Sunday, March 30, 2008


The service today began by noting the passing of Hannah Swenson, longtime member of this church who had a large impact on the church. We stood together for a moment of silence in memory of Hannah. The funeral will be at 11 A.M. Tuesday, visitation beforehand starting at 10 A.M.

The Pastor gave a children's message. He challenged the children to try to jump over a dollar bill, which he set on the floor, while holding onto their toes. If they could the dollar would be theirs. No one was able to do this until one who received help from the pastor jumped (or was lifted) over it. The point was that we don't have to do life alone. Some things can only be accomplished with help from others or from God.

Today's Message: Entropy

The glory of Easter tends to fade as real life comes crashing down on us. Our journey is a continual process.

Max Dupree, a writer on leadership was asked what the most difficult thing was for him personally that he had to work on, and his reply was "entropy."

Entropy has to do with the idea that the universe is winding down. The second law of thermodynamics relates to the fact that everything that is left to itself has a tendency to deteriorate.

This is true not only in science but in our human lives. When we become apathetic our dreams die, our hopes fade and we learn to live with mediocrity. Entropy is the great enemy of the human spirit.

Prov. 27:23 tells us to pay close attention to the condition of our flocks and herds. We need to be on the lookout for entropy every day. If we put any area of our life on autopilot we risk withering on the vine.

There are people around us who need Christ, and sometimes we who are in the church go from living as servants to living as consumers. We begin to argue about things that don't matter and lose focus of what is important.

Proverbs 24: 30-34 speaks about the condition of a vineyard belonging to a sluggard. It was in ruins, and covered with thorns and weeds. Vineyards do not happen by themselves. Someone is behind them. To be an owner of a vineyard is to have the opportunity of a lifetime. When you were born you were given a vineyard. You got a chance to do a good work, it's your only shot in this lifetime. God never forces anyone to take action and to care for their vineyard. The vineyard in the proverb fell drastically short of its potential due to sheer negligence on the part of the owner.

"Sluggo" is not content in his job but blames others. He has grandiose dreams but will never take a single step from where he is. This is your only life. Prov. 12:11 says that those who work their land will have abundant food but those who chase fantasies have no sense.

Pastor Brad spoke of many who have had fantasies of becoming a writer. They want to write a best selling book and become famous. When they are told that becoming a successful writer involves many rejection letters first before ever becoming published they prefer to live in their fantasy. We must start with reality. Work with YOUR life. Your vineyard is what you have and is all you have. Take the next step that God wants you to take.

"How long will you lie there, you sluggard?" We justify our inactivity... "just a little while, I'll take action soon."

A story has been told about a man who visits a house he lived in long ago and finds an old jacket of his in the attic. He puts it on and discovers an old claim ticket for some shoes he had brought to the repair shop 15 years previous and never remembered to claim. Just to see what would happen he then goes to the shoe shop and gives them the ticket, asking if his shoes are ready. The man studies the ticket, goes to the back, returns and says "they'll be ready a week from Thursday."

The danger is not that we say "never" but that we say "a week from Thursday" The mind of a sluggard has an excuse. As sluggards we don't see our own sluggardism. Prov. 26:16 says that sluggards are wiser in their own eyes than seven people who answer discreetly. Blindness comes with the condition of entropy.

Some of us suffer from selective entropy. We avoid the one vineyard that we don't want to look at, the one area in our lives that is a mess. We all have some vineyard that is full of weeds. Proverbs 6:6 tells us to learn from the ants. The ant doesn't wait for a commander to get things in order. Motivation has to come from within us. I am responsible for my own life.

Overcoming entropy on our own is too much, but is not too much for our risen Lord. Entropy does not have to have the last word in our lives.

The question for today is: Where is God wanting you to call on Him for help? Your work? Finances? Your physical health? We are to honor God with our bodies. Are you doing that?
How about your soul? What will it profit you if you gain the whole world but lose your soul?

God never follows the path of least resistance. Take a step toward God today. Do it now. This is your day. This is your vineyard. God will respond. This is the word of the Lord.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Good Friday and Easter Sunday Services

Our usual blog writer is on a trip, leaving me, his wife, to attempt the blog. I found the Good Friday service so powerful that I was completely immersed in the solemnness of the commemoration of Jesus death, and only remembered two-thirds of the way through it that I should be trying to take notes for a blog. There were a series of Scripture readings by various people in the congregation about the death of Christ, followed by reflections by Pastor Brad. Each time a reading was finished another candle was blown out and the lights dimmed until we were in darkness. We departed in silence, with none of the usual cheerful greetings and chatter. Darkness had fallen outside as well. Walking to our cars I truly felt that I had just been present at someones death.

Easter morning began with a generously supplied breakfast of various egg bake dishes, muffins, and fruit. The basement was so crowded a table was set up upstairs to accommodate everyone. Brooke had organized an Easter egg hunt for the children.

The service began with a question from Pastor Brad, "Do you feel it?... Do you feel the power of the resurrection in your life?" We often minimize the Gospel to be the "minimal entrance requirements" to get into heaven. Jesus had one message, one Gospel, The Kingdom of Heaven, which was to make "up there" come "down here."

We sang a series of joyful Easter hymns, then welcomed into membership thirteen new members. Paula Saxin gave a children's message, for which it seemed like dozens of children streamed forward. She told a well known story about Jesus' life, throwing in some not so true aspects, to see if the children were listening and would notice and correct the fallacies. They did a good job. Then just before the message Dana sang a stirring and lively Amy Grant song, Sing Your Praise to the Lord.

We Are Risen
Brad began the message by stating that there are plenty of explanations that make the empty tomb believable, but that would not be the focus of the message today. Rather, what difference does the resurrection make for you or for me?

In 1943 there was a man named Gerkner Joerg, a German soldier who served under Field Marshall Erwin Rommel, The Desert Fox. A British man captured Rommel's crew and Joerg was put in a prison camp in the U.S. In 1945 he slipped past a guard and ran. For years afterward he continuously was on the run to avoid being found out. He became a tennis instructor, then a ski instructor who helped to save many when there was a train wreck in the Donner Pass. After 20 years of running and moving from place to place one day his wife said, "Why?" and he finally told her the true story about his escape from the prison camp. She said, "You need to go to the department of immigration and naturalization now. THE WAR IS OVER!" He did go, and they made him a U.S. citizen. How many of us live under pressure and condemnation and don't even realize that through Jesus' death and resurrection we have been given life and redemption.

For the disciples, the dream of the kingdom being near that Jesus had incited in them was crushed when He died. At that point they had no hope. They needed something to hang onto.

What difference does the resurrection make? Where do you find hope in the failed situations of life? We have the hope of resurrection. That hope is not only life beyond the grave. Hope overturns a variety of disasters in our lives...
disasters of faith,

Peter failed by denying Jesus. His disaster was one of faith, but later (as told in John 21) Jesus reinstates Peter to his new vocation. Maybe you have fallen short. Because of the resurrection there is hope and forgiveness.

Mary Magdalene saw Jesus, who had accepted and loved her, die and be placed in the tomb. She had nowhere to go, she faced the disaster of abandonment, but finds that in the resurrection is the promise of God's presence.

Thomas' "disaster" was that of doubt. He stated that unless he sees the marks in Jesus' hands he will not believe. But Thomas was not only a doubter but a confessor. When Jesus shows him his hands he says, "My Lord and my God!" If you have doubts keep asking questions because beyond the doubts is a serious faith.

The disciples were all experiencing the disaster of confusion. In Matt. 28 Jesus appeared to them and they worshipped Him but some doubted. Directly thereafter Jesus commissioned them to go make disciple of all nations. Beyond the disaster of confusion is a mission.

Why did Jesus do it? Why did He die for us?

In 1878, Victoria was Queen of England. Her third child, Princess Alice had a 4 year old son who contracted black diphtheria and was quarantined by the doctors. His mother was strictly warned not to go near her son. One day she overheard her son ask the nurse "why doesn't my mommy kiss me anymore?" It broke her heart, and she ran in and smothered him in kisses. Within a week they were both buried. Romans 8 reminds us that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Jesus smothers us with his love, like Princess Alice did her son, even though it cost Him His life .

Sunday, March 16, 2008

The Grotesque Cross ~ Palm Sunday Service

Pastor Shannon’s introductory remarks went longer than usual and carried a degree of passion in his heart that is difficult to convey here as we begin Holy Week. He spoke about the great disconnect between the celebratory mood as Jesus entered the Holy City amidst waving palms and adulation on Palm Sunday, and the event just a handful of days later when He was crucified on a lonely hill. Pastor Shannon invited us to enter into the events of this week.

He then shared a story by Flannery O’Connor, a significant literary figure of the last century. O’Connor said that all too often Christians tend to minimize the grotesque and power of evil, which then diminishes the force of grace, which is so great.

Why did God choose something so grotesque as a cross? In part, because that cross reveals His pain. In some way, He took upon Himself what we have deserved. And He also has identified with our pain.

Equally important, this cross is the path to our salvation, as He shed His blood to atone for our sins.

And finally, it is a model for us… to take up our own cross, the true path of personal growth.

Darlene brought us into worship with her meaningful rendition of The Holy City. Pastor Shannon followed with a Palm Sunday children’s message about the waving of the palms.

After a time of Scripture reading, choruses and prayers, Pastor took the pulpit to present God’s word.

“Before we can say ‘He did it’, we have to say ‘I did it.’ His death on a cross was required because of my sin.”

The passage today’s sermon was drawn from is found in Luke 19:28-44.

2000 years ago, this Holy Week began in a remarkable way, with great anticipation. Who knew then that it would end in a tomb?

It is believed that 2.5 million people gathered in Jerusalem for the Passover. On this particular week, an “old story” was swallowed up in a “new story.” At the Last Supper, Jesus essentially laid it out. “Accept it now that I am the Passover Lamb of old. I am the New Story.”

The passage begins with Jesus riding into Jersualem on a donkey as the crowds went berserk, waving palms and shouting, “Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.”

The reality behind the scenes is that the disciples, despite spending three years with the Lord, were still failing to understand the significance of what was about to happen. Mark 14:12 shows that His closest followers were still self-absorbed.

These were the key leaders whom He had trained, having told them all they needed to know, upon whose shoulders the future of the church would rest, and they still didn’t understand.

Jesus knew what awaited Him, an excruciating experience, beyond torture, for He would be bearing away all the sins of the world. He knew, too, that for a time, in death, He would be separated from the Father.

But Jesus did not lecture them or get upset with the pettiness, their failure to understand the significance of the events unfolding all around them. He humbly gave instructions.

All too often, we are also like those disciples, moving too fast and missing what is important. This week, as we get caught up in Easter, we need to take time and make time for our Lord. Easter is more than chocolate bunnies and Easter baskets, or springtime and new life.

During this first Holy Week, the disciples were distracted, too. Jesus invited them to be with Him. Even though we have other things on our minds, He has us on His mind.

Today…. prepare. This week, do not let unimportant things distract you from the important things. Each day, find a quiet place and time. Read passages from the last chapters of Luke. He has gone to the cross for us, and has risen for us… for our salvation.

God is inviting distracted people to meet Him.

Palm Sunday Announcements

Reminders of upcoming events and opportunities for fellowship.

Good Friday, March 21 there will be a service at the church to remember the most significant event in human history apart from His resurrection. 7:00 p.m. here at New Life.
On Easter morning breakfast will be served at the church. Doors open at 9:00 a.m. All are welcome.

The first Thursday of each month the Ladies' Book Club meets. This month we are reading The Redemption of Sarah Cain by Beverly Lewis and will meet at Ruth Anne Schelinder's house at 7:00 p.m.

Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Day Jesus Cried

In his opening welcome, Pastor Brad Shannon said, “I’m delighted you are here today to worship with us. We have a God who meets needs and who meets people where they are at.” This introduction set the tone for today’s message.

Announcements of importance this morning included notification that we will be celebrating a Good Friday Service at 7:00 p.m. on March 21, and that Easter morning we will be having a breakfast here are the church 9:00 a.m. instead of Sunday School.

Today’s Scripture readings were from Psalm 130 and Romans 8:6-11.

Today’s sermon was titled The Day Jesus Cried from the well known account of Lazarus in chapter eleven from the Gospel of John.

My favorite verse as a child, Pastor Brad said, was John 11:35. “Jesus wept.” The reason was not noble, he noted. It was the shortest verse in the Bible. “It only took me two days to memorize,” he said, tongue planted in cheek.

He recalled for us instances in Jesus’ life demonstrating our Lord’s strength and authority. It was a powerful man who challenged the moneychangers in the temple, turning over their tables, driving them out with a whip. He was a man not afraid to confront demons, casting them away wherever He encountered them. He essentially told the disciples to follow him, men who were rugged themselves and accustomed to hardship. He said, “Follow me,” and they followed.

So, why would the God of the universe cry? It is a question Brad asked at Bible Camp as a youth and the reply was not unlike what many people might have said. “Jesus is human, just like you, so when His friend died He was saddened by this.” Which sounds like a good enough answer, until you actually read what the Bible really says.

There are a number of clues that point to the real reason Jesus wept. But before we go there, Pastor Brad said, he asked us to close our eyes and think about the things that trouble us today, the burdens we are carrying. After this brief moment of reflection, we returned to the sermon.

Clue #1
The first clue can be found in verses 3 and 4. Jesus’ friend Lazarus, brother of Mary and Martha, was sick. The sister sent word to the Jesus, "Lord, the one you love is sick." When he heard this, Jesus said, "This sickness will not end in death.”

Jesus planned from moment one to raise Lazarus from death. Death is a period, not a comma. Dead is dead. But Jesus knew He had come to change this all around.

One day there will be a funeral here (at New Life Covenant) and it will not be the end. Instead, we shall proclaim, “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?”

Clue #2
In verses five and six we read that even though He loved Martha, Mary and Lazarus, “when he heard that Lazarus was sick, He stayed where He was two more days.” A better translated shed light on verse five that it was because He loved them that He waited two more days. Jesus is excited about what He is going to do. There is no sadness in the text at this point.

And so, at verse seven He says they should go back to Judea. One of the disciples, speaking up on behalf of all, said, “But Rabbi,a short while ago the Jews tried to stone you, and yet you are going back there?”

The Lord’s response is a curious one here. "Are there not twelve hours of daylight? A man who walks by day will not stumble, for he sees by this world's light. It is when he walks by night that he stumbles, for he has no light." Essentially He is saying, “If you are with Me, it doesn’t matter.”

Clue #3
As if to sum up what is really going on, Jesus spells it out: “Lazarus has fallen asleep.” It’s a temporary state of affairs.

Clue #4
When the disciples fail to “get it” Jesus spells it out. “Lazarus is dead.”

How did the disciples respond to this news? Thomas showed his confidence (or lack thereof) by saying, “Let us also go that we may die with him.”

Was Jesus, who knew everything that was going on here, sad going into this? No. He had the gift of life and was about to deliver it.

Clue #5
Verse 23 is clue five. “Your brother will rise again,” He said. But Martha responds in a dismissive way. She still doesn’t get it.

This is the context for that wonderful affirmation of Jesus, “I am the resurrection and the life.”

Pastor Brad made several powerful statements here that our blog writer is inadequate to convey. First, that it is no good to sing songs and feel good unless we really believe what we’re doing. “And the only proof that we really believe what we’re singing is when we act on what we believe.”

Then the other sister came out and said, “If only you’d been here my brother would not have died.” Jesus saw her weeping and the other Jews who had come along weeping and He was deeply moved in spirit and troubled. It does not say that when He saw the grave where Lazarus had been placed he wept, but rather when He saw His people suffering needlessly, carrying on their own shoulders a burden He didn’t want them to carry, oblivious to the promise and hope He had just offered, burdened and buried in the sin of disbelief...

It was here that Jesus wept.

When I got up the day before yesterday, God almighty Himself was standing beside my bed, like He stood by yours this morning and mine this morning. And He says to each of us, “You’re going to face some things today that you have no idea what’s coming.” Perhaps it will be a relational conflict that will break your heart. Or some other kind of pain or crisis. Jesus says, “I have what you need. Trust Me. I can feel the pain in your heart. Give it to me.” Jesus has promised to make your yoke lighter.

When we wallow in our sorrow, the Lord weeps. What gives the Lord great joy is when we put our trust in Him.

This is the Gospel of the Lord.

Sunday, March 2, 2008

A Healthy Fear

Today is the Fourth Sunday in Lent. Pastor Brad introduced today's service by reminding us that Lent is a time for taking a good, hard look at the cross and what it cost Jesus to bring us back to God.

After a time of worship, today's Scripture readings were from Psalm 23 and Ephesians 5:8-14.

The sermon this morning was taken from ideas conveyed by Psalm 103. After reading the psalm, Pastor Brad shared with us details about the CN Tower in Toronto. The 1815 foot structure is the world's tallest building. To get to the top visitors ride a glass elevator that is on the external part of the building so they can see the city as it drops below them. Upon arriving at the top, visitors are greeted by a glass floor so that you feel a quick rush, sweaty palms and a moment of fear, all the while utterly safe.

By way of contrast, consider the Grand Canyon. A six thousand foot drop at some points, with no glass floors, there is real danger here. Park officials acknowledge that four or five people die every year from falling over the edge. There really are good reasons to have fear when standing near the edge.

What is God like? A lot of people say he is more like the CN Tower than the Grand Canyon. He is impressive, but not really dangerous. "Then I made the mistake of reading my Bible," Pastor Brad said.

Right from the beginning we see fear of God in the story of Adam. In Exodus, the people of Israel were well terrified of God when He appeared on the mountain. Job, too, declared, "I am terrified of His presence." In Isaiah 6, the prophet records his vision of the high and holy one, and writes, "Woe is me, I am undone."

Some say God is good, therefore he would not want us to feel afraid of Him like that. Or they might note that the New Testament shows a different face of God in Jesus. Jesus, they notes, reveals that God is full of Grace.

But consider these words from Jesus: "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him." ~ Luke 12:4-5

Many more examples can be cited. The fear of God is not just a matter of reverence and awe.

A. W. Tozer noted that in the old days people of faith served God with fear, terror and dismay, sinfulness and guilt. The self assurance of modern Christians is "evidence of a deep blindness of heart."

At the Grand Canyon, people who fool around near the edge can literally die. God, too, is dangerous.

Why does the Bible say that the fear of God is good?

Exodus 20:20 offers an answer to this question. "Moses said to the people, 'Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.'"

When you fear authority, your better self comes out. The fear of God is a healthy, restraining force for good. People who fear God do what is right.

Of course all these passages lead to another question. If God is so fear inspiring, why would I want to get close to Him?

This question brings us back to the text, Psalm 103.

1 Praise the LORD, O my soul; all my inmost being, praise his holy name.
2 Praise the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits-
3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle's.
6 The LORD works righteousness and justice for all the oppressed.
7 He made known his ways to Moses, his deeds to the people of Israel:
8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.
13 As a father has compassion on his children, so the LORD has compassion on those who fear him...

When you come to God humbly, He showers you with benefits.

Have you ever taken the Jumbotron Test? The Jumbotron at the Target Center in Minneapolis is a giant live action screen. Now imagine the Target Center is filled with people and across the screen is playing all of your thoughts, words and deeds of the past week. How long before that Jumbotron has displayed something you are ashamed of?

This isn't an imaginary exercise. God sees your Jumbotron. He knows your whole life. But the Pslamist understands that God is like a waterfall of mercy. His mercy cascades over us.

Those things in your soul that you wish weren't there, that are holding you back... give them up to God. Let His mercy roll over you like a waterfall and you, too, will declare, "Bless the Lord, oh my soul."

The service ended with a very special time of communion.