Sunday, June 29, 2008

New Life Covenant Celebrates Fifty Years

Today's service had a number of unique features that made it a very special gathering today. New Life Covenant today celebrated fifty years as a member of the Covenant denomination, though as noted in the service, God was at work in this community and in the place before that official designation.

In light of the past we were remembering, Pastor Brad Shannon opened the service citing the Scripture, "I will remember the deeds of the Lord." He also took the opportunity to remind us of the distinction between living history and dead history. The nostalgic longing to go back and recreate the past is not helpful. Rather, what is needful is to remember the past in order to propel us into the future. The same God who was active in our midst then is alive and active in our present to empower us for tomorrow.

Chuck Vanderscheuren led us in a call to worship followed by the quartet's call to worship with "There's a Welcome Here" and "Because He Lives."

Pastor Brad shared a children's moment about picking flowers. The pressed flowers of yesterday can be used to bookmark passages to help us tomorrow.

Suzi Lane, who helped make today's special celebration possible, shared some humorous anecdotes, and then read a pair of letters from former church leaders. Pastor Dunbar wrote that "our years there are remembered with fondness." And Frank Armstrong wrote about remembering how things used to be, stories, anecdotes, and reminders of the faith of the old timers. And the music.

Mentioning the music was, naturally, a perfect segway into two hymns by the Hartmark girls. The four sisters sang He Hideth My Soul, and Great Is Thy Faithfulness.

Leonard Armstrong, who spent the past two evenings (actually, more like all-nighters) preparing the remarkable spread of delicious food we enjoyed after the service, then shared the history of the church. The predominantly Swedish community settled the area in around the turn of the last century, which became a preaching point for Covenant circuit riders in the region. The Armstrong family arrived in 1923, after the great fire of 1918.

One reason the Covenant church was successful in reaching Swedes was that it has historically been a missionary minded church, and was not put off by ethnic barriers. This acceptance of other ethnic groups was part of the church culture.

In 1938 a Sunday school was started, which became a stepping stone toward the eventual development of a church community here. As late as 1957 the church building had been a school. Though services had been held here, the year 1958 is cited as the starting point for Twig Covenant/New Life Covenant because it was then that the church members became offical members of the larger Covenant.

In 1972 a new addition was added, along with running water for the first time. Of the many pastors who have served the fellowship, Pastor Brad Shannon is the first full time pastor to live in the neighborhood.

Many more details were shared than this blog writer could capture in his notes, but if we're lucky, Leonard will give us still more details in a written document for posterity.

Scripture readings today:
Isaiah 28:23-29
John 15:1-17

More Memories
Vern Robertz shared next. He grew in the property adjacent tot he church and remembers walking to church on Sunday mornings. He recalled that the church had a big old wood stove which Leonard would stoke up early in the morning. Though Leonard and Signe had no children, he recalls their faithful service as Sunday school teachers. He noted Pastor Hartmark's long prayers, and how empty the church was when he and his family of fifteen children were away on vacation. He recalled for us the many duets and groups who sang, the Sunday school picnics, sliding parties. "Most of the Christian values I hold today I received here," he concluded.

A Heart For God
Pastor Brad opened by asking this question: What is our Biblical narrative as a church? He said that one character in Scripture was especially appropriate, and that was David.

David was a true Rennaisance Man. Musician, warrior, statesman and poet, he was also outwardly attractive, a magnetic man, he was featured in over sixty-six chapters of the Old Testament as well as many New Testatment passages. But what was significant about David, in God's eyes, was his heart.

The passage Pastor Brad shared today was from I Samuel 16:1-13. It tells the story of how Samuel, in obedience to God, went to tiny Bethlehem to anoint a new king. What made obedience a challenge was that Israel already had a king, and though Samuel had a great legacy, having served a lifetime as God's prophet of that generation.

He'd been sent to the house of Jesse whereupon he prepared a sacrifice to the Lord, inviting Jesse and his sons. Brad re-assembled the narrative to make it alive for us in humor and intonations that are impossible to convey here. Jesse was bursting with pride, no doubt, since one of his sons would be the next king of Israel. In typical fashion he brought forth his firstborn, Eliab, and introduced him to the prophet. Scripture relates the events thusly:

When they came, he looked on Eliab and thought, ‘Surely the Lord’s anointed is now before the Lord.’* 7But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.’ 8Then Jesse called Abinadab, and made him pass before Samuel. He said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ 9Then Jesse made Shammah pass by. And he said, ‘Neither has the Lord chosen this one.’ 10Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, ‘The Lord has not chosen any of these.’

This was not the expected outcome. Samuel looked at the first and based on appearance, he felt good about this youth. But God doesn't operate this way. God's way is to break all the cultural molds. God's ways are new ways.

When looking at Israel's history, from the beginning it was so. Ishmael was Abraham's first born, but Isaac the chosen. Of Isaac's sons, Esau was the firstborn, but heel-grabber Jacob was God's chosen. And so...

11Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Are all your sons here?’ And he said, ‘There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.’ And Samuel said to Jesse, ‘Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.’ 12He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, ‘Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.’ 13Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah.

Culture obsesses over appearance and externals, but God says, "Not in My kingdom. In my kingdom everybody counts."

Our church may be small in stature, but we're rich in grace. God can do things here if our hearts are right.

And so, Pastor Brad outlined three of the qualities that made David's heart great.

1) Wild Abandon
David was passionate for God. Brad told the story of how David danced wildly for joy before the nation of Israel as the ark was returned to Zion, and asked, "When was the last time you jumped up and down for joy." It's not cold and calculating, it's wild and free.

2) David's Deep Reflection
Psalm 139 reveals the kind of reflection that exemplifies David's depth. A church is not about programs, it's about deep hearts.

3) Stubborn Love
David's stubborn love for God and others are revealed in all his writings and actions. He kept loving, despite and not because of circumstances, as witnessed in his respect for Saul even while Saul sought to kill him. It's the heart of a racehorse, Brad said... a heart that keeps coming back to God.

Can I say this about New Life Covenant? Wild abandon, deep reflection and stubborn love... Eternity starts here.

At the end of the service there was much fellowship in the sanctuary and Leonard's wonderful meal downstairs. A meaningful service of remembering and looking forward.

click on images to enlarge

No comments: