Sunday, January 4, 2009

Decisions for the New Year

Eleven inches of snow had been predicted, so it was a relief to find less than a half dozen inches on this chilly Sunday morning in Northern Minnesota. Unploughed rural roads reduced our numbers a bit, but the service was still very special for those who were here, culminating in our celebration of the Lord's Table.

Pastor Brad Shannon welcomed us warmly. He then asked us two questions to take home with us into 2009. Are you willing to listen to God this year? And are you willing to put your trust in Him?

Several announcements followed.
1. Deacons will meet Wednesday evening on the 7th.
2. The Wednesday night youth group/Adventure Club will resume the following Wednesday on the 14th.
3. The first meeting of the Women's Bible Study will be January 23rd at 6:00 p.m. They will be reading together the book, An Ordinary Day With Jesus. Contact JoAnn Winship for details or if you would like a book.

After a time of worship and the offering was taken, Bev read the Scriptures, Jeremiah 31:7-14 and Ephesians 1:3-14.

During our prayer time we became aware of many needs in our midst. With so many hurting and going through trying times, let's continue to keep one another lifted up in prayer.

Decisions for the New Year
Pastor Brad began by noting that sometimes our familiarity with Scripture is a detriment. The result of being familiar with some of these passages hinders us from drawing new understandings. We've heard them so often, we stop really engaging the Word.

The psalmists knew that life was complicated and that the world was a dangerous place. They had experienced this, and for this reason their words are quite relevant to us today.

Today's sermon is based on Psalms 1 and 2.

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.
4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.
6 For the LORD watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked will perish.

Read Psalm 2 here

There are two ways to walk, Brad said. It is our choice. We can choose one way or the other. Pastor Brad indicated that if we were to sum up the message of all 150 Psalms in one concise maxim, it would be "Friends, choose wisely."

A couple years ago the U.S. News & World Report offered up 50 ways to improve your life in the new year. The list included things like renovating your local part to unplugging your television set, or learning to print better photos. The number one way, they said, was to get happy.

While the suggestions may be interesting, they're not exactly inspiring. As an alternative, Pastor Brad suggested we improve our lives by asking two simple questions which are raised in Psalms 1 & 2.

The word "Blessed" is the very first word of Psalm 1. "Blessed is the man...." Interestingly Psalm 2 ends with a blessing. "Blessed are all who take refuge in Him."

Psalm 1 and much that follows is a study in contrasts between the way of the righteous and the way of the wicked. The righteous bear fruit. The righteous are rooted. The wicked are like chaff which the wind blows away. They have no roots. They are dispersed with the wind. There's not a whole lot too them.

The writer of Ecclesiastes made many references to the futility of chasing after wind. The wicked are caught up in the pursuit of vapor, a meaningless, empty existence.
The pattern that emerges, however, is that the wicked are the ones who choose to put themselves in their situation as outsiders looking in. Jesus, the source of life, invites all. But the choice is ours to draw near and put down roots, or remain aloof. We can choose to be receptive, or to withdraw and close ourselves off from God's free offer of blessing.

Will we be receptive to God's instruction? The blessed life comes from being willing to hear, and a willingness to be pliable.

Psalm 2 begins more globally in scope. "Why do the nations conspire and plot in vain?" But in the end it is personal as well.

The kingdom of God is unique, distinct from the kingdoms of this world. God does not find the actions of this world amusing. The question being asked here in this Psalm is, "Will we acknowledge God's rule and live in fundamental dependence on Him?"

In Psalm 1 we're reminded to live attentive to His Word. In Psalm 2 we're asked, will we acknowledge God's rule this new year and live in complete dependence on Him? Or will we choose self interest and live in fundamental dependence on ourselves?

Brad then asked rhetorically, "Who's in charge?"

Psalm 1 is clear: you must let God teach you. Psalm 2 is also clear: let God rule. As we enter the new year, let's hold fast to both of these commitments.

The service ended with the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

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