Category Archives: Articles

Article: Why Worship?

Every week the Church gathers to do the one thing that every congregation has in common: we worship Jesus Christ, the resurrected One. 

But what is worship? 

It is more than the songs we sing.

It is more than the prayer(s) we pray.

It more than the words the pastor speaks.

It is even more than all of those things put together. 

I understand that every pastor and worship leader might have their own definitions of what worship is or is not. I am not here to dispute others and their definitions. There is more than one good definition of worship in the church world. I am taking the time to give you my perspective. 

I see two components as it relates to our worship of Jesus.

Worship in itself is an act of surrender to someone who is smarter, better and more wonderful than we are. More than that, worship is an acknowledgment that we cede control of our lives to someone else (Jesus).

That sounds pretty straightforward but as you know that is a challenge to each and everyone one of us. We like to be in control. Even though God created us to worship Him, this is hard for us.  We may worship but never surrender our lives to the Lord of all things. We might “enjoy” the music and the message but that doesn’t necessarily leads to a surrendered life where our God has the final say on the decisions we make. There has to be something more.

There is! Worship can help facilitate a surrendered life but it won’t do the spiritual work for you. Worship is the “environment” that can assist us in our spiritual growth but it is a not a magic spell that makes our wishes of greater devotion come true. Yet, if we don’t know the purpose of worship, how on earth do we expect anything out of it other than be entertained or bored? One out of every five attenders admitted that they had no idea what the most important outcome of worship is (in a national survey). 

If we come to worship understanding that our very act of worship is submission to Christ and our hearts and minds are open to greater surrender… God will work on us and in us. 

I said there were two components. Surrender is one of them. The second is what I do on Sunday morning at worship. My job is to help people enter into the presence of God at worship. I see myself as a conduit to help every worshipper make a connection with Jesus. I do not have the power to conjure God or make Him show up but I do have the ability to help people adjust their spiritual gaze toward Jesus so that they can connect with Him in a deeper way (surrender). I suppose I see myself like a docent or a guide to help people experience Jesus and His love. 

I am reminded of Psalm 100:4 where it says, “Enter God’s gates with thanksgiving and His courts with praise; give thanks to Him and praise His name.”That is my job! To escort people to enter into the house God, through his gates and into his courts so that we may give thanks and worship Christ and his powerful name. This happens in so many different ways that I do not have time to share today. 

Here is my promise to you: If you come to worship ready to more fully surrender your life, I promise to walk with you as we walk towards Christ together.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: At Some Point… SPEAK!

Two weeks ago, I wrote an article to the larger church entitled, “We Need to Talk.” (https://benbergren.com/article-we-need-to-talk/) Last week, I penned an article on talking less and listening more. (https://benbergren.com/article-listen-more/) I want add one more “thought” to this string of articles. If we are to help others more than judge them and spend more time listening than speaking, we should (as Christians) spend a little time thinking about what we will say when the opportunity presents itself to open our mouths. 

Let your speech always be with grace, seasoned with salt, that you may know how you ought to answer each one. Colossians 4:6

Instead of talking about the weather, making snide remarks or gossiping we are encouraged to speak with grace. If you didn’t know, the Greeks called salt “charitas”—grace—because it gave flavor to things. It seems that we spend a lot of time talking about trivial things and not enough time speaking about the one thing that truly matters: Jesus. 

I know, I know, we don’t want to talk about Jesus out in public… but we are called to share Jesus with others. Not because Jesus has an ego problem and wants everyone to be talking about Him. Jesus wants everyone to know His love. Love that is stronger than evil. Love that saved us from eternal separation from God. Love that makes this life worth living.

My life is infinitely better because of Jesus’ love. I can’t even imagine what my life would be like without God. I hope that is true for you. If it is not, let’s spend some time together growing in our awareness of God’s love. It is only when we experience the love of God are we able to share it with others. Besides, how do you share something that you don’t have?

I mentioned this quote the other day… “Preach the gospel at all times. Use words only when necessary.” It is attributed to Saint Francis of Assisi. I think we like it because it lets us off the hook. Kevin Harney puts it this way, “How many times has the gospel not been shared, because we’ve embraced a version of Christianity where words don’t matter?”

Words do matter and our words matter. We have been tasked with sharing Jesus with others and only words will convey the truth of Jesus identity as God in the flesh. Only words can begin to describe the love Jesus has for humanity and His willingness to give His life so that we may be connected to God now and forever. 

Don’t hear that I am discounting a life of service and caring for others. Actions are not a substitute for speaking about the love of Jesus. 

Even Saint Paul wrote about this in his letter to the church of Rome.

As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in God  will never be put to shame. For, everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” Romans 10:11&13

Paul is telling us that everyone who is introduced to Jesus will not be shamed by God in spite of their sin and they will be saved for a greater purpose and saved for an eternity with God! But Paul continues…

How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? Romans 10:14

The short answer to Paul’s rhetorical questions above is: They can’t. 

Faith in Jesus Christ cannot transmitted without words. Kevin Harney (again) puts it this way, “The truth is that no matter how much we try to live in a way that reveals the presence of Jesus, words will still be needed.”

There is power in His name. I don’t mean that figuratively or symbolically. The Name of Jesus has spiritual power. His Name causes demons to shutter! We should not be timid in using this powerful Name in our lives, in our homes and in the world. This Name and this person can change your life because he already changed the world!

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Listen More

Those who answers before listening— that is their folly and their shame.Proverbs 18:13

Hey! Shhh! Just kidding! The Bible verse and the picture above says it all, doesn’t it? It sure seems that people don’t want to understand those who are different than they are. It is easier if not more pleasurable (in the short term) to attack the things and people we don’t understand or agree with. What does Proverbs tell us about that approach? It is foolish and it is shameful. 

That is tough language. Maybe it takes words that blunt to get our attention sometimes. Instead of waiting our turn to rebut, just maybe we should take a breath and actually listen. There is a false equivalency that understanding and agreement go hand in hand. It is absolutely possible to understand someone or some thing and not agree with it. Not only that, but it is possible to disagree and not get into an argument. 

Proverbs says something about this too…A fool finds no pleasure in understanding but delights in airing his own opinions.Proverbs 18:2

Once again we see behavior identified as foolish. We don’t have to say everything we are thinking because it is not always helpful and has the possibility to cause turmoil. 

Huh, Proverbs has something to say about that as well. The one who guards their mouth and tongue keeps themselves out of trouble.Proverbs 21:23

Why does the Bible and specifically Proverbs talk about this so much? (Disclosure: There are more verses about this topic in Proverbs that are not in this article.)  The answer is this, we are created to be in relationship. We are created for community. God’s intention for humanity is that we draw close to each other. At times we try real hard to prove God wrong. 

We don’t endear people to us by arguing. Just maybe by listening more and being less opinionated we are actually doing God’s will. This will allow us to connect with others at a deeper level so that we can talk about things that really matter… like Jesus. 

Even Jesus half-brother James reminds us of all these things when he wrote… Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, for person’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires.James 1:19-20

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: We Need to Talk…

Hello Church, we need to talk…

I am concerned that parts of the Christian Church are spending too much time worrying about other people’s personal conduct. But it is more than that, parts of the Christian church expend way too much energy on what they perceive others are doing wrong while minimizing their own poor decisions and attitudes.

Here is the equation we need to remember: Help others, worry about your own sin/conduct. Some in the Christian Church got their wires crossed and reversed that that equation. Instead they help themselves and worry about other’s sin/conduct. This must stop because it is wrong and it damages the effectiveness of the entire Christian Church. 

If you happen to be guilty of this, this is about the time your brain goes into overdrive and starts to scream, “What about…? What about…? What about…?” That is a natural defense mechanism when you are challenged by another, especially when you are convinced that you are right about most things.

God came to us in the person of Jesus to show us the extent of God’s love. God drew close to us that we would draw close to Him. But not just us, all people. Somehow this thought that God wants to transform the entire human family with the love of Jesus is lost on some Christians. Instead, the life of Jesus became a version of “Noah and the ark” where the chosen are already saved and everyone else is damned. In other words, it is quite fine to judge others because they are already condemned with no hope of redemption. They see the ark door of salvation is already closed. (Ummm, nope.)

History is clear. If the Christian Church sees itself as “moral law enforcement” for the world, the church will die. First, that is not our mission. Second, no one in the history of humanity has ever experienced life change by another group of people saying, “You are a sinner, you are evil, you are morally bankrupt, change or else…” Remember: Rules without Relationship will result in Rebellion. Case in point, many U.S. Christians thought that alcohol was evil. Because of their influence, the “prohibition” of alcohol manufacturing, sales and consumption became the law of the land. As you know, that did not stop the consumption of alcohol (even among Christians). We Christians are not here to monitor the behavior of our neighbor. We are here to care for our neighbor. There is a difference.

There is no way to legislate humanity into perfection (or impose your preferred behavior on others based on your beliefs). It doesn’t matter if they are laws written into our civil code or demanding obedience to a set of religious law/rules/commandments, this is not an effective means to a better world. Murder is not only against the law but it is also frowned upon by God (The Fifth Commandment). Neither of them deter murder. 

We are here to help the “other” in Jesus’ Name. We are to love others so that they are changed by our kindness. We are most influential when we love. We are least effective when we judge and condemn. If we truly want to change the world, we love it. Love is way harder than judging others from our Lazy-Boy recliners. Love is messier and it is dangerous but it is the only way forward. Warning: Loving others got Jesus killed and many others that followed in His footsteps. As for me, I still choose love.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: Where Do You Stand With God?

The various religions of the world show us that there are different ways to relate to God (or for some, gods). 

Many operate under the assumption that human beings must do the things that God wants in order for God to respond favorably in their lives. Whether that is participating in religious ceremonies or how they conduct their relationships, it is done so that God will dispense blessing, show mercy and not cause bad things to happen to that individual. 

There is a smaller group who understand that God isn’t like that at all. They understand they can’t win God’s love no matter how “good” they are. These people know that even on their best day, God is still better. 

This group of people also know that God acted on our behalf long before we could ever attempt to do something for God. God always acts first. God created, God loved, God sent, God forgave… you get the picture. Whatever it is, God acted first. 

Some act to receive God’s mercy and some act to respond to God’s mercy. 

I sincerely hope you are in that smaller group that responds to God’s mercy and not trying earn it. (Spoiler: you can’t impress God.) Heck, even Jesus says as much when said, “God causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.” Matthew 5:45b

God shows love to all in various ways, we can’t earn it or somehow force God’s hand to be good to us. God is already in the blessing business! God is hoping that all of humanity recognizes his love, his mercy, his blessings. God is trying to get noticed! He wants all to know who loves us most of all!

Christians, especially Lutheran Christians know that we are in the response business. We respond to the extreme love that Jesus lavished upon us. This includes repairing the rift (the separation) we caused to be estranged from the intimacy we can experience with God. Jesus took away the one thing that got in the way of having a close relationship with God: sin. 

I don’t know about you but I want to know where I stand with people. I want to know “the status of my relationship” with everyone, including God. Without Jesus, I wouldn’t know my standing with God. Without Jesus acting on my behalf (yours too) I wouldn’t know what God really thinks of me. Honestly, I would be a little concerned about my future without Jesus. 

There are many people in the world who don’t know their standing with God. Some work really hard to make sure God likes them. Yet they never really know if they have done enough. Jesus removes that concern once and for all. 

Some may tell you that God hates certain people… don’t believe it. God doesn’t hate. God is love. (1John 4:8b) If God hated people (or groups of people) then God would not be love or even loving. Moreover, God wants everyone to know Him and His love. Guess the best way to awaken people to Christ’s love. By loving them of course! 

We aren’t meant to be in the “God pleasing” business but God is in the loving people business (through Jesus). Maybe we should love others too. 

This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son Jesus as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. 1John 4:10 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: We are Created for Connection

Jim worked for the railroad in South Africa in late 1800’s. James “Jumper” Wide had been known for jumping between railcars until an accident where he fell and lost both of his legs. During his recovery, Jim met Jack and they became the best of friends. Devoted. Inseparable. 

Jack did everything he could to help Jim after the accident. At first Jim was certain his career with the railroad was finished. Amazingly, the railroad gave him another job as a signalman. His outpost was to be a lonely little stop more than 200 miles from anywhere. Jack went along to be whatever help he could be. After all, what are friends for?

Jim would live in a little wooden shack about 150 yards from the signal tower. It was going to be lonely out there. And there would be many difficult adjustments. But Jack would help for a while, at least long enough for Jim to overcome those initial adjustments of his assignment and his “new normal” as a double amputee.

In the beginning Jack stuck around mostly for company. He swept out the shack and pumped water from the well and tended the garden – all things that Jim could not do. 

There was a little trolley, a single seater that led from the shack to the signal tower. Jack pushed Jim on that trolley several times a day and stood there while Jim operated the big levers in sequence. Eventually, Jack got so familiar with Jim’s routine that he began to walk out and operate the signal system himself.

Sure enough, pretty soon, in addition to house-cleaning and the rest, Jack gradually began to take over all the duties for the railroad, even though he was not an employee! 

There was a lot to remember on that job and a lot to be done. Daily responsibilities at the signal tower included working the levers as well as the tower controls that opened and closed siding switches. But Jack never complained. After all, Jim was his friend. It was the least Jack could do. Word got back to “head office” about all that Jack was doing and was eventually hired by the railroad to work with Jim.

For more than nine years Jack kept house for Jim. For more than nine years he made the daily trip to the tower to operate the heavy equipment until Jack  died of tuberculosis.

In all those years, Jack never made a mistake, never threw a switch incorrectly, never sided a car in error. Not one accident or even a narrow miss was reported on that line.

Jack is buried in Cape Colony, South Africa, not far from the outpost where he worked for almost a decade, for his love for a friend. His grave is a silent testimony to selflessness. 

Oh, by the way, I don’t think I mentioned that Jack, Jim’s devoted friend, who cleaned house and pumped water and tended the garden and manned the switch tower was not a man at all. He was a baboon. 

Here is a little more of the story…

An official investigation began after a concerned member of the public reported that a baboon was observed changing railway signals. (Could you imagine witnessing that as you passed by on a train?) 

After a thorough investigation, the railroad hired Jack. His salary was twenty cents a day, and a half-bottle of beer each week. 

What do you make of that true story? It reminds me that relationships are vital for us. We are created to be in relationship. Of course deep abiding human relationships cannot be replaced with an animal. But this story illustrates our need for connection. I am not knocking the companionship of a pet, after all we have two dogs and we used to have three! It is clear we made for connection. 

I am reminded of something King Solomon once wrote in Proverbs…

Do not forsake your friend and the friend of your father, and do not go to your brother’s house when disaster strikes you— better a neighbor nearby than a brother far away. Proverbs 27:10

Jim found companionship close by in Jack. Jack was the “neighbor nearby.”

Cultivate relationships where you are. We are not meant to go through life alone.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: A Bill in the House

Last year an anti-lynching bill passed on the floor of the United States Senate by voice vote. Meaning, it was not controversial and it passed easily. This bill intends to make the lynching of another human being a “hate crime.” This bill was sponsored by senators on both sides of the political aisle. 

If you are not aware, lynchings (or hangings) have been employed in our country for a very long time. They are not conducted legally and are executed outside of  the judicial system which provides “due process of law.” People who conduct lynchings are not only committing murder but they are also taking the law into their own hands. Historically speaking, most lynchings were conducted to enforce white rule and the flawed premise of white superiority. People who conduct such atrocities are often trying to establish or reinforce dominance and fear over another group of people. The U.S. Senate was correct in passing this bill in which it tags lynching as a hate crime. 

This seems like a non-news item doesn’t it? You would think just about everyone would agree that this bill is good and even proper. The United States Senate did and they don’t agree on much of anything these days.  As Americans we believe in due process  of law and understand that killing people is bad especially if it is to assert some sort of fear of the “dominant culture” on another group of people.

But someone objected to this bill. As this bill moves over to the House of Representatives an evangelical Christian nonprofit organization is asking lawmakers to remove language from this anti-lynching bill that also protects Americans on the basis of sexual orientation and gender identity before the legislation becomes law. NBC News reported on Wednesday that the nonprofit group, “Liberty Counsel” is lobbying members of the House  of Representatives to remove provisions referring to sexual orientation and gender identity in this bill.

Whoa. I was beyond disappointed when I read about this yesterday. As you know, when people outside of the Church read that some think that all Christians are like that. Although it is not fair, it is human nature to generalize and group people together. But this is less concerning to me than this group’s agenda.

I cannot see how any Christian would want to remove any group of people from anti-lynching legislation. Is it a subtle nod to say these people are worthy of a “hate crime”? It is theologically bankrupt as a Christian to not see violence against vulnerable communities as a sin. Jesus tells the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to remind us that we should not hate other groups of people. We often forget that it is surprising that the Samaritan man was actually good. Remember, Jewish people hated Samaritans back in Jesus’ day. So much so that one person used the worst slur against Jesus he could think of when he said, “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” (John 8:48)

Jesus came and cared for the marginalized. Jesus sided with the outsider. He ministered to people who were discounted, ostracized and minimized. In other words, he lived into the thing he talked about repeatedly: love. 

Even Jesus told us to “love your enemies”(Matthew 5:44) and then he did exactly that from the cross when the religious authorities conspired to have him killed. Remember what Jesus said as they mocked him? “Father forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) We have been called to follow the embodiment of love and share that love, not hate, let alone condone violence.

I can’t help but think about one other thing… evangelism. How on earth can we reach a hurt and broken world if we hate them? Our job is to love… love people into the Kingdom of God. The best way to reach people is to care about them. 

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: Being Judge-y

During the “Christmas break” there is always increased traffic by our home. I live in a national park by one of the most scenic and iconic views of the Golden Gate Bridge and San Francisco. Therefore at every holiday (and I do mean every holiday) there are literally thousands more people trying to enter the park and jockey for the best place to park their cars and take pictures. It wouldn’t be so bad if people obeyed the traffic laws and didn’t stop in the middle of traffic to take pictures from their car. 

I am not annoyed at the volume of traffic, I am annoyed at the lack of courtesy by those who delay my travel. It is as if the “rules of the road” apply to everyone else but not them. Now imagine many people acting like that in small space. Just yesterday I saw 3 cars going the wrong way on a one way street so they could get where they wanted go. Still others stopped on the road so they could take pictures and back up already congested traffic. 

I know, I seem like a traffic Pharisee (a religious teacher of the Law of Moses in Jesus day). I feel like one too. I think to myself, “just follow basic traffic laws and everyone (including me) will be much happier.”

Here is the deal… I know I should be more gracious to every person who comes to take to take in the gorgeous view I see every day (which I do not take for granted) but when some ignore the traffic laws for their own gain, I have a hard time feeling gracious. More often than not I say, “Where are the park police right now???”

That is why I like Saint Paul. He totally understands what I am talking about. Read this…

So I find this law at work: When I want to do good, evil is right there with me. For in my inner being I delight in God’s law; but I see another law at work in the members of my body, waging war against the law of my mind and making me a prisoner of the law of sin at work within my members. What a wretched man I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death? Thanks be to God—through Jesus Christ our Lord! 

So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God’s law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.  Romans 7:21-25

Paul understands that we have two “laws” at work within each of us. One law, the law of goodness (think the 10 commandments) which informs us of the things we should be doing as a follower and disciple of Jesus. We all know that we should aspire to do good things as a person of faith as well as avoid other thigns. Most of us could make a list of laws or guidelines to follow Jesus and be a good person. If we take our faith seriously, we try to live by those “rules.”

The other law is the law of sin which has power over us all. We may want to do good but we often succumb to temptation and our temper. 

The image that comes to mind is the little devil on one shoulder and a little angel on the other whispering into our ear. Is this an oversimplified metaphor? Yes. It does reflect the conflict within all of us. 

Saint Paul feels trapped. He can’t live up to the law of goodness because he is also experiencing the judgment of being sinful. He is caught between two very real realities. 

Is there a solution? Yes! Here is what Saint Paul discovered…

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. Romans 8:1-2

Paul tells us this is not about the law of being good or the law of sin. Christ frees us from any law!! It is clear we are not able to follow rules very well and Jesus knows that. That is why God sent himself to us to remove the threat of the law (rules). We are forgiven and freed to respond to God’s love. No rules are needed!

I am glad that I am forgiven for my judgmental attitude this past week. I need to be reminded that we are fall short of God’s expectations whether it is my attitude or another person’s driving. I pray more for my attitude towards other to be changed more than the sharpening of other’s driving skills and obeying the rules of the road.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: The Christmas Truce of 1914

THE CHRISTMAS TRUCE, 1914 (Q 70074) British and German soldiers fraternising at Ploegsteert, Belgium, on Christmas Day 1914, Front of 11th Brigade, 4th Division. Copyright: © IWM.

Have you ever heard about the Christmas truce that occurred during World War I?

The fields of Flanders were no place to be on Christmas Eve in 1914. The air was cold and frosty, of course, because it was winter, and things were very quiet. 

Thousands of British, French, Belgian and German troops were dug-in and planning yet another day’s carnage. None of them would have guessed that the “War to End All Wars” would continue nearly four more years and ultimately cost more than eight million soldiers’ lives. 

So, when the entrenched British soldiers saw candle-lit decorations emerging from the enemy’s foxholes and heard the strains of faint melodies being sung in German they thought their enemies were taunting them and prepared to open fire. 

German soldiers were raising their voices to sing “Stille Nacht, Heilige Nacht”… Suddenly, one of the British soldiers recognized the melody and started singing too — the same song that the Germans were singing — only in English. When the hymn “Silent Night” ended, the British soldiers replied with “The First Noel”. 

Back and forth, the singing went on for about an hour. Then there were voices of invitation to cross over to enemy lines. One German with great courage started walking across the “no man’s land”, and was soon followed by some of his buddies, all with their hands in their pockets to show that they had no weapons. 

When they’d crossed over to the enemy trench, one German soldier said, “I’m a Saxon, you are Anglo-Saxons. Why do we fight?”

For the remainder of that night and much of the next week the war stopped, as the both sides lay down their weapons and lifted their 18-20 year old voices to sing familiar Christmas carols in their own languages. They shared pictures of their families “back home” and even shared provisions. 

English soldiers started kicking around a soccer ball in a pickup game in no man’s land, between the trenches. Eventually England played Germany in a soccer match on Christmas Day in the middle of the battlefield in France in the First World War. (England won.)

An amazing spirit of peace fell over the battlefield that night as war gave way to peace in the Spirit of the Christmas child whose coming had been foretold by Isaiah. 

By New Year’s all sides would be back to killing as usual but, for a brief moment, peace came to one of the bloodiest conflicts in human history. That same Christ still offers peace to the bloodiest of conflicts in our lives. 

As far as I am concerned this was a miracle even if it was short-lived.  Today, I think about the ways I need the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6) to enter my life. Not just calling for a temporary truce but lasting peace in my life and in the world. 

If God did it once, it can happen again. As we approach 2019 let us pray for peace in our lives and peace throughout the world. Amen. 

Pr. Ben