Article: This Week is for You

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

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

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

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

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

This coming week… Holy Week is all for you. 

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

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

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

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Article: Resilience

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless you all,

Pr. Ben

Sermon: Travelogue: From Tabor to Jerusalem- Judea

We continue to follow Jesus as he slowly makes his way toward Jerusalem. Today we find him across the Jordan river talking a crowd and then to a specific individual with personal obstacle to following Jesus. We may not have the same obstacle but we have something to learn from him.

Article: An Open Letter from Bishop Eaton

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

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

Dear Church, 

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

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

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

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

In peace,

The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton

Presiding Bishop, ELCA

Article: Successful People

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Travelogue: From Tabor to Jerusalem- Tabor

As we enter the season of Lent, we are going to follow Jesus from Mount Tabor all the way to Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. Today we begin at the foot of Mount Tabor where we learn what happens when we are ineffective. We are reminded to keep our eyes on Jesus!

Article: Peace and Contentment

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7

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

Maybe Frank Sinatra could have benefitted from prayer too.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: 2019 Theme Verse: Love

We take a look at Bethel’s 2019 theme verse on love today. This has huge theological implications for us as Christians. This was brought home to us in the decisions made at the Methodist Church conference last week. Click here for the notes: https://benbergren.com/wp-content/uploads/2019/03/Theme-Verse-2019.pdf