Article: The Land of Disappointment

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

BUT…

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

 

 

Sermon: The Joy of Bethel: Responding to Needs

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

Article: What Things?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,

Pr. Ben

Sermon: The Joy of Bethel: Spiritual Growth

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

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

 

 

Sermon: The Joy of Bethel: Christ Centered Community

OK, you shouldn’t have this much fun in church, but we did! What does it mean to be in community with Jesus and each other? We answer that question AND another TV show theme song. We end with our closing song (included) that is a classic!

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

Sermon: Discipleship: Caring for Creation

On Saturday people gathered to remember the 47th Earth Day and advocate for science and scientists. What does this have to do with being Christian? Plenty. Long before Earth Day, God gave instructions for taking care of His “very good” creation.