Sunday, November 2, 2008

Saints In The Making

Despite the somewhat grey November weather, there was nary a spare seat in the pews and a warmth throughout the sanctuary. In his welcoming remarks Pastor Brad Shannon noted that there’s a lot going on, that it’s something akin to Sweeps Week on television. The key announcements were as follows.

1. After church today there was a meal prepared by the Armstrongs to be served at the Swamp Sisters a mile or so from here. Donations for the meal were contributed to the building fund. It was reported that there was plenty of food.

2. Soup can labels are again available for Covenant World Relief. Pastor Brad outlined the manner in which contributions are distributed: 40% to meet immediate needs in crisis situations, 30% for ongoing needs afterwards, and 40% for development costs to sustain the ministry and pave the way to meet needs as they arise.

3. New Life Covenant is also participating in Operation Christmas Child again this year. The ministry donates gifts and supplies to children around the world. On Wednesday evening, November 5, 6:00 p.m. we’ll gather at the church to decorate and prepare shoe boxes for this purpose.

4. Paula Saxin shared that everyone is invited to the church on November 15 at 1:00 p.m. to learn how to do etched glass ornaments.

The opening music was performed by Ellie on the violin, accompanied by Darlene on keyboards, in a beautiful rendition of Rock of Ages.

Today was All Saints Sunday, and for the occasion Pastor Brad had us take a few minutes to remember the saints who had gone before us. He noted that the unseen world is more real than the seen, and we can call this to mind to give us encouragement as we strive to follow after God. Citing Hebrews 12:1-2 we were encouraged to remember those who are awaiting us in heaven.

1Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. 2Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.

At this we entered into a time of worship.

Today’s Scripture readings:
Romans 8:9-11
Colossians 3:1-4

After a time of prayer Pastor Brad began his message.

Disclaimer: The notes you read here are only a faint reflection of the content, style and enjoyment one receives from the pastor’s messages. His passion is unflagging, but what is especially difficult to convey is the humorous element, the witty turn of phrase that frequently seasons his preaching. Today was such a day where the trusted scribe is aware of his inadequacy, and will simply do the best he can under the circumstances.

Saints In The Making

“We’re all saints in the making. Your greatest value is not in what you can do but in what you are. And in Christ, you are a saint.”

Thus began today’s message as Pastor Brad introduced his overview of the story of Esther as recorded in the Book of Esther in the Old Testament.

The first character in this story that Brad introduced was a Jewish man named Mordecai. The time frame for this story was at the end of the Babylonian Captivity, approximately 500 B.C. Many of the Jewish peoples had returned to Israel. But some remained in Persia, among them Mordecai, a man of courage and integrity.

A second character in this story was Esther, whose original name meant “dazzling beauty.” Her parents had died and rather than leave her an orphan she had been adopted by Mordecai.

The third main character in this drama was King Xerxes. Xerxes was not just a king, but was a ruler at a time when kings were considered gods.

Xerxes, perhaps in an effort to impress his peers, decided to demonstrate how great he was by hosting a six month party. When you’re a king who rules the mightiest empire on earth, putting on the dog takes on new meaning. After this six month celebration of his greatness, he went on to throw an encore party for seven days. In this latter party he requested that his wife, the queen, strut her stuff. But she wouldn’t have anything to do with it.

As a consequence of this lack of subservience, Queen Vashti was removed from her throne. In addition, Xerxes took the advice of his lead council, who advised that dispatches be sent throughout the kingdom that “a man should be ruler over his own household.”

Afterwards a search went out to find a suitable (as in beautiful) young virgin to become replacement queen. A beauty contest was conducted and lo, Esther’s natural beauty.

In scene three of this drama, Mordecai overhears a plot to overthrow the king. He finds a way to report it to the authorities and when the bad guys have been dealt with, his good deed is recorded for posterity in the presence of the king.

The next character introduced is Haman, the true villain in this tale, as will soon be seen.

Haman, whose stature had been enhanced by an appointment from King Xerxes to a high command, conducts himself like a big shot and expects everyone else to treat him that way as well. The king even made a decree as such. But Mordecai, a man of convictions, will not bow down to a mere man, especially the kind of man Haman is. Haman is incensed, and inwardly vows revenge on Mordecai. The idea he conceives is to encourage the king to make a decree to wipe out all Jews.

Pastor Brad interjected here that crisis reveals the character that is within us. Character is caught, not taught, he said. This is especially so in the home. Brad shared what he “caught” from his day… an attitude of treating everyone with respect and dignity. “What are your kids catching from you?” he asked.

From Mordecai Esther caught courage.

It is a perilous time, with a potentially dark outcome for all the Jews. Mordecai encourages Esther to step up and not let the moment pass. “You might have been born for a time as this,” he said.

In chapter 5 Esther put on her finest robes with the aim of catching the king’s eye, which she succeeded in doing. Xerxes offers her anything, up to half his kingdom, and she says she’d like the king and Haman to come to a party she has prepared. At the party she says she’d like the king and Haman to come to another party the next day.

Haman is atop the world with joy as he leaves the first banquet, knowing he is an insider now, partying with the king and queen. He is a “somebody” and is eating it up.

But then, when he gets outside to take his limo back home, he notes that Mordecai is out there, still showing no respect, not even afraid of him. Haman is furious, and orders 75 foot gallows to be built.

As it turns out, in another plot twist the king has indigestion and can’t sleep that night after the first banquet. So he stays up and reads some of the record books. It just so happens he reads about how Mordecai saved his life on that earlier occasion, and he is curious what was done to honor the man.

Chapter 6 continues thus…

3 "What honor and recognition has Mordecai received for this?" the king asked.
"Nothing has been done for him," his attendants answered.
4 The king said, "Who is in the court?" Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows he had erected for him.
5 His attendants answered, "Haman is standing in the court."
"Bring him in," the king ordered.
6 When Haman entered, the king asked him, "What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?"
Now Haman thought to himself, "Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?" 7 So he answered the king, "For the man the king delights to honor, 8 have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. 9 Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king's most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, 'This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!' "
10 "Go at once," the king commanded Haman. "Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king's gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended."
11 So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, "This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!"
12 Afterward Mordecai returned to the king's gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief, 13 and told Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him.
His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, "Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!" 14 While they were still talking with him, the king's eunuchs arrived and hurried Haman away to the banquet Esther had prepared.

As the reader can guess, the gallows prepared by Haman for Mordecai end up being Haman’s own gallows when Esther reveals to the king Haman’s plot to wipe out Esther and her people.

Pastor Brad’s closing points quickly followed.

1. Don’t underestimate the Providence of God.
You may have a Haman in your life, or circumstances that seem impossible. Don’t get discouraged. Don’t give up. The story is not over. The story can change.

2. Don’t underestimate the power of good parents.
Your love can make a difference. Your values, wisdom and things you say will go into their hearts and help them later.

3. Never underestimate the power of a simple believer.
Esther was an obscure Jewish girl in a foreign land, yet God orchestrated circumstances and she saved her people.

In closing Pastor Brad picked up the earlier theme he began with. Your greatest worth is not based on what you have done or can do, but who you are in Christ.

You don’t know what God is up to, but He is at work. Your task is to be consistent. Just keep showing up and being there.

With these thoughts, we celebrated the Sacrament of Communion.

If there is someone you know who needs to hear this message or with whom you would like
to share the good things happening at New Life Covenant, please forward.

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