Category Archives: Articles

Article: 50 Things You May Not Know About The Reformation

I ran across this article in our ELCA publication “Living Lutheran” written by Rod Boriack.
Boriack is a writer and editor living in Des Plaines, Ill.

I learned a little bit, maybe you will too!

1
The word “Protestant” was first used formally around 1529. “Protestant” originates from the Latin word protestari, meaning “declare publicly, testify, protest.”

2
The name “Lutheran” originated as a derogatory term used against Martin Luther by German scholastic theologian Johann Maier von Eck during the Leipzig Debate in 1519.

3
While reformers rejected marriage as a sacrament of the church, they expanded the role of the church in marriage. Couples took an oath before God and the ceremony was moved from outside the church on the doorstep—a medieval practice—to inside the sanctuary in front of the altar.

4
The Reformation created a demand for all kinds of religious writings. Readership was so great that the number of books printed in Germany increased from about 150 in 1518 to nearly 1,000 six years later.

5
By the time Luther died, 30 editions of the Small Catechism had been published. By the end of the 16th century, there were an additional 125 editions in circulation and approximately 100,000 copies in print.

6
An estimated 6,001,500,000 Bibles have been printed since the first one came off the press in the Middle Ages. The first Bible published in North America was printed in 1663.

7
The Luther rose (or Luther seal) was created at the request of printers to have a personal symbol representing the reformer’s faith that could serve as a mark indicating something was an authorized publication of Luther’s. It became widely recognized as the symbol for Lutheranism, and still is today.

8
With the invention of the printing press and the introduction of pamphlets and booklets to the public, women in the 16th century found increasing access to information they had been previously restricted from reading, studying, discussing or even listening to in public settings.

9
The Reformation paved the way for what we still   refer to as a “Protestant work ethic.” Luther’s teachings about the “priesthood of all believers” helped dissolve the wall between “temporal” and “spiritual” realms. In doing so, everyday work and labor was affirmed and seen as pleasing to God; it was no longer considered an inferior life to that of a monastic life or the priesthood.

10
Education was set on a far-reaching course of reforming thanks in part to Luther’s advocacy and ideas that a proper, well-organized and broad education for all children—not just those of the wealthy elite—would benefit the state as well as the church.

11
The legacy of Luther’s ideas about education can be seen today in the Lutheran church’s concern for Christian education, early childhood education and schools, colleges and universities, lay schools for ministry and seminaries.

12
An emphasis on the involvement of laypeople during worship revolutionized the way space inside the parish church was used during the Reformation. Many of the physical barriers between priest and congregation were removed. Consequently, the interiors of local churches took on the appearance that many still have today.

13
Whether or not to use pipe organs and other musical instruments during worship became a hotly debated issue for many churches involved in the Reformation movement. Some went as far as banning the use of organs and instruments.

14
Prior to the Reformation, congregational singing—and even talking—during church services wasn’t standard practice in Germany.

15
Luther composed more than 40 hymns in his lifetime, and in 1529 wrote and composed the tune for what became known as “The Battle Hymn of the Reformation”—today called “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.”

16
Luther desired hymns to be modest and text-driven—derived from Scripture, expressing Christian values, illuminating faith and the gospel message and lending themselves to congregational singing.

17
The area of Germany where Luther’s story unfolded is now referred to as “LutherCountry.” This region of Reformation sites and history was part of East Germany for 40 years until the Berlin Wall fell in 1989.

18
The Peace of Augsburg was signed in 1555, despite its dissenters and many loopholes. This settlement represented a victory for state princes and granted recognition to both Lutheranism and Roman Catholicism in Germany, allowing each ruler to decide the religion to be practiced within his state, and permitting residents to migrate to a territory where their denomination was recognized.

19
The first European colonists who came to North America were attempting to escape post-Reformation conflicts and persecution. They were 98 percent Protestant and a diverse mix of denominations, but their newfound freedom wasn’t without intense conflict and intolerance between denominations and religions.

20
In the late 1800s, some North American religious leaders voiced concern over what they feared was hero-worship of Reformation leaders. They encouraged refocusing on theological issues and teachings, the accomplishments and failings of reformers like Luther and Huldrych Zwingli, and contributions of reformers prior to the 16th century.

21
While the Reformation gave birth to Protestantism, today only two of the 10 countries with the largest Protestant populations are European.

22
Today the United States has more Protestants than any other country, about 160 million. Nigeria is second, with nearly 60 million Protestants. China has the third-largest Protestant population, approximately 58 million.

23
About half of all Christians worldwide today are Catholic (50 percent), while more than one-third are Protestant (37 percent).

24
Recent research and surveys reveal that about one-third of mainstream Protestants believe eternal life depends on our actions and living a good life, despite the biblical understanding and teachings of the reformers that salvation is a gift from God received through faith in Christ, through no effort of our own.

25
Reformation Day is a national holiday in Chile, and is officially called Día Nacional de las Iglesias Evangélicas y Protestantes—National Day of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches.

26
If Luther could have had his way, he would have probably deleted the books of Esther, Hebrews, James, Jude and Revelation from the Bible. They were among his least favorite books of the Bible.

27
There were reformers well before Luther and what became known as the Reformation, but Luther and other reformers of his time became the first to skillfully use the power of the printing press to give their ideas a wide audience.

28
During the religious wars that followed the Reformation, even family members were often pitted against one another. Both Catholics and Protestants were often convinced that the other was doing “the devil’s work.”

29
The Counter-Reformation—or Catholic Reformation—initiated vigorous efforts to condemn the teachings and influence of Protestant reformers, restore obedience and loyalty, reconvert the converted and establish new missions and influence globally in regions including Africa, Asia and South America.

30
The Catholic Society of Jesus, whose members are called Jesuits, was founded in 1534 and participated in the Counter-Reformation to stop Protestantism from spreading. Today they represent the largest single religious order of priests and brothers in the Catholic Church.

31
The Council of Trent (1562) decreed that all bishops must “banish from churches all those kinds of music in which, whether by organ or in the singing, there is mixed up anything lascivious or impure, as also all secular actions; vain and therefore profane conversations, all walking about, noise, and clamor, that so the House of God may be seen to be, and may be called, truly, a house of prayer.”

32
On April 18, 1994, the Church Council of the ELCA officially repudiated and apologized for Luther’s words and teachings that have been appropriated by anti-Semites for the teaching of hatred and violence toward Judaism or toward the Jewish people. The ELCA also pledged to oppose such bigotry within the church and in society and to pray for the increasing cooperation and understanding between Lutheran Christians and the Jewish community.

33
The idea put forth during the Reformation that God sees all believers as spiritually equal had profound repercussions in the church—especially when the idea was applied to women.

34
Luther’s exhortation to read and interpret the Bible on one’s own and the impact of the printing press opened new doors for lay people that changed the church’s approach to faith formation and Christian education forever.

35
One of the far-reaching impacts of the Reformation was the promotion of applying the word of God to every area and endeavor of life, in the church and in society.

36
The early movement of Lutheranism quickly gained followers in the German states, the Netherlands, Scandinavia, Scotland and portions of France.

37
While we associate the Reformation with Germany, broader reformation movements spread across Northern and Western Europe, including also England and Switzerland.

38
England went through its own religious and political reformation in the late 1500s through early 1600s. It was influenced by Luther and other reformers, but it was more deeply intertwined with the power, personal beliefs and political motives of England’s kings, queens and political leaders of the time.

39
In the 17th century, Lutherans from Germany, Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark began to migrate to the United States, bringing their language, culture and Lutheran faith with them.

40
The first Lutheran worship service in North America is believed to have taken place in what is now Manitoba, Canada, on Jan. 23, 1620.

Ceremony in Chile’s Palace of the Moneda for the National Day of the Evangelical and Protestant Churches in 2014.

41
Today, more than 200 denominations and churches in North America have histories connected to the Reformation.

42
Worldwide, the number of Christians has more than tripled in the last 100 years. But the world’s overall population also has risen rapidly, so Christians make up about the same portion of the world’s population today (32 percent) as they did a century ago (35 percent).

43
An abundance of festivals, exhibits, concerts and tours are taking place across Germany throughout 2017 in recognition of the 500th anniversary of the Reformation.

44
Christian education was a passion of Luther’s. He encouraged a partnership between the home and the church in which parents would take the lead and the church would assist.

45
The reformers taught God’s dominion over the world, creation and all things and helped revive an interest in the world that was increasingly receptive to an encouraging of exploration, study and rediscovery of nature and the universe—without losing sight of faith and spirituality.

46
Stirring changes and new thinking about the church, religion, politics, law, economics, education and society, the Reformation influenced the transition from the Middle Ages to the modern period and Age of Discovery.

47
Luther didn’t lay personal, unique claim to his beliefs and teachings. He declared in a sermon, “It is not my doctrine, not my creation, but God’s gift … . Dear Lord God, it was not spun out of my head, nor grown in my garden. Nor did it flow out of my spring, nor was it born of me. It is God’s gift, not a human discovery.”

48
Researchers and archaeologists have recently corroborated the assertion that Luther was a well-educated thinker and prolific writer, producing an average of 1,800 pages a year.

49
Recently discovered archive documents have revealed that an arranged marriage of Luther by his father may have been imminent for the young man and most likely played a major role in his leaving his study of law and joining the order of the Augustinian Hermits at the monastery in Erfurt.

50
During and after the Reformation, there was a sharp decline in the commissioning of large-scale works of biblical art by Protestant churches.

Article: Sabbath Rest

Today (Thursday) is the last “kind of” day of vacation before flying home Friday. I say “kind of” because I am working on a number of things today including a sermon for Sunday. “Winging it” is not in my vocabulary when it comes to Sunday morning although it may seem like it at times!

Yet, as I sit here in front of my computer these words come to mind, “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy.” Exodus 20:8 Sabbath rest is more difficult for me than others… as you know I work weekends. I have to find other ways to find rest. One of those ways is to go to Northern Wisconsin specifically the Northern Highland State Forest in Vilas County. My family started vacationing (fishing) there in the 1920’s. I have a postcard from 1927 from a family member who was talking about the fishing while on vacation.

In the movie “Field of Dreams”, Terrence Mann says this to Ray Kinsella the farmer who built a baseball field in the middle of his corn field, “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball…”  I feel that way about being among the trees and lakes of Northern Wisconsin, it has been my one constant in a life of change. Whether living in Illinois, Ohio, Iowa, Nevada or California, returning to the timeless woods and lakes of my youth is Sabbath rest for me.

I totally understand that this is a privilege and a gift. Many people around the world never travel much beyond where they were born because of economic circumstances.

Many of you have a special place that you have visited many times or you treasure the memory of a beautifully unique location that you traveled to in the past. If you have a place like that, it evokes strong memories. It does for me. I reflected on the 4 generations of family members that have traveled to the north woods of Wisconsin with me over the years, some are still alive, some are not. Being in the woods also brings great peace and serenity as well. There is an audible exhale of breath when I arrive.  And yes, there is (at times) a happiness that brings a tear to my eye.

I thank God for Sabbath rest. I thank God for a place to find peace and rest. I thank God that Rachel likes nature too!

Every time, I walk into our cabin I take off my shoes. I can’t help but think of God’s words to Moses as approached the burning bush, “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Exodus 3:5  Although it may not be special to everyone, it is holy ground for me.

With all of that said, my mind has stopped looking north and is now looking west back to California. I am ready to come home and see my Bethel family on Sunday. Vacation Bible School begins on Monday and I can’t wait! There is joy to be found at church and at home! (Our dogs miss us too.)  A joy that I can’t find anywhere else in the world.

Verse three of our state song speaks to how I feel about coming home tomorrow with one addition…

I love your old gray Missions – love your vineyards stretching far.
I love you, California, with your Golden Gate ajar.
I love your purple sun- sets, love your skies of azure blue.
I love you, California; I just can’t help loving you.

And I would I add, I especially love the people of California (at Bethel).

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: The Compassion of Jesus

Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9:35-36

This is a typical Bible passage about Jesus, right? He is preaching and healing. Jesus is so nice, the end. Hold on, not so fast. There is more to these verses than that. After Jesus called his disciples, he started traveling. He went from town to town and probably asked the local rabbi of every town he visited if he could preach in the synagogue. For the record, I tend to turn down people who asked to preach at Bethel to “give me a Sunday off.” Usually these people are trying to drum up support for a ministry cause they think is important.

Yet, Jesus is successful and preaches about the good news of God’s love. He tells anyone who will listen that God is not far off, but really close (like in the room close). Not only that but that God loves sinners, misfits, outcasts, doubters and so on. This is not a typical sermon in first century Israel. Jesus doesn’t leave the people as they are, instead he calls them to “repent for the Kingdom of God is near.” Repent is a fancy Bible word for change. Change the way you think about God, because God truly loves you. Changing the way you think about God will change how you treat others in the world. Especially when you realize that God loves everyone you lock eyes with.

But these aren’t empty words or just a clever new message to attract followers. Jesus backs up his words with definitive action. He heals every disease and sickness. Imagine Jesus and the disciples entering a town where they literally do not know anyone and they not only tell them that they are loved by God but there is a demonstration of that love through the healing of loved ones. My guess is that word traveled fast that Jesus was not just another teacher.

We see in these two verses that God cares and that illness and disease are not welcome in God’s Kingdom. It seems to me we could use Jesus more than ever when I pray over our prayer list and watch the news regarding the pending healthcare legislation. Clearly Jesus addressed the needs of others in a very specific way and he did it with great mercy.

It actually says Jesus had compassion on the people. He felt bad for them. He pitied their condition. He loved them. Its say the people were “harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd.” In other words, the people were lost, afraid and had no one to look to for help. These weren’t friends or acquaintances of Jesus, they were complete strangers. Yet Jesus was moved with compassion for these nameless crowds that gathered.

It makes me wonder, what would it take for us to have compassion for the nameless crowds of people in our neighborhood, city or country? I am sure if we all had the power to heal like Jesus, we wouldn’t be so concerned about what was happening in Washington D.C. this past week. But we don’t have that power and many in this country do not have Jesus sized compassion for others. That honestly saddens me.

Yet, when Jesus saw all the people who had no idea that God loved them because they struggle in life, he said this, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few.  Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” Matthew 9:37-38

 We may not be able to heal people but we certainly can advocate for the needs of others. Rather than asking, “What’s in it for me?” we should be asking, “Lord what can I give up so that others may benefit?” Jesus gave his life so that the world could be reconciled and brought close to God. What should we doing in this harvest season? Gathering for our own benefit or giving to further God’s agenda in our nation and world?

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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.

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

 

 

 

 

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