All posts by Ben

Article: Avoiding Extremes

In times of uncertainty, in times of conflict and in times of evaluation, I turn to this verse…

Do not be over-righteous, 
neither be over-wise— 
why destroy yourself? 

Do not be over-wicked, 
and do not be a fool— 
why die before your time? 

It is good to grasp the one 
and not let go of the other. 
The person who fears God will avoid all extremes.

Ecclesiastes 7:16–18 

I sometimes have a hard time believing that something somebody wrote 3000 years ago can apply to my life today. Then I remember that God’s word is for every generation for a reason: it is timeless and true.

King Solomon wrote this, and he makes an astute observation about human behavior. There are some who are overly dogmatic, unbending, rigid about things. These people see only one way of doing something and their way is the right way. They are quick to point out how everyone else is wrong. Everyone else should change their mindsets and do whatever it is… their way. Solomon refers to them as the “over-righteous.”

Then there are the “fools.” To the “over-righteous” that is everyone else that doesn’t agree with them. However, Solomon defines them as people who do whatever they want. They are only concerned with themselves and they do what they want without regard for others. Or as King Solomon says, they are “over-wicked.”

I don’t want you to miss this, both of these groups have something in common. They both alienate others. They do it by different means, but the result is the same. No one wants to spend time with a selfish person or someone who is always right (and never fails to tell you). 

The questions in the forefront of our minds may be this: Are we doomed to one category or the other? No! King Solomon dispenses some of the sagest wisdom found in the entirety of scripture: The person who fears God will avoid all extremes. Ecclesiastes 7:18

Extremist thinking no matter the position or topic not only alienates people but also falls outside of God’s will.  It doesn’t make any difference if it is religious or political, left wing or right wing… extreme points of view are harmful to community building. 

I understand why King Solomon chose the words, “The person who fears God…” He is reminding us that God is not interested in extremism of any kind. Jesus cares about two things: that we love Him and we love our neighbor. The “over-righteous” and the “over-wicked” tend to love themselves (and their opinions) over genuinely caring for those around them.

If these two ways of living were on a continuum, being in the middle is where it is at. It is the place where all the cool kids hang out. It is where the regular people are. Smack dab in the middle of God’s love. 

For the sake of Solomon, let’s tone down the extreme rhetoric and the selfish careless behavior and meet in the middle so that we can love one another and lift the needs of the community above our own.

God bless,
Pr. Ben  

0Shares

Article: Do I Love My Neighbor?

As I write this one of our church members is dying of COVID-19. Most likely by the time you read this, they will have passed. The thought of this both saddens and exhausts me because it reminds me of the selfishness and brokenness of humanity.

This is not a political issue at all. This is a condition of the heart. 

One of the things I committed to at my ordination… one of the bedrock truths of my ministry comes from the lips of Jesus himself. “ ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:37-39 This is known as “The Great Commandment.” 

This is not theoretical to me nor is it an unattainable lofty platitude. This is something I work at every day. They are also inseparable. To love God is to love your neighbor and to love your neighbor is to love God. Why is that true? Because the letter called 1John tells me so.

“This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” 1John 3:16

We love because he first loved us. If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother or sister, they are a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother or sister, whom they have seen, cannot love God, whom they have not seen. And God has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother and sister. 1John 4:19-21

In this moment, right now, I am seeing a distinct lack of love for God by the lack of love and concern for one’s neighbor in our country. Like I wrote previously, this is about the condition of our hearts.

Specifically, the lack of wearing masks and social distancing and the mocking and derision that accompanies this topic. 

Oh I get it. I have heard it all on social media, “Masks do nothing and we need herd immunity.” Is that what I should preach at a member’s funeral who dies of COVID-19? Or should I say, “they had underlying health conditions and this was to be expected.” 

As I mentioned in my previous article https://benbergren.com/article-rehoboams-folly/ , I will take my cues from mainstream medical professionals and the Centers for Disease Control. They tell me the exact opposite of what I am seeing on social media and what I am experiencing when I go to the grocery store. Not only that, but the way consumers are treating employees and food servers within some stores and now restaurants is disheartening.

Martin Luther puts it this way,

“A Christian is a perfectly free lord of all, subject to none.
A Christian is a perfectly dutiful servant of all, subject to all.” On Christian Liberty

It is a paradoxical statement, but it contains spiritual truth. On one hand we are free in Christ from our sin and the judgments of others. Yet, if we take “The Great Commandment” (see above) seriously, we are subject to all. Unlike Cain, we are our brother’s keeper.

I show my love of my neighbor and my dutiful service to all by washing my hands regularly, socially distancing and wearing a mask. 

And yet, I hear the shouts, “Masks don’t do any good!” 

Let me be as plain as a I can about wearing a mask for the good of others in public places: If I am wrong, I look silly and have been mildly inconvenienced.  If those who are against masks are wrong, they may inadvertently infect others, potentially leading to a greater loss of life. 

Saint Paul addresses this type of back and forth in his letter to the church of Rome. This is where he comes down on how to act in situations like these, “Accept him whose faith is weak, without passing judgment on disputable matters. Therefore, let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in your brother and sister’s way.” Romans 14:1&13

Maybe my faith is weaker and this is a stumbling block for me. Yet, I am trying to follow the recommendations of the CDC and mainstream medical professionals.

However, I am a sad when I see people are looking out only for themselves. It began with cleaning products, toilet paper and food hoarding and now we are on to “You can’t make me wear a mask because it infringes upon my personal freedom.” 

I keep asking myself what I can I do to keep others safe and healthy? What I can I do to be a responsible Christian to minimize infecting others if I happen to be asymptotic? The answer is: wear a mask in public because every little bit helps. I will also do my best to stay 6’ apart from people and not spend a lot of time in public places. I will also continue to wash my hands more than I ever have in my life. 

I am all for reopening businesses as long as we do our part to keep employees safe. I am all for people going back to work as long as we care about keeping their work environment healthy as they serve the community.

Yet some have argued for the opening of businesses because they have been inconvenienced by their lack of being able to be a consumer…I want a haircut… I want to go out to eat… I want, I want, I want. For some the argument is less about putting people back to work as it is a selfish desire to not have their lives disrupted any longer.  

The response to going out and resuming life without any safety protocols by a few have been, “Fine, stay home if you want to—that’s your right!  But I want to go out and I don’t want to wear a mask. And it’s my right to do so.”  But isn’t it everyone’s right to live their lives freely, with a modicum of safety and to have their essential needs met? Even the medically fragile need to eat and get groceries.  Even the medically fragile—and especially the medically fragile—need to visit their doctor and obtain their prescriptions and other essential items.  Why are the needs of our neighbors less important than the wants of others? I think about my 80-year-old father with asthma who recently lost his wife of 55 years and has not been out of the house in weeks.

Once again, Saint Paul gives us instruction on this as a Christian family, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…” Philippians 2:4-5  

I have been asked time and time again when are we going to worship together again? All of us at Community Lutheran Church want that. BUT… the reaction of some in the general public reminds me we are not ready to open without tremendous health risks to our congregation. 

Every church member matters to me.  Let me say that again: Every church member matters to me. The member dying of COVID-19 is not a statistic to me. I can’t say, “Well look how many survived at CLC, this isn’t so bad.” I grieve the loss (as some of you do) of friends and family whom this virus has cruelly touched. 


Careless language, self-centered language, cruel actions break my heart.

To quote John Coffey from The Green Mile, I’m tired, Boss… Mostly, I’m tired of people being ugly to each other.”

If we aren’t in this together, then we can’t be together. We are being called to love our neighbor as ourselves… every single day of our lives. 

This isn’t a political issue, it is an issue of the heart. 

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

0Shares

Article: The Matrix

Do you like science fiction movies? I do. I wish I had the time to watch more of them! A number of years ago (like 21 years) I really enjoyed the movie trilogy that began with “The Matrix.” Now, I am not telling you to go watch the movie(s) or even recommend that you watch them, I just wanted you to know that I enjoyed them. If you decide to watch this movie at some point be aware that there is quite a bit of violence in it. I will admit that I used to have a “Matrix” screensaver on my computer at CLC back when I was the associate pastor.

The movies revolve around a “Christ-like” messiah character who doesn’t know he is the “chosen one” to save humanity from their enslavement to robots. Weird huh? Humanity isn’t aware of their bondage to this unseen overseer. As the first movie progresses the hero doubts his status as the savior of humanity until the very end. His name is Neo which means “new.” He is new and different than the rest of humanity (in this movie).  

However, there is one loyal disciple through it all. His name is Morpheus. That is also the name of the Greek god of dreams. In this movie, Morpheus is trying to wake the world from its illusory sleep! Morpheus believed in the main character (Neo) even when this hero didn’t. At one point in the second movie this loyal disciple talks to a group of people about a big plan that involves the hero of these three movies. 

Needless to say, they didn’t believe in Neo’s power either. 

“Not everyone believes what you believe Morpheus.” 

Very calmly and boldly Morpheus replies “My faith doesn’t require that they do.”

I find that line compelling because I agree with it. However, it has nothing to do with the Matrix movies and everything to do with my faith in Jesus who is the savior of the world. My faith doesn’t require anyone else to believe what I believe. 

My trust in Christ is not predicated upon anyone else believing in Him. I would believe in Jesus even if I was the last person of faith in the world.  Humanity does not define my relationship with Jesus! Opinions don’t form my faith either. It is Christ who shapes me, and it is scripture that guides me. 

That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t share the love I have discovered in Christ! Our current sermon series reminds us that the story continues! I can’t help but talk about my faith because God has been so good to me! Some of you are probably tired of seeing me online! (Use the mute button when necessary.)

Like the movie, Christ is calling us to see the unseen bondage to sin that many deny. Jesus wishes us to see that there is more in this world than meets the eye. There is a new reality that is just beyond our vision and it is called “The Kingdom of God.” A place where sin does not cloud our judgment and doesn’t hold us back. When we step into the Kingdom of God (through faith) we see the world differently than everyone else. 

I don’t have to go look for this mystical place called the Kingdom of God and neither do you. Jesus who is the Way tells us exactly how to find it.  

Jesus replied, “The kingdom of God does not come with your careful observation, nor will people say, ‘Here it is,’ or ‘There it is,’ because the kingdom of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21

I encourage you to own that statement. Believe it with your whole heart. The Kingdom of God is not found at 3720 E. Tropicana Ave. It is within you right now as you read this. Jesus is with you in this moment. 

Awaken and see the truth! Feel the love of God!

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

0Shares

Article: Rehoboam’s Folly

King Solomon wrote, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9

The above verse from King Solomon is the ancient variation of: “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” Keep these quotes in mind as I tell you a story from the Bible…

Have you ever heard of King Rehoboam? He was King Solomon’s son. King Solomon’s wisdom was legendary. Unfortunately, King Solomon didn’t seem to pass on any of his wisdom to his son. 

Aside from Jesus, we know that King Solomon was the wisest human to live (1Kings 3:10-12).  After King Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king of Israel.  Despite having a most excellent role model in his father as it related to wise leadership, Rehoboam’s reign had immediate and dire consequences for the Kingdom of Israel.

Shortly after ascending the throne, a labor leader went to the king and asked for easier working conditions. If they were granted, King Rehoboam would have a happy and loyal workforce. 

King Rehoboam told this labor leader he needed to think it over and he consulted two completely different groups of people who gave him two completely different answers. 

First the king consulted his father’s oldest and wisest advisors. These were people with experience and proven track record. They advised King Rehoboam to ease the working conditions and all would go well for him and the nation because these laborers would be loyal.

Then the freshly minted king went to his friends. These were people with no experience and no expertise. They told King Rehoboam to exert his power and to make things harder for those who served as laborers—and this is exactly what the king wanted to hear!

The young and inexperienced king had two sets of advisors who presented him with two wildly different solutions. If only Rehoboam had listened to his father (King Solomon) when he sat on the throne. Solomon wrote, “The way of a fool seems right to him, but a wise man listens to advice.” Proverbs 12:15

King Rehoboam did not take the counsel of his father’s wise and more experienced advisors. Instead he acted upon the advice of his young friends who only told him what he wanted to hear. 

We know this because King Rehoboam went to his friends AFTER he heard the recommendation of his wisest counselors. Listen to this, “But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him…” 1Kings12:8 The young king surrounded himself with “yes people.” He listened only to the people who affirmed his point of view. 

A similar scenario is playing out throughout our communities and our nation in the midst of this pandemic. Many are not listening to mainstream experts or physicians or even the Centers for Disease Control. Instead some are listening only to points of view that reinforce their personal point of view. 

As Solomon said, “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.” Ecclesiastes 1:9  If we do not heed the advice of our wisest and most knowledgeable medical and scientific experts, we  risk repeating “Rehoboam’s Folly” and what happened in the 1918 pandemic.  

We are all prone to want to listen to our own point of view.  Myself included!  However, scripture tells us differently. We should heed the advice of those who are experts in their field.  Shouldn’t that be true especially when facing a global medical crisis? 

If we don’t learn from King Rehoboam’s mistake, we will repeat history. 

Unfortunately, for King Rehoboam, he followed the advice of his friends and it caused the country of Israel to be divided in two. Yes, King Rehoboam’s poor judgement and arrogance caused the nation of Israel to be fractured! 

I know that some of you who read this will think that I am making commentary on our president or other government officials. I AM NOT. 

Instead, I am asking members of our community—the CLC family—to prayerfully and objectively consider to whom we are listening?  Who is guiding our decisions and actions?  Are we listening to the mainstream experts and wise counselors in this moment?  Or, are we listening to those opinions that reflect our own point of view? 

As the pandemic began in the United States, Kristen Theile asked a friend of Community Lutheran Church who is a medical doctor to come and talk to a few of us about what we should be doing at the church to respond to this crisis. We listened intently as they educated us on the dangers of COVID-19. We encouraged people to stay home and a few days later we closed the buildings. I talked to this doctor again this week and they still see this situation as dangerous.

Believe me!  No one is more anxious to return to our “normal” way of life at CLC than me!  But we will continue to be closed until we know it is medically safe to be together. I will listen to the experts and not just what I want to hear. 

Saint Paul instructed his protégé Timothy on such things too. Although Paul was referring to theology and not a global medical crisis, his words have application in this situation too:

For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine (facts). Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 1Timothy 4:3-4

I trust our medical community. I give thanks for our nurses and doctors who serve this city and our nation. I value their expertise in this moment. Please say a prayer for them this day. I just did.

God bless you,

Pr. Ben

0Shares

The Three Holiest Days of the Year

I ran across this picture (see above) today and wanted to share it with you? Who are you choosing to be in this moment of time? Are you ready to move from the “Fear Zone” to the “Learning Zone”? Are you emotionally equipped to move from the “Learning Zone to the “Growth Zone”?

You have a choice. Who do you want to be in the coming days and weeks? Take some time to completely read this chart. Print it, save it on your phone/computer. Refer to it. I think this is extremely helpful.

On to other things…

So here we are…. The holiest three days of the year. Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and Easter. Do they feel holy to you this year? With our lives disrupted with loss, do these days seem special to you? 

They are for me.

These days represent a series of promises that I will carry with me all the way to heaven.

  1. Maundy Thursday: God makes a promise to be with me (and love me) every step of my journey. It doesn’t end there. When I get spiritually hungry, Jesus comes and feeds me. I need to be reminded that I am never that far from the love of Jesus on this road called life.
  2. Good Friday: I am forgiven. Every cross I see tells me that God holds nothing against me and that I am a child of God. There is nothing I can do that can change God’s mind. The cross also reminds me the extent of God’s love. Jesus gave everything in the most excruciating way. There is nothing cheap about God’s grace. It is free to us but cost Jesus everything.
  3. Easter Sunday: Christ is Risen! He is Risen indeed!  Nothing in all creation can separate us from the love of Jesus! Not the coronavirus, not death, nothing. We may fear the future, but Jesus is with us and will lead the way! After all, Jesus is the Way, the Truth and the Life! 

I need Easter today and every day. I believe in Easter and the bodily resurrection of Jesus! As the old hymn goes, “Because He lives, I can face tomorrow, Because He lives, all fear is gone, Because I know He holds the future, And life is worth the living, just because He lives.”

Do I wish we would be all together these next three days? Absolutely. But Christ is still risen and nothing can change that fact! Let us celebrate Easter like our future depends upon that truth (because it does and I believe)!

God bless you all my brothers and sisters. I am glad you are in my life. 

Pr. Ben

0Shares

Article: Do Not Lose Hope

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18

When Peter (Jesus’ right hand man) confessed that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of the living God, Jesus replied with what you read above.

It kind of feels like the gates of Hades are wide open right now and we are under attack. 

But the promise remains… the church will survive. We may suffer but we will endure. 

Jesus reminds us that we are a part of something bigger than ourselves. You are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. (1Corinthians 12:27). Christ conquered death (and Hades) already. Because we are the body of Christ, we have too. We are the church and we will withstand this season of uncertainty. 

When Jesus said this, he wanted us to know that we stand on the rock of truth! Jesus IS the Son of God. Not a “junior” god but God himself! Our rock is Jesus and not Peter as some suggest. A human can’t do what God can!

I understand that this isolation might cause some churches to close and that saddens me, but I know the Church will continue on until Jesus returns. 

If you attend Community Lutheran Church, I want you to know that I and our entire staff are working hard to keep our church connected and moving forward. We will not stop until we are all together again… even if that means we need to our work from home! We already have a plan in place to continue worship if we are all ordered to stay at home!

We, as a staff, love our church and we love you. We are all-in! We are committed to the mission of this church, devoted to Jesus and dedicated to you. 

In this season of isolation, please share our worship and daily check-ins with your friends. Invite them to join us online! We can still share the love, joy and hope of knowing Christ from our homes!

Even in this scary moment, there are still opportunities to share the love of Jesus. God didn’t cause this pandemic and Christ doesn’t want anyone to suffer or die but I also know that God can breakthrough any situation and change lives. 

I am here for you and so is Jesus. 

As the world is changing around us, don’t think for a moment Jesus is going to let the Gates of Hades and all that stands behind those gates to prevail. I already know how this story ends, Jesus wins. 

God bless you.

Clean Hands. Clear Minds. Caring Hearts.
Pr. Ben

0Shares

Abraham and Sarah: The End Does Not Justify the Means

Abraham and Sarah still do not have an heir. Instead they force the issue and it doesn’t turn out well. There are real life and immediate applications to our life right now in this uncertain time of ours.

0Shares