Sunday, December 28, 2008

A Two Way Transaction

Editor's Note: It would be an understatement to say we regretted missing last Sunday's service due to weather. The Christmas hymns are a meaningful complement to the festiveness of this advent seasons. Likewise we were out of town for the Christmas Eve service... so my apologies for the absence here this past week. It's my understanding that we missed some special moments with our church family, including the sharing of Casie Ecklund's poem which was published in a 2008 poetry collection titled Brilliance. You may read the poem in the "comments" section at the end of this blog entry.

Today's service began with a reminder from Pastor Brad that Christmas is not a day, but a season. Beginning with the wonderful passage from John's Gospel, "We beheld His glory," Pastor then made personal for us the many ways in which Jesus comes to us as highlighted in the Old Testament prophecy concerning the coming Messiah. (Isaiah 9:6) Jesus, the "wonderful counsellor" can counsel us through hard choices. Jesus the "mighty God" can help us through the things that overwhelm us. Jesus the "everlasting father" is ever watching over us, accepting us as we are, His eyes ever turned toward us with compassion.

Following this warm welcome, the congregation shared in the selecting of Christmas hymns which we sang together. After the offering, Major Florence McArthur of the Salvation Army read the Old and New Testament Scriptures for us today. Isaiah 61:10-62:3 and Luke 2:22-40

A Two Way Transaction

The sermon began with Pastor Brad reading from John 1:1-14 which begins with these beautiful words, "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." The verses Brad built his message around were these:

10He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him. 11He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband's will, but born of God.

"Can you imagine... being rejected by your own family?" he began. Brad cited a new problem that is occurring in Nebraska due to laws which allow parents to drop off their children, permanently, at hospitals or safe houses with "no questions asked." This past week a father discarded nine children, ages 1 to 17 at an Omaha hospital. Other parents have abandoned their teens.

The passage in John it says that Jesus came to his own people and they did not receive him. Another translation says "they did not want Him." The original Greek word is a verb meaning "take." They did not take him. They should have received Him into intimate fellowship, but instead rejected Him.

Another translation (Eugene Peterson's The Message) reads this way:

He came to his own people,
but they didn't want him.
But whoever did want him,
who believed he was who he claimed
and would do what he said,
He made to be their true selves,
their child-of-God selves.

Some did want Him, accepted Him, believed... and they became who they were meant to be.

Another passage was noted here as well. "He made His home with us that we could be at home with Him."

The were two key ideas Brad outlined based on these verses. First, our acceptance with God. And second, God not only approves of us but delights in us.

Acceptance with God
Robert Frost, in his poem Death of the Hired Man, gave a definition of home that Brad never forgot. "Home is the place where , when you have to go there, they have to take you in." It is one of the priceless privileges of being in a family. It involves a special kind of acceptance, the kind we find only at home. It is an unconditional acceptance.

Too often, in the world at large we're accept "if"... If we scratch their backs, they will accept us and maybe scratch ours. We're loved not for who we are, but for what we can do.

At home, we experience an unconditional acceptance that is sometimes in spite of ourselves.

Approval from God
Jesus gives us approval from God and actually takes delight in us. Our presence in His presence brings God pleasure.

What especially brings God pleasure is when we want Jesus so much that we will do what He says. It is in this new status as God's children that He takes delight in us.

God is glad to have us in His family. We are a delight to the Lord of the Universe, of incredible worth in God's eyes.

Some of our problems come in part from a misunderstanding of what it means to be "in Christ." To be "in Christ" is a theological term which Paul uses frequently. It has been compared to being a sheet of paper which has been placed inside a book. If you throw the book away, you throw the paper away. But if you place the book in a safe place, the paper is safe as well. And if the paper is stained, splotched, dirty, you don't see the paper, you only see the book. The same is true of our position in Christ. When God looks at us, he sees Christ. He does not see our dirt.

God not only accepts you, God delights in you. Do you believe this? Love Him so much that you'll do what He says, whatever that may be.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

You Can’t Kill Hope

The weekend’s weather forecasters nearly guaranteed a bad patch of weather for us today, and sure enough the flurries turned to accumulation, with promises of more. This did not deter worship this morning as the sanctuary appeared fairly full once more, despite the dire forecasts.

This did not mean there were no concerns about the weather. The service opened with a discussion regarding the postponing of the afternoon Christmas program, and a decision that next week would be safer. The howling wind and blowing snow throughout the service confirmed the wisdom of this decision.

Jake and Leanne Vanderscheuren lit the Advent Candle this morning to begin this Third Sunday of Advent service. After Darlene’s beautiful introit, we were led in worship by Ellie, Pearl, Robin and Brad. Dana shared two special songs with us during the service.

Today’s Scripture reading:
Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
Luke 1:47-55

After leading us in a time of prayer Pastor Brad Shannon delivered the message.

You Can’t Kill Hope

Matthew 2 begins with the well known story about the visit of the Magi:

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."

3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written: 6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah, are by no means least among the rulers of Judah; for out of you will come a ruler who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"

7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

Using this passage as a springboard, Pastor Brad shared today who King Herod was, and how Herod is a symbol with much meaning for us today.

King Herod had been a powerful ruler in Israel, having been in command for forty years by the time the Christ child was born. He was successful by currying favor with Jewish leaders through temple improvements. Building projects probably also meant jobs. And his ability to rule Israel in a stable manner gave him points in Rome, since Israel at this time was under Roman rule.

Herod had a weak side, too, however. He was quite paranoid about losing his position and, over a period of time, in an effort to eliminate potential rivals or threats to his power he had his mother, wife and three of four sons killed. In short, he was not a nice guy.

This insecurity helps us understand how a man with power could order the slaughter of all infants under two years of age as he did. He would not permit any rival to challenge his throne.

Pastor Brad used the story of Herod as a metaphor for our own times and lives. The Jewish leaders put up with Herod's excesses because they got something out of it. There is always a cost, however... like high taxes which flowed back to Rome. And the occasional, unusual cruelty. Citing the historian Josephus, we learned how on his deathbed Herod ordered some of Jerusalem's elite citizens to be executed so that at least someone would be weeping when he died. Herod the Great.

In the same way, Pastor Brad indicated that many of us have things in our own lives that bring us perceived benefits but have hidden costs. These are our Herods, and he offered many examples.

Workaholic addiction was the first example he cited. The heightened energy of a workaholic helps him get things done and offers satisfactions, but at what price? How many workaholic dads there are who miss their kids' basketball games, and portions of their childrens' lives because they "weren't there."

Sometimes our Herod is an old hurt which we won't let go of, to which you've become addicted. You may not have deserved the hurt, and it may even have been a long time ago, but it's always waiting for you, especially when you're tired. You've tried to forgive the person who hurt you but have not been successful. Now it's so much a part of your life you don't know who you are any more without it. When you do rid yourself of it, you end up inviting it back into your heart.

"When you become too comfortable with your hurt, Herod is running your life and will ruin it with this hurt," he said.

Your Herod can be the alcohol that abuses you. Or the spouse that abuses you. It can be the job that abuses you day after day.... but you can't let go.

Our Herod can be the voice that says we can ignore the poor. Herod will tell you you've got your own problems, don't worry about those others. But if we do nothing in the face of need, we ourselves are the ones who become impoverished.

The wise men came to Jerusalem asking "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?" The passage in Matthew notes that not only was Herod frightened by this question, all Jerusalem was frightened as well. The city did not joyously rise up at the announcement that a liberator-king had been born. That's because people tend to prefer the misery they know to the mystery that is not yet known. It seems irrational, but it's human nature. Just because you know you are addicted doesn't mean you want to be delivered.

Yet this is what Christmas is about.

Jesus came not to give us a holiday, but to liberate us from our Herods. No matter how much Herod strives to extinguish the hope in our hearts, Jesus lives to keep that hope alive. Herod knows that the birth of the Christ in our lives means freedom from Herod. So he does all he can to quench our hope.

Jesus' entrance into the world means liberation. His presence as infant was a sign that God was opening His arms to us. As a man He told us of a new kingdom, established by God, and the gates of hell cannot prevail against it. On the cross, this Jesus died to set us free, to be fully alive.

In the Holy Child we see the birth of hope... and a new kingdom, a new hope. You can't kill this hope.

Sunday, December 7, 2008

You Are Welcome At The Table

“Is it not incredible that God makes Himself known?” So began the service as Pastor Shannon welcomed us on this chilly Sunday morning. Not only has God made Himself known, He has invited us to fellowship with Him. Today, on this second Sunday in advent, our theme revolved around the Lord’s table.

1) Be sure to bring your soup cans for Covenant World Relief next week
2) The Christmas Program will be next Sunday at 4:00 p.m. Practice, for all involved in the program, will be Saturday morning from ten till noon at the church.
3) All were invited to an Open House at Brad & Brooke Shannons after the service.

As we entered into worship, Chuck read us a passage from Mark 14, about the Last Supper, an intro to the song In the Upper Room with Jesus by the quartet. The Borndal family lit the advent candle this week, and after a time of worship, Joanne read Scriptures from Isa. 64:1-9 and Mark 1:1-8.

There are many needs among us and we entered a time of prayer reminded of the reality that when we are struggling, this is a place where one can find hope.

You Are Welcome at the Table

Pastor Brad began his message by asking a simple question. Who is welcome at this table. By this he is referring to the communion table where we celebrate the Lord’s Supper.

To make his points he began my mentioning that last week we had Cyber Monday, possibly the big day of the year for online shopping. Catalog shopping, however, is not obsolete. In point of fact, more than 10,000 companies sell products via direct mail catalogs. 13.5 billion catalogs are mailed each year and 55% of buy something from one of these catalogs, spending more than 51 billion dollars this past year.

He cited a number of these catalogs many of us receive such as Land’s End, L.L. Bean, Eddie Bauer, etc. In a light hearted manner he made observations like this one, that the images portrayed in catalogs from different companies are like different neighborhoods. One catalog might be filled with scenes from Hermantown, another from East End neighborhoods, etc. One catalog conveys a look of stylish but not stuck up. Another projects that elitist chic that appeals to some.

But in all of them, what you see are people generally in perfect weather, perfect clothes, perfect health. There are no sick or elderly people or broken people. The kids are perfect, and there is no hint of death, disease, or personal problems.

Perhaps some of you aspire to live in one of these catalog neighborhoods, Brad suggested. But then he cited the well known passages from Ecclesiastes in which all is summed up as vanity and a meaningless chasing after wind.

The theme today, then, had to do with outlining the path to the Lord’s table. L.L. Bean is a nice catalog, but not the path to this place. In point of fact, despite the apparent inequities we see in monetary terms, life ultimately is a great leveler. It has been said that “the ground beneath the cross is level.” When we come to Christ is it because of our universal need for hope and for a Savior.

In the presence of Christ’s brokenness, we see real blood on His face, His back, His body, real wounds in His hands, His feet, His side.

Our privilege at being able to come to Him is not because we have a 4WD vehicle and come from a perfect neighborhood. We come to the table because we know we are not perfect, but broken.

We were reminded that some may not feel the need, but the truth is that in this world there will be trouble for all of us sooner or later.

Some Christians, some church, have become skilled at drawing lines. If you’re not perfect, if you’re don’t look you come from Catalog America, you might be excluded.

Christ comes to this table and invited people like you and me, with their grief, with their broken dreams…. as they are. And as Isaiah notes, “By His stripes we are healed.”

The great miracle is that Jesus did not exclude. Pastor Brad illustrated this point vividly in retelling the story of the dinner at Levi’s house where there were tax collectors, sinners and even a prostitute. Jesus was confronted about this, but replied, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor…”

Pastor Brad proposed the idea that too often the church excludes people from fellowship until they meet some kind of criteria making them worthy. Jesus, as illustrated in the story above, turned this Pharisaical notion on its head. Fellowship is first, and there is room for you at the table. Come as you are.

Essentially, Jesus sets the rules. Heaven is portrayed as a banquet. His invitation stands. Come. Come as you are. There is a seat here with your name on it.

After the message we shared the Lord’s Supper in a very special way. The Lord is good.

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Finding Hope

Today is the first Sunday in Advent, a time of preparation and anticipation as we approach Christmas. Pastor Shannon welcomed us warmly saying, "I'm delighted that you're here today..." After commenting that he has eaten nothing but Thanksgiving food since Thursday, he reminded us that Advent means "coming" and that we are celebrating God breaking into human history to comfort and save us. It is God saying, "I am coming to you to show you how much I love you."

Several announcements were made including an invitation from Pastor Shannon and his family to visit with them after church next Sunday. This traditional Open House is one way in which Brad and Brooke say "Thanks" to each of us for our support and kindnesses throughout the year. The Shannons live at 5637 Bergstrom Junction Road, about a mile north of Twig off Highway 53.

Darlene stood and invited us to the church next Saturday at 6:30 to "Get Mugged." Bring an appetizer to share and a wrapped mug filled with goodies to exchange as well as a favorite game.

Instead of normal Sunday School, the weeks leading up to Christmas will be ADVENTure Sunday School with hymn singing and other adventures. Join us at 9:00 a.m.

The annual Christmas program will be in two weeks, on Sunday the 14th with a pot luck meal.

Pam Johnson is seeking helpers to deliver the gifts for the children of two families we are providing gifts for as part of the Angel Tree program. The program helps provide Christmas gifts for children with a parent in prison. This year we are giving giving presents to a one year old boy and a five year old girl. Call Pam for any additional details. Her number is in the directory.

Two youth from our church lit the first Advent candle and Darlene proceeded to usher us into a time of worship.

Being the first Sunday of Advent, it was appropriate for Pearl and Ruth Anne to share a skit about the true meaning of Christmas. Two youth brought a Christmas wish list of presents they would like this year, which turned out to be a scroll the length of the sanctuary. Citing passages from Matthew and Luke, Pearl and Ruth Anne showed how God was thinking of us when He gave Himself to the world. Christmas is about giving, not getting. It's also what being a follower of Christ is about, actually.

After the offering, Pastor read passages from Isaiah 40:1-2 and Matthew 13:24-37. This was followed by a powerful, uplifting rendition of the great hymn In Christ Alone. Before singing, she recited the wonderful passage from Jeremiah that includes these words: "Blessed is the man whose confidence is in the Lord." All that was sung and shared made an uplifting intro to today's message.

Finding Hope

Today is the gateway into the Advent season. Brad began by reminding us that the first Advent was a remarkable event in history in which the supernatural invaded the natural order. God became man, revealing His glory in and through the unique Son of God.

As we celebrate Advent we see a world with great suffering all around us. Despite blood in the streets of Mumbai, economic collapse and tremendous pain around the world, God gives hope. And He will surely come again to bring us a future home with no more tears.

Brad's heart was bursting with a desire to convey to us the authentic thrill of this Advent season. "Words are inadequate," he said. But there is music that can help, and he introduced the first of his themes by noting that after the message we would be singing that great Advent hymn, O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

The opening words to this memorable hymn are a plea of longing. "O come, O come, Emmanuel and ransom captive Israel that mourns in lonely exile here until the Son of God appear." What powerful words.

The passage in Isaiah which forms the foundation of today's message initially conveys a sense of urgency. "Comfort My people, says your God." But beneath the urgency is a deeper undertone of consolation. This is our God, who provides us with a peace that passes understanding.

Pastor Brad told of an old pastor who confided in him once that if he had it all to do over again, he would have struck the note of "comfort" more often.

God's comfort is not sentimental mush. Jesus said, "Come unto me and I will give you rest." Many similar passages can be, and were, cited. The true comfort of Jesus is a bracing event. He promised His disciples that when He was gone, the Holy Spirit would remain as Comforter. This was a promise to all of us, a promise that God will stand by us in our hour of need.

Here in Isaiah Jesus speaks tenderly to Jerusalem. Israel needed comfort because of her past. Her leaders had failed and betrayed her. Her people were taken captive and sent into exile. Her history was one of shame. Her lament was well captured by these words from Psalm 137.

By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept when we remembered Zion... for there our captors asked us for songs, our tormentors demanded songs of joy; they said, "Sing us one of the songs of Zion." How can we sing the Lord's songs while in a foreign land?

The message of comfort, Brad said, is needed today more than ever. Wars and the pathetic wreckage of broken lives has left us groping for hope.

And like the compassion a father has for his children's pain, so God has compassion on us.

When we speak of God comforting a wayward, blundering, unhappy world, it might feel a bit remote. This message of comfort is, however, for individuals... what Advent is to me.

Cynics see a world of drab mediocrity and compromise. But in truth, they are blind to the fortitude and gallantry exhibited everywhere, every day. This world is populated by troubled spirits burdened by many cares, yet not complaining. We see anxious parents, young people struggling with temptation, workers being threatened by layoffs, individual struggling with conflicts no one can understand except the one going through it, loneliness, disabilities, memories that bring shame and regret... and yet, behold the courage, and the graciousness with which so many comport themselves.

Have you ever wished you could comfort one person in need rather than have all the knowledge in the world?

Jesus Himself saw much anguish... lepers, blind, confused, lost... and He had compassion on them all. And here is the greatest thing: when you see this compassionate Jesus, you are seeing God.

You mustn't carry you burden alone any longer. God is with you, and in you.

Most significantly, there is one comfort we need more than any other, even more than the calming of our fears and soothing of sorrows. He alone can bring forgiveness for sins, our greatest need. As the passage in Isaiah proclaims, "Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, ...that her iniquity is forgiven."

THIS is the authentic thrill of advent. To hear the God of all creation say the past is done, finished, and you are welcome here.

It is on this level that God's greatest work is done. O come, Emmanuel.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Crown Him King Once Again

"Good morning," he said. "I'm delighted you're here to worship with us." We were then reminded that today is Christ the King Sunday, a day in which we acknowledge and celebrate the kingship of Christ, His future return and eternal glorious reign.

Add ImageAnnouncements today included the following:
1. Everyone is invited to come to the church next Saturday to decorate the sanctuary and Christmas tree, 1:30 p.m.
2. Saturday evening from 6:00 - 6:30 p.m. we gather to "get mugged." Bring a wrapped mug filled with the goodies of your choice, and a favorite game.
3. Next week we pick up our Pasties for the CHIC Fundraiser. Free will offerings throughout the year will also be welcome at any time.
4. The call is out for a donation of cookies and Christmas cards for the annual Inmate Christmas Program for the St. Louis County Jail. There are approximately 250 inmates and 35 volunteers at this Christmas event. Please bring your cookies (wrapped in a container that does not need to be returned) by December 9. Contact Ruth Anne Schelinder for additional details.
5. Pam shared that it's time to think about our annual Angel Tree program, also, in which we provide gifts for children who have a parent in prison. New Life Covenant will share by giving to a one year old boy and an five year old girl. Gifts need to be here by December 14. Call Pam Johnson for any additional details.

The worship service opened with Ken, Dale, Chuck and Darlene singing Holy, Holy, Holy. It was a very special time as we all joined in and continued with many wonderful classic hymns.

After the offertory, Cheryl and Darlene did a short drama about gratefulness.

The Scripture readings today were Psalm 100 and Ephesians 1:15-23. After a time of thanksgiving and prayer, Pastor Shannon preached today's message.

Crown Him King Once Again

33Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, "Are you the king of the Jews?"
34"Is that your own idea," Jesus asked, "or did others talk to you about me?"
35"Am I a Jew?" Pilate replied. "It was your people and your chief priests who handed you over to me. What is it you have done?"
36Jesus said, "My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jews. But now my kingdom is from another place."
37"You are a king, then!" said Pilate. Jesus answered, "You are right in saying I am a king. In fact, for this reason I was born, and for this I came into the world, to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me."
38"What is truth?" Pilate asked. With this he went out again to the Jews and said, "I find no basis for a charge against him. 39But it is your custom for me to release to you one prisoner at the time of the Passover. Do you want me to release 'the king of the Jews'?"
40They shouted back, "No, not him! Give us Barabbas!" Now Barabbas had taken part in a rebellion.

~ John 18:33-40 (NIV)

How surprising the ways Jesus puts His hooks in us. Pastor Brad began by telling a story about Frederick Buechner who, while listening to a minister make some off the cuff remarks, had his faith re-ignited. For Buechner it was "deep calling unto deep."

Pastor Shannon used this incident to springboard toward his theme, dealing with the many ironies of Scripture. He cited how Jesus refused Satan's effort to crown Him in the wilderness (offering Jesus the kingdoms of this world), yet how Jesus is crowned daily in the hearts of those who follow Him.

Amplifying the theme of irony, Brad spoke about laughter and how it is integrally related to truth, the centerpiece of Pilate's interrogation of Jesus on that dark Friday.

In reality, laughter is what we experience when we have been liberated from the illusions we once had that shackled us, when what we thought mattered is revealed to be tawdry and small in the light of the Truth of Christ, that He is king.

Indeed, Jesus declares, "For this I was born, to bear witness to truth."

When Jesus fed the five thousand, they responded by wanting to crown Him king. But when it came time to demonstrate his kingship, He rides into Jersualem on a donkey. What a different kind of image for one who is to be a king.

When Pilate failed to follow his conscience, succombing to pressure from Jewish leaders and the High Priest, Jesus was stripped, beaten and - in an ironic twist - crowned with thorns, robed, with mock obeisance from Roman soldiers. Even in joking about Him, they confessed the truth. "This is the king of the Jews." It's classic, comic irony. In trying to do one thing (mock Him) they were actually doing the opposite, proclaiming Him king.

The laughter is in knowing there will be a Third Day, resurrection coming.

Brad then shared with us Desmond Tutu, who was filled with love, identifying with Moses who declared, "Let my people go." Tutu, an opponent of South Africa's apartheid, was persuaded that love would win. He said love was his single weapon. To the ruling powers he stated, "All your weapons of oppression will fail."

We can laugh not because of present circumstances, but because there is a future hope. When Christ is king in our hearts, we can even laugh at ourselves. Our pretensions are seen for what they are, and we cease to take ourselves so seriously.

Pilate could have said "no" to the pressures put on him by the Jewish leaders, but instead he caved.

Lutheran pastor and author Walter Wangerin tells the story of an old black woman from his congregation in Chicago who used to comment on his sermon each week in the following manner. She was a smallish woman and spoke softly so that he had to bend down to hear her as she shook his hand after the service. Occasionaly she referred to his message as teaching and other times called it preaching. He finally decided to ask her what she meant, what the difference was between the two. She said, "When you teach, I learn for the day. And when you preach, God is here and holding us."

An incident occured in which Pastor Wangerin learned how astute this woman really was. The church was not in the best neighborhood. A prostitute nearby had had her water shut off and she and her johns (customers) would come to the church to use their water. Pastor Wangerin stepped in and stopped this. The following Sunday after church, the old woman, when she shook his hand, commented on the sermon. "God was holding you and not smiling. But He will."

In other words, Walter Wangerin was going to change, and the woman was confident of this. God was changing Pastor Wangerin's heart.

A similar story was shared to illustrate the point that God uses us in spite of ourselves.

In closing Pastor Brad asked, "Who or what rules your heart? What is it that thrills you dawn to dusk? Has Christ been crowned king in the midst of your tears and laughter... in your hearts?"

Sunday, November 16, 2008

We're All Part of a Team

In spite of the chilly November morn, we were welcomed warmly by Pastor Brad Shannon as we gathered to worship and honor our Lord Jesus Christ. The service seemed quite special as even the announcements dovetailed with the message delivered by today's guest speaker, the Rev. Jim Fretheim, Conference Superintendent. Brad reminded us that we are not an isolated church, but part of something much larger. As it turns out, these comments pointed to the heart of today's message.

Announcements today included...

1. Joanne W. reminded us that there will be a break after Dec. 7 for Sunday school.
2. Women's Bible Study will begin in January.
3. Next Sunday evening there will be a special Thanksgiving Sunday evening service in Brookston.
4. We were reminded to continue filling our soup cans for Covenant World Relief.
5. The Pastie Sale to raise money for CHIC is taking place now. Order yours from Eric Borndal... They will be delivered to the church.

Jim Fretheim was then introduced, and presented with a framed drawing and a mug, both portraying themes pertaining to hunting, of which he is fond. Pastor Brad thanked him for being with us today. Early in his ministry, Brad served as youth minister in Jim's church, an experience in which they developed a mutual respect.

Darlene played a creative Shine Jesus Shine as introduction to worship, which was led by Brad, Elle and Pearl. After the offering was taken Ed Newman sang "I Need Thee Every Hour" with Darlene as accompaniment. The hymn, which has been comforting to Christians for more than 150 years, served nicely as a lead in to the message.

We're All Part of a Team

Rev. Fretheim began by drawing attention to a passage in Ecclesiastes. "Though one may be overpowered, two can defend themselves. A cord of three strands is not quickly broken." (Eccles. 4:12)

Using this text as a springboard, he noted that a hockey team has six player, basketball teams have five and it takes eleven to make a football team. How many does it take to make a church? According to Matthew 18:20, it only takes two, for as Jesus said, "Where two or three are gathered in My name, there I am in the midst of them."

In Christianity, spiritual maturity is based on interdependence, not independence. This interdependence is important.

New Life Covenant is linked to the Northwest Conference of the Covenant Church is part of a global church family. Our denomination itself is part of the large family of God that spans the globe. As Superintendent of the Northwest Conference, their small staff meets daily for prayer, seeking to help those that are hurting. Every day they ask, "How can we help?"

We're all part of a team. There are others who care about us even when we don't know it. When life gets hard, we especially need to be on a team.

This was not a theory Jim learned from text books. At age 22 he lost his wife to cancer while in Seminary. Drawing from this experience he stated, "Unless we're part of a team we won't get through the hard times."

Hard times are inevitable. Hence the relevance of Harvey Mackey's book titled, "Dig Your Well Before You're Thirsty."

In Chicago, Jim said there's a saying on the street: "Who's got your back?" We don't go it alone.

He also thanks us for the generosity of our church. A portion of the money in our offerings goes to feed the hungry, bring the gospel to prisoners, band aids to Third World hospitals and more. All this is a team effort. "You are part of a larger family. There are Covenant churches everywhere."

He also talked briefly about the key to healthy churches and shared a story about John Wesley. Wesley and his brother were evangelists who planted churches throughout 18th century England. Wherever there had been a revival, Wesley would write letters a few years later as a follow up to determine what had become of the experience. In his letters he asked three questions.

1. Where's the faith?
2. Where's the fire?
3. Where's the fruit?

In the opening passage from Ecclesiastes, it was noted that two are better than one. In addition, three strands are stronger than two. The Good News of the Gospel is that we don't have to do it on our own. We're part of a team.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

How Do You Read It?

Despite a chill north wind, the pews were packed again for worship this Sunday. Pastor Brad welcomed us with comments about how we are created for God’s pleasure, and that worship is not just something that happens on Sunday morning. Rather, all we do can be an act of worship.

He also noted that when we are here for worship, it is not as an observer, but as a participant in an act of worship. In the midst of all, here with us, is the God who created the universe.

The story of the good Samaritan is today’s theme, and many portions of the service dovetailed with this theme, especially the blessing of our Operation Christmas Child shoe boxes which were prepared last Wednesday evening.

A whole raft of announcements should be cited as the Advent season approaches and many activities are taking place. Here are a few that were noted.

1. CHIC Fundraising Pastie Sale… Contact Eric Borndal for details.
2. Jim Fretheim, Superintendent of the Northwest Conference of the Evangelical Covenant Church will be a guest preacher next Sunday. He can be counted on for an insightful, wise message. Lunch will be served afterwards.
3. A special Thanksgiving Service will be held 7:00 p.m., November 23rd at Immanuel Lutheran Church in Brookston.
4. A special ADVENTure Sunday School will be held Dec. 7, 14 and 21 leading into Christmas, 9 a.m. downstairs for all ages.
5. The Shannons will share their home in an Open House, Sunday December 7 during the coffee hour. (5637 Bergstrom Jct. Road)
6. The Christmas Program and Dinner will be on December 14 at 4:00 p.m. Kids’ practice is scheduled for the 13th, 10 a.m. till noon.

The quartet ushered us into worship with Fanny Crosby’s “I Love to Tell the Story.” After leading us in song and praise, the children carried the Operation Christmas Child boxes to the front where they were dedicated. Operation Christmas Child is a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse, intended to bring joy and hope to children in desperate situations around the world. Since 1993 more than 61 million shoe boxes have been packed and given.

The Scripture reading was from Psalm 78:1-7. After a time of prayer, Pastor Brad presented the message.

How Do You Read It?

It’s a familiar passage, the story of the Good Samaritan. We’ve all heard it many times throughout our Christian lives. The passage is found in Luke 10:25-37.

Does gaining eternal life really boil down to being a good neighbor? Or bringing a dinner to a hungry person? Is Jesus right to say this? Is it really this simple?

Pastor Brad was striving to engage our minds because all too often we hear passages like this and it’s the same old same old. We tune it out because we already know that. The challenge is to see something fresh, and the pastor succeeded in achieving this aim.

Brad noted that doctors do not give the same prescription to all patients. Each has different ailments which must be first diagnosed, and the remedy prescribed accordingly. There is not one answer for all. For this reason, the Lord spoke with Nicodemus about the need to be born again. To the woman at the well He offered living water, and said, “Go call your husband,” knowing her real circumstances. To the rich young ruler He said, “Sell all, give it to the poor and follow Me.”

In this story, Jesus happens to be talking with a lawyer. This lawyer knew all the right answers. The lawyer had asked Jesus what he must do to inherit eternal life. Jesus answered with a question. “What is written in the Law?” In other words, what does God’s Word say on the matter.

But Jesus went further. He also asked, “How do you read it?”

This lawyer knew all the right answers and answered correctly here. He answered: "'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind' and, 'Love your neighbor as yourself.'"

Jesus affirmed his correct answer, but added, “Do this and you will live.” In other words, like the great physician he is, the prescription for this lawyer was to put the knowledge you have into practice. Do this and you will have life. Act on what you have heard and profess, not as a way of gaining eternal life, but as a sign that eternal life has already begun in your heart.

It’s a hard pill to swallow. And for this reason, the lawyer asked another question, for the purpose of clarification. “Who is my neighbor?”

This is the context for the story of the good Samaritan. It is a brilliant setup in answer to the wrong question. The question implies that some people are neighbors and some are not.

The lawyer, who knew Jewish law, knew that there were some who were acceptable and some not. Gentiles were considered dogs. Samaritans were also among the excluded.

What happens when a neighbor is not my kind? How about illegal aliens? Or gays? We set up boundaries. But love transcends human barriers such as race, nationality, creed, sexual orientation, gender, circumstances, etc. All people who need help are my neighbors.

Love costs us. There is risk involved in helping the man in the ditch. Love doesn’t stop at convenience. To practice love stretches our capacity to love to its outermost limits.

In point of fact, you can’t do this in your own strength. Human love will fall short. The power of positive thinking is not enough. It is only the enabling Word that commands us which also empowers us to love like this. The enabling Word is Christ Himself. That kind of love has no limits.

Pastor Brad shared how he worked at an orphanage in Mexico once. He saw how the experience broke down barriers, sharing a story that setup a concept presented by Juan Carlos Ortiz called “Mashed Potato Love.” A sack of potatoes is a bunch of isolated individual spuds, but when we’re peeled and sliced and mashed the boundaries and barriers which ordinarily separate us disappear.

We can know God’s “plan of salvation” and the Four Spiritual Laws, but knowing these things is not liberating until we are changed. Christ can change us from our old ways of thinking, helping us to see with His eyes until we learn to live with His love. This is the Good News. Christ can break down the walls that separate us and make us new people where His Spirit becomes our spirit, His vision becomes our vision and His compassion becomes our compassion… and His life becomes our eternal life. This is the Gospel of the Lord.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Saints In The Making

Despite the somewhat grey November weather, there was nary a spare seat in the pews and a warmth throughout the sanctuary. In his welcoming remarks Pastor Brad Shannon noted that there’s a lot going on, that it’s something akin to Sweeps Week on television. The key announcements were as follows.

1. After church today there was a meal prepared by the Armstrongs to be served at the Swamp Sisters a mile or so from here. Donations for the meal were contributed to the building fund. It was reported that there was plenty of food.

2. Soup can labels are again available for Covenant World Relief. Pastor Brad outlined the manner in which contributions are distributed: 40% to meet immediate needs in crisis situations, 30% for ongoing needs afterwards, and 40% for development costs to sustain the ministry and pave the way to meet needs as they arise.

3. New Life Covenant is also participating in Operation Christmas Child again this year. The ministry donates gifts and supplies to children around the world. On Wednesday evening, November 5, 6:00 p.m. we’ll gather at the church to decorate and prepare shoe boxes for this purpose.

4. Paula Saxin shared that everyone is invited to the church on November 15 at 1:00 p.m. to learn how to do etched glass ornaments.

The opening music was performed by Ellie on the violin, accompanied by Darlene on keyboards, in a beautiful rendition of Rock of Ages.

Today was All Saints Sunday, and for the occasion Pastor Brad had us take a few minutes to remember the saints who had gone before us. He noted that the unseen world is more real than the seen, and we can call this to mind to give us encouragement as we strive to follow after God. Citing Hebrews 12:1-2 we were encouraged to remember those who are awaiting us in heaven.

1Therefore, 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 for us. 2Let 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.

At this we entered into a time of worship.

Today’s Scripture readings:
Romans 8:9-11
Colossians 3:1-4

After a time of prayer Pastor Brad began his message.

Disclaimer: The notes you read here are only a faint reflection of the content, style and enjoyment one receives from the pastor’s messages. His passion is unflagging, but what is especially difficult to convey is the humorous element, the witty turn of phrase that frequently seasons his preaching. Today was such a day where the trusted scribe is aware of his inadequacy, and will simply do the best he can under the circumstances.

Saints In The Making

“We’re all saints in the making. Your greatest value is not in what you can do but in what you are. And in Christ, you are a saint.”

Thus began today’s message as Pastor Brad introduced his overview of the story of Esther as recorded in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament.

The first character in this story that Brad introduced was a Jewish man named Mordecai. The time frame for this story was at the end of the Babylonian Captivity, approximately 500 B.C. Many of the Jewish peoples had returned to Israel. But some remained in Persia, among them Mordecai, a man of courage and integrity.

A second character in this story was Esther, whose original name meant “dazzling beauty.” Her parents had died and rather than leave her an orphan she had been adopted by Mordecai.

The third main character in this drama was King Xerxes. Xerxes was not just a king, but was a ruler at a time when kings were considered gods.

Xerxes, perhaps in an effort to impress his peers, decided to demonstrate how great he was by hosting a six month party. When you’re a king who rules the mightiest empire on earth, putting on the dog takes on new meaning. After this six month celebration of his greatness, he went on to throw an encore party for seven days. In this latter party he requested that his wife, the queen, strut her stuff. But she wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

As a consequence of this lack of subservience, Queen Vashti was removed from her throne. In addition, Xerxes took the advice of his lead council, who advised that dispatches be sent throughout the kingdom that “a man should be ruler over his own household.”

Afterwards a search went out to find a suitable (as in beautiful) young virgin to become replacement queen. A beauty contest was conducted and lo, Esther’s natural beauty.

In scene three of this drama, Mordecai overhears a plot to overthrow the king. He finds a way to report it to the authorities and when the bad guys have been dealt with, his good deed is recorded for posterity in the presence of the king.

The next character introduced is Haman, the true villain in this tale, as will soon be seen.

Haman, whose stature had been enhanced by an appointment from King Xerxes to a high command, conducts himself like a big shot and expects everyone else to treat him that way as well. The king even made a decree as such. But Mordecai, a man of convictions, will not bow down to a mere man, especially the kind of man Haman is. Haman is incensed, and inwardly vows revenge on Mordecai. The idea he conceives is to encourage the king to make a decree to wipe out all Jews.

Pastor Brad interjected here that crisis reveals the character that is within us. Character is caught, not taught, he said. This is especially so in the home. Brad shared what he “caught” from his day… an attitude of treating everyone with respect and dignity. “What are your kids catching from you?” he asked.

From Mordecai Esther caught courage.

It is a perilous time, with a potentially dark outcome for all the Jews. Mordecai encourages Esther to step up and not let the moment pass. “You might have been born for a time as this,” he said.

In chapter 5 Esther put on her finest robes with the aim of catching the king’s eye, which she succeeded in doing. Xerxes offers her anything, up to half his kingdom, and she says she’d like the king and Haman to come to a party she has prepared. At the party she says she’d like the king and Haman to come to another party the next day.

Haman is atop the world with joy as he leaves the first banquet, knowing he is an insider now, partying with the king and queen. He is a “somebody” and is eating it up.

But then, when he gets outside to take his limo back home, he notes that Mordecai is out there, still showing no respect, not even afraid of him. Haman is furious, and orders 75 foot gallows to be built.

As it turns out, in another plot twist the king has indigestion and can’t sleep that night after the first banquet. So he stays up and reads some of the record books. It just so happens he reads about how Mordecai saved his life on that earlier occasion, and he is curious what was done to honor the man.

Chapter 6 continues thus…

3 "What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?" the king asked.
"Nothing has been done for him," his attendants answered.
4 The king said, "Who is in the court?" Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows he had erected for him.
5 His attendants answered, "Haman is standing in the court."
"Bring him in," the king ordered.
6 When Haman entered, the king asked him, "What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?"
Now Haman thought to himself, "Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?" 7 So he answered the king, "For the man the king delights to honor, 8 have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. 9 Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king's most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, 'This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!' "
10 "Go at once," the king commanded Haman. "Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king's gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended."
11 So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, "This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!"
12 Afterward Mordecai returned to the king's gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief, 13 and told Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him.
His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, "Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!" 14 While they were still talking with him, the king's eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman away to the banquet Esther had prepared.

As the reader can guess, the gallows prepared by Haman for Mordecai end up being Haman’s own gallows when Esther reveals to the king Haman’s plot to wipe out Esther and her people.

Pastor Brad’s closing points quickly followed.

1. Don’t underestimate the Providence of God.
You may have a Haman in your life, or circumstances that seem impossible. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up. The story is not over. The story can change.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of good parents.
Your love can make a difference. Your values, wisdom and things you say will go into their hearts and help them later.

3. Never underestimate the power of a simple believer.
Esther was an obscure Jewish girl in a foreign land, yet God orchestrated circumstances and she saved her people.

In closing Pastor Brad picked up the earlier theme he began with. Your greatest worth is not based on what you have done or can do, but who you are in Christ.

You don’t know what God is up to, but He is at work. Your task is to be consistent. Just keep showing up and being there.

With these thoughts, we celebrated the Sacrament of Communion.

If there is someone you know who needs to hear this message or with whom you would like
to share the good things happening at New Life Covenant, please forward.

Thursday, October 30, 2008

Adventure Club Update

In 2007, Brooke Shannon and an array of energetic volunteers created an exciting new ministry at New Life Covenant called Adventure Club. Adventure Club is a children’s program that meets at the church on Wednesday evening, focused on kids age 4 through 6th grade.

The past Sunday at the Semi-Annual Meeting Brooke shared some of what’s happening in the Adventure Club this year.

The Mission of Adventure Club is to introduce, inspire, encourage and support the commitment, growth and further development of the children in our church and community to Jesus Christ. Essentially the goal is to be a positive spiritual influence for these young people in a loving, safe environment. Whereas schools and many organizations offer sports and other activities that young people can participate in, Adventure Club recognizes the importance of spiritual formation in the lives of our youth.

To date, the program this fall has been averaging 26 kids a week, and owes much to the 20 or so volunteers whose dedication makes the program possible.

At the end of her brief update Brooke shared how last week there was a special moment that showed how the Adventure Club was indeed helping to imprint Bible truths inside the kids' hearts. Her small group was gathered and it was time for them to do their memory verse. Before we began, one of the girls rattled off a verse. I said it was last week’s verse and she said, “It’s been stuck in my head all week.”

Even the crafts have been formative. The pictures here are from two projects. The one showing the man was originally a bunch of puzzle pieces. The children made designs, put their names on them and did creative things with them. Then the pieces were all assembled. The finished "puzzle" was a man made up of each of the children and adults who designed their own piece, showing how we are all "one body" in Christ.

If you know someone with children who want to be part of an exciting adventure, the Adventure Club meets on Wednesday nights for part of the fall and and again from January to April. Check the bulletin for details.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Would Jesus Be A Christian?

“I’m glad you’re here today,” Pastor Brad said, welcoming us warmly. As is often his manner, he briefly outlined his theme. Today we would focus on prayer, and what it means for us to be Christians. After the service we would conduct a semi-annual meeting to which we were all invited.

Two announcements that needed to be mentioned. First, next Sunday there will be a meal at the Swamp Sisters to which we are all invited, courtesy the Armstrongs. Cost is a free will offering, all proceeds to the New Life Covenant building fund. Second, November 5th we will be packing Samaritans Purse Christmas boxes during Adventure Club. Everyone is invited.

Darlene, Ken & Chuck opened the service with “Something Beautiful” as we entered in worship.

Pastor changed the Scripture reading to Matthew 6:25-30 and 7:9-11, which was followed by special music from Dana who briefly shared from her heart about prayer, noting that there is a difference between foxhole prayers and mature prayer.

After we spent time praying for the needs of the body, Pastor Brad spoke to us from his heart.

Would Jesus Be A Christian?

Pastor Shannon began his sermon by drawing for us two illustrations which he borrowed from Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy. The first illustration shows how many, if not most, people experience salvation. The large circle is “me” because for most people, our approach to God is, “What can Jesus do for me?” The second circle is the church, which we then become a part of which in some distant way is part of the world.

The second image illustrates an alternate perspective. Jesus came to save the world. The church is the means to this end. When we become Christians, we ourselves can become part of this world picture, and God’s overarching purposes.

With this perspective, everything changes.

Brad then introduced a second book, The Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson. Though a small book it received major acclaim when it was introduced eight years ago. The book is essentially about a relatively minor Old Testament character and his famous prayer which is recorded in I Chronicles 4.

According to Wilkinson when we pray for God to bless us, as Jabez prayed, God will bless us.

To Pastor Brad, this sounded a bit like magic, as if our prayer would make God do this.

Pastor Brad shared that the name Jabez is actually based on a word that means pain. Because the Hebrews delighted in wordplay, there seems to be an aspect of this story that gets lost in translation. The words Jabez uses include the request that he be free from pain. (NIV, verse 10)

But Brad noted that other translations that convey a different shade of meaning. Here is verse 10 from the New King James Version:

10 And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

Pastor Brad noted that there is a truth here. That we are indeed to ask God to bless us, not because we’re worthy, but because we are His children and nothing is too small for God.

There is a context in Scripture for this truth that we need to keep in mind. In Matthew 6, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about prayer. But afterwards, the Lord reminds us that worry and anxiety over things we want and feel we need ought not be our primary concern.

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Being blessed by God was never intended to be an end in itself. God wants to bless us for a higher purpose, to redeem the world. Yes, we should ask to be blessed, but for the purpose of being a blessing to others.

The prayer of Jabez that we need to make our own is this: “Lord, give me a new identity so I am not a pain, causing pain….”

Brad’s prayer is that we’d pray to be blessed so that we can be a blessing.

It was an abbreviated service today because afterwards we had our Semi-Annual Congregational Meeting.

Very briefly, the key decisions made, after committee minutes and a pastor’s report were given, dealt with approving the budget, assembling a new nominating committee, and hearing the building committee report. A new budget was approved, a nominating committee assembled and a recommendation to purchase approximately 4.2 acres for the purposes of a potential new building sometime in the future was discussed. As a result of the careful and thoughtful manner in which this recommendation has been developed, the recommendation passed unanimously.

For additional details on all these matters, contact the deacons, treasurer or members of the building committee.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

When the Market Crashes

“I’m glad you’re here today,” Pastor Brad Shannon said as he welcomed us this morning. As has been his custom he briefly summarized the message he would be sharing this morning. “We’re going to talk about money.” In particular, some of the perils of money.

Announcements included an invitation to all to have a pork loin dinner at the Swamp Sisters on November 2 after the service. The free will offering will go toward the church building fund. Also, on Wednesday November 5 everyone is invited to the church for Operation Christmas Child, in which shoe boxes will be decorated and assembled for needy children. In addition, on November 16 the conference superintendent will be joining us.

Darlene played a loving, delicate interpretation of Fairest Lord Jesus to begin the service. After a time of worship, Pastor Brad gave a children’s talk about money noting that our worth as people is not based on how much money we have.

The Scripture readings were from Psalm 99 and Matthew 22:15-22, which was followed by a time of prayer, a hymn and our practical pointed message.

When the Market Crashes

The way we handle our money is a spiritual issue, Pastor Brad began. To a large degree our lives revolve around money to some extent. Money plays a key role in our lives, and the Bible is realistic about it.

Half of Jesus’ parables deal with money. And there are nearly 2000 verses in Scripture that deal with every facet of money, from how to earn it and spend it to how we can abuse it, or share it.

Many people look for money to save them from pain, but no amount of money can insulate you from trouble. This message today was about the perils of money, drawn from I Timothy 6:6-10.

6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

The first peril is lack of contentment. “But godliness with contentment is great gain,” wrote Paul to Timothy. Contentment is an inward disposition unrelated to external circumstances. You don’t need anything outside of your self to make you happy.

Columnist John Rosemond once wrote about boredom amongst affluent suburban kids. He stated that the typical kid these days has 250 toys by age five, an average of nearly one a week.

Does contentment for you come from having more “toys” and more clothes, etc. Seeking contentment in that manner can never be achieved, because how many or how much is enough? Contentment comes from within.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, noted that he had found the secret of contentment. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

In other words, trust Jesus with your life as Savior and Lord, that is forgiver and leader.

For Paul, contentment was a learned disposition. He had learned the habit of gratitude.

It is also important to stop teasing yourself by going to malls, paging through catalogs. The world will always push your to need more, bigger or newer things.

A second peril of money, Brad noted, is the serious issue of loving money. The love of money is a root of evil. If our favorite indoor sport is shopping, we’re in trouble.

Money loving leads to sin, he said, including lying for money, shading the truth for personal advantage on our taxes, coveting (One of the Big Ten, as in Commandments), becoming angry or hateful due to money, spending too much, working too hard to have more things. Many sins can be traced to love for money.

Paul pointed out that many sins can be traced to love for money. As verse nine puts it, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” And in verse ten he warns, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

The story of the rich young ruler is a case in point. In Mark 10 a rich young ruler came to Jesus, and Jesus knew what ruled this man’s heart. He was told to choose, money or Jesus. In this tragic instance, the man turned his back on the freedom and joy set before him, and chose instead his designer clothes.

In another passage Jesus pointed out to His disciples that you can gain the whole world and lose your own soul.

In Paul’s admonition money is a sword of sadness that pierces us through with many griefs. Actually the word “pierced” that Paul uses is akin to a spike or spit upon which a pig is roasted over a fire. It’s a graphic image.

Debt, workaholism, foolish investments and get rich quick schemes, gambling are just a few of the troubles we are roasted by when we pursue our love for money.

Years ago Brad saw a list of ten reasons why Christians don’t give. Number two was that they can’t. Too much debt.

What can we do? There are two things Brad cited. First, get serious about it. It’s a serious matter. Second, get help from others if you need help with financial management and money related matters.

Don’t let the perils of money put you on the spit and roast you. Ask yourself the question, “How can I do things God’s way?”

It is a practical message. God cares about our practical needs.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Neither Hot Nor Cold

A dreary wet Sunday morn outside, but a packed house of worshippers within today to hear another message from the Lord’s letters to the seven churches, as recorded in Revelations 2 & 3. Today, Pastor Brad illuminated for us the Letter to Laodicea, found in Rev. 3:14ff

The service opened with a warm welcome followed by announcements. Key announcements included:
1. Mark your calendar for Oct. 26th which will be our semi-annual meeting. An important feature of this meeting will be a recommendation from the building committee.
2. On November 5, we will gather for Operation Christmas Child instead of our usual Adventure Club.
3. Special prayers were requested for Dale Fish (difficulty breathing), Joe Stapleton, and the brother of Andy & Pam Johnson who had a stroke.
4. Paula shared a thank you to all who attended or helped yesterday’s Women’s Circle. Next time we meet Pearl and Darlene will teach us how to knit “the EZ way.”

As we entered into worship Chuck read from Ephesians 1:3-10.

Instead of a quartet, this morning we were led in worship by a quintet, as Vicki joined Ken, Dale, Chuck and Darlene in a wonderful rendition of “Because He Lives”… followed by several meaning-filled songs.

Neither Hot Nor Cold

14"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. 15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 21To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." ~ Revelations 3:14-22

Pastor Brad opened his sermon by asking the question, “What makes you gag?” Then he shared a few of his un-favorite things beginning with Ryan’s diarrhea, raw tomatoes, curdled milk and water that has set in a hose all day on a warm summer day. He had our attention.

Then he asked, “What gives God a gag reflex?” This was the heart of this morning’s message and a central issue in the letter to Laodicea. The letter’s tone is not angry. It reflects more disgust than anger. His sermon offered an answer to this question.

It’s clear who this seventh letter is from: The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of creation, none other than Jesus. And His words are a wake up call.

What Pastor Brad has done throughout this series of messages on the letters to the seven churches is show us the context into which each letter has been written. Each city of the seven cities had a historical place in that time. By presenting this context, the nature of the cities themselves where these seven churches had taken root, Pastor Shannon has brought a fuller understanding to these commendations and exhortations of Jesus. This week especially we were privileged to gain new insights by means of this approach.

The city of Laodicea was the richest of the seven cities addressed in Revelation two and three. Unlike the Hamptons, this was a city of “new money”… having achieved its wealth more recently, much like today’s Silicon Valley millionaires. It was a wealthy city and possibly a wealthy church, approximately 130 miles East of Ephesus and 140 miles South of Philadelphia.

What caused disgust for God here was the church’s self-sufficiency and apathy. In verse 17 He quotes their own words, “We’re rich and don’t need a thing.”

Laodicea’s wealth came about through at least two channels. The there was a unique black sheep in that region, used for black wool. Their black wool made the city a trend setter in fashion. They were the latest chic.

In addition, they were pioneers in medicine. Their knowledge of opthamology was cutting edge, and an eye salve they formulated and sold brought consumers from all around.

This self-made wealth and apparent self-sufficiency was offensive to God… not that wealth in itself is bad. But the attitude of self-sufficiency reflects deeper problems. “That attitude just makes Me want to barf,” it seems like God is saying here. (vs. 16) And in verse 17 God says, “Your wealth has blinded you to your true condition.”

Pastor Brad cited Steve Martin’s film The Jerk, referencing the tragic stance he took as Martin closed the film saying, “I don’t need anyone.”

To the Laodiceans, the Lord was saying, “The truth is, you are blind, naked, pitiful.”

Jesus does not write them off, however. He counsels them, “buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.” That is, faith, which is real gold when it is purified by fire. Trials are necessary to make us strong. (I Peter 1:6-7)

Instead of wrapping yourself in that high fashion black wool, Jesus is saying, “Wrap yourself in My sufficiency.” Or as Paul writes to the Colossians, “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Self-sufficiency blinds us. You don’t know who you are becoming. Jesus says, “Start depending on Me.”

Likewise, medicine (referring to the eye salves of Laodicea) cannot cure self-deception. Rather you need God’s spiritual Visine.

The bottom line: our future as a church must be approached on our knees, as dependent people.

Here’s something else that causes Jesus to gag. “Your apathy makes Me want to hurl.” (The literal meaning of the word 'gag' here.)

To understand this requires a little background. The city of Laodicea was located seven miles from a hot springs in one direction and sparkling cool water in the other direction. Laodicea’s water supply was piped in from North and South. When you mix hot mineral water and cold water that have been transported all these miles by viaducts you essentially have gross water.

Hence, when Jesus says “I know your deeds, I am about to spit you out of my mouth,” He is referring to their apathy and self-sufficiency.

When Jesus says “You are neither cold nor hot,” many have interpreted this to mean that Jesus desires that a church be cold or hot. Pastor Brad stated that he believed God wants His followers to be an oasis at times, a refreshing cup of cold water. And at other times therapeutic warmth, bandaging up wounded souls. Hot or cold means various ways of bringing good things to the world… not, near or far from God. Jesus always wants us all to be near.

We are to be a community that is either rescuing or refreshing. We’ve not been set apart to do nothing. Rather, Jesus desires to see a gratitude-driven usefulness in this world, for we the church are His hands and feet.

Brad asked us to consider what we’d think of our favorite football team if all they did was huddle. “He look how well they huddle and call plays.” And “Look how they hold hands and encourage each other.” Such a football team is failing to do what it has been called to be and do.

The church has to bring Hope to the streets. We can’t just spend all our time huddling. We must refuse to do nothing.

Jesus ends by saying he only disciplines those He loves. And that He wants to do more. “I’m standing here, knocking.”

God’s desire is that we be both therapeutic and refreshing. We can only do this, become this, as we remain deeply dependent on Him.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


After a warm welcome and announcements, Darlene opened the service today with a beautiful medley, weaving together “As the Hart” and “Fairest Lord Jesus.” It was a quite moving introduction to our worship time.

Today’s sermon was a continuation of the messages we have been hearing based on the letters to the seven churches, from Revelations chapters 2 and 3. This morning’s message was drawn from Rev. 3:1-6, the letter to the church at Sardis.

1"To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. 4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Pastor Brad opened with comments about one of the number one TV shows today, CSI, which stands for “Crime Scene Investigation.” This popular show has expanded to include CSI Miami, CSI New York and CSI Las Vegas. Brad jokingly noted that the show’s popularity is such that we may even have a CSI Twig one day.

The show always begins with a death. Then it’s the job of the CSI team to do an autopsy and find the real cause of the death.

Then Pastor Brad turned the tables toward the direction of his message. “At one time in my life I was on a Crime Scene Investigation,” he said. “Only is was a Church Scene Investigation.” Instead of a murder victim, there was a dead church body. “One of the saddest things in the world is to see a church dying,” he explained, a fitting intro to his exposition on the letter to the church at Sardis.

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” (vs 1)

Sardis had been a wealthy city. It had been a cultural trendsetter. This was a city which had been formerly filled with splendor, a city of wealth and luxurious living, something akin to another TV show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

The church of Sardis, too, had initially been a beacon of light. It had been a vibrant witness for Christ, making a difference. In the past this church had been a trauma center for wounded people and a lighthouse for the lost. But no more.

In this brief letter to the church at Sardis there are no words of commendation. Where it really counted, this church was dead.

Interestingly enough, unlike the troubles at some of the other churches, the downfall was not due to false prophets, persecutions, pressures from outside. The problem was from within.

Referring back to his own life lessons, Brad stated, “I learned that if a church is not being continuously renewed, it will die.” He said he labored hard to make the church relevant. He had a great vision for the church, but its methods were old fashioned and ineffective.

It is an interesting oxymoron: Dead Church. Because Jesus once said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

In point of fact, the Church, the body of Christ, has prevailed through the ages. But individual churches can, and do, die. Currently, in this country, 2700 churches a year close their doors, permanently.

Brad’s passion for New Life Covenant is that we be continuously renewed, for we can die, too.

Typically, historically, churches expand and decline over a course of thirty years. He said that when he arrived at the church he has been referring to, it had been dying for five years.

To the church at Sardis Jesus says, “Wake up… Strengthen what remains.”

Brad aimed to make five points based on this passage.

1) Wake up.
Death in the future comes by living in the past. The church at Sardis had become self-centered and apathetic by resting on its laurels, self-satisfied based on its previous reputation. This letter is a wake up call, a call to spiritual vigilance.

Something is at stake. Living in the past makes it impossible to move forward. We cannot glamorize the past.

Brad noted that learning from the past is different from living in the past. “I’m proud, thankful, to be in a place where people matter more than whether a pastor wears a tie or not,” he said.

This was a lead in to another church killer, being inflexible.

2) Strengthen what remains.
A church needs to hold fast to its core values. Being flexible does not mean letting go of unchangeable truths or realities. Some things should never change.

Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

In the culmination of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that our lives must be founded on a rock, on the unchanging truths, God’s word. The Bible is an unshakable, immovable rock.

And in Luke 21:33 Jesus declared, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

On the other hand, we need to be flexible in our methods. Living churches evaluate their methods in an effort to stay relevant. Because one of the most dangerous things that a church can do is fall in love with its methods instead of being in love with the lost people those methods are used to reach.

3) Remember what God alone can do.
The only way to be continuously dynamic is to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember, there is a supernatural piece to church growth.

4) Hold on.
Hold on the primary mission. Hold on to the core value: people are what matters to God. Lost people matter to God.

5) Repent.
Jesus says this with urgency.

At this point it was evident Pastor Brad had much more to say than his heart could contain. With passion he exhorted us in a flood of heartfelt words that this scribe was unable to record. Lost people matter. God wants to us to stay vibrant, to be concerned about the things Jesus is concerned about.

Jesus says whoever has ears to hear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches.

With this, stepping to the communion table our pastor said, “Communion is our sacred privilege…”

Gwen then offered up a beautiful song to usher us into the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Having the Mind of Christ

The sun emerged from an overcast weekend to make brilliant the beautiful maples and other trees that line our rural roads, especially colorful in our Northland autumns. We had a guest minister this morning, so the initial portion of the service was conducted by Chuck Vanderscheuren who welcomed us warmly and shared announcements.

1. Adventure Club will begin this Wednesday night, 5:30 – 7:00. All kids welcome for fun, food, and fellowship.
2. Building Committee will meet Tuesday evening.
3. Women: be sure to fill out the survey in the back of the church pertaining to women’s Bible study. If you have additional questions, contact Joanne Winship.

Following a brief introit by Darlene, the quartet led us into worship with singing.

Today’s Scripture Readings
Exodus 17:1-7
Philippians 2:1-3

During our praise and prayer time it was apparent that there are some real needs and hurts among us and much to pray for. We are grateful to have a God who hears and is not indifferent to our pain.

Having the Mind of Christ
Our guest speaker this week was the Rev. Ben Larson who began by expressing his being grateful to be here. In 2008 he has held issues that kept him from the pulpit and even this week he was uncertain as to whether he’s be able to join us, noting that for fifty years he has had difficulties caused by a disease called French polio.

He opened his remarks with an anecdote told by T. Boone Pickens this past Monday at the National Press Club. The billionaire oil man was addressing wind power and alternate energy issues, but during the Q & A was asked what he thought about the presidential race. He replied by telling a story about ninety year old man who had recently been honored in his own community. Some one commented to the old man, “You must have seen a lot of changes these past ninety years,” to which the old man abruptly replied, “Yes, and I was against all of them.”

The text for today’s message was taken from Philippians 2, specifically verse 5 where Paul writes, “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”

It is interesting to note that God has a mind, and that we, being made in God’s image, have a mind, the mind of the Son of God.

In one place Scripture notes that God searches the minds and hearts of all. In Romans 12 Paul admonished us to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Today’s message, therefore, was an outline of what it means to have the mind of Christ.

A Mind of Love
Rev. Larson shared how there was a black velvet banner with gold letters on it in the church where he grew up. The letters spelled out the verse in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His son…”

“I didn’t always love God,” Rev. Larson noted as he told us the story of how he came to encounter God during a Bible camp. He said it was there that he learned that the many of the stupid things he had done were sin, and when he couldn’t sleep one night he went out and prayed. There were no lightning flashes, but there was a blanket of peace that came over him.

He shared, too, his brother’s testimony, how he came to find salvation while a sailor. God loves us and pursues us.

A Mind of Wisdom
Wisdom comes from having the mind of Christ.

Rev. Larson told an anecdote about an African American minister he once knew names S.M. Lockridge. Rev. Lockridge said to him, “When you get angry, you get red. And when you are scared, you get yellow. When you are cold you turn blue. So how is it that you call us colored?”

Lockridge offered this practical advice regarding wisdom. “Get some learning so people don’t look down on you. Then get more learning so you don’t look down on others.”

God emptied Himself of his deity. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve others.

The Cross is follishness to the Greeks, Paul said, and a stumbling block to the Jews. But it’s central in our faith because it reveals the wisdom of God.

A Mind of Compelling Strength
The letter to the Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rom. “Have this mind in you…” he wrote. There are actually two meanings for this word in the New Testament. In this instance it encompasses both: intellect and knowledge.

Paul had spent time with the Philippian church (as well as time in the Philippian jail) and had a deep love for this church. He had evidently gotten word that there was trouble there between two women in the church and he appeals to them to work out their differences. Small things can get under our skin and fester, becoming big things.

The Holy Spirit was given to be our comforter and our strength, as well as our coach.

“I’d rather attempt something great and fail than to do nothing and succeed,” Norman Vincent Peale once said.

Jesus said, “I lay down my life…”

The Mind of Glory
It is a mind that understands glory, that understands God and His orientation. It’s a wonderful mind. It is not by imitating Him that we obtain this, but by yielding to Him who dwells within us.

He then told a story about Aunt Selma. Aunt Selma was a dear Christian woman who loved everyone. She was wise, and never condemned. Everyone loved her. She knew what was right and lived it. One day, she asked the pastor to come over, and after visiting a little said she wanted to discuss her funeral arrangements with him. She said when she was in her coffin she wanted a Bible in her left hand and a fork in her right.

The pastor understood the Bible in one hand, but was confused by the request to have a fork in the other. She explained. “At church dinners as they clear the tables after you’ve eaten, they sometimes say keep your fork. When they say ‘keep your fork’ then I always know the best is yet to come.”

So it is that when we have the mind of Christ, we know… the best is yet to come.