Category Archives: Articles

Article: Old Things and Eternal Things

I recently came across an article from the Good News Network about some very old trees.

In 1993, a cypress tree stump in Chile was confirmed by tree-ring-counting as 3,622 years old—showing the capacity of these slow-growing relatives of sequoia to endure through centuries.

However, another scientist recently found that a living individual, known as the “millennium cypress” or “great-grandfather” could be more than 5,000 years old—which would make it the oldest tree on Earth by nearly half a millennium.

That would make it the oldest single tree by a couple hundred years, beating out a 4,853- year-old bristlecone pine tree in Great Basin National Park in Nevada called Methuselah.

I can barely get my head around the age of these trees. When I think about Biblical history, these trees are older. Older than King David, older than Sampson and even older than Abraham. Wow.

I know 5000 years is a short time when compared to geologic time or even how long ago the dinosaurs walked the earth. However, these trees are still alive!

Yet, nothing compares to the eternal nature of God. Before everything there was God and one day after everything is gone, God and His Kingdom will still going strong.

I am reminded of the words of God spoken through the prophet Isaiah…

The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God stands forever.” Isaiah 40:8 

Even God’s Word is eternal. That is why I preach from scripture. The Word endures.

I want to (metaphorically speaking) “hitch my wagon” to something that is going to last. Something that will sustain me in and out of season until I see Jesus face to face. That is why I turn to the Bible for inspiration and strength.

This weekend, we will celebrate the gift of the Holy Spirit in our lives and the life of the Church. When Jesus was talking to the woman at the well in John chapter 4, he spoke about the Holy Spirit this way…

“Whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” John 4:14

The water Jesus is referring to is the Holy Spirit. I am thirsty for more of the Spirit in my life because I know it will sustain me until I enter eternity.

Old things are amazing but eternal things are the best! Cling to the infinite gifts and let go of the rest!

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Sabbath Rest

I am currently visiting my father in Rice Lake, Wisconsin. Rice Lake is in the northwest portion of the state. I believe the town is named after the lake and not the other way around.

Although I leave for Chicago, IL tomorrow and then to Galesburg, IL after that, I am taking the time to rest a bit. The fancy biblical word for rest is sabbath. A time to rest.

If you remember when God gave the Israelites the 10 Commandments, one of the directives was to take a day of Sabbath rest. Work six days and rest on the seventh. I normally do that on Monday.

However, some time away from CLC allows me some extra rest from the day to days duties of your pastor. It has been a real blessing to me to spend the last three days with my father. Our time together is precious and way too infrequent. 

By the time I fly home with Rachel, I will have driven from Minneapolis, MN to Rice Lake, WI to Chicago, IL to Galesburg, IL and back Minneapolis, MN… yet I have already had time to reflect on this sabbath break.

I am reminded of the words of the great reformer, Martin Luther when wrote about the third commandment to “remember the sabbath day to keep it holy.”

Luther wrote, “The spiritual rest, which God particularly intends in this Commandment, is this: that we not only cease from our labor and trade, but much more, that we let God alone work in us and that we do nothing of our own with all our powers.

SNM314966 Portrait of Martin Luther, aged 43, 1525 (oil on panel) by Cranach, Lucas, the Elder (1472-1553); © National museum, Stockholm, Sweden; (add.info.: Luther (1483-1546) German religious reformer;); German.

Good words. It is a reminder for me in this time to let God alone work in me and guide me as I spend time with my family and celebrate our youngest’s college graduation. I will be open to what God has in store for me over the next week and let the Spirit guide me including the times it tells me to rest.

I use this time to: Stop, Listen and Breathe (thanks Bruce Ewing!) so that I come home refreshed and ready to pick up where I left off! 

God bless you my friends!

Pr. Ben

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Article: A Little Help…

I read an article this past week that touched my heart. I want to share a portion with you…

Ayda Zugay isn’t someone who normally likes to save things.

The walls of her Boston home are bare. She keeps a small bag packed with essential items in case she ever needs to leave quickly. 

But for more than two decades, she’s held onto an envelope that she hopes will help her unravel a mystery.

Zugay says she was a nearly 12-year-old refugee fleeing the former Yugoslavia with her older sister when a stranger handed them the envelope on a flight to the United States in 1999. 

The woman who gave them the envelope on the plane made them promise not to open it until they got off the plane.

Ayda and her sister  were later shocked to discover dangly earrings and a $100 bill inside. 

A note scribbled on the outside of the envelope is signed with only a first name — Tracy. And for almost a decade, Ayda says she’s been trying to find her.

Ayda, has been on the search for “Tracy” ever since, so that she may thank her for that gift of encouragement and to share what she has done with her life since arriving in the United States.

She’s 34 now and would love to talk with Tracy in English — to tell her how she works with nonprofits, cofounded a consulting company and represents Massachusetts as a delegate in the Refugee Congress.

I was moved by this story for several reasons. It exemplifies: Love, Care, Compassion, Service and Generosity. These are all words that CLC used to describe who we are and what we do. 

That gift transformed Ayda’s life. It helped her and her sister when her life was turned upside down.

We may never be able to give a gift like that, but there are daily opportunities to show love, care and compassion. The world is in a lot of hurt right now and we as the children of God are called to bring healing wherever and whenever we can.

Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers. Galatians 6:10

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

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Article: I Believe

If you didn’t hear, Easter was last week.

The core truth of Christianity is the resurrection of Jesus who is God in the flesh. 

Some people don’t believe that, and that’s ok. 

However, if you are a Christian, that is non-negotiable. I’ll be honest with you, its not really possible to call yourself a Christian and not believe that Jesus rose from the dead. I know that sounds harsh, but it is not a judgment. 

To be a Christian is more than following the ancient Israelite rabbi named Jesus. One can admire the teachings of Jesus and not be a Christian! 

We believe that Jesus rose from the dead.

If he didn’t, what do we have? The answer is nothing. 

There would be no eternal life, and this life would be all we have.

We may be forgiven by his death on the cross (atonement) but to what end if this life is it?

Saint Paul dealt with people in the church who didn’t believe in the resurrection of Jesus and he wrote this…

If Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith. 1Corinthians 15:14

That’s pretty clear, isn’t it? 

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus is not a fable or fairy tale. It is a true story. 

Saint Paul went on in this same section of scripture and wrote this, too…

If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all of humanity. 1Corinthians 15:19

We as Christians don’t just subscribe to a philosophy or a way of life, we follow the risen Lord! And one day we will follow Jesus straight to heaven.

As for me, I believe in the resurrection of Jesus.

God bless you,

Pr. Ben

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Article: Perfect Fit

In 1959, Thomas Hoving, of New York’s Metropolitan Museum, purchased an ornate ivory cross from a Yugoslavian art collector for the museum. However, the cross wasn’t from Yugoslavia, it was from England and it was old. The cross is dated to c. 1150 AD. 

This altar cross contains ninety-two figures and ninety-eight inscriptions. The detailed iconography on this cross is unrivaled in Christian art.

It has often been suggested that the cross comes from the English abbey at Bury Saint Edmunds in Suffolk. 

Upon closer inspection, there are five tiny holes on the cross that suggest there was more to this unbelievable piece of religious art. There was speculation that a carving of Jesus hung on the cross, creating an luxurious crucifix.

Ten years later, in 1969, that a Swiss art historian by the name of Florens Deuchler, discovered that the 7 1/2-inch figure of Christ in the Oslo Museum fit perfectly into the five holes drilled for it on the Metropolitan Museum’s cross. Although the Christ figure had been damaged over the years, it was a perfect fit.

As we enter into Holy Week, remember that Jesus was perfect fit for his cross. Of all the people who have lived, only Jesus had the power die and then rise from his grave. Only Jesus is God in the flesh and could give his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).

Only the divine blood of Jesus could cover the brokenness of our deeds (Romans 3:25). 

Only Jesus could fix what people ruined at the beginning of human history (Genesis 3:6).

See, only Jesus is a perfect for the cross.

I encourage you to spend time this week pondering the greatest gift given to humanity: a second chance. 

Join us on Palm Sunday as we celebrate Jesus as one who will save us.

Join us on Thursday as we celebrate the gift of Communion and connection given in upper room with the disciples before Jesus’ arrest.

Join us on Good Friday as we remember the gruesome death of Jesus on that cross for our benefit.

And join us for the celebration of Easter that reminds us that death and separation does not get the final word! Love always speaks last.

God bless you as we journey through Holy Week together,

Pr. Ben

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Article: Peace

Columnist Deborah Mathis wrote about the time when she was at Union Station in Washington D.C. on a particularly busy day. 

The first thing she remembers about that experience was the noisy hubbub of sounds. The public address announcer calling out arrivals and departures. Scores of pagers, walkie-talkies, and cell phones cried out for someone’s attention.

You could hear horns honking, machines clinking out change, and babies crying. A security guard yelled at a man who was about to enter a forbidden area. Three women stood up from their bench in order to argue with each other more loudly.

And a man in front of her was nervously pacing in a tight circle.

But then she heard someone singing:

“What a friend we have in Jesus,
All our sins and griefs to bear;
What a privilege to carry
Everything to God in prayer.”

Slowly a change came over the noisy crowd. The voice continued:

“O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear,
All because we do not carry
Everything to God in prayer.”

The quarreling women stopped their talking and quietly took their seats. People who’d been tense and hurried; seemed to slow and relax – and they strained to hear the voice singing the remaining verses that old hymn.

And Ms. Mathis realized she was singing along. So were the three women who had been bickering. And few others as well.

The man in front of her, who had been behaving nervously quietly said: “Nice, huh? I don’t even believe in Jesus, but that’s nice.”

I can’t help but think about the line in that wonderful hymn: O what peace we often forfeit,
O what needless pain we bear.

Anxieties can run high when life is challenging.  Even in this moment as we see the pain and suffering in Ukraine, it weighs on us. Then add in stresses and worries of our own including making ends meet while trying to fill the gas tank as well as the people we are praying for who are struggling. That is a lot of anxiety and an absence of peace.

Last year Bruce Ewing reminded the congregation to: Stop, Breath and Listen. When life is unmanageable to the point of tears it is time stop what we are doing. Take a deep breath and listen for the voice of God.

One of the best ways to hear from God is to pray first.

So… let us pray,

Gracious God,

You know the stress and anxiety we feel because of international strife, national unrest and struggles in our own lives. We come to you in prayer because you told us you would always hear us when we call out. Give us your peace. Give us a larger portion of your Spirit and give us the strength to face the challenges that are set before us in this season of turmoil. In the strong and powerful name of Jesus we pray, amen.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Last Week at Church

Last Sunday at Community Lutheran Church in Las Vegas, we conducted our annual congregational meeting. We accomplished several things at that meeting: We voted on a church budget for 2022, we discussed our ministries and we voted in two new council members.

The budget I proposed to the congregation and adopted involved some painful decisions. To match our expenses with our anticipated offering gifts we needed to eliminate four positions and move one full time employee to part-time. This is a difficult decision because people we know are losing their jobs.

The reality is that we’ve been living beyond our means.  We hoped the challenges of the pandemic would come to an end. Rather than “crossing our fingers” and wishing for future financial growth, we based this year’s budget on actual giving from last year. This will serve as our baseline versus projecting any growth in giving. This is a fiscally conservative budget.

Ultimately, this is about being good stewards (managers) of the gifts entrusted to operate this church. Difficult decisions were made to make sure we are on firm financial footing in 2022. If you regularly give to CLC, Thank you. 

Each person should give what they have decided in their heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver. 2 Corinthians 9:7 

During the meeting we also heard reports from our staff. Not only that, but our annual report contained stories from many of our active ministries! Community Lutheran Church is a busy place! We give thanks for serving hearts that put faith into action.

I spent some time during the meeting talk about the hard work we did together identifying our core values in 2021. We named the most important things we do as a congregation. These core values will serve as our blueprint for ministry for years to come. What are our core values you ask? They are: Welcome, Worship, Learning, Service and Generosity. We also said that our congregation is: Loving, Caring, Compassionate, Joyful, Friendly and Fun. 

It was Jesus who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ. Ephesians 4:11-13

Finally we voted to add two church council members. We affirmed these two long-standing, faithful members of our church to help guide us. This is in addition to our already strong council who passionately love and care for this church. We are in good hands with these smart, caring and compassionate people. 

I’ve said this before, but we are emerging from the biggest challenge this church (and many churches) have ever faced in modern history and we are still thriving!

We did not give up, give in, or give out! Instead, we went all in! 

We are doing the very thing that the author Hebrews writes about in the 12th chapter.

Let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Hebrews 12:1-12

I give thanks to be your pastor and I give thanks to be at Community Lutheran Church.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

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Article: Hope More Than Wish

Having COVID stinks. There I said it. My heart goes out to all who suffered much worse and to those families who lost loved ones to this horrible virus. 

Yes like most people, I was wishing 2022 would be different somehow. Maybe it will be, but not quite yet.

Instead of wishing, I need to turn my attention towards hope.  Wishing is a time waster. Last week when I was sick, I spent some of that time wishing that I felt better. Honestly, that was not going to change a dang thing. Instead, I focused on resting and taking care of myself. (That is way more productive than wishing my way through life.)

Wishing for a better year will have no effect on our future whatsoever. However, I do have hope! That is way different than wishing. 

What is hope you ask? The author of Hebrews defines it quite well.

This is what they wrote…

Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. Hebrews 11:1-2

If hope (according to the author of Hebrews) is being sure of what hasn’t happened yet (but promised) and confidence in that which we do not see, then we have reason to be optimistic!

Let’s be clear, we can’t have hope in everything. The scope of hope is limited to the realm of God. Everything outside of that is wishful thinking no matter how probable something might be.

I cannot hope for a better year because that is not promised. However, I do have hope that the Church will do great things in Jesus’ name in 2022 because Jesus promised this…

…and on this rock (of a truth that Jesus is the Son of God) I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. Matthew 16:18

I have hope that we can do great things together under the banner of God’s name in the most difficult of circumstances. If we can prevail over the gates of hades, we can overcome a lot!

We can’t control much, but we know who does… Jesus! I put my trust and hope in the one who rose from the dead. He promised he would rise in three days and guess what? He did! 

Whatever this year will bring, I will trust him. We will keep Jesus the number one thing at church and in our lives. He will never steer us wrong, especially when the future is uncertain. 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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Article: A Blessing For Us All

May the Lord direct your hearts into God’s love and Christ’s perseverance. 
2 Thessalonians 3:5 

The verse above appears to be a blessing bestowed upon the church of Thessalonica by Saint Paul.

I need both of those blessings. First to be guided into God’s love and then to persevere like Jesus, especially in 2022.

Like you, I was hoping we were done with COVID after the vaccines became available. Not that it would prevent COVID entirely, but that it would minimize another massive wave of infections.  Unfortunately, the new variant meant new infections. Yes, I naively thought this would mostly go away in the new year. I am weary from all the illness and COVID related death we have experienced in our church family.

Sidenote: I am so thankful for the vaccine and the countless scientists and researchers who helped make this a reality. I understand this would be a lot worse without vaccinations. 

I need the same spirit of perseverance that Jesus employed to finish his mission to forgive and reconcile humanity. It certainly took a great deal of persistence and determination to die prematurely for our benefit. Jesus followed through so that we might gain the Kingdom and be claimed as forgiven children of God.

I need that same perseverance to move forward and not retreat to my bed and pull the comforter over my head and say to Rachel, “Let me know when it is all over.” 

Yet, I know there is work to be done. Important work. Work that has eternal significance. Last week, I told everyone who worshiped with us, “You will encounter someone this week who needs this church.” Not just this week, but every week. That thought gets me out of bed in the morning, in spite of the struggles we are facing. 

Paul also wrote that he hoped our hearts would be directed “into God’s love.” It is easy to become cynical which leads to a lack of perseverance. Love makes all things possible including how we live in society. If we cease to care, everything falls apart. 

No matter what the year brings, I am not giving up…with God’s love, we will persevere and share the love of Jesus to this city and beyond.

Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.
James 1:4 

God bless,
Pr. Ben

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Article: The New Year

Well, we step into a new year on Saturday. I know, I know, dates are a human creation, but this is the way we mark time, and a new year is upon us. 

I don’t know what the new year holds for us as individuals or as a church, but I am sure of one thing. I am sure of the promises of God.

Isaiah the prophet spoke the words of God during a time of great conflict and even unfaithfulness. God’s grace didn’t depend upon how good the people were back then, and it doesn’t now. 

This is what God said to the people of Israel back then and to us today…

Forget the former things; do not dwell on the past. 
See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it? 
I am making a way in the desert and streams in the wasteland. Isaiah 43:18-19

Whatever the new year holds, I will look to God who is the giver of all good things, and I will do my best to cling to Jesus in all situations. 

God will make a way in the most desperate of situations and will present new opportunities as we step into 2022. 

Let us not dwell on the past as God reminds us in Isaiah. Instead, let us learn from the past so that it informs our decisions as we step into our future. 

I pray the struggles we have faced in the past two years will subside but even if they don’t, we trust God will watch over us and make a way.

May we all have a blessed New Year as we draw closer to Jesus.

Pr. Ben

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