Sunday, February 24, 2008

He Really Does Love Us And We Really Can Love Others

The Third Sunday in Lent

This morning Pastor Brad Shannon opened by declaring, “No matter what road you’re traveling, no matter what you’ve carried in here today, Jesus loves you indiscriminately.” His sermon theme today would be, “He Really Does Love Us and We Really Can Love Others.”

After Darlene's introit we enjoyed music by the trio, which included a reading of Philippians 3:7-11 by Chuck Vanderscheuren. We all felt blessed when they sang a heartfelt rendition of On the Jericho Road.

Today’s scripture reading was from John 4:5-42, the story of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman at the well.

He Really Does Love Us & We Really Can Love Others

Pastor Brad shared how in his reading of the Gospels he has been amazed by Jesus’ emotional strength. In addition, Jesus showed great physical strength as well, walking all day, often teaching late into the night, pouring Himself out with seeming tirelessness.

Drawing from the seventh chapter of Luke, today’s message unveiled three incidents in which Jesus is revealed as not only strong, but also empathic. Luke 7 begins after Jesus had shared His great sermon on the mount. He was undoubtedly tired, yet when he was approached by a Roman centurion, Jesus gave his full attention. This Roman soldier had not come on his own behalf, but to make a request on behalf of an acquaintance’s servant.

Despite the low station in life of this servant, for Jesus there were no nobodies. Jesus’ love was universal and unconditional, whether it be for a prime minister or prodigal son. To Jesus, every man, woman or child matters. And Jesus healed this servant boy.

After leaving the Centurion, Jesus got held up by a funeral procession. All too often, our focus is inward, on our own needs. But Jesus, by being sensitive to the situation in front of him, recognized that this woman who had lost her husband previously was now grieving at the loss of her only son. Her despair at losing his son now left her all alone in the world, and Jesus’ heart went out to her.

Jesus steps forward and instructs the dead youth to rise, and he sat up. They were all filled with awe and praised God. When Jesus’ sensitivity was stirred, his power was unleashed.

From here the Lord went to dinner at a Pharisees house, a gathering of A-list persons in the community. An inappropriate woman shows up and begins weeping on Jesus’ feet. She then begins to pour perfume on him, anointing him with expensive oil.
The host is thinking to himself, “If Jesus were really a prophet, he’d know what kind of person this was and would not allow it.”

But this was a woman who had made great mistakes in her life, and had great regrets. In coming to Jesus, she recognized that he had massive amounts of forgiveness for this kind of person, and her response was reciprocal, for one who has been forgiven much loves much. (vs. 47)

Who should be the greatest lover? The one who has been forgiven the most. You have been renewed in Christ and should become increasingly indiscriminate lovers.

Why are Christians often seen as the most judgmental? We ought to be recognized as the most loving. I want to be one who spills love over shoeshine kids and all who are need.

As the dinner party ends, the guests are abuzz with the question, “Who is this man?” It is a question people have been asking for 2000 years, and it is a most important question. Who is this man in your life? Have you decided who Jesus is in your life?

If you’ve been forgiven much, then love much.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

Sunday, February 17, 2008

Blessed Are You

After a very special time of worship Brian Muecke, executive director of Covenant Park Bible Camp, shared with us about the good things that God has done at the camp these past years. “Faith in Action” is the theme for 2008 at Covenant Park, based on verses from James 2:14-17.

Cheryl Borndal led several youth in an entertaining skit on why kids go to camp. Eric Borndal stated it was his desire and goal to see 50 young people from our church participate in camp this summer. For a relatively small church, we sent an impressive 38 kids to camp last summer.

Scripture readings were from Psalm 121 and John 3:1-17

Pastor Brad Shannon delivered a message on The Beatitudes this morning beginning with a story about an incident which he witnessed in a restaurant on a Sunday afternoon while he was in college. A waitress had the misfortune of accidentally spilling a gallon of thousand island dressing onto the head, face and chest of a man in a suit. Being dressed up on a Sunday, one could infer that this man and his family had just come from church, but his behavior resonated anything but Christian character. His rage included cutting and belittling insults, and the demand that the restaurant purchase him a new $350 suit.

Pastor Brad underscored that we, as Christians, are supposed to be different.

In Matthew 5:1-10 Jesus begins his first recorded sermon with the qualities that distinguish a follower of God.

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs in the kingdom of God.” Happy are you when you discover you are spiritually bankrupt. This is the starting point. As Isaiah declared upon seeing the Almighty God in Isaiah 6, “Woe to me! I am undone.” When pride has been stripped away, we can only then begin to recognize our need of God.

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” This is the second internal reality. When our hearts are broken, we can begin to be instructed of God. As David wrote in Psalm 51, God cherishes “a broken and contrite heart.”

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Meekness is not passive, is not weakness, Brad said. He compared the meek to bridled horses. It is an attitude of heart that is fostered in a manner very different from self-help books. It involves absolute surrender to God.

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.” This is also an inward matter. Sooner or later we must all learn that the things of this earth cannot satisfy this deep hunger. We are to hunger for the things of God. Only when we have this hunger will our lives truly begin to make a difference.

Christianity is not behavior modification, it begins with internal renovation.

The first behavior change that others see is revealed in this fifth beatitude: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”

This is followed by “Blessed are the pure in heart.” Purity of heart means “what you see is what you get.” Again citing David, “What God desires is truth in the inmost parts.”

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” There is a difference between thermometers and thermostats. Thermometers adjust to the room. Thermostats, on the other hand, change the temperature of the room. They adjust the room. As Christians, we are not called to be like the world, reflecting the world. Our presence here is intended to change the world.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of God.”

We have been blessed. And it is our privilege as God’s people to be part of the fellowship of the unashamed.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Daily Bread

In Matthew 6 people have come from all over to hear Jesus, and he teaches them how to pray. He is not giving words that we should repeat, nor motions to go through, but wants to train our hearts.

Matt. 12:34 states: “Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Good people bring good things out of the good stored up in them, and evil people bring evil things out of the evil stored up in them.”
In The Lord’s Prayer, Jesus is instructing our hearts, not just telling us words to say. What is He trying to get into our hearts?

In Matt. 4 Satan tempts Jesus when He is the most hungry, and tells him to turn the stones into bread. Jesus' response was that man does not live by bread alone. Yet Jesus includes a request for bread in his suggestion for how we should pray daily.
Some Bible scholars spiritualize this request, but Pastor Brad believes that Jesus was talking about real food. Jesus wants to train our hearts to be aware of our dependence on God for everything. We cannot take anything for granted.

We tend to differentiate between “big things” and “little things” in our prayers. We pray for an upcoming job interview, or a big test, but we need to acknowledge our dependence on God for everything.

God gave the Israelites manna from day to day. Deut. 8:11-14 says “Be careful that you do not forget the Lord your God… when you eat and are satisfied... then your heart will become proud and you will forget….”

The simple truth is that we are dependent upon God for everything. Our lives fail without Him. Our very breath comes from Him.

Jesus wants us to cultivate gratitude for everything we receive including the most basic thing such as bread. Our Lord does not want us to be thankless children. Our request for bread should be followed by thanksgiving.

Jesus wants us to pray for daily bread with the words from Matt. 4 still ringing in our ears, “Man does not live by bread alone.” He wants us to be aware of our spiritual need.

In John’s Gospel shortly after Jesus feeds the multitude He tells the people not to work for food that spoils, and goes on to speak of Himself being The Bread of Life, and our need to feed on Him. When He talked of this many who had been disciples could not understand His meaning, and left. Jesus then asks His disciples, “Are you going to leave me also?” to which Peter answered, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

Jesus is the bread that satisfies, and he wants to train us to turn our hearts to Him.

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Feb. 9th Sat. Eve. Sweetheart’s Banquet

The Church’s resident chef Leonard Armstrong went all out for this banquet designed to celebrate love between men and woman at this time of year near Valentines Day.

Below is the menu for the dinner. Before the actual dinner was served we were treated to a lime raspberry punch, and a wonderful decorative array of hors d’oeuvre, including a smoked salmon pate, mini bacon spinach quiche, egg salad w/ bacon on baked wontons, and salmon asparagus and potato cake canapés, and a colorful variety of crudités with dips.

Dinner menu:
Len’s Cauliflower Bavarian plated salad
Roast round beef
Country Style mashed potatoes w/gravy
Roasted carrots w/ butter & basil
Bread du jour w/ butter

After the excellent dinner in a beautifully decorated dining room, we went upstairs and enjoyed a humorous rendition of Brad and Brooke’s first date, Eric Borndal acting as waiter, Brad and Brooke representing themselves.
Chuck Vanderscheuren treated us to three love songs from the fifties, Welcome to my World by Eddy Arnold, Four Walls by Jim Reeves, and When I Fall in Love by Nat King Cole, all accompanied by Darlene.

Brad shared thoughts on marriage and intimacy, telling us to take away three mental images. 1. To keep the fires of your love warm add logs of courtesy. 2. Think of a giant Pearl Pink eraser such as you used in school to remind you of the need for forgiving one another. 3. Servant robes, serve each other in love.

We concluded by going down for yet more food, the dessert bar. After all, this was a banquet! We chose from two types of cheesecake, an apple cake, a cream cherry dessert, and pear clafouti. A giant THANK YOU to Leonard for all the planning and fantastic cooking!

Wednesday, February 6, 2008

Ash Wednesday, A Service of Penitence and Confession

Ashes remind us of our mortality. In the early days of the church Christians fasted for 40 days between Good Friday and Easter. In more recent times the Church decided that in the 40 days before Easter we will bring the cross into focus and call people back to the core commitments of following Christ, remind us that the cross costs us something, and cost Christ everything.

Darlene played the beautiful hymn Beneath The Cross of Jesus for the intro into worship.

I take, O cross, thy shadow for my abiding place
I ask no other sunshine than the sunshine of Thy face
Content to let the world go by, to know no gain or loss,
My sinful self my only shame, my glory all the cross.

Scriptures were read from Joel 2: 1-2, 12-17
2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10
and from the gospel of Matthew 6:1-6, 16-21

Pastor Brad’s meditations revolved around the heart. Proverbs 23:7 states that “as a man thinketh in his heart, so he is.” In the Bible the heart is considered the seat of emotion, as well as the seat of decisive action. Luke 6:45 speaks of good people bringing good from the good they have stored in their heart, and evil people bring evil from what they have stored within. Faith is a matter of the heart, an internal reality.

Every one of us will die one day. Our heart will stop. But you, your soul, your mind, your intelligence does not ever die, and our bodies will also be resurrected.

Brad gave a challenge to us tonight to consider whether our heart is right. He said he is not asking if your social life is good, if your intellectual life is good, or if your body is in good shape, but if your heart is right before God.

We often prepare for retirement with a 401K, we prepare for health emergencies by getting insurance. We need to be prepared for death by knowing that our hearts are right.

God created us in his image to live in harmony and fellowship with him, but we live in a sin ravaged world. We have been separated and alienated from God, and have turned our back on Him. Christ has broken the bonds of death and God’s gift of salvation is available but we must reach out and accept it.

“Yet even now,” says the Lord, “return to me with all your heart, with fasting, with weeping, and with mourning; rend your hearts and not your garments.” Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger, and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity. Joel 2: 12-13

We then went forward for the Imposition of Ashes, read a prayer of confession together from Psalm 51:1-17, and sang “As the Deer.”

“You alone are my heart’s desire and I long to worship You.”

Monday, February 4, 2008

Keep Your Fork

Pastor Brad began by noting that this is Transfiguration Sunday. The Transfiguration was when the glory of Christ was revealed before his disciples Peter, James and John on the mountain. Brad said his sermon for the day would be diametrically opposed to this, as it is about the winter of the soul, when we do not see or feel that glory.

It may have been cold and wintry, but the church was full, and Brad requested a couple of ushers to set up a few more chairs in the back.

We enjoyed seeing Pearl Harmon’s Sunday School class of 8 little children go forward and quote from Galatians 4:4... “God sent his Son.”

Brad began his sermon by confessing that he actually loves the winter season, but he understands that not all feel that way. He then quickly read through a list he had heard given somewhere of the words commonly associated with winter.

Death, ice, hypothermia, wind chill, death, snow shovels, shoveling more snow, buying a snow blower, death, salt trucks, black ice, dead battery, frostbite, gangrene, thermal underwear, decreased mental capacity, seasonal affective disorder, recreational eating, death.

Even Brad, a fan of winter, admits that a setting for the Garden of Eden would not be in Duluth.

Maybe you feel that you have no place to go to escape spiritual winter. Maybe you’ve experienced a loss, something has gone out of your life, and nothing has arisen to take its place. The books of Ecclesiastes, Job and Psalms in the Bible are all wintery books.

“I am utterly spent and crushed; I groan because of the tumult of my heart.” ~ Ps. 38:8

Maybe you lost a job. Maybe you’re usure of who you are. Maybe you’ve had dreams for your life, and for your children, and now you’ve gotten results from a test from the doctor’s lab, and now you realize you won’t be there to see the things you dreamed of.

The Psalms state “man is a puff of wind.”

Maybe you feel that you’ve failed as a parent and are not sure what will happen with that child you had so many hopes for. Someone you love died. Someone betrayed you. You’ve had a broken marriage. You have a character trait that you battle and can’t overcome. The most painful gap in the world is the gap between the person you long to be, and the person you are. Your heart feels cold and barren.

In Psalm 88;13 the psalmist says, “I cried to you for help, Lord; why Lord do you reject me and hide your face from me?”

The most basic need in a child’s heart is a parent’s touch and face. The most painful thing is to have a parent avert their eyes, to look the other way.

Can I avoid winter? Are there five easy steps for winter avoidance? Some sunny types among us think we can live in a perpetual summer. According to Scripture that is not so. Jesus said that in this world we will have tribulation. Job 5:7 says, “Yet human beings are born to trouble as surely as sparks fly upward.” We think that due to our own cleverness, our faith, our virtue, or maybe our intelligence we will overcome and fare well, but no one of us is under ultimate control. We are a puff of wind. We cannot engineer a trouble free life.

We will be tempted to hibernate, to hide away the wintry part of us from others. Don’t do it! This is when we need the community of others the most. It has been found that the Amish suffer less depression than any other group of people in the US. The Amish have a strong sense of community.

Every fall, the animals make preparations for winter. The bears eat more, the squirrels hide nuts. The birds fly south. And during the first snow of the season the humans are at the hardware stores buying shovels, as if it had not occurred to them that it might snow. We can prepare ourselves for spiritual winter by calling the church, calling a friend, planning to be with people.

When Job lost everything and was sitting on an ash heap scraping his sores, his friends came to sympathize with and comfort him. They wept, and sat down on the ground with him, and didn’t say a word for seven days. We often say words that are not helpful. Sometimes there are no words that can take away the pain. The command from Scripture is to mourn with those who mourn, not to give advice, explanations, or say that everything will be ok. Just mourn with others. You don’t have to have the answers.

Also, mourning cannot be done in a hurry. Job’s friends mourned with him for seven days. God uses winter to grow compassion in us. Some of the greatest Christians such as Luther and Spurgeon suffered from depression.

Don’t give up! When things feel useless, futile and cruel, something is happening underground. Everything is not dead, it is not final -- there will be re-growth. Sorrow may last for the night but joy comes in the morning. Sometimes in winter when the leaves are all off the trees we can see farther and clearer, and it may be a period when we grow the most. You don’t know how long your night is going to last, but there will be morning.

The story was told of a woman who was dying and making funeral plans with her pastor. She told him she wanted to have a fork in her hand in her casket. She explained that at the many church suppers she had been at, after a good meal, she was sometimes told “keep your fork” and she knew that meant that a good dessert was coming. She wanted people at her funeral to ask, “what’s with the fork?” at which time he could tell people that we believers have a promise that something better is coming.

Winter is not final. God resurrects dead stuff. Spring is coming. Keep your fork.