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.