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

Article: Change is Hard

If you are from Bethel Lutheran Church in Cupertino and did not see the email I sent out this morning, I informed the congregation that I will be leaving Bethel in mid-October. 

If you are reading about this for the first time, I apologize for the shock of these words. I accepted a call to be the next senior pastor at Community Lutheran Church in Las Vegas Nevada. The decision to leave Bethel was personal. Rachel and I are concerned about my long term health and the current schedule I am keeping. I have gained 50lbs since moving to Bethel and I do not have the time to exercise more and eat at home (healthily) on most days. This is the hardest decision of my pastoral career because of my strong feelings for the people of Bethel.  

I first served Community Lutheran Church after I graduated from seminary and will return the congregation I served so many years ago. 

With that being said… change is hard. 

I understand if you don’t believe that this is hard on me too. 

There are lots of ways to react to stress and change. Some eat, some fast. Some become angry and others passive. And the list goes on. 

After letting my heart and head get the best of me (that happens sometimes) I turn to God. 

I am reminded of the Psalm that Martin Luther used as inspiration for his famous (and very Lutheran hymn) “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It is Psalm 46. 

Verse one of that psalm tells me everything I need to know about God…

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 

God alone is my safe place when life is uncertain. God alone is the one who will be there all of my days and at the end of my days. 

All I can do as a pastor is point to God and trust that God is a promise keeper. (Spoiler: God is reliable)

I am also reminded of the words of Paul that come with a promise. 

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

Paul reminds us that instead of worrying or having anxiety in times of uncertainty we should turn to prayer. The simple act of lifting your concerns to the One who is always listening has a benefit. Did you see it when you were reading the verse? 

The God of peace (not anxiety or worry) will watch over (actually guard) your heart and your mind. As a pastor once said, “If you have time to worry, you have time to pray.” I choose the latter. 

These will days of prayer for me. I hope that you will join me.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

Article: Pope Francis and the Golden Gate Bridge

Last week I wrote about horses and hurricanes. You can read the article here: https://benbergren.com/article-horses-and-hurricanes/. Since then, many people have asked me how the Spanish Colonial Mustangs are doing after Hurricane Dorian past over the Outer Banks of North Carolina. After doing a little digging online, I am happy to report the wild Spanish Colonial Mustangs weathered the hurricane and are doing just fine! No injuries! They did exactly what their instincts told them to do: They huddled together, went to high ground, took shelter under trees and kept their faces out of the wind!

After Hurricane Dorian

Now on to other things…

I cross the Golden Gate Bridge a lot. Like 10 times a week. I have contributed much to the upkeep of that iconic bridge through my tolls. 

I am amazed literally every time I cross it. It is an engineering feat of the early 20thcentury. 

I am no engineer, but I’ve read that strength and longevity of the bridge comes down to its foundations and its flexibility. The north and south towers of the Golden Gate bridge are what give the bridge its strength. The north tower on the Marin County side was built on dry land. The south tower, on the other hand, was built 1100 feet off shore and at a depth of more than 90 feet under water and just so you know the foundation goes deeper than that! 

As strong as the two towers are, the bridge’s other strength is its flexibility. It is designed to sway 27 feet laterally. 

For example, in June 1935 an earthquake struck the region as men worked atop the bridge’s unfinished south tower. According to PBS’ American Experience, one worker recalled, “the tower swayed 16 feet each way. There were 12 or 13 guys on top with no way to get down… The whole thing would sway toward the ocean, guys would say, ‘here we go!’ Then it would sway back toward the bay.”

The bridge roadway can even flex up and down depending upon the amount of traffic.

The Golden Gate Bridge During Construction

Like last week when I was writing about horses you might be wondering why on earth am I talking about a bridge even if it is the Golden Gate Bridge?

I have no doubt that a strong Christian needs a firm foundation in Christ. Remember what Jesus said at the end of the “Sermon on the Mount”?

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.” Matthew 7:24-25

Unfortunately, some theologians over the centuries have taken this to mean, being good and following the rules versus the one primary instruction Jesus impressed upon his disciples above all others: LOVE. 

We must remain flexible enough (like the Golden Gate Bridge) to love others. The winds of hate and the waves of division will try to shake our foundations. Love is more powerful than either of those things but it is sure easy to give into anger, jealousy and the like. Just keep loving…even the haters. It is not easy, but that is what we have been called to do. 

Just last week, Pope Francis was talking to the press after a visit to Africa and they were asking him about those in the Roman Catholic Church who see him as too soft on people and that might cause a schism in the church. Pope Francis replied that he wasn’t concerned about a split in the church and then he added this…

“When you see rigid Christians, bishops, priests, you know there are problems there. We need to be gentle with these people and accompany them.” 

Pope Francis talking to the press on the way back from Africa

Amen to that. Now I may not agree with Pope Francis on everything but I can totally get behind this. Let us be gentle with the rigid people of this world. Our foundation is in Christ and he has given us the power to be flexible in love with those who blow a lot of hot air at us.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Horses and Hurricanes

In 1524 Giovanni da Verrazano of Spain mapped the coastline of North Carolina. Most likely Verrazano left a gift that still resides in North Carolina today. Wild Spanish Colonial Mustangs still roam the outer banks of North Carolina today. There are not many left and they are critically endangered. 

Currently, there are about 100 Spanish mustangs that live on the Outer Banks. Since I have never traveled to North Carolina, I have never heard about them until today. As Hurricane Dorian bears down on North Carolina, a mandatory evacuation of humans have left the Outer Banks devoid of people but the horses remain. 

I learned that the horses know exactly what to do in times like these…

“They will move to higher ground and gather under sturdy oak trees to shelter from the storm, said the Corolla Wild Horse Fund, which manages the herd and sends a similar reminder during major hurricanes due to the outpouring of concern for the horses.

‘They’ll likely ride out winds and rain as their ancestors did before them — in huddles, butts to the wind,’ it added.

And unlike human beings living in the Outer Banks, the wild horses are better equipped to handle a hurricane. They’re already sensing a change in air pressure and are grouping up together.

‘Remember, they’ve been doing this for 500 years!’ the Fund said.”

What an instinct! Head to high ground, look for shelter, huddle together and keep their faces out of the wind. 

That is vastly different than what Lieutenant Dan did (in the movie Forrest Gump) during the hurricane he faced at the top of the mast on a shrimp boat daring God to make the storm worse. 

These horses are survivors. This herd has endured many hurricanes over the past 5 centuries. Maybe we can learn something from our equine friends.

There is no escape from hardship in this life. So when it comes, do what the Colonial Spanish Mustangs do…

  1. Look for high ground and look for shelter. Go to the place that is spiritual high ground. In other words, go to worship. When life gets difficult there is no better place to be than in the spiritual presence of God and be reminded of Jesus’ love. Church is a safe harbor from the storms that inundate our lives.
  2. Huddle together. There is nothing worse than going through difficult circumstances alone. If you seek out the spiritual high ground and shelter, you will others who will walk with you through the storms of life.
  3. Keep your face out of the wind. Don’t ignore the storm, but don’t magnify it either. By focusing all your energy on the storm you have little energy to do anything else. Turn your back to it. You can still feel it but you will also be able to have a better perspective by having your back to the wind and potentially see what God is up to in your life. 

Listen to this promise from Psalm 107:28-31

Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he brought them out of their distress. He stilled the storm to a whisper; the waves of the sea were hushed. They were glad when it grew calm, and he guided them to their desired haven. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for us. 

God bless you,
Pr. Ben