Article: An Open Letter from Bishop Eaton

One week ago, a gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and killed 50 people and injured 50 others. These people were coming to worship in peace. An Australian white supremacist committed this horrendous hate crime. I denounce white supremacy and violence against others. 

The Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (our bishop, if you are an ELCA Lutheran) wrote a letter to us after this violent and tragic event. Here is that letter:

Dear Church, 

Today we awoke to the devastating news of the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We join in mourning for the people who were killed and wounded, for their families, for the first responders and grief counselors, and for all whose lives have been shattered today. We know that God is present in the midst of their suffering. 

We know that our own Muslim neighbors here in the U.S. are also experiencing grief and fear. Many will wonder whether it is safe to attend Friday prayers today. These are not the kinds of questions that any of us should have to ask ourselves as we seek to live out our religious commitments. Yet, devastatingly, this is also a reality that binds us together as people of faith. As I wrote last November in the wake of the Tree of Life shooting: “Hate-filled violence knows no bounds – whether a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, a Christian church in Charleston, a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh” – and now these mosques in New Zealand. 

Together with our ecumenical and inter-religious partners, we stand shoulder to shoulder in condemning hatred, bigotry, racism and violence whenever and wherever it occurs. We do so because all people are made in the image of God. Therefore, as an act of neighborly love, I urge you to reach out to your Muslim neighbors today and in the days to come to ask how you might offer solidarity and support – joining whenever possible with other ecumenical and inter-religious neighbors. 

I leave you with the words of Psalm 16:1: “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” This is my prayer – for our Muslim neighbors, for the people of Christchurch, and for all who mourn and are afraid. May we see in this devastation the possibility to be Christ’s presence with our neighbors in this world – to be present in their suffering and to be partners in God’s justice and peace. 

In peace,

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton

Presiding Bishop, ELCA

Article: Successful People

I saw the picture above, online. I saved it because I resonated with the skill set on the left side (successful people). The more I pondered this sign, the more I wondered if the Bible had anything to say about these things. And so, I dug into my Bible to see what I could find…

Read Every day—God says, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:8 

Compliment—Paul says, “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Romans 15:2

Embrace Change—God says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Forgive Others— Jesus says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

Talk About Ideas—Paul says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

Continuously Learn—Solomon says, “Instruct a person man and they will be wiser still; teach a righteous person and they will add to their learning.” Proverbs 9:9

Accept Responsibility for Their Failures—Solomon says, “Those who conceals their sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” 

Have a Sense of Gratitude—Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Set Goals and Develop Life Plans—Solomon says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3

After digging into scripture and discovering that the Bible talked about these skills long before that internet posting ever existed… I might just change the title from “Successful People” to “Faithful People.”

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Travelogue: From Tabor to Jerusalem- Tabor

As we enter the season of Lent, we are going to follow Jesus from Mount Tabor all the way to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Today we begin at the foot of Mount Tabor where we learn what happens when we are ineffective. We are reminded to keep our eyes on Jesus!

Article: Peace and Contentment

Frank Sinatra’s daughter, Tina Sinatra, recalls her father’s unceasing drive to succeed and make money, even when his health was at risk near the end of his life:

His health was in tatters and his life mired in financial wrangles, but my father refused to stop giving concerts. “I’ve just got to earn more money,” he said.


His performances, sad to say, were becoming more and more uneven. Uncertain of his memory, he became dependent on tele-prompters. When Tina saw him at Desert Inn in Las Vegas, he struggled through the show and felt so sick at the end that he needed oxygen from a tank that he kept on hand. At another show he forgot the lyrics to “Second Time Around,” a ballad he had sung a thousand times. His adoring audience finished it for him.

She couldn’t bear to see her father struggle. She remembered all the times he repeated the old boxing maxim, “You gotta get out before you hit the mat.” He wanted to retire at the top of his game, and she always thought he would know when his time came, but pushing 80 he lost track of when to quit. 

After seeing one too many of these fiascos, she told him, “Pop, you can stop now; you don’t have to stay on the road.”

With a stricken expression he said, “No, I’ve got to earn more money. I have to make sure everyone is taken care of.”

Ironically, since his death there have been constant family wrangles over his fortune.

I can’t help but think of what Saint Paul wrote to the church in Philippi that he started… I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

Clearly Saint Paul’s life has zero resemblance to Frank Sinatra’s life. As much as I enjoy Frank’s music, I appreciate Paul’s words even more. Paul’s life was anything but easy. I would venture a guess that Paul’s best day was probably harder than Frank’s worst day. Yet, we hear that Paul has figured out the secret of contentment in any and all circumstances. 

Paul’s relationship with Jesus took precedent above everything else in his life. Jesus is literally the most important thing in Paul’s life. His contentment isn’t found in things or pleasant surroundings, it was found in Christ alone. The things happening around Paul were less important than the Christ within him. 

Earlier in the fourth chapter of Philippians Paul talks about the importance of prayer. Prayer is our life-line to God and Paul tells us that no matter what is happening in our lives, we should pray about it. Why? Because there is a benefit to praying about everything. Listen to this…

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

Peace is given when we pray. Who doesn’t need more peace in our chaotically busy lives? I know I do! 

Maybe Frank Sinatra could have benefitted from prayer too.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: 2019 Theme Verse: Love

We take a look at Bethel’s 2019 theme verse on love today. This has huge theological implications for us as Christians. This was brought home to us in the decisions made at the Methodist Church conference last week. Click here for the notes: https://benbergren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Theme-Verse-2019.pdf

Article: Undercover Boss?

I read an interesting anecdote by Joani Schultz the Chief Creative Officer of Group Publishing.

This is what happened (in her own words)…

A crazy rumor erupted on our wedding anniversary cruise.

Before we even boarded, a just-met passenger whispered, “The new CEO who just purchased this cruise line is a passenger!”

Of course, my head swiveled around to see if I could spot the big-wig.

As the week went on, rumors flew like the norovirus. Who is the CEO? Where is that VIP? Are they dining among us “little people”?

One night, a passenger even turned to me and asked, “Are you the CEO?” By this time, if someone stooped to ask if I was the undercover boss, I knew people were desperate.

Mystery. Not. Solved.

Yet…

During the week, I didn’t mind the attention and care the staff lavished on us passengers. Until I thought: They do not know who the dignitary is. Are they covering their kindness bases just in case the new owner was one of us?

It was a case of “hedging your bets.” Better treat everyone like the new CEO (just in case). I really want to know if the quality plummeted for the people on the next cruise! 

I couldn’t help but think about the church and how we treat others who are “checking us out.” Do we treat them like angels from heaven or do we steer clear and look for the people we know? 

The author of Hebrews reminds us to always be full of love and not just with the people we know.

Keep on loving each other as sisters and brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2

The author is reminding us of Abraham’s hospitality towards the three divine visitors in Genesis 18 and possibly even the hospitality Lot (Abraham’s nephew) extended to the two angels in Genesis 19. 

When we gather to worship (or adjourn from worship) we should treat everyone as if they are a guest from God to be welcomed because we too are messengers of God’s love. 

Jesus half-brother James was very clear on this point in a letter he wrote to the church. 

My sisters and brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a person comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the person wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor person, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4

It doesn’t have to be the “rich/poor” comparison. It can be anything… including people we know versus people we don’t know. 

Let us continue to seek those who are craving connection to Christ and to us. If people are brave enough to come to church not knowing anyone, let us be brave enough to welcome them in the Name of Jesus.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Why Worship?

Every week the Church gathers to do the one thing that every congregation has in common: we worship Jesus Christ, the resurrected One. 

But what is worship? 

It is more than the songs we sing.

It is more than the prayer(s) we pray.

It more than the words the pastor speaks.

It is even more than all of those things put together. 

I understand that every pastor and worship leader might have their own definitions of what worship is or is not. I am not here to dispute others and their definitions. There is more than one good definition of worship in the church world. I am taking the time to give you my perspective. 

I see two components as it relates to our worship of Jesus.

Worship in itself is an act of surrender to someone who is smarter, better and more wonderful than we are. More than that, worship is an acknowledgment that we cede control of our lives to someone else (Jesus).

That sounds pretty straightforward but as you know that is a challenge to each and everyone one of us. We like to be in control. Even though God created us to worship Him, this is hard for us.  We may worship but never surrender our lives to the Lord of all things. We might “enjoy” the music and the message but that doesn’t necessarily leads to a surrendered life where our God has the final say on the decisions we make. There has to be something more.

There is! Worship can help facilitate a surrendered life but it won’t do the spiritual work for you. Worship is the “environment” that can assist us in our spiritual growth but it is a not a magic spell that makes our wishes of greater devotion come true. Yet, if we don’t know the purpose of worship, how on earth do we expect anything out of it other than be entertained or bored? One out of every five attenders admitted that they had no idea what the most important outcome of worship is (in a national survey). 

If we come to worship understanding that our very act of worship is submission to Christ and our hearts and minds are open to greater surrender… God will work on us and in us. 

I said there were two components. Surrender is one of them. The second is what I do on Sunday morning at worship. My job is to help people enter into the presence of God at worship. I see myself as a conduit to help every worshipper make a connection with Jesus. I do not have the power to conjure God or make Him show up but I do have the ability to help people adjust their spiritual gaze toward Jesus so that they can connect with Him in a deeper way (surrender). I suppose I see myself like a docent or a guide to help people experience Jesus and His love. 

I am reminded of Psalm 100:4 where it says, “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.”That is my job! To escort people to enter into the house God, through his gates and into his courts so that we may give thanks and worship Christ and his powerful name. This happens in so many different ways that I do not have time to share today. 

Here is my promise to you: If you come to worship ready to more fully surrender your life, I promise to walk with you as we walk towards Christ together.

God bless,
Pr. Ben