Article: Hard Times and a Circumstantial Faith

Its been several weeks since I wrote an article and a lot has happened since my last article.

I moved from Northern California to Las Vegas, NV. 

I returned to Community Lutheran Church to serve as their Senior Pastor. (I was once an Associate Pastor at CLC. I got a promotion!)

Rachel my wife had major surgery.

My mother fractured a vertebra and had one surgery and is facing another surgery next week. 

Honestly there is more, but I think you get the picture. There is a lot going on. 

I could focus on all the things that aren’t going right or I can be thankful. We all have that choice. What have you chosen?

I am thankful to be back in Las Vegas and have a beautiful condominium to call home. 

I am thankful for the outpouring of love and support from Community Lutheran Church and my previous congregation Bethel Lutheran Church. 

I am thankful that I feel like I am home (even though Rachel is not with me yet). 

I am thankful Rachel does not need chemotherapy or radiation treatment. 

I am thankful my mother is being treated by the best spinal surgeon in Northern Iowa.

It is easy to get bogged down with bad news and feel hopeless. Saint Paul once asked a thought-provoking rhetorical question about difficult circumstances. This is what he asks in Romans 8…

Does it mean God no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? Romans 8:35

Sometimes it feels like God is far away when life isn’t going our way. When we live with a circumstantial faith, we interpret every positive and negative event as proof that God either loves us or is upset with us.  However, that is not Saint Paul’s conclusion!

He answers his own rhetorical question this way…

No, despite all these (bad) things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. Romans 8:37

I get it, we don’t feel very victorious after receiving bad news or being in the hospital or not being able to pay all your bills. Yet, Saint Paul (who did not have an easy life as a Christian) didn’t let the circumstances of his life get in the way of claiming God’s unconditional love for himself even in the hardest of times. 

No one wants or asks for difficult circumstances and hardly anyone feels victorious in the middle of a personal struggle. Yet Jesus is still there loving on us.

Shortly before Rachel’s surgery, I was an emotional mess. I was ugly crying and did not have a “stiff upper lip.” (I hope Rachel doesn’t remember this.) It was then I started praying to my “dad” in heaven. I know that might sound odd but I needed the comfort and intimacy of God and using the title “Heavenly Father” wasn’t enough for me in that moment. 

Jesus told his disciples to refer to God as “Abba” in the Lord’s prayer. The word means “father.” But I never called my own dad “father.”  In my saddest, uncertain moments of the past month, I called out to my “dad up in heaven”. It brought me great comfort knowing God is like a dad who will watch over his kids (like me).

As I begin this new call at Community Lutheran Church, I know that Jesus is here too. God knows that CLC has had a special place in my heart for over 20 years. If you are reading this and you are a member of Community, please know that I am fully committed to you and this church. I never thought in a million years I would ever be “back” but here I am and I feel blessed to be your pastor.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Moments: Zechariah

We begin a new series entitled “Ordinary People, Extradordinary Moments.” God uses ordinary regular people and leads them to extraordinary moments. Today we begin with a regular guy named Zechariah who experienced real life disappointment yet God does something extraordinary.

All Saints, Not Just Dearly Departed Saints

This weekend we celebrated “All Saints Sunday.” This is way more than remembering those who have gone before us to heaven. It is “All Saints” and not just “Dearly Departed Saints Day”. Listen in as I talk about the obstacles of seeing yourself as a saint and hear how Jesus feels about those who struggle.

Article: What a Week

It has been quite a week. Rachel and I went to another doctor’s appointment yesterday as Rachel seeks to make a decision about her upcoming surgery for breast cancer.  I am finishing my time at Bethel and I feel the sadness of saying goodbye to people I care about. I am about to move to Las Vegas and see old friends which is a joy. I am trying to coordinate my move in two weeks. My son just got a job. One of our dogs is under the weather and will soon visit the veterinarian. Oh and we have had no electricity at our home for the past 38 hours because of the fire danger. 

Am I stressed? Yes. I can feel it. 

Am I tired? You bet I am. 

Am I using this platform to complain or feel sorry for myself? You be the judge… just read to the end. 

I am (my family too) are experiencing all the joys and sorrows of life all at one time whether or not we want to. (We don’t.) 

I am starting to believe the old adages, “When it rains, it pours” and “having mixed emotions.”

Yet, I know this is a part of life… ups and downs, hills and valleys. If our emotional state was graphed, it would read like an EKG reading of someone’s heart. 

The real question is this: Has any of this, especially the difficult stuff, caused me or Rachel to question our faith? Absolutely not. 

Without Jesus, we would be like a ship without a rudder. Without the love, care and concern of others… especially our brothers and sister in Christ, we would feel all alone. We both are so grateful to be within and surrounded by the family of God. We are also thankful that our biological families are watching over us (and are also a part of God’s family too). 

We know that so many people have our backs in this tumultuous time of our lives. I give thanks that Rachel is being prayed for by people all over our nation because she is on several prayer lists and our friends are scattered far and wide.

A few years ago, we spent a good part of the year at Bethel talking about biblical joy. Some of you might remember that. We used a verse from Nehemiah (Old Testament) to remind us of the importance of joy especially in difficult circumstances. 

Nehemiah addressed the people of Israel when they were upset about something they heard. This is what Nehemiah said, Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

Godly joy will build us. Despair will deflate us. We may not always be happy about our circumstances but our joy is connected to our faith in God. It is our trust in Christ that gives us strength and joy in these difficult days.

Like the past couple of weeks I am sure the next few weeks will be filled with both tears and laughter, because there will be both joy and sorrow. We are ready for that because of Jesus’ love and presence. 

I am also reminded of the words of God found in the Old Testament book named after the prophet Isaiah. In chapter 43 God proclaims…

But now, this is what the Lord says— “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… Isaiah 43:1b-3a

Exactly what I needed to remember at this point in the Bergren family journey.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: Righting the Wrongs of the Past

Did you see this news article about the 5th graders who righted a 60 year wrong? It reminds me that the power of grace will always be stronger than hate. Here is that story from CBS News…

Reverend Gilbert and Grace Caldwell were overjoyed about tying the knot 60 years ago. They were then immediately heartbroken, however, by the honeymoon that followed.

Back in 1957, the Caldwells got married at a church in North Carolina before driving eight hours to the Mount Airy Resort in Poconos, Pennsylvania for their honeymoon.

Despite having a reservation, the happy couple was forced to drive eight hours back home after they were turned away from the hotel for being the wrong skin color.

The incident spurred the Caldwells to join the civil rights movement where they worked side-by-side with Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. In the decades that followed, Grace and Gilbert continued giving speeches and lectures to schools and organizations about their experience with racial injustice.

But when they told the story of their honeymoon to the New Jersey fifth graders at Bear Tavern Elementary back in January 2018, the kids became especially saddened by the tale.

Months after seeing the Caldwells speak at the school, all of the fifth graders banded together and wrote letters to the Mount Airy Hotel asking for an all-expenses-paid second honeymoon—and their wish was granted.

“It makes me feel really good inside because we know that even though we’re just kids, we made an impact on the world,” one student told CBS News.

It is never too late to right a wrong. It is never the wrong time to do the right thing and never forget that love can undo the damage of hate. If 5th graders can do, so can you. 

Did you notice that the children who heard the Caldwell’s story had nothing to do with the original offense? Yet, they took it upon themselves to repair the damage that someone else inflicted on the Caldwell family.

Isn’t that what Jesus did? He came and fixed what he didn’t break. He came to right an uncountable number of wrongs including the brokenness in our lives. 

It is the grace, love and power of Jesus that gives me the ability to push forward in my life instead of being mired in the mistakes of my past. With everything that is going on in my family’s life right now, we need to be looking forward knowing that Jesus has been more than faithful in the past. 

With the knowledge that Jesus will walk us into our uncertain future is of unmeasurable worth. I am not sure if I could even take step forward in life without Jesus. 

I also know because of what God has done in my life, I can pay that grace forward by helping others let go of their painful pasts. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben