Sunday, July 27, 2008

How To Really Love Someone

Pastor Brad Shannon, in his opening remarks, began by outlining today’s theme, introducing the new series he will be speaking about for the remainder of the summer.

He also shared some announcements, including the meeting of our building committee this coming Thursday at 7:00 p.m. In commenting on the building committee, he noted that it is often easier to talk about studs and nails, and not so easy to discuss the foundational issues of why we build and what is our mission. He cited a note someone had written that our purpose here is to be God’s light and hope in Grand Lake Township. We can do this by helping those in need and learning how to articulate God’s mission.

Other announcements included a mention that Sunday school is coming soon and that there is a still a need for teachers.

Darlene ushered us into worship with a beautiful prelude. The Scripture readings were from Genesis 29:15-28 and Matthew 13:31-33, 44-52.

As prayer needs were shared, we recognized that there are many among us in challenging circumstances. The author of this blog was particular grateful to be part of such a caring church family.

How To Really Love Someone

Pastor Brad opened by pointing out that the passage in Galatians 5:22-23 has one of the best list of words describing how to love. This summer he will be looking at five words from this list, and this morning the word is love.

For a Biblical definition of love, Pastor Brad put it this way: “I will sacrificially and unconditionally love and forgive others.”

To prepare us for a context to this sermon he had us open our Bibles to the table of contents. He shared how from Genesis to the book of Esther, the Old Testament is a collection of history books. The middle group of books, from Job to Song of Solomon, are considered the poetic books. Isaiah to Malachi are the prophetic books.

Beginning in early Genesis with the story of Abraham (Gen. 12:1ff) we find the birth of Israel, God’s people. Abraham, who lived around 2000 B.C., formed a covenant with God and was given the promise that one day his descendants would have this land. It was not until 600 years later that this promise was fulfilled in Joshua.

In I Samuel, after 400 years without a king, the people of Israel asked God for a king, and received the first in the person of Saul. Essentially, the bulk of the sermon was an overview of this period in the history of Israel, drawing attention particularly moments in the relationship of Saul, David and Saul’s son Jonathan. The Book of I Samuel is an interesting section of Scripture with many key insights and well worth the investment of time to read. Pastor Shannon only skimmed the crests of the waves in order to highlight a few key points.

In chapters 13 and 15, we see how Saul is disqualified from being king. In chapter 16, David is anointed to be the next king of Israel. Note that there is a fourteen year time span between the anointing / promise and its fulfillment. God’s schedule and ours are not always the same.

The crucial phrases in this chapter are found in verse 13, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power,” and in verse 14, “Now the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from God tormented him.”

A few chapters later we see the fruit from this change of fortunes. All David touches turns to gold. He experiences success in everything he puts his hand to. Chapter 17 details the epic conflict between David and Goliath, the giant Philistine who stood taunting the weakness of Israel. By the end of the story, Saul notices David for the first time, vs. 55.

Immediately following, we see the depth of friendship that emerges between David and Jonathan, Saul’s son. The two made a covenant together, and became one in spirit.

This friendship proved difficult as the tormented king alternated between being reasonable and being an irrational, jealous hothead. The first incident to set him off was the singing in the streets by Israel’s women: “Saul has slain his thousands, David his tens of thousands.” The next day, overcome by rage, he attempted to pin David to the wall with a spear.

In chapter 19 Saul again attempts to have David killed, but Jonathan warns his friend and they make a plan together. Jonathan strives to persuade his father to have a change of heart, but it is futile.

In chapter 20, Jonathan consoles David and reafffirms his commitment to him. In David’s absence, Jonathan serves as his friend’ advocate, protector and defender. But Saul will not be dissuaded from his hatred and in the end David is forced into exile to save his skin. Verses 41 and 42 in Jonathan and David’s last moments together each wept, but “David wept the most.”

Ten years later, fourteen years after the initial anointing by Samuel, David becomes king of Israel as Saul and Jonathan, father and son, are slain in battle. David laments.

Pastor Shannon summed up with this closing thoughts. How do we learn to love like David? Recall to mind that love is a commitment to sacrificially and unconditionally love and forgive others.

1) I make a “no strings attached” covenant with them.
That is, we make a commitment that says, “I am going to be with you all the way through.” In a covenant relationship we make a promise.

2) I will be an advocate for this person.
That is, you will go to bat for them. You are commited to speak and act in their defense and on their behalf.

This is what Jesus does for us. Satan is the accuser. He stands before God pointing out our failings, but Jesus, our Advocate, speaks on our behalf.

3) I help them see God’s vision for their life.
If we have to grab by the ears to waken them and make them see, we’ll do what it takes. “Look, you are significant, you have gifts… a purpose for God.”

4) I’m going to sacrifice my rights to make them succeed.
By laying down your own rights and plans, humbling yourself, you reveal the totalness of your love.

To repeat the definition: “I will sacrificially and unconditionally love and forgive others.”

This is the word of the Lord.

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Why Pray?

Pastor Brad began by noting that we are closing our 5 week series on James. Do we need something? We are to pray for it. Re God’s word, we should drink it in and live it out. Don’t just hear the Word but DO what it says.

Today’s Sermon: “Why Pray?”

Can we change the mind and heart of God? Can you actually get through? We’ve all experienced the sort of calls when trying to get through to a person we get messages to push one button after another and get left on hold. Sometimes we try to send an email And it somehow gets lost in cyberspace. Sometimes prayer feels like “a spasm of words lost in a cosmic chasm of indifference."

The truth is that everyone prays. We pray because we cannot help it. In any given week we pray more than we work out, drive, or clock in on our job. Nine out of ten people say that they pray regularly. Even atheists pray. It seems to be hardwired in us. We long to connect even when we don’t believe in God. We pray for healing, for peace, strength for someone else to be healed. When there’s turbulence in a plane everyone on it is praying.

Jesus always snuck away to pray. He made himself unavailable to people so as to make himself close to God. He embraced it as his absolute lifeline. His disciples didn’t ask Jesus to teach them how to walk on water. They asked Jesus to teach them how to pray. They saw that it was a life giving connection to God and they wanted that.

Prayer gives us better focus instantly like lasik surgery.

Job prayed “My world is falling apart. Couldn’t you at least show up God?” Then God does show up and asks questions of Job and suddenly brings everything back into focus.

Prayer helps us reverse roles and gives us awareness of God’s hugeness. It brings reality back into focus. We can come down from our CEO office and find better ways to define success. When we pray we can vacate our mind. The word “vacate” is related to “vacation”. Prayer is like a vacation, a time when we can change our perspective.

I am not the center of the universe. I am a small player in the epic story of God. Life is about His story, His greatness, His plan.

Is anyone sick? We can invite God into the process to help us. Pastor Brad then noted that sometimes there are healing miracles, and sometimes not, but that if people are not healed of physical illness it does not mean that their faith is too small. Sometimes prayer for healing brings us spiritually to a place of peace with God by confessing our sins. There also is a natural aging process we all go through.

Why pray? Because Jesus told us to pray. When our children ask us for things we always want to answer them, but we also want what is best for them.

In Revelation 8 all of heaven shut up to listen to our prayers.

There are certain things that we do not tell others about ourselves but God always knows what is really true about my heart. Go into your closet and pray and be alone with God. Prayer restores the reality of God’s grace and His longing to lavish it upon you. Prayer is keeping company with God. Come to Him in respect and awe, but also in confidence.

Prayer is an ongoing relationship and conversation with God. Sometimes my prayer is like a country music song. It just is telling what is going on in my life. Other times it is more like a rock and roll song. It has a constant and persistent beat that just keeps coming. Other times it’s like jazz. It goes in different directions and you don’t know what’s coming next. Then there are times when it is very much like the blues.

At this point in the sermon Darlene played a few chords of blues style on the piano while Pastor Brad sang some of David’s words from Psalm 22. “My God, Why have You forsaken me? Why are you so far from the words of my groaning? I cry out but You do not answer.” We can get out our feelings of disappointment, anger and frustration to God, He invites us to pray like that. After expressing his feelings to God, David then says “You are faithful”

Prayer is ultimately a love song. Stay connected to the lover of your soul.

Sunday, July 13, 2008


Pastor Shannon warmly welcomed us, followed by a time of worship led by the worship team.

Today's Scripture readings were from Isaiah 55:1-13 and Matthew 13:1-9, 18-23.

Pastor began his message by congratulating us. "Congratulations for your achievement. You have been recognized. Yes, YOU."

He playfully noted the recent selection of YOU -- with a mirror on the cover so you can see your face right there beneath the Time masthead -- as Time's Person of the Year.

The whole of society is rife with you-stuff. YouTube, MySpace, I-Tunes.. so why not You as the Person of the Year.

Nowadays, you can sit in your underwear in your Lay-z-Boy, writing on your blog space anything you want, with readers as vast as that which used to be accessible only to the New York Times. People from anywhere in the world can read YOUR opinions on YOUR blog.

Today's sermon was drawn from James 4. Interestingly, the word "you" appears nineteen times in the first four verses, so there is no mistaking whom the writer is addressing. James essentially wants to highlight for his Christian readers what the You-niverse looks like with You at the center.

1What causes fights and quarrels among you? Don't they come from your desires that battle within you? 2You want something but don't get it. You kill and covet, but you cannot have what you want. You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God. 3When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.

In this passage James addresses Christians who are fighting, and identifies the root cause in verse one. Interestingly, the Greek word for "desires" is the same from which we obtain the word hedonism. This battle within, this battle in our desires, is at the root of our problems.

Even in infancy, we see its early development. The baby cries out for milk, for its own needs to be met, caring only for itself.

In the previous chapter James has already mention envy and selfish ambition. Here he amplifies this with the statement "we kill and covet."

The world appears to affirm that we can become successful by being prideful. Arrogance is an ingredient in success. Pride is often part of self-serving gains.

But James cuts right across this. In your selfcenterdness, do not think you can manipulate God with your prayers. You are not the center of the universe. There is only one true center.

4You adulterous people, don't you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.

We sometimes get so caught up in our little story that we miss the big story. It's not about me.

In verse 14 James reminds his readers how small and powerless we really are. "Why, you do not even know what will happen tomorrow. What is your life? You are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes."

God is the Creator, and we are the created. It is comforting to know that that this Big God is crazy about us. God created us for a relationship with Him. But the unvarnished truth is that we're guilty of adultery against Him. Anything that is 1st before God on the throne of our hearts is spiritual adultery. God will not share the throne of your life with anyone or any thing. Hence, James urges us to humble ourselves.

It's hard to admit we don't have it all together. Most importantly, where is your consideration of God in all your planning, in your career or job, in your family?

Humble yourself, James writes. Fall on your knees in humility.

6But he gives us more grace. That is why Scripture says: "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."
7Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

There are many classic hymns with the theme of total yieldedness to God. "Have Thine Own Way" -- with its well known metaphor "You are the potter, I am the clay"-- is one of many. We don't have a lot of raised hands in this church perhaps because of associations with the charismatic movement, but the lifting of hands does have meaning. It is the universal sign of surrender.

There was a successful businessman who once came to pastor and said, "I need God to wreck my life in order to get re-oriented, recalibrated, back to where I need to be with God." Humility is the starting place.

Pastor Shannon noted that if we set up a screen at the front of the church, and we had our ten deepest secret sins projected upon it and exposed to all, we'd be truly humbled, shamed and broken. There would not be a dry eye here.

Let's take to heart our need to put God back in His rightful place.

Sunday, July 6, 2008

“Open Wide and Say Ahhh”

There were a number of visitors with us on this warm, sunny summer day. Pastor Brad welcomed all this Independence Day weekend, foreshadowing his message with comments about James 3 and its emphasis on taming the tongue.

In commenting on our freedoms which we share as Americans, Pastor Brad noted that there are more slaves today than at any time in history, and that we should not take our freedoms for granted.

Scripture reading today, by Ruth Anne:
Zechariah 9:9-12
Romans 7:15-25a

“Open Wide and Say Ahhh
Has anyone here ever said something they wish they could take back? After sharing a painful personal incident from his younger days, he noted that the Bible says many words about word. Proverb 18:21 states, “The tongue has the power of life and death.”

Words can help someone, or crush their spirit. Words can instruct, or discourage. Words have great power.

In another personal anecdote, Pastor Brad shared how one time years ago he was teaching a Bible study and someone shared something, but his glib reply showed that he was not really listening, and the person brought him up short by pointing this out. “You weren’t really listening to me,” the woman said. He dismissed it, until a week later another person said that he was not listening to them either. The reality is that we need to not only watch what we say, but also watch what we don’t say.

Jesus was the perfect model of how we are to be. He was both grace and truth. He could speak the truth, but with great gentleness and sensitivity. “A bruised reed He will not break,” writes Isaiah.

Pastor Brad then cited the verse, “If anyone speaks, let him speak as if it were the very words of God.”

Unfortunately, sin interferes. As a result, we have a pattern of connecting and disconnecting. From the beginning, when you look behind the fig leaf, Adam and Eve were both harboring shame and guilt.

5Likewise the tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. 6The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell. ~ James 3:5-6

The evil one wants to divide and destroy what God has done, and uses our words to do it.

There are five areas where we mess up.

1. Name Calling
Even playful name calling can hurt. We’ve all done some of it when young. We don’t realize when we are doing it that we’re hitting a sore spot. People often hide that. But when we see we’ve said something that hurt, we need to apologize quickly. It is better to have verbal discipline and not hurt people.

2. Blaming
Many couples fall into this. “I am the way I am because of you.” Instead of owning their behavior, couples often blame the other. Proverbs 22:13 refers to the sluggard who does not assume responsibility. Rather, he hides himself to avoid pain. The blame game is unhealthy.

3. Generalizing
“You always do that…” or “You never do that…” Proverbs 10:21 says “The lips of the righteous nourish many, but fools die for lack of judgment.” To generalize is to not show good judgment.

4. Critical Comments, Critical Spirit
Critical words stick and hurt for a long time.

5. Anger
Frequently, you will find that angry people grew up in a home with an angry person. Proverb 29:11 cautions, “A fool gives full vent to his anger, but a wise man keeps himself under control.”

Pastor Brad reminded us that, on the other hand, when someone comes to us & they’re angry, we should not minimize it by dismissing it or spiritualizing it. Nor should we speak too quickly. Jesus was not rattled by another’s anger. The Scriptures compel us to mourn with those who mourn.

12 Before his downfall a man's heart is proud,
but humility comes before honor.
13 He who answers before listening—
that is his folly and his shame. ~ Prov. 18:12-13

We need to be good listeners and take ownership of our words. Again Past Brad reminded us that we should speak as if our words were the very words of God.

After celebrating, sharing communion together, he reminded us in closing, “On the other side, we need to extend grace to those who have said hurtful things to us.”