Article: Go and Tell

In the gospel stories about Jesus there are several reoccurring themes: God’s love for those who struggle, those who are sick, those who don’t have it all figured out and love for the outsider.

Jesus spent very little time with the religious leaders of his time. They thought they had it all figured out, including the very nature of God. Clearly, they didn’t, but these religious leaders never considered that they could be wrong about anything.

Jesus made time for real people. Not the pretenders or even the holier than thou types. If you attend Community Lutheran Church you know that we are real people! We struggle just like everyone else, and we don’t pretend otherwise.

As Jesus spent time with anyone who was interested, Jesus also mentored and taught his closest associates: the disciples. 

One of the things that Jesus instructed them to do was to go out and tell others of God’s love. This wasn’t a one-time command either. Jesus repeatedly reminded the disciples to go and share this message with anyone who will listen. 

This happened at the beginning, and this happened at the end of Jesus’ ministry here on earth. 

Early on Jesus told a fisherman he barely knew this, “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will catch people.”Luke 5:10

Catch people with the love of God. 

Later Jesus sends out seventy-two people he had been mentoring to share the love of God with even more real people. 

Jesus even healed a man with lots demons (problems) and when he was set free, he asked if he could travel with Jesus. This was Jesus’ reply, “Return home and tell how much God has done for you.” Luke 8:39a

Go and tell. And that is exactly what this man did.  So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him. Luke 8:39b

And when Jesus ascended into heaven, he told his disciples one last time to go and tell others.

Clearly, this is important. 

If we believe that God speaks to us through the scriptures, then this encouragement to share Jesus with others is for us too.

Let me ask you this, are you just one of the crowd or are you a disciple? 

I don’t know about you, but I strive to be a disciple of Jesus and not just a part of the crowd. 

Jesus changed my life and I know that he wants to change others. 

I hope you will join me in sharing the love of Jesus and not just at worship. 

It is time to invite others to discover what we’ve been given.

Pastor Paul put it this way, How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!” Romans 10:14–15 

God bless you,

Pr. Ben

Article: All the Lonely People

Tomorrow night at church, we will be screening the Beatles movie, “Yellow Submarine.” My mind wandered to one of the songs in the movie that first appeared on their “Revolver” album. The song? “Eleanor Rigby”.

If you don’t know the song, the lyrics focus in on the isolation and the disconnectedness that we all experience at times in our lives. I find the song both haunting and accurate.

The refrain goes like this…

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

There is a sad irony that we are more connected than any other generation in the history of the world and yet many are more isolated than ever. Smartphones, email, social media and yet intimacy can be elusive. 

Even the most introverted and quiet person needs the presence of others in their lives. There is a vast difference between being alone and being lonely. 

Some of you who are reading this right now are well-connected. You have a strong network of family and friends in your life. Good for you! That is a blessing!

Some of you do not have that connection with others and that hurts. You feel personally what The Beatles were singing about in “Eleanor Rigby.”

King David once sang a song (psalm) like this. In fact, David wrote several psalms of loneliness.  But in Psalm 25 David wrote this…

Turn to me and be gracious to me, for I am lonely and afflicted. 
The troubles of my heart have multiplied; 
free me from my anguish. Psalm 25:16-17

This is the cry of isolation and some of us know it well. 

Right now, Jesus is calling out to us. He breaks through the pain of isolation and says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus came back from the dead to tell us that we can come to him and escape this pernicious feeling that we are all alone and nobody has our back. I can tell you without a doubt in my mind, Jesus has our back and always will. 

Come and find rest in Jesus. Come to worship and be surrounded by his love and the love of others.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Who is the Greatest?

At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” 

He called a little child and had him stand among them. And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

Matthew 18:1–4 

Life is competitive, isn’t it? Even during the time of Jesus, people strove to be the best. Just look at the disciples’ questions, “Who is the greatest?”

Maybe the disciples were hoping that Jesus would name one of them as the greatest. Then the others would be jealous and jockey for position.

We all want to be great at something. I know I do. Here is how I know that I am competitive: I compare myself to others. 

I know I shouldn’t do it, but I do.

Pastor Paul reminds us in his letter to the church of Galatia not to play the “I am the greatest” game.

Paul writes, “Each one should test his own actions. Then he can take pride in himself, without comparing himself to somebody else, for each one should carry his own load.” Galatians 6:4-5

I shouldn’t be worried if I am the greatest at anything! First, I am not. Second, I am looking at the wrong thing. 

The question I should be asking is this, “Am I better than I used to be?” I need to compare myself with myself. Am I making progress in my faith walk compared to last week, last month or last year?

The disciples were asking the wrong question and Jesus clarifies.

Jesus picks the most unlikely person from the crowd and says, “be like them.”

Like I said, the disciples expected Jesus to point to one of the disciples and say, “He’s the greatest. Yep, its this guy.” Instead, Jesus finds a child and says this, “Whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.”

That was not the answer they were looking for. They wanted Jesus to pick one of them. The one who asked the question secretly hoped it was him, I bet. 

Instead, Jesus uplifts humility as a core quality of the Kingdom of God. If you haven’t connected the dots, the question itself was prideful. 

In essence, Jesus was telling the disciples not to worry about who is the greatest. God doesn’t care about such things. Rather, to be humble and keep moving forward in life.

Jesus and Saint Paul remind us to worry about ourselves. To use slang, “You do you.” You will never be anyone else so stop comparing your life to someone else’s. Be the best version of yourself and give God the credit.

God bless you,

Pr. Ben

Article: Selfish Ambition

Sometimes I think we are wired to ask the question, “What’s in it for me?” We are motivated by advantage. We might weigh the benefit of doing something selfless before we act. The benefit might boil down to, “Will this act make me look like a good person in the eyes of others?” Not everyone is so calculated but it does happen. I am sure I have been guilty of this at some point in my life as well.

Luckily, Aaron Wylie experienced the kindness and generosity of complete strangers who had nothing to gain from helping him.

Aaron hasn’t seen his parents since Christmas 2019. He lives in Halifax, Nova Scotia and Aaron’s parents live in Saint John in New Brunswick. Although the trip is only four hours by car, the pandemic of 2020 kept them separated out of an abundance of caution. 

Recently Aaron found out that his mother was diagnosed with a terminal illness. All Aaron wanted to do was find a way to see her while there was still time. The pandemic travel restrictions in Canada and mandatory quarantine paired with budget constraints and lack of time off, it looked as if the visit might be pretty much impossible. As you might have guessed, Canada had different health protocols than the United States.

Then he got an idea.

Aaron, who drives a bus for Halifax Transit in Nova Scotia, has a Class-1 license—which allows him to drive a truck. Since truck drivers are classed as essential workers, he thought if he could score a gig delivering a payload to New Brunswick, he might just be able to make the trip happen after all.

Hoping for a miracle, he placed an ad on Canada’s popular classified network site looking for a truck driving job that would take him to Saint John.

He didn’t think he get would many, if any, responses. Boy, was he in for a surprise!

Aaron received over 5,000 responses to his online classified ad.

Although he has not received clearance to travel yet, he has a job lined up to drive a truck to Saint John. 

“It’s been an overwhelming response and an emotional one,” Aaron said in an interview with CBC News. “I was just blown away. These are people I don’t even know.”

Kindness is out there, thank God. 

I am reminded that Saint Paul wrote to the church of Philippi about this very subject. He wrote, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves.” Philippians 2:3

That is a reminder for all of us. Consider others better than ourselves. When we do that, we are more apt to serve others without asking, “What’s in it for me?”

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Life is Better Together

A woman by the name of Christina Fox visited some of her family in Alaska a while back. Upon arrival, one of her first questions was this, “What about the bears?”

“Attacks usually happen when people go by themselves,” the family member responded. “That’s what happened to a woman last week. She was running alone and got caught between a cub and a momma bear.”

“We don’t need to go hiking while we’re here….” Christina said.

“We are safer if we all go together,” the family member said.

The truth of that statement is profound. We ARE safer if we all go together. The sad reality of this past year and our cultural preference for uplifting “rugged individualism” chips away at a core truth of how God created us. 

Christian author Paul Tripp puts it this way, “Our lives were designed to be community projects. Yet, the foolishness of sin tells us that we have all that we need within ourselves. So, we settle for relationships that never go beneath the casual. We defend ourselves when the people around us point out a weakness or a wrong. We hold our struggles within…”

We are safer if we all go together. 

I remember how much I disliked group projects when I was in school. Inevitably someone in the group would drop the ball and the rest of us would need to cover for the “weak link” on the team. 

Much later in life, I came to realize this is the exact reason we were created for community. Sometimes we are the weak link. Life is better and safer together. If you haven’t figured it out, all of life is a group project.

Last weekend, we opened our doors for worship. Vaccinations are responsible for that decision. I give thanks for scientists, researchers and the medical community who got us to this point!

I also give thanks for technology: cameras, video streaming, text messaging and emails!

We are blessed to be connected in so many ways, even if we need to stay at home or live in another part of the country. 

As we live into this new, cautious reality that we are in, let us not be cautious in our relational connections with one another. 

I have been blessed in these past few weeks reconnecting in person with friends since my vaccination. I cherish the time spent with others including worshipping God together.

I hope and pray you are connected to others as strive to find normalcy in 2021.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Blessed Be God’s Name

One of my favorite songs (and I have a lot of them) is “Blessed Be Your Name.” No, not your name, God’s Name. Why? I am reminded of Psalm 18:3 as the reason why. I call to the Lord, who is worthy of praise.

God is the reason for everything, and the gift of Jesus reminds us that we are loved without measure. I truly believe this.

The song itself isn’t from one place in scripture but many. However, the song reflects a way of living that I try to embody at all times: always praise God. 

Blessed Be Your Name
In the land that is plentiful
Where Your streams of abundance flow
Blessed be Your name

Of course, we should always give thanks to God when all is going well in our lives and we are “comfortable.” If we can’t praise God in the good times, when can we?

When you have eaten and are satisfied, praise the Lord your God for the good land he has given you. Deuteronomy 8:10

Blessed Be Your name
When I’m found in the desert place
Though I walk through the wilderness
Blessed Be Your name

The greater challenge is to praise God when things aren’t so good, not so abundant. Yet, I still try to praise God knowing I am not alone. I trust God’s plan for me even when I can’t see the goodness.

Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior. Habakkuk 3:17-18

Every blessing You pour out, I’ll
Turn back to praise
When the darkness closes in, Lord
Still I will say
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your name
Blessed be the name of the Lord
Blessed be Your glorious name

I hope to give thanks for all that I have. I want to praise God for every blessing in my life. I am grateful for my wife, my family, our church, my home and the list goes on and on. I don’t want to fool myself into thinking they are of my own doing. God gets the credit.

You may say to yourself, “My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.” But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms his covenant, which he swore to your forefathers, as it is today. Deuteronomy 8:17-18

Blessed be Your name
When the sun’s shining down on me
When the world’s ‘all as it should be’
Blessed be Your name

I haven’t felt this sentiment in a while to be honest. I see the pain and brokenness of the world and it weighs on me. However, there are moments in my personal life that I am grateful for what I have and where I am at (with you here in Southern Nevada).  I understand the sentiment of the song: praise God when everything is going right in your life. 

Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows. James 1:17  

When that happens, let us praise God for that.

Blessed be Your name
On the road marked with suffering
Though there’s pain in the offering
Blessed be Your name

When I think about what Jesus went through on Good Friday for us, my troubles are small. God gave everything for us. Even when there is suffering, even when there is pain of any kind, Jesus understands and stands by our side. Especially in the most challenging circumstances of our lives.

Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God. Psalm 42:5

Blessed be the Name of God and praise be to the One who Saved us. 

God bless you,

Pr. Ben

Resurrection Power

Jesus said, “The eye is the lamp of the body. If your eyes are good, your whole body will be full of light. But if your eyes are bad, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light within you is darkness, how great is that darkness! Matthew 6:22-23

Jesus isn’t talking about our eyesight. He is talking about faith. Can you see what God is up to in your life or are you so skeptical that feel all alone?

Read this again from another translation…

Jesus said, “Your eyes are windows into your body. If you open your eyes wide in wonder and belief, your body fills up with light. If you live squinty-eyed in greed and distrust, your body is a dank cellar. If you pull the blinds on your windows, what a dark life you will have!” Matthew 6:23

Jesus encourages us to not only look… but to also see God’s activity in our lives and in the world. 

Doubt, fear and anger causes our “spiritual eyes” to go bad.

I want to be your spiritual eye doctor so that you may see clearly the most important things. 

Doubt subtly suggests that Jesus really is NOT the Son of God instead a great teacher. Many who have reservations believe Jesus was a great man but that is all.

I don’t know if you know this, but the Old Testament is filled with all sorts of predictions about the Son of God coming to be with us including his death and eventual resurrection!

Jesus fulfilled each of these predictions written hundreds of years before his birth.  It is difficult to be “just a normal guy” and fulfill every prediction written about a Messiah (a savior). 

Seriously, what are the odds of one person fulfilling all the prophecies written about them? 

Well, let me tell you…

Cover the state of Texas, all 268,597 miles of it with silver dollars, three feet high. This is about 7.5 billion cubic feet of silver dollars. 

Now mark one of those silver dollars with an “X” and throw it anywhere into the pile within the state of Texas. 

Now, let’s drop a blindfolded person from an airplane over Texas (with a parachute), and tell them to reach down anywhere, and pick up one silver dollar after he lands. 

The odds of them picking up the silver dollar with the “X” out of all those coins are the same as one person satisfying all of the predictions about the Son of God in the Old Testament. 

And that is exactly what Jesus did (fulfilled the predictions, that is, not the dollar thing)!

That helps clear up some of the darkness in our eyes, doesn’t it?

This past Sunday we celebrated the most important event in human history. The resurrection of Jesus Christ. Had that not happened, human history would be completely different, and I wouldn’t be writing to you in this moment!

Do you believe in the bodily resurrection of Jesus? I do.

Do you believe that the same divine power that resurrected Jesus from the dead is available to us today? I believe that too.

That is the difference between belief and faith. Believing is knowing that divine power raised Jesus from the dead almost 2000 years ago. Faith is knowing that resurrection power is available to us as well. 

Belief is the first step… faith is the last step. Belief is good but faith is better. 

It is the resurrection power of Jesus that comforts me when I am sad or scared.

It is resurrection power of Jesus that gives me courage to lead.

It is resurrection power of Jesus that gives me the strength to share my faith and even serve others. 

Never forget: That power is only a prayer away. 

Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed!

God bless you,
Pr. Ben