Sermon: Jonah 4: Still Not Getting It

We finish the book of Jonah today and it is an awkward uncomfortable ending. Jonah regresses and we finally see his heart and it is not pretty. In Jonah 4 we discover that we should not be like Jonah and that a hard heart will prevent us from seeing spiritual truth.

Article: Transfiguration

If you go to Bethel Lutheran Church (I assume most people reading this are from Bethel) you are going to hear about Jonah’s response to God for not destroying Nineveh this Sunday. (If you need to catch up, you can listen to the first 3 sermons of this series on this website.)

BUT… it is also Transfiguration Sunday, but we aren’t really going to talk about it on Sunday because of Jonah. Sorry. Especially if that is your favorite church holiday. It is not a total loss, I am going to talk about the Transfiguration right now!

As the church calendar unfolds, this is the perfect Sunday for Transfiguration Sunday. Why you ask? Because it is the Sunday before Ash Wednesday. This Sunday we are reminded in the gospel reading that Jesus is the Son of God (Mark 9:2-9)! Then on Wednesday we begin the journey toward Calvary, toward Golgotha, toward the cross. We need the reminder of the Transfiguration before we get to Good Friday. We must not forget that Jesus the Savior took on sin and death for our sake. The Transfiguration reminds us that Jesus is not just another rabbi but God Himself!

The story of the Transfiguration within the gospel of Mark is found right in the middle of the story. Mark reminds us right in the middle of the gospel that Jesus is the Son of God. It is the second reminder we have received in the gospel story. Near the beginning, John baptizes Jesus and we hear the voice of God declaring that Jesus is God’s son. Mark doesn’t want us to forget this as we move toward the death and resurrection of Jesus.  The message is clear, “Jesus is special.”

Shortly after the Transfiguration in Luke’s version of the gospel story it says, “As the time approached for him to be taken up to heaven, Jesus resolutely set out for Jerusalem.” Luke 9:51  That is why this Sunday is perfect for Transfiguration Sunday! Spiritually speaking, we begin our journey toward Jerusalem starting on Ash Wednesday with the declaration that Jesus is the Son of God on our minds.

I hope you make time to come to Ash Wednesday services next week (12pm or 7pm). I will be talking about love and why the season of Lent is all about love and our decision to return to the source of love. Jesus went to the cross because of God’s never ending love for us (John 3:16).

Last Sunday at our Congregational meeting, I talked about the importance of engaging people in loving conversations beyond our circle of friends at church. We are great extending hospitality to others but what is the next step? Growing closer in Christ Centered Community. Why is this important (beyond these being our core values)? Because it is a sign of God’s love in our lives and the lives of others.

Love is a powerful tool that is at our disposal. Let us stay close to the One who loved us so that we may love others in His name.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Jonah 3: Starting Over

We continue in the study of Jonah and something amazing happens when Jonah obeys… things go better for him! Same is true for us too. Listen how we can apply Jonah’s story and Proverbs 3:5-6 to our lives.

Article: Evil

This might seem a little odd but let’s talk about evil. There are many within the Christian community who would deny the existence of Satan, the devil and demons. They often claim that references to such things in the Bible are myth and not to be taken literally.

I was curious about how many times these words show up in the Bible so I did a little research and this is what I discovered.

Satan is mentioned 58 times in the Bible.
Demons is mentioned 87 times in the Bible.
Evil Spirit(s) is mentioned 40 times in the Bible.
The devil is mentioned 37 times in the Bible.

That is quite a bit! It comes to a total of 222 times. That is not insignificant. Even Jesus talks about such things. Did he teach about these things as if they were figments of our imagination? Not at all. I would go as far to say that Jesus believed these things to be very real and not mythological. (Hint: we should too.)

One would think if the Son of God knew such things were fake, he would just tell us and not perpetuate a falsehood. Yet when Christians dismiss evil personified, they are also dismissing Jesus’ teaching authority and Jesus himself. That doesn’t seem very tenable for a Christian. Even Jesus taught us to pray, “deliver us from evil…”

Over the years, I have talked to other pastors who have encountered unexplained, negative spiritual phenomena and have asked for help. They often comment, “why don’t they teach us this stuff in seminary?!?” Which of course is a very good question. Why don’t they?

Yes, in the world there are people who are encountering bad stuff that is not of human origin. And yes, in my work, I have encountered it too. You don’t often hear about it because people don’t want to talk about it or be judged as weird or worse.

This is nothing like Ghostbusters. This is serious stuff. I do not think for a moment that Jesus is perpetuating myths in the scripture. I also think that evil prefers that people dismiss it as nonsense. There is no better way to operate in secret when people do not think you exist.

Do I think that some of the exorcisms that Jesus performed were more medical related than demon possession? Yes. Remember, the human authors of the gospels interpreted what they saw or reported what they heard from eyewitnesses. Does that mean all exorcisms were health related? Nope.

Do I think that all the bad things that happen in the world have demonic origins? No again. Humans do a pretty good job of doing terrible things without any help from below. However, I do not believe all suffering and misery is of human origin.

Even though Jesus conquered sin and death through His death and resurrection, there is still evil in this world (just look around). It will continue to exist until Jesus returns. Whether we see it or not, there is a spiritual battle going on. Someone wants to save humanity and someone wants to destroy it.  Despite what some Satanists think, the devil doesn’t want followers. He wants to destroy and will deceive people for that very purpose including his followers.

St. Paul clarifies the struggle we face in Ephesians 6:12:

For our struggle is not against enemies of blood and flesh, but against the principalities (the first thing, the origin of evil in this case), against the authorities (over humanity), against the cosmic powers of this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.

 What are we to do with this information? Nothing. That’s right nothing. Our calling as Christians is to cling to Christ and Him alone. Christ provides all the protection we need. There is no need to go out and look for evil to banish. As a matter of fact, it is a dangerous thing to do battle with these forces. Seriously. Those who mess around with such things often bite off more than they can chew, spiritually speaking. Instead, continue to grow in your trust of the Lord and God will watch over you.

My prayer for you is that you understand that there is more going on “behind the scenes” than you might think. Be spiritually aware and spiritually awake so that you continue to seek God and not a dangerous dead end.

God bless you now and always,
Pr. Ben



Sermon: Jonah 2: Slow Down

We continue on in the story of Jonah. In chapter 2 we find Jonah in the belly of a big fish. After 3 days he calls out to God in prayer. What took him so long? This chapter reminds us to slow down and check in with God.

Article: Lists and Love

Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10

These are profound words. Yet, they are often glossed over.

Believe it or not, this gets to the heart of what we believe. This is the center of our theology.

The ever-persistent Saint Paul wrote a letter to the church in Rome so that they would know everything he did because he couldn’t visit them in person…yet.

Throughout this letter, he reminds the church in Rome that Gentile Christians are equal to Jewish Christians and that Jewish Christians are no longer under the Law of Moses. Instead, all Christians are given faith in Christ to live a life of love.

“The Law” is a hard habit to break and it is an easy trap to fall into when trying to follow Christ. It is alluring to simplify one’s faith into things you should do and things you shouldn’t do. Be good, don’t be bad. Jesus likes good people. Christians only do good things. Stuff like that. It is easy and simple to teach to people of every age.  Besides, even the New Testament is filled with lists of sins to avoid.  That seems pretty clear right?

Lists of behaviors to embrace or avoid may be extremely practical for some but it does not constitute our faith in Christ.

God doesn’t grade on performance. God doesn’t put gold stars next to your name in the Book of Life.  God didn’t give instruction of how to live as an end, but as a means to an end. Many Christians (pastors included) forgot what that end is. The purpose of all practical instruction (but not clearly stated near those lists) is to better love God and love the people around you.

Here is one of those lists:
But among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality, or of any kind of impurity, or of greed… Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place… Ephesians 5:3-4

 This is sound advice for everyone. Not just Christians. This would be a positive message for anyone. More plainly, I wish every citizen of the world lived up this instruction. If someone dared to live into these instructions, would that make them a Christian even if they didn’t believe in Jesus? No. A Christian trusts in Jesus Christ the person. Moralism (being a good citizen) doesn’t require God.

Being a good person doesn’t make a person a Christian any more than a person who goes swimming is a fish. I wish every person was good, but that doesn’t mean they are a Christian. Why is it that we (within the Church) equate being good (and following lists) with being a Christian?  Sometimes I think it is laziness and the path of least resistance.

Long before there is a change in outward behavior, God changes our hearts. What does God change our hearts with? Love. The love of Jesus that forgives. The love of Jesus who would rather die than shut us out and leave us outside of God’s love. The love of Jesus who rises from the dead on Easter morning to show us that love wins.

Sadly, I have encountered “Christians” who have never experienced that kind of love. Or their moralistic behavior leads me to believe they have not felt the love of Jesus because they are fixated on behaviors and not love. Thankfully, I have only met a few, but they scare me.

Yes, there are times when we all speak up and say, “Don’t do that.” That’s not what I am talking about (in case you’re thinking I was vaguely talking about you, I’m not).

Behavior follows change. God does the changing in love with love.

Lists are good in the Bible if we know their place and their function. Lists are bad if we make them the centerpiece of our belief system. One doesn’t need faith if we are going to follow lists.

People change when they are loved. Therefore love is the fulfillment of the law. Romans 13:10 That’s all God is trying to do. Love us so we can love others and point them to the source of all love.

Besides, at various points of my life I have been on the naughty list. I am thankful for the forgiveness that God offers in love.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Jonah 1: Unintended Consequences

We begin a part series on the book of Jonah. This is not just a kid’s story. Every decision has consequences but God never gives up on us. Oh and the picture below is integral to the sermon…

Article: Minister of Loneliness

I came across an interesting news story out of Great Britain. Here is the headline, “Britain Appoints First-Ever ‘Minister of Loneliness’ to Tackle Social Isolation.”

Loneliness is such a pervasive but silent problem that the English government is doing something about it. Will they be successful? Only time will tell. This news story reminds me of a song that was written many years ago by a group of British musicians…

All the lonely people
Where do they all come from?
All the lonely people
Where do they all belong?

Father McKenzie, writing the words
Of a sermon that no one will hear
No one comes near…

Yes, Eleanor Rigby by the Beatles. There is no doubt that loneliness can be a problem for people of every age. This is not limited to those who are older or are homebound. As enjoyable as social media is (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc.…) those platforms cannot replace human contact and face to face interaction.

It is clear from the earliest writings in the Bible that we are created for community. Remember when God was looking down on Adam and he was the only human? God commented, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” This means way more than the traditional interpretation that has been assigned to it. We are created for community and (not isolation) because we are created in the image of God who exists in community.

God is One but in the mystery of God there are three persons: Father, Son and Holy Spirit. God’s very nature is communal and we were created and wired to be connected to one another. One of the reasons we worship together is so that we will be together. Yes, we can worship God as individuals but if that is all we do, we miss the importance of human connection. See, God knew what He was doing when he created us and then gave us the gift of the Church.

I love coming to church on Sunday (except for the getting up early part). I love coming to worship because I get to be with all of you (if you are a Bethel member). You lift me up and I hope that I do the same for you in Jesus’ Name. I feel less human when I haven’t touched base with my church family.

I am reminded of the words from the New Testament book of Hebrews. In the 10th chapter, the author gives a specific encouragement that I hope we all take to heart. “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

 We can’t encourage one another without being together. I don’t know about you but I find being in the company of brothers and sisters in Christ much more uplifting than receiving an email or reading a lame old newsletter article! (Thanks for continuing to read, by the way.)

I don’t want to be known as the “Minister of Loneliness” on Sunday morning. I would much rather be known as pastor. Why? Because pastor in Spanish means shepherd.

I am a better person because you are in my life.  I hope to see you soon.

God bless,
Pr. Ben






Sermon: King’s Reliance on the King

“Let us turn our hearts today to Martin Luther King.” -James Taylor. That is exactly what we do and we discover that King continually preached on Biblical themes throughout the his public ministry. Maybe he wasn’t being political at all, but biblical.

Article: Pardon me?

I came across a true but odd story about pardons….

In 1829 two men, George Wilson and James Porter, robbed a United States mail carrier. Both were subsequently captured and tried in a court of law. In May 1830 both men were found guilty of six charges, including robbery of the mail “and putting the life of the driver in jeopardy.” Both Wilson and Porter received their sentences: Execution by hanging, to be carried out on July 2.

 Porter was executed on schedule, but Wilson was not. Influential friends pleaded for mercy to the President of the United States, Andrew Jackson, on his behalf. President Jackson issued a formal pardon, dropping all charges. Wilson would have to serve only a prison term of 20 years for his other crimes. Incredibly, George Wilson refused the pardon!

 An official report stated Wilson chose to “waive and decline any advantage or protection which might be supposed to arise from the pardon….” Wilson also stated he “…had nothing to say, and did not wish in any manner to avail himself in order to avoid sentence….”

 This was such an unusual response because no one had ever refused a pardon before. Great legal minds did not know if you could refuse a pardon. So, this case went to court, all the way to the Supreme Court.

 The U.S. Supreme Court determined, “The court cannot give the prisoner the benefit of the pardon, unless he claims the benefit of it…. It is a grant to him: it is his property; and he may accept it or not as he pleases.”

 Chief Justice John Marshall wrote, “A pardon is an act of grace, proceeding from the power entrusted with the execution of the laws…. (But) delivery is not completed without acceptance. It may then be rejected by the person to whom it is tendered, and…we have no power in a court to force it on him.”

Can you imagine not accepting a pardon if you were in George Wilson’s shoes? I certainly can’t! If someone wanted to pardon me to save me from the death penalty, I would gladly accept it, even if I was as guilty as George Wilson (and knew it).

Spiritually speaking, many don’t see themselves guilty of anything. We play the comparison game instead.  You know, “I’m not as bad as that person over there.” Even Jesus tells us a story about this very thing in the parable of “The Pharisee and the Tax Collector” found in Luke 18:9-14.  In this story, the Pharisee prays this prayer, “God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector.”

 God doesn’t play the comparison game and neither should we. Instead we should acknowledge our own culpability in the things that fall short of what God wants for us. When we do that, God is ready to pardon us in that very moment! When we point to someone else as being worse than us, what we are really doing is saying, “See, I am a good person” even though we are not.

The great evangelist Dwight L Moody (1837-1899) who founded “The Moody Bible Institute” in Chicago talks about pardons this way…

“Humans give pardons out for good character or good behavior; but God gives out pardons to people who do not have any charac­ter. God offers a pardon to every sinner on earth if they will take it. God says, I do not care who he (or she) is or what he (or she) is like. They may be the greatest unrestrained person that ever walked the streets, or the greatest user of foul language who ever lived, or thief, or tramp. Christ com­missioned His disciples to preach the Gospel to every creature.”

That “Gospel” is a “pardon for sin and a peace that endureth” to quote an old hymn.

As for me, I am guilty. I seek God’s pardon and peace. I know I am not that good, but I am forgiven.

God bless,
Pr. Ben