearts – we welcome him. 

God’s peace, 

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton 
Presiding Bishop

Article: What I Learned Today

On Wednesday, I attended a seminar entitled, “The State of Pastors: Leading in Complexity.” It was the unveiling of a massive study undertaken by the Barna Group with generous funding from Pepperdine University. The Barna Group specifically studies and researches all things church related. If you have never heard of this organization before, they do good work and great research.

I am still going through the data (because it is extensive) but I wanted to share a couple of interesting findings with you.

11,000 pastors were asked how they rate themselves on ministry tasks. Below is the percentage of how they ranked themselves as “excellent” in each task.

  • Preaching and teaching             57%
  • Knowledge of Scripture             48%
  • Applied or practical theology 42%
  • Leading the organization 29%
  • Connecting with the community 29%
  • Managing church finances 28%
  • Counseling or pastoral care 24%
  • Personal spiritual growth 22%
  • Using technology for ministry 18%
  • Managing staff 16%
  • Evangelizing people 10%
  • Mobilizing volunteers 6%

Notice the quick drop off after “applied or practical theology.” Even the highest rated category of “preaching and teaching”- only 57% of pastors rated themselves as excellent. It is clear to me that many pastors do not feel well equipped for the calling they have undertaken.

It was mentioned that pastors today are much more like CEOs than pastors because they are expected to lead an organization and not just preach, teach and visit the sick. As you can see above, not many feel equipped to do that very thing.

One other statistic that caught my eye today: Pastors’ reliability on specific issues, by faith practice. This is what other people believe about the role of pastor.

Topic All US Adults Christians Non-practicing Christian No Faith
How the church can help people live according to God’s will 36% 69% 32% 6%
God’s will for human beings and the world 35% 70% 30% 4%
How relationships work and how to make them better 26% 59% 19% 4%
How people can live out their convictions privately and publicly 23% 54% 15% 3%
How Christianity should inform our political and justice system 17% 40% 11% 3%


People outside of the category “practicing Christians” do not believe pastors have the authority or “reliability” to speak on the issues found in the table. What does that mean? Overall, pastors have less authority/influence outside the church than they used to. That may seem obvious, but that was not the case in our recent past. We are definitely living in a “post-Christian society” much like the earliest disciples of Jesus who were living in a “pre-Christian society.”

This seminar’s title included this tag line, “leading in complexity.”  There is no doubt of that. These are complex times and the role of pastor requires many skills that are not taught in most seminaries. Often there is a lot of on the job training. I am reminded of that when I am asked by newer pastors, “what do I do when…” Yes, I still do a fair share of mentoring.

As I said earlier, I need to process this data before coming to any conclusions but I wanted to share a little of what I experienced today. If you are interested, I will share the published data with anyone (after I have finished going through it).

I am not surprised by anything I heard today, however it is good to see the research.

Even with the challenges, I love what I do and can’t see myself doing anything other than being a pastor.

God bless,
Pr. Ben



Article: Tim who?

Have you ever heard of Tim McMillan? I had not until a couple of weeks ago. He is a police officer in Georgia. He is an ordinary guy in a lot of ways. He even describes himself in this way,

“My life has been a chaotic jumble of accidents, ambitions, failures and unintended consequences. Through all of that I have discovered connections that have illuminated the world and revealed its infinite mystery. God is within us all, and therefore none of us are more important than all of us. I never wanted to be a police officer growing up. I wanted to be an astronomer, or psychologist. I love solving mysteries and no mystery is greater than the human mind and space.

In July of 2002, two of my friends were murdered during a robbery. I said ‘There are two kinds of people in this world, those who say someone needs to do something and those who say I am going to do something.’ I chose to be the later, and at 21 years old I became a police officer. “

He created a little buzz on Facebook back in October when posted story about an encounter he had while he was on patrol.

“I pulled a car over last night for texting and driving. When I went to talk to the driver, I found a young black male, who was looking at me like he was absolutely terrified with his hands up. He said, “What do you want me to do officer?” His voice was quivering. He was genuinely scared. 

I just looked at him for a moment, because what I was seeing made me sad. I said, “I just don’t want you to get hurt.”

In which he replied, with his voice still shaking, “Do you want me to get out of the car.”

I said, “No, I don’t want you to text and drive. I don’t want you to get in a wreck. I want your mom to always have her baby boy. I want you to grow up and be somebody. I don’t even want to write you a ticket. Just please pay attention, and put the phone down. I just don’t want you to get hurt.” 

I truly don’t even care who’s fault it is that young man was so scared to have a police officer at his window. Blame the media, blame bad cops, blame protestors, or Colin Kaepernick if you want. It doesn’t matter to me who’s to blame. I just wish somebody would fix it.”

He saw the fear and trepidation first hand and it (rightly so) upset him. I can’t help but think of the words of Jesus when He said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant…” Matthew 20:25b-26

He is a servant… a public servant. Instead of being embolden by the power he held over that young man, it upset him. Instead of seeing the power he held as something to wielded, Officer McMillan wants to break down the barriers that separate people. That specifically includes racial barriers. Last Sunday I talked about process of God refining his people. As a silversmith skims of the impurities of precious metals, God wants to skim off anything inside of us that seeks separate us from loving God and loving our neighbor. Tim McMillan is living that out.

In this extremely polarized season of our country’s history. It is refreshing to see that there are some who refuse to buy into the idea of “that’s just the way it is.”

Tim is quoted as saying, “We don’t need to treat people the way they want to be treated…instead treat people the way we want others to treat our children.”

 All I can say to that is, “Amen.”

God bless,
Pr. Ben



Article: 6 Phrases that will Kill a Church


Last week I shared an article on pastoral leadership styles that need to be avoided. Someone kindly asked me if there is a list for church members?  There is!

All of us know the old children’s rhyme, “Sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me.” As you have heard me say, that is not true. Words can hurt and words can kill. Read the article below and see what I mean.

Six Statements That Can Kill a Church.  Words can kill.
By Thom S. Rainer

Words can kill churches because they often have deadly actions behind them. As we begin this new year, please allow me to share six statements that I have heard from church members whose churches have died.

Please hear that last statement again: These are statements from church members whose churches have already closed their doors. I am convinced these statements were major contributors to the churches’ demise.

  1. “We pay our pastor to do evangelism.” The common meaning behind this statement is that the members have no intentions of sharing their faith. A church with non-evangelistic members is a dying church.
  1. “Without our money, this church would be in trouble.” Ouch! The key word here is “our.” Members with this attitude do not give with an open hand; they perceive the money they give to the church is their money, not God’s money. This tight-fisted non-stewardship, if prevalent in the church, is a sure sign of sickness or death.
  1. “This church is not meeting my needs.” For certain, members’ needs should be met. But have you noticed that, often times, the most needy members are the first to complain and the first to leave? We should certainly care for the needs of the flock, but the attitude of the members should be that of serving instead of being served.
  1. “We pay the salary of the pastor and staff, so they should listen to us.” This deadly statement has two major inflictors of pain. First, the money is treated with a tight fist, as I noted above. Second, the money is used to control leaders. I served in a church where a member made that statement to me frequently. Years after I left, I learned he never gave a dollar to the church.
  1. “We will let the next generation deal with change.” When older generations make this statement, they are resolutely refusing to make necessary and immediate changes. Sadly, the next generations won’t stick around in such a church to make the changes.
  1. “I was here years before the pastor came; I’ll be here years after they’re gone.” This statement is one of power and control rather than service and giving. It’s about out-lasting each pastor to keep the church just the way the member wants it. It’s a statement that was commonly heard in churches that have closed their doors.

Interesting huh? I thought so too. Words to remember. I am thankful I have never heard these words at Bethel, yet this is a good list to remember so that we do not repeat the mistakes of others.

God bless,
Pr. Ben



Article: A Top 10 List for Pastors

I know you may find this hard to believe, but I think a lot about my calling as pastor. As you know I am far from perfect but I constantly think about how effective I am and how that varies depending upon the situation and the people I am interacting with. I know it might seem that I am living life by the seat of my pants, I can assure you that I am not.

Every day I ponder how we can embody our own self defined core values of hospitality, Christ-Centered Community, Spiritual Growth, Generosity and Responding to Needs.

With that in mind I ran across an article by Scott Postma entitled 10 Pastors You Should Have MAJOR Concerns About. This is an article that caused me to stop and look at myself in the proverbial mirror.

Below are the 10 points he makes:

  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who is better at managing church programs than he is at making disciples of Jesus.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who attracts people with fancy self-help sermons instead of teaching people to be students of the Bible and theology.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who is a chief executive instead of a contemplative sage.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who uses the pulpit to milk members instead of minister to the saints.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who makes growing the church the goal instead of glorifying God the goal.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who builds his ministry with people instead of building people by his ministry.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who cultivates a culture of dependency on himself instead of cultivating a culture of community within the church.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who reads and teaches the Bible literally instead of literarily.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who contributes to the culture of consumerism instead of combating idolatry.
  1. I’m concerned about the pastor who sees the church as a stepping stone instead of seeing it as a custodian of Christ’s kingdom.

Quite a list, isn’t it? These are pastoral potholes and as difficult they are to read, they serve as a good checklist for me in the new year. Are things that I am doing that I need to change? Yes. Are things I am not doing that I need to work towards? Absolutely.

I love what I do and I look forward to growing the church in 2017 as I grow myself.

God bless,
Pr. Ben



Article: The Coming New Year

Apple and honey – a snack eaten by Jews in Rosh Hashana..Shofar – A horn used in the jewish holidays of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur.

Here we are again. It is the end of the year and we will step into a new one Sunday morning. Although this is a secular holiday will many stop their routine and celebrate the incoming year- sometimes late into the evening. Some reflect on the year coming to an end and wonder what the new year will bring.

For many years, my family would welcome the new year with my parents in the north woods of Wisconsin surrounded by snow, trees and frozen lakes. It was very peaceful. This year, I will go to bed early so that I can wake up early and get ready for church (hint, hint). What a great way to welcome in the new year!

Our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the New Year as a religious event, maybe we should too. The Jewish New Year celebration is called Rosh Hashana. There is even mention of it in the book of Leviticus.

The Lord said to Moses, “Say to the Israelites: ‘On the first day of the seventh month you are to have a day of rest, a sacred assembly commemorated with trumpet blasts. Do no regular work, but present an offering made to the Lord by fire.’ ” Leviticus 23:23-25

However, their calendar is different than ours and they celebrated their new year back in October.

The day is commemorated with the blast of the ram’s horn which is known as the shofar and a day off to commune with God. There is no one reason for why the shofar is sounded like a trumpet. Many rabbis have speculated on this biblical ancient tradition. It serves as a call to gather the worshipping community; it is sounded as a spiritual warning and as an alarm clock for people to awake from their spiritual slumber.

Why?  Ten days after Rosh Hashanah, our Jewish brothers and sisters celebrate the one of the most important holy days on their calendar: Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement. The day of forgiveness and repentance.

The Jewish New Year and the next ten days are used to get one’s spiritual affairs in order before the Day of Atonement.

This all sounds fairly serious and it is. However, there is also a tradition of serving apples dipped in honey which is a symbolic action of hoping a person’s new year is sweet.

As I think about the upcoming change of year, I think the Jewish people celebrate it right. It is a time of introspection and reflection. It is a perfect time to decide what kind of people we are going to be moving forward. It is time to let go of what needs to be forgotten and embrace the positive change that God calls us to be in 2017 and beyond.

So, eat an apple with a little honey on Sunday for me because hope your new year is sweeter than 2016.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben




Article: Let’s Go See…

It is Thursday before Christmas and all through the church… the Bethel staff have been working feverishly! They are getting ready for services on Christmas Eve. That is no exaggeration. Every staff person who came to church today has been tying up all the loose ends of all our Christmas planning to make sure everyone who worships with us on Saturday experiences the love God.

That may not be inspirational writing to you, but it is extremely inspirational to me! I see the care and dedication first hand and it warms my heart. I am blessed to work alongside these people every day.  If you are a member of Bethel Lutheran Church, I want you to know what a great team we have!

My hope and prayer is that you (where ever you are) go and worship this weekend. I can’t help but think about the shepherds in the Christmas story. After the angels come and scare the heck out of them, they say to themselves, “Let’s go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about.” Luke 2:15

 They most likely leave behind the only thing in their charge and their only asset: sheep. The leave the fields and head into town to find a baby who is the savior and the Lord (God). That is typical of God’s call. Leave everything behind and go.

Later, when this baby grows up, he says this to someone- “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33 Repeatedly, Jesus tells people to leave what they have or what they are doing and follow him. From my own experience, I know that when I seek Jesus first, everything else falls into place. That is not to say that my life is perfect but I do know that things are better when I follow Jesus.

For me it began by being a shepherd just like in the Christmas story. What do I mean by that? Someone told the shepherds to go and they went. My life has been a lot like that… Someone told me to go to church and so I did. Someone told me to go to church camp and so I did. Someone told I should think about going to seminary and so I did. Someone asked me to come to Las Vegas to be a pastor and so I did. I could go on, but you catch my drift.

Often the voice of God sounds a lot like other Christians you know. People like: moms, dads, siblings, friends and spouses.

So be a shepherd on Saturday and go find the baby wrapped in swaddling clothes and lying a manger. Where you ask? The closest church…Bethel or otherwise.

I wish you a blessed and peaceful Christmas from the bottom of my heart.

With love,
Pr. Ben

Article: Peace on Earth for Who?


Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to all on whom his favor rests.” Luke 2:13-14

Most of you know where these two verses come from: The Christmas story. This is what the angels said to the unsuspecting shepherds in the fields around Bethlehem. I don’t think it is an exaggeration to say that the angel encounter might have scared them half to death! They were terrified and I can’t blame them. You know how I feel about angels. A little cherub would send me running for the hills.

After the announcement of the Savior’s birth and instructions on how to find the baby Jesus, the angel grabs the microphone and begins to praise God singing, “Glory to God in the highest….” I think it is safe to say the angel burst into song and his backup singers arrived just in time to… well, you know, back him up.

I find this to be an interesting song to sing. Maybe it is a classic in heaven? I could think of better songs to announce the birth of Jesus. This one just doesn’t roll off the tongue. Maybe it rhymed in Aramaic when the shepherds heard it sung the first time?

The song begins, “Glory to God in the highest…” Glory is an interesting word. It has multiple meanings. Glory is something bestowed on someone who is deserving of an honor. Yet when we talk of God’s glory, we are talking about God’s perfection.

In this case the angels are saying- because God sent himself to us—God deserves the highest praise possible. As if to say, “Our God is an awesome God!” I completely agree. It is the next verse that throws me.

“…and on earth peace to all on whom his favor rests.” The angel wishes peace upon all who follow God. The less accurate translations say, “Peace on earth, goodwill to all.” Most of us know that version because it is still sung in the Christmas hymn “Hark the Herald, Angels Sing.” I like it better too because it is a blessing for everyone. Unfortunately, the Bible doesn’t say that.

The angel’s proclamation states (wishes) that all who have garnered God’s favor should be peaceful. I guess it kind of makes sense since the baby Jesus is known as the Prince of Peace.

Here is the interesting thing about peace, it is not the absence of war. That is called a truce. Jesus is not the “Prince of Truces” and the angels didn’t sing, “a truce on earth for all whom God likes a lot.” Peace is something that takes more work than a truce.  Peace, like war must be waged. It is an active pursuit. Seriously! How did Jesus wage peace? He died for the sins of the world. That is active! He was all in.

Peace means getting along with others, not just co-existing. I would like to think that Jesus the Prince of Peace not only loved the world but He liked us too.

Above all, we need more peace in this world. We can’t wait for Jesus to return. Let’s wage some peace this season and in the coming year by being kind and compassionate to all.

Jesus is anything but neutral. He is not the “Prince of Truces.” Let’s show the world this Christmas what peace looks like.

God bless,
Pr. Ben