Sunday, December 20, 2009

The Greatest Gift of All

'Tis the weekend before Christmas, a very special time;
Getting everything ready for this season sublime.

This morning we gathered to worship a great God who sent His son, Emmanuel, God with us. Brad welcomed us warmly, and candidly noted that it still blows his mind that the God of the universe would send His son to die for us. As we prepare for Christmas, Brad desired to make us aware of some special insights into this greatest gift of all.

The key announcement was a reminder that the Christmas Eve service will be at 4:00 p.m. on Thursday. Then a worship time commenced, led by the quartet with Chuck, Darlene, Ken and Dale. Two great songs and some Christmas hymns moved us deeper into the service.

Pearl and Ruth Anne lit the advent candles this week. After the offering and a time of praise and prayer, Dana sang a wonderful song about sifting through the attic and recognizing that "my precious Jesus is more than an heirloom to me."

Brad then stepped to the pulpit to deliver the Gospel.

The Greatest Gift of All
The sermon today drew its inspiration from Matthew 2:1-12, the story of the Magi.

1After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem 2and asked, "Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him."
3When King Herod heard this he was disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him. 4When he had called together all the people's chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 5"In Bethlehem in Judea," they replied, "for this is what the prophet has written:
6" 'But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah,
are by no means least among the rulers of Judah;
for out of you will come a ruler
who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.'"
7Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 8He sent them to Bethlehem and said, "Go and make a careful search for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him."

9After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. 11On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshiped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh. 12And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.

As with all great Bible passages many lessons can be extracted from this story. For people who seeking, one can learn much from the dedication of these seekers. And if you are in leadership, there are lessons to be drawn from the disingenuous behavior of Herod as well. But today's theme has to do with the giving of gifts, and the passage does offer insights into how we conduct ourselves in this season of giving.

Brad stated that in all his years of going to church he had never heard a sermon on Christmas gift giving, so he decided it was time. There were four lessons we can take away from this story of the magi. (1) Planning (2) Personalization (3) Appropriate Price and (4) Presentation.

How do we normally think about gift giving? There are certainly a lot of ways we can get it wrong. There's always media pressure to give beyond our means. Or we can give so much at one time that we create unrealistic expectations for the future. Then there are those who piously reject Christmas gift giving altogether. How do we sort it out? The story of the magi can help.

1) Start with Planning
The magi came a long ways to be present at the birth of Jesus. And they had to plan in advance what they would bring. They did not wait till the last minute. They invested time and energy.

Brad then suggested we take out a piece of paper and make a list of people to consider in our gift giving. Faith, family and friends are the big three things in life. But Brad encouraged us to also consider those who were outsiders, the forgotten. On our list of people who are important to us, we need to include the overlooked.

2) Think how to Personalize the gift.
Brad brought examples of gifts that had been meaningful to him. The first was a beaver skin hat that his father paid a Russian man to make for him. Brad called it "the best gift I have ever received." He also shared a Brett Favre jersey and a sticker from his son, which he wore over his heart this morning.

The point here is that each gift demonstrated a knowledge of who Brad was. For this reason each was special to him.

Likewise the magi brought gifts that were fit for a king. Their gifts demonstrated that they understood the true identity of the kingship of Jesus. "Friends, learn from the wise men. Do a little planning and personalize your gift."

3) Price
Yes, the magi spent a lot, but God was worthy. You have to give gifts that fit the price point within your God-given means. This will be a challenge for some because they do not have unlimited resources. The sticker which Brad son gave him was home made, and very special because it was made with love. His son does not have any money, so it was appropriate as well. Meaningful gifts do not have to be expensive.

Brad warned that affluent people can sometimes go overboard just because they can afford to. Often there are many gifts that are simply things we don't need. It's just more clutter. Our giving should not be with the aim of impressing others.

4) Pay attention to the Presentation
The magi worshipped first, then gave. Rather than madly tearing off wrapping paper and wildly opening the presents, take a couple minutes to read the Christmas story and thank God for His gift to us.

While the world was lost, God planned a gift to us that was so spectacular, it took heaven's breath away... a gift to us that was personalized, and pricey. Now we know why the angels sang so gloriously on the hillside that precious night. It was the ultimate gift. To meet the ultimate need.

Brad summed up by suggesting that we can follow that pattern. Let us be responsive to God with an unrestricted heart, offering Him our allegiance and affection.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

It's Worth The Battle

A lot of people were surprised at how crispy cold it was this morning when they awoke. The cold only served to make our little country church feel especially warm as we gathered for worship today.

Pastor Brad welcomed us in with his heart "Good morning!" and went straight into announcements which included this afternoon's Christmas program at 4:00. There will be no board meeting Tuesday in order to free up time at this busy season. Next Sunday there will be no Sunday School.

Today is the third week of Advent. The Montgomerys -- Tracey, Ali and Morgan -- lit the Advent candles and read several passages from Scripture about the coming of the Messiah, of one would would be called "God with us."

An introit by Darlene preceded a heartfelt song of worship by Chuck, Ellie and Darlene which led us into worship.

After the offering and a time of prayer, Gwen sang Thou Didst Leave Thy Throne, a Christmas classic that never fails to move. Brad then brought us the message.

It's Worth The Battle

A placid, sweet Nativity scene was projected onto a screen for us as the starting point for today's sermon. We sometimes forget that the people we read about in Scripture are really people like us, people who have struggles and issues to overcome. The love we see in our images of the birth of Jesus is not something that just happened naturally. There were battles that had to be fought in order to achieve this moment of warmth and harmony.

1st Battle: The Battle for Righteousness

The first battle is a battle for personal integrity. Though we are all familiar with the story, Brad read to us again the account from the Gospel of Matthew.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus Christ came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be with child through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.

In those days, engagements were a very public matter. For this reason it was even more challenging for Joseph when his bride-to-be notified him that she was inexplicably pregnant. The two had chosen to maintain a holy stance until the wedding, and now she was pregnant and he knew this was not a child of his loins.

Brad noted here that obviously Joseph and Mary had kept their relationship pure during the time of their engagement, otherwise he might not even have known this was not his child. Brad asked, "Do you think God would have chosen Joseph and Mary had they not fought that battle for personal righteousness? Would we even know who they were today had they not fought to have a clear conscience before God?

As the Psalmist stated in Psalm 1:

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.
2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

We were urged to be like David who wrote, "Lord, search me and know my heart so that if there is any wrong in me I can make it right." (paraphrase)

The fruit of a good conscience is freedom, joy, and peace that passes understanding.

2nd Battle: The Battle for Graciousness

When you put yourself in Joseph's shoes it is not hard to imagine what his reactions might have been when he learned that Mary was with child. You can be sure Joseph struggled over this. Rage, hurt, feelings of betrayal were undoubtedly stirred. After battling all these feelings, he chose in the end to be gracious. Rather than put her up to public ridicule, he "decided to divorce her quietly."

Joseph didn't act on whatever his first impulses might have been. Rather, he opened his heart to God and for God's help to gain a different perspective.

Brad brought this to out attention because today in many of our Christmas gatherings we will be with people who have hurt us. Yes, we may have been hurt, but how long do we make them pay for having hurt us? When does the cycle of meanness cease?

God responded to Joseph's heart anguish and prayers, and showed Joseph in a dream that Mary had indeed been pure and the child was from God.

Battle 3: The Battle for Trust

20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, "Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins."

There comes a time when we have be willing to live by faith and not sight. Joseph was asked to trust a lot. That the baby was from God and not a secret lover was a big one. He had to trust that taking Mary as his wife was not going to backfire on him later. And here he is asked to name the baby Jesus, which means "God with us," the one who is going to save us from our sins. In his conservative rural town there were probably some people who might have gone ballistic upon hearing this. But Joseph trusted God in this, too.

We ourselves have trust battles. We trust that the Christmas story is true. We believe in the miraculous birth, and that He died on a cross for our sins. And that He rose again from the dead and has continued to reach out to our fallen world ever since. Do you believe all this?

If the Bible's account of the birth of Jesus teaches us anything, it's that our Christian faith is work. They fought battles that were not easy. Yet in the heat of battle, they felt the Spirit of God helping them along the way.

So it is with us today.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Getting It Right

Today's service was a very special time today. With a seriously cold, crisp morning greeting us this morning, the warmth of the sanctuary was especially nice. But the service was special not for this reason alone. In addition to being Communion Sunday and the second week of Advent, Pastor Brad's message was profound in its simplicity and directness.

After the greeting there were several announcements.

1. Poinsettias are always appreciated this time of year. If you would like to bring one we will decorate the sanctuary with them.
2. The special concert featuring Christina Deloach and music from her new CD, Father's Heart. Invite a friend.
3. Wednesday eve at 6:15 there will be a practice for all the children in the Christmas program.
4. The annual cookie drive is on for inmates at the St. Louis County jail. Due to allergies, no nuts or coconuts please.
5. If you would like to contribute to make this Christmas special for the needy family we're sponsoring this season, contact Pam Johnson.

It was also announced that everyone was invited to the Shannons after the service for food and fellowship, their way of thanking us for the privilege of serving Christ with us.

Darlene's introit led us into a time of worship, offering and prayers.

Getting It Right
Brad began by asking if any of us have experienced "buyer's remorse." Nearly everyone was familiar with the concept, and he compared it to the feeling many of us feel the first week of January when someone asks, "How was your Christmas." Instead of having given to the poor or reaching out to friends or doing other things of value, we all too often feel like we missed the point of it all, again.

"What if we decide that this year we're going to covenant together to get it right?" he said.

Before presenting his points he noted that this message was just as much for himself as for us. Too often we can get caught up in Christmas parties and other activities, never really taking time to read and contemplate the Christmas story, which he proceeded to read for us, from Luke 2:1-20.

The Birth of Jesus
1In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree that a census should be taken of the entire Roman world. 2(This was the first census that took place while Quirinius was governor of Syria.) 3And everyone went to his own town to register.

4So Joseph also went up from the town of Nazareth in Galilee to Judea, to Bethlehem the town of David, because he belonged to the house and line of David. 5He went there to register with Mary, who was pledged to be married to him and was expecting a child. 6While they were there, the time came for the baby to be born, 7and she gave birth to her firstborn, a son. She wrapped him in cloths and placed him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.

The Shepherds and the Angels
8And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. 9An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. 10But the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. 11Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is Christ[a] the Lord. 12This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger."
13Suddenly a great company of the heavenly host appeared with the angel, praising God and saying,
14"Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace to men on whom his favor rests."

15When the angels had left them and gone into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let's go to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

16So they hurried off and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby, who was lying in the manger. 17When they had seen him, they spread the word concerning what had been told them about this child, 18and all who heard it were amazed at what the shepherds said to them. 19But Mary treasured up all these things and pondered them in her heart. 20The shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things they had heard and seen, which were just as they had been told.

Brad's message today focused on practical things we can do when we walk out the church doors and re-enter the world we inhabit.

1) The Nativity Scene
Pastor Brad shared a couple of the thoughts he's had when driving past a nativity scene in someone's yard. "Who's got the time to put that up?" he said... and "Where do they store all that stuff the rest of the year?"

Then he gave us a new thought to call to mind every time we see a nativity scene: THIS REALLY HAPPENED IN HUMAN HISTORY.

He cited the Holocaust, and how it's one thing to read about it, and quite another to stand inside the showers that killed masses of people.

Brad also told about a friend who visited Israel experiencing first hand the very places which we have read about all our lives. The reality of it all came vividly to life.

So when we see a Nativity creche, Brad encourages us to remember, "This really happened in human history, and it happened for me."

2) Christmas Music
Next, Brad showed us a record album. It happened to be an Andy Williams Christmas album. "I'd like you to tether it (Christmas music) to a central truth, the song of the first angels who appeared to the shepherds: Glory to God in the highest, and Peace on earth to men."

People are anxious in our world today, but Jesus came to give us peace in our hearts, not only in this life but especially regarding eternity.

3) Christmas Cards
Brad held up a Christmas card from someone who wished them well. When we get a card it is nice to know we are on somebody's friendship list. But here's a verse that adds a dimension to this thought, John 15:5.

"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."

"We're on God's friendship list," Brad said.

4) Credit Card
Brad showed us a credit card, which a lot of people use this time of year. We all know how they work. We use the card now, and pay the bill later. This year, whenever we're using our credit or debit cards, Brad wants us to say, "I had a debt that came due one day & Jesus came and paid it... and it hurt Him. And I now worship You."

5) Presents
Brad then showed us a gift bag, a present. Sometimes presents are hard to accept. But what good is unexpressed love? Brad said we should thank God for the person who gave that give to us.

Think about this beautiful gift: God saw this broken world and came to us as a gift. As we open gifts say, "What an awesome God we serve."


As a transition into communion we listened to a recording of Christina Deloach singing Twinkle Twinkle from her first CD. Communion was especially meaningful as together we sang the Lord's Prayer and interwove other Christmas messages into a worshipful flow, an appropriate conclusion to a beautiful service.

Sunday, November 29, 2009


Pastor Brad welcomed us warmly, saying, "I'm delighted you're here today." Commenting on our Thanksgiving week he added that he was grateful for our church family. We were reminded that Advent means "coming" and in addition to being a reference to the Lord's having come, He is also coming again. The Lord keeps His promises and will return.

Announcements were many including the following.
Next Sunday there will be an open house at Shannon's from noon to 3:00 p.m. as a way of giving back, of thanking us for having them
Dec. 10: Christina DeLoach Ministries is putting on a Christmas concert which will include songs from her recently released CD "Father's Heart." Program starts at 7:00 p.m.
Sunday Dec. 13 is our own Christmas Program, starting at 4:00 p.m. with a meal served after. See Paula if you can help, setup on Saturday or finishing prep Sunday.
Pam shared that we have received the name of the family our church can help for Christmas dinner and gifts. For more information contact Pam Johnson in the church directory.

Since last week's service the church got a Christmas makeover and looked quite ready for the season. The ladies who made all the ornaments for the trees, upstairs and down, and helped decorate were all thanked heartily. Darlene's introit then ushered us into a worship time that included the lighting of the first Advent candle.

The children collected our soup cans filled with change for Covenant World Relief. A short video showed the various ways our contributions are used to help needy people, including health, education, women's empowerment, food and micro enterprise. With the children all gathered at the front, Brad took the opportunity to share four lessons we all need to learn about money: how to earn it, how to spend it responsibly, how to save it, and how to give so that we can help the marginalized and oppressed.

After the offering, Brad read to us from Luke 21:25-36, led us in a time of prayer and turned the pulpit over to Leonard Armstrong for the sermon.


Leonard, who has grown up in this church and stated he will no doubt die her, began by sharing how when the family was together over Thanksgiving his older brother, who had been at seminary when Len was young, began giving advice on how to do a sermon. Len was 13 or 14 when his brother graduated seminary and apparently had taken his share of ribbing at being the "little brother." Leonard grabbed his older brother and held him up to the ceiling, noting that his brother may be the older brother but was no longer the bigger brother.

With some amusement and his winsome self-deprecating style, Leonard established his authority as an amateur, as opposed to his seminary trained older sibling. (Note: As all of us know intimately, Leonard is well versed in his knowledge of the Scriptures.)

The theme of the message was based on lessons from the life of Jeremiah. His starting point was Jeremiah 33:14-16.

14 " 'The days are coming,' declares the LORD, 'when I will fulfill the gracious promise I made to the house of Israel and to the house of Judah.

15 " 'In those days and at that time
I will make a righteous Branch sprout from David's line;
he will do what is just and right in the land.

16 In those days Judah will be saved
and Jerusalem will live in safety.
This is the name by which it [a] will be called:
The LORD Our Righteousness.'

Jeremiah was famously honest with God, sharing quite openly his complaints and frustrations. He also spoke out against his enemies, to the extent that the the word "jeremiad" originated with him, which means "a prolonged lamentation or mournful complaint."

Jeremiah did not want to be a prophet. These were very dark times in Israel's history. Advent means looking toward the light. Jeremiah did that.

Leonard shared a Civil War anecdote. When Savannah had surrendered to Sherman after the Union army's march to the sea, Lincoln wrote in a letter that "Now the people have seen a great light." The war was not over, but there was evidence here that an end was in sight to the suffering which tore apart the young nation.

Though Jeremiah lived in dark times, he saw the light that was coming. One who would promote justice and do what was right was coming.

Jeremiah didn't only speak out, he also did things. On one occasion he smashed a vase to make a point, and on another he was instructed to go out a buy a belt, which led to another anecdote from the days of Pastor Hartmark because the King James Version called it a girdle. Pastor Hartmark had 15 children. Mrs. Hartmark was home watching the young 'uns one Sunday and when the kids came home from church she asked what their father preached on that morning. They said he'd preached about girdles.

Leonard noted that the Lord had instructed Jeremiah not to marry, nor to go to feasts. There were hard days ahead for Israel. The days of Israel's exile had already begun. For these reasons Jeremiah has been referred to as "the weeping prophet." He was a man who knew loneliness.

During this period of Israel's history there were very few good kings, most were bad. Unfortunately, one of these good kings did not listen to the Lord or His prophet. Josiah was told not to attack Pharaoh Neco and the Egyptians who were on their way to attack the Babylonians. Neco requested permission from King Josiah who evidently accepted bad counsel and refused it. As a result Josiah went to fight the Egyptians where they clashed in the plains of Megiddo. Josiah was killed.

Josiah's passing left Jeremiah disheartened and resulted in his writing of his laments, which became the book of Lamentations. After Josiah's death bad kings took the throne, persecuting Jeremiah. On one occasion Jeremiah was thrown into a cistern.

Leonard noted that God was fed up with Israel at this point, but Jeremiah was concerned and continued to pray for them even when God had had it with them. Here's a typical passage from that period, Jeremiah 22:13-17...

13 "Woe to him who builds his palace by unrighteousness,
his upper rooms by injustice,
making his countrymen work for nothing,
not paying them for their labor.

14 He says, 'I will build myself a great palace
with spacious upper rooms.'
So he makes large windows in it,
panels it with cedar
and decorates it in red.

15 "Does it make you a king
to have more and more cedar?
Did not your father have food and drink?
He did what was right and just,
so all went well with him.

16 He defended the cause of the poor and needy,
and so all went well.
Is that not what it means to know me?"
declares the LORD.

17 "But your eyes and your heart
are set only on dishonest gain,
on shedding innocent blood
and on oppression and extortion."

Kingdoms are not intended to be about power and back-stabbing. Love is God's way.

In dark times we look forward to light. God, Leonard reminded us, is not looking for greatness but rather childlikeness. As Paul writes in the second chapter of his letter to the Philippians, there is a day coming when "at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow... and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father."

That is the light we see in the future.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

The Ruler of the Relationship

What a contrast between the grim and dreary weather outside and the warm glow of fellowship inside our church this morning as Pastor Brad proclaimed a cheerful "Good morning!" and welcomed us to worship this day. In his customary manner he briefly highlighted his theme for today's message: re-thinking our relationships. He also reminded us that it was Christ the King Sunday in which we proclaim Jesus as Lord of our lives.

Announcements were many.
1. Tonight at 7:00 there is a Thanksgiving service at St. John's Lutheran Church.
2. Don't forget to bring your soup can offerings next week for Covenant World Relief.
3. December 10th there will be a special Christmas concert featuring Christina Deloach.
4. Friday at 6:00 all who wish to participate may come to the church to decorate it for Christmas.
5. The first bike for the Congo is almost paid for, with the goal being for two.
6. The school supplies for local schools were distributed and appreciated.

Darlene played the introit and ushered us into a worship time led by Brad, Ellie, Pearl and Mae.

Caryn Pederson was with us today to share about the work of Pioneer Ministries with which she is involved. Pioneer is a missions organization involved with planting churches in difficult places, including Thailand, Indonesia, Cambodia and Afghanistan among others. Caryn, who has been with Pioneers for ten years, is joining a "prayer tank" in Wales. Her enthusiasm was infectious as she said, "If we're not living recklessly for God, then what are we doing?"

The Scripture reading today was from John 18:33-37. After a time of prayer, including some praises, Brad shared the message which God had placed on his heart.

The Ruler of the Relationship

"Anytime we don't do what we feel led to do, things start to go downhill," he began. It was a great opening to a message which clearly came from a deep place in his heart. Our disobedience is not just bad for others, it is an act of self-betrayal.

Brad indicated straight up that he was hesitant to get into this passage of Scripture because of the somewhat hard truths it addresses. His straight talk, and compassionate approach gave a special power to the words he shared as he sought to convey what was behind the words Paul had written to the Colossian church nearly 2000 years ago.

From Colossians 3:12 to the end of the book Paul is writing about relationships. Today's passage, beginning in verse 18, calls us to radically re-think husband and wife relationships, parent-child relationships and employer-employee relations... and ultimately our relationships with each other in the family of God.

18Wives, submit to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.
19Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.
20Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.
21Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.
22Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to win their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. 23Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, 24since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. 25Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for his wrong, and there is no favoritism.
Colossians 4
1Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.

This passage flows directly out of the previous verse in which Paul states, "And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Paul is saying that in your relationships, whenever you sense you should do or say something that will honor Jesus, don't betray that feeling. Do it with a grateful heart, in honor of the one who has done everything for you.

Context is important when studying Scripture. In that culture, which Paul was writing into, women had no rights. Men could treat their women any way they wanted, and often did. He could abuse her, he could be unfaithful, he could hurt her in any way and she had no legal recourse.

Paul says, "Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands." A difficult request. But he follows it with another admonition to the husbands, to love their wives and not be harsh with them.

Brad immediately reminded us of the passage in Ephesians where Paul states we are all to submit to one another "out of reverence for Christ." This is to be the general attitude in every Christian home, in every family, in every group. Wives, husbands, kids... submit. In another place Paul wrote, "In Christ there is no male or female," and by this he indicates that submission does not cancel out our individuality.

Brad explained submission in this way. "If I submit a bid on a building project, I am saying in effect, 'Here are my service, I am offering them.'" In the same manner, when we submit to one another, we are extending this same service, offering our talents, our wisdom, our minds, gifts, our whole self into the relationship. The wife who submits to her husband is doing so in honor of the one who submitted everything for us, including His life.

Brad quickly asserted that this is not a blind submission. Paul writes, "as is fitting in the Lord." Wives don't have to submit to husbands who urge them to do immoral things. Nor do they have to submit to physical abuse, or let their children receive such abuse. Nor do they have to submit to husbands who assault or coerce or traumatize them. That's not fitting in the Lord. Women are "not called to submit to being a punching bag," he added.

The reciprocal command is for husbands to love their wives. It's a command with no qualifier.

The next section deals with parent-child relationships. Again, Paul was writing into a culture where children had no rights. Parents could even sell their kids into slavery if they wanted to. Yet Paul writes, "Obey your parents in everything." The Scriptures teach us to honor our parents. Jesus Himself obeyed his parents, even though they were sinful and fallible.

To parents, Paul gives clear instruction that their children have value. "Don't embitter your children." Parents can go wrong on both sides when raising children. They can be too controlling, uptight and thereby driving them away. Or they can be so lax with so much freedom that the children are insecure because they have no boundaries.

Brad shared details about how eagles teach their young ones to fly. They have no intention of keeping the baby eagle in the nest forever. One day they nudge the eaglet out of the nest onto their backs and fly high, high, high up into the sky, and then with a little flip drop the young eagle off their backs to give it a chance to learn how to use its wings. The parent drops down and catches the young one and flied up again to give another chance. Eventually the young eagle finds his wings.

So it is that parent let go, but do not abandon their young. We help them find their own wings. Parents provide protection and security, but also prepare their children for life in the real world at large.

Paul doesn't quit with family relationships but also addresses employee/employer relationships. Again, context is extremely important for grasping this passage. At the time slaves comprised one third to one half of the Roman empire. Why didn't Paul lambaste slavery? Why didn't Paul talk about the rights of slaves? Instead he said, "Slaves, obey your masters."

There is a radical principle here. Real change always begins in the heart. The Gospel is a message directed to heart change, internal change.

"I'm not in favor of Internet porn or drug use or abortion," Brad said, but his heart breaks over the emptiness that people are experiencing that leads to these things. "You can change laws, but if hearts don't change, what good is it? Real change begins with a changed heart."

Paul was sowing seeds that would ultimately overthrow slavery and abuse of women. Real change is internal, not structural.

So, Paul's message to slaves, and to employees today, is this: "It is the Lord Christ you are serving." We who are employed are to work as for the Lord. Your employer pays your salary, but it is the Lord whom you are working for.

In exchange, employers are commanded to do right by their employees. Pay fair wages. Encourage them. Treat them with respect.

From here Pastor Brad proceeded to draw attention to a few of the rich jewels that one can easily extract from reading between the lines in the final passages of this great letter to the Colossians. For example, in verse 10 Paul writes what appears to be a rather non-descript statement, "My fellow prisoner Aristarchus sends you his greetings..." Most people just pass over this, but who was Aristarchus? This was a man who had been loyal to Paul through much hardship, and stands as an example to us as the kind of friendship that hangs with us through great hardship. These are very special people. In Acts 19 Aristarchus stood with Paul in a situation that resulted in his being beaten to within an inch of his life. And in Acts 27 we find that Aristarchus was still there for Paul and endured a shipwreck with him. These kinds of friends are special. They don't bail when times get tough.

Proverbs 17 says, "A friend loves at all times, and a brother is born for adversity."

Another brother-in-Christ mentioned by Paul here is Tychicus, a dear brother. Now here's a dear brother and what did he do? He delivered a letter. He was faithful, and Paul affirmed him with these words of encouragement.

Brad then shared how a friend of his, whose wedding he recently participated in, once shared words of encouragement with him. It was only a moment in time, 30 to 45 seconds, yet they were life giving words and invaluable.

Relationships, of all kinds, are important. That is why God calls us to a radical re-calibration of our relationships.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Being Wise Toward Outsiders

Music is such a meaningful part of the Christian life. From ancient times songs have risen in men's hearts in moments of celebration, for expressing gratitude and adoration, and for other purposes and occasions. This morning we opened with the chorus, "I will sing of the mercies of the Lord forever." After announcements, Darlene's piano introit expressively conveyed another great song, His Eye Is On The Sparrow. The song is so rich, it seemed appropriate to share a portion of it here.

Why should I feel discouraged,
Why should the shadows fall
Why should my heart be troubled,
When all but hope is gone?
When Jesus is my fortress.
My constant friend is He.
His eye is on the Sparrow,
and I know He watches me.
His eye is on the Sparrow,
and I know He watches me!

I sing because I'm happy,
I sing because I'm free,
For His eye is on the sparrow,
And I know He watches me.

A Very Special Sunday

Today the youth of the church carried the Operation Christmas Child gift boxes to the altar which had been assembled for needy children. Then the children's choir sang several songs for us.

The Scripture reading, and the passage upon which the sermon was based, is from Colossians 4:2-6

2Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.

Pastor Brad ascended to the pulpit and after leading us in a time of prayer began his message.

Being Wise Toward Outsiders

Brad began by quizzing us about "famous last words" from Nathan Hale to Dwight Eisenhower and ended with this one. "Who said, 'Please leave the shower curtain on the inside of the tub.'?" As at least one member of the congregation knew, it was Conrad Hilton.

This amusing intro was a lead in to the importance of last words in general, and Paul's last words to the Colossians specifically. For most people their last words touch on issues of significance, and so it is with Paul's letter here, the last time he will be addressing the Colossian believers. There were two things burning on Paul's heart, prayer and spreading the Word.

Brad demonstrated his depth of understanding of ancient languages and by explaining to us what the meaning of the words "devote yourselves to prayer" mean. "It means, devote yourselves to prayer." In other words, pray a lot, whether alone or in groups, in all circumstances, in the morning and in the evening and when you're up and when you're down, when you're worried, sick, burdened, broken hearted or when you're soaring and setting records; pray when you're busy and pray when you're bored.

He noted this insight from Dallas Willard. "The more often we pray, the more we think to pray."

In another letter Paul admonished, "Pray without ceasing." It's an ongoing dialogue with God throughout the day.

Brad compared it to having a headset on in which one ear is tuned continually to God's voice and the other to what we are experiencing here and now. Whether driving in a car, or sitting in a meeting at work, we can have an ear open and a dialogue going. "Lord, help me to be effective in this situation."

There's a second component to the life of prayer that is equally important. It is a healthy discipline, to set aside time apart exclusively for prayer. In Matthew 6:6 Jesus said, "When you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father who is unseen..."

In short, both of these are important components of the life of prayer, the ongoing dialogue and the time set apart.

In the next portion of this passage Paul spells out what he wishes prayer for, which also has two components. First, he asks them to pray that God will open a door for the Gospel. This is a very important truth. You can't cram Christ through closed doors. God prepares hearts and He does this through our prayers. John 6:44 states "No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day." Prayer has to precede evangelism.

Second, he asks them to pray that they will make the message clear. It is clarity, not cleverness, that wins souls and changes lives. Paul did not ask to be impressive, only effective through a clear presentation of the words of life. When the door to peoples' hearts is open, you want to be clear.

Brad shared three values that were important to him when presenting the Good News of life in Christ.

1. "I want the person I am talking to to know our God is filled with love and compassion, that His arms are open to all."

2. "No amount of human effort will make people right with God. You can't save yourself."

3. "There is a decision that needs to be made. You don't drift into faith. You either opt in or you opt out."

The passage encourages hearers to be wise toward outsiders and sensitive. Simultaneously, our conversation is to full of grace, seasoned with salt, which is an interesting description. Paul asks the Colossians to be attractive representatives on behalf of Jesus: loving, winsome, fun, grace-filled. But this little phrase "seasoned with salt" is also an intriguing part of the request.

Brad noted that the salt helps give an edge to the food and that there may be moments when we can make our message clear, but out of fear of offending we may hold back from what we really mean. He cited the Rev. Billy Graham as being a master at this throughout his adult life. He teaches a clear message, prays that God will open doors, treats unbelievers respectfully, and when it comes time for the invitation says there' room at the cross for you, asking people to stand up, to make a decision and not wait for tomorrow because there are no guarantees for tomorrow. This is the salt.

The death rate is 100%. We ourselves and everyone we know is going to die one day. No one escapes that. Thus, it is worth a prayer every morning to ask God to open a door for you to share the Gospel, to be used to transform a life. Then, leave it in God's hands.
The message is our responsibility to share.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Extreme Makeover

At the start of the service the gregariousness of our congregation was bubbling effusively this morning with high energy and good vibes. Pastor Brad had to really shout to be heard as he welcomed us with his loudest "Good morning! I'm delighted you are here to worship today."

Several announcements were made, as follows.
1. Covenant World Relief soup cans were being distributed again this year to help with needs throughout the globe.
2. Operation Christmas Child is gathering momentum. Wednesday the 11th we will be serving dinner and packing shoe boxes. Everyone is invited.
3. A thank you from Albrook school was conveyed to us for helping with school supplies, etc.

Today marked a first (or a first in a long time) as we assembled a modest choir to usher us into worship. A nice rendition of Father Almighty was followed by Worthy of Worship. Thank you Chuck and Darlene for spearheading and leading this... and to all who made it happen. (Very brief practice next week directly after the service so we can discuss best time for rehearsals.)

The Scripture reading from Colossians 3:12-17 was the basis for today's sermon.

12Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. 13Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. 14And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.

15Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. 16Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. 17And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

During our time of prayer we lifted up many needs including the families of victims of the shootings this week. Norm and Mae will be visiting the children's home ministry in Phoenix which has become a big part of their lives. Duane reminded us, too, that today is the annual day of prayer for Christians and martyrs who have been and are being persecuted for their faith.

Extreme Makeover

Brad opened by by reminding us of one of the continuous threads in this sermon series on Colossians: the need to do a 180 degree turn in life. This morning, he said that sometimes a 180 has to begin with a 360. This is what he meant by that.

There's a show on cable television which aims to convince people that they are in need of an extreme makeover in their attire. It does this by bringing them into a room called the 360 degree mirror. The results are highly embarrassing and motivational. Similarly we ourselves need to see the 360 degree view of our lives in order to prod us to take the necessary steps toward making the 180 degree turn from self-destructive habits and bad behaviors.

We are God's chosen people, Paul writes, set apart for a different kind of life. Therefore, we are to clothe ourselves with compassion, kindness, etc. as outlined. In other places the New Testament also refers to clothing as a metaphor for putting on the Spirit filled life. Jesus told the disciples in Luke 24 they would be clothed with power from on high, and Peter writes in his chapter five of his first letter that we are to be clothed with humility. And in another place the New Testament states, "be clothed with the fruit of the spirit."

Brad proceeded to confide that this passage was quite pointed for him this week as he prepared his message, confessing that he has failed to be as compassionate, patient and kind as he ought. With this familiarity with his shortcomings he was able to bring into focus the real value of our new attire.

Clothe yourself with compassion. This simply means having a soft heart for people different from you. Whether circumstantial (young, old, single, married, black, white) or with special needs, we need to learn to see the world through the eyes of others.

Clothe yourself with kindness. We can often be kind to strangers and not be so kind at home as we ought. Most of us have been in a situation where the words being spoken are laced with irritation or anger, then the phone rings and one person or the other sweetly answer, "Hello, hey how ya doing?" We're capable of kindness but sometimes do not want to be.

Clothe yourself with humility. This is an attitude of brokenness. Paul came to this place when God brought him to his knees. It was the starting point for being used mightily.

Clothe yourself with gentleness. This does not mean that we become wimpy. The Greek word here means "power under control." Brad illustrated it by describing a solidly built power lifter who was very strong, yet carried his young daughter with a special tenderness. Jesus Himself demonstrated this kind of gentleness when He could stop a raging storm, yet still cradle children on his lap.
Clothe yourself with patience. Brad asked how patient we are when driving. Somehow it seems when we get stuck behind people driving too slow they're idiots, and when we have people cruising up against our rear bumper because they want us to go faster they're morons. Alas, are we the only ones who get it right? Usually we're short on patience with this and many other areas of our lives.

Forgive one another. "How are you doing on the forgiveness front?" Brad asked. And ultimately, put on love. "Be honest with yourselves. When you do the 360 degree mirror, how do you fare?"

The next section, he pointed out, had both expected and unexpected statements. Verse 15 speaks of us being members of one body, connected. Being connected to the body of Christ, and fellow believers, is important.

Moreover Paul writes, "Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." Jesus said, "My peace I give unto you." Some people today are under so much stress that the only way they can survive is by having the peace of Christ in their hearts. When the peace of Christ rules, even if the worst should happen it is well with your soul.

The 16th verse, though, had an unexpected piece. Yes, one would expect the first part, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly..." but here's something unexpected. We're instructed to teach and admonish one another with singing, with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. In other words, transformation is occurring when we're sharing hymns, spiritual formation is occurring while worshiping in song and even when singing to one another. "Don't blow off the song time," Brad said, because there are significant things happening.

It's a fact that by tomorrow you will forget 80% or more of the words from this sermon, but we often remember the songs.

As an aside, Brad commented that sometimes we have outsiders with us who are seekers but do not know what we're really all about. Occasionally, and maybe often, these people are here to see if we are just going through the motions of religious activity or really believe what we're saying and doing.

As for the songs we sing, no matter what songs come up, bear with one another. Joyfully learn our grandson's songs.

Brad closed with a long anecdotal story about a guy who behaved badly, forgetting to pick his wife up at the beauty salon so that she had to walk home in the rain a couple miles. He was hours late, due primarily to his own neglect, and when he got home he well deserved being assaulted by his wife because he was supposed to help clean the house and get ready for having his parents for dinner, who were arriving just behind him. She meets him at the door with a twelve inch knife. Instead of her giving a lashing, she says, "Hey, it's no big deal. I knew you'd forget... just give me a kiss and let's enjoy the evening with your parents."

What kind of kiss would you give? A little peck on the cheek or a condescending smooch. No, it's going to be demonstrative, appreciative and expressive.

So it is that our Maker and Master awaits us... We have repeatedly failed Him and know it. He has a sword in His hand which could be used to destroy us, and we would deserve it, but says instead that by His own blood He paid a price to enable us to be forgiven and reconciled. How do we respond to such a God as this? A peck on the cheek? A smile? No, you're going to say thank you, I love you, I worship you for this love and forgiveness and understanding. You are an incredible God.

It is out of this kind of heart that Paul writes, "And whatever you do whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to the Father through Him."

This message was followed by the breaking of bread and communion.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Clothes

Despite the wet, chilly weather, we had a nice full sanctuary this morning, eager to enjoy one another's company and to worship the Lord. Pastor Brad greeted us warmly, and announced our semi-annual meeting after the service. Other announcements included:
1. Operation Christmas Child. Nov. 11 we will be packing shoe boxes in conjunction with the Adventure Club for distribution to children in need around the world. For more information visit Samaritan's Purse.

2. Teen Challenge Gala Banquet October 30
3. New Life Covenant will host a free Christmas concert featuring the music of Christina Deloach with a free will offering, proceeds going to a ministry in Africa.

After a time of worship and the offering, Joe Stapleton read from Colossians 3:1-11, the basis for today's message by Pastor Brad. After a time of prayer, we listened to another good sermon from Colossians.

New Clothes
A key point in today's message was that most things in life have two components: preparation and presentation. Both are essential and neither can be neglected.

Examples are all around us. Brad cited painters who must do prep work before doing the painting. Chefs do a lot of prep before making the final presentation at the dining room table. Darlene prepares for our services.

Brad applied this to the section of Scripture we were to address today. A lot of Christians simply want to know the rules, what to do and not do. But success in living a Christian life comes by understanding the preparation part, understanding the basis for our faith and how God is working in our lives.

As we approach today's passage, then, Brad felt it important to revisit the first two chapters of Colossians which are foundations for the latter half of the book. The "to do" rules are best understood within the broader context of this prep. Hence, Brad summarized his last several weeks of messages for us.

In Colossians 1:12-14 Paul wrote that the Father has qualified us to share in the inheritance of His people and rescued us from the dominion of darkness.

Colossians 1:27 is another great passage stating that Jesus is not "out there somewhere" but the glory of God is within us, "Christ in you, the hope of glory."

Colossians 2:6-8 then goes on to say that just as we received Him, we are to continue in Him, rooted in Him. Trees draw nourishment from the earth through their roots, and in the same manner our soul draws nourishment from Christ by being rooted in Him.

In verses 9 and 10 Paul warns against being taken captive by deceivers, and reminds us that we do not need anything else besides Jesus. Jesus plus nothing... He is our sufficiency.

Against this preparatory backdrop we turn to chapter 3. "Since, then..." It is a hinge point. The second half hinges on the first. "You have been raised with Christ..."

So, what now? "Set your minds on things above." It is our position in Christ that enables us to do this. Here and elsewhere Paul says we need to re-wallpaper our minds. "You died and your life is hidden with Christ in God."

Brad emphasized that we need to get certain thing in their right order, and understand what our part is and what God's part is, especially here. Our part is to count ourselves dead to sin, and God's part is to transform us. To make his point he used the metaphor of a caterpillar. The caterpillar can't turn itself into a butterfly by walking around all day. Rather, it climbs to a branch and gives up. The mystery of transformation occurs only when it has stopped trying, has died to itself.

In Galatians Paul states, "I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live, yet not I, but Christ lives in me." (Gal. 2:20) This dying, being crucified with Christ, is a daily cooperation with God.

Where this leads is to the clothing metaphor. Brad brought some used, paint-spattered clothes and set them up front on a chair. It was not easy to see from the back, but the picture is clear enough. Paul instructs us to take off our old dirty, stained clothing and put on Christ. That is, take off your anger, bitterness, malice, slander and filthy language.

Brad explained these a little further. The word for anger is a slow burning anger, which undergirds the bitterness. Malice is intent, slander is the actual hurt, and filthy language the venom. It is a vivid picture of sin.

"The mouth is the billboard of your heart," he said.

The last portion of this passage flows out of everything previous.

5Put to death, therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature: sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which is idolatry. 6Because of these, the wrath of God is coming.[b] 7You used to walk in these ways, in the life you once lived. 8But now you must rid yourselves of all such things as these: anger, rage, malice, slander, and filthy language from your lips. 9Do not lie to each other, since you have taken off your old self with its practices 10and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge in the image of its Creator. 11Here there is no Greek or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. (Col. 3:5-11)

It is in the context of putting off the old that we can understand how to put on the new. You don't shower and get clean then put on your sweaty old work clothes again, do you?

It is Christ who renews us, and transforms us. When we put off the old, put to death the earthly nature, the miracle can happen then. The caterpillar can't take credit for becoming a butterfly, nor does he even understand how it happened, but his full potential is reached only when he comes to the end of himself.

At this we sang a new variation on the classic hymn, "Take my life and let it be consecrated Lord, to Thee."

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Paul's Labor for the Church

This week's cold snap culminated in an early snow yesterday. Yet this morning the sun broke through and as the service opened, melting snow was dripping from the roof outside, no doubt assisted by the warmth from within. The lively, celebratory mood was broken only by the ebullient greeting of Pastor Brad and his genuine exclamation, "I'm delighted you're here today."

Key announcements before the commencement of the service included a reminder that the junior high retreat will be next weekend at Covenant Park and some information about the discussions taking place regarding the possibilities regarding a potential purchase of Caribou Lake School for our future building. Meetings have been conducted regarding the pitfalls and processes for this kind of move.

Darlene ushered us into worship again with special music that was, as usual, evocative. Ellie and Brad served as worship leaders this morning. The Scripture reading, after an offering, was taken from Colossians 1:24-2:5.

Paul's Labor for the Church

Brad began be re-reading the text for today's message, asking us to consider the words that jumped out at us. At first blush it is a passage with a level of complexity that does not make for easy understanding. Brad said that sometimes when he reads a section of Scripture that is difficult he looks for keywords which he holds onto as clues for unlocking the message or meanings in the passage.

Affliction, suffering, purpose, mystery and commission were some of the key words or ideas here in this passage.

Using three of these key words, Brad formed an outline that he hoped would provide us with a measure of understanding.
I. Commission
II. Specific Goals
III. Suffering

Paul writes, "I have become its servant by the commission God gave me." His commission was to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles.

What does it mean to have a calling or commission? Brad explained that our calling is an answer to the question, "Where can I fit in to the larger work of God."

Do you believe every Christian gets a calling? Paul believes all have a call on their lives. The next question is, will we carry it out?

Jesus said, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23) Brad asked us what kind of cross this was that we're asked to carry. A cross of wood? Obviously not. Rather, our cross is our calling. We are to be faithful to it, even if it costs us something.

Specific Goals
For this reason it is important that we discover our calling. Whose ultimately responsibility is it for you to find your calling? Is it God's responsibility?

Paul fasted and prayed for three days after his Damascus Road experience. (Acts 9) We have to lower the ambient noise level in our lives. Then we need to search out and deploy our gifts. As we step out we discover what we were born to be.

Jesus knew His calling, to seek and to save the lost. Mother Teresa's calling was to serve the poorest of the poor. Billy Graham, too, knew his calling, to preach Christ to the masses.

In verses 25-27 Paul writes:
25I have become its servant by the commission God gave me to present to you the word of God in its fullness— 26the mystery that has been kept hidden for ages and generations, but is now disclosed to the saints. 27To them God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.

The hope of glory was no longer something just reserved for the Jews. The doors of the kingdom had been opened wide and the Good News of the Gospel was being proclaimed for all. For Paul this meant not only making Christ known, but helping people grow to full maturity in Christ.

Do you hear an echo of the Great Commission? That's what we're about, too, to reach those who are far from the faith.

There is, Paul notes, a price tag. "I rejoice in what I suffered for you..." The kingdom of God does not advance to a higher level unless someone pays a price. Someone has to do a little dying. For the church to advance, we must die to self-absorption, must die to lesser dreams and get a greater vision, must die to wreckless pleasure seeking to put on the serving towel and serve in the church so that the church can prevail.

The key is knowing that Christ is working in us, and ultimately He will prevail.

Top Right: One of our two adult Sunday School classes.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Christ Is Enough

The leaves are changing and autumn's chill is in the air. Inside the walls and halls of New Life Covenant there was only warmth and a lot of good vibes. In fact, the decibel level was such that Brad had to shout to be heard as he welcomed us. "Good morning! Glad to be back."

Announcements included this afternoon's Old Fashioned Hymn Sing at the Newmans, the opening night of Adventure Club on Wednesday, and a women's Mocha Night at Barnes and Noble Tuesday evening at 7:00.

Darlene's introit set the tone as we we entered into worship.

The Scripture reading was from Colossians as Brad continued his series of messages drawn from this significant letter of Paul's. Following a time of prayer, he took the pulpit to speak from God's Word.

Christ Is Enough

"I just want to finish well," Brad stated as he opened the Scriptures to Colossians, where we have been the past few weeks. Paul wrote this letter to address a heresy that had been introduced in Colossae. That heresy was syncretism.

Brad illustrated syncretism by reminding us of school lunches in which on Monday you were served green beans, Tuesday corn, Wednesday broccoli, Thursday lima beans. And on Friday, we all recall the soup of the day with all the leftovers from the week, vegetable medley. It was a bad stew. And that was what was happening at Colossae. Every kind of teaching was getting mixed together.

Paul writes, no, no, no. You don't need all that other stuff. Christ is sufficient. Christ is all you need.

Brad did a re-cap of the passage he preached on two weeks ago, Colossians 1:9-11.

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully. (NIV)

Paul's prayer was for these people to be filled with the knowledge of God's will and these several other items. Brad noted that it is a circular progression, that to be filled with the knowledge of God's will requires that we be in the Word, which leads to spiritual wisdom and understanding. As a result, we bear fruit and this causes us to want to know God better because of the work He is doing in our lives, which leads us back into the Word, etc.

Jesus was not just a good teacher. Jesus is our Savior. He is also the one who qualified us, has rescued us, and has transferred us into His kingdom. And He is more than sufficient for all our needs.

In verse fifteen Paul writes that Jesus is the image of the invisible God. Paul is writing here that if you want to know what God looks like, get to know Jesus.

Jesus Himself said, in John 14:9, "Anyone who has seen Me has seen the Father."

The letter to the Hebrews begins with a similar astonishing claim. 1In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe. 3The Son is the radiance of God's glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. Hebrews 1:1-3

In Philippians 2:6-7 Paul wrote of Jesus,
6Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be grasped,
7but made himself nothing,
taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.

Brad pointed out that the phrase "made himself nothing" is elsewhere translated, "he emptied himself." By this Paul did not mean he emptied himself of his divinity, but rather, of his self-interest.

Returning to Colossians 1, verse fifteen states, "He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation." The meaning here is not that Jesus was a created being. Jesus existed from before time and himself says, "I am the Alpha and the Omega." Paul's intent is to underscore that Jesus is of firstmost supreme importance, which we see amplified in the opening of John's gospel.

1In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2He was with God in the beginning.
3Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made.

and verse 18: No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father's side, has made him known.

Again, John says here if you want to see who God is, look at Jesus who has made Him known. It is worth noting that the passage begins with the creation, that through Jesus all was created, and furthermore, he created it out of nothing, ex nihilo.

Jesus is Christ is above all and over all. At the end of the Gospel of Matthew Jesus even says as much when he declares, "All authority has been given unto me on and and earth, go therefore a make disciples..." As a side not when Jesus says he is above all authorities, that includes Satan. Satan has no authority over any believer. He can mess with you, but he has not authority over you. As regards your position in Christ, he can't even touch that.

Satan has been defeated, as Paul goes on to say in Colossians 2:13-15.

13When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, 14having canceled the written code, with its regulations, that was against us and that stood opposed to us; he took it away, nailing it to the cross. 15And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.

Brad compared Satan's power to the Chicago White Sox in this last game of the year. They fell short and can't win a playoff berth, but they can spoil it for someone else. Similarly, though Satan has been defeated at the cross, he is able to play a spoiler role and ruin as many lives as he can before the end. (Note: Brad is a White Sox fan and not trying to say the Sox are satanic.)

Brad shared a Frank Peretti story that aptly illustrated this same point. A family was headed somewhere in their car when a bee flew in the window, which was exceedingly distressing for the daughter in the back seat who had a serious allergy to bees. The father hoped it would fly out of the back seat area and when it did, he grabbed it in his hand, allowing the bee to sting him. When he let go of the bee, the daughter was initially afraid again, but the father comforted her by showing that he'd been stung, and "now all he can do is buzz."

C.S. Lewis, who at one time was himself a skeptic, pointed out that the notion that Jesus was a great teacher was actually a foolish position. "A man who was merely a man and said the sort of things Jesus said would not be a great moral teacher. He would either be a lunatic or else he would be the devil. You must make your choice. Either this man was and is the son of God or else a madman or something worse. You can shut him up for as fool, you can spit at him and kill him as a demon, or you can fall at his feet and call him Lord and God. But let's not come with any patronizing nonsense about him being a great human teacher. He has not left that open to us and he did not intend to."

A hymn of praise followed as we prepared to celebrate the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Connecting Point

With Pastor Brad not yet returned from his conference, Chuck Vanderscheuren led our service today, welcoming us warmly.

There were a host of announcements. Here are the main ones.
1. Darlene is starting an adult choir which is open to anyone with a heart sing. Practices will be held noon to one on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month.
2. There will also be a children's choir, with practices on Wednesday evening the 1st and 3rd week of each month.
3. Adventure Club is beginning on Wednesday October 7, a weekly program for children preschool to 6th grade. Volunteers always welcome. Contact Brooke for more information.
4. There will be an Old Fashioned Hymn Sing at the Newmans next Sunday at 4:00 p.m. It will also be a potluck meal, with meat provided.
5. Paula noted the Annual Women's Luncheon on Saturday, October 10. A very powerful speak will be sharing.
6. The deacons toured Caribou Lake School this past week to determine its viability as a potential new building to grow into. This was a very preliminary review and there are many variables. Please pray for wisdom for the church leadership.

Chuck then opened the service with the traditional, "The Lord be with you." To which the congregation replied, "And also with you."

The worship team consisted of Ken, Darlene and Chuck, who opened by reading Psalm 105. Then they jumped right in to a rousing version of Your First Day In Heaven, followed by a very powerful Midnight Cry. After a set of worship choruses, Gwen read to us from I Corinthians 12:12-27, the famous passage about the interconnectedness of the body of Christ.

Prayer needs and praises were shared. Then Walt Cresman came forward to share the message.

Connecting Point

Walt brought to church individual bags of Legos for every person in the congregation which were distributed just as he began his message. His aim was to use these Lego sets to share a number of insights pertaining to church life, family life and our purpose in life.

He first drew attention to the fact that all the pieces were different. So it is in the body of Christ and our church family, that we are all different. God forms each of us in different ways and for different purposes.

If you have ever had Legos, you will notice how the one thing they all share is the ability to connect to other Legos. These connecting points enable us to build relationships in various ways. One other thing Walt noted at this time is that the individual pieces may be a variety of colors, but color is not a variable that has any impact on our ability to connect.

He then shared this passage from Ephesians 4:1-6

1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Walt asked, "What does God intend our church to look like?"

Walt said he purchased nearly every Lego set in town in order for us to experience this set of object lessons today. Only one had a steeple, but that is O.K. After showing us how the steeple piece prevents additional connections on the top, he suggested that the best form for a church would be flat, wide and broad. This would allow the maximum number of open connectors for bringing people in to the church family.

Walt also showed how families are an important part of the church. The broad connectivity strengthens a community of believers.

The passage from Luke 10:25 and following was referenced, the wonderful story of the Good Samaritan. Walt noted that acts of kindness make an impact on people. This is one of the ways we make connections.

Walt also asked us to consider how Legos can show a marriage relationship. What does marriage look like?

He showed one example, of two single piece Legos, in which they are connected, but one is on top of the other. A second example was a single Lego with two connectors. The side by side relationship was good, but then he showed us a three piece Lego and cited the role of the Holy Spirit in our marriages. A three-fold cord is not easily broken.

At this point Walt went a bit sideways to make an important point. He spoke about expectations, how our disappointments are in proportion to the disparity between unmet expectations and reality. It is very true that the variance between our expectation and reality can cause us hurt.

He noted then that we're all wired differently, and for this reason we all, like the Lego blocks, have varying numbers of connectors. This was a setup for a profound observation. Like the Lego blocks our pastor and his wife also have a finite capacity for deep connections. Our expectation is often that because our pastor and family is so wonderful we all want to be in a tight connection there. However, the truth is, only God has unlimited, infinite connectors. God can connect to all of us in a manner which is deep and significant.

This was a profound observation, and your faithful blog scribe was impressed by it. America's pastors have one of the toughest jobs in the world. We can play a significant role in providing encouragement and praying for him as he strives to bring us God's truths.

It was a good service, and I believe there were many good messages for all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

And Can It Be That I Should Gain

Today we kicked off our new schedule with Sunday School at 9:00 and the worship service at 10:15. Pastor Brad welcomed us warmly, then quickly summarized the main points of today's message before running through the announcements, which were as follows:
1. The Truth Project will begin next Sunday. If interested, see Brad to sign up. Cresman's will host two groups at their home. One will be held on Sunday afternoons and the other Monday evenings. Contact Brad or Walt & Gwen for more information.
2. Adventure Club is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, October 7 for children from age four to sixth grade. AC will meet Wednesday evenings from 5:30 - 7:00. If interested in helping, contact Brooke.
3. An Old Fashioned Hymn Sing and Potluck will be held at the Newmans on October 4 at 4 p.m. Meat will be provided... bring your favorite sides or desserts.
4. Anyone interested in making Christmas ornaments can join us on Thursday mornings now through Christmas. See Gail Brown for details.

After a period of worship and prayer, the Scripture reading was from Colossians 1:9-14.

And Can It Be That I Should Gain

Brad opened his message by re-reading the passage from Colossians chapter one.

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The first verses, 9-11, were the focus for today's message. Paul here is telling the Colossians what he is praying for as he thinks of their community of believers. The four things are (1) that they would be filled with the knowledge of God's will, (2) that they would live worthy lives, (3) bear fruit, and (4) have an enduring faith.

The context of Paul's letter to the Christians in Colossae was that were a number of false teachings creeping in to the church. It wasn't a single "great white shark" tearing them up, but a mix of smaller issues which needed to be addressed. One was that Jesus was not involved in the Creation, based on a false concept of the Trinity. A second was that certain people had special knowledge that was not available to the rest of the church. Lifestyle questions also were part of the mix. There was also a bit of angel worship as well as the notion that there were demons behind every bush.

As often happens with young churches with a lot of new believers, their lack of Bible training can cause them to take in ideas that seem religious or right but are not Biblical. Similarly, the Colossians needed help getting clarification in a variety of areas.

Brad then went into detail regarding the four prayers in this section.

1) Knowledge of God's will
The is a difference between knowledge of God and the knowledge of His will. We can know a lot of facts about God, but still miss what He expects of us. God's will matters. Do you know what God's will is for this world? You should be filled with is. God's will for the world is peace, that violence would end. That is all throughout Scripture. It is also that those who have more would feed those with less. God's will is that there would be a common community established in our world. Also, He has a will for lost people, that they be found.

And God's will for His church is that it would prevail everywhere. His will for the poor and oppressed is that they would be fed and set free.

Our prayer should be, "God, show us Your will."

2) Live a worth life
This piece of Paul's prayer deals with all the lifestyle debates which were occurring there. One group focused on very strict regulations and another group was saying it didn't matter how you lived. Paul's prayer was that they would live a life worthy of the calling on their lives. Ultimately, we're to walk as Christ walked. What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD)

3) Bear fruit
Brad noted that as we bear fruit we will grow in our knowledge of God. The goal of our Christian lives is not merely salvation. We're God's handiwork, a masterpiece... but also a work in process. That is why we need to persevere in our Christian walk.

4) Be strong, persevere by God's glorious might
"There is an enemy power out to thwart you," Brad said. Life has many hardships. That is why Paul continually encouraged the saints to persevere. In his letter to Timothy he stated, "I have fought the good fight, I've finished the race."

It never pays to drift. It's better to pay the price of endurance that to go through the pain of error and sin.

In summary, God has qualified you... that is, made you qualified to be in the Kingdom, not because you were good, but because of His mercy.

Brad then shared this illustration. "If you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know it's because someone put him there." It's a cute picture of grace. I'm heaven bound not because I can climb there on my own, but because Someone put me there.

Christ, Paul says, has transferred up from a bad place to a better place. He's paid the price to redeem us. There's always a price.

Another illustration of grace... In Sudan there's a civil war taking place. Women and children have been put into slavery and are victims of despicable deeds. European Christians aware of the situation risked their lives to meet with the warring factions to determine a price for the slaves so they could raise money to buy their freedom. For $33 each they redeemed as many as they were able.

Can you imagine what these women and children felt was they were relieved from their suffering by people they didn't even know? So it is with ourselves. We were bought with a price, and that price was a lot more than 33 bucks. It cost God the spilt blood and pierced body of His son, the second person of the Trinity.

You have been qualified, transferred and redeemed. And now you are safe and secure and relocated and forgiven forever through Jesus Christ. That's the message that we get to proclaim to our broken, messed up world.