Article: What’s at Your Center?

Let us go back in time. All the way back to 900BC. Life was different back then… very different. At that moment in Israel’s history, they had a king you probably never heard of. His name was King Asa. Over the course of 400 years Israel had both good kings and bad kings. King Asa was a good king. Although his story was short, he should be remembered.

In 2 Chronicles 14:3-4, King Asa does something that we might shrug our shoulders at and say, “so what.” I would argue that there is a spiritual truth that is still relevant to us today.

“King Asa removed the foreign altars and the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He commanded Judah to seek the Lord, the God of their fathers, and to obey his laws and commands.”

 During King Asa’s reign, Israel had a problem. Instead of being fully devoted to God, they worshipped and followed other gods too. King Asa knew this was not good for the people and that God entrusted him to lead. King Asa removed all the places of worship that were not consecrated to the God of Israel.

Not only did he act, but he also spoked to the people. He instructed them to “seek the Lord…”

 I get it, you are probably wondering what does this have to do with me and my life? King Asa is addressing the most important question of life itself. He gives us the answer, but the question is this, “What will be at the center of my life?”

People place many things at the center of their lives: careers, families, sports schedules, making money, hobbies and the list goes on. These are our false gods. A good gauge of what might be at the “center” of your life is two-fold. Our “center” can be easily identified by what we spend the most time and money on. Throughout of our lives, these “centers” might change based on circumstances.

King Asa reminds us that God should be at the center of our lives. No matter our age or circumstances, God is all we need. Jesus is our rock, our cornerstone and our firm foundation. Remember, “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever.” Hebrews 13:8

Anything but Christ will eventually lead to disappointment. We humans are fairly predictable, once something let’s us down we begin the search for a new and improved “center” that will also let us down some day. However, if we turn to or turn back to Christ, know that he will lead you and bless you beyond imagination.

What do I mean by that?

With Christ as our center, he will help us answer other questions that are almost as important. Questions like: Can I be a person of integrity? (Yes with God’s help.) Can I make a difference in this world? (Yes with God’s help.) Can I inspire others? (Yes with God’s help.)

King Asa’s actions is a helpful reminder to me to stick with God because there is nothing like having Christ at the center of our lives leading us in paths of righteousness.

Speaking of “centers”, if you went to the center of the Bible (by chapter) you would find that Psalm 117 is right in the middle with an equal number of chapters before and after it. It is only two verses long. In the middle of the Psalm (the center verse of the center chapter) it says this, “For great is his love toward us.” What a great “center” verse!

Now if you went to the center of the Bible (by verse) you end up at Psalm 103:1-2. There are an equal amount of verses before it and after it. This is what it says, “Praise the Lord, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name. Praise the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits.” What a response to having God at the center of our lives! I won’t forget all of God’s benefits, I hope you don’t either.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

 

Sermon: A Tour of God’s House: The Front Door

We begin a new series today. This is a tour of God’s House as we look at our core values as a church. As with any tour, we begin at the front door.

Article: Love is Risky

Love is a risky business.

Every time you open yourself up to love and to be loved, you also run the risk of having your heart broken.

Friendships sometimes end.
Couples divorce.
Everyone eventually dies.

Love can be hazardous because heartbreak eventually catches up. That might sound like a negative statement but it is not meant to be. Let me explain…

Humans are amazing! We know the risks of love, yet we give our hearts away anyway! Why? Because we are made for connection.

According to Mathew Lieberman, author of Social:  Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, He suggests the infant’s social needs for connecting with a caregiver who is committed to meeting the infant’s biological needs – food, water, sleep, shelter, safety – is paramount.  No connection, no survival.  He says love and belonging are NOT conveniences we can live without. As 60 years of attachment research attests; connection is the platform for the rest of existence, thriving and flourishing.

In other words, it is not just a pastor telling you that you need love in your life in spite of the inherit risks. You can’t survive without it.

Even if I wanted to avoid all possible heartache by retreating from family, not make friends, never get married, or ever have children or pets…I am not sure it is possible. Even if it was conceivable, we would be worse off for attempting to do something against our nature.

When we lose someone we love, it hurts because love matters. When there is a relational ending, we are in pain because relationships are important to us.

I was reminded of this on Wednesday night when we said goodbye to our boy dog Momo. It hurt so much to watch him pass. Why? Because we have spent the last 13 years sharing the same home, eating (some of) the same food and enjoying each other’s company (most of the time). A part of our hearts went with Momo as he left us because of the love we shared.

It won’t stop me from loving our other two dogs. It won’t stop me from loving Mrs. Pr. Ben. It won’t stop me from loving my kids or my parents. It won’t stop me from loving at all. As a matter of fact, this loss (and every loss in my life) has caused me to love the people and animals closest to me even more. Weird huh?

As I think about it, a dog’s love for its people is not complicated like human love can be. It is unconditional. Don’t be offended, but I see a little bit of Jesus’ love for me when I see how our dogs love us without reservation or condition.

At the heart of the good news (gospel) about God is His love for us. A big love that never ends in heartbreak.

St. Paul tells us that “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” 1Corinthians 15:26

That is exactly what God did on Good Friday and Easter morning. The only way to obliterate death was to destroy it from within. The Son of the Living God became human in order to bring life out of death. Only God could do this. Yet it took God the Son to die in order to abolish death.

In the moment of resurrection, death no longer had permanent power. It went from being a destination to becoming a doorway.  St. Paul quotes Isaiah when wrote a little later in 1Corinthians 15 “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (15:54b)

Never forget that all of this was done out of love for us and for creation. Earthly love may be fragile and risky, but God’s love is not.

One of the lesser studied books of the New Testament is the book of Colossians. It is a letter of Paul that paints a different picture of salvation. In Colossians, Paul paints a cosmic view of redemption that involves everything (not just humanity).

I like the version from Eugene Peterson’s “The Message.”

“From beginning to end Christ is there, towering far above everything, everyone. So spacious is he, so roomy, that everything of God finds its proper place in him without crowding. Not only that, but all the broken and dislocated pieces of the universe—people and things, animals and atoms—get properly fixed and fit together in vibrant harmonies, all because of his death, his blood that poured down from the cross.”

Like I said, in this life, love can be risky. But I wouldn’t trade all the love I have received over the years for no love at all.

If you see me (and Rachel) at Bethel, just know that we are sad right now and tears flow pretty easily. We give thanks to God for gift given at Easter…it is that love that keeps us moving forward.

God bless you all,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Easter 2018: Perfect Love

Christ is Risen! Today is the biggest day in Church history but what does it mean for us? We too can experience the joy and power of the resurrection today. Listen in and find out how this is possible.

Article: Freedom, Holy Week and Me

Here we are. It is near the end of Holy Week. It is arguably the most important week in Christian history. For many the final days of Jesus’ life has no meaning. For some Christians this week has very little impact in their daily lives.

All people are looking for freedom and empowerment but most will not turn toward Jesus to find it. Most would rather find that freedom and empowerment by listening to voices that tell them what they want to hear.

“Do what you want, it is your life.”
“Seize the day.”
“If it feels good for you then don’t worry about the impact.”
“Don’t think about others, do what is right for you.”

Some of those statements have an element of truth, freedom and empowerment. But when these messages are embraced without consideration of consequences or boundaries people get hurt and relationships are damaged. If unchecked, freedom turns to isolation and toxicity.

Christ too offers freedom and empowerment. It is found at the cross and is realized through his death. Yet the freedom and empowerment found in Christ is always within the context of communal relationships and not rampant individualism.

If you are still reading this, I hope you will why Holy Week is so important to the life of the Christian.

As for me, this is more than extra services at church. The older I get the more I see the need for one who can save me from myself and what I selfishly want. I often see that my biggest problems are not other people or issues external to me.  I am reminded of the Pogo comic from 1970 when he said, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” I can see that everything is tainted with sin even things that are supposed to be good. That is why Holy Week is so important to me. I need Jesus to forgive my waywardness and lead me on new paths of real freedom. Empowered to love others and not just myself.

Knowing all of this and being acutely aware of my shortcomings causes me to draw close to Jesus versus run away and avoid Him at all costs. I am drawn to the quiet of the upper room. Like a silent intruder watching the disciples and Jesus partake in that first Holy Communion… wanting to eat bread and drink wine with this ragtag group of believers.

Even with all the horror, I run toward the cross. I don’t want to look but I feel I must. It is my sin that Jesus is bearing.

In a painting of the Crucifixion by the famous Dutch artist, Rembrandt, our attention is drawn immediately to the cross and to Jesus who hangs there. (see picture above)

Then looking at the crowd gathered around the Cross, we note the attitudes and actions of these people (if you look close enough). Notice the man in the turban. This is Rembrandt himself.

Yes, the famous painter included himself in this painting. I understand why. All Christians should spiritually stand near the cross to see cost of forgiveness and salvation. As uncomfortable as it is, I find it necessary.

Finally, I wait. I wait near the tomb awaiting the resurrection. I need to hear the good news of God’s love and that all is forgiven. I need to see that nothing can hold back the power of God’s love. Hearing the words “Christ is Risen” tells me that I can have true freedom from myself while I nurture and empower others around me in love.

I wish you a blessed Holy Week and a Happy Easter.

Christ is Risen!

Pr. Ben

Sermon: Palm Sunday: What Kind of King?

Today is an important day in church history. We get a glimpse of a different kind of king. What kind of leader do you want in your life? This is the week to think about such things.

 

Article: Holy Week

We are about to enter Holy Week. The setting for the entire week is Jerusalem and Bethany. There is so much going on that we can’t possibly cover it all in worship. However, I wanted to give you an overview of the most important week in Christianity.

Here is a possible timeline of the events of the week.

Saturday:

  • Jesus arrives in Bethany six days before Passover (Jn12:1)
  • Stays with Lazarus, Mary and Martha (his Judean home)
  • Possibly the supper and anointing in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper where Jesus is anointed by Mary. (Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9; Jn 12:1-8)

Palm Sunday:

  • Jesus’ triumphal entry into Jerusalem (Mt 21:1-9; Mk 11:1-10; Lk 19:28-38; Jn12:12-18) Fulfills the prophecies of Isaiah 62:11 and Zechariah 9:9
  • Jesus weeps over seeing Jerusalem and predicts its destruction. (Lk 19:39-44)
  • Jesus cleanses the temple. (Mt 21:10-17; Mk 11:11; Lk 19:45-46; Jn 2:13-25)

Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday:

  • Jesus curses the fig tree. (Mt 21:18-19; Mk 11:12-14)
  • Parable of the wicked tenants (Mt 21:33-46; Mk 12:1-12; Lk 20:9-19)
  • Returns to Bethany at night.
  • Jesus denounces the scribes and Pharisees (Mt 23:1-36; Mk 12:37-40; Lk 20:45-47)
  • Jesus teaches in the Temple (Lk 21:37-38)
  • Jesus predicts the destruction of the Temple. (Mt 24:1-3; Mk 13:1-4; Lk 21:5-7)
  • Possibly, on Wednesday, the supper and anointing in Bethany at the home of Simon the leper. (Mt 26:6-13; Mk 14:3-9; Jn 12:1-8) Mark’s account is just after he says that it was two days before the Passover.

Holy Thursday, Thursday Night, Early Friday Morning:

  • The first day of the Feast of Unleavened Bread and preparation for the Passover for Jesus and the disciples. (Mt 26:17-19; Mk 14:12-16; Lk 22:7-13; Jn 19:14)
  • The Last Supper (Mt 26:20-25; Mk 14:17-21; Lk 22:14, 21-23; Jn 13 “before the Feast of Passover”)
  • Agony in the Garden of Gethsemane; the betrayal of Judas and the arrest of Jesus.
  • Jesus taken to Annas, the father-in-law of Caiaphas, the high priest. Annas sends Jesus to Caiaphas (Jn 18:12-25)
  • Jesus taken to the high priest Caiaphas’ home where the scribes, elders, and the chief priests had gathered. (Mt 26:57-75; Mk 14:53-72; Lk 22:54-71)
  • Peter denies Jesus three times.
  • Jesus was kept overnight in a cistern below Caiaphas’ home.

Good Friday:

  • Early in the morning, the Sanhedrin meets, they lead Jesus to Pilate. (Mk 15:1; Mt 27:1-2; Lk 23:1; Jn 18:28)
  • Pilate sends Jesus to Herod (Herod Antipas, the ruler of Galilee) (Lk 23:6-7)
  • Herod mocks Jesus and then clothes him in gorgeous apparel, and sends Jesus back to Pilate (Lk 23:6-12)
  • Pilate examines Jesus and finds him not guilty of the Jew’s charges against him. Pilate has Jesus flogged and plans to release him. (Lk 23:13-16; Jn 19:1-13)
  • Jesus is crowned with thorns. (Jn 19:1-6)
  • Jesus is sentenced to death and is crucified at 9:00 in the morning (Mk 15:25)
  • Jesus dies at 3:00 and is buried in the tomb. (Mt 27:46; Mk 15:34; Lk 23:44)

 Holy Saturday: Jesus’ body in the tomb.

Easter Sunday:

  • Early in the morning of the first day of the week, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome (Joana?) brought spices to anoint Jesus’ body. The stone had been rolled away, the tomb was open, the body was gone, and they were told by an angel (two angels, a young man or two men in white clothes) that Jesus had been raised, and to go tell the disciples that Jesus has risen and would see them in Galilee. (Mt 28:1-10; Mk 16:1-8; Lk 24:1-12)
  • The disciples did not believe the women, but Peter ran to the tomb. (Lk 24:10-12)
  • Jesus appears to Mary Magdalene and tells her to go to the disciples. She is the first person on record to see the risen Jesus. (Jn 20:11-17)
  • Matthew’s account: Mary Magdalene and the other Mary were on their way to tell the disciples what the angel had said, when Jesus met them and said, “Hail!” “And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshipped him. Then Jesus said to them, ‘Do not be afraid; go and tell my brethren to go to Galilee, and there they will see me.” (Mt 28:5-10)
  • Mary Magdalene tells the disciples, “I have seen the Lord”. (Jn 20:18)
  • Jesus appears to Peter (Cephas) (Paul’s account in 1Cor 15:5)
  • Two disciples walking to Emmaus recognize Jesus in the breaking of the bread. (Lk 24:13-32)
  • The two disciples immediately return to Jerusalem, find the Eleven gathered, and are told that Jesus has appeared to Peter (Simon). (Lk 24:33-35) “While they were saying this, Jesus stood among them…” (Lk 24:36) “On the evening of that day, the first day of the week…Jesus came and stood among them…” (Jn 20:19) “Now Thomas…was not with them when Jesus came.” (Jn 20:24)

See! A lot going on! I have also attached a graphic of another timeline for you to look at.

Even if you don’t read the entire timeline, please take the time to come to church this week. Make the journey from the gates of Jerusalem to the upper room, to the cross and finally to the empty tomb.

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: Journey Toward the Promised Land: God is at Work

We come to the end of this sermon series and this journey. We see God at work behind the scenes and a talking donkey. How could it get any better?!?

Article: Jesus’ Family

If you were to ask Jesus about the relationship with his family at the beginning of his ministry he might have said, “It is complicated.” When Jesus began his ministry it wasn’t clear what his family thought of his career choice. Jesus’ step-father (Joseph) was either a carpenter or a stone worker depending upon the translation. In those days, many male children learned the family business.

None of Jesus’ family except for Mary and Joseph were mentioned by name until after the resurrection. James, Jesus’ half-brother or step-brother became the head of the Church after Jesus. James even has a book in the New Testament. Although we don’t know James back story, I assume James didn’t believe that his half-brother Jesus was the Son of God during His ministry. Yet after the resurrection, he became a leader within the Church. The resurrection of Jesus changed everything for James and many others.

When Jesus was preaching, teaching and healing, His family didn’t know what to do with Him. In Mark chapter three we hear how Jesus family struggled with his identity.

Then Jesus entered a house, and again a crowd gathered, so that he and his disciples were not even able to eat. When his family heard about this, they went to take charge of him, for they said, “He is out of his mind.”

 I know this is a surprising revelation for some for two reasons:

  1. Jesus has more family than his mother and step-father.
  2. They think Jesus is crazy.

I am sure if you grew up with someone it would be a hard thing to accept that they are now preaching, teaching and healing in God’s Name.

Even people in Jesus’ hometown of Nazareth found it difficult to accept that Jesus was the fulfillment of God’s love (see Luke 4:14-30). They tried to kill him for the things he said in the synagogue.

A little later, Jesus’ family comes to find him again after they thought he was “out of his mind.”

Now Jesus’ mother and brothers came to see him, but they were not able to get near him because of the crowd. Someone told him, “Your mother and brothers are standing outside, wanting to see you.”

He replied, “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.” Luke 8:19-21

Although we don’t know why they came to see Jesus this time, if the past is any indication, they weren’t coming over to say “hi” and tell him to “keep up the good work.

Jesus uses the situation and the moment to teach the people around him. “My mother and brothers are those who hear God’s word and put it into practice.”

What might be perceived as a slight to his family (if they heard) is a promise for the rest of us.

What I find interesting is that Jesus doesn’t say anything about faith in this moment. He is completely practical. When you hear biblical instruction and then actually do it, you will be a child of God.

We don’t have to be related to Jesus to be in His family. He provides a way for us to be adopted into His royal family: put in to practice the things he taught us.

That’s what I need to hear…every day. A reminder to act like a child of God because I am a child of God! Even when I fail, the cross of Christ reminds me that I can start over at any time. I need lots of “do-overs.”

We don’t know what happened to the rest of Jesus’ family but it is clear that Mary (his mother) and James were also children of God because they followed Jesus’ teachings later in life.

As child of God, I need a Heavenly Father to guide me. I need a divine parent to watch over me and I need a big brother like Jesus show me the way.

God bless,
Pr. Ben

 

Sermon: Journey Toward the Promised Land: Priorities and Change

We continue in the series and the people of Israel come to the edge of the Promised Land. Will they respond to God’s invitation? Jesus talks about invitations too. This is a question of priorities.