We begin a new sermon series called “How to Foolproof Your LIfe.” We will look at how to add wisdom to our lives focusing in on the Fruit of the Spirit. Wisdom is way better than knowledge. We begin today with love.
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,
We continue to look at the message behind the miracles found in the gospel of John. Today we discover the meaning behind Jesus walking on water. It is something we all need.
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,
We are looking at John’s story of Jesus… specifically the signs of Jesus. They were chosen by John for a reason but we have to dig deeper to find understands. This week, two back to back healings.
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!
“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…
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
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
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
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,
It is the day of Pentecost (the birthday of the Church) but it is a day we lament the racism in our nation. How do these two go together? The Spirit gives us the strength to be advocates.
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.
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.
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,