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

Sermon: Daniel 1: When You are Pressured to Conform

We begin a new sermon series on the life of Daniel. We will spend the next 6 weeks looking at the Old Testament prophet. He is truly unshakable. We will learn how to be unshakable too. We begin with Daniel being pressured to conform and teaches us something about how to respond in those situations.

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