Sunday, May 25, 2008

Trials & Temptations

2nd Sunday after Pentecost

Pastor Shannon opened the service by mentioning that he was beginning a new series of messages on the Book of James, followed by announcements.

Announcements included a reminder that our 2008 Vacation Bible School will be held June 16-20. This year’s theme is “Cosmic City.” Stay tuned for details.

The quartet led us into worship again this morning with some wonderful and fun classics including There Is Power In The Blood, The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power, Just a Little Talk With Jesus, and That Glory Bound Train.

Today’s Scripture readings:
Isaiah 49:8-16a
Matthew 6:24-34

Trials & Tribulations

Pastor Brad Shannon began by noting that there is value in getting background on the books that we study. The Book of James, he said, was probably written by James, the brother of Jesus.

It is a letter that jumps around from topic to topic, without always connecting the dots. Not written in a linear fashion, it is more like the book of Proverbs and other wisdom literature. There is, however, an overriding theme: that we mature and become like Christ.

Scholars believe the book was written earlier than many of the other New Testament books, probably around 45 A.D. The audience was generally poor and enduring much hardship. The early church during this period was suffering from Roman persecution and probably impacted by the famine that was occurring at this time.

The sermon today focused on verses 2-8 of chapter 1.

2Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, 3because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. 4Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. 5If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. 6But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. 7That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; 8he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.

Verse two begins the section, “Count it all joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds…” The instructions here are counterintuitive. James encourages us to have a joyful attitude in the face of trials. This stands in stark contrast to our society with its preoccupation with comfort. Pastor Shannon enumerated a number of the features on new cars devoted to comfort and convenience.

There are two kinds of trials in Scripture. The enticement to sin is one kind of trial. This passage, Pastor Shannon stated, addresses our response to external pressures, adversity, persecution and hardships.

The testing of our faith develops perseverance, which is integral to developing maturity. The fires of adversity strengthen us. If we learn to be steadfast, we will grow stronger.

Pastor Brad cited an insight from a book by Henry Cloud and followed with a personal sharing of a time of trial in his own life. Brad told about his first experience as a pastor after seminary. He entered the ministry with dreams of a loving church reaching out to the surrounding community. But the realities were very disillusioning. In four years, two people were fired, marriages ended, and others from his congregation left the faith. The dream blew up and challenged him in deeply profound ways.

The issue is not about who has suffered more. “It’s not about comparing levels of pain, but in how our pain contributes to growth.” God is generous. God’s focus: when we go through trials it is vital to have it firmly rooted in our minds that God is for us.

God chooses to discipline us to help us grow. To illustrate this point, Brad told the story of a woman with no self-discipline who managed her money badly, never accomplished the things on her “to do” lists. Eventually she came to understand that her parents had done everything for her and failed to really teach her responsibility. Her failures were a growth experience.

Our usual response to trials is not joy. Often we adopt the attitude that we are victims. Another common response to the challenges life throws at us is escapism. James states that we need to remain faithful and persevere.

We’ll never, in this life, know why bad things happen to good people. There are some things we’ll never understand till the hereafter. But it’s not what happens to us that is significant, rather how we respond is what is important. Our job is to keep running the race.

God is good. He loves and cares about us. If there were easier or better ways to mature us, God would do it.

We need to remember to look beyond adversity. God has promised a crown of life to those who persevere. Take the long view to the eternal prize, for “the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us.” (Romans 8:18)

Life is not about comfort. It’s about becoming more like Jesus. Pay attention to your responses to trials. Are you choosing to be joyful? Are you believing God is for you, even though you do not understand why you’re going through this difficult trial?

We know that God is big, but He also cares about the little things. He knows the number of hairs on each of our heads, and the number of tears you’ve shed and have been unable to shed. You can trust Him. He cares about you.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Adventure Club Art Show

This past Wednesday evening the Adventure Club celebrated its final time together with an Art Show and meal. All were invited and all who joined us had fun.

Leonard Armstrong prepared the vittles. Susie Newman assembled a gallery with walls of art created by the kids this past year. Hopefully you will have gotten up close and immersed in the pictures that were shared.

At the end of the evening, Ed Newman entertained the young (and young at heart) with a visual game that is a form of interactive drawing. Each of the young people took turns making four marks on a page and then watching to see what Ed would draw. Funny faces, funny animals and a rainbow’s reflection on a lake were some of the images he drew.
The kids’ expressions were worth a million bucks.

What was the first thing God did in the beginning? He created.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

Hold On

Trinity Sunday / First Sunday After Pentecost

At the beginning of the service we shared a moment of silence for Chauncey Wargin, who departed to be with the Lord this week.

This was followed by several important announcements including the following.
1. Beginning next Sunday, worship will start at 9:30 for the duration of the summer.
2. Pastor Shannon will be presenting a new series of sermons taken from the Book of James.
3. The last Adventure Club of the year will be Wednesday night, with an Art Show following. Dessert and special entertainment will be enjoyed by all.

Our Sunday School teachers and Adventure Club leaders were also given recognition.

After the reading of Psalm 121, Ed Newman lead the Children’s Challenge, beginning with an examination inside the kids’ mouths to see if he could find something he was looking for. Turns out, no one had an eraser in their mouths. The message: words can be used for good, but can also hurt others, and unfortunately, we do not have an eraser on our tongues.

After Scripture readings from Ps. 8 and Matthew 28:16-20, Pastor Shannon began his message.

Hold On

The message today dealt with very sober issues. Not everything in the world is good. War, rape, abuse, crime, scandals… no matter what part of the newspaper you look at you will see stories that underscore this truth. Real evil exists. No rational person can deny that there is evil in the world.

How did the world get so messed up? The answer is that sin has entered the world. Our sin has done real damage. Before Adam and Eve sinned, the world was perfect. But since then, it is fallen, corrupt, a broken planet.

No one is without sin. I don’t live up to my own standards, let alone those of a perfect God. As the Scriptures state, “All have sinned,” and “There is none righteous, not one.”

Sin causes great damage. In today’s sermon, Pastor Shannon outlined five realms where sin causes harm and suffering… (1) the Natural, (2) the Physical, (3) the Emotional, (4) the Relational, and (5) the Spiritual.

1) Natural disasters occur because the earth is broken, no longer in harmony with God’s order. For this reason we have earthquakes, Tsunamis, and other devastation. In Romans 8:20-22 we read that the whole of creation groans for release from its bondage to decay, caused by the entrance of sin into the world.

2) The physical real is subject to decay and death. Our bodies weaken, we age. All things in this world are subject to the Second Law of Thermodynamics.

In actuality, death is actually good. This world is imperfect, and a source of suffering. Jesus has prepared for us a better place. Death is a door to this better world.

3) Sin also damages us emotionally. At this point he shared how engaged couples often spend as much of a year working out every detail of a wedding, that lasts but a few hours, without working on the important issues of the marriage, which is a lifetime.

4) Sin causes relational damage as well, and this is nowhere more visible than in the context of a marriage. Either we grow up or grow apart. It is the place where we must learn to be unselfish.

Adam and Eve were naked and unashamed. They had no hang-ups, no baggage from abusive parents, bad school experiences, etc. But then, they sinned, and everything changed. In Genesis 3:7 we see that they hid themselves. And clothed themselves in fig leaves. (What’s your fig leaf?) They also blamed, as we still do to this day, blaming others for our bad behavior.

5) Spiritual discontent and sadness is the fifth consequence of sin. Pascal noted that we have a God-shaped who in our hearts, and only God can fill it. Augustine, a thousand years earlier, wrote that “our hearts are restless till they find their rest in Thee.” Only God can satisfy our deepest need.

We live on a broken planet. The tragic surrounds us on all sides, around the globe. No wonder there is epidemic depression.

The prophet Jeremiah was well acquainted with depression and sorrow. Out of his sorrows he wrote the Book of Lamentations. But in this book we see him affirm that the Lord can always be counted on. “Lord, You are all that I need,” he exclaims.

Sin is why the world is such a mess. So why doesn’t God just shut it down? Pull the plug?

God is in control, and the world is moving toward its climax. God is patient and doesn’t want anyone to perish. He puts up with the grief to give us more time and opportunity to receive His grace.

When there is suffering in the world, God feels it deeply. He made us with emotions in His image, and he is not immune to grief when He sees trafficking in women, child abuse, and all the other horrors in our time.

Through the sin of one man, death entered the world, and suffering. This is, however, a temporary world now. It will never be perfect. But in the midst of it, God’s presence and reign are available, her and now.

Once we’ve found His peace, His redemption, we need to share with others what we’ve found.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

A Weird Gift

At the beginning of the service we were reminded that today was Pentecost Sunday and Mother’s Day, two important remembrances. The men of the church provided a special breakfast for Mom’s which was quite tasty, with both pork and buffalo sausages, waffles, French toast and strawberries. Yummm. Scroll down to see a few photos from our breakfast.

During the announcements Pastor Brad Shannon noted two graduations: Cheyenne MacGregor and Ryan Vanderscheuren were graduating from St. Scholastica this afternoon.

To open the service, the Quartet performed a medley consisting of “I Will Serve Thee,” “Freely, Freely,” and “Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus.”

For the children’s message, Pearl and Ruth Anne shared a cute puppet show about the meaning of Mother’s Day.

The Gospel reading was from John 14:8-17 and the sermon titled A Weird Gift.

Pastor Brad began with a Corrie Ten Boom story about an old Russian woman who was suffering so badly with MS who was working on typing portions of the Bible and other significant books for her people during the days of the Iron Curtain. People felt bad for her because it was such a painstaking task, with such limited use of her one crippled hand, pecking keys with one finger. But she did not feel it bad to have this illness. Because she was an invalid, the Russian police did not bother her and she was able to accomplish more. Throughout the process she prayed for those who would read these pages.

Paul the Apostle wrote that God is revealed in our weakness. It’s not our intellect, our power, our strength… Christ’s strength is revealed in our weakness.

In II Corinthians 11 Paul shared how he had every reason to boast. He had the pedigree, the performance (achievements), had suffered more persecution, endured greater pressures, yet did not glory in any of these things. At one point Paul mentions being caught up into the third heaven, but this isn’t what he boasted about either.

Paul cites the thorn he had in his flesh, and that when he asked God to remove it, God said no. We learn more from our thorns, from hardship, than from our highs.

Pastor Brad shared a personal story of his time in Chicago when he was seeking work after seminary. He was hoping for something that would make him feel important, but God had other ideas, and he ultimately was cleaning toilets. Brad concluded this anecdote by saying, “Cleaning toilets taught me more than a ‘great job.’”

God’s grace is always sufficient…. just the right amount at the right time.

Another point Brad drew from the story of Paul’s thorn is that we often try to figure out the source of the thorn. Is this trouble from God or the devil?

Job tried to understand. Habukuk likewise sought to understand. Paul, likewise eventually had to learn the answer to this impossible question, which is, “I’m God and you’re not.”

Brad then read from a devotional written a hundred years ago by G.D. Watson called Others May, You Cannot

It’s a powerful truth. “I’m God and you’re not.” And when we understand this, it changes everything.

It’s the strangest gift… the Gift of Weakness.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Restoration & Transformation

Pastor Shannon opened with announcements that included a reminder that next week is Mother’s Day and there will be no Sunday School. Instead the men will be making a breakfast for all, to honor the mothers.

Our May 4 service was then turned over to the ministry of Teen Challenge Duluth.

Teen Challenge is an organization whose aim is to help drug addicts and others find liberation from their addictions through Jesus Christ. Founded fifty years ago in New York City by David Wilkerson, Teen Challenge has spread far and wide to wherever there is need.

The Teen Challenge center in Duluth houses forty men of all ages, united by their common need for restoration and transformation. Twenty of these men were with New Life Covenant today, and the other half at another church in this region. The men sang songs of God’s grace, and shared their personal stories.

What follows are a few of the testimonies which were shared with us today.

Dave was a business major, well educated who seemed to have good things going in his life. A 1983 skiing accident resulted in his requiring “oceans of pain medicine” for a short period of time. Afterward, he eventually became a heavy drinker. When his best friend, a former police officer, drank himself to death he likewise began a binge, starting down the same path as his friend. Recognizing the pattern in his own life that he had seen in his friend, he reached out to Teen Challenge, knowing that alone he was unable to turn things around.

Eric’s story began when he was young. At age ten Eric suffered from nightmares which kept him awake with fear. The demonic torment went on for two years until at age twelve he went to a Bible camp and accepted Christ in his heart. But over time, this influence diminished and in ninth grade he gradually became involved with drugs, including meth. The meth kept him from sleeping so that he could avoid the nightmares that had returned. His crimes caught up with him and in the end he had lost all to meth. With his arrest and probation violations, he turned to Teen Challenge for help. His future was transformed from hopeless to hopeful.

Michael shared how he began smoking pot and drinking in ninth grade. A combination of pride, depression and being alone characterized his life. After freaking out on LSD he was brought to Miller Dwan. He was given a choice between commitment to the hospital or submission to Teen Challenge. This proved to be the first step toward his personal liberation.

The choir sang a song about the prodigal son, concluding with the powerful affirmation, “I know there’s a place called grace.”

Jason’s story begins with being kicked out of school. His life consisted of drugs and drinking every day. He lived in an unclean room with rodents, maggots on the floor. His sixteen months at Teen Challenge have helped in his healing. Jason stated that the battle is for our minds.

Rob, age 22, said that his life essentially revolved around alcohol and partying until ten months ago when he entered Teen Challenge. He was broken, not knowing what to do with his life. He spoke with gratitude of God’s intervention in his financial affairs and shared how God spoke to him through the worship songs there. He likewise stated the role of the body of Christ in making this new life possible.

In truth, God’s amazing grace is amazing.