Sunday, September 28, 2008

Having the Mind of Christ

The sun emerged from an overcast weekend to make brilliant the beautiful maples and other trees that line our rural roads, especially colorful in our Northland autumns. We had a guest minister this morning, so the initial portion of the service was conducted by Chuck Vanderscheuren who welcomed us warmly and shared announcements.

1. Adventure Club will begin this Wednesday night, 5:30 – 7:00. All kids welcome for fun, food, and fellowship.
2. Building Committee will meet Tuesday evening.
3. Women: be sure to fill out the survey in the back of the church pertaining to women’s Bible study. If you have additional questions, contact Joanne Winship.

Following a brief introit by Darlene, the quartet led us into worship with singing.

Today’s Scripture Readings
Exodus 17:1-7
Philippians 2:1-3

During our praise and prayer time it was apparent that there are some real needs and hurts among us and much to pray for. We are grateful to have a God who hears and is not indifferent to our pain.

Having the Mind of Christ
Our guest speaker this week was the Rev. Ben Larson who began by expressing his being grateful to be here. In 2008 he has held issues that kept him from the pulpit and even this week he was uncertain as to whether he’s be able to join us, noting that for fifty years he has had difficulties caused by a disease called French polio.

He opened his remarks with an anecdote told by T. Boone Pickens this past Monday at the National Press Club. The billionaire oil man was addressing wind power and alternate energy issues, but during the Q & A was asked what he thought about the presidential race. He replied by telling a story about ninety year old man who had recently been honored in his own community. Some one commented to the old man, “You must have seen a lot of changes these past ninety years,” to which the old man abruptly replied, “Yes, and I was against all of them.”

The text for today’s message was taken from Philippians 2, specifically verse 5 where Paul writes, “Let this mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus…”

It is interesting to note that God has a mind, and that we, being made in God’s image, have a mind, the mind of the Son of God.

In one place Scripture notes that God searches the minds and hearts of all. In Romans 12 Paul admonished us to be “transformed by the renewing of your mind.”

Today’s message, therefore, was an outline of what it means to have the mind of Christ.

A Mind of Love
Rev. Larson shared how there was a black velvet banner with gold letters on it in the church where he grew up. The letters spelled out the verse in John 3:16, “For God so loved the world that He gave His son…”

“I didn’t always love God,” Rev. Larson noted as he told us the story of how he came to encounter God during a Bible camp. He said it was there that he learned that the many of the stupid things he had done were sin, and when he couldn’t sleep one night he went out and prayed. There were no lightning flashes, but there was a blanket of peace that came over him.

He shared, too, his brother’s testimony, how he came to find salvation while a sailor. God loves us and pursues us.

A Mind of Wisdom
Wisdom comes from having the mind of Christ.

Rev. Larson told an anecdote about an African American minister he once knew names S.M. Lockridge. Rev. Lockridge said to him, “When you get angry, you get red. And when you are scared, you get yellow. When you are cold you turn blue. So how is it that you call us colored?”

Lockridge offered this practical advice regarding wisdom. “Get some learning so people don’t look down on you. Then get more learning so you don’t look down on others.”

God emptied Himself of his deity. He didn’t come to be served, but to serve others.

The Cross is follishness to the Greeks, Paul said, and a stumbling block to the Jews. But it’s central in our faith because it reveals the wisdom of God.

A Mind of Compelling Strength
The letter to the Philippians was written while Paul was imprisoned in Rom. “Have this mind in you…” he wrote. There are actually two meanings for this word in the New Testament. In this instance it encompasses both: intellect and knowledge.

Paul had spent time with the Philippian church (as well as time in the Philippian jail) and had a deep love for this church. He had evidently gotten word that there was trouble there between two women in the church and he appeals to them to work out their differences. Small things can get under our skin and fester, becoming big things.

The Holy Spirit was given to be our comforter and our strength, as well as our coach.

“I’d rather attempt something great and fail than to do nothing and succeed,” Norman Vincent Peale once said.

Jesus said, “I lay down my life…”

The Mind of Glory
It is a mind that understands glory, that understands God and His orientation. It’s a wonderful mind. It is not by imitating Him that we obtain this, but by yielding to Him who dwells within us.

He then told a story about Aunt Selma. Aunt Selma was a dear Christian woman who loved everyone. She was wise, and never condemned. Everyone loved her. She knew what was right and lived it. One day, she asked the pastor to come over, and after visiting a little said she wanted to discuss her funeral arrangements with him. She said when she was in her coffin she wanted a Bible in her left hand and a fork in her right.

The pastor understood the Bible in one hand, but was confused by the request to have a fork in the other. She explained. “At church dinners as they clear the tables after you’ve eaten, they sometimes say keep your fork. When they say ‘keep your fork’ then I always know the best is yet to come.”

So it is that when we have the mind of Christ, we know… the best is yet to come.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Don’t Despise the Day of Small Beginnings

Pastor Brad Shannon opened the service by welcoming any guests that were here among us, noting that this was a place to meet God and we’re glad you’re here.

The service was again conducted in a restructured manner, with announcements preceding the sermon, and the worship, offering etc. taking place after. Here were a few of the important announcements cited.

1. The CHIC Rummage Sale fund raining event will be held next Saturday from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. at Gethsemane Covenant. If you have items to sell, bring them to Gethsemane Covenant after 5:30 p.m. on Friday evening, or call Cheryl Borndal to arrange a pickup.
2. Joanne shared that there was a survey in the back of the church which she would like all to pick up. She is seeking to arrange a women’s Bible study.
3. Paula shared that the Circle of Life women’s group will be meeting monthly from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. and (among other things) their next meeting will be Octrober 18.
4. Brooke shared that Adventure Club for kids will begin again, starting a week from Wednesday.

After an introit by Darlene, Dana Stroschein shared a song with us. But beforehand, Dana opened her heart and shared about an fresh experience she’d just had. Saturday night she participated in a “homeless night” event in which people spent the night in boxes or tents. Dana spent the night sleeping in a box. What excited her was that in the morning she had an unexpected opportunity to share her faith in a manner that came natural to her. The woman said she was not into religion, and Dana said, “I don’t do religion either; I do God.” It was a powerful testimony.

Don’t Despise the Day of Small Beginnings
Pastor Shannon began his sermon by talking about names, citing people whose original names we may not be familiar with, who became famous by other names. In the realm of sports Lew Alcindor we came to know as Kareem Abdul-Jabaar, and Cassius Clay became Muhammed Ali. In the world of entertainment, we know Reginald Dwight by his name Elton John, and Robert Zimmerman as Bob Dylan.

There are others with famous nicknames and some – like Dale Earnhardt – who were known by their numbers,

This morning’s sermon was taken from Revelation 3, the letter to the church at Philadelphia. The ancient city of Philadelphia had been built on an earthquake fault line and as a result had to be rebuilt many times, often with new names. It was a city with an ever changing identity. For this reason, Jesus makes a promise to these people in verse 12, “I am going to change your name to an unchanging name.” There is a future for you in which you will never have to move or re-build again.

Verse seven, which opens this section, begins with “These are the words of Him who is holy and true. My name… Holy and True. I am sovereign, holding the keys of the house of David. This reference comes from Isaiah 22, and to the Philadelphia church He is saying, “I’m that guy. I hold the keys, and what I open no man can shut, and what I’ve shut no one can open.”

Often Jesus opens doors for us, but we tend to want to go through doors that are locked. The key to getting it right is to listen, for Jesus said, “My sheep hear my voice.”

Brad shared an example of a ministry that was started by two young people who simply listened and stepped out in faith. They used to go to downtown Minneapolis loaded with bag lunches which they dispersed to hungry and homeless people along Nicollet Mall which riding up and down the mall on skateboards. They called their ministry Shredding for Jesus. By stepping out, others became involved, and when they later moved to Chicago to go to Bible school, others took over the Minneapolis arm of this work. They started a second route in Chicago, expanding the circle of impact.

Open doors exist all around us. We need to be willing to walk through.

In this letter to the church at Philadelphia, Brad noted that there were no words of rebuke. “I know your deeds. I see your courage. You may not be the richest and most powerful, but I’m using you because you depend on me.” Jesus says to us. ”Never forget when you are weak that I am strong.” Small churches can be used in mighty ways.

God wants to use us to start serving our community. The enemy whispers lies to us saying, “You’re small, you’re weak. What can God do with your puny church?”

Pastor Shannon exclaimed that he wants us to embrace the motto, “We are willing to be inconvenienced for the Gospel.”

In the letter, Jesus says not to worry about that Synagogue of Satan. “I will be with you. I’m coming soon. Don’t let anyone steal your joy. Stay positive and hope filled.”

The close of this sermon was a reading from Romans 8, the resounding affirmation of Christ’s faithfulness and unfailing love from The Message.

So, what do you think? With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn't hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn't gladly and freely do for us? And who would dare tangle with God by messing with one of God's chosen? Who would dare even to point a finger? The One who died for us—who was raised to life for us!—is in the presence of God at this very moment sticking up for us. Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ's love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture:

They kill us in cold blood because they hate you. We're sitting ducks; they pick us off one by one.

None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I'm absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God's love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us.

This is the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Down, But Not Out

The new schedule began this morning, Sunday School at 9:00 a.m. and our worship service at 10:15. Despite a dreary weekend, the pews were full and a warm energy filled the sanctuary as the service began. Pastor Shannon welcomed us and reminded us that we are here to honor Jesus Christ.

1. A rummage sale will be held jointly at Gethsemane as a fund raiser for the CHIC trip out youth are planning. If you wish to contribute goods from your fall cleaning, contact Cheryl Borndal.
2. Paula shared that there will be a Circle of Life women's get together on September 20 here at the church from 10 - 2.
3. Building committee is meeting Wednesday evening at Winships, 7 p.m.

Pastor Shannon reversed the order of the service today. Immediately following the opening introit, he commenced with his sermon about the Lord's second letter to the seven churches, this one to Smyrna.

8"To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death.

Down, But Not Out

Pastor Shannon opened with a series of questions. How many of you like music? How many of you like jazz? How many of you like rock? How many of you like classical? How many of you like country?

The questions were designed to set up the observation that music is a universal language, a truth that is fairly indisputable.

Another universal language, he then pointed out, is suffering. As noted in the book of Job, "Man is born to trouble as the sparks fly upward." (Job 5:7)

John Shelton observed that pleasure is the intermission of pain. In other words, life has more pain and struggle than pleasure. Life is hard.

Jesus Himself noted that in this life you will have trouble.

And so it is, the letter to the church at Smyrna is written to Christians who are well acquainted with sorrows and poverty.

8"To the angel of the church in Smyrna write: These are the words of him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again. 9I know your afflictions and your poverty—yet you are rich! I know the slander of those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death."

Of the seven cities to which the letters in Revelation 2 & 3 were written, Smyrna is the only one that is with us to this day. Now Ishmir of Turkey, the city was located approximately forty miles north of Ephesus.
Smyrna was a crown jewel of Rome, an intellectual city noted for both its size and beauty. The polytheistic Smyrna was exceptional in its loyalty to Rome. Its temple was a centerpiece of emperor worship, and their loyalty to Caesar and to the Empire made it challenging for the Christians there. After Nero, it even became deadly to be a follower of Christ, for Smyrna became intolerant of everything the emperor was intolerant of.

The letter to the church at Smyrna is filled with compassion. "I know your afflictions," Jesus says. "I know life is hard for you because you love Me. I know what you are going through."

Yes, Jesus knows first hand what pain is like. In addition, He knows what your pain is like and He cares. "I know it's hard that many of you are without jobs, that many of you are impoverished. Yet... you are rich."

Pastor Shannon reminded us that Scripture nowhere promises a pain free life. Nor does Scripture promise wealth. In point of fact, many of the most blessed Christians are serving in destitute circumstances in appalling Third World conditions.

Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 5:10-12, said, "Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.

Here in this letter to the church of Smyrna, we read that there is still more suffering to come, but Jesus promises that it will be finite in duration... ten days, which is a short time compared to eternity with Him.

Many passages speak of the brevity of our suffering when compared to eternal life. Paul, to the Corinthians, wrote, "Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal." (II Cor 4:16-18)

Peter elaborated on this theme in his letter to the early church.

3Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, 4and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade—kept in heaven for you, 5who through faith are shielded by God's power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. 6In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7These have come so that your faith—of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire—may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. 8Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy... (I Peter 1:3-8)

Remember the goal: salvation of your soul. This present suffering is just for a little while. In James 1:12 we read that our reward for remaining faithful is a crown of life.

The persecution of Christians continues down to this very day with torture, martyrdom and other mayhem. In fact, more Christians have been killed for their faith in the past one hundred years than in the previous nineteen centuries combined. In the book of Hebrews we read not only of the heroes of faith, but of the many forgotten as well.

"Others were tortured and refused to be released, so that they might gain a better resurrection. 36Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. 37They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword. They went about in sheepskins and goatskins, destitute, persecuted and mistreated— 38the world was not worthy of them. They wandered in deserts and mountains, and in caves and holes in the ground." (Hebrews 11:35-38)

Fox's Book of Martyrs tells the story of Polycarp, an early bishop of Smyrna who at age 86 was told to renounce Christ or be burned. He declared that "eighty and six years I have served Him" and that the Lord had always been faithful. How can I now be unfaithful. He accepted the flames rather than turn his back on Jesus.

In this letter, it is as if Jesus is saying, "I know you're suffering. I know what you're going through. I love you. Remember, the end is not the end, because I am the First and the Last, the Alpha and the Omega, and you have a seat there with Me in Heaven."

Sunday, September 7, 2008

A Fresh Start

With summer’s passing, and a crisp wet chill in the air, we begin a new season with new adventures. Pastor Brad appropriately chose this theme for today’s message: A Fresh Start. In his opening welcome he shared that his goal is not for new programs, but that everyone here would individually and corporately fall in love with Jesus.

Your humble blog writer regrets not having a camera along today to capture the brightly colored helium filled balloons that had slipped loose in the sanctuary. The bright colors gave a festive air to the service. Next week be sure to remember that Sunday School begins again at 9:00 a.m. and our worship service returns to a 10:15 start time.

Scriptures today were read by Eric Borndal.
Exodus 12:1-14
Matthew 18:15-18

During our prayer time it became apparent that there are many needs among us. We were reminded to lift one another up in prayer as those among us face many challenges.

A Fresh Start

Pastor Brad opened by sharing how he loves remodeling projects. Sometimes, for his own amusement, he likes to stop at houses that are for sale to see what kind of remodeling they require. One time he looked at an abandoned house that was so rundown it had a sign that said, “Uninhabitable.” He imagined the people who had once lived there, the happy times and laughter that once resonated within those walls. What a contrast to the old abandoned house that now remained with its broken windows and peeling wallpaper.

He then told of a pizza place he once ate at in a revitalization district in a major city. While eating he noticed the stained glass windows and realized it had once been a church. He felt saddened that this former house of worship was nothing more than a pizza parlor.

These images were designed to set up his message about the Letters to the Seven Churches from the Book of Revelations, chapter two.

Brad began with the context of the seven letters. In Revelations 1:4-8 we read these powerful words about the author of these letters.

Grace and peace to you from him who is, and who was, and who is to come, and from the seven spirits before his throne, 5and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.

To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, 6and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
7Look, he is coming with the clouds,
and every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him;
and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.

8"I am the Alpha and the Omega," says the Lord God, "who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty."

The scribe for the letters was John, one of Jesus’ closest friends while He walked on earth, who took care of Jesus’ mother Mary after He was crucified. John had been a pillar in the early church, but under the reign of Emperor Domitian was exiled to the island of Patmos. It was here that John wrote the Book of Revelations in the twilight years of his life and service to Christ.

Chapters two and three of this last book of the Bible are a set of seven letters to the inboxes of seven churches. “You’ve Got Mail!”

The first letter is to the church at Ephesus. Ephesus was a significant city in the ancient world. It was a major center for emperor worship. It was also where the Temple of Diana was situated. Diana was the Goddess of Fertility, and the area surrounding the temple had become a swamp of immorality in the name of religion.

The Ephesian church had been founded by the Apostle Paul himself, who spent a great deal of time there. It was an important church and he cared deeply for it, weeping many tears when he had to part from those he’d poured himself to serve. It was a church with strong leadership. And when this was written, forty years after its founding, it was a period of new leadership, a new generation of Ephesian Christians now carrying on the work.

“You’ve Got Mail.”

The inbox for the Ephesian church had a message from Jesus, written by the hand of John. Jesus begins by reminding them that He walks among them still and cares about this church. It is a reminder that we, too, have Jesus walking among us. Jesus cares about our church today because it is His church.

Jesus begins the letter by commending them. He knows their strengths, their deeds and hard work on behalf of the Gospel. It’s a happening church that has demonstrated legendary perseverance.

In verse six He notes that they hate the teachings of the Nicolaitans, another plus. The Nicolaitans were a sect that believed in cheap grace. The Ephesians didn’t go with them, which was a good thing.

But then, the letter’s tone turns with these somewhat attention getting words. “I hold this against you…” The chastening is, in effect, “You’ve got everything except the Real thing. You’ve lost that initial passion that flows out of the first moment you had realizations of God’s amazing grace.”

It’s a sharp word. “You don’t love Me any more. You used to be a flaming inferno and now you’re barely a pilot light. I want people who will burn with passion for Me.”

Brad turned to Paul’s earlier letter to the Ephesians to illustrate some of what has happened to the church. Paul’s letter can be broken into two halves. The latter is practical, outlining things that we should do if we are believers. For example, Eph. 4:25 Therefore each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to his neighbor, for we are all members of one body.” And Eph. 4:31 “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.”

The first half of the book of Ephesians flows out of the abundance of Paul’s overflowing heart with passionate passages like these: Eph. 1:15-18 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints, I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…”

And again, Eph. 3:16-19 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.”

Our tendency is to jump to the second half of the book, to make practical checklists of rules for behavior. This is not our greatest need, to have more rules. We need to revitalize our love for Jesus. We become like Jesus when we spend time getting to know Him. Yield to the Holy Spirit and let Him lead you. Our goal is to become like Jesus. The way we become more like Him is by knowing Him better.

The three key words are Remember, Repent and Return.

Remember how far you have fallen from your first love. Remember, too, the pit from which you were rescued and how it felt when you were first forgiven.

As we entered into a time of Communion, we were asked to think about our commitments to God’s word, to our relationships, to obedient living and to worship. These four items form the acronym GROW.

God’s Word
Obedient Living

After sharing the bread and wine, Pastor Brad ended our service with a fervent appeal to be passionate about Jesus.

Saturday, September 6, 2008

Bonfire @ Borndals

To help kick off a new season of activities at New Life Covenant, the Borndals invited us all to their home for a bonfire cookout and pot luck. It was a very special time. The Borndals has a large yard in which the youth of all ages could release energy and enjoy the fresh country air, playing games and just being free.

The fire pit was attentively maintained and the Borndals were wonderfully warm and attentive hosts for all who were able to be present.

I, your faithful blog keeper, have been a bit under the weather these last few days and wasn't sure if I'd make it tonight. Alas, I was finally unable to keep myself away and decided to bring my camera to document a small portion of the later evening. And I was glad that I did. As I was leaving I felt so nourished by the warmth of our church family. We are truly blessed that in a world of so much sorrow and pain we are not forced to travel life's roads alone. We are part of a fellowship. We are connected to others whose strength can support us when we have no strength to go on.

Tonight, despite feeling run down, I felt lifted up. The warmth and the energy of love flowing from so many good hearted people is a source of empowerment and soul nourishment that we can often take for granted.

What a blessing and a privilege to be part of this church family. Here are some photos from tonight's gathering.

By clicking on the images they can be enlarged.