Sermon: The Essential Teachings of Jesus: Stuff

We continue looking at some of the essential teachings of Jesus. In this message we hear what Jesus’ perspective on greed and our preoccupation with possessions.

Article: Separation from God?

If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

I feel these words of Saint Paul are some of the most powerful words found in the New Testament. I hope you have portions of scripture that speak good news to you. If you do, I would love to know what they are.  The words above are definitely good news for me!

Paul is addressing anyone who is struggling. If you are having a difficult moment, season or year, Paul is talking to you! He reminds us that it is Jesus Christ who gave all of himself for our benefit! As if to say, even if there is someone who is standing against us, have no fear they are no match for God who gave us His Son. Paul is reminding us that God has our proverbial back. When we do face challenges in life, God promises to be there with us in the muckiness.

But Paul is not done! Don’t be concerned when people falsely accuse you things. God is our only judge and it is Christ who justifies (accepts us fully). Don’t let the gossipers and accusers get under your skin! Our only concern should be God who watches over us. How many needless hours of worry have we spent on people who speak ill of us? I know I have. This reminds me to keep my mind fixed on Jesus and not on the naysayers.

Paul asks then greatest rhetorical question of all time: Who (or even what) shall separate us from the love of Christ? Paul then lists a bunch of things that could feel like we’ve been separated from God’s care. This also a subtle acknowledgement that life will have its up and downs. There will be hard times but that doesn’t mean God has abandoned us. It is easy to think God has stopped loving us or walks away from us when life  gets ugly.

Paul even quotes Psalm 44:22 in regards to the difficulties of life. Sometimes you feel like a lamb being led to slaughter. Tough stuff, but haven’t you felt that way when everything seems to be falling apart. It is usually at that moment you ask, “What’s next!?!” or “Why God?”

Then we hear one of the oddest phrases in all of scripture. …we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us.Paul is telling us that even though we will have difficult moments in our lives, Jesus has already won the most difficult battle of all on the cross. We never have to wonder if God is with us in our darkest moment… God will be there.  This phases could also be translated, “We win the supreme victory through Christ who loved us.” What is that supreme victory that has been won for us? That sin (or anything else) can separate us from God’s presence.

We are then reminded that no matter what, God will never, ever leave us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. God is good and we are loved!

This is good news for me. I hope it is for you.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: The Essential Teachings of Jesus: Intentions

We won’t say it but we wonder what are God’s intentions for us? Sure there is Jesus but can we really trust God to show up in times of trouble? Jesus dares us to ask God and more to find out if that is true.

Article: God’s Love Revisited

 

Who deserves to be lavished with God’s love?
Christians?
Good people?
Kind people?

Many of want to be arbiters of God’s love. We see it as a commodity to be managed and/or dispensed. Last Sunday, I talked about John 3:16-17 which is: For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 

 If you were there you will remember that I said, “We don’t believe those verses.” ( https://benbergren.com/sermon-the-essential-teachings-of-jesus-love/ )All we have to do is look at the way the Christian family is quick to judge if not pronounce eternal damnation on groups of people for a whole bunch of reasons. This judgment often includes other Christians who are practicing their faith in a way we don’t agree with.

It also shows up in a lack of compassion for those who are struggling… as if struggling is a sign of God’s disapproval. If you didn’t know, that is the heresy of works-righteousness. I’ve seen this most recently in the lack of compassion and lack of moral outrage over separating children from their parents at our United States border. No, I am not advocating open borders or a lack of punitive action for those who break the law.

Separating children from parents and incarcerating children is an ugly thing. It shows a lack of care for the well-being of children who are only following their parents. Add to that Judge Dolly Gee ordered the government to obtain consent or a court order before administering any psychotropic medications to migrant children, except in cases of dire emergencies because they have been administrating psychotropic medications to children who have been separated from their parents at the border What??? Why is the church silent? This isn’t about politics. This about how we care (or not care) for children. Does God love these children? God absolutely loves those children as much as God loves our children.

We are not in control of God’s love. We are not in control of God’s judgment either. Any judgment we pronounce is our own and we must not presume to speak for God in such important matters.

Jesus calls us to love others as God loves the world. Maybe we can’t love everyone, but we can be loving. Don’t miss that. I fully acknowledge that because of my brokenness I am not able to love everyone but it is possible to for me to be loving in my all my interactions. Sometimes that includes speaking up on behalf of others. But it always means not pronouncing eternal judgment on others.

God bless you,

Pr. Ben

 

Sermon: The Essential Teachings of Jesus: Love

We are in week two of a sermon series on The Essential Teachings of Jesus. Last week Dave Denny talked about forgiveness. This week I pick up and talk about the love of God. The problem is that we really don’t believe it.

Article: A Good Reminder

By the time you read this, I will be back in the Bay Area! (I hope that brings joy!) I have just spent my 33rdyear at a “camp” called Leadership Lab ( http://leadershiplab.net).

It is joy to equip youth with leadership skills as well as be instrumental in helping them discover the love of Jesus. In some cases, this is the first time they have personally experienced the love of God. As you know it is one thing to be told “God loves you” and it is completely different to experience that love in way that surpasses understanding.

Like authentic Christian community, there is both the love of God and the love of “neighbor”. Without a doubt there is a relational bond that is formed by those who come to Leadership Lab, myself included. I have a deep connection with many on staff that I have known for decades. These are some of my closest friends. I truly understand what it means to be a part of the family of God. I also feel that at Bethel! I love being in a huge extended family of God! It is reassuring to know that people have my back. In return, I have the backs of others.

As I get ready to come home, I want you to know that I have been reminded this past week that love is the most important thing. The love of God is more powerful than hate and more powerful than injustice and more powerful than death.

This has been a good time for me to be reminded of the most important things of our faith.

Guess what? I’ll be talking about love this Sunday.

The pictures are of sidewalk chalk art from our students at Leadership Lab.

God bless you!
Pr. Ben

 

 

Article: Cheap Grace

Occasionally I read an article that is too good not to share. This is one of those articles.  I hope you find it as meaningful as I do.

It is entitled, “What is Cheap Grace? by Andy Gill.

There’s so many different forms of grace: Hyper-grace, free grace, costly grace, and then there’s what we’re discussing here today, cheap grace or, cheapened grace.

 What is Cheap Grace?
Cheapened grace, similar to cheapening or watering down the gospel is what happens when we water down the message of Christs to make it a bit more “palatable.”

This term is usually attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer as many recognize it from his influential book, The Cost of Discipleship.

Bonhoeffer defined “cheap grace” as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

Bonhoeffer goes on to say, cheap grace is to hear the life of Christ preached as follows: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.”

It takes the teachings of Christ’s and re-accommodates them to fit the comforts and desires of society.

Essentially, it was the birth of a consumeristic version of Christianity. 

It’s pseudo spirituality; a lie packaged in the form of the gospel.

It’s the same concept as marketing companies telling you that their fast food chain is healthy;

it’s the same psychological strategies used to manipulate our behaviors in order that we continuously consume their products.

With pharmaceutical companies admitting to knowing their products were addictive to corporations purposely creating products to be addictive (e.g. Starbucks, reward programs, video games, porn, smartphones, etc)… it’s a constant battle against these “powers” to take back control of our own behaviors and to re-infuse meaning into our daily schedules.

If the grace you’re receiving doesn’t lead to a transformation then it’s safe to say that what you received quite possibly may have been cheapened.

 The Cost of Cheap Grace…
You can’t find meaning if you’re constantly numbing.

We live in a world that seems to be becoming more and more vacant of meaning or significance. Said another way, maybe it’s not that our world is becoming vacant of meaning so much as it’s becoming inundated with so many meaningless things.

In Bonhoeffer’s definition of cheap grace, we see the lack of value and/or meaning being stripped from Christianity [that is without cost]. This leads us into a meaningless faith.

There is no such thing as meaning without cost; similarly, there is no such thing as Christianity without cost.

In the words of writer Stephen Mattson, “Consumerism drives us towards a selfish lifestyle of safety, comfort, and privilege. But Christianity is meant to point us selflessly to the cross, where Jesus was persecuted, publicly humiliated, abandoned by his friends, and tortured to death — penniless, homeless, and apparently defeated.”

Meaninglessness, this is the cost of a cheapened form of grace. We’re so far convinced that this falsified version of Jesus is the answer to all of our problems that we’re lead into a life of complicit laziness.

Cheapened grace, in my opinion, becomes a sociopathic form of grace when we recognized cheapened grace and yet, continued to disregard our call to change.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” – Apostle Paul (Romans 6:1-2)

It’s a complete misunderstanding of what salvation is. Salvation is not the avoidance of hell; neither is it the entrance into heaven. Salvation is a transformation in the here and now.

We live in a world in which has completely normalized selfishness. It’s taken unhealthy lifestyles and marketed them as the answer to our problems. We’ve become convinced out of fear that unless we selfishly hoard, save, and protect ourselves by keeping others out and down that we’re in danger of not “living our best life”.

The gospel, in my opinion, is counter-cultural. It’s not driven by fear but it’s lead by love.

 

 

Sermon: 5 Things I Learned at Vacation Bible School (2018)

Today I talk a little bit about the challenges of our school to begin with. Amazingly enough, our Vacation Bible School theme reminds us that God cares and will help us.

Sermon: David: The Unlikely Move

Today we finish the series on King David’s early years. He makes an unlikely move that is unsavory. But there is good new for us! We will spend a little time on shame and guilt and how break free from it!

Article: Our Pilgrimage to Houston

Our Pilgrimage to Houston by Pr. Ben Bergren

Marianne Nadell, 8 high school youth and myself are back from the National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas. We gathered with Lutherans (ELCA) from around the United States and explored the theme, “This Changes Everything.” Every day we looked at a different aspect of that theme as pictured below.

We spent time with others from our very own Sierra Pacific Synod as well as with 30,000 other Lutherans every night for a mass gathering. We also served the community by cleaning up around a low income apartment complex and we discovered what it means to be Lutheran in the interactive center that was set up by various ministries, organizations and colleges affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Marianne Nadell deserves a big thank you for leading this trip! When you see her, tell her thank you! I was there to support her.

Many of you (including the Bergren family) gave to help these students go to this event at a subsidized price. Thank you. I want to share with you what some of our students said about this life changing event…

 Mary Shkouratoff

The ELCA National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas was such an amazing experience and I am so glad I was able to go. Thank you so much to everybody who donated and supported our group in different ways. At the gathering I had the opportunity to come together with over 30,000 other youth where I learned about God’s love and how it changes everything. I also heard individuals stories of how God’s love changed their lives. I was so blessed to have this experience and am great full for all the work others put in to make my experience so amazing.

Jake Podraza

The National Youth Gathering was amazing because it opened my eyes to many of the different ways God gives us his love. God is talking to you, not your ideal self, so stop trying to be something that you will never be and just be yourself. My favorite quote from the entire event would have to be “There’s Grace for that,” because it tells us that no matter who we are or what we do God still loves us and forgives us. The Gathering was an eye opening experience for me and has showed me the many ways that God and the Lutheran Church are helping others, whether it is helping clean up a city or teaching students. But my main takeaway from the Gathering is to be selfless and help others even if you don’t know the answer.

Andrew Laughlin

My favorite part of the Lutheran youth gathering in Houston was the amazing music played during the mass gatherings. Some songs delivered great messages and others were just fun to listen to. One artist that sang was Tauren Wells who wrote some songs that we performed for Common Ground which was very cool. Thank you everyone for making it possible for me to have such a great experience.

Kobe Fujimoto

Thank you so much bethel for helping send me on this amazing trip. It was so illuminating to see 30000 of my siblings in Christ. The nightly chapels were bigger than anything I’ve ever seen before. My favorite part of the trip was definitely the day of service. We went to an area that was affected by the Hurricane Harvey and picked up trash along the side of three roads. By the time we had finished we had a small mountain of trash. Thank you guys so much 😁.

Frank Podraza

The national youth gathering was amazing because everybody was there to have a good time. Every time you turned a corner you would run into somebody you’d previously met, or meet somebody new with a warm welcome. This wonderful attitude also led to increased energy in everything we did. At the end of every day there was a Mass Gathering, but it was more of a concert. Everyone was dancing and singing, no matter where you looked.

Lindsey Laughlin

The National Youth Gathering was amazing because not only did it give me an opportunity to grow in my own faith but also because I was able to grow my faith with 30,000 of my closest new friends. It was an awesome experience to meet new people and learn about their lives every day. I also enjoyed hearing about the speakers’ lives through their words and stories. I particularly loved hearing Pastor Nadia speak—her words were not only inspiring but also thought provoking. All in all it was an unforgettable trip, thank you so much to the Bethel Congregation for their support!