All posts by Ben

Article: Kindness

I ran across this news story that I want to share with you written by Michael Goonan from the Good News Network…

It seemed that life was finally giving her a break. A single mom down to her last $7 found a $1 bill in a grocery store parking lot. So she walked back into the store, bought a lottery ticket, and won $100.

Just like that, her luck began turning around.

Most of us in that position would probably keep the $100 and breathe a sigh of relief. But not Shetara Sims. At the urging of her 12-year old daughter Rakiya, she decided to donate all of her winnings to the family of a local Kansas City police officer wounded in the line of duty.

For the Sims family, the desire to pay it forward is personal. When Shetara’s eldest daughter was killed in 2012, Kansas City police officers went above and beyond to support her family as much as possible.

“The detectives were really there for us. They were there for us more than anyone I can imagine. They did things they didn’t have to do,” Shetara told CNN. “They came to see my kids. They did a lot. They were fathers, therapists. They were everything.”

Not wanting to make a fuss about her generosity, Shetara called the Kansas City Police Department and made her donation anonymously. She told the officers on the phone that she had been dealing with several hardships of her own, recently losing her job due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

It didn’t take long, though, until the local police precincts were abuzz, touched by Shetara’s kindness and gratitude. A group of officers became determined to find her to express their own thanks.

After finally locating Shetara, the Police Department decided to set up a GoFundMe page to help her family with their financial situation. They called the campaign, ‘Helping the Woman With a Heart of Gold,” and the response was overwhelming—with strangers and officers donating more than $145,000.

“People like her are hard to come by,” wrote Kansas City resident Chantale Childs on the police department’s Facebook post that announced the campaign. “A person that would give to a stranger and not eat for herself… she deserves support. It’s amazing to see my community come together for this person. Makes me proud!”

This story reminds me of something a lot of people have forgotten, the importance of kindness.

I hear how people will fight for their rights and go to war over this and that but all we need is kindness.

Kindness is glue that holds society together. It is not drawing lines in the sand or anything that fosters an “us vs. them” mentality. 

When we extend ourselves to others, relationships are built. When everyone does it; cohesion happens. It is not hard to see that we are not unified. However, kindness can reverse this condition if we all invest in this rare commodity.

King Solomon reminds us of the importance of kindness…

Those who despise their neighbor sins, but blessed are those who are kind to the needy. Proverbs 14:21

Deep down we are all a little needy… needy for some kindness. Give a little and see if it comes back to you. We have to start somewhere.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Lying

Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment. Proverbs 12:19

History is not kind to those who peddle in ignorance or deceit. Not only does King Solomon say so but time has a way of exposing the truth even if it was obscured for a season… remember: truth endures.

Even Jesus talked about this when he met with Nicodemus the Pharisee in John 3. Jesus said, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” John 3:19-20

There are some who want hide what they are doing for obvious reasons. They don’t want anyone (let alone God) see what they are really up to. Some will discover a horrifying truth at the end of their lives, and it is this: There is a God and God saw everything. To quote Martin Luther, “This is most certainly true.”

Everything comes to light at some point and not only at the end! Lies, deception, half-truths, cruelty can’t be hidden even by the greatest magician. The truth will prevail because Jesus is true.

Yet, we seem to be struggling with the truth these days. In the past 30 years we have gone from truth being objective to completely subjective. What I mean by that is this, “What I hold as a truth may not be a truth for you.”

However, I am reminded of what God thinks of truth telling a few verses later in Proverbs…

The Lord detests lying lips, but he delights in people who are truthful. Proverbs 12:22

I don’t know about you, but that alone causes me to pause and think. I want to be one who tells the objective truth about everything and not some version of the truth that reflects my preferences and way of life. 

Do you remember what God directly said about how we should talk about others? Let me give you a hint, it is found in God’s only top ten list in the Bible.

“You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor.” Exodus 20:16 Us old school Christians often say, “Do not bear false witness against your neighbor.” God doesn’t want us lying about others. 

Martin Luther expands this commandment in his explanation of it. Dr. Luther writes, “We should fear and love God, and so we should not tell lies about our neighbor, nor betray, slander, or defame him, but should apologize for him, speak well of him, and interpret charitably all that he does.”

God says, “Don’t tell lies about your neighbor.” Luther says, “Speak well of your neighbor or don’t say anything at all.”

If we could do this one thing in 2020, the world would be a better place. Don’t get me wrong, there will still be liars out there (Spoiler alert: there always will be). Let the liars speak for themselves. Remember: the truth will always reveal itself. 

What does Jesus says about identifying people in this world?

Jesus said, “By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thorn bushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise, every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.” Matthew 7:16-20

I’ve known some great liars in my life but I don’t talk about them because I can’t say anything nice about them. Their “fruit” gives them away anyway. 

I am going to keep on following the truth wherever it may lead. Jesus hasn’t let me down yet and besides he is “the way and the truth and the life.” 

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Independence Day Reflections

I wrote this a year ago today. As I re-read it, I feel the same way today as I did a year ago. I hope you find this both thought-provoking and meaningful…

Today is July 4thand I started thinking about a monument on the other side of our country: The Statue of Liberty. 

It was a gift from France and the statue arrived by boat in 1885. The only stipulation of this gift was that the United States would build a platform for the statue to be erected upon. Eager to receive such a wonderful gift, fundraising began several years before the statue arrived in New York. 

Jewish American author and poet Emma Lazarus wrote a poem called The New Colossus, which she wrote for a fundraiser auction to raise money for the pedestal upon which the Statue of Liberty now sits. The poem did not receive much recognition and was forgotten about shortly after the auction.

In the early 1900s and after Lazarus’ death, one of her friends began a campaign to memorialize Lazarus and her New Colossus sonnet. The effort was a success, and a plaque with the poem’s text was mounted inside the pedestal of the statue.

The well-known part of this sonnet goes like this…

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

A beacon of welcome for those coming to start a new life.  Lazarus also calls The Statue of Liberty the “Mother of Exiles.” A symbol of new found freedom where one can pursue the words enshrined in the Declaration of Independence that was ratified on this day 243 years ago in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

When I reflect on both Lazarus’ and the Declaration of Independence, I know we still have a ways to go before this is a reality for all. Even though I have the ability to take hold of “life, liberty and pursuit of happiness,” I also know that others within our nation do not for various reasons including racism and economic disparity. 

One could rightfully lament the inequity and partisan divisions in our nation today. I am sure we could make a long list of things that need to be addressed by our legislators right now. As sit in my living room typing this, I have decided that the best way I can celebrate Independence Day is to be thankful for the vision put forth by our “founding fathers” and continue to advocate for those who do not have the same opportunities as I have had here in the United States.

I will be thankful and I will continue to be a voice for the voiceless. 

God, you have given all peoples on common origin.
It is your will that they be gathered together
as one family in yourself.
Fill the hearts of humankind with the fire of your love
and with the desire to ensure justice for all.
By sharing the good things you give us,
may we secure an equality for all
our brothers and sisters throughout the world.
May there be an end to division, strife, and war. 
May there be a dawning of a truly human society
built on love and peace.
We ask this in your name. Amen.

– Author Unknown

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Where is Your Treasure?

In 2010, an 89-year-old art and antiquities collector by the name of Forrest Fenn hid a treasure chest filled with gold and diamonds. Why? To inspire people to explore nature and give hope to people affected by the recession of 2008.

Clues leading to the treasure’s location were included in a poem published in Fenn’s autobiography “The Thrill of the Chase.”

Thousands of people have ventured into the Rocky Mountains searching for the treasure chest estimated to be worth over $1 million.

Fenn estimated that as many as 350,000 people from all over the world went hunting for the treasure.

Two weeks ago, on June 6, 2020, Fenn confirmed on his website that the treasure has been found.

“It was under a canopy of stars in the lush, forested vegetation of the Rocky Mountains and had not moved from the spot where I hid it more than 10 years ago,” he said. “I do not know the person who found it, but the poem in my book led him to the precise spot. I congratulate the thousands of people who participated in the search and hope they will continue to be drawn by the promise of other discoveries. 

Who hasn’t dreamed of finding a treasure chest full of gold?!? 

I know people are still trying to find the elusive treasure on Oak Island in Nova Scotia. The idea of finding something worth millions is alluring. I always enjoyed watching Antiques Roadshow on PBS when someone would discover an old forgotten antique was worth thousands of dollars.

Even Jesus talked about hidden treasure!

Jesus said,

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matthew 13:44

For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. Matthew 6:21

We don’t need to go hunting for buried treasure. There is no map and no “X marks the spot”. Jesus tells us exactly where to find it. We find our treasure the same place our heart is located.

Let me ask you, where is your heart today? What is your treasure? This is an important question, take your time.

What is the thing or things you value most… because that is your treasure. 

These past few months caused me to think about where my heart is. This is what I discovered:  My heart is here in Las Vegas at Community Lutheran Church. I wish the circumstances (COVID-19) were different but my heart is here wanting to lift the name of Jesus to our community and beyond. 

Of course, like everyone else, I want the church to be open without risk of COVID-19 infection. However, this moment caused us to work differently to lift the name of Jesus and that is good. We now broadcast every day of the week. This is something we would not have done earlier this year. Yet we discovered that what we are doing is making a difference! It reminds me of something God said in Isaiah 55:10-11, “As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish…so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it.”

My heart is here with you and my heart is with Jesus. That is my treasure.

What is yours?

Below is a link of one of my favorite songs that reminds me of my treasure. Here are the lyrics…

Knowing You

All I once held dear, built my life upon
All this world reveres, and wars to own
All I once thought gain I have counted loss
Spent and worthless now, compared to this

Refrain:
Knowing you, Jesus Knowing you, there is no greater thing
You’re my all, you’re the best
You’re my joy, my righteousness
And I love you, Lord

Now my heart’s desire is to know you more
To be found in you and known as yours
To possess by faith what I could not earn
All-surpassing gift of righteousness

Refrain

Oh, to know the power of your risen life
And to know You in Your sufferings
To become like you in your death, my Lord
So with you to live and never die

Refrain

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Revisiting Ferguson

On August 9th, 2014 Michael Brown was fatally shot by a Ferguson police officer. The event set off a series of both protests and then rioting. The subsequent riots wreaked havoc on this suburb of Saint Louis, Missouri. 

What you will read below were my reflections of that moment in time. I believe they are still relevant today… 

In any situation I believe it is my calling to point to Jesus in all of this. And where is Jesus in all of these situations and countless other conflicts—even the ones between individuals?  He is right in the middle between them. Jesus isn’t called the Prince of Peace for nothing. Jesus stands in the middle waging peace. Notice I didn’t say status quo. A lot of people confuse peace with status quo. They want to go back to a time when it was peaceful for them regardless if it was good for anyone else. Jesus calls us to move forward into a new reality that brings good for all.  

Jesus certainly is calling those who considers themselves disciples of Jesus to stand in the middle and call for transformative peace as well. The type of peace where everyone has a seat at the table and a voice about what happens next.  

Long ago Jesus said to a crowd listening to him preach. . . Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God. 

God’s favor is with those who stand in middle and help bring transformative peace. 

Notice Jesus didn’t say, Blessed are the peace-lovers. I think the vast majority of humanity likes and wants peace. It takes more than sitting on the side lines hoping for it to happen. We need more peace-makers in the world. 

And if you are not a news junkie like me you might have missed it. There were some peacemakers out there in Ferguson, MO during a most violent time.  Or at least they were attempting to be peacemakers.

A pastor was shot with a rubber bullet on Wednesday (6 years ago) during a protest in Ferguson, Missouri, as clashes with police continued over the fatal shooting of unarmed teen Michael Brown.

Pr. Renita Lamkin, an African Methodist Episcopal church pastor, told reporters that she was “standing in the middle of the street, with people behind me, and the police were in front of me.” Lamkin said she was attempting to mediate (peace-making) between police and protesters. 

She told the police, “They’re moving, they’re leaving.” 

“And then there was a pop!” she said, as a rubber bullet struck her stomach. There are pictures of the injury—they are too graphic for this post.

A widely circulated photo of Pr. Lamkin’s injuries shows a large, bloody bruise. She said she was hit while standing, because her motto is, “Pray on your feet!”

Pr. Lamkin said the best way for people of peace to heal the community’s wounds is to “love people. Listen to them.”

Notice what she is saying. It isn’t about whose right and whose wrong (even when there is a clear sense of right and wrong). It’s about peacemaking. Listening to people—as opposed to talking over people— those are the seeds of peace.

By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.” John 3:35

Then there was Pr. Willis Johnson. He is the one standing in front of that angry young man in the picture below. Read what Pr. Johnson had to say about this moment.

“People who are hurting need to be affirmed in their hurt; people who are angry need to be affirmed in their anger. Let me say it like this: I needed that as much as he needed that. We kept each other from harm’s way and from doing something that we would need not to do…

If you’re going to fuss and cuss and be mad, I want you to do it with me. Do it in my ear. And at the same time, I just begin to pray with him and to say, ‘Give him the strength — give us the strength — to be courageous enough not to do what they expect us to do.’”

Later on, in the same interview Pr. Johnson says this about the peacemaking process…

“I wasn’t out there marching on Monday, wasn’t out there marching on Tuesday. I was doing the things that I thought were necessary and I continue to do that. 

But I also know that it requires by every means necessary to do what is going to bring about the sense of awareness, the attention, that will allow people to not only express and attempt to explain but to expedite and encourage us to some point of not only reconciliation but resolution and resurrection. Because we have to (continue to) live when everybody else goes and leaves from this place.”

Reconciliation, resolution and resurrection. Think about that last word for a second. New life—where there was only death and destruction.  Jesus knows about death and he certainly knows about new life.

Peace isn’t just a truce. General McArthur said “A truce just says you don’t shoot for awhile. Peace comes when the truth is known, the issue is settled, & the parties embrace each other.” A truce is a return to status quo. 

Peacemakers don’t just try to stop conflict. They’re doing something far more meaningful; something healing and transformative. They try to bring about reconciliation and relationship, even if it means going through the conflict.

Peacemakers stand in the middle and work for peace—even if it is one person at a time.

The author of Hebrews says it this way–Make every effort to live in peace with all people and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.  See to it that no one misses the grace of God and that no bitter root grows up to cause trouble and defile many. Hebrews 12:14-15

That is some active peacemaking right there between Pr. Johnson and Pr. Lamkin. Watching for those bitter roots and addressing it before things got worse.

It’s hard to do that when we have demonized the other. It’s hard to love someone when you’ve made them the enemy. Standing in the middle helps minimize those attitudes.

Jesus cautioned us about the kind of peace the world offers. Often it is weak and stilted toward those with power. Kingdom peace is different. It offers redemption and a new way of living that values all. This is how Jesus put it, “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives.” John 14:27 Let us not confuse the two. 

Let me close with the words of President Lincoln.

During the Civil War, Pres. Lincoln was asked if God was on his side and the cause of the north. 

This was his reply–“Sir, my concern is not whether God is on our side,” “my greatest concern is to be on God’s side, for God is always right.”

God bless you,

Pr. Ben

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