Article: Don’t Add to Grace

When Saint Paul wrote a letter to the church of Galatia, he reminds the Church of the essence of the message he preached: Grace. This reminder was necessary because Paul was receiving reports that the church in Galatia had added something to the free gift of love that Jesus gives to all who believe, but it wasn’t a helpful addition. 

How did this happen? After Paul left to go plant other churches, traveling preachers came to Galatia and convinced these Christians that the grace of God was not enough. They needed to do something too—this is when the erroneous notion of “works” or “acts” began to muddy the promise of the grace of Christ. 

Paul, wanting to correct the misguided and heretical teaching of these itinerant preachers, wrote the letter we know as “Galatians.”

In chapter 3, Paul asks a pointed question, “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” Galatians 3:2

Folks–we can’t earn God’s favor! The nicest, purest, most gracious thing you or I have ever done pales in comparison to God’s holiness and compassion. Paul totally gets this and so does the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. 

Isaiah writes, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Isaiah 64:6

We have a deep need for God to come to us (thank you, Jesus!) and there is nothing we can do to climb our way to God. 

Our relationship with God is all about the love God has for us and it is free—this is grace! 

Yet, we are reminded that our actions in this life have consequences. We may be forgiven and loved but our decisions still carry weight. Here is how Paul puts it, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A person reaps what they sow.” Galatians 6:7

This spiritual truth is lived out in two ways. One cannot say they follow Jesus and then live contrary to the command to love without God taking notice. Also, a person who expect others to love and respect them while treating people poorly will be sorely disappointed; a person reaps what they sow. 

However, if you sow love and kindness wherever you go, you will receive a harvest of the same. My life shows abundant proof of this. I am humbled by the love and support shown to Rachel and me in the past few months. If you are one of those people, thank you. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Why Worship?

There is one thing we do every week as the church… we worship. It may be the most important activity we engage in. For some of us, it may be the only church related activity we participate in all week. Why is worship so important?

Theologians of every age have defined the act of worship in different ways. Here are a few…

Bruce Leafblad: Worship is that process in which we make God first in our lives.

Mark Tittley: Worship is becoming aware of God’s presence and responding to His presence with verbal or active expressions of love and devotion.”

Krister Stendahl: Worship is being confronted with a sense of wonder, a sense of our sin, a seeking of purging and purification and a summons to service.

Clement of Alexandria: Worship is celebration. All of life is a festival: being persuaded that God is everywhere present on all sides, we praise him as we till the ground, we sing hymns as we sow the seed, we feel his inspiration in all we do.

Anonymous: Worship is response to God resulting in service to people.

See? Everyone has an opinion! Even I have a definition for worship.

I define worship as an act of surrender.

When I come to worship, I come with the mindset to surrender my will to God. I often think about the words John the Baptist spoke when Jesus began his ministry, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

Although we are created in the image of God, I still see the need to have more of Jesus in my life and less of me. You know what I am saying…”thy will be done” and not my will be done. 

Worship is the place where I surrender myself to God’s love through music, prayer, scripture and even the message. 

However, the attitude I bring to worship affects how I worship. If I am not open to God’s love in that moment, I won’t let my guard down. If I come in looking for things to complain about, I will find them. If I come seeking entertainment, I will be entertained (but I won’t be worshipping).  If I come in looking for Jesus to connect with me, I will find connection. The attitude we bring to worship matters.

The act of surrendering myself to Jesus at worship will then spur me into faithful living and serving the rest of the week. 

Do you surrender yourselves to God when you come to worship?

Oh and more thing…

Christian worship is communal. We also come to connect with others. So many people have said, I can worship God on the golf course, lake, mountain, park, etc. I believe that is partially true. 

I am also skeptical of those who say they actually worship by themselves in those places. In all my travels, I have never encountered a person in nature actually worshipping God. OK, rant over!

We worship as a community to be strengthened by others. We are fortified by the voices of others as we sing and pray. We are reminded that we are never alone in the voice of the person sitting next to us. 

Come and surrender yourself this weekend whether online or in person. We need more of Jesus in our lives and we need each other. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Dear Church…Love

We begin a new sermon series called, “Dear Church…” where we will spend time looking at the most important things the church should be about. We begin with love. Everything we do is informed by love. Note: the first few seconds were cut off but you’ll get what I am talking about.

Article: So What’s Your Plan?

Here we are in 2020. My does time fly! In 1998, Community Lutheran Church was engaged in a strategic planning process called “Vision 2020” and here we are. Now I don’t remember the conclusions of that report but that doesn’t matter now. What does matter are the plans we make for the coming year.

Maybe not our plans per se…

May I suggest we turn our hearts toward asking, “What are God’s plans for us in 2020?” I am reminded of a verse in the book of Proverbs that the wisest king who ever lived once wrote, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 We all have things we want to do or even need to do but do we ever take the time to ask God what He has planned for us?

All you need to do is look at the Bible and see that God has plans. Plans for the world, plans for nations and plans for individuals. Where is God leading you in 2020?

I know that some view God as silent or even disinterested but I disagree. Jesus established the church knowing we need each other. That was a great plan! At the end of our lives we won’t be talking about: the degrees hanging on the wall, the cars we drove or even the homes we have lived. We will reflect upon the deep and lasting relationships in our lives. The church is the place where we can grow in our relationship with Jesus and with others. God has a plan for us to be connected but there is so much more Jesus wants to accomplish in your life. 

Let me ask: What about you? What is God leading you to in 2020? Have you prayed about this very question?

I can certainly see how God led me in 2019. I didn’t seek to come to Las Vegas. I was open to the possibility but I didn’t “orchestrate” the process. I decided early on if this was God’s will, it will unfold the way God intends. I didn’t need to do anything other than be myself through the interview process.  

In 2020, I believe God has set me on the path to help our congregation discern who we are and how we will do life together in the coming years. This won’t happen overnight because it is a process of discovery. I often see God working in my life as steps and not giant leaps. I am content to take one step at a time. 

I try to live by Psalm 37:23-24 as it relates to the most important things. “If the Lord delights in a person’s way, God makes their steps firm; though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord upholds them with His hand.”

I try not to make reactive decisions. I aim to be deliberate so that my path forward is sure. Even the Psalm reminds me that even with good intentions, I will occasionally stumble.  Yet, I am reminded that God will be there to help me catch myself (if I am open to His leadership in my life).

Where is God leading you in 2020? If you haven’t asked yet, maybe you should.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: I’ve Been Pondering…

It is only a couple of days after Christmas and I am still thinking about the beautiful evening and morning of worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Community Lutheran Church.

I can’t help but think about the end of the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2 where it says, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I don’t doubt it, Mary experienced a lot of things in the previous 24 hours of her life that caused her to stop and reflect.

I am in no way comparing myself to Mary the mother of our Lord but I am pondering my 5th Christmas at Community Lutheran Church in Las Vegas. (I know that might be a surprise to some of you! I once served this congregation as the associate pastor here many years ago.) Yet, this is my first Christmas back in Las Vegas.

You might be wondering, what am I pondering? I am thinking about our church family. I purposely tried to greet as many of you as possible on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day if you worshipped with us. 

I am also thinking about all of our guests we extended hospitality to over Christmas (and we had quite a few guests). I am hopeful they experienced the love and joy of Community Lutheran Church. I know of at least one guest who told me they will come back and worship with us again. 

But there is also a third group of people I am thinking about. I saw many people who used to call Community Lutheran Church their church home. Faces I recognized from the last time I served as your pastor. I am sure some moved away and were visiting Las Vegas for Christmas. But there are some who worshipped with us who do not have a church home and still live in the area. My prayer is that they understand that there is always a place for them here at CLC. As I was welcomed “home” in October, they too will be welcomed back if they choose to return.

Although there was no room at the inn for Mary, Joseph and Jesus, there is always room for another family in the Kingdom of God and at Community Lutheran Church. The question is are we ready to make room in our hearts for those who want to join us?

I purposely walk the aisles of our sanctuary before every service to greet as many people as I can. I want everyone to know they are welcome, no matter if they are charter members of this church, visiting for the first time or somewhere in between.  Incidentally, I visited with both charter members and first-time guests on Christmas Eve. Although there was food in the kitchen for us to eat between the services on Christmas Eve, I chose to spend every spare minute talking to anyone who would shake my hand. 

Human connection is more important than anything else we offer at CLC and I don’t mean chatting with the pastors. Everyone (including me) needs to know they are loved and they belong. We all long for connection with others and with our God. Without that connection, we are only providing entertainment. God came to earth to remind us that we are loved and that we belong to Him. Yet, that connection to God is intimately tied to human connection. If guests don’t feel welcome by us, they won’t experience the radical welcome Jesus offers to all. Church is a “team sport.” 

We are poised to reach more people and continue to share the love of Jesus in 2020 but I can’t do that alone. I need your help.

Continue to look for unfamiliar faces at church and introduce yourself! It makes no difference if they have been attending CLC for years or it is their first time with us. This is not just the “job” of our awesome greeters and ushers! 

Invite others to experience the joy we share at Community Lutheran Church! People are more likely to come to church if they are invited by a friend or family member… especially if you offer to take them to brunch afterwards!

As you know, we have some of the finest (if not the best) church musicians, vocalists, choir, country western band and praise team in the Lutheran church. (If you are reading this and do not attend Community, live stream one of our Christmas services from our church website https://communitylv.org . I am not bragging; I am being completely honest.) However, if people do not feel loved by the other people worshipping with them, they will completely tune out the music and the message of God’s love. Human connection is that important.

So…that’s what I have been pondering since Christmas.

May God bless you as 2019 ends and 2020 begins. May we all have 20/20 spiritual vision and see the love of God in your life so that it can be shared. 

Pr. Ben