Category Archives: Articles

Article: All Saints Day- What Does it Mean?

It is November 1st as I write this and it is a church holiday. It is All Saints Day and tomorrow is All Soul’s Day. How did these commemoration days come about? Well, read on….

In the early years when the Roman Empire persecuted Christians, so many martyrs died for their faith, that the Church set aside special days to honor them. In 607 Emperor Phocas presented to the pope the beautiful Roman Pantheon temple. The pope removed the statues of Jupiter and the pagan gods and consecrated the Pantheon to “all saints” who had died from Roman persecution in the first three hundred years after Christ. Many bones were brought from other graves and placed in the rededicated Pantheon church.

Since there were too many martyrs for each to be given a day, they were lumped together into one day. In the next century, All Saints Day was changed by Pope Gregory III to today’s date–November l. People prepared for their celebration back then with a night of vigil on Hallows’ Eve (Halloween).

In the 10th century, Abbot Odela of the Cluny monastery added the next day–November 2nd–as “All Souls” Day” to honor not just the martyrs, but all Christians who had died.

As a Lutheran, we treat All Saints Day a lot like All Souls Day. It is a day to remember those families and friends who have died in the past year. However, those from other traditions celebrate these two days differently.

When thinking of loved ones who have gone before us, we must trust that God is good and Jesus died to forgive our sins. There is nothing we can do to “help” our loved ones. They are in God’s loving care and we should trust that Jesus truly loves us and our loved ones. I do.

Even Martin Luther talks about this. Remember, he lived in a day when people were praying for the dead continually and having masses (worship services) given in memory of dead loved ones because they believed they could help that person get to heaven. Thankfully we don’t believe that, but here is what Martin Luther says about our stance toward our loved ones who have passed away.

“We do not know whether the soul has been sentenced, it is not a sin to pray for them. However, you should pray in such a way that you let it remain uncertain and say, ‘Dear God, if the soul is still in the state that it can be helped, then I pray that You would be gracious to it.’When you have done that once or twice, then cease and commend the soul to God. God has promised that He will hear what we pray. Therefore, when you have prayed once or three times, you should believe that He has granted your prayer and never again pray it, so that you do not tempt or mistrust God.”

 In other words, Luther is telling us to not worry about our loved ones who are no longer here because God is good and God is loving.

This is good advice and I whole heartedly believe it. I look forward to a large family reunion one day… and it won’t be one day long. It will last forever.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

Article: Reformation Sunday is Coming…

On Sunday we will remember the 501stanniversary of the Protestant Reformation. As you know, the reformation caused a major schism in the Church of Christ and we are still trying to heal those divisions 501 years later. It is quite possible that there will never be reconciliation within the Church until Christ himself returns. This reformation was needed but it did come at the cost of Christian unity.

As a Lutheran, I often think about these verses this time of year…

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—  not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9

 This is where we find the source of the often paraphrased  Lutheran saying, “we are saved by grace through faith.”

The Church at the time of Martin Luther (1517) didn’t preach this message. Instead the Church used their power and influence to control, scare and manipulate people into submission for many motivations including financial reasons.

It is Martin Luther who essentially read the Bible and realized that the words and actions of the Church didn’t match the words of scripture and the intentions of the Word of God.

It reminds me of this picture and scene from the Princess Bride.

The only exception is the “word” is the Word of God in this case.

When we look at these verses in Ephesians, we see Saint Paul reminding the church in Ephesus (a church he started) of an essential truth:  Faith in Jesus is a gift from God.

It is hard to believe that faith is a gift… but Paul seems to think so and there is good reason for that. He was an enemy of the Church and an enemy of Christ in a previous career/life. It was Jesus himself that created faith in Saint Paul in a very dramatic way (See Acts 9). Saint Paul knows personally that faith is a gift even if we were raised in the church and never considered ourselves an enemy of Christ!

God is a giver and God is relational. Jesus came to us so that we may receive faith as a gift and then trust in His loving agenda for our lives and for the world.

Saint Paul so believes faith is a gift that he says no one can brag about being a great Christian because the ability to trust God is actually a gift from God.

On Sunday we will remember the Protestant Reformation that began in 1517. More than any other time in my life, I see the importance of reformation. Because it isn’t really a reformation, it was a return to what God intended the Church to be. A return to grace, a return to love and a return to a loving relationship… established and given by God. We need more love in our nation and in our world. Only Christ can help us love more and more deeply.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: What about Good Behavior?

Last week, I wrote quite a bit about the differences between God’s covenant with Israel and God’s covenant with those who follow Jesus. (You can catch up here: Not only are they different covenants but they are different types of covenants. These agreements established by God are vastly different in substance and nature.

Some of you may have read the article (listed above) and thought, “That is interesting, within the New Covenant there is no requirement for moral living.” And I would reply, “You are absolutely right.” What Jesus offers is a promise of forgiveness without any strings attached.

Does that mean Christians can do what they want? Ummm no. It does mean that the covenant Jesus established for His followers is not conditional upon our behavior like the covenant that God offered the people of Israel.

There is a place for ethics and proper behavior but it is not tied to the covenant of Jesus.  Our salvation is not performance based.

This is dealt with extensively at the very first church council meeting in Jerusalem. (See Acts 15).

A meeting was called because there were two competing ideas about becoming a Christian if you were not born Jewish and it was causing conflict.

  1. One thought was you converted to Judaism and followed the Law of Moses (the Old Covenant) before you could be a part of the New Covenant. Essentially you followed both covenants.
  2. You just joined the church and believed that Jesus is the Son of God and died to forgive your sins.

One of these two choices had a lot of work involved with it. Including following 613 laws found in the Law of Moses.  The other was accepting the gift of faith given by God and that was that.

This caused a fight in the early church and so a church council was called to settle the issue.

After hearing both sides, the head of the church on earth was Jesus’ half-brother James. He issued a ruling and it was this: “It is my judgment, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.Instead we should write to them, telling them to abstain from food polluted by idols, from sexual immorality, from the meat of strangled animals and from blood.” Acts 15:19-20

 Aha! Commands for moral living!  Not quite. Think about this for a second. If James wanted to impose a portion of the Old Covenant on Gentile Christians, why this list and not the 10 Commandments?

If James thought there should be some sort of Jewish law or behavior contained within the Christian community why not just include the 10 Commandments too?

There is a reason for this. This was more about concession than commandment. James gave these specific set of instructions to aid in church unity and not a program of behavior modification for every Gentile Christian. James offered these up as a way for Gentile Christians to ingratiate themselves with the Jewish Christians by following these (outward) instructions.

To put it differently, these instructions were given to bring Gentile and Jewish believers together and not because “God wants all Christians to do these things if they call themselves followers of Jesus.” This was more of a practical concern than it was about personal holiness.

What I want to make sure we understand is that we do not tie our behavior to the covenant that Jesus established for us.

Is there a place for ethical living within Christianity? Absolutely! But it is always in response to God’s gift of forgiveness in Jesus Christ. God’s relationship with us and love for us is not conditional based upon our behavior. Thank God for that.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Where Does Your Help Come From?

Here is a charged question for you, “Who’s side are you on?” Even though I am not sitting next to you right now, I can sense the unease, sadness if not anger rising up through your screen. Some of you are thinking that I am about to “say” something political and not “religious.”

It has been a hard week for our nation. The division among us is more pronounced than it ever has been if social media is to be believed. The anger and sadness is palpable and real.

I can’t fix the divide, I can’t make anyone feel better and I certainly can’t change anyone’s mind. (If I thought I could, I need to get some professional help.)

I am reminded this week (more than ever) that the brokenness of our world is unfixable by human efforts. Not only that, but the brokenness that resides in all of us seems to be growing not shrinking. Remember what I said last Sunday? “Where two or three are gathered there will be a difference of opinion.”

So, I ask again, “Who’s side are you on?” I’ll answer that for myself… “I strive to be on Jesus’ side.” (Was that what you were expecting?)

I want to be known as a follower… a disciple of Jesus… and it is not easy sometimes.

I know that at the end of my life, nothing else will matter.

When I went to seminary (the graduate school where I was trained to be a pastor), one of the things they wanted us to always remember was that “Jesus was an outsider who befriended and cared for other outsiders.” Not only did our professors tell us that, but they added to that statement by saying, “if we future pastors wish to follow Jesus’ lead, we must also do the same.”

Not that this should be a surprise to anyone since Jesus clearly stated his mission as he began his ministry. He went into his hometown synagogue and read from Isaiah 61.

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me,
because he has anointed me
to preach good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
and recovery of sight for the blind,
to release the oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” Luke 4:18-19 (from Isaiah 61)

Just to make sure no one misses the point of him reading this, he adds, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.” Luke 4:21

Jesus is the one who comforts the estranged, the broken-hearted and those who feel far from God and others.

It is Jesus who cared for…

The Leper

The Syrophoenician Woman

The Blind Man

Zacchaeus the Tax Collector (and traitor)

The Criminal on the Cross

The Woman with the Flow of Blood


The Man with Demons

The Woman with Demons

The Sick Man Who Lowered Down on a Mat

The Widow who Lost her Son

And the list goes on…

I want to be counted among the one who cares for the broken-hearted and excluded. I want to be like Jesus who came to serve regular people who have been hurt and marginalized by circumstance and other people.

As you may know, one of my ordination vows explicitly asks me to do this very thing. Speak publicly to the world in solidarity with the poor and oppressed calling for justice and proclaiming God’s love for the world.”

 It is not a convenient vow to make. Nor is it easy because I know that no matter what I say or do someone is not going to happy when issues of justice arise. As I remember, Jesus was not the favorite of those who used their power to metaphorically hold people down and keep them in their place.

Here’s what I do know, if you are sad, I will be sad with you. If you are gloating, I will not gloat with you.

The world and human systems are often predicated upon winners and losers. I do not see any winners, I see only losers, myself included.

The first verse in Psalm 121 begins this way, “I lift up my eyes to the hills— where does my help come from?”  It is a rhetorical question. The answer is, “It is not the hills.” Let me add to that list of one. Our help doesn’t come from Washington, or political parties or any president that has ever served our country. “My (our)help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:2

 Our help comes from the Lord who came to earth to show us how much he loves us despite our brokenness. Jesus came and died to remove the ugliness inside of those who believe in Him so that we might trust in God alone.

I can’t help but think of that church sign I saw online once… “The donkey and elephant will let you down, put your trust in the lamb.” Jesus is the perfect lamb of God who gave himself for us and stands with those who are on the outside looking in.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben












Article: Gentiles

I was reading Paul’s letter to the Ephesians recently and I was struck by the “big issue” Paul needed to address within the church. Literally, it is an issue that might seem irrelevant to us or a “thing of the past.” Yet, if we look at the same issue thematically, it is still an topic that we still wrestle with today.

The big issue? Gentiles. Yeah, horrible isn’t it? Paul brings up Gentiles in his letter to the church of Ephesus. Now this big issue wasn’t limited to that church. It was an issue for the entire Church (capitalized C was intentional).

Originally the church was made up of Jewish people because Jesus was (and still is) Jewish. Christianity was an offshoot of Judaism. The early church believed that to be a Christian, you had to be Jewish. This was problematic for several reasons.

First, it is was understood that one was born Jewish back then. You don’t convert to Judaism or become Jewish. It was very simple, you either were born Jewish or you were not. If you were not, you were a Gentile. You didn’t get to change teams. On top of that, Gentiles were beyond the love and salvation of God, period. This was not a matter of evangelism. You can’t become something you are not. Only God’s chosen people were loved by God.

Even with that understanding, some Gentiles started believing in Jesus as their Savior after hearing Peter preach about Jesus and His death and resurrection. (Silly Gentiles breaking the rules.) This did not fit the early church’s understanding of God or Gentiles. The prevailing thought within the early church was this, “They couldn’t possibly believe in Jesus Christ, they weren’t Jewish and they were beyond the love of God. This was simply impossible.”

What did the early Church do? They made these Gentiles convert to Judaism before they could be recognized as believers of Jesus. Seems a little odd to convert to Judaism since they already believed that you had to be born into Judaism and could not convert, but ok. Let us not forget that these Gentile believers ALREADY believed in Jesus. Yet, the church amended the rules to let the Gentiles in as long as they converted to Judaism, followed the Law of Moses (and the males were circumcised).

Some Jewish Christians went along with this “accommodation” and some objected and thought it seemed ludicrous to do all this “hoop jumping” to become a Christian especially if the Gentiles in question already believed in Jesus! This caused conflict… a big conflict.

Soon the very first Church “Council” was convened. Not like our monthly church council meetings at church; this was more like a synod assembly or our national churchwide assembly. This was a big deal. After hearing arguments on both sides, the decision was made to “allow” (ha!) Gentiles to be Christian without converting to Judaism. There were some small caveats (See Acts 15:1-21) but essentially the “non-converting to Judaism first group” won and the “must convert to Judaism first group” lost.

As in many conflicts, there were winners and losers but that’s just how it goes, right? Nope. You would think that once a decision was made it was a done deal. But it wasn’t. The “losers” continued to tell Gentile Christians that in order to be a “real Christian” they still needed to follow the Old Testament Law (Law of Moses) including being circumcised (if you were a male). The big issue was still a big issue even when Paul wrote his letter to the Ephesians 14 years after the decision was made to let the Gentiles join the church.

In Ephesians 2:11-22, Paul continues to affirm that Gentiles are not second class citizens and that following the Law of Moses (Old Testament Law) has nothing to do with being a Christian because we are under grace. Imagine that 14 years later, Paul is still trying to convince people that anyone who believes in Jesus is welcome in the church and not somehow a second class citizen in the Kingdom of God or worse, not a citizen at all.

It is not hard for me to see that Christ’s Church is still struggling with who is welcome and who is not 2000 years later. It is no longer Gentile or Jew, it is other distinctions that some wish to say is beyond the love of God or other related proclamations.

Thankfully, the portions of the Church have changed…
We have condemned slavery, bigotry and racism… and yet racism still exists
We have ordained women… and yet some churches won’t
We have condemned hatred… and yet churches still hate others
We have said God’s love is for all… and some churches don’t believe that

We are far from arriving, but we have come a long way.

There are those who are like the Gentile believers of Christ even today. They believe in Jesus but are not welcome in portions of His Church.

I believe it is a good thing to clarify who we are as the children of God. It is good to own who we are and to whom we belong. And it is good to remember that as a Gentile, we too were once on the outside of the Church because of something beyond our control and choice.

As Paul said in Galatians 3:28 when dealing with this very issue…

There is neither Jew nor Greek, slave nor free, male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We are one because we believe in Jesus. There is no “us and them” within Christianity. There are no “outsiders and insiders” among believers. There is no distinction, dichotomy or point of difference that we point to within a fellow believer in Jesus and say that disqualifies you from the love of God.

We do not need to re-litigate the first church council decision, but we do need to wrestle with the same issue of who is welcome in every generation.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: Flawed

‘Cause I am a sinner
If it’s not one thing it’s another
Caught up in words
Tangled in lies
But You are a Savior
And You take brokenness aside
And make it beautiful
Song: Brokenness Aside by All Sons and Daughters

King David wrote a song (psalm) after being called out for committing adultery and then murder to cover that up. Here is a portion of that song from Psalm 51…

Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. Surely you desire truth in the inner parts; you teach me wisdom  in the inmost place. (v.5-6) NIV


I’ve been out of step with you for a long time, in the wrong since before I was born. What you’re after is truth from the inside out. Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life. (v.5-6) The Message

 Psalm 51 is King David’s song of repentance. He bears his heart in song and these words reflect: shame, embarrassment, a disconnection from fellowship with God and a need for forgiveness.

We can look at this in two ways.

  1. This is a snapshot in time. King David’s “royal” mess up is really ugly and he knows it as well as other people. David is not just sad he got caught, he is sad that he did a terrible thing. Note: People are often sorry they got caught and NOT that they did something hurtful.
  2. Or we can take a step back and see that King David’s story is our story.

These two points of view are not mutually exclusive. This is King David’s experience and it is our story.

When we take a look at a macro-view of the Bible, one of the major themes (if not the primary) is this: People are flawed.

What I find interesting is that some want to argue (and dismiss scripture in the process) that we (orthodox Christianity) harp on sin, sinfulness, judgment and that is our agenda for control over others. Many go on to say, this is not God’s agenda… because God really wants us to be happy, prosperous, successful or whatever.

I do not have the time to write a treatise on this (and I am sure you wouldn’t read it if I did) but let me remind you that within the first three chapters of the Bible we are told a story about why life is so hard. Spoiler alert: Humanity caused it because we are flawed. (This is an un-nuanced theological response but when you boil it down to its essence; we are flawed.)

God’s story begins with creating a perfect world (and universe) and then people mess up perfection because we are flawed.

This story doesn’t sit in isolation, does it? God cares about flawed people… His creation. This brokenness is so concerning to God that He addresses it head on and comes to earth in the person of Jesus to deal with our flaws once and for all.

How can anyone argue that sin is not an important theme in scripture and concerning to God?

I don’t know why people want to argue that humanity as a whole are “good people” and that there are only a few “bad apples.” I don’t get it.  My personal experience tells me that I need help in life. I am a “better” person when I turn to God and I am a “better” person when I surround myself with like-minded Christians. Yes, you help me be a better person. Thank you.

Equally troubling to me are Christians who believe that we are all flawed yet some people are too flawed for God.  Honestly, that makes me sick and it makes my blood boil. NO ONE IS BEYOND THE GRACE AND LOVE OF GOD. Not even “those people” whoever they are.

So let me be clear, no one beyond the love and grace of Jesus. Nothing is more powerful than what the cross of Christ represents.

If someone enters a church on a Sunday morning wanting to connect with God they should be welcomed. You and both know that many Christian churches have a litmus test when it comes to who is welcome. Whether it is skin color, ethnicity, sexuality, physical appearance (economic factors), or a known past history, many churches make it clear who is welcome to experience the love of Jesus and who is beyond divine love. Sometimes that rejection has nothing to do with someone else’s flaws!!! The sin of exclusion and rejection is the problem not the other person’s identity (see list above).  With standards like this, King David wouldn’t be welcomed in most churches.

We are all flawed. We all need Jesus. Our doors are unlocked on Sunday morning for a reason.

Let us rejoice that God loves sinners…I mean people… you know what I mean.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Dig Deeper

Jesus said…

“And anyone who does not carry his cross and follow me cannot be my disciple.

 Suppose one of you wants to build a tower. Will he not first sit down and estimate the cost to see if he has enough money to complete it?  For if he lays the foundation and is not able to finish it, everyone who sees it will ridicule him,  saying, ‘This fellow began to build and was not able to finish.’

 Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand?  If he is not able, he will send a delegation while the other is still a long way off and will ask for terms of peace.  In the same way, any of you who does not give up everything he has cannot be my disciple.” Luke 14:27-33

 Jesus tells a group of people, before you make the decision to follow me, you better weigh the cost. You should know what you are getting into. Putting it another way, use your head and not just your heart. I can imagine that many people got caught up in the moment when they encountered Jesus. Their hearts were full to overflowing and that often leads to hasty decisions.  Don’t get me wrong, we should also engage our hearts along with our minds. However, emotional decision making can lead to trouble and even Jesus remind us to use our heads and not just our hearts.

Now Jesus is not the only one who reminds us think things through. King Solomon also reminds us to use our minds too.

A simple person believes anything, but a prudent person gives thought to their steps. Proverbs 14:15


It is not good to have zeal without knowledge, nor to be hasty and miss the way. Proverbs 19:2

God created us to think…to use our minds. God wants us to dig deeper into things to: form opinions, gain understanding, grasp faith, plan for the future and make the world a better place. We are reminded in scripture to use our heads for all things and not just matters of faith. We have been created with a brain and God wants us to use it! It is not an extraneous organ like an appendix (yes I know it serves a purpose, but as kid teachers told us it didn’t have a use)!

There is an encouragement to dig deeper and that requires to use our minds! When the call committee was interviewing me, they asked for and received lots of information about me. I filled out paperwork (it was like a 30 page questionnaire), gave them my website to review, gave them references to call and they still wanted to meet with me several times to grill me! The call committee had to dig deep to discern if I was the right candidate to Bethel’s next pastor. They did a lot of thinking and discerning before making a decision. What if I told them I wouldn’t give them any paperwork? They wouldn’t have had everything they needed to make a proper evaluation of me  (and they would not have put up with a response like that)!

I give thanks that God gave us minds to use. I give thanks for scientists and engineers. I give thanks for accountants and finance people! I give thanks for teachers, professors and pastors! I give thanks for all who use their minds to make the world a better place.

Even when Thomas the disciple who ran off after the crucifixion was using his brain. He knew following Jesus was over. Jesus was dead and people don’t come back from the grave. Even when the other disciples came to tell him that Jesus was alive, Thomas didn’t believe them. (See, he was using his mind.) He told them that he couldn’t take their word for it, Thomas needed to dig deeper. He said, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.”

They convinced Thomas to go with them despite his critical mind (which is a good thing). When Jesus appeared, He wasn’t upset at Thomas. He didn’t say, “You should have believed the disciples when they told you.” Not at all. Instead he invited Thomas  closer and said, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Jesus was literally telling Thomas to dig deeper and check it out for himself. Of course, Thomas saw and believed.

Thinking and looking at things more closely is a good thing. Whether it is our finances, our future plans and of course our faith… digging deeper is a faithful action and it is a gift from God.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Sabbath Rest

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day God rested from all his work. And God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done. Genesis 2:2-3

 This comes from the first story of creation. (Yes, there are two creation stories, but you knew that already.) The first one is told incrementally, in days. By day six God is done creating. God “rests” on the seventh day, as you can see in the above text.

Just so you know, God isn’t really resting. God doesn’t need to nap. Remember Psalm 121?    God will not let your foot slip— God who watches over you will not slumber; indeed, God who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.

Does Psalm 121 contradict Genesis 2? Only if you read the Bible literally. (Reminder: we Lutherans in the ELCA don’t read the Bible literally. Just like our Jewish brothers and sisters who don’t read the Hebrew Bible literally.)

This part in Genesis 2 is less about God resting and more about God being “large and in charge” over His creation (see Psalm 121, no contradictions) and the blessing of the seventh day. Since Sunday is the first day of the week, Saturday is that blessed day. This is why our Jewish brothers and sisters rest and worship on Saturday (Friday sundown to Saturday sundown). We worship on Sunday because it is the day of resurrection!

Later on in Exodus we find out why this day is special:

“Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lordyour God. On it you shall not do any work, neither you, nor your son or daughter, nor your manservant or maidservant, nor your animals, nor the alien within your gates. For in six days the Lordmade the heavens and the earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but he rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lordblessed the Sabbath day and made it holy.” Exodus 20:8-11

 God models for us a day of rest. God doesn’t need rest, but models a healthy rhythm of human life.

It is good for us to have a sabbath rest. A day to refrain from work. We honor God by resting (no, not all the time). I forgot how important that is until I took last week off and literally did close to nothing. See, I often do a little work on my day off, just so I can lighten my load on my work days. There are always emails that demand a response.


The truth is this, it is difficult to take a Sabbath day when you work for God. I didn’t realize how much I needed some down time until I went on vacation with Mrs. Pastor Ben this past week. I literally rested all week, I was either in bed, by the pool (in the shade) or on the beach. I actually cleared my head. Often when I stare off, I am thinking about something. This past week when I would stare off, I wasn’t thinking about anything. That was new for me.

Taking a sabbath day may honor God, but it is good for us. I discovered that this past week.  God is good and made sure I didn’t do any work  and so did Rachel.

I will try to rest more on my day off too.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Perfection?

We are moving closer to the Labor Day Retreat… and revisiting the theme, “Practice, Not Perfect.”  This was the same theme that our high school group “Common Ground” explored on their musical tour.

There is no doubt that some believe that being a Christian means striving for perfection. You know, be a really, really good person. Isn’t that what God wants? Yes and no.

Sure, we should want to be decent human beings. If you only watch the news, you would question whether there are any decent people out there. Even if you don’t believe in God, I would hope one wants to be a good citizen, a good neighbor, a good co-worker and so on.  I think it is safe to say, that God created us for community. In order for community to “work” we all must contribute in a positive way. So yes, God wants us to be a good person for the sake of the other.

And no. God has zero expectation that you can be a good person…on your own. God knows we are a mess and need help. Jesus came to us- not to tell us to “be good or else.” No! Jesus came to fix the problem of us not being good people. Within the church we call that “sin.”

Let’s face it, we can be pretty selfish. It is easier to think about myself than it is about other people.  I am certain that I am not the only one. Yet God offers a refreshing alternative to being selfish…forgiveness. A chance to start over, a chance to go in a new direction and a chance to be self-less. When you fully grasp the fact that Jesus died a brutal death because he loves us so much… it will change you. Jesus didn’t want to leave us a selfish mess! He wanted to provide a way to move forward in life.

This forgiveness can change your entire life! God’s love for me (and you too) inspires me to live beyond myself and be the best version of myself! I want to honor God with my actions even though God knows I can’t do that on my own. I always need help. Thank God for Jesus.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Article: Separation from God?

If God is for us, who can be against us?32 He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all—how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?

 33 Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. 34 Who then is the one who condemns? No one. Christ Jesus who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. 35 Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?

 36 As it is written:
“For your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.”

 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:31-39

I feel these words of Saint Paul are some of the most powerful words found in the New Testament. I hope you have portions of scripture that speak good news to you. If you do, I would love to know what they are.  The words above are definitely good news for me!

Paul is addressing anyone who is struggling. If you are having a difficult moment, season or year, Paul is talking to you! He reminds us that it is Jesus Christ who gave all of himself for our benefit! As if to say, even if there is someone who is standing against us, have no fear they are no match for God who gave us His Son. Paul is reminding us that God has our proverbial back. When we do face challenges in life, God promises to be there with us in the muckiness.

But Paul is not done! Don’t be concerned when people falsely accuse you things. God is our only judge and it is Christ who justifies (accepts us fully). Don’t let the gossipers and accusers get under your skin! Our only concern should be God who watches over us. How many needless hours of worry have we spent on people who speak ill of us? I know I have. This reminds me to keep my mind fixed on Jesus and not on the naysayers.

Paul asks then greatest rhetorical question of all time: Who (or even what) shall separate us from the love of Christ? Paul then lists a bunch of things that could feel like we’ve been separated from God’s care. This also a subtle acknowledgement that life will have its up and downs. There will be hard times but that doesn’t mean God has abandoned us. It is easy to think God has stopped loving us or walks away from us when life  gets ugly.

Paul even quotes Psalm 44:22 in regards to the difficulties of life. Sometimes you feel like a lamb being led to slaughter. Tough stuff, but haven’t you felt that way when everything seems to be falling apart. It is usually at that moment you ask, “What’s next!?!” or “Why God?”

Then we hear one of the oddest phrases in all of scripture. …we are more than conquerors through Christ who loved us.Paul is telling us that even though we will have difficult moments in our lives, Jesus has already won the most difficult battle of all on the cross. We never have to wonder if God is with us in our darkest moment… God will be there.  This phases could also be translated, “We win the supreme victory through Christ who loved us.” What is that supreme victory that has been won for us? That sin (or anything else) can separate us from God’s presence.

We are then reminded that no matter what, God will never, ever leave us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. God is good and we are loved!

This is good news for me. I hope it is for you.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben