Sunday, April 27, 2008

Abound & Abide

Winter’s tenacity was reflected in yet another windy two day blow that powdered the Northland. Nevertheless, clear skies and sunshine greeted us Sunday morning and an abundance of warm hearted worshippers gathered this morning for fellowship and to hear God’s word.

The service began with announcements, which included a reminder that next week a group from Teen Challenge will be here to minister to us through song and testimonies of God’s active grace.
Today’s Scripture readings:
Acts 17:22-31
John 14:15-21

Keith MacDonald of the Gideons shared stories with us about the valuable work that his organization is doing. Founded in 1899 in Jaynesville, Wisconsin, the Gideons now share Bibles in 80 languages and is active in 165 countries. Many stories could be shared of the power of God’s written word to meet a lost soul at a point of need. At the end of the service more than $300 was given for the printing of Bibles and ongoing work.

Pastor Shannon began with the Apostle Paul’s exhortation at the end of I Corinthians 15, “Therefore be steadfast and immovable, always abounding…” The word abounding conveys a sense of overflow, energy, excess, excellence. Give it everything you’ve got.

God has made us in His image, and in part that means we have work to do. There is much in the Bible affirming the value of developing our skills, and using them with all of our energy. “Whatever your hand finds to do,” Paul wrote in another place, “do it with all your might.”

More of Paul’s heart was revealed in these additional passages. “I poured myself out like a drink offering,” and “I fought the good fight; I’ve run the race.”

At the end of our lives, when we meet God face to face, we’ll want to be able to say, “I’ve done the work you gave me to do.”

There is, however, a second attitude we need to adopt. Abide. “Abide in Me,” Jesus said. “No branch can bear fruit unless it remains abides in the vine.” Abide means to remain or linger, to dwell. Abiding means to live always connected with Him. Abiding produces an ongoing relationship.

Pastor Shannon bared his heart this morning. “I want to experience life deeply, but not in a frenzied, insane pace. I want a mind more formed by Scripture than by TV. And I want to lie beside still waters.”

He went on to say that he is made of two parts. One that desires to abound, to let it all out. The other wants to abide, to learn to be still and content. There is often a tension between the two. “I’m committed to this. Speak well, lead well. This is my one shot. We only live once. I want a life with no regrets. And I want my relationship to God to drive me to run harder. This is my race.”

After sharing his circumstances – trying to balance the needs of family, church, community – he asked the question, “When can I expect this tension to end?” In point of fact, it never ends until we die.

Jesus spent 40 days in the desert deeply abiding in the Father before beginning his ministry of abundant pouring out. During those ministry years He was often found in prayer early in the morning. Abiding is the key to abounding.

Life is a rhythm of abiding and abounding, though today, with our busy lives, it may be more challenging than ever.

Pastor Shannon asked a second important question we should all ask ourselves. “Who is responsible for me getting this right?” The answer: I am.

Yes, you are responsible for your life, your choices, your work. The problem begins when we become “excuse factories.”

At this point he shared a Ken Davis story about trying to get his daughter to go to bed. The story showed how early in life this tendency to make excuses can develop. Many people spend their whole lives making excuses, as if their life problems are someone else’s responsibility.

Some day God will ask us, “Did you abound in the work I gave you and did you abide in My love?” It is vital for us to become attuned to how much we’re abounding and abiding. In fact, I must become the world’s leading expert at assessing the level of abounding and abiding in my life.

There is a ton of research on destructive hurry. We live with a sense that there is never enough time. No matter how fast I run I’m always behind, always playing catch up. Even though you’re running harder and harder, something is slipping through your fingers and that something is your life.

Richard Swenson writes that we are so addicted to speed that even our language reflects this constant preoccupation. Our language is marked by phrases like time crunch, fast food, rush hour, frequent flyer, mass transit. We send packages by Federal Express, use long distance called Sprint, pay our bills with Quicken, schedule appointments with a day runner, diet with Slim Fast, and swim in trucks made by Speedo.

The pastor ended his message with a construct to help us visualize the paradigm we operate in. Picture a grid with four quadrants. The upper half is high energy, the lower half low energy. The left half is positive, and the right half is negative.

The upper left quadrant would be characterized by positive high energy activities, such as creativity, passion and productivity. The lower left quadrant is characterized by reflection, solitude, resting in God. These are all positives, and a healthy life is a rhythmic cycle of movement between these two quadrants.

The upper right quadrant is high energy but negative. In this section we see fear, anxiety. The lower right quadrant would be low energy negatives such as depression, sadness, grief.

Life is short. We need to take time to abide if we are to abound.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

His Character and Competence

Despite the dreary weather, the church was filled this morning with warmth in abundance. Pastor Brad Shannon opened with a few comments about faith, fear, hope, renewal and risk, then welcomed us, saying, “I’m delighted you’re here to worship with us.”

Chuck and Darlene sang Hide Me In Your Holiness to usher us into a time of worship.

JoAnn Winship then shared some observations from a gathering at Mission Covenant Church in Poplar the past few days. JoAnn and Pastor Brad were there on behalf of New Life Covenant. JoAnn shared how the testimonies of men and women getting ordained were all so powerful. Whether simple or dramatic, each had a story of how God’s hand had touched them, how they responded to the Lord’s call.

The highlight, she said, was Veritas, a Greek word that means truth. The goal for each congregation is to become a Healthy Missional Church. Healthy means we are individually pursuing Christ. Missional means we are pursuing Christ’s priorities in the world.

The Scripture readings this morning, by Leonard Armstrong, were from Acts 7:55-60 and John 14:1-14.

His Character & Competence

Pastor Brad began by drawing a construct for us in an attempt to make the abstract ideas in his message more comprehensible and tangible. He drew three circles, side by side from left to right on a sheet of large paper. The circles were not touching one another.

The first he labeled “Stable.” It refers to the stable orientation of our status quo situation, which is reliable and certain. The second circle was referred to as De-stable, and represents uncertainty and chaos.

He noted that there is anxiety in between these circles. We much prefer the safety of stability over the insecurity of change. Moving from the first circle to the next involves risk as we go from the known to the unknown.

People react in different ways to this transition. Many, instead of moving to the third circle, called Re-Orientaton, move back to the first circle where they felt secure and comfortable. This move backward is called the Doom Loop.

The message today, based on insights from Psalm 31, centered in part on this passage in verse 4: “Keep me from the trap that is set before me.” The Doom Loop is such a trap.

The pastor then told a story about a couple who went on a balloon ride together with another couple The railings were lower than he expected and the experience of being a thousand feet in the air was both exhilarating and terrifying. Especially problematic was the apparent inexperience and background of the balloon pilot. His character and competence were to some extent questionable.

By way of contrast, for Christians, the character and competence of God are unquestionably reliable. The psalmist is able, therefore, to declare that he is “in the hands of Him who will not fail me.”

I want to go where God wants to lead. It involves change, risk, times of insecurity. But we can trust Him.

Paul, in the book of Acts, in response to the Spirit, changed his plans and went to Macedonia on one of his journeys. In addition to a change in where he went, he also had to change the normal pattern which he had developed in his missionary journeys. There was no synagogue in Philippi.

It wasn’t long before an altercation occurred which resulted in him and his friends getting beaten and thrown into prison. (You can check out the full story in Acts 16.)

Years later, Paul wrote a powerful to these Philippian believers. It was written during a time of extreme uncertainty in Paul’s own personal life. He had been in prison awaiting trial, a trial that would very possibly result in his execution. Yet, when writing the Philippians, a church characterized by suffering and poverty, he writes a letter filled with joy. And he writes with pride of their generosity toward other churches.

The pastor then shared a video about a man who told the story of his walk around a lake with his one year old son on his back. When he reached the furthest part of his walk away from the cabin, the rain came, followed by thunder and his son’s cries.

The story revealed the relationship of God our Father with each of us, His children. In all lives, rain must fall at times. When the rain and storms come, God is not indifferent to our cries. As the Scripture repeatedly reminds us, God does not ignore the cry of one who is afflicted. He is close to the broken-hearted.

It is a myth that Christians are supposed to have it all together. In point of fact, Jesus’ call is specifically to the weary and heavy laden. We’re called to Christ in our need, not when we have solved all our problems.

What the child in the video did not understand was that his father would do anything to get him home safe. The last mile, with his infant son close to his breast, the father repeated continuously, “I love you. We’re going to make it. I love you.”

Pastor Shannon closed by reminding us of God unwavering promise: “I will never fail or forsake you.”


Sunday, April 13, 2008

Let's Move

It was a different sort of service this morning, made all the more meaningful by the various contributions of our members and friends of the church family. Pastor Brad Shannon opened by quoting the Proverb, “Commit your ways to the Lord, trust in Him and He will act.” He went on to affirm that God has acted and He continues to act in our lives. It was a fitting opening for all that followed.

There were several announcements, including mention of the Covenant Conference Annual Meeting next weekend in Poplar and a clean up day next Saturday morning from 9-11, to finish the work that interfered with by this weekend’s inclement weather.

Pastor Shannon had just returned from a denominational conference in Chicago and noted for us that the Covenant Church is the fastest, or one of the fastest, mainline denomination in terms of church growth. BUT, 95% of that growth is from churches planted in the last twelve years.

One reason planting new churches generate such results is that church plants have a high percentage of people who believe God can use them, motivated by a sense of mission. We of New Life Covenant do not want to lose sight of our mission to this community.

Worship this morning was led by Ellie and Friends, with special music by Dana.

A guest, Pastor John Sheets, read this morning’s Scriptures, both from the New Testament… Acts 2:42-47 and John 10:1-10.

After a time of prayer we were treated to a skit by Eric Borndal and Ed Newman about Barabas, the criminal who was released when Jesus was crucified at Passover nearly 2000 years ago. See Matthew 27:11-26 and Luke 23:13-23

With earnest enthusiasm Eric Borndal, our youth leader, presented the message this morning. First he shared a slideshow of the recent Minneapolis M.O.V.E. event which several of our young people took part in. The weekend included worship, fellowship and service. Said Eric, it was good to “get outside of my Hermantown bubble.”

Eric’s sermon amplified the MOVE theme with several key insights.

(1) Move It Or Lose It
All too often we use to word “move” as a command for others. That is, “Move out of my way.” We’re action oriented and don’t like people getting in our way.

Being on the move, in action, is actually a good thing though. he noted. The Great Commission is a call to action: “Go into all the world and preach the Gospel.” And James writes that faith without action is dead.

(2) Scared
The second reason we don’t move, he said, was that often we are scared. Certainly the disciples demonstrated this. After the crucifiction they went into hiding, and after the resurrection they were not easily found.

Jonah, too, allowed his fears to overrule God’s command. He wouldn’t go to Nineveh. He knew it was a rough town and didn’t go.

(3) Guilt
Our failings make us question… “Who am I to Move?” We feel unworthy to speak in God’s name, to do things for Him.

Yet when we look at the Apostle Paul, we learn that this man was an even worse sinner than any of us. He was a persecutor of the church, and was on hand at the stoning of Stephen.

Eric reminded us that no matter what sin we have done, God can use us.

(4) Excuses
Too tired. Too busy. These and other excuses hold us back.

He then shared an illustration which he shares with kids at camp. If you have a bucket, a large stone, smaller stones and sand, can you get the large stone into the bucket if you fill it with sand and small stones first? No. But if you put the large rock in first, the small stones and sand can fill out the rest of the space.

This is how our lives are, he noted. The large rock is God. If we place God in the bucket first, there is plenty of room for smaller stones and sand.

Eric reminded us that D-Day, the Normandy invasion, was only a beginning of the end for World War II. Even though it was a great victory, the outcome of the war would have been very different had the Allies stopped there. So it is with the mission of the church, and the mission of this church. We’re doing many great things here. Youth, men’s group, women’s group, and individually… there is much good happening here. But we must ask ourselves where we need to move. We can’t stop and be content. We need to keep moving forward.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

No Ordinary Table

Pastor Brad Shannon opened the service by saying how much he appreciated each of us… “just for who you are.”

This was followed by a heartfelt rendition of “Wonderful Words of Life” by the quartet who also performed a rousing “Heaven On My Mind” this morning. What a great gift we have here. Their music never fails to lift spirits and minister life.

The message this Communion Sunday was titled, “No Ordinary Table.” Pastor Brad began by noting how often in life physical objects serve as symbols of greater truths or realities. Wedding rings, statues, monuments, memorials were all cited as examples.

The USS Arizona Memorial serves as a good illustration of this truth. Designed to commemorate the final resting place of the 1,177 crew members who lost their lives on that Day of Infamy, December 7, 1941, the memorial commemorates the site where World War II began for our country. The memorial physically marks a place which makes tangible a moment in time.

In the Old Testament, God initiated Covenant ceremonies with Abraham, David and the people of Israel. And in the New Testament, baptism and communion serve as physical expressions of inward, spiritual realities.

Most significant of all these physical acts is the sacrament of communion. Not a theory, but an act involving two tangible elements, bread and wine, designed to draw us into His life and mission.

Through the communion table we participate and remember our Lord’s work on the cross in which He physically proclaimed our freedom from sin.

Pastor Brad compared to interactive theater, in which we not only watch but participate. “Take and eat,” the Lord invites, implores.

Our faith, he said, is a verb. It is an action we take, not something we simply passively receive.

After feeding the five thousand in John 6, Jesus explains the meaning of the bread.
35Then Jesus declared, "I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty.”

Jesus offers His life that we may be liberated.

The Jewish Passover involved an external act of painting the blood of a lamb on the doorposts, an external action. At the Last Supper, Jesus makes it an internal action. “Ingest My life,” He seems to say.

By participation in communion, we are making a proclamation of the Gospel. His death is our death, and is emblematic of the end of all death. (I Cor. 15:55-56) Pastor Brad explained that our monthly celebration of communion is a rhythm that perpetually speaks of the Gospel.

Cheryl Borndal then proceeded to read from John 21:1-19, a story about the disciples after the resurrection, having gone fishing, away from it all, culminating in Peter’s restoration to the fold after failing his Lord and friend.

Pastor then read a story by Ken Gire, retelling this account in an insightful, literary fashion. Pointedly he asks, “What do you do when you have failed a friend? You try to hold back that pain. Maybe go fishing or some other mindless diversion.”

While fishing Peter was undoubtedly remembering his life the past three or four years, all that transpired, culminating in his betrayal of Jesus on the night He was betrayed. Peter even cursed while denying Him.

But then, a voice cut through to Peter, resonating with the first time the fisherman encountered the Lord. At that time Jesus, who was clearly not a fisherman, told them to put out into deeper water and try one more time, even though they’d failed to catch a thing all night. Peter knows the voice and immediately leaps from the boat, swimming to shore, whereupon he finds a fire burning to prepare breakfast.

Jesus does not condemn, does not put Peter down for having denied Him. Instead He asks simply, “Do you love me?” Three times He asks, once for each denial, and each time Jesus says to Peter, “Feed My sheep,” as if to say, “I still believe in you.”

The invitation holds true to each of us today. When He draws near to us, we often have memories of our failures, our unworthiness. But Jesus does not draw near to accuse or condemn. Rather, He draws near to heal.

Seven weeks later Peter preached a sermon in which 3,000 became believers and were saved. He went on to be a leader of the early church.

What kind of friend is this who so loves us, so forgives, that when we fail he says, “I still believe in you.”

With these words we proceeded to participate in the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.