Sunday, November 25, 2007

Jesus’ Magnificent Kingdom Courage

Our church is blessed with many unsung heroes who make contributions and personal sacrifices behind the scenes, or with faithfulness that is not always given its due. Darlene Vanderscheuren’s music and accompaniments have provided a wonderful backdrop as we enter into worship each Sunday. This morning’s introit, “Be Still My Soul,” helped set the tone for a very special service.

The Trio – Ken, Chuck and Darlene – also performed twice during the service. They sang The Lighthouse during the offering and a moving rendition of Come to the Waters in the early part of the service.

The chorus, if you are not familiar with it, goes…

And Jesus said, “Come to the waters
stand by my side
I know you are thirsty,
you won’t be denied.
I felt every teardrop
when in darkness you cried,
and I strove to remind you
that for those tears I died.”

Our Scripture readings this morning were from Jeremiah 23:1-6 and Luke 23:33-43.

Pastor Brad’s message today was a continuation of last week’s message on Jesus’ Magnificent Kingdom Courage. After a recap of last week’s highlights (see below) Brad spent much of the sermon bringing new insights to some familiar passages in the Gospels by sharing some of the historical background on events of Jesus’ time.

The passage in Luke 14:28-33 is well known for its challenge to believers regarding the cost of being a disciple. But in the days when Jesus presented this challenge, it was also fraught with political meaning that his hearers well understood.

Herod Antipas, of the three sons of Herod and ruler of Galilee, had a well known set of marriage problems. Like many rulers through history, alliances are formed with rivals by marriages. Herod Antipas married the young daughter of a king of a neighboring adversary. This situation became increasingly complicated when he fell in love with a woman named Herodias for whom he built a large palace. This was a very public affair which was consummated in marriage. Added complications included the fact that she two was married to someone else, who happened to be his half brother and the daughter of another half brother.

When Antipas divorced his first wife, it did not set well with her father, the neighboring king, who proceeded to send an army of 20,000 men to teach the scoundrel Herod Antipas a lesson. Herod sent ten thousand men against this much larger army and got whipped.

When Jesus talked about the cost of discipleship, he used two illustrations to make his point to “sit down and consider” rather than doing things impulsively. The second illustration, however, was clearly understood in the light of the these events. “Or suppose a king is about to go to war against another king. Will he not first sit down and consider whether he is able with ten thousand men to oppose the one coming against him with twenty thousand? If he is not able…”

Essentially, Jesus was highlighting the foolishness of the king, a public action that had real risks involved.

In Luke 7:24 we read another familiar passage. At this point John the Baptist was in prison for his speaking out against Herod’s adultery. John had sent messengers to Jesus in a moment of doubt seeking reassurance the Jesus was indeed the Messiah. After the Lord sent these messengers back with a reassuring passage from Scripture, he turned to the crowds to endorse the ministry of John the Baptist, which he did in this manner.

“What did you go out into the desert to see? A reed swayed by the wind? If not, what did you go out to see? A man dressed in fine clothes? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. But what did you go out to see? A prophet? Yes, I tell you, and more than a prophet.”

What was the meaning of the “reed swayed by the wind”? The following illustration is about Herod, his fine clothes and palaces, which contrast profoundly with John’s primitive attire.

In those days, rulers often imprinted coins which were used within their sphere of influence and commerce. No one could put his own likeness on a coin that would compete with Caesar, and for a Jewish ruler there was the additional prohibition against graven images. For this reason, many rulers used a symbol which served a similar purpose. The symbol imprinted on coins for Herod Antipas was a reed swaying in the wind.

The point Jesus makes here is that these people did not go into the wilderness to see kings in palaces. He encouraged them in their true quest, as if to say, “You are seeking a different kind of kingdom.”

In another familiar passage, Luke 8:2-3, we see that Jesus’ entourage was not just the disciples, but included women as well, from various walks of life. One of these included Joanna the wife of Cuza, manager of Herod’s household. These woman, Luke notes, “were helping to support them out of their own means.” How interesting. Money from Herod was being used to support the subversive activities of the kingdom.

With these and other stories Pastor Brad noted how radically confrontational Jesus was toward the powers of his time. In Luke 13:31-33 some Pharisees told Jesus that he should leave and go somewhere else because “Herod wants to kill you.” This was not a veiled or ambiguous threat. Jesus replied, “Go tell that fox ‘I will drive out demons and heal people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.”

Even though today the fox has come to represent cunning, as in “sly like a fox,” in those days the fox was a symbol of a lion wanna-be. That is, lions killed and the foxes would clean up after, wishing they were the ones who could have the power to kill. Herod was called a fox because he was a Caesar wanna-be.

Jesus was essentially saying, “I will fulfill my purpose. I will accomplish my goal.” At the same time he was showing Herod’s true colors.

One lesson we can take from these stories and this message: Opposition is not a sign of failure. There will be people who do not like it when you share the truth in love.

At the end of this same passage in Luke 13, Jesus expresses his sorrow for Jerusalem and then chooses a very interesting metaphor. “I have longed to gather your children together as a hen gathers her chicks under her wing.” In a striking contrast to the fox, a hen has no means of self defense, and saves her chicks by sacrificing her own body.

There were others in this period of Jewish history who stood up against the powers of Rome (Acts 5:33-37) so that Jesus knew what the ultimate consequences would be for his stance against the powers. Those who stood up and spoke against the king were killed. But Jesus did not step down. When he spoke of the true kingdom of God, he knew it would be a death sentence for him.

May we ourselves with courage likewise be kingdom bringers.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Thanksgiving Begins in the Mind

The service opened with Pastor Brad Shannon telling us the that today’s message is a continuation of the kingdom theme, and this week will be the introductory part for next week’s message on Jesus’ Magnificent Kingdom Courage.

This week the pastor received a call from Chuck Colson’s Angel Tree Ministry asking if we would “adopt” a 12 year old girl from Saginaw for Christmas this year because her father is in prison. Because of Colson’s incarceration due to his Watergate involvements, he discovered the grace of God and has a lifelong ministry to prison inmates. One facet is this effort to bring a measure of Christian charity to the children of inmates who cannot be there at this meaningful time. New Life Covenant will bring a little bit of Christmas to a girl named Ashley.

For the children’s challenge, Pastor Brad donned a bright orange hunting cap and used the example of camping to engage the kids, to illustrate God’s provision. And to remember those less fortunate than us who have been so blessed by His goodness.

Today’s Scripture readings:
Psalm 100 and John 6:25-35, which includes that well known passage where Jesus said, “I am the bread of life.”

There is no reason to ever lose hope when we are followers of Jesus. The kingdom of God is at hand, has broken through. That ‘in-breaking of God’s kingdom continues to this day and God wants to keep breaking into the world… through us.

Wherever this occurs there will be resistance, because God’s kingdom is a threat to earthly kingdoms.

Jesus was not a docile, inoffensive guru who went around saying, “Be nice.” If this is all that his life was about, it would not have ended on a cross. People get crucified when kingdoms are threatened.

Jesus’ life exemplified a magnificent defiance as demonstrated by his encounters with the powers of his day.

Pastor Brad detailed some of the leaders in Israel from that period of history beginning with Herod the Great whose life overlapped the birth of Christ Jesus, the man responsible for the slaughter of the innocents as recorded in Matthew 2:16. It is recorded that Herod had ten wives and 43 children. Despite his power, he lived a paranoid existence because of his cruelty and was always suspicious. As a result, he had his favorite wife, Mariamne, executed as well his mother and oldest son, among countless others. Thus it was said of him, “Better to be Herod’s pig than his son.” The historian Josephus notes that Herod was so cruel to those he didn't kill that the living considered the dead to be fortunate.

Because he knew that there would be no mourning for him when he died, Herod gathered the principle leaders of Judaism to Jerusalem in order to have them executed upon his death. In this manner he intended to have the nation of Israel mourn when he died.

Ultimately, Herod’s three sons – Archilaeus, Herod Antipas and Philip -- went to Rome to seek power and in return received regions where they each ruled. Like father like sons. Archilaeus maintained a cruel rule in Judea, Herod Antipas was given to rule over Galilee, and Philip procured power over Caesaria Philippi.

In one terrible event, Archilaeus purportedly executed 3000 Jews in an effort to maintain power. Fifty Jewish leaders went to Rome to make an appeal to Caesar: do not make this man king. But Archilaeus indeed became ruler and executed the fifty.

Against this backdrop we see the New Testament stories in a more vivid light. The Lord’s parables, as exemplified in the parable of the ten minas (Luke 19:11ff) show that He was not afraid to confront the authorities.

Earlier in this gospel account, Luke lays out the powers of this world at inauguration of John the Baptist’s ministry: Pontius Pilate governor of Judea, Herod tetrarch of Galilee,
brother Philip tetrarch of Iturea and Trachonitis, and Lysanias tetrarch of Abilene in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar, during the high priesthood of Annas and Caiaphas. To whom and where did the word of God reveal itself? Not to the powerful and famous but to a hermit in the wilderness. The Word of God came to John the Baptist. (Luke 3:1-2)

So it is that we see the Law of Inversion in action. “The last shall be first and the first shall be last.”

When John the Baptist rebuked Herod the tetrarch for his heinous behavior, Herod had John placed in prison. Jesus at this time did not fear the powers. He set about to return to Galilee.

Where is your Galilee? Where is it hardest for you to manifest the Kingdom? In your job? In your family? In your neighborhood?

What is it you need to do to bring the Kingdom into your Galilee? Maybe you need to bear witness. Or confront. Or perhaps simply become humble.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

There’s Just Something About That Name

“I’m delighted that you are here to worship with us this 24th week after Pentecost,” Pastor Brad Shannon said in his opening remarks. “When God opens a door, nothing can shut that door.”

Other special features of today’s service included Scripture readings from Haggai 1:15b-2:9 and II Thessalonians 2: 1-5 & 13-17 and a prayer of dedication for the Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes. This day also we honored Lillian Peterson on her 88th birthday which we celebrated after the service.

The sermon today used as its springboard the letter to the church of Philadelphia found in Revelation 3:7-13.

There is something about names. Some names are funny. Some people, like Sean Coombs (aka Puff Daddy, P Diddy etc.) change their names from time to time. Some, like Sting, Bono and Oprah, are known for just “a name.” And a lot of cities are known by their names, like Tinseltown, The Big Apple, and Motor City.

The city of Philadelphia in Biblical times, the city to which this letter was written, had undergone very challenging times. It was a city with an ever changing identity, with both cultural and literal earthquakes, and for the Christians there it was a city with unrelenting persecution. To the Christians in this city Jesus said, “I will write on them a new name.” And the Lord promised that their future would be to live in a city that will not be shaken.

The passage begins, “These are the words of him who is holy and true who holds the key of David. What he opens no one can shut, and what he shuts no one can open.” This reference to keys hearkens back to Isaiah 22:22 which states, “I will place the key of the house of David around his neck. What he opens no one will shut. What he shuts no one will open.”

Jesus says, “I hold the keys to the Kingdom of God. No one can shut what I open or open what I shut.”

Jesus is saying “Trust me. When I open a door, walk through it. I will be there on the other side.”

Finding God’s will is not a puzzle that you have to figure out. Rather, it is a matter of following the Lord’s voice. Jesus has the whole picture in view and we can trust Him.

Pastor Brad shared the illustration of a family that decided to not give each other Christmas presents one year, but to help a needy family. Their decision resulted in countless others being blessed and their efforts being rewarded far in excess of anything they had imagined.

Walk through a door and watch God show up. There are open doors all around us.

To the church in Philadelphia Jesus said, “I know your deeds.” Of the seven letters to the seven churches, this was the only letter with no rebuke.

“8 I know your deeds. See, I have placed before you an open door that no one can shut. I know that you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and have not denied my name. 9 I will make those who are of the synagogue of Satan, who claim to be Jews though they are not, but are liars—I will make them come and fall down at your feet and acknowledge that I have loved you. 10 Since you have kept my command to endure patiently, I will also keep you from the hour of trial that is going to come on the whole world to test those who live on the earth.´ vss 8-10

Jesus says “I am going to use you in a powerful way.” Like Philadelphia, we are a small church. God has called us to love and serve Him here. We have a small church, but a big God. It is the Enemy who whisper in ears, “You are small. What can you do?”

There was a small church in Mississippe after Hurricane Katrina that was used of God to feed more than 6,000 people a day, gaining national recognition for their efficiency and faithfulness. You do not have to be big to be effective.

It’s true that when you have open doors you can also have annoying flies. But God will take care of these, too. No matter what we go through, Jesus promises to be with us. Stay filled with hope and joy. And stand firm...

11 I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. 12 Those who are victorious I will make pillars in the temple of my God. Never again will they leave it. I will write on them the name of my God and the name of the city of my God, the new Jerusalem, which is coming down out of heaven from my God; and I will also write on them my new name.

A new name! Can you imagine what they felt?

13 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Remembering the Saints

On a beautiful sunny day in rural Northern Minnesota, Pastor Brad Shannon began the service by sharing a moving story about a man who lived a tragic life... alcoholic, philandering, and ultimately abandoning his wife and children, never to return. This man's oldest son joined the marines after years of being "the man of the house" to two much younger siblings. While in the marines, a church reached out to him, inviting him in to an evangelistic service. Because of the faithful witness of this church, a church that embraced the lost, Pastor Brad and his brothers learned the love of their Savior, Jesus. The marine, whose father had abandoned his home, was Brad's father.

Today was Communion Sunday, and today's message was intended to prepare our hearts for the Lord's Table.

The Scripture Readings can be found in Psalm 119:137-144 and II Thessalonians 1:1-4, 11-12.

Pastor Brad began his message by saying, "There are a couple truths I would like to put before you." Everyone of us knows that we have been chosen and loved from before the foundation of the world. What a remarkable truth that we are here with a good conscience only because of the forgiveness of Jesus and His merciful work on the cross. What's more, each of us is a legacy of someone else's faithful response to God.

Our faithfulness creates a ripple effect that expands throughout the world.

Jesus said, "You didn't choose me, I chose you, to bear fruit that will last.

"Think about those whose faithfulness resulted in your coming to God or bringing you to where you are," Pastor Brad said. Then, he asked us to share aloud, identifying those who have been an influence or significant in our coming to know the mercy of God. Several shared names of people who influenced them, and many in the congregation remembered others who have touched their lives in powerful or important ways.

The only thing that matters is what we do today. Those who can be trusted with little will be trusted with much. Citing the great passage in Hebrews 12, Brad shared an insight regarding that "great cloud of witnesses." We carry forward what they began.

In the passage, it is noteworthy that discipline is not a punishment. Discipline is what produces a harvest of righteousness.

What a privilege, then, to be partners with God to serve the world and make it a better place.

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out before us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinful men, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart." ~ Hebrews 12:1-3 (NIV)

Oswald Chambers once said we will never see the full impact of our faithfulness on this side of eternity, for if we could see the impact, we couldn't stand the glory.