Monday, September 24, 2012

Investigating Words

Today, I thank God that He speaks so specifically to me, and that He’s the One Who wants to relate in a special way to everyone.

In worship this morning, we sang “Mighty to Save”  — to God. The song’s not at all new to our church, but it refreshed me. As we worshiped, I studied a bit. And I remembered a Bible study method.

I started picking up specific words in the song.

“Everyone needs compassion...”
Over the last several months the truth of my need for receiving compassion grew dauntingly real as someone dear and close to me needed it in a critical way.

“A love that’s never failing…”
In the throes of pain, shock and crisis, the concept of a never-failing love becomes a go-to comfort and promise. And when I’ve made a mistake, or someone I love is in grave danger, I have begged, “Let mercy fall on me,”(her/him). And the words of a song glorify God and His mercy.

Singing, “The hope of nations,” I consider my friend, Janelle, born on the Navajo Reservation, the Navajo Nation. She indeed brings hope to her nation by allowing her Lord to work through her.

And “My God is Mighty to Save.” Mighty.

To another woman worshiping with the same song, she perhaps emphasizes the word “everyone” in the phrase, “Everyone needs compassion.” This Christ-follower experiences cruelty at work from someone, and longs for compassion. Then she recognizes by the Holy Spirit that the manager acting cruelly, may need to experience compassionate help herself. Everyone needs it.

For a young man discerning a call from God, the word nations in the phrase, “The hope of nations,” leads him to a deep swallow, and a thanks to God for the Holy Spirit nudge, which comes in the form of a life direction shift toward international missions.

Do certain words especially resonate with you in music worship?

What about during Bible study? Have you experienced moments when you felt God brought specific words and phrases in Scripture to your attention because of a challenge or victory in your life? Do you enjoy wonderfully wasting time in the Word? Do you study the Bible much at all?

I’m thankful for those lazy times of discovery in the Word. And I urge seeking people to dig into the Word, and intentionally emphasize different words, and let the verses of God’s love letter to you become integral with your identity.

I love Ephesians 2:10.  God rewards me greatly when I pick apart specific words and appreciate them. I like comparing specific words of the excerpt from the letter to the church in Ephesus in different translations.

Ephesians 2:10
New International Version (NIV)
10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

Ephesians 2:10
New Living Translation (NLT)
10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.

(Both versions copied from

In the NIV version, we are called God’s handiwork. It sounds purposeful, as if His great skill and attention were fully on the task of making me. In the NLT, we are called God’s masterpiece. I like that even better. In fact, I love it. I gain the sense of “and he called it good.” I feel God’s deep pleasure in my mere existence when I read that I’m His masterpiece.

In the NIV version, how I read it, the phrase “created in Christ Jesus,” reminds me Christ Himself is my Creator, too.  It’s one of those tricky Trinity moments, a conscious reminder – in my personal mind and interpretation - that Jesus is God, God is one, and thus Jesus made me and is too, Creator. That may not be the contextual meaning, but it’s something I gain. And it’s good.

In the NLT version, I think more of my rebirth in Jesus Christ when I accepted Him as Savior. I see the moment of being cleansed by His sacrifice and defeat of death. Both views, Jesus as Creator and Jesus as Savior, hold true. Still, the nuances of words say slightly different things to me, even though the overall meaning I understand matches exactly for both translations.

Ah, I wonder so much why it is I find such adventure in the Bible. My curiosity and hunger will remain insatiable; they’re a gift from Him, not a habit or character quality of mine. And in the truth of that, why is it that I would ever fail to set aside time with God in His Word? I definitely miss out when I pass on it for a day.

Reading the passage aloud, I can emphasize different words. When I say “we” louder than the rest, I remember I’m part of the Body of Christ. All of us are God’s masterpieces, all of us with special works prepared for us.

When I say “advance” from the NIV version with more conviction, I am touched that God foreknew that I would accept Christ and desire a kingdom purpose. When I whisper the word “good,” I consider how much the world needs more good works, good things.

To a person feeling dubious about the Word of God, none of this may convince you. Still, I invite you to try it.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

Love, Mercy, End of the Spear

I love God and people.

I just finished watching the movie, “End of the Spear.” ( What a story of missionary adventure and calling, tragedy, intergenerational connections, hope, love, mercy and victory in Jesus Christ. I’ll leave details fuzzy, to preserve viewing for those who want to see the film.

Views of the jungle, and the portrayal of the missionary home and airstrip took me to the center of a family's memories. The events made me smile, and think. They gave me a pit in my stomach, and I cried.

The problem with the story is, it’s the truth. Based on real events, it well illustrates the risks many missionaries take as they boldly follow God. To those who don’t worship Christ, this must seem foolhardy, or even arrogant. Yet, missionaries go. They go because they choose to place God’s priorities and opinions over other people’s.

God intends for them to serve out of love and concern. And while missionaries want to share God’s Son with others, God leaves the choice to follow Him to each individual.

The missionary families in Ecuador depicted in “End of the Spear” remained true to that. These families loved, reached out and communicated, but they couldn’t and wouldn't force anyone to love Jesus. And their love for God cost them. But rewards and God’s progress came later.

Matthew 9 (NIV)

10While Jesus was having dinner at Matthew’s house, many tax collectors and “sinners” came and ate with him and his disciples.11When the Pharisees saw this, they asked his disciples, “Why does your teacher eat with tax collectors and ‘sinners’?”

12On hearing this, Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. 13But go and learn what this means: ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice.’a For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.”

That passage might seem a little confusing in light of the clear cost paid by missionary families depicted in “End of the Spear.” It’s good to remember, sacrifices equal worship. That’s the point. And worship must be sincere.

If I don’t show love and mercy, God would rather see that change, than receive a material offering, especially one that isn’t given out of true love for Him. The missionaries depicted gave sincerely, and showed love and mercy to the very people who brought them great grief.

Looking at the call to mercy Jesus emphasizes in Matthew 9, in “End of the Spear,” I saw how the missionary families served, showing mercy and reserving judgment as they longed to share the liberty Christ offers. I saw mercy also, especially later in the film, as the missionaries cared for tribe members suffering with polio.

Hosea 6:6 calls us to the same sort of worship, for the same God.

6I want you to show love,b
not offer sacrifices.
I want you to know mec
more than I want burnt offerings.

God wants us. He loves us. He wants the people in remote tribes in Ecuador, and He wants those living in physical comfort in the United States. He wants their love, their acceptance of His Son. And He wants those of us who worship Him to share our love, His love.

My journey follows an entirely different path, with different gifts, challenges and work. But I want to show a profound love, too.

“End of the Spear” shows devotion to God, and to people, because of the power of God’s love at work inside His followers. I took the time to watch the movie, and I recommend it. Sharing such a true story as portrayed in “End of the Spear” takes courage, and a willingness to live publicly vulnerable. 

And that’s a love lesson right there.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Character and Hope

God connects hope to our character – our integrity.  That’s worth my time to ponder when I see my circumstances as bleak.

but we also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us, because God has poured out his love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom he has given us.
Romans 5:3-5 NIV

Hope or a lack of it, God shows, is an attitude issue. Ever feel bugged about someone else’s attitude? Or your own? I know sometimes I get on my own nerves in this area.

So, I could use more integrity, more character, and more hope from time to time. Am I alone in this? I doubt it. Still, while it’s good to evaluate my attitudes honestly, I need to remember the hope I really have been given.

So then, since we have a great High Priest who has entered heaven, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold firmly to what we believe. This High Priest of ours understands our weaknesses, for he faced all the same testings we do, yet did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most.
Hebrews 4:14-16 NLT

God acknowledges our trials and difficulties. Yet, I want to hold onto the eternal perspective that Christ rescued me from the consequences of my own mistakes, not always easy in a visibly broken world. I want to hold onto the attitude that helps me remember the reward of Heaven, the reward of purpose, the reward of life with God. A life of character and hope? Yes, please. 

©Copyright 2012 Helene Bergren All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012


Unexpected beauty.
The evening sky in Belize.
Jan. 2005.

My communications career leads me to writing about the complexities of the commodity markets one day, and the sweetness of family farms the next. I didn’t expect that.

When I was in high school, I didn’t expect to receive back my ACT scores and discover my math score at the top.

I didn’t expect that I would travel to the South Pacific, Belize, Navajoland, New England or the Outer Banks.

I thought maybe I’d live in a castle with my All-American family, and sure, challenges would come our way, but they wouldn’t really throw me off course. All my great plans would work.

But I’ve re-discovered over the last few years that even plans that may be God’s for my life don’t necessarily happen on my Facebook timeline where I would place them. Some of them seem logical, fitting. But still, God doesn’t bring them to fruition in my life, and I hear clearly from Him that a dream I wanted, just isn’t His best for me.

Now and then, He shocks me at how He does use me. That person asked me for my suggestions. Why would anyone so practically perfect need my input?  She admires how I pray. Seriously? I admire how she prays, seems more appropriate. Sometimes, I finish a project to help a friend, or one for work or ministry on time, and I know God showered me with grace and ability.

Around midnight Boaz suddenly woke up and turned over. He was surprised to find a woman lying at his feet!
Ruth 3:8 NLT

Shocking today, right? Let alone back in the day, the Old Testament day. Yet, God was at work. Ahem. Read about it for yourself.

God’s so like that. He works in ways we don’t expect. Sometimes we like His ways, and honestly, sometimes we don’t. His ways surprise us. Sometimes we find Him mysterious.

We, of course, have plenty of wisdom to pass on to you once you get your feet on firm spiritual ground, but it's not popular wisdom, the fashionable wisdom of high-priced experts that will be out-of-date in a year or so. God's wisdom is something mysterious that goes deep into the interior of his purposes. You don't find it lying around on the surface. It's not the latest message, but more like the oldest—what God determined as the way to bring out his best in us, long before we ever arrived on the scene. The experts of our day haven't a clue about what this eternal plan is. If they had, they wouldn't have killed the Master of the God-designed life on a cross. That's why we have this Scripture text: No one's ever seen or heard anything like this, Never so much as imagined anything quite like it— What God has arranged for those who love him. But you've seen and heard it because God by his Spirit has brought it all out into the open before you.
1 Corinthians 2:6-10 The Message (emphasis mine)

Now that doesn’t mean we’ll instantly understand each step where He leads. But we have that glimpse; we’re learning to look at all things eternally.

“My thoughts are nothing like your thoughts,” says the Lord.
“And my ways are far beyond anything you could imagine.
For just as the heavens are higher than the earth,
so my ways are higher than your ways
and my thoughts higher than your thoughts.
Isaiah 55:8-10 NLT

No wonder He surprises me, and you. No wonder I feel tension and confusion. No wonder I am brought to tears, and to my knees, and to singing way louder than my talent, all with joy and gratitude. If His ways and thoughts didn’t challenge me and show me greater love, greater everything, I wouldn’t be worshipping much of a God.

But I know I am.

©Text and photo Helene Bergren 2012. All rights reserved.
 All Scripture copied from

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Reasonable Service

For my personal Bible study, it’s not likely you’ll see me whipping out the King James Version. However, Romans 12:1, in this version, came to light in a mailing from the Christian Law Association, which defends Christian liberty.

I find the term reasonable service interesting to ponder as I consider where and how to serve inside and outside of the church. Some translations of Romans 12:1 describe this service or worship as intelligent, logical, or appropriate, others spiritual. All of those make sense, too.

Still, reasonable service is proving itself sticky, for me.

What’s reasonable to give back to the God who gives me life again and again every day? What's reasonable service to the One who gave me my husband, children, family, friends, health, and a peace that passes all understanding?

He’s the God who made everything and called it good. But after that, he didn’t just step back to watch. He’s involved. Even when we (or, ahem, I) mess everything up, start to finish. He’s wants me, and you, us. What’s reasonable to give back to a God like that?

The CLA newsletter shared a story about a Russian family (pre-liberation) whose daughters were tortured because their dad wouldn't give up pastoring, and he wouldn't deny Christ.

The three oldest daughters were singled out, but said later what happened to them was, in fact, their reasonable service. Seriously?

You can read the article here:

What a strong, worshipful perspective for those daughters, now young women, to have.

I've heard commentary jokes in the Christian community about our fickle nature as followers of Christ. The joke (with a message) that comes to mind for me related to this story from Russia is, the trouble with living sacrifices is that they crawl off the altar.

These three, even as young girls, stayed on the altar. And, in terms of the condition of their hearts, they don’t look back with regret.

Probably, I won’t endure the conditions of persecution these daughters did. But I hope when I feel pressed or struck down with opposition, the Holy Spirit gently lights my heart and mind for His glory with this story, Romans 12:1, and the phrase reasonable service in particular.

Graphic and Copy 
©2012 Helene Bergren All rights reserved

Friday, April 6, 2012

Joseph of Arimathea

I want to be like Joseph of Arimathea.

“Now there was a man named Joseph, a member of the Council, a good and upright man, who had not consented to their decision and action. He came from the Judean town of Arimathea and he was waiting for the kingdom of God. Going to Pilate, he asked for Jesus’ body. Then he took it down, wrapped it in linen cloth and placed it in a tomb cut in the rock, one in which no one had yet been laid.” Luke 23:50-53 NIV

Joseph of Arimathea. Loyal to Christ in being a dissenter to the decision to crucify Him. A man who looked forward to the kingdom of God, Jesus’ reign. A risk taker, as seeking Jesus’ body could further polarize him from the other members of the Council, make it clear where he stood on the issue of Jesus, the problem of Jesus. A man who loved Jesus enough to tend to His body, respectfully, a true act of worship.

Good Friday brings good reason to reflect on this example of worship and love. John 19:38 shows us Joseph indeed feared the Jewish leaders, and certainly requested Christ’s body at risk, because of his fear of the other Jewish leaders. He went secretly to Pilate to make the request. Matthew 27:57 shows us, he was a wealthy man, but Joseph humbled himself and asked for something apparently more important to him than position.

Looking at this man’s actions, and heart, as revealed in the Bible, I thought about what a faithful follower he was. I wondered why the phrase faithful followers came to my mind, so I looked it up on I learned that I’ve not only heard it before, but also I’ve certainly read it before.

They will wage war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will triumph over them because He is Lord of lords and King of kings — and with Him will be His called, chosen and faithful followers.  Rev. 17:14 NIV

Joseph of Arimathea will be with Jesus Christ in triumph, along with all of us who are “His called, chosen and faithful followers.” What a moment of honor and victory that will be.

On Good Friday, I reflect on the danger following Christ held for Joseph of Arimathea, and others. I reflect on the sadness, and my responsibility for Christ’s death.

I know a day lies ahead when Christ vanquishes Satan. For now, I want to nurture examples, ancient and modern, like Joseph of Arimathea. And I look ahead to celebrate Resurrection Sunday, Easter. 

©2012 Helene Bergren All Rights Reserved.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

A Child Waits

One warm, summer slumber party day at my house, my dad and I set up a makeshift picnic table out of two sawhorses and a piece of plywood. I remember one girl whispered to another of our friends, “I didn’t know Helene was so poor.”

Well, me either, not really. Life sure wasn’t perfect. The farm crisis of the 1980s was upon us. Farm debt was growing as the responsibility to care for our family, and provide food for the world, weighed on my dad. Our house hadn’t been painted in years.

But I went swimming every Wednesday, and took piano lessons from my great aunt during the school year. Mom took us to church and Sunday school. I wore cute clothes because my mom worked in a small department store, and received a generous discount because of it.

My parents provided for me. But around the world, a lot of parents experience many more challenges in giving their children what in the United States we take for granted.

Compassion International offers a child sponsorship program, one that brings kids health, nutrition, life skills training and education benefits, givens in our American lifestyle. When a church in the developing world establishes a relationship with Compassion International, parents go to the church and put their children’s names on a waiting list for sponsors, a waiting list that offers the hope of those benefits.

Sometimes sponsor-child match-ups happen quickly. But not always.

Some children wait longer than six months. But the people at Compassion want these kids’ needs covered.

Sponsor a Waiting Child from Compassion International on Vimeo.

Pray about it. Are you the one to befriend a child who’s been waiting a long time for a sponsor?

I love the experience of sponsoring a boy in Guatemala. I don’t just love the experience, though. I love the boy. You’ll grow to love your sponsor child, too.

Monday, February 20, 2012


I love the human eye. What a gift God gave us in the nifty contraption. I’m thankful at 41 (Yes, I said that out loud.) that I don’t require glasses.

Still, sometimes I just don’t see. Actually, I guess now I’m not talking about differentiating between individual leaves as I drive through the woods. Not even close. I’m talking about God’s view, and my view. Often two different things.

You know what a search for the word eyes returns on the Biblegateway? Genesis to Revelation, 21 pages of results.

Tears streaming from eyes. Eyes that see, but don’t obey. Eyes that fail. Eyes that gloat over Zion. Seven eyes of the Lord that range throughout the Earth. Eyes too pure to look upon evil. Eyes healed by Jesus. Hmmm.

Mark 8
Jesus Heals a Blind Man at Bethsaida
 22 They came to Bethsaida, and some people brought a blind man and begged Jesus to touch him. 23 He took the blind man by the hand and led him outside the village. When he had spit on the man’s eyes and put his hands on him, Jesus asked, “Do you see anything?”
 24 He looked up and said, “I see people; they look like trees walking around.”
 25 Once more Jesus put his hands on the man’s eyes. Then his eyes were opened, his sight was restored, and he saw everything clearly.

I admit I had to read some commentaries to understand this better. This is a story of intercession, for one thing. The healing parallel is obvious, I think. We need those around us to lead us to Jesus, if not for salvation, for healing, for understanding, for wisdom and more. The passage shows God’s healing sometimes progresses gradually, and when that happens, it too is miraculous.

But the ending surprises me. I just don’t interpret the situation the same way as God, at first. After Jesus healed the man, he sent him straight home, admonishing him not to enter the village. Why not? If I received some form of healing, I would party. Immediately.

But a closer look at the context shows the people of the village could have followed Jesus outside town with the blind man and his friends. They could have wondered what Jesus intended to do. But they didn’t.

So, if I’m not curious about my God, he might not spoon feed me spiritual food. If I don’t seek Him, too, why would He let me see His work? He wants his Bride to be as passionate about Him, as He is about me – about the Body of Christ.

That passion involves seeking Him. Asking questions. Opening His Word so I can get Him a little more all the time.

But that doesn’t mean I’ll always understand. It doesn’t mean He’ll work in my timing, which I tend to prefer. It doesn’t mean I’ll get my way. And that hurts.

Sometimes getting my way means doing what I want to do on a date with my husband. It might mean God heals my knees of arthritis so I can run again. Perhaps it means my husband and I buy our dream house, without sacrificing our children’s college plans, our tithe, or our kids’ feelings of security and friendships they love. Maybe it means graduate school for a helping career, like counseling or social work. Sometimes, I do want it all; I admit it.

Still, getting what I want also means elementary-age children aren’t subjected to R-rated movies. It means children I know (and don’t) aren’t neglected, abused and berated. It means the government doesn’t blow taxpayer dollars. My way points toward noble results, too. I can keep asking, pestering God.

But I don’t get my way all the time. I often don’t see His purpose in specific situations. I just don’t have His eternal perspective. I don’t have the eyes of the Lord.

But I still won’t give up, at least not permanently. I hesitate. I falter. I mess up in very big ways. Yes, I do realize that my friends might just hold me to my word. Oh, dear.

I’m called to walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor. 5:7) Tough call. But important, and humbling.

Saturday, January 21, 2012


When years ago I first heard the word journey used to describe life with God, I felt relief. I found it beautiful. It still illustrates for me the promise of His ever-presence. Of adventure.

The idea created some friction, also. I see that now, because I always wanted to arrive. Ta-Da! Then, everything would be all better. Band-Aid unnecessary for myself and for those I scraped along the way. Arrival meant smooth sailing. But that’s not what God promises.

Neither does He promise that we will achieve His wisdom, His intelligence, or His understanding, far from it. Certainly, He gives wisdom, understanding and knowledge. Read Proverbs and James. Still, He is the Lord, all-seeing, all-knowing, all-powerful. And, oh-so-loving.

But it takes time. Of course, I knew that on a brain level for years. But my heart bubbled up as the issue. Still does, though God’s done great works in me. Wanting to achieve. Wanting to stay on top of things. Wanting to be the smart one. To be sought after, that would be nice. To keep up. To achieve or establish something outstanding for Him. Wouldn’t that bring God glory?

But guess what. When I think that way, when we think that way, we’re measuring in human terms. By numbers. By appearances. By the physical world. Those can give us important clues, but sole reliance on those brings pressure.

The term journey refreshes. 

Sure, it indicates commitment, and questions still arise. To truly journey with God means we enjoy a relationship with Him through His Son. He has reservations made for us in Heaven. Look in the book of John. The journey starts here, but continues in Heaven.

We follow His purpose to glorify Him. We perform good deeds not to impress Him or achieve sweat equity to get into Heaven, but out of gratitude, love and direction from God. That’s why the relief. That’s why the fun in the journey. And it’s a humbling honor. The gift lies in just being His.

Right now, I am living in the middle, the beautiful middle, of a leadership class called Emerging Journey. Today, we finished an emotionally challenging step in our class, sharing our personal spiritual narratives.

The narratives, abbreviated autobiographies, include spiritual impacts and lessons from life events. We all shared with great openness. We weren’t required to share every detail, every sin, every wound. But the content showed our humanity. We shed tears, and we prayed. We encouraged one another. Through this, I gained a deeper respect and love for people I already looked forward to seeing each week.

Human relationships make up a critical part of the journey. God doesn’t ask us to go it alone. In fact, quite the opposite. Check out the book of Acts.

Last week, I shared my spiritual narrative, sharing more details, certainly at once, than I’ve ever shared with any other group of people. It wasn’t easy. It was safe.

I see value in the writing process, because God revealed ways He works with great continuity in my life. He even brought to mind some sweet memories that made me giggle. I see better now why I love kids, what and Who motivates me to help friends and others in crisis, and how I feel satisfied when I express myself creatively.

I believe more deeply and know more gratitude for God’s reign over me. I love the journey, with His people, and with Him.

©2012 Copy and Photo Helene Bergren All Rights Reserved.