Sunday, March 29, 2009

The True Character of God

It was another excellent service here at New Life Covenant, especially with the bright sun flooding into the sanctuary. Pastor Brad began by expressing gratitude for being able to be here, followed by comments about what we're about. "We're trying to help people take steps toward God," he said. His theme for today's message took its seed impetus from a Nightline program he watched this past week dealing with the question "Does Satan exist?"

Announcements, which preceded the worship time led by Chuck and Darlene, included the following...
1. There will be a 9:00 a.m. breakfast served at the church Easter morning, followed by a 9:30 Easter egg hunt. Next Saturday morning anyone interested can join us at the church to stuff eggs.
2. Holy Week begins next week as we celebrate Palm Sunday. A Good Friday service will be held in the evening at 7:00 p.m. Last year's Good Friday service was especially meaningful for those who were here.
3. If you did not get your photos taken for the new church directory, please call Norm Livgard to be included in the final photo shoot a week after Easter.

Today's Scripture readings were from Jeremiah 31:31-34 and John 12:30-33. After the offering and a time of prayer we listened to the sermon.

The True Character of God

Brad began by asking how many people saw the Mel Gibson film The Passion of the Christ. There is a scene in which Jesus, as depicted in the film, crushes the head of a snake with His heel. It is a powerful image, and Brad said it made him want to cheer, not because he hates snakes (which he does) but because of the Biblical symbolism. Mel Gibson had done his homework.

This week on Nightline there was a faceoff regarding the existence of Satan. Pastor Brad asserted unequivocally, "I believe Satan is real and that evil is real."

From the very beginning we see the existence of evil as the enemy of our souls in the form of a serpent appears in the Garden of Eden. The snake is successful in deceiving Adam and Eve, causing evil to enter the world. But right from the start God had a redemption plan, as stated in Genesis 3:15... "And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel."

Those who saw the film might have found one of the images somewhat incongruous or disturbing. There was a person carrying a baby in the crowd watching Jesus at one point, but when the camera went in for the closeup the "baby" looked like an 80-year old man. When Gibson was asked about this image, he said that he wanted to portray evil as something that from a distance appears attractive, but upon closer investigation one sees that something is seriously wrong.

Jesus had a lot to say about the evil one. He called him a liar. He called him the father of all lies, as well as the prince of darkness. Jesus also called him a thief who came to steal our souls and destroy our lives.

And Jesus knew these things first hand. In point of fact, Jesus Himself was tempted by this dark tempter. Though tempted in every way, He did not sin. His character was flawless.

Brad turned to the beginning of our Lord's ministry in which John the Baptist, forerunner of the Messiah, encounters the Christ. John is baptizing at the Jordan when he sees Jesus and declares, "Behold the Lamb of God." Upon baptizing Jesus the Spirit descended upon Him like a dove and a voice from heaven declared, "This is my Son, whom I love, with whom I am well pleased."

From here Jesus went into the desert to fast for forty days. And guess who came slithering into the wilderness to join Him? Yes, if Satan could succeed in tempting Jesus to sin here, there would be no cross. "I believe Satan didn't want Jesus anywhere near the cross."

There were three primary assaults. The first came in this manner, after the Lord must have been exceedingly hungry. "Just think... you can turn these stones into bread."

Jesus refused. He would not indulge His appetites for Himself because there was something deeper going on.

Brad noted that there is a differentiation between temptation and sin. Temptation is not sin. The sin is in giving in to it.

It says in Luke's account that after Jesus resisted Satan, the enemy left Him for a more opportune time. When do you think this was? Brad said, "I think it was the next day. Day after day we battle temptation. Life is a daily, lifelong journey and a daily struggle. Jesus shared this same daily struggle."

Temptations will not go away till the day we die. They can come when we're on top feeling strong or when it seems we have bottomed out.

Brad noted that the "Battle of the Bottle" has grown during our bad economy. Many of those being laid off or going through hardship due to economic struggles are turning to drugs and alcohol.

Satan's second temptation of Jesus in the wilderness pertained to our human lust for power.

5The devil led him up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. 6And he said to him, "I will give you all their authority and splendor, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. 7So if you worship me, it will all be yours."
8Jesus answered, "It is written: 'Worship the Lord your God and serve him only.'" ~Luke 4:5-8

In essence, Satan says, "Check out this view from the mountaintop. You can rule the world." There's a catch, of course. "Just bow down and worship me."

The third temptation, Luke 4:9-10. runs this way. "Let me show you how to get a crowd. Let's go to the temple. It's Holy Week, so there's lots of people in town. You do a swan dive from the top. The angels will catch you, so there's nothing to worry about." Satan encourages Jesus to play the crowd, to get His name in lights.

Citing Scripture Jesus replies, "Don't put the Lord your God to the test."

Jesus knew that He was not sent simply to wow the people. Or to be simply a good example or wise teacher. Jesus came for one purpose: to go to the Cross on our behalf. To free us from our sin,the barrier that keeps us from God.

Never forget that Jesus was born to die for our souls. The reality is, Jesus couldn't get your face out of His mind.

From the beginning, God's plan of redemption was dependent on a sinless human person who would die, a spotless lamp. For this reason, Jesus had to remain unblemished in order to accomplish this ultimate aim.

Scripture says that at a certain point Jesus set His face like a flint toward Jerusalem. He would not be detoured. In the end he made His ultimate commitment.

As for the initial discussion, and the questions.. Yes, Satan is real, but I want to talk about Jesus.

Is Satan real?

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Jesus and the Leper

This second Sunday in Lent Pastor Brad Shannon welcomed us with these words, suitable for the day. "I'm glad you turned your clocks ahead and made it here today." And, with a nod toward his theme, "If you are feeling alone or lost this morning, there are no undesirables in God's kingdom."

Announcements included the following:
1. A Saturday morning men's Bible study will begin on the 21st. Breakfast included.
2. Donations of furnishings, necessities for the Stroscheins will be welcomed as the family now has a place to call home again.
3. Camp is coming. Time to get downpayment in place. Anyone wishing to donate for camp scholarships see Cheryl Borndal.

After a time of worship, Norm Livgard shared a video about a children's home in Mesa, Arizona called Sunshine Acres. The video told the story of how the James and Vera Dingman came to the dry Southwest and God opened their hearts and home for needy children. The manner in which the Lord has provided for this "Miracle in the Desert" left Norm and his wife deeply moved. The home now has sixty youth.

The Scripture readings were from Gen. 17:1-7 and Mark 8:31-38. Pastor Brad then took the pulpit.

Jesus and the Leper

He began with an amusing story about a little boy who came home from school and commented on how a couple of the other kids on the bus didn't smell too good. The mother, being conscientious, said, "Well, son, you didn't say anything, did you?" The boy, proud of himself, said, "Oh no, Mom. I just held my nose."

The story did set up our message today. There are people who are different from us, and some whom we keep our distance from. But Jesus seemed to disregard these social conventions.

If you measure people by the company they keep, you're bound to see Jesus doesn't fit this rule. Despite being the only perfect person in history, he attracted some rather imperfect people.

In Luke 4, when Jesus was invited to teach at the outset of His ministry, He read from the prophet Isaiah, essentially announcing that He had come to preach the good news to the poor and oppressed, the captives and the unwanted. This was indeed Good News for everybody.

The text for Brad's message was Luke 5:12-16... another "ordinary day" in the life of Jesus. A man covered extensively with leprosy throws himself at Jesus' feet, begging, "Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean." Luke writes,

13Jesus reached out his hand and touched the man. "I am willing," he said. "Be clean!" And immediately the leprosy left him.

The actual word translated "touch" here means something more than a little tap. Jesus "fastened on to him"... a remarkable act in light of the cultural stigma associated with leprosy in that era.

To give us a sense of how terrible a disease leprosy is, Brad cited the works of Dr. Paul Brand, a Christian doctor who worked with lepers in India. Brand said that in the late stages of leprosy there were be a loss of feeling in the extremities. The poor, outcasts in India, while sleeping would not feel the rats gnawing on their fingers or toes as they slept in the streets.

Leprosy was a physical disease that also carried a moral stigma. They were both physical and moral outcasts. The disease was seen as a curse from God and the external uncleanness was a sign of their inward uncleanness. When they learned they had the disease, they were separated from the spouses, kicked out of their homes, lost their financial position. They were isolated in every way. If they walked near other people, they were supposed to shout, "Unclean, unclean!"

How awful it is to feel untouchable. Oscar Wilde, in his poem Ballad of Reading Gaol, said it aptly:
"We did not dare to breathe a prayer
or give our anguish scope,
Something was dead in each of us
and what was dead was hope."

That's what feeling unwanted and untouchable does to you. It sucks hope right out of your life. You are alive but feel dead. It is anguish to come to that place in life where you know all the words and none of the music. How long had it been since this poor leper had be touched, hugged, embraced?

The religious people, the rabbis and pharisees, taught that to touch an unclean person made you unclean. The rabbis were too holy to be touched by marginalized people. The great irony is that the only rabbi this leper could approach was God Himself.

Brad turned it around and asked how approachable we are? He asks that question of himself. Am I approachable? Are you approachable by your spouse, your kids, your peers? Jesus was approachable.

Jesus knew this man needed to be touched. We all need to be touched. Along with laughter, touch is something that helps us live longer.

Every society has its untouchables. It could be race, social standing, education level, special needs, the way we look, piercings... all these things can separate us.

Today there will be somebody in your world waiting for someone to touch them. Will you touch them? Will extend a hand, put an arm around the shoulder? Offer a warm embrace? Maybe all they need is an acknowledgement that you know they are there.

We all have value and a need for a touch. Someone once said, In a contagious world we learn to keep our distance. Only when you get close enough to catch their hurt will they be close enough to catch your love."

In Psalm 34 it says the Lord is close to the brokenhearted.

For Jesus, healing the body was not the ultimate goal. Rather, He healed to show that God was not indifferent and distant. Philip Yancey put it this way. "By no means did Jesus eliminate all suffering. He healed only a few on one small patch of the globe. But He did answer the question of whether God cares."

We live in a contaminated world, and it's contaminated on every level. It should have been quarantined from Heaven. No reasonable God would go near it. But Jesus is no reasonable God. He took on our uncleanness, yours and mine. Instead of the world infecting Him, He infected the world with His immaculate infection... and it's still spreading.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

He Chooses You

Today was the first Sunday in Lent, a little cold outside but with a bright sun beaming through the windows and a lot of warm hearts within. Pastor Brad welcomed us warmly and summarized last Wednesday’s Ash Wednesday service this way: “You’re probably worse than you think you are, but God’s message to you in, ‘I love you.’” He then introduced his theme for the upcoming weeks: An Ordinary Day With Jesus.

1. Cheryl Borndal noted that camp registrations are here.
2. A photographer will be here on the 15th and 22nd to take pictures for a new church directory. If you are part of our church family, even if you are not a member, get your family portraits taken so you can be included.

Dana Stroschein then shared for a few minutes regarding the tragedy that befell their family. Their home burned this past week. Dana put it this way, “We gave up our house for Lent.” It was wonderful to see her spirit. The Lord’s hand was evident in some of the particulars by which they’re lives were saved. "Despite the fact that our country is in an economic crisis, with wars going on abroad," Dana said she has never been more grateful. It was a moving testimony to God’s grace.

The quartet – Ken, Dale, Chuck & Darlene – sang for us and then led the worship time, which was followed by the offering, Scripture readings and a time of prayer.

He Chooses You

By studying the encounters between Jesus and different kinds of people it is possible to perhaps learn something about ourselves and our God. The ordinary day -- if any day with Jesus can be called ordinary -- which Brad talked about this morning was from Luke 5:1-11. The passage begins like this:

1And it came to pass, that, as the people pressed upon him to hear the word of God, he stood by the lake of Gennesaret...

A little background on this lake. It is also called the Sea of Tiberius, or more commonly the Sea of Galilee. It is about seven miles wide and thirteen miles long, 680 feet below sea level and surrounded by thousand foot hills. It was the setting for a lot of cool things that happened in the life of Jesus. He stilled the storm here, fed 5,000 and walked on the water.

3And he entered into one of the ships, which was Simon's, and prayed him that he would thrust out a little from the land. And he sat down, and taught the people out of the ship.

At the time of this story Jesus had become somewhat popular already. Seeing the fishermen’s boats he got into the one with Simon in it. Simon was Peter’s name before Jesus declared that he was Peter, Petros, the Rock.

In the previous chapter, we find that Peter and his brother Andrew, though followers of Jesus were also still working as fisherman. In Luke 4:38 Simon Peter saw Jesus heal his mother-in-law and which indicates he was probably married and had a home life. So when Jesus gets into his boat, it is probably not their first meeting.

What’s interesting here, Brad noted, is the kind of people God chooses to change the world. Right from the beginning the whole list of is an assortment of people with shortcomings. Abraham was too old, Moses stuttered. David was too young, Rahab was a prostitute, Noah got drunk, Gideon doubted. In the New Testament John the Baptist was just plain weird.

Brad shared all this as a set up to some points he wished to make further along.

In verse four, Jesus turns to Simon, having finished his teaching, and says, “Launch out into the deep and let down your nets.”

You can picture Simon’s response at this point. “Jesus, you may know something about carpentry, and teaching the Scriptures, but you don’t know anything about fishing. We’ve been up all night and caught nothing.” The nets had already been cleaned from a night of fruitless labor, so Simon wasn’t thrilled at this request. They were commercial fisherman by trade and knew that this was not a good time of the day for fishing, with the hot sun glinting on the water and the fish down deep.

Interestingly enough, despite his doubts, Simon answers, "Master, we've worked hard all night and haven't caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets." This is the very first time in the New Testament that we find the word “Master.” It is not the same as rabbi, or teacher or instructor. It says, essentially, “You’ve got authority.” And Simon pretty much indicates by these words that he wouldn’t do this for anyone else, but in this case it’s “as you wish.”

The catch, of course, is so incredible they have to call men from other boats to help bring it in, but even with the help the boats were so full they began to sink. At this, Simon Peter falls on his knees, saying, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”

But Jesus replies, “Get up. From now on you will help Me catch men.” The word “catch” here actually means rescue.

Pastor Brad added some perspective here by sharing a story from Rob Hall, who preached at CHIC about six years ago. Hall pointed out that all Hebrew children, as part of their religious training had to memorize the Torah, the first five books of the Old Testament. The highest honor for Hebrew youth was to be selected to follow their rabbi. A common saying of the day was, “May you be covered in the dust of your rabbi.” It indicated that it would be an honor to be such a close follower.

When Jesus went about, the “best candidates” for following rabbis were already taken. Simon Peter and the others here, James and John, the sons of Zebedee, were those who hadn’t made the cut. Jesus, however, looked deeper than most people. And it was upon these men that the future of the church would depend.

In point of fact, we’re all “clearance rack” material. Yet, God says, “I want you to be my child,” in spite of our lopsided souls and garbled lives.

Here’s how Paul puts it in his letter to the Ephesians: 3-6How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He's the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth's foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. (Eph. 1:4-6, The Message)

WE are the focus of God’s love.

It may be a risk investing in the stock market, but it’s an even greater risk when we invest in others. Jesus took that risk and invested Himself in fallible people, gave everything because He saw value there. He took the cross for every single one of us because we are deeply valued in His eyes.

“God has an incredibly high value of you,” Brad said. And the invitation, to follow Him still stands today, for you and me.

At the conclusion of this message, Brad stepped to the Communion table to partake in the Sacrament.

“We come to this table not because we must, but because we may,” he said.

“Do this in remembrance of Me.”