Sermon: The Essential Teachings of Jesus: Love

We are in week two of a sermon series on The Essential Teachings of Jesus. Last week Dave Denny talked about forgiveness. This week I pick up and talk about the love of God. The problem is that we really don’t believe it.

Article: A Good Reminder

By the time you read this, I will be back in the Bay Area! (I hope that brings joy!) I have just spent my 33rdyear at a “camp” called Leadership Lab (

It is joy to equip youth with leadership skills as well as be instrumental in helping them discover the love of Jesus. In some cases, this is the first time they have personally experienced the love of God. As you know it is one thing to be told “God loves you” and it is completely different to experience that love in way that surpasses understanding.

Like authentic Christian community, there is both the love of God and the love of “neighbor”. Without a doubt there is a relational bond that is formed by those who come to Leadership Lab, myself included. I have a deep connection with many on staff that I have known for decades. These are some of my closest friends. I truly understand what it means to be a part of the family of God. I also feel that at Bethel! I love being in a huge extended family of God! It is reassuring to know that people have my back. In return, I have the backs of others.

As I get ready to come home, I want you to know that I have been reminded this past week that love is the most important thing. The love of God is more powerful than hate and more powerful than injustice and more powerful than death.

This has been a good time for me to be reminded of the most important things of our faith.

Guess what? I’ll be talking about love this Sunday.

The pictures are of sidewalk chalk art from our students at Leadership Lab.

God bless you!
Pr. Ben



Article: Cheap Grace

Occasionally I read an article that is too good not to share. This is one of those articles.  I hope you find it as meaningful as I do.

It is entitled, “What is Cheap Grace? by Andy Gill.

There’s so many different forms of grace: Hyper-grace, free grace, costly grace, and then there’s what we’re discussing here today, cheap grace or, cheapened grace.

 What is Cheap Grace?
Cheapened grace, similar to cheapening or watering down the gospel is what happens when we water down the message of Christs to make it a bit more “palatable.”

This term is usually attributed to Dietrich Bonhoeffer as many recognize it from his influential book, The Cost of Discipleship.

Bonhoeffer defined “cheap grace” as “the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. Communion without confession. Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ.”

Bonhoeffer goes on to say, cheap grace is to hear the life of Christ preached as follows: “Of course you have sinned, but now everything is forgiven, so you can stay as you are and enjoy the consolations of forgiveness.”

It takes the teachings of Christ’s and re-accommodates them to fit the comforts and desires of society.

Essentially, it was the birth of a consumeristic version of Christianity. 

It’s pseudo spirituality; a lie packaged in the form of the gospel.

It’s the same concept as marketing companies telling you that their fast food chain is healthy;

it’s the same psychological strategies used to manipulate our behaviors in order that we continuously consume their products.

With pharmaceutical companies admitting to knowing their products were addictive to corporations purposely creating products to be addictive (e.g. Starbucks, reward programs, video games, porn, smartphones, etc)… it’s a constant battle against these “powers” to take back control of our own behaviors and to re-infuse meaning into our daily schedules.

If the grace you’re receiving doesn’t lead to a transformation then it’s safe to say that what you received quite possibly may have been cheapened.

 The Cost of Cheap Grace…
You can’t find meaning if you’re constantly numbing.

We live in a world that seems to be becoming more and more vacant of meaning or significance. Said another way, maybe it’s not that our world is becoming vacant of meaning so much as it’s becoming inundated with so many meaningless things.

In Bonhoeffer’s definition of cheap grace, we see the lack of value and/or meaning being stripped from Christianity [that is without cost]. This leads us into a meaningless faith.

There is no such thing as meaning without cost; similarly, there is no such thing as Christianity without cost.

In the words of writer Stephen Mattson, “Consumerism drives us towards a selfish lifestyle of safety, comfort, and privilege. But Christianity is meant to point us selflessly to the cross, where Jesus was persecuted, publicly humiliated, abandoned by his friends, and tortured to death — penniless, homeless, and apparently defeated.”

Meaninglessness, this is the cost of a cheapened form of grace. We’re so far convinced that this falsified version of Jesus is the answer to all of our problems that we’re lead into a life of complicit laziness.

Cheapened grace, in my opinion, becomes a sociopathic form of grace when we recognized cheapened grace and yet, continued to disregard our call to change.

“What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” – Apostle Paul (Romans 6:1-2)

It’s a complete misunderstanding of what salvation is. Salvation is not the avoidance of hell; neither is it the entrance into heaven. Salvation is a transformation in the here and now.

We live in a world in which has completely normalized selfishness. It’s taken unhealthy lifestyles and marketed them as the answer to our problems. We’ve become convinced out of fear that unless we selfishly hoard, save, and protect ourselves by keeping others out and down that we’re in danger of not “living our best life”.

The gospel, in my opinion, is counter-cultural. It’s not driven by fear but it’s lead by love.



Sermon: 5 Things I Learned at Vacation Bible School (2018)

Today I talk a little bit about the challenges of our school to begin with. Amazingly enough, our Vacation Bible School theme reminds us that God cares and will help us.

Sermon: David: The Unlikely Move

Today we finish the series on King David’s early years. He makes an unlikely move that is unsavory. But there is good new for us! We will spend a little time on shame and guilt and how break free from it!

Article: Our Pilgrimage to Houston

Our Pilgrimage to Houston by Pr. Ben Bergren

Marianne Nadell, 8 high school youth and myself are back from the National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas. We gathered with Lutherans (ELCA) from around the United States and explored the theme, “This Changes Everything.” Every day we looked at a different aspect of that theme as pictured below.

We spent time with others from our very own Sierra Pacific Synod as well as with 30,000 other Lutherans every night for a mass gathering. We also served the community by cleaning up around a low income apartment complex and we discovered what it means to be Lutheran in the interactive center that was set up by various ministries, organizations and colleges affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Marianne Nadell deserves a big thank you for leading this trip! When you see her, tell her thank you! I was there to support her.

Many of you (including the Bergren family) gave to help these students go to this event at a subsidized price. Thank you. I want to share with you what some of our students said about this life changing event…

 Mary Shkouratoff

The ELCA National Youth Gathering in Houston, Texas was such an amazing experience and I am so glad I was able to go. Thank you so much to everybody who donated and supported our group in different ways. At the gathering I had the opportunity to come together with over 30,000 other youth where I learned about God’s love and how it changes everything. I also heard individuals stories of how God’s love changed their lives. I was so blessed to have this experience and am great full for all the work others put in to make my experience so amazing.

Jake Podraza

The National Youth Gathering was amazing because it opened my eyes to many of the different ways God gives us his love. God is talking to you, not your ideal self, so stop trying to be something that you will never be and just be yourself. My favorite quote from the entire event would have to be “There’s Grace for that,” because it tells us that no matter who we are or what we do God still loves us and forgives us. The Gathering was an eye opening experience for me and has showed me the many ways that God and the Lutheran Church are helping others, whether it is helping clean up a city or teaching students. But my main takeaway from the Gathering is to be selfless and help others even if you don’t know the answer.

Andrew Laughlin

My favorite part of the Lutheran youth gathering in Houston was the amazing music played during the mass gatherings. Some songs delivered great messages and others were just fun to listen to. One artist that sang was Tauren Wells who wrote some songs that we performed for Common Ground which was very cool. Thank you everyone for making it possible for me to have such a great experience.

Kobe Fujimoto

Thank you so much bethel for helping send me on this amazing trip. It was so illuminating to see 30000 of my siblings in Christ. The nightly chapels were bigger than anything I’ve ever seen before. My favorite part of the trip was definitely the day of service. We went to an area that was affected by the Hurricane Harvey and picked up trash along the side of three roads. By the time we had finished we had a small mountain of trash. Thank you guys so much 😁.

Frank Podraza

The national youth gathering was amazing because everybody was there to have a good time. Every time you turned a corner you would run into somebody you’d previously met, or meet somebody new with a warm welcome. This wonderful attitude also led to increased energy in everything we did. At the end of every day there was a Mass Gathering, but it was more of a concert. Everyone was dancing and singing, no matter where you looked.

Lindsey Laughlin

The National Youth Gathering was amazing because not only did it give me an opportunity to grow in my own faith but also because I was able to grow my faith with 30,000 of my closest new friends. It was an awesome experience to meet new people and learn about their lives every day. I also enjoyed hearing about the speakers’ lives through their words and stories. I particularly loved hearing Pastor Nadia speak—her words were not only inspiring but also thought provoking. All in all it was an unforgettable trip, thank you so much to the Bethel Congregation for their support!

Sermon: David: The Unlikely Ally

We continue on in the series about King David’s early years. Today we hear that as David’s troubles worsened, the king’s son Jonathon stood by his side. We were created for friendship. Who is your closest friend?

Article: God’s Intentions

If you believe in God, then you know you were created for a purpose. If you don’t believe in God, then there is no purpose or meaning because it is by chance that we are even here at all. It is that simple.

If you believe we are here by some random cosmic roll of the dice, life is what you make of it and then it is all over. If you are lucky, you will find some like-minded people to spend time with that will bring some happiness in the midst of the randomness of your short time here on Earth.

I am not one of those people. I believe that God created everything! Not only that but when God decided to create humanity, God had a purpose. We get a glimpse of that purpose only after humans messed everything up. In Genesis 3:8 we discover an indication of God’s intention for humanity.

Then the man and his wife heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day…

You might be thinking, “What does this have to do with God’s intentions for humanity?” It is simple, actually. When God created us, it was done so that we might be in relationship with Him while simultaneously being in relationship with one another. The story of creation in Genesis points to the fact that God wants to spend time with His creation especially the part of creation that was created “in our (God’s)image”and “in our (God’s)likeness.” (Genesis 1:26).

God created us to be in relationship. Most of you know that humanity chose a different purpose for themselves.

Even Jesus—God in the flesh—reminds us that the most important thing is to love God and love each other (Matthew 22:37-40) but we struggle with that don’t we?

We see God’s intention’s once again in the book of Revelation when we get a glimpse of “heaven.”  “And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with humanity, and God will live with them.’” Revelation 21:3 God wants to be in a loving relationship with us now and always. The same goes for how we treat others.

Yet the world struggles with this in a mighty way. Children being separated from their parents at the border because they committed a misdemeanor. (FYI—almost all are still separated) Glad the justice system doesn’t do those who speed in their cars since that is also a misdemeanor. I saw on the news of a teenaged black man shot and killed by police in East Pittsburgh because he fled the car at a traffic stop. Add to that, the hate of humanity on display on social media every day.

I wish it would all stop. What if we just loved people instead of wishing harm? What if we helped people instead of thinking, “They get what they deserve”? What if we showed compassion instead of rushing to judgment? What if we walked a mile in someone else’s shoes before we so easily condemn from our recliners?

No, I am not saying everybody gets to do what they want and we just love them. (That is often the counter-argument to love.) What I am saying is that I am not giving into hate. I am not succumbing to cruelty and I most definitely will not judge someone by the color of their skin or nationality.

This is a dangerous business. Jesus talked about love and forgiveness and look what they did to him. They killed him for it.

Thankfully, God knew this would be the result and used that senseless violence to do something most unexpected. God used the murder of Jesus to forgive us. It sounds crazy but it is true. Then God raised him from the dead to show us that hate doesn’t rule the day in God’s Kingdom… love does.

If Jesus can forgive the criminal on the cross next to him why can’t we love our neighbor?

God bless you,
Pr. Ben

Sermon: David: The Unlikely Rival

After defeating Goliath David became the unlikely hero. However, after his victory, someone became envious and David found he had an unlikely rival.

Article: The Problem at Our Border

On Monday, May 7th, a decision was made to separate children from their parents at our southern border if they attempt to cross our southern border illegally (which is a misdemeanor).

There is an estimated 2000 children (updated number) being held in facilities along the US-Mexican border.

Some would say that if someone breaks the law, there are consequences. Others would say that this is a deterrent to stop further illegal immigration.

It may be legal to separate families, but it is cruel.

I would ask, do two wrongs make a right? (Families crossing the border illegally + families being separated by law enforcement = a just decision).

There are other ways to handle families who cross the border illegally that does not involve separation. I am not advocating for open borders. I am calling for compassion.

When I reflect on the story in the gospel of Matthew of when Joseph and Mary fled with baby Jesus  because of King Herod’s jealousy, I am glad to hear Jesus was not separated from his parents when they arrived at the Egyptian border.

You have heard me cite this verse before because it speaks to this issue clearly.

 “Do not oppress an alien; you yourselves know how it feels to be aliens, because you were aliens in Egypt.” Exodus 23:9  Also see Leviticus 19:33-34

How do we love our neighbor as ourselves while still having boundaries? I am not convinced separating families is loving or even “tough love.”

Our Presiding Bishop released a statement with other religious leaders regarding this issue. Below is that statement.

Recently, the Administration announced that it will begin separating families and criminally prosecuting all people who enter the U.S. without previous authorization. As religious leaders representing diverse faith perspectives, united in our concern for the wellbeing of vulnerable migrants who cross our borders fleeing from danger and threats to their lives, we are deeply disappointed and pained to hear this news.  

 We affirm the family as a foundational societal structure to support human community and understand the household as an estate blessed by God. The security of the family provides critical mental, physical and emotional support to the development and wellbeing of children. Our congregations and agencies serve many migrant families that have recently arrived in the United States. Leaving their communities is often the only option they have to provide safety for their children and protect them from harm. Tearing children away from parents who have made a dangerous journey to provide a safe and sufficient life for them is unnecessarily cruel and detrimental to the well-being of parents and children.   

 As we continue to serve and love our neighbor, we pray for the children and families that will suffer due to this policy and urge the Administration to stop their policy of separating families.   

 His Eminence Archbishop Vicken Aykazian
Diocesan Legate and Director of the Ecumenical Office
Diocese of the Armenian Church of America

 Mr. Azhar Azeez President
Islamic Society of North America

 The Most Rev. Joseph C. Bambera
Bishop of Scranton, PA
Chair, Bishops’ Committee for Ecumenical and Interreligious Affairs

 Senior Bishop George E. Battle, Jr.
Presiding Prelate, Piedmont Episcopal District
African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church

 Bishop H. Kenneth Carter, Jr.
President, Council of Bishops
The United Methodist Church

 The Most Rev. Michael B. Curry
Presiding Bishop Episcopal Church (United States)

 The Rev. Dr. John C. Dorhauer
General Minister & President
United Church of Christ

 The Rev. Elizabeth A. Eaton
Presiding Bishop
Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

 The Rev. David Guthrie
President, Provincial Elders’ Conference
Moravian Church Southern Province

 Mr. Glen Guyton
Executive Director
Mennonite Church USA

 The Rev. Teresa Hord Owens
General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ)

 Rabbi Rick Jacobs 
Union for Reform Judaism

 Mr. Anwar Khan
Islamic Relief USA

 The Rev. Dr. Betsy Miller
President, Provincial Elders’ Conference
Moravian Church Northern Province

 The Rev. Dr.  J. Herbert Nelson II
Stated Clerk
Presbyterian Church (USA)

 Rabbi Jonah Pesner
Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism

 The Rev. Don Poest
Interim General Secretary

The Rev. Eddy Alemán
Candidate for General Secretary
Reformed Church in America

 Senior Bishop Lawrence Reddick III
Presiding Bishop, The Eighth Episcopal District
Christian Methodist Episcopal Church

 The Rev. Phil Tom
Executive Director
International Council of Community Churches

 Mr. Jim Winkler
General Secretary & President
National Council of Churches USA

 Senior Bishop McKinley Young
Presiding Prelate, Third Episcopal District
African Methodist Episcopal Church