Sunday, June 28, 2009


Arrows of sunlight streamed from the morning sun today as we busied ourselves making ready for church. Pastor Brad had a planned absence with his family so we were greeted this morning by Chuck, who led the service with his usual warmth and aplomb.

The announcements were brief: a summation of yesterday's rummage sale which netted close to $500.

The music today was especially meaningful, dovetailing as it did with the guest speaker's testimony. The quartet has expanded now to include Levi Landsverk, and this particular reviewer would state without reservation that the blending melodies had a seamless sweetness that was both evocative and deep. As they sang "Come to the Waters" my eyes were moistened, and it only got better from there.

After the offering and time of prayer, the Scripture readings were from Deuteronomy 30:9-14 and Luke 10:25-37.

In lieu of a traditional sermon, this week Ed Newman took the pulpit and shared his testimony.


Ed began by sharing a short version of his testimony: "Once I was lost and then I was found, and then I ended up even more lost, and then I was found… again."

As an opening Scripture he read from Paul's greeting to the Church at Galatia, "Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen."

Ed then told about an experience he had while doing some prison ministry in Puerto Rico. "In 1979, while I was in Bible school, I served my internship in Puerto Rico. During that year, God opened a door for me to be involved in prison ministry at the Bayamon Prison. A prison chaplain named Bruce Fowler, with the aid of the Holy Spirit and good timing, got me a pass so that I could help minister to the English speaking prisoners one day a week while Bruce worked with the Spanish speakers.

"I used to lead a Bible study. There were a few small classrooms within the prison where about fifteen to twenty seekers came. It was a very special time for me because God was working and touching some very needy people. On one occasion, a prisoner named Johnny was standing in the corner staring at me in an unusual sort of way, his head cocked to one side. I knew Johnny because he was in for 15-25 years for more than 320 armed robberies. He had not been a nice guy and was especially peeved that his friends ratted on him.

"Johnny looked at me hard and said, 'I know you.'

"I felt the small hairs on the back of my neck stand on end, because as I looked at him, I realized that he did know me. But I could not figure out how. The last five years of my life (since 1974) I had been a Christian, either involved in nursing home ministry or a Bible school in Minnesota.

"But then, he figured it out, for both of us. 'Did you ever cop?' That’s street slang for buying dope. And the answer was clear… Five years earlier, and 35 years ago this past week, I was shooting heroin in his 9th floor apartment in New York’s SoHo district, a seedy part of the City."

Ed shared about how there are certain watershed moments in our lives which at the time may seem small but whose consequences are significant. He cited a quote by Sir James Jeans, a physicist, astronomer and mathematician. “The course of a railway train is prescribed for it at most points of its journey by the rails on which it runs. Here and there, however, it comes to a junction at which alternative courses are open to it, and it may be turned on to one or the other (destination) by the quite negligible expenditure of energy involved in moving the points.”

How does a smart kid from a nice home, a kid who grew up going to church and was confirmed, National Honor Society, cum laude college graduate… get to the point where he is so desperate to get high that he actually stoops to sniffing glue, and is so depressed he wished he could die? It doesn’t happen overnight.

Ed reflected on the key changepoints in his life which ultimately brought him to the Cross.

He was raised in a typical middle class family first in Cleveland, Ohio and then New Jersey. He played baseball, went to church with his mom and brothers, did all the usual things. The messages of the culture during the Sixties, political assasinations, riots in the cities, Viet Nam, hippies, all left him with a personal confusion about his life and how to deal with his sense of alienation from family after the death of his best friend.

How do we deal with our sense of alienation? His church didn't seem to offer answers. He later learned why. During that period of time the Presbyterian church his family attended had a inister who did not believe in the Resurrection. Music and art did bring a measure of comfort, but did not offer answers to the deeper questions.

Ed shared how his inward life had been drifting for two years while he continued to be a good kid, got good grades, did not do drugs or alcohol. But when he left for college he knew he wanted to explore what was out there. Within a week he was smoking pot, and was soon introduced to hashish. Before the first semester passed he was experimenting with psychedelics as Timothy Leary had implored, "Turn on, tune in, drop out."

In addition to the moral and cultural explorations, it was also a time of swirling spiritual explorations and over time Ed was reading a range of counter-cultural philosophers and drinking from the fountain of New Age spirituality.

Over a period of time he enjoyed success in the art school at Ohio University, had many things seemed to go his way, but a failed relationship and other disappointments began to undermine his inner confidence. During this period his brother Ron, who had initially been following in Ed's footsteps (drug experimentation) had a powerful conversion experience at a Catholic Christian Retreat Center in West Virginia where he was a freshman. Ron's love for his older brother led him to get every church he attended to pray for his brother Ed.

"Suddenly, I had Christians appearing out of nowhere," he said, referring to fellow art students who were Christian, but he had not noticed before.

Many hard things followed as God ultimately placed him in a corner. After a painful surgery in December 1973 he made a list of resolutions for the new year. Unfortunately, his will power had the strength of wet toilet paper and within a week he despaired of living the life he knew was right. Ron visited from West Virginia and after much talk and prayer, Ed asked Jesus to forgive him for his sins and come into his life.

"At that moment, it seemed like I heard the Lord say, 'Your faith has saved you. Go in peace.' And in that same moment God gave me a deep peace in my heart," Ed said.

Unfortunately Ed was not prepared for the months ahead because he had no real Biblical understanding. He did not know how to deal with his guilt and shame when he yielded to temptations, as if he were the only one who ever failed. It is interesting that despite these failings, there were people whom the Holy Spirit touched through his witness, faulty as it was.
When Ed graduated from college, however, he was exceedingly depressed, both by his failings as a Christian and the uncertainty of where to go with his life. He'd already decided to stop going to church, and spent many hours in the back yard staring at the sky.

The family next door had teens who had become deeply entangled in the drug scene, some of them junkies who regularly went to New York to shoot smack (lingo for heroin.) Ed began to take them into the City to make their connections. Before long, Ed was invited to take participate.

Ed's last week running from God included several excursions to the City. The night before the last, without money and without prospects of getting any other kind of dope, Ed and a friend stooped to filling a bag with airplane glue, inhaling as much as they dared.

There were many details which were shared of how God incrementally hemmed him in and brought him to a place where he was open to hearing God's still small voice. After reading an Ann Landers column in which a reader asked what the worst ten drugs people were doing (Ed had done nine, and five that week) he went up to his brother's room and experienced a profound despair. In the room, the Lord got his attention in a miraculous manner, and said, "I will never fail you or forsake you."

Ed's heart broke at this revelation of a merciful God. He then shared how he had no interest in going through the same ordeal again or failing God and running, and how someone said that the only way to stay on track is by getting into the Word and renewing your mind, a commitment he made and kept, God being his help.

In closing he asked the following questions...
1. Are you moving toward the light or away from the light? Inwardly…. What’s going on in the inside will eventually show up in your behavior on the outside.
2. Does the life you project correspond with the person you are on the inside?
3. If you want to feel meaningless, do meaningless things. If you want to have a deeper sense of meaning, think about how your actions contribute to the greater good of your families, church, community and world.
4. The Bible is the Revealed Word of God. If you have doubts about the Bible being the unique and fully authoritative Revelation of God and need help in this area, you should talk with Pastor Brad, but I will do whatever I can to help you settle this question, because it’s probably the most important issue in your life.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Raising Our Children

"I'm delighted you're here today," Brad warmly exclaimed at the start of today's service, sunshine streaming in the windows.

Announcements today included:
1. Roger DeLoach has published a book called He Calls My Name about the Christian ministry that has been occurring in our local race tracks. A fundraiser will be held at Gethsemane Covenant on Wednesday evening.
2. The building committee has scheduled a meeting for Tuesday the 30th.
3. There will be an August 2nd Open House at the Crestman's after the service. More information coming soon... In the meantime, mark it on your calendars.
4. This week's VBS was wonderful. Thanks were extended to all those who gave of their time to help make it happen.
5. And don't forget next week's fundraiser Rummage Sale next Saturday. Bring your items to donate on Friday... and your wallets on Saturday.

There was an amusing comment made when Paula requested that people bring their favorite Sloppy Joe recipes. Joe Stapleton made this amusing request: "Can't we call them something other than Sloppy Joes?"

Darlene's introit was again meaningful. Familiar lines seeped through the melodious tune... "Create in me a clean heart, Oh God, and renew a right spirit within me." After enjoying some video footage from the week's VBS experiences, the offering was taken.

Today's Scripture readings were from I Kings 17:8-16 and Galatians 1:11-24. A hymn followed and Brad took the pulpit to give the message.

Raising Our Children

Today's starting point was Proverbs 22:6, "Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it."

Brad then shared how it seems we're constantly hearing about advances in genetics so that one day we may have the ability to define our child's traits in advance by genetic engineering. Tongue in cheek, he imagined a future Kids-R-Us Catalog where we make such choices.

The reality is, that as parents we have responsibilities toward our God-given children. Brad spent this morning's time with us outlining four objectives we should strive for as we raise our children.

1) Build strong self-esteem.
Just because building self-esteem became a buzzword in child-rearing manuals these past two decades does not mean it is unimportant. Children need to know that they are valuable, both to God and to their parents.

Brad shared a story about an 8 year old boy who attempted suicide because he did not believe he had value. In fact, he believed he was the source of all his parents' troubles. Strong self-esteem is an important quality for children as they move toward adulthood. They get this through three behaviors which are within our power to give. A word, a look and a touch.

Kids need to hear affirming words. Jesus, when He was baptized, heard these words from the heavens: "This is my Beloved Son in whom I am well pleased." Our smiles, our hugs, our affirming words are vital to our children.

2) Build sense of personal confidence.
Confidence is inter-related with competence. As we invest in our children, to learn skills in their areas of interest, they experience the inner satisfaction that competency brings. Whether it be art, music, sports, we as parents can foster confidence within our kids by investing time working with them.

I had many stories come to mind while Brad shared, of my parents investing in me, and our support for our own children's interests. Brad share how his own father taught him important lessons as they did things together. On one occasion, Brad was trying to chop down a tree but it wasn't going well because the axe was a bit dull and the tree a bit hard, so he gave up. Brad's father came over and used this experience as a teaching opportunity. "Brad," he said with his hands on Brad's shoulders, "in the real world you're going to find that almost everything you do is hard. school, athletics, marriage, church work. It's more complicated than you think, just like that tree you're dealing with. You can decide to quit, or find a new, better approach. Son, I'm expecting you figure out a way to get that tree on the ground even if it takes all day."

Brad did put that tree down, but he took a more important lesson away that day.

3) Teach them relationship skills.
One of the bi-products of our increasingly fragmented society is fragmented families. Both adults and children are challenged by the broken relationships and fewer than ever are learning how a healthy relationship works. There is more escapist behavior than ever these days.

There's a standard line that private pilots use when the navigation gets fouled. They say, "I don't know where I am or where I'm going, but I'm getting there at a very high velocity." Many young people are entering adulthood at a very high velocity, but velocity without direction can be a very dangerous thing.

4) Establish Christian values and spiritual foundations.
There's a strange notion that we should raise our children "values free." But school and television are not values free. They tear down the values we hold and replace them with alternates. So the question is, who will impress their values on our children?

We can't disregard or neglect this important truth: parents are the primary influence on their children. Deuteronomy 6:7 says, "Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up." In other words, every experience shared with children can be a training experience."

Brad then told a story about one occasion in which a man drove by in a very chic Cadillac. Brad commented on how rich the man must be. Brad's dad replied, "That guy owes money to every man in town. He's got creditors lined up 20 deep and they're not getting their money. Yet that man's pride leads him to put on a show, but Brad, it's phony. It's phony to live beyond your means. It doesn't please God to put on an act, to pretend you're something you're not." Brad said that he can still remember the color of that car, and that influenced to this day the way he does personal finance.

The world is a theater through which we have the opportunity to teach God's values.

The world needs children with strong self-esteem, great competency, great relationships and strong spiritual foundations. Let's make a commitment to to turn it up a notch, with God's help.

Sunday, June 14, 2009

Breath of Life

What a beautiful sunny morning. It may be that summer is finally sneaking into this corner of the world, like a breath of fresh air. And inside the sanctuary we were greeted warmly as well, Pastor Brad reminding us of our current theme: the Holy Spirit, who strengthens and gifts us to do God's work.

Chief among the announcements was that this week is VBS. A time of worship was followed by today's Scripture readings.
I Sam. 15:34 to 16:13
Mark 4:26-34

After a time of prayer the congregation sang Be Thou My Vision and then Brad stepped to the pulpit.

Breath of Life

Brad began the message by asking us to indulge him a moment. Sit up straight and take a deep breath, then just let it out. "It's funny how something that simple can help you relax and make you feel more alive."

Whereas breathing is something we all do without giving much thought to it, there are actually some people who have studied it extensively and are experts in breathing. Singers, divers, and many athletes devote a lot of time to learning how to breathe better.

Breathe out, breathe in. Exhale the bad things, take in the good and the necessary.

It's interesting, Brad noted, that in both Hebrew and in Greek, the word for breath that is used in each language is also the same word for spirit. In Hebrew the word is "ruha" and the first time it appears in the Bible is in Genesis 2:7.

7 the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Why did God create us this way? God breathed in us the breath of life and man became a living soul. Why didn't God just snap his fingers or say a word. No, God breathed into the man. God's ruha.

In the Old Testament, where the spirit is present there is life. For example, in Psalm 104 the writer said, When you hide your face, they are terrified; when you take away their breath, they die and return to the dust.

An interesting turn of phrase. When you take away their breath they die. That is what sin does to people. It makes them forget how to breathe.

The manner in which the Spirit worked in peoples' lives in the old Testament was different from today. The Spirit of God would come upon people and work in exceptional ways through them for specific purposes. David was granted empowered and also given wisdom. In the same manner Gideon likewise led Israel like a mighty warrior when the Spirit rested on him. When the Spirit came upon Samson in the book of Judges, he had extraordinary strength. It is written that on one occasion he struck down a thousand men. King Saul, when he began ruling there are evidences he felt dependent on God to rule.

Pastor Brad cited another interesting passage, this one in Exodus 31:1-5. It was interesting because it shows how the Spirit not only gave supernatural strength, God's Spirit gifted men to be craftsmen.

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, 2 "See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, 3 and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with skill, ability and knowledge in all kinds of crafts- 4 to make artistic designs for work in gold, silver and bronze, 5 to cut and set stones, to work in wood, and to engage in all kinds of craftsmanship.

Gifted by God's spirit to build a new tent of meeting. Craftsmen, breathed on by God... empowered to design, and build by His Spirit.

Brad took this opportunity to go sideways and remind us of our own building project, that we should seek God's spiritual empowerment, should pray for his wisdom to produce a "tent of meeting" that bears witness to something bigger than ourselves. This may be our moment... a way to remind people in out community of God's presence here.

God was not AWOL in the Old Testament. He just manifest Himself differently. In the Wilderness God led Israel in the form of a pillar of fire. God ministered through the priesthood. There were a few people who prophesied, too, but Moses expressed a bigger vision when he said, "I wish all the Lord's people were prophets." I wish everyone had the Spirit he was saying. Moses knew God's heart.

And in Joel 2:28 we see this theme projected to a future day as the Lord said through Joel, "And afterward, I will pour out my Spirit on all people. Your sons and daughters will prophesy, your old men will dream dreams, your young men will see visions." This became the great dream of God's people... and ultimately, this is what happened. Unlike the Old Testament where there was a single pillar of fire, on the Day of Pentecost when the Spirit rushed in that fire separated, split apart and rested on every individual.

There are other stories of the power of God's breath. Brad then cited the passage where Ezekiel was shown the valley of dry bones. God asked Ezekiel, "Son of man, can these bones live?"

God's breath has power. If God can make life from a lump of clay, and make dead bones live, He can do it for you.

Breathing matters. This is the whole reason Jesus came, to usher in the era of the Spirit. And to breathe on us God's air. John the Baptist said, "I baptize with water, He will baptize you with the Spirit."

Breathe... We must breathe out the bad stuff, rid ourselves of judgementalism, guilt, anxiety, and breathe in life. Breathe in the Holy Spirit. Carbon dioxide isn't the only toxic substance inside of us. Self-preoccupation, fear, guilt over unconfessed sin... breathe it out. Breathe in the breath of life. Breathe in His grace, mercy and healing.

Brad closed by leading us to consider Ephesians 6:18 where Paul wrote, "And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests."The Spirit of God is with us, in us, when we pray. On all occasions, stop and breathe.

Sunday, June 7, 2009

And You Shall Receive Power

It was a cold one this morning as we bundled up for the 9:30 service, temperatures about twenty degrees below average for the first weekend in June. But things got warmer once we'd gathered for worship with many new faces in our midst today. Brad warmly welcomed all, and we quickly forgot all that chill outside.

I can't say enough about how much fun it is to hear the quartet sing for us to kick off the worship time. Thank you to Darlene, Chuck, Ken and Dale for their faithfulness. We're very blessed to have you and we don't take it for granted.

Amongst the announcements, two are especially important. VBS begins Monday June 15, a week from tomorrow. And the Church Rummage Sale is coming up, so bring your things to sell, and your wallet to buy.

Guest Alan Finnifrock shared with us about a ministry in Alaska called Alaska Christian College. ACC is a ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church of Alaska. Its mission is whole life discipleship.

Today's Scripture readings were from Isaiah 6:1-8 and Romans 8:12-17.

Our prayer time revealed that we have a range of needs in our church to continue praying for. This was followed by the breaking of bread as we celebrated the sacrament of communion, a participatory even in which God says, "I am with you."

And You Shall Receive Power

Pastor Brad began the message with a series of questions. "Suppose you picked up a paper and read a story about a church where they had what they described as an apostolic outpouring of the Holy Spirit so strong that miraculous healings were commonplace. What would be your honest first response after reading an article like that? Would you tend to be skeptical? Or would you take it at face value?

"Suppose you were to see a television report about a church in downtown Duluth that had been dying and then they had some real dramatic services and people started speaking in tongues, and long time members said they'd been baptized in the Spirit and understood what Christianity was about like never before. Would that be a good thing or bad thing? How sure are you?"

Brad followed with more questions. When someone says we should expect a miracle every day, can I expect a miracle every day? Can God speak to us in dreams?

Finally, leading into our topic, "How certain and clear is your understanding of the person and work of the Holy Spirit?"

Brad began by reading this passage from John 16.
6Because I have said these things, you are filled with grief. 7But I tell you the truth: It is for your good that I am going away. Unless I go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you.

Can you believe this? Jesus said it is better to live in the era of the Spirit than to have lived when Jesus was here on earth.

The Lord's very last words to His disciples after the resurrection and before the ascension were these: "But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)

Jesus did not promise a starter kit or more instructions. He promised power. This was before Pentecost and the disciples no doubt talked about what it could possibly mean. Then it happened. These men, who had been hiding in fear, were no emboldened. Acts chapter 2 tells the details. Flames of fire, a mighty wind, and emboldened disciples preaching the Gospel in a whole assortment of languages including Greek and Egyptian and even Swedish, which Brad TIC called "the original language of heaven."

Peter, who only weeks earlier had betrayed Jesus three times, was so emboldened that when he stood and preached there were 3000 people saved in a single day. All barriers were torn down, and, according to the book of Acts, nobody claimed any of his possessions as his own, but they shared everything they had. "And there were no needy persons among them."

In short, when the Holy Spirit came, everything was changed and nothing would ever be the same again.

Brad cited Acts 19 where it is recorded that, "God did extraordinary miracles through Paul, so that even handkerchiefs and aprons that had touched him were taken to the sick, and their illnesses were cured and the evil spirits left them."

In another place it was written that "everyone was filled with awe and many wonders and miraculous signs were done by the apostles."

He then returned to his theme. "You will receive power." For 2000 years Christians wrestled with this. What does it mean? What if we devoted ourselves to understanding this truth?

One thing it does not mean is that our church will look like a first century church. Here are some things we can take away from this promise from Jesus.

1) Reverence the Spirit's mystery. There are many things in life we can control and put into a box. The Holy Spirit is not one of them. While talking with Nicodemus in John 3 Jesus said "the wind blows where it will." Like the wind, the work of the Spirit is uncontrolled. It is not our genie in a bottle.

2) Align yourselves with the Spirit's work in your life. Mystery is not to be confused with randomness. The Holy Spirit operates on clear guidelines. For example, the Bible says "do not grieve the Holy Spirit." We grieve the Spirit when we knowingly and willingly sin. He is grieved when human beings choose to defy what is the good will of God.

3) Walk in the Spirit. Walking is a picture of fellowship and relationship. The idea is to engage in activities that keep you connected to the Holy Spirit.

4) Request the Holy Spirit in our church, to manifest his power in our lives. This is Brad's prayer and he desires it to be ours, that we earnestly ask the Holy Spirit to manifest His power in our lives and in our church.

Does anyone here need any power? Paul's prayer in Ephesians was that we would be strengthened with power in our innermost being. What if we had the power to heal marriages, the power to knit the hearts of parents and children together?

I don't know a lot about the Holy Spirit, Pastor Brad, but I do know one thing. Jesus promised... "You shall receive power."
This is the Gospel.