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

Ordinary People, Extraordinary Moments: Joseph

We look at another ordinary person who was led to an extraordinary moment… Jesus’ step-dad Joseph. He wanted nothing to do with this moment but God helped him out. Maybe you’re not ready for your next step of faith but God will guide the way.

Article: Kindness Matters

Have you ever heard of people setting up lending libraries outside? A talented carpenter might build a box with glass doors and set it up outside so that people can borrow books. It is an act of kindness and generosity knowing they might not get the books back.

Yesterday, I ran across a different kind of lending library that made me smile…

Andrew Taylor noticed that there was a lack of good sticks at his local park, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Taylor from Kaiapoi, New Zealand had been chopping off excess branches from some trees in his yard when he decided to make them into a “Stick Library” for all the local pups.

After chopping up the branches into several dozen conveniently-sized pieces, he put them into a hand-crafted box emblazoned with the words “Stick Library: Please Return” and brought it to the local park.

Since Taylor and his daughter hosted a small neighborhood inauguration party for the Stick Library, more than 50 dogs and their owners have enjoyed a game of fetch with the sticks.

You might be thinking, “so what?”

I shared this story because kindness is lacking these days. Community is built when we extend ourselves to others. It doesn’t just happen. Let me ask, do you have a neighborhood, or do you just live around a bunch of other people? There is a difference. 

I also see our church as a neighborhood. Do you extend kindness and hospitality to those who recently moved in or “live” on the other side of the sanctuary? If not, it is time to do more than look at the top of your shoes or only talk to the neighbors you know and like. Our future is tied to the kindness we extend to others. 

Here is why: when we extend ourselves to others in kindness, deep connections are made. As a matter of fact, kindness is one of the signs of the Holy Spirit showing up in your life. (See Galatians 5:22-23)

As we approach Christmas, let us not forget about our God who extended kindness to us by coming to us and then extended his hands on a cross to forgive us. 

God bless you and Merry Christmas,
Pr. Ben

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.