Thursday, October 30, 2008

Adventure Club Update

In 2007, Brooke Shannon and an array of energetic volunteers created an exciting new ministry at New Life Covenant called Adventure Club. Adventure Club is a children’s program that meets at the church on Wednesday evening, focused on kids age 4 through 6th grade.

The past Sunday at the Semi-Annual Meeting Brooke shared some of what’s happening in the Adventure Club this year.

The Mission of Adventure Club is to introduce, inspire, encourage and support the commitment, growth and further development of the children in our church and community to Jesus Christ. Essentially the goal is to be a positive spiritual influence for these young people in a loving, safe environment. Whereas schools and many organizations offer sports and other activities that young people can participate in, Adventure Club recognizes the importance of spiritual formation in the lives of our youth.

To date, the program this fall has been averaging 26 kids a week, and owes much to the 20 or so volunteers whose dedication makes the program possible.

At the end of her brief update Brooke shared how last week there was a special moment that showed how the Adventure Club was indeed helping to imprint Bible truths inside the kids' hearts. Her small group was gathered and it was time for them to do their memory verse. Before we began, one of the girls rattled off a verse. I said it was last week’s verse and she said, “It’s been stuck in my head all week.”

Even the crafts have been formative. The pictures here are from two projects. The one showing the man was originally a bunch of puzzle pieces. The children made designs, put their names on them and did creative things with them. Then the pieces were all assembled. The finished "puzzle" was a man made up of each of the children and adults who designed their own piece, showing how we are all "one body" in Christ.

If you know someone with children who want to be part of an exciting adventure, the Adventure Club meets on Wednesday nights for part of the fall and and again from January to April. Check the bulletin for details.

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Would Jesus Be A Christian?

“I’m glad you’re here today,” Pastor Brad said, welcoming us warmly. As is often his manner, he briefly outlined his theme. Today we would focus on prayer, and what it means for us to be Christians. After the service we would conduct a semi-annual meeting to which we were all invited.

Two announcements that needed to be mentioned. First, next Sunday there will be a meal at the Swamp Sisters to which we are all invited, courtesy the Armstrongs. Cost is a free will offering, all proceeds to the New Life Covenant building fund. Second, November 5th we will be packing Samaritans Purse Christmas boxes during Adventure Club. Everyone is invited.

Darlene, Ken & Chuck opened the service with “Something Beautiful” as we entered in worship.

Pastor changed the Scripture reading to Matthew 6:25-30 and 7:9-11, which was followed by special music from Dana who briefly shared from her heart about prayer, noting that there is a difference between foxhole prayers and mature prayer.

After we spent time praying for the needs of the body, Pastor Brad spoke to us from his heart.

Would Jesus Be A Christian?

Pastor Shannon began his sermon by drawing for us two illustrations which he borrowed from Brian McLaren’s book A Generous Orthodoxy. The first illustration shows how many, if not most, people experience salvation. The large circle is “me” because for most people, our approach to God is, “What can Jesus do for me?” The second circle is the church, which we then become a part of which in some distant way is part of the world.

The second image illustrates an alternate perspective. Jesus came to save the world. The church is the means to this end. When we become Christians, we ourselves can become part of this world picture, and God’s overarching purposes.

With this perspective, everything changes.

Brad then introduced a second book, The Prayer of Jabez, by Bruce Wilkinson. Though a small book it received major acclaim when it was introduced eight years ago. The book is essentially about a relatively minor Old Testament character and his famous prayer which is recorded in I Chronicles 4.

According to Wilkinson when we pray for God to bless us, as Jabez prayed, God will bless us.

To Pastor Brad, this sounded a bit like magic, as if our prayer would make God do this.

Pastor Brad shared that the name Jabez is actually based on a word that means pain. Because the Hebrews delighted in wordplay, there seems to be an aspect of this story that gets lost in translation. The words Jabez uses include the request that he be free from pain. (NIV, verse 10)

But Brad noted that other translations that convey a different shade of meaning. Here is verse 10 from the New King James Version:

10 And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, “Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!” So God granted him what he requested.

Pastor Brad noted that there is a truth here. That we are indeed to ask God to bless us, not because we’re worthy, but because we are His children and nothing is too small for God.

There is a context in Scripture for this truth that we need to keep in mind. In Matthew 6, in the middle of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus talks about prayer. But afterwards, the Lord reminds us that worry and anxiety over things we want and feel we need ought not be our primary concern.

28 “So why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow: they neither toil nor spin; 29 and yet I say to you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. 30 Now if God so clothes the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will He not much more clothe you, O you of little faith? 31 “Therefore do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For after all these things the Gentiles seek. For your heavenly Father knows that you need all these things. 33 But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.

Being blessed by God was never intended to be an end in itself. God wants to bless us for a higher purpose, to redeem the world. Yes, we should ask to be blessed, but for the purpose of being a blessing to others.

The prayer of Jabez that we need to make our own is this: “Lord, give me a new identity so I am not a pain, causing pain….”

Brad’s prayer is that we’d pray to be blessed so that we can be a blessing.

It was an abbreviated service today because afterwards we had our Semi-Annual Congregational Meeting.

Very briefly, the key decisions made, after committee minutes and a pastor’s report were given, dealt with approving the budget, assembling a new nominating committee, and hearing the building committee report. A new budget was approved, a nominating committee assembled and a recommendation to purchase approximately 4.2 acres for the purposes of a potential new building sometime in the future was discussed. As a result of the careful and thoughtful manner in which this recommendation has been developed, the recommendation passed unanimously.

For additional details on all these matters, contact the deacons, treasurer or members of the building committee.

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Sunday, October 19, 2008

When the Market Crashes

“I’m glad you’re here today,” Pastor Brad Shannon said as he welcomed us this morning. As has been his custom he briefly summarized the message he would be sharing this morning. “We’re going to talk about money.” In particular, some of the perils of money.

Announcements included an invitation to all to have a pork loin dinner at the Swamp Sisters on November 2 after the service. The free will offering will go toward the church building fund. Also, on Wednesday November 5 everyone is invited to the church for Operation Christmas Child, in which shoe boxes will be decorated and assembled for needy children. In addition, on November 16 the conference superintendent will be joining us.

Darlene played a loving, delicate interpretation of Fairest Lord Jesus to begin the service. After a time of worship, Pastor Brad gave a children’s talk about money noting that our worth as people is not based on how much money we have.

The Scripture readings were from Psalm 99 and Matthew 22:15-22, which was followed by a time of prayer, a hymn and our practical pointed message.

When the Market Crashes

The way we handle our money is a spiritual issue, Pastor Brad began. To a large degree our lives revolve around money to some extent. Money plays a key role in our lives, and the Bible is realistic about it.

Half of Jesus’ parables deal with money. And there are nearly 2000 verses in Scripture that deal with every facet of money, from how to earn it and spend it to how we can abuse it, or share it.

Many people look for money to save them from pain, but no amount of money can insulate you from trouble. This message today was about the perils of money, drawn from I Timothy 6:6-10.

6But godliness with contentment is great gain. 7For we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it. 8But if we have food and clothing, we will be content with that. 9People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 10For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.

The first peril is lack of contentment. “But godliness with contentment is great gain,” wrote Paul to Timothy. Contentment is an inward disposition unrelated to external circumstances. You don’t need anything outside of your self to make you happy.

Columnist John Rosemond once wrote about boredom amongst affluent suburban kids. He stated that the typical kid these days has 250 toys by age five, an average of nearly one a week.

Does contentment for you come from having more “toys” and more clothes, etc. Seeking contentment in that manner can never be achieved, because how many or how much is enough? Contentment comes from within.

Paul, in his letter to the Philippians, noted that he had found the secret of contentment. 12I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. 13I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

In other words, trust Jesus with your life as Savior and Lord, that is forgiver and leader.

For Paul, contentment was a learned disposition. He had learned the habit of gratitude.

It is also important to stop teasing yourself by going to malls, paging through catalogs. The world will always push your to need more, bigger or newer things.

A second peril of money, Brad noted, is the serious issue of loving money. The love of money is a root of evil. If our favorite indoor sport is shopping, we’re in trouble.

Money loving leads to sin, he said, including lying for money, shading the truth for personal advantage on our taxes, coveting (One of the Big Ten, as in Commandments), becoming angry or hateful due to money, spending too much, working too hard to have more things. Many sins can be traced to love for money.

Paul pointed out that many sins can be traced to love for money. As verse nine puts it, “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction.” And in verse ten he warns, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.”

The story of the rich young ruler is a case in point. In Mark 10 a rich young ruler came to Jesus, and Jesus knew what ruled this man’s heart. He was told to choose, money or Jesus. In this tragic instance, the man turned his back on the freedom and joy set before him, and chose instead his designer clothes.

In another passage Jesus pointed out to His disciples that you can gain the whole world and lose your own soul.

In Paul’s admonition money is a sword of sadness that pierces us through with many griefs. Actually the word “pierced” that Paul uses is akin to a spike or spit upon which a pig is roasted over a fire. It’s a graphic image.

Debt, workaholism, foolish investments and get rich quick schemes, gambling are just a few of the troubles we are roasted by when we pursue our love for money.

Years ago Brad saw a list of ten reasons why Christians don’t give. Number two was that they can’t. Too much debt.

What can we do? There are two things Brad cited. First, get serious about it. It’s a serious matter. Second, get help from others if you need help with financial management and money related matters.

Don’t let the perils of money put you on the spit and roast you. Ask yourself the question, “How can I do things God’s way?”

It is a practical message. God cares about our practical needs.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

Neither Hot Nor Cold

A dreary wet Sunday morn outside, but a packed house of worshippers within today to hear another message from the Lord’s letters to the seven churches, as recorded in Revelations 2 & 3. Today, Pastor Brad illuminated for us the Letter to Laodicea, found in Rev. 3:14ff

The service opened with a warm welcome followed by announcements. Key announcements included:
1. Mark your calendar for Oct. 26th which will be our semi-annual meeting. An important feature of this meeting will be a recommendation from the building committee.
2. On November 5, we will gather for Operation Christmas Child instead of our usual Adventure Club.
3. Special prayers were requested for Dale Fish (difficulty breathing), Joe Stapleton, and the brother of Andy & Pam Johnson who had a stroke.
4. Paula shared a thank you to all who attended or helped yesterday’s Women’s Circle. Next time we meet Pearl and Darlene will teach us how to knit “the EZ way.”

As we entered into worship Chuck read from Ephesians 1:3-10.

Instead of a quartet, this morning we were led in worship by a quintet, as Vicki joined Ken, Dale, Chuck and Darlene in a wonderful rendition of “Because He Lives”… followed by several meaning-filled songs.

Neither Hot Nor Cold

14"To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God's creation. 15I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! 16So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth. 17You say, 'I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. 18I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich; and white clothes to wear, so you can cover your shameful nakedness; and salve to put on your eyes, so you can see. 19Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent. 20Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. 21To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne. 22He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches." ~ Revelations 3:14-22

Pastor Brad opened his sermon by asking the question, “What makes you gag?” Then he shared a few of his un-favorite things beginning with Ryan’s diarrhea, raw tomatoes, curdled milk and water that has set in a hose all day on a warm summer day. He had our attention.

Then he asked, “What gives God a gag reflex?” This was the heart of this morning’s message and a central issue in the letter to Laodicea. The letter’s tone is not angry. It reflects more disgust than anger. His sermon offered an answer to this question.

It’s clear who this seventh letter is from: The Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of creation, none other than Jesus. And His words are a wake up call.

What Pastor Brad has done throughout this series of messages on the letters to the seven churches is show us the context into which each letter has been written. Each city of the seven cities had a historical place in that time. By presenting this context, the nature of the cities themselves where these seven churches had taken root, Pastor Shannon has brought a fuller understanding to these commendations and exhortations of Jesus. This week especially we were privileged to gain new insights by means of this approach.

The city of Laodicea was the richest of the seven cities addressed in Revelation two and three. Unlike the Hamptons, this was a city of “new money”… having achieved its wealth more recently, much like today’s Silicon Valley millionaires. It was a wealthy city and possibly a wealthy church, approximately 130 miles East of Ephesus and 140 miles South of Philadelphia.

What caused disgust for God here was the church’s self-sufficiency and apathy. In verse 17 He quotes their own words, “We’re rich and don’t need a thing.”

Laodicea’s wealth came about through at least two channels. The there was a unique black sheep in that region, used for black wool. Their black wool made the city a trend setter in fashion. They were the latest chic.

In addition, they were pioneers in medicine. Their knowledge of opthamology was cutting edge, and an eye salve they formulated and sold brought consumers from all around.

This self-made wealth and apparent self-sufficiency was offensive to God… not that wealth in itself is bad. But the attitude of self-sufficiency reflects deeper problems. “That attitude just makes Me want to barf,” it seems like God is saying here. (vs. 16) And in verse 17 God says, “Your wealth has blinded you to your true condition.”

Pastor Brad cited Steve Martin’s film The Jerk, referencing the tragic stance he took as Martin closed the film saying, “I don’t need anyone.”

To the Laodiceans, the Lord was saying, “The truth is, you are blind, naked, pitiful.”

Jesus does not write them off, however. He counsels them, “buy from Me gold refined in the fire, so you can become rich.” That is, faith, which is real gold when it is purified by fire. Trials are necessary to make us strong. (I Peter 1:6-7)

Instead of wrapping yourself in that high fashion black wool, Jesus is saying, “Wrap yourself in My sufficiency.” Or as Paul writes to the Colossians, “Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.”

Self-sufficiency blinds us. You don’t know who you are becoming. Jesus says, “Start depending on Me.”

Likewise, medicine (referring to the eye salves of Laodicea) cannot cure self-deception. Rather you need God’s spiritual Visine.

The bottom line: our future as a church must be approached on our knees, as dependent people.

Here’s something else that causes Jesus to gag. “Your apathy makes Me want to hurl.” (The literal meaning of the word 'gag' here.)

To understand this requires a little background. The city of Laodicea was located seven miles from a hot springs in one direction and sparkling cool water in the other direction. Laodicea’s water supply was piped in from North and South. When you mix hot mineral water and cold water that have been transported all these miles by viaducts you essentially have gross water.

Hence, when Jesus says “I know your deeds, I am about to spit you out of my mouth,” He is referring to their apathy and self-sufficiency.

When Jesus says “You are neither cold nor hot,” many have interpreted this to mean that Jesus desires that a church be cold or hot. Pastor Brad stated that he believed God wants His followers to be an oasis at times, a refreshing cup of cold water. And at other times therapeutic warmth, bandaging up wounded souls. Hot or cold means various ways of bringing good things to the world… not, near or far from God. Jesus always wants us all to be near.

We are to be a community that is either rescuing or refreshing. We’ve not been set apart to do nothing. Rather, Jesus desires to see a gratitude-driven usefulness in this world, for we the church are His hands and feet.

Brad asked us to consider what we’d think of our favorite football team if all they did was huddle. “He look how well they huddle and call plays.” And “Look how they hold hands and encourage each other.” Such a football team is failing to do what it has been called to be and do.

The church has to bring Hope to the streets. We can’t just spend all our time huddling. We must refuse to do nothing.

Jesus ends by saying he only disciplines those He loves. And that He wants to do more. “I’m standing here, knocking.”

God’s desire is that we be both therapeutic and refreshing. We can only do this, become this, as we remain deeply dependent on Him.

Sunday, October 5, 2008


After a warm welcome and announcements, Darlene opened the service today with a beautiful medley, weaving together “As the Hart” and “Fairest Lord Jesus.” It was a quite moving introduction to our worship time.

Today’s sermon was a continuation of the messages we have been hearing based on the letters to the seven churches, from Revelations chapters 2 and 3. This morning’s message was drawn from Rev. 3:1-6, the letter to the church at Sardis.

1"To the angel of the church in Sardis write: These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your deeds complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you. 4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life, but will acknowledge his name before my Father and his angels. 6 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches.

Pastor Brad opened with comments about one of the number one TV shows today, CSI, which stands for “Crime Scene Investigation.” This popular show has expanded to include CSI Miami, CSI New York and CSI Las Vegas. Brad jokingly noted that the show’s popularity is such that we may even have a CSI Twig one day.

The show always begins with a death. Then it’s the job of the CSI team to do an autopsy and find the real cause of the death.

Then Pastor Brad turned the tables toward the direction of his message. “At one time in my life I was on a Crime Scene Investigation,” he said. “Only is was a Church Scene Investigation.” Instead of a murder victim, there was a dead church body. “One of the saddest things in the world is to see a church dying,” he explained, a fitting intro to his exposition on the letter to the church at Sardis.

“I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead.” (vs 1)

Sardis had been a wealthy city. It had been a cultural trendsetter. This was a city which had been formerly filled with splendor, a city of wealth and luxurious living, something akin to another TV show, “Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous.”

The church of Sardis, too, had initially been a beacon of light. It had been a vibrant witness for Christ, making a difference. In the past this church had been a trauma center for wounded people and a lighthouse for the lost. But no more.

In this brief letter to the church at Sardis there are no words of commendation. Where it really counted, this church was dead.

Interestingly enough, unlike the troubles at some of the other churches, the downfall was not due to false prophets, persecutions, pressures from outside. The problem was from within.

Referring back to his own life lessons, Brad stated, “I learned that if a church is not being continuously renewed, it will die.” He said he labored hard to make the church relevant. He had a great vision for the church, but its methods were old fashioned and ineffective.

It is an interesting oxymoron: Dead Church. Because Jesus once said, “I will build My church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.”

In point of fact, the Church, the body of Christ, has prevailed through the ages. But individual churches can, and do, die. Currently, in this country, 2700 churches a year close their doors, permanently.

Brad’s passion for New Life Covenant is that we be continuously renewed, for we can die, too.

Typically, historically, churches expand and decline over a course of thirty years. He said that when he arrived at the church he has been referring to, it had been dying for five years.

To the church at Sardis Jesus says, “Wake up… Strengthen what remains.”

Brad aimed to make five points based on this passage.

1) Wake up.
Death in the future comes by living in the past. The church at Sardis had become self-centered and apathetic by resting on its laurels, self-satisfied based on its previous reputation. This letter is a wake up call, a call to spiritual vigilance.

Something is at stake. Living in the past makes it impossible to move forward. We cannot glamorize the past.

Brad noted that learning from the past is different from living in the past. “I’m proud, thankful, to be in a place where people matter more than whether a pastor wears a tie or not,” he said.

This was a lead in to another church killer, being inflexible.

2) Strengthen what remains.
A church needs to hold fast to its core values. Being flexible does not mean letting go of unchangeable truths or realities. Some things should never change.

Hebrews 13:8 states, “Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever.”

In the culmination of the Sermon on the Mount Jesus says that our lives must be founded on a rock, on the unchanging truths, God’s word. The Bible is an unshakable, immovable rock.

And in Luke 21:33 Jesus declared, “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away.”

On the other hand, we need to be flexible in our methods. Living churches evaluate their methods in an effort to stay relevant. Because one of the most dangerous things that a church can do is fall in love with its methods instead of being in love with the lost people those methods are used to reach.

3) Remember what God alone can do.
The only way to be continuously dynamic is to rely on the power of the Holy Spirit. Remember, there is a supernatural piece to church growth.

4) Hold on.
Hold on the primary mission. Hold on to the core value: people are what matters to God. Lost people matter to God.

5) Repent.
Jesus says this with urgency.

At this point it was evident Pastor Brad had much more to say than his heart could contain. With passion he exhorted us in a flood of heartfelt words that this scribe was unable to record. Lost people matter. God wants to us to stay vibrant, to be concerned about the things Jesus is concerned about.

Jesus says whoever has ears to hear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches.

With this, stepping to the communion table our pastor said, “Communion is our sacred privilege…”

Gwen then offered up a beautiful song to usher us into the celebration of the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.