Category Archives: Articles

Article: The Joy of Sacrifice

Here is something no Christian wants to talk about: Sacrifice. Oh sure, we don’t mind talking about what Jesus did for us on the cross but personal sacrifice not so much. We prefer our faith walk to be tame if not easy. We live in a consumer driven society where the customer is king…and we are royalty.

I understand that the first rebuttal to what I just wrote is this, “What about grace? Jesus gave it all so that I don’t have to do anything but believe in Him.”

I do not deny the grace and forgiveness of Christ at all! God always takes the first step towards us. Jesus did exactly that when he took on all of our shortcomings, jealousy, anger, self-deprecation and uncontrolled behavior. There is nothing that can prove our worth to God other than Jesus loving us and claiming us as God’s children. Our value is found in what Christ did for us.

What I am getting at is our voluntary and willing response to the love of Jesus. We can’t earn anything as it relates to our connection with God, but healthy relationships are a two-way street. Beneficial bonds are reciprocal. Vital connections always involve give and take. 

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying you need to sell your house and give all your possessions away. No, I am asking if following Jesus is the most important thing in your life or is it something else? Does the love of Jesus inform how you treat others, what you spend money on and even vote? (After all it is an election year.) Or do your opinions and comfort take precedent in important decisions? 

I absolutely believe that I will spend eternity with Jesus. I will only gain admittance because of what Jesus did for me on Good Friday. Not even being a pastor gets you in the door up in heaven. I am getting ready for what comes next. Let me tell you, I want to fit in when I get there. The best way to do that is to respond to the grace Jesus already extended to me. That sometimes means saying no to things that gratify me…yes, that’s right sacrifice and self-denial.

Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 1Peter 2:11

We are bombarded with messages from culture that can be summed up in the popular advertising campaign of Nike athletic shoes: “Just Do It.” Do whatever you want as long as it doesn’t hurt others, yet some of these things diminish our faith in the One who loves us the most especially when we indulge ourselves rather than building the Kingdom of God right here and right now.

I want to let you in on a little secret… there is joy in sacrifice. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Don’t Add to Grace

When Saint Paul wrote a letter to the church of Galatia, he reminds the Church of the essence of the message he preached: Grace. This reminder was necessary because Paul was receiving reports that the church in Galatia had added something to the free gift of love that Jesus gives to all who believe, but it wasn’t a helpful addition. 

How did this happen? After Paul left to go plant other churches, traveling preachers came to Galatia and convinced these Christians that the grace of God was not enough. They needed to do something too—this is when the erroneous notion of “works” or “acts” began to muddy the promise of the grace of Christ. 

Paul, wanting to correct the misguided and heretical teaching of these itinerant preachers, wrote the letter we know as “Galatians.”

In chapter 3, Paul asks a pointed question, “I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Holy Spirit by observing the law, or by believing what you heard?” Galatians 3:2

Folks–we can’t earn God’s favor! The nicest, purest, most gracious thing you or I have ever done pales in comparison to God’s holiness and compassion. Paul totally gets this and so does the Old Testament prophet Isaiah. 

Isaiah writes, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” Isaiah 64:6

We have a deep need for God to come to us (thank you, Jesus!) and there is nothing we can do to climb our way to God. 

Our relationship with God is all about the love God has for us and it is free—this is grace! 

Yet, we are reminded that our actions in this life have consequences. We may be forgiven and loved but our decisions still carry weight. Here is how Paul puts it, “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A person reaps what they sow.” Galatians 6:7

This spiritual truth is lived out in two ways. One cannot say they follow Jesus and then live contrary to the command to love without God taking notice. Also, a person who expect others to love and respect them while treating people poorly will be sorely disappointed; a person reaps what they sow. 

However, if you sow love and kindness wherever you go, you will receive a harvest of the same. My life shows abundant proof of this. I am humbled by the love and support shown to Rachel and me in the past few months. If you are one of those people, thank you. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Why Worship?

There is one thing we do every week as the church… we worship. It may be the most important activity we engage in. For some of us, it may be the only church related activity we participate in all week. Why is worship so important?

Theologians of every age have defined the act of worship in different ways. Here are a few…

Bruce Leafblad: Worship is that process in which we make God first in our lives.

Mark Tittley: Worship is becoming aware of God’s presence and responding to His presence with verbal or active expressions of love and devotion.”

Krister Stendahl: Worship is being confronted with a sense of wonder, a sense of our sin, a seeking of purging and purification and a summons to service.

Clement of Alexandria: Worship is celebration. All of life is a festival: being persuaded that God is everywhere present on all sides, we praise him as we till the ground, we sing hymns as we sow the seed, we feel his inspiration in all we do.

Anonymous: Worship is response to God resulting in service to people.

See? Everyone has an opinion! Even I have a definition for worship.

I define worship as an act of surrender.

When I come to worship, I come with the mindset to surrender my will to God. I often think about the words John the Baptist spoke when Jesus began his ministry, “He (Jesus) must increase, but I must decrease.” John 3:30

Although we are created in the image of God, I still see the need to have more of Jesus in my life and less of me. You know what I am saying…”thy will be done” and not my will be done. 

Worship is the place where I surrender myself to God’s love through music, prayer, scripture and even the message. 

However, the attitude I bring to worship affects how I worship. If I am not open to God’s love in that moment, I won’t let my guard down. If I come in looking for things to complain about, I will find them. If I come seeking entertainment, I will be entertained (but I won’t be worshipping).  If I come in looking for Jesus to connect with me, I will find connection. The attitude we bring to worship matters.

The act of surrendering myself to Jesus at worship will then spur me into faithful living and serving the rest of the week. 

Do you surrender yourselves to God when you come to worship?

Oh and more thing…

Christian worship is communal. We also come to connect with others. So many people have said, I can worship God on the golf course, lake, mountain, park, etc. I believe that is partially true. 

I am also skeptical of those who say they actually worship by themselves in those places. In all my travels, I have never encountered a person in nature actually worshipping God. OK, rant over!

We worship as a community to be strengthened by others. We are fortified by the voices of others as we sing and pray. We are reminded that we are never alone in the voice of the person sitting next to us. 

Come and surrender yourself this weekend whether online or in person. We need more of Jesus in our lives and we need each other. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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Article: So What’s Your Plan?

Here we are in 2020. My does time fly! In 1998, Community Lutheran Church was engaged in a strategic planning process called “Vision 2020” and here we are. Now I don’t remember the conclusions of that report but that doesn’t matter now. What does matter are the plans we make for the coming year.

Maybe not our plans per se…

May I suggest we turn our hearts toward asking, “What are God’s plans for us in 2020?” I am reminded of a verse in the book of Proverbs that the wisest king who ever lived once wrote, “Many are the plans in a person’s heart, but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.” Proverbs 19:21 We all have things we want to do or even need to do but do we ever take the time to ask God what He has planned for us?

All you need to do is look at the Bible and see that God has plans. Plans for the world, plans for nations and plans for individuals. Where is God leading you in 2020?

I know that some view God as silent or even disinterested but I disagree. Jesus established the church knowing we need each other. That was a great plan! At the end of our lives we won’t be talking about: the degrees hanging on the wall, the cars we drove or even the homes we have lived. We will reflect upon the deep and lasting relationships in our lives. The church is the place where we can grow in our relationship with Jesus and with others. God has a plan for us to be connected but there is so much more Jesus wants to accomplish in your life. 

Let me ask: What about you? What is God leading you to in 2020? Have you prayed about this very question?

I can certainly see how God led me in 2019. I didn’t seek to come to Las Vegas. I was open to the possibility but I didn’t “orchestrate” the process. I decided early on if this was God’s will, it will unfold the way God intends. I didn’t need to do anything other than be myself through the interview process.  

In 2020, I believe God has set me on the path to help our congregation discern who we are and how we will do life together in the coming years. This won’t happen overnight because it is a process of discovery. I often see God working in my life as steps and not giant leaps. I am content to take one step at a time. 

I try to live by Psalm 37:23-24 as it relates to the most important things. “If the Lord delights in a person’s way, God makes their steps firm; though they stumble, they will not fall, for the Lord upholds them with His hand.”

I try not to make reactive decisions. I aim to be deliberate so that my path forward is sure. Even the Psalm reminds me that even with good intentions, I will occasionally stumble.  Yet, I am reminded that God will be there to help me catch myself (if I am open to His leadership in my life).

Where is God leading you in 2020? If you haven’t asked yet, maybe you should.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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Article: I’ve Been Pondering…

It is only a couple of days after Christmas and I am still thinking about the beautiful evening and morning of worship on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day at Community Lutheran Church.

I can’t help but think about the end of the Christmas story in Luke chapter 2 where it says, “But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart.” I don’t doubt it, Mary experienced a lot of things in the previous 24 hours of her life that caused her to stop and reflect.

I am in no way comparing myself to Mary the mother of our Lord but I am pondering my 5th Christmas at Community Lutheran Church in Las Vegas. (I know that might be a surprise to some of you! I once served this congregation as the associate pastor here many years ago.) Yet, this is my first Christmas back in Las Vegas.

You might be wondering, what am I pondering? I am thinking about our church family. I purposely tried to greet as many of you as possible on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day if you worshipped with us. 

I am also thinking about all of our guests we extended hospitality to over Christmas (and we had quite a few guests). I am hopeful they experienced the love and joy of Community Lutheran Church. I know of at least one guest who told me they will come back and worship with us again. 

But there is also a third group of people I am thinking about. I saw many people who used to call Community Lutheran Church their church home. Faces I recognized from the last time I served as your pastor. I am sure some moved away and were visiting Las Vegas for Christmas. But there are some who worshipped with us who do not have a church home and still live in the area. My prayer is that they understand that there is always a place for them here at CLC. As I was welcomed “home” in October, they too will be welcomed back if they choose to return.

Although there was no room at the inn for Mary, Joseph and Jesus, there is always room for another family in the Kingdom of God and at Community Lutheran Church. The question is are we ready to make room in our hearts for those who want to join us?

I purposely walk the aisles of our sanctuary before every service to greet as many people as I can. I want everyone to know they are welcome, no matter if they are charter members of this church, visiting for the first time or somewhere in between.  Incidentally, I visited with both charter members and first-time guests on Christmas Eve. Although there was food in the kitchen for us to eat between the services on Christmas Eve, I chose to spend every spare minute talking to anyone who would shake my hand. 

Human connection is more important than anything else we offer at CLC and I don’t mean chatting with the pastors. Everyone (including me) needs to know they are loved and they belong. We all long for connection with others and with our God. Without that connection, we are only providing entertainment. God came to earth to remind us that we are loved and that we belong to Him. Yet, that connection to God is intimately tied to human connection. If guests don’t feel welcome by us, they won’t experience the radical welcome Jesus offers to all. Church is a “team sport.” 

We are poised to reach more people and continue to share the love of Jesus in 2020 but I can’t do that alone. I need your help.

Continue to look for unfamiliar faces at church and introduce yourself! It makes no difference if they have been attending CLC for years or it is their first time with us. This is not just the “job” of our awesome greeters and ushers! 

Invite others to experience the joy we share at Community Lutheran Church! People are more likely to come to church if they are invited by a friend or family member… especially if you offer to take them to brunch afterwards!

As you know, we have some of the finest (if not the best) church musicians, vocalists, choir, country western band and praise team in the Lutheran church. (If you are reading this and do not attend Community, live stream one of our Christmas services from our church website https://communitylv.org . I am not bragging; I am being completely honest.) However, if people do not feel loved by the other people worshipping with them, they will completely tune out the music and the message of God’s love. Human connection is that important.

So…that’s what I have been pondering since Christmas.

May God bless you as 2019 ends and 2020 begins. May we all have 20/20 spiritual vision and see the love of God in your life so that it can be shared. 

Pr. Ben

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Article: Kindness Matters

Have you ever heard of people setting up lending libraries outside? A talented carpenter might build a box with glass doors and set it up outside so that people can borrow books. It is an act of kindness and generosity knowing they might not get the books back.

Yesterday, I ran across a different kind of lending library that made me smile…

Andrew Taylor noticed that there was a lack of good sticks at his local park, he decided to take matters into his own hands.

Taylor from Kaiapoi, New Zealand had been chopping off excess branches from some trees in his yard when he decided to make them into a “Stick Library” for all the local pups.

After chopping up the branches into several dozen conveniently-sized pieces, he put them into a hand-crafted box emblazoned with the words “Stick Library: Please Return” and brought it to the local park.

Since Taylor and his daughter hosted a small neighborhood inauguration party for the Stick Library, more than 50 dogs and their owners have enjoyed a game of fetch with the sticks.

You might be thinking, “so what?”

I shared this story because kindness is lacking these days. Community is built when we extend ourselves to others. It doesn’t just happen. Let me ask, do you have a neighborhood, or do you just live around a bunch of other people? There is a difference. 

I also see our church as a neighborhood. Do you extend kindness and hospitality to those who recently moved in or “live” on the other side of the sanctuary? If not, it is time to do more than look at the top of your shoes or only talk to the neighbors you know and like. Our future is tied to the kindness we extend to others. 

Here is why: when we extend ourselves to others in kindness, deep connections are made. As a matter of fact, kindness is one of the signs of the Holy Spirit showing up in your life. (See Galatians 5:22-23)

As we approach Christmas, let us not forget about our God who extended kindness to us by coming to us and then extended his hands on a cross to forgive us. 

God bless you and Merry Christmas,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Hard Times and a Circumstantial Faith

Its been several weeks since I wrote an article and a lot has happened since my last article.

I moved from Northern California to Las Vegas, NV. 

I returned to Community Lutheran Church to serve as their Senior Pastor. (I was once an Associate Pastor at CLC. I got a promotion!)

Rachel my wife had major surgery.

My mother fractured a vertebra and had one surgery and is facing another surgery next week. 

Honestly there is more, but I think you get the picture. There is a lot going on. 

I could focus on all the things that aren’t going right or I can be thankful. We all have that choice. What have you chosen?

I am thankful to be back in Las Vegas and have a beautiful condominium to call home. 

I am thankful for the outpouring of love and support from Community Lutheran Church and my previous congregation Bethel Lutheran Church. 

I am thankful that I feel like I am home (even though Rachel is not with me yet). 

I am thankful Rachel does not need chemotherapy or radiation treatment. 

I am thankful my mother is being treated by the best spinal surgeon in Northern Iowa.

It is easy to get bogged down with bad news and feel hopeless. Saint Paul once asked a thought-provoking rhetorical question about difficult circumstances. This is what he asks in Romans 8…

Does it mean God no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? Romans 8:35

Sometimes it feels like God is far away when life isn’t going our way. When we live with a circumstantial faith, we interpret every positive and negative event as proof that God either loves us or is upset with us.  However, that is not Saint Paul’s conclusion!

He answers his own rhetorical question this way…

No, despite all these (bad) things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. Romans 8:37

I get it, we don’t feel very victorious after receiving bad news or being in the hospital or not being able to pay all your bills. Yet, Saint Paul (who did not have an easy life as a Christian) didn’t let the circumstances of his life get in the way of claiming God’s unconditional love for himself even in the hardest of times. 

No one wants or asks for difficult circumstances and hardly anyone feels victorious in the middle of a personal struggle. Yet Jesus is still there loving on us.

Shortly before Rachel’s surgery, I was an emotional mess. I was ugly crying and did not have a “stiff upper lip.” (I hope Rachel doesn’t remember this.) It was then I started praying to my “dad” in heaven. I know that might sound odd but I needed the comfort and intimacy of God and using the title “Heavenly Father” wasn’t enough for me in that moment. 

Jesus told his disciples to refer to God as “Abba” in the Lord’s prayer. The word means “father.” But I never called my own dad “father.”  In my saddest, uncertain moments of the past month, I called out to my “dad up in heaven”. It brought me great comfort knowing God is like a dad who will watch over his kids (like me).

As I begin this new call at Community Lutheran Church, I know that Jesus is here too. God knows that CLC has had a special place in my heart for over 20 years. If you are reading this and you are a member of Community, please know that I am fully committed to you and this church. I never thought in a million years I would ever be “back” but here I am and I feel blessed to be your pastor.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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Article: What a Week

It has been quite a week. Rachel and I went to another doctor’s appointment yesterday as Rachel seeks to make a decision about her upcoming surgery for breast cancer.  I am finishing my time at Bethel and I feel the sadness of saying goodbye to people I care about. I am about to move to Las Vegas and see old friends which is a joy. I am trying to coordinate my move in two weeks. My son just got a job. One of our dogs is under the weather and will soon visit the veterinarian. Oh and we have had no electricity at our home for the past 38 hours because of the fire danger. 

Am I stressed? Yes. I can feel it. 

Am I tired? You bet I am. 

Am I using this platform to complain or feel sorry for myself? You be the judge… just read to the end. 

I am (my family too) are experiencing all the joys and sorrows of life all at one time whether or not we want to. (We don’t.) 

I am starting to believe the old adages, “When it rains, it pours” and “having mixed emotions.”

Yet, I know this is a part of life… ups and downs, hills and valleys. If our emotional state was graphed, it would read like an EKG reading of someone’s heart. 

The real question is this: Has any of this, especially the difficult stuff, caused me or Rachel to question our faith? Absolutely not. 

Without Jesus, we would be like a ship without a rudder. Without the love, care and concern of others… especially our brothers and sister in Christ, we would feel all alone. We both are so grateful to be within and surrounded by the family of God. We are also thankful that our biological families are watching over us (and are also a part of God’s family too). 

We know that so many people have our backs in this tumultuous time of our lives. I give thanks that Rachel is being prayed for by people all over our nation because she is on several prayer lists and our friends are scattered far and wide.

A few years ago, we spent a good part of the year at Bethel talking about biblical joy. Some of you might remember that. We used a verse from Nehemiah (Old Testament) to remind us of the importance of joy especially in difficult circumstances. 

Nehemiah addressed the people of Israel when they were upset about something they heard. This is what Nehemiah said, Do not grieve, for the joy of the Lord is your strength. Nehemiah 8:10

Godly joy will build us. Despair will deflate us. We may not always be happy about our circumstances but our joy is connected to our faith in God. It is our trust in Christ that gives us strength and joy in these difficult days.

Like the past couple of weeks I am sure the next few weeks will be filled with both tears and laughter, because there will be both joy and sorrow. We are ready for that because of Jesus’ love and presence. 

I am also reminded of the words of God found in the Old Testament book named after the prophet Isaiah. In chapter 43 God proclaims…

But now, this is what the Lord says— “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior… Isaiah 43:1b-3a

Exactly what I needed to remember at this point in the Bergren family journey.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Righting the Wrongs of the Past

Did you see this news article about the 5th graders who righted a 60 year wrong? It reminds me that the power of grace will always be stronger than hate. Here is that story from CBS News…

Reverend Gilbert and Grace Caldwell were overjoyed about tying the knot 60 years ago. They were then immediately heartbroken, however, by the honeymoon that followed.

Back in 1957, the Caldwells got married at a church in North Carolina before driving eight hours to the Mount Airy Resort in Poconos, Pennsylvania for their honeymoon.

Despite having a reservation, the happy couple was forced to drive eight hours back home after they were turned away from the hotel for being the wrong skin color.

The incident spurred the Caldwells to join the civil rights movement where they worked side-by-side with Dr. Martin Luther King Junior. In the decades that followed, Grace and Gilbert continued giving speeches and lectures to schools and organizations about their experience with racial injustice.

But when they told the story of their honeymoon to the New Jersey fifth graders at Bear Tavern Elementary back in January 2018, the kids became especially saddened by the tale.

Months after seeing the Caldwells speak at the school, all of the fifth graders banded together and wrote letters to the Mount Airy Hotel asking for an all-expenses-paid second honeymoon—and their wish was granted.

“It makes me feel really good inside because we know that even though we’re just kids, we made an impact on the world,” one student told CBS News.

It is never too late to right a wrong. It is never the wrong time to do the right thing and never forget that love can undo the damage of hate. If 5th graders can do, so can you. 

Did you notice that the children who heard the Caldwell’s story had nothing to do with the original offense? Yet, they took it upon themselves to repair the damage that someone else inflicted on the Caldwell family.

Isn’t that what Jesus did? He came and fixed what he didn’t break. He came to right an uncountable number of wrongs including the brokenness in our lives. 

It is the grace, love and power of Jesus that gives me the ability to push forward in my life instead of being mired in the mistakes of my past. With everything that is going on in my family’s life right now, we need to be looking forward knowing that Jesus has been more than faithful in the past. 

With the knowledge that Jesus will walk us into our uncertain future is of unmeasurable worth. I am not sure if I could even take step forward in life without Jesus. 

I also know because of what God has done in my life, I can pay that grace forward by helping others let go of their painful pasts. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Change is Hard

If you are from Bethel Lutheran Church in Cupertino and did not see the email I sent out this morning, I informed the congregation that I will be leaving Bethel in mid-October. 

If you are reading about this for the first time, I apologize for the shock of these words. I accepted a call to be the next senior pastor at Community Lutheran Church in Las Vegas Nevada. The decision to leave Bethel was personal. Rachel and I are concerned about my long term health and the current schedule I am keeping. I have gained 50lbs since moving to Bethel and I do not have the time to exercise more and eat at home (healthily) on most days. This is the hardest decision of my pastoral career because of my strong feelings for the people of Bethel.  

I first served Community Lutheran Church after I graduated from seminary and will return the congregation I served so many years ago. 

With that being said… change is hard. 

I understand if you don’t believe that this is hard on me too. 

There are lots of ways to react to stress and change. Some eat, some fast. Some become angry and others passive. And the list goes on. 

After letting my heart and head get the best of me (that happens sometimes) I turn to God. 

I am reminded of the Psalm that Martin Luther used as inspiration for his famous (and very Lutheran hymn) “A Mighty Fortress is Our God.” It is Psalm 46. 

Verse one of that psalm tells me everything I need to know about God…

God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. 

God alone is my safe place when life is uncertain. God alone is the one who will be there all of my days and at the end of my days. 

All I can do as a pastor is point to God and trust that God is a promise keeper. (Spoiler: God is reliable)

I am also reminded of the words of Paul that come with a promise. 

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

Paul reminds us that instead of worrying or having anxiety in times of uncertainty we should turn to prayer. The simple act of lifting your concerns to the One who is always listening has a benefit. Did you see it when you were reading the verse? 

The God of peace (not anxiety or worry) will watch over (actually guard) your heart and your mind. As a pastor once said, “If you have time to worry, you have time to pray.” I choose the latter. 

These will days of prayer for me. I hope that you will join me.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

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