Sunday, July 26, 2009

One Life To Live

From the start it was no ordinary Sunday morning service. A surprise event that had been weeks in the making reached its apogee today. This morning we celebrated Pastor Brad's 40th birthday with several surprises which the congregation took great pains to conceal. First off, we were instructed to arrive 15 minutes early. Chuck had arranged a private meeting with the past in his office and with some contrivances managed to keep Brad glued to the room while the congregation gathered outside. The first surprise for Brad was discovering the whole church had gathered 15 minutes early to sing him a happy birthday on the front steps.

Once gathered for the service Brooke thanked all those from out of town who were present then took a few moments to read a tribute and honor Brad who has been at New Life for five years, married to Brooke for seven, and has been ministering to others with passion since he turned fifteen.

Chuck Vanderscheuren then came forward with yet another surprise, saying, "Your church family loves you very, very, very much," presenting Brad a new guitar, which he immediately put to use, leading us in "Create in me a clean heart, O God."

The blended worship team thrilled is with a lively Heaven On My Mind before leading the congregation in worship. (See the YouTube video at the end of this blog entry.)

An offering, Scripture reading, prayers and a hymn Brad challenged us with a message titled...

One Life To Live

Pastor Shannon began by asking us to take a sheet of paper and to write the year of our birth in the upper left. In the upper right we were to put 20__, which would vary for all of us, but essentially referenced our death. Between the two numbers is a dash. Our lives, he noted, are lived in this period of the dash.

For some, that life is wasted with worry about what others think. Others wear blinders that prevent them from seeing the needs around them. Still others spend their whole lives carrying a grudge.

Psalm 90:5 says, "You sweep men away in the sleep of death; they are like the new grass of the morning..." Life is fleeting, yet so very precious. And in verse 12 the psalm continues, "Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom."

It is tragic that so many people waste this brief span of life.

At this point he asked, "What is the most dangerous piece of furniture in our homes?" One person mentioned rugs that you can trip on and a few other items were proposed. Then some of the youth carried an easy chair/recliner up onto the platform at the front. "Is God's primary concern our comfort?" Brad asked after placing Grant in the chair with slippers on and a remote in his hand. The image was comical but the message serious.

Pointing to Grant Brad said, "Is he ready to spring into action? Is ready to pray with boldness? My guess is that if we leave him there he'll fall asleep before the sermon is over."

Man people think God's primary concern is their comfort. But following God has not always been a comfortable course. Take, for example, this passage from Hebrews 11:32-34...

"And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies."

God continually calls people out of their ordinary lives beyond their comfort zones. In some traditions these stories are labelled "Call Narratives." Citing Noah, Joseph, Moses, Gideon, Brad pointed out that these call narratives have several common elements. First, there is a Call, followed by a Response.

How many times is the call easy? "Gideon, I want you to go out an slay 300,000 Midianites." How many times in these stories is the response a cheerful "Yes." The usual response is fear. Fear of failure. Fear of inadequacy. Fear of God.

The third element is God's promise. Look, if you will at Romans 8:37-39.

"No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord."

The fourth element is risk. There is always risk. It takes courage to step up and accept the call, but we're called upon to make a decision. How will you fill that dash?

The fifth element, Brad said, its a changed life. Here we looked at the book of Acts. "When they saw the courage of Peter and John and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus."

We all have birth days and we will each have that last day. What God has given us is the dash, that brief span of time in between. We don't know how long it is.

"I'm committed to taking risks," Brad said.

In his closing prayer he added, "Comfort those who are afflicted, and afflict those who are comfortable."

It was a very special service from start to finish, followed by a picnic at the Solway Town Hall. If you weren't able to be here, it was memorable and God's love shone through.

Sunday, July 19, 2009

God's Guidance

On a gorgeous summer morning Pastor Brad welcomed us with an especially joyful, "I'm delighted you're here today." The leaders (including Brooke) and youth were back from their trip to Tennessee where they met with more than 5200 other Covenant young people for the CHIC convention. There was a good energy in the sanctuary as we gathered today. Perhaps, too, the fact that we were having a baptism also had Brad jazzed.

Chuck opened the service with a word of encouragement from Paul's letter to Timothy and then the quintet (quartet plus Levi) led us into a time of worship with some great Gospel songs.

The baptism of Brent Charles Peterson was, as usual, a very special time. The proud parent Brent and Arina, accompanied by son Jordan and daughter Cheyenne, presented their infant son to the Lord. Brad relishes these moments which he then shares with us all.

During the offering which followed our Quintet sang On the Jericho Road, to our great delight.

The youth who went to CHIC, along with Eric and Brooke, shared some of their experience with us, in slides and stories. The theme this year was Undone, with a whole range of applications. Some good quotes were relayed to us, include this one from speaker Shane Clayburn, "If you have two coats and your brother has none, you are stealing." Another insight from one of the speakers was how "Justice is God's love in public." Eric Borndal thanked the congregation for its support which made this life changing trip possible.

Today's Scripture reading was from Ephesians 2:11-22, followed by a time of prayer...

God's Guidance

Brad began with a humorous anecdote about how he (typical of many men) resists asking for directions when seemingly lost while driving. It was, of course, a setup for today's theme, getting guidance from God.

The Holy Spirit really does guide and lead and direct us. Throughout Scripture we see examples beginning with the way God led Israel in the Wilderness to numerous New Testament examples beginning with the commencement of Jesus' ministry to numerous examples from the Book of Acts.

It's interesting that everyone knows people can talk to God. But in our modern world when we say God can speak to us, it's called schizophrenia.

Brad then had us turn to the instructive passage in I Samuel 3:1-10 where the young Samuel first hears God's call.

1 The boy Samuel ministered before the LORD under Eli. In those days the word of the LORD was rare; there were not many visions.

2 One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. 3 The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the temple of the LORD, where the ark of God was. 4 Then the LORD called Samuel.
Samuel answered, "Here I am." 5 And he ran to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."
But Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down." So he went and lay down.

6 Again the LORD called, "Samuel!" And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."
"My son," Eli said, "I did not call; go back and lie down."

7 Now Samuel did not yet know the LORD : The word of the LORD had not yet been revealed to him.

8 The LORD called Samuel a third time, and Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, "Here I am; you called me."
Then Eli realized that the LORD was calling the boy. 9 So Eli told Samuel, "Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, 'Speak, LORD, for your servant is listening.' " So Samuel went and lay down in his place.

10 The LORD came and stood there, calling as at the other times, "Samuel! Samuel!"
Then Samuel said, "Speak, for your servant is listening."

Without amplifying the context, Brad pointed specifically to a key principle in this passage: listening to God is a learned behavior.

"What if we all," Brad said, "made this our prayer... 'Speak, Lord, your servant hears."

Next Brad had us look at a rich passage in the book of Numbers, the story of Balaam and his donkey. In Numbers 22:21-31 the prophet Balaam has a problem getting his donkey to go where he wants, but in reality the donkey is not being stubborn for no reason. He sees the Angel of the Lord standing ready to slay his master if he proceeds down this foolish path. Ultimately, God speaks to Balaam through his donkey. But would it not be strange for the donkey to start bragging when he got back to the stable as if he were something wonderful instead of just a... donkey?

Guidance from God is not intended to puff us up, to make us self-important and big-headed. God communicates with us because He desires to have a relationship with us.

Dallas Willard wrote a book called Hearing God in which he tells the story of a little boy whose mother had died. He could not be consoled and did not sleep well at night. He would come into the room where his father slept and ask to sleep with him. Willard said the boy could not relax and be at rest until he was not only with his father, but knew that his father's face was toward him. In the dark he would ask if his father's face was turned toward him and then he could fall asleep.

Willard then writes about how lonely life can be. Some people seem to get by in life with a silent God, but it's not much of a life and certainly not the life God intends for us.

So, how do we recognize the voice of God? How do we keep from confusing it with our own impulses and self-talk? First, through experience. How do we recognize any voice? The tone is consistent, the content likewise is so. Jesus, in John's Gospel (Jn 10:4) said of the Good Shepherd that "His sheep know His voice."

In another passage, Luke writes of the two men who encountered the Lord on the road to Emmaus (Luke 24). As Jesus clarified passages from the Scripture, their hearts burned within them. This, too, is a way in which we recognize His voice, by the effect it has on our hearts.

Brad closed by reminding us that we can't find God by always being in a hurry. We need to slow down. And we need to listen, and pray, "Speak, Lord, for Your servant is listening."

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Spiritual Growth, Part 2

The service today had a refreshing "unplugged" quality about it this morning. No choirs or electric instruments, no overheads or videos streaming from laptops. Just a simple gathering of believers in the presence of the God, here to worship Jesus and to hear a message from the Word. Despite the simplicity of the service, the message Brad delivered was especially plugged in as he conveyed some extremely important truths about who Jesus is and the work of the Holy Spirit.

Pastor Brad welcomed us with his usual warmth and presented his theme. What potential is there for change in our lives? Can we change, or is it a meaningless pursuit that will only leave us disappointed in the end? Brad affirmed up front that there is indeed great potential for change with the help of the Holy Spirit.

Two important announcements were shared. First, that on August 2 there will be an all-church picnic at the Cresman's after the service. Bring bathing suits and an appetite. Be sure to sign up after next week's service so we know how many to prepare food for.

Second, there will be two final photo sessions for the purpose of creating a church directory. If you have never moved or changed churches, you may not realize how invaluable church directories are for helping us connect to one another and for new people to connect to us. If you've not had your picture taken, July 26 and August 16 there will be photos taken right after church.

After a time of worship Leonard read to us from the Scriptures.
Psalm 24
Ephesians 1:3-14

Spiritual Growth: Part 2

Brad got a laugh when he opened with the question... "How many of you would say there's at least one thing I would like to change.... (pause) about the person sitting next to me?"

When we're totally honest, we all know that we have weaknesses, personality issues, bad habits, attitudes or behaviors in our lives that we want to change. But do we believe it will happen? Many people feel discouraged and resigned about ever changing. That's why so many say, "You have to accept me the way I am. What you see is what you get."

Do you think you can change? The question is very important because if I'm not capable of personal transformation, I should beware of getting my hopes up.

The key, Brad said, lies in understanding the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of Jesus. But first, we need clear understanding of who Jesus is.

Historically there have been two primary heresies regarding Jesus, who is fully God and fully man. The first error, common in our own time, is that Jesus was a man and not really God. He was enlightened, but not really the Creator of the Universe.

In the earlier part of church history the more common heresy was that Jesus was not human, but only played the role of being human. The word "docetism" was used to describe this heresy, based on its root word "to seem." Jesus was God but only seemed human. He was play-acting.

Brad compared this view to the Superman character of comic book and movie lore. Superman would take on the role of Clark Kent, mild mannered reporter, to give the appearance of being one of us. But underneath he was really a being from another planet, with X-ray vision, the ability to fly and other extra-ordinary powers. The problem with this view, however, is that ordinary people could never aspire to become like Superman.

The reality is that Jesus put aside his Godhood and truly became a man. When he was a baby, he cried like a baby. In Luke 2:52 the Gospel states that he "grew in wisdom." He was not all-knowing and just pretending to be a boy. He got tired, he bled, he got thirsty knew anguish and even cried, like all of us.

So where did Jesus get His power? In Luke 4:1 we read, "Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, returned from the Jordan and was led by the Spirit in the desert where for forty days he was tempted by the devil." This was just after He was baptized in the Jordan, the time of Jesus' anointing.

In the Old Testament we see many instances of God's anointing people for exceptional service, set apart for a mission. Typically a prophet or representative of God would take pour oil from a container of some kind onto the person's forehead as a way of indicating that person has a mission from God. Oddly enough it usually came upon people who did not expect it.

When Samuel anointed Saul, the reaction was, "How can I be king? I am from the smallest tribe in Israel." Likewise, David was the most unlikely candidate, a shepherd and the youngest of many brothers. Each of these were special moments historically, but Israel looked forward to that day where a Messiah would come and express the full anointing.

Many don't realize that Christ is not Jesus' last name. Rather, it is a title or designation, "one who is anointed." And in our Lord's case this designation was affirmed by His Resurrection (Romans 1:3-4).

But the anointing doesn't end there. In I Corinthians 1:21-22 Paul writes, "Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come."

We have been anointed for a purpose. We are on a mission from God. Every day, including when you go back to work tomorrow, you will run into opportunities for service, evangelism or expressing compassion.

Each of you, each of us, has been anointed. Jesus is not just a forgiver, He is not just our rescuer and we are not simply forgiven. Jesus is the supreme example of what human life can become when lived fully under the Spirit. If you've ever wondered what God had in mind when God said "let us then make man in our own image" then just look at Jesus. That's what God had in mind.

He was guided and given power from one moment to the next all through His life by the Holy Spirit and lived a rich, interactive life with God. And now that anointing He's given to you and me.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Spiritual Growth: My Part & God's Part

This Fourth of July weekend was a true summer holiday here in the Northland. Blue skies and sunshine, and a laid back airy lightness seeped into our service. Pastor Brad greeted us with his usual warmth and transparent big-heartedness, leading into the service with a brief tip of the hand to our theme today. When it comes to spiritual growth, what is God's part and what is my part?

Chief among the announcements was that after the service on August 2 we will all re-convene at Walt and Gwen Cresman's home across Grand Lake for an afternoon of fellowship, boating and more. Be sure to mark your calendars.

The quartet led us into worship today with Change My Heart, Oh God. All their faces shone extra from having gathered so much sunlight the last couple days.

After worship and the offering, Brad read today's Scriptures:
II Samuel 5:1-5, 9-10
II Corinthians 12:2-10

Spiritual Growth: My Part & God's Part

Brad, as you know, has a sense of humor and began today's sermon with a little story which was essentially fiction but told as if true. He said that psychologists note one of the most common area of conflict in marriage has to do with the division of labor. (That part was not fiction) Who's job is it really to take out the garbage or change the diapers? When Brooke and Brad got married, he said to her, "What's the one thing you wish you didn't have to do?" and she said it's cleaning the bathrooms because no matter how often you do it they just get dirty again. Brad affirmed, "Don't a finger. You don't even have to think about the bathrooms any more."

For a year she didn't. Didn't lift a finger. Brad said he didn't either and they were a mess, but the division of labor deal was straight.

Actually, when it comes to Christian growth, this division of labor issue is really a critical issue for many Christians. To illustrate, Brad shared three images on the screen this morning. The first was a canoe with a paddle. The canoe is a symbol of self-sufficiency. "I'm going to make it on my own," we tell ourselves.

Christian growth becomes a contest... to see who can memorize the most Scriptures, fast the longest, pray the most, etc. Brad shared how competing in a Scripture memorization competition while in a youth group called the Whirl-i-birds led to his having very un-Christian thoughts toward the kid who won this game.

In Jesus' day it was the Pharisees who most exemplified this self-righteous, self-sufficient attitude. The end result is pride when we're successful at what we achieve, and guilt when we fail.

The second image was of an inner tube on the water. It is a passive approach that is especially useless. We expect God to do it all, so we just wait in the water and drift, expecting someone else to do it all for us. This attitude has actually become doctrine in some circles where it is flatly stated that grace is opposed to human effort. If grace is opposed to human effort, then I had best not do anything at all. Trust God to complete His work in me.

Brad told a story about a woman who's spiritual fruit was attained simply by claiming it. She wakes up in the morning and just "claims joy." No need to tedious Bible study or understanding or any spiritual disciplines at all.

But sanctification is not really this simple. And for a better image Brad showed us a wind surfer. Wind surfing takes a little more skill than tubing, but it is the best picture of what our Christian life look like. Brad based his illustration on the Scriptural insight offered by Jesus to Nicodemus in John 3:8 "The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit."

First, the wind surfer knows that if he is going to get anywhere it comes as a gift. He has no means to propel himself, yet he is anything but passive. He has to use discernment to determine where the wind is blowing. And he needs to know how to balance his body, and adjust his sail to align himself with where the win is at work.

It's not the same as the paddling where you just barge ahead. You have to get in tune with the bigger forces at work around you.

After a pair of examples Brad asked two questions. (1) Where is the wind of the Spirit at work in my life? (2) What's the practice that is likely to produce fruit (the fruit of the Spirit) in me?

Examples of spiritual disciplines with proven value include the study of Scripture, worship, writing a letter to God pouring out one's heart, intercessory prayer, sacrifice, spiritual friendship, and even trials.

In closing Brad again underscored these two important questions. Where is the wind of the Spirit blowing in your life? And the question you should be asking the Lord: God, how do you want me to respond to it?

After the message we shared in Communion.