Category Archives: Articles

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

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

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

Article: This Week is for You

We are just a few days from the beginning of Holy Week. We will remember: 

  • Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (he is from Nazareth),
  • how Jesus disrupted the business of the Temple (called the cleansing but he didn’t do any cleaning)
  • how Jesus taught daily in the Temple courts (outside the Temple building) 
  • Jesus celebrating Passover (the Old Covenant) with his disciples and establishing a New Covenant (Holy Communion)
  • Jesus’ arrest and trial (a kangaroo court for sure)
  • Jesus’ crucifixion and death (by the Roman authorities)
  • Jesus’ burial in a borrowed tomb (thanks to Joseph of Arimathea)
  • Jesus’ glorious and unexpected resurrection

Jesus did all of these things with you in mind. Yes, that’s right. He was thinking of you. Don’t forget that you are “fearfully and wonderfully madeWhen you were woven together in the depths of the earth, God’s eyes saw your unformed body.” Psalm 139:14-16Like Jeremiah the Old Testament prophet, “Before God formed you in the womb He knew you, before you were born God set you apart…” Jeremiah 1:5

Jesus knew long before you did that you would be a part of His family one day. He knew this before you were born. “In love God predestined us to be adopted as his children through Jesus Christ.” Ephesians 1:4But we aren’t members of a club. No, we were invited to be changed by this love! For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son…” Romans 8:29

You are more favored by God than even Jesus’ disciples! “Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” John 20:29

This coming week… Holy Week is all for you. 

  • Jesus reminds you that he is your King on Palm Sunday. 
  • Jesus makes an unbreakable promise of forgiveness to you when he gave us Holy Communion.
  • Jesus showed you the extent of His love by dying for you.
  • And Jesus shows us that we no longer need to fear anyone or anything including death on Easter morning. 

This coming week is a gift for you. Immerse yourself in that gift. God loves you so much.

Speaking of God’s love, Jesus is thinking about you right now as you read this.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: Resilience

A kindergarten teacher found an exciting new thing for her Sunday School class. The teacher wrote a song about popcorn, taught it to the children, and had them crouch down on the floor to sing it. At appropriate points in the song, all the children would “pop up.” The teacher soon had them “popping” all over the classroom.

One day, the popcorn song was in full swing, when the teacher noticed one child remained crouching on the floor while the other children “popped” all over the room. “Why can’t you pop like the other children?” 

The little child replied, “I’m burning in the bottom of the pan.”

We all have moments, days, seasons of “burning in the bottom of the pan.”

When those situations arise… they are miserable. By the way, I am suspicious of Christians who smile through the obvious pain. 

Yet even Jesus reminds his disciples, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33b

Jesus knew that life sometimes stinks. Jesus’ Good Friday was anything but good for him. 

The question is not “How do I avoid trouble?” Because you can’t. The question is “How do I move through difficult times?”

I can’t answer that for you, but I can tell you what I have observed in myself and other people.

When difficulties arise we have a choice between RESENTMENT or RESILIENCE. 

When we turn to Proverbs 17:22 we see what King Solomon says about the matter. “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.”

Let me be clear, this isn’t about “turning a frown upside-down.” This is about the temperament we bring to all of life. Guess what the word “cheerful” can also be translated as? Joyful. Yes, joy. Joy allows resilience. Joy keeps from getting stuck and joy helps us move forward. Without joy, we become stuck and soon resentment creeps in. 

I was reminded how important it is to choose joy is this week. My father (who some of you know) had a cornea transplant this week. A few weeks ago, he had a cataract removed from the same eye. In about 5 weeks, the same procedures will occur for his other eye. When I talked to him before and after surgery he was joyful. Seriously. My dad reminds me of the importance of choosing joy and to be wary of resentment.  He hasn’t complained about this at all (to me at least). Nor does he complain about the aches and pains of getting older. 

I appreciate the attitude my dad brings to living life. I try (and often fail) to be as joyful as my father. I am thankful I have someone to look to that does not live in the land of resentment. 

God bless you all,

Pr. Ben

Article: An Open Letter from Bishop Eaton

One week ago, a gunman entered two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand and killed 50 people and injured 50 others. These people were coming to worship in peace. An Australian white supremacist committed this horrendous hate crime. I denounce white supremacy and violence against others. 

The Presiding Bishop of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (our bishop, if you are an ELCA Lutheran) wrote a letter to us after this violent and tragic event. Here is that letter:

Dear Church, 

Today we awoke to the devastating news of the mass shootings at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand. We join in mourning for the people who were killed and wounded, for their families, for the first responders and grief counselors, and for all whose lives have been shattered today. We know that God is present in the midst of their suffering. 

We know that our own Muslim neighbors here in the U.S. are also experiencing grief and fear. Many will wonder whether it is safe to attend Friday prayers today. These are not the kinds of questions that any of us should have to ask ourselves as we seek to live out our religious commitments. Yet, devastatingly, this is also a reality that binds us together as people of faith. As I wrote last November in the wake of the Tree of Life shooting: “Hate-filled violence knows no bounds – whether a Sikh Temple in Oak Creek, a Christian church in Charleston, a Jewish synagogue in Pittsburgh” – and now these mosques in New Zealand. 

Together with our ecumenical and inter-religious partners, we stand shoulder to shoulder in condemning hatred, bigotry, racism and violence whenever and wherever it occurs. We do so because all people are made in the image of God. Therefore, as an act of neighborly love, I urge you to reach out to your Muslim neighbors today and in the days to come to ask how you might offer solidarity and support – joining whenever possible with other ecumenical and inter-religious neighbors. 

I leave you with the words of Psalm 16:1: “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” This is my prayer – for our Muslim neighbors, for the people of Christchurch, and for all who mourn and are afraid. May we see in this devastation the possibility to be Christ’s presence with our neighbors in this world – to be present in their suffering and to be partners in God’s justice and peace. 

In peace,

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton

Presiding Bishop, ELCA

Article: Successful People

I saw the picture above, online. I saved it because I resonated with the skill set on the left side (successful people). The more I pondered this sign, the more I wondered if the Bible had anything to say about these things. And so, I dug into my Bible to see what I could find…

Read Every day—God says, “Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.” Joshua 1:8 

Compliment—Paul says, “Each of us should please his neighbor for his good, to build him up.” Romans 15:2

Embrace Change—God says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11

Forgive Others— Jesus says, “And when you stand praying, if you hold anything against anyone, forgive him, so that your Father in heaven may forgive you your sins.” Mark 11:25

Talk About Ideas—Paul says, “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Ephesians 4:29

Continuously Learn—Solomon says, “Instruct a person man and they will be wiser still; teach a righteous person and they will add to their learning.” Proverbs 9:9

Accept Responsibility for Their Failures—Solomon says, “Those who conceals their sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy.” 

Have a Sense of Gratitude—Paul says, “Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

Set Goals and Develop Life Plans—Solomon says, “Commit to the Lord whatever you do, and your plans will succeed.” Proverbs 16:3

After digging into scripture and discovering that the Bible talked about these skills long before that internet posting ever existed… I might just change the title from “Successful People” to “Faithful People.”

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Peace and Contentment

Frank Sinatra’s daughter, Tina Sinatra, recalls her father’s unceasing drive to succeed and make money, even when his health was at risk near the end of his life:

His health was in tatters and his life mired in financial wrangles, but my father refused to stop giving concerts. “I’ve just got to earn more money,” he said.


His performances, sad to say, were becoming more and more uneven. Uncertain of his memory, he became dependent on tele-prompters. When Tina saw him at Desert Inn in Las Vegas, he struggled through the show and felt so sick at the end that he needed oxygen from a tank that he kept on hand. At another show he forgot the lyrics to “Second Time Around,” a ballad he had sung a thousand times. His adoring audience finished it for him.

She couldn’t bear to see her father struggle. She remembered all the times he repeated the old boxing maxim, “You gotta get out before you hit the mat.” He wanted to retire at the top of his game, and she always thought he would know when his time came, but pushing 80 he lost track of when to quit. 

After seeing one too many of these fiascos, she told him, “Pop, you can stop now; you don’t have to stay on the road.”

With a stricken expression he said, “No, I’ve got to earn more money. I have to make sure everyone is taken care of.”

Ironically, since his death there have been constant family wrangles over his fortune.

I can’t help but think of what Saint Paul wrote to the church in Philippi that he started… I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Christ who gives me strength. Philippians 4:12-13

Clearly Saint Paul’s life has zero resemblance to Frank Sinatra’s life. As much as I enjoy Frank’s music, I appreciate Paul’s words even more. Paul’s life was anything but easy. I would venture a guess that Paul’s best day was probably harder than Frank’s worst day. Yet, we hear that Paul has figured out the secret of contentment in any and all circumstances. 

Paul’s relationship with Jesus took precedent above everything else in his life. Jesus is literally the most important thing in Paul’s life. His contentment isn’t found in things or pleasant surroundings, it was found in Christ alone. The things happening around Paul were less important than the Christ within him. 

Earlier in the fourth chapter of Philippians Paul talks about the importance of prayer. Prayer is our life-line to God and Paul tells us that no matter what is happening in our lives, we should pray about it. Why? Because there is a benefit to praying about everything. Listen to this…

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

Peace is given when we pray. Who doesn’t need more peace in our chaotically busy lives? I know I do! 

Maybe Frank Sinatra could have benefitted from prayer too.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Undercover Boss?

I read an interesting anecdote by Joani Schultz the Chief Creative Officer of Group Publishing.

This is what happened (in her own words)…

A crazy rumor erupted on our wedding anniversary cruise.

Before we even boarded, a just-met passenger whispered, “The new CEO who just purchased this cruise line is a passenger!”

Of course, my head swiveled around to see if I could spot the big-wig.

As the week went on, rumors flew like the norovirus. Who is the CEO? Where is that VIP? Are they dining among us “little people”?

One night, a passenger even turned to me and asked, “Are you the CEO?” By this time, if someone stooped to ask if I was the undercover boss, I knew people were desperate.

Mystery. Not. Solved.

Yet…

During the week, I didn’t mind the attention and care the staff lavished on us passengers. Until I thought: They do not know who the dignitary is. Are they covering their kindness bases just in case the new owner was one of us?

It was a case of “hedging your bets.” Better treat everyone like the new CEO (just in case). I really want to know if the quality plummeted for the people on the next cruise! 

I couldn’t help but think about the church and how we treat others who are “checking us out.” Do we treat them like angels from heaven or do we steer clear and look for the people we know? 

The author of Hebrews reminds us to always be full of love and not just with the people we know.

Keep on loving each other as sisters and brothers. Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it. Hebrews 13:1-2

The author is reminding us of Abraham’s hospitality towards the three divine visitors in Genesis 18 and possibly even the hospitality Lot (Abraham’s nephew) extended to the two angels in Genesis 19. 

When we gather to worship (or adjourn from worship) we should treat everyone as if they are a guest from God to be welcomed because we too are messengers of God’s love. 

Jesus half-brother James was very clear on this point in a letter he wrote to the church. 

My sisters and brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don’t show favoritism. Suppose a person comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor person in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the person wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor person, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,” have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts? James 2:1-4

It doesn’t have to be the “rich/poor” comparison. It can be anything… including people we know versus people we don’t know. 

Let us continue to seek those who are craving connection to Christ and to us. If people are brave enough to come to church not knowing anyone, let us be brave enough to welcome them in the Name of Jesus.

God bless,
Pr. Ben