All posts by Ben

Article: The Gift of Grace

Max Lucado understands grace as well as anyone and can explain better than just about everyone.

He tells this story in his book, The Gift For All People.

Cinderella’s castle at Disneyland was packed with kids and parents. Suddenly – all the children rushed to one side. It’s a good thing it was a castle and not a boat, or it would have tipped over. The pristine princess had entered the room. Cinderella. A gorgeous young girl with each hair in place, flawless skin and a beaming smile. She stood waist-deep in a garden of kids, each wanting to touch and be touched.

The other side of the castle was now vacant, except for a boy maybe seven or eight years old. His age was hard to determine because of the disfigurement of his body. Dwarfed in height, face deformed, he stood watching quietly and wistfully, holding the hand of an older brother. Do you know what he wanted? He wanted to be with the children. He longed to be in the middle of the kids reaching for Cinderella, calling her name. But can’t you feel his fear, fear of yet another rejection? Fear of being taunted again, mocked again? Don’t you wish Cinderella would go to him?

She did! She noticed the little boy and immediately began walking in his direction. Politely but firmly inching through the crowd of children, she finally broke free. She walked quickly across the floor, knelt at eye level with the stunned little boy and placed a kiss on his face.

Max concludes, “The story reminds me of another royal figure. The names are different, but isn’t the story almost the same? Rather than a princess of Disney, these essays are about the Prince of Peace. Rather than a boy in a castle, our story is about you and me. In both cases, a gift was given. In both cases, love was shared. In both cases, the lovely one performed a gesture beyond words.”

“But Jesus did more than Cinderella. Oh, so much more. Cinderella gave only a kiss. When she stood to leave, she took her beauty with her. The boy was still deformed. What if Cinderella had done what Jesus did? What if she’d assumed his state? What if she had somehow given him her beauty and taken on his disfigurement?”

“That’s what Jesus did. ‘He took our suffering on him and felt our pain for us … He was wounded for the wrong we did; he was crushed for the evil we did. The punishment, which made us well, was given to him, and we are healed because of his wounds’ (Isaiah 53:4-5).”

The fact is: Jesus did something for us that we did not deserve. We’ve been forgiven, we’ve been claimed and we’ve been given a church family. God is good and so is the grace that Jesus gives.

Let us resolve to treat others as Jesus has treated us… even when it isn’t deserved.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Doing Life Together: Christ Centered Community

We continue in our series on how we do life together at Bethel. Christ Centered Community needs to be tended to because “it doesn’t just happen.” Listen in and find how we can do that. Also… some great music!

Article: Resurrection Part Two

The Conversion of Saul (c 1615-1620) Guido Reni (1575–1642),

In my previous article, I wrote about some of the “proof” of the resurrection of Jesus from the perspective of the disciples. You can read that article by clicking on this link: Article: Resurrection

In this article, I am going to write about another piece of evidence regarding the resurrection. It is still the Easter season after all! 

If you spent any time with me you have heard me say that the most compelling evidence for the resurrection is found in the person of Saul (see Acts 9).

Saul was an educated Jewish Pharisee and a well-connected one at that. He worked with the priests in Jerusalem and he hated Christianity. He viewed it as a heretical and detrimental to Judaism. Needless to say, he was devout and he was definitely not a Christian. 

After the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, Saul sought permission to hunt Christians in Damascus which is a long way from Jerusalem. This of course happened after Saul watched over the coats of the men who killed the first Christian martyr: Stephen. He also approved of Stephen’s murder. See Acts 7:54-8:1

On his way to Damascus, Jesus knocked him off his horse and blinded him. This was not done out of retaliation but to spiritually awaken Saul to a new reality.

Jesus then sends Saul on to Damascus and wait for further instructions. Saul complies.

At the same time, Jesus talks to a Christian named Ananias and tells him to go a specific home address in Damascus to find Saul. I love that Jesus gives such specific directions like a map app! 

Ananias is a little concerned because everyone knows that Saul hates Christians! Jesus then reveals his purpose for blinding Saul. “This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”Acts 9:15-16

With that, Ananias goes to Saul and heals him of his blindness in Jesus’ Name. 

That was enough to change Saul’s mind. He believed in Jesus (not to mention his power) and was baptized. 

Saul’s Roman name was Paul and he became the greatest church planter and theologian of the first century… possibly ever. 

Here is the point about the proof of the resurrection. People who are devout in their faith do not switch to another religion… especially one they persecute (because they hate it). Do you have plans to switch religions tomorrow? I didn’t think so.

It would take an act of God to change the mind of a devout believer. 

The only way that Saul could go from arresting and killing Christians as a Jewish Pharisee to becoming a Christian church-planting pastor is this… he met the risen Christ. 

People change faith systems all the time…devout people do not. It takes an act of God to do that. 

For me, Saul is one of the greatest proofs of the resurrection of Jesus. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Doing Life Together: A Picture is Worth 1000 Words

We begin a new series today entitled “Doing Life Together”. We begin with a surprise! A new logo for Bethel Lutheran Church. In this message, you will hear the reasons for a new logo and what it means. You can see this logo on our website at https://www.bethelcupertino.org/2019_logo/description.php

Article: Resurrection

On Sunday I said, “People don’t risk their life for a lie.” People may lie to save their life but that is a different issue. It makes no sense to me that the women who went to anoint (embalm) Jesus’ dead body would lie to the disciples. It makes less sense that the disciples would perpetuate that lie to others. 

They already knew the power of the Jewish Council (Sanhedrin) and the Roman authority. After all they had Jesus killed. If they could proverbially cut the head off this movement, they could easily arrest and kill any of Jesus’ followers. 

What benefit would the disciples receive in claiming that Jesus rose from the dead if he did not? You don’t put your life at risk to “save face.” No, you cut your losses and lay low. 

Besides, Christianity should have died out if Jesus didn’t rise from the dead. 

Maybe the gospel writers (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) picked up this story about Jesus and gave it an embellished ending (resurrection)? Unlikely. Scholars are confident that all four stories of Jesus found in the Bible were written within the first 65 years of his crucifixion. Not a tall tale that grew taller on down the line. They relayed what they had heard from others or saw with their own eyes.

Speaking of the four gospels, they roughly tell the same story. Jesus was buried in a tomb after his crucifixion and early on a Sunday morning several women came to anoint his body one final time. The tomb was open and Jesus body was missing. An angel or messenger of God told the women that “Jesus is risen”. Depending upon which version you read, Jesus either first appears to one of the women or some combination of the disciples before spending time with all the disciples.

The simple fact is this: Jesus rose from the dead. 

It doesn’t make sense. It defies logic and it even defies science… but it happened. There is no way to explain the disciples sudden change. They went from terrified to boldly proclaiming that Jesus is alive! As I said earlier, no one risks their life for a lie and they definitely put their lives at risk. All the remaining disciples except for John were martyred (killed) for proclaiming “Christ is risen!” 

They no longer feared death because they knew they followed someone who was stronger than death. They fully believed that Jesus defeated death and that there was something more beyond this life… and there is. 

The disciples didn’tbelieve they couldn’t be killed. They clearly knew they were still in grave danger. It’s just that it didn’t matter anymore. 

Jesus changed their life and their death. 

The resurrection is not a fairy tale or a myth. Christ is risen and our future is secure. 

And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:38-39 NLT

… because Christ lives!

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: A Life Saving Ring

Do you have a class ring from high school or college? The tradition of having a class ring began over 200 years ago as a way to proudly remember the academic institution you attended.

However, one class ring saved a person’s life. In Max Lucado’s book, A Love Worth Giving, we hear how a ring became the difference between life and death…

“By all rules, Skinner was a dead man.” With these words Arthur Bressi begins his retelling of the day he found his best friend in a World War II Japanese concentration camp.

The two were high school buddies. They grew up together in Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania—playing ball, skipping school, double-dating. Arthur and Skinner were inseparable. It made sense, then, that when one joined the army, the other would as well. They rode the same troopship to the Philippines. That’s where they were separated. Skinner was on a rescue mission when Bataan fell to the Japanese in 1942. Arthur Bressi was captured a month later.

Through the prison grapevine, Arthur learned the whereabouts of his friend. Skinner was near death in a nearby camp. Arthur volunteered for work detail in the hope that his company might pass through the other camp. One day they did.

Arthur requested and was granted five minutes to find and speak to his friend. He knew to go to the sick side of the camp. It was divided into two sections–one for those expected to recover, the other for those given no hope. Those expected to die lived in a barracks called “zero ward.” That’s where Arthur found Skinner. He called his name, and out of the barracks walked the seventy-nine-pound shadow of the friend he had once known. He writes:

“I stood at the wire fence of the Japanese prisoner-of-war camp on Luzon and watched my childhood buddy, caked in filth and racked with the pain of multiple diseases, totter toward me. He was dead; only his boisterous spirit hadn’t left his body. I wanted to look away, but couldn’t. His blue eyes, watery and dulled, locked on me and wouldn’t let go.

“Malaria. Dysentery. Pellagra. Scurvy. Beriberi. Skinner’s body was a dormitory for tropical diseases. He couldn’t eat. He couldn’t drink. He was nearly gone.”

Arthur didn’t know what to do or say. His five minutes were nearly up. He began to finger the heavy knot of the handkerchief tied around his neck. In it was his high-school class ring. At the risk of punishment, he’d smuggled the ring into camp. Knowing the likelihood of catching a disease and the scarcity of treatment, he had been saving it to barter for medicine or food for himself. But one look at Skinner, and he knew he couldn’t save it any longer.

As he told his friend good-bye, he slipped the ring through the fence into Skinner’s frail hand and told him to “wheel and deal” with it. Skinner objected, but Arthur insisted. He turned and left, not knowing if he would ever see his friend alive again.

Skinner took the ring and buried it in the barracks floor.

The next day he took the biggest risk of his life. He approached the “kindest” of the guards and passed him the ring through the fence. The guard asked, “Is it valuable?” Skinner assured him that it was. The soldier smiled and slipped the ring into his pocket and left.

A couple of days later he walked past Skinner and let a packet drop at his feet. Sulfanilamide tablets. A day later he returned with limes to combat the scurvy. Then came a new pair of pants and some canned beef.

Within three weeks Skinner was on his feet. Within three months he was taken to the healthy side of the sick camp. In time he was able to work. As far as Skinner knew, he was the only American ever to leave the Zero Ward alive.

The ring elevated his position in the camp. The ring secured healing. The ring brought provision. 

This is an Easter Story! Arthur’s ring saved Skinner’s life in the same way Jesus offered himself for our troubled and broken souls. 

Skinner attempted to refuse the very ring that would ultimately save his life. We too at times turn from Jesus. Like Arthur, Jesus didn’t give up! 

This Easter, embrace the life giving and soul refreshing gift Jesus has offered you… a fresh start.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Travelogue: From Tabor to Jerusalem- Jerusalem (Palm Sunday)

We arrived at our destination…Jerusalem. It is Palm Sunday and we discover false expectations and a false narrative that runs counter to what Jesus is about to do for humanity. What false narratives do we tell ourselves? Is there anything we need to let go of?