Sunday, August 30, 2009

House of Prayer

The pre-service gathering was vibrant with energy that carried over into Pastor Brad's morning greeting as he commented on this noisy and exuberant hustle bustle of hugs and expressions of warmth and welcome. Indeed there is a celebratory aspect of worship, and then there is a quieter contemplative aspect.

Brad introduced his theme for the net two weeks: prayer. "Prayer is the battle," he stated, noting that we tend to get enamored with lesser forms of power. "What if prayer itself was the most powerful thing?"

A few announcements were conveyed. On the 13th we will be meeting at the Twig Town Hall for Rally Day. Joanne mentioned that we have had an expanding Sunday School program and would benefit from a couple additional teachers. Sunday School will begin Sept 20 and run thru Dec. 13. In addition, the adult Sunday School would welcome additional teachers for four week classes. Darlene will also be leading a choir during this class time.

The quartet was joined by Levi on the drums this morning for worship. After a reading of Psalm 89 we were lifted up by the great Gospel song "Yes, I Am."

The Scripture reading after the offering included passages from Psalm 45 and Mark 7. This was followed by a prayer time, suitable to today's theme.

House of Prayer

Brad held up Philip Yancey's book Prayer: Does It Make Any Difference to begin this morning's message. Yancey tells how he has had the opportunity to travel extensively in the very darkest places of the world, places with great persecution. There is a natural inclination to help in the face of such suffering, but the single most repeated request was for prayer. "Just pray for us."

Before turning to today's text Brad asked, "How satisfied on a scale of zero to ten are you with your prayer life?" Ten would be the top end. You carve out times to be alone with God, your first instinct in times of need is to pray, and you carry prayer concerns not simply of your own but for the whole world.

On the other hand, if you find yourself largely prayerless, and your prayer life is blocked by patterns of sin or unforgiveness, if you allow busyness to make you fairly prayerless and prayer is a burden for you, then that would be zero.

Then Brad asked, "Where would yo like that number to be a year from now when we meet here on August 30, 2010? What level will you be praying at then?"

Brad was setting us up for a challenge. Brad's goal for himself and for each of us is to have a deeper sense of prayer than before. No matter what else gets accomplished, this goal will be number one.

Jesus said in Luke 19:46 that "My house shall be a house of prayer."

Brad asked each of us to do our part, not only to pray but to ask for prayer. Then he had us turn in our Bibles to Exodus 17 beginning at verse 8.

8 The Amalekites came and attacked the Israelites at Rephidim. 9 Moses said to Joshua, "Choose some of our men and go out to fight the Amalekites. Tomorrow I will stand on top of the hill with the staff of God in my hands."
10 So Joshua fought the Amalekites as Moses had ordered, and Moses, Aaron and Hur went to the top of the hill. 11 As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. 12 When Moses' hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset. 13 So Joshua overcame the Amalekite army with the sword.

Beginning with this passage Pastor Brad intended to draw out five things about prayer. First, I need to recognize my utter dependence upon the power of God. God's prevailing power flows through people who pray.

This is the first time in Scripture that Joshua, who later led Israel into the Promised Land, is mentioned. The Amalekites have attacked Israel, and Joshua leads the battle. Moses, meanwhile, climbs a mountain, accompanied by Aaron and Hur, to intercede in prayer. As long as Moses' hands are lifted, the tide of the battle flows in the favor of Israel. But when Moses lowers his arms to rest, the momentum of battle moves the other direction. Upon recognizing this, Moses sits and uses the help of Aaron and Hur to keep his hands lifted for the remainder of the day.

From an earthly point of view, Joshua went down in history as the winning general. But it was only by the power of God that he won, power released through the intercession of Moses. The battle was not won in the battle, Brad said, but on the hillside.

Prayer is not an aid in battle. Prayer is the battle.

This kind of thinking has significant ramifications. What if church growth is not about strategies for growth, but has more to do with the hidden person or persons who were praying?

Maybe our church is being blessed because of those unseen lifted hands. Whatever you do, don't stop now. God's prevailing power flows through those who pray.

Brad described the manner in which the Stealth Bomber makes an impression on people when they see it. But he said compared to prayer even this is an inferior form of power. "We tend to get impressed by inferior forms of power," he said. This is nothing new. The Psalmist wrote of it in this passage: "Some trust in chariots, and some in horses, but we will trust in the name of the Lord, our God."

We trust in God, and His power is released through prayer.

Sunday, August 23, 2009

Great Worship

With summer winding down we gathered again this morning for a time of worship and fellowship this 12th Sunday after Pentecost. Pastor Brad and his family were back from a Colorado camping trip and ready for the fall kickoff of a new Sunday school season coming soon. Rally Day will be Sunday September 13, with additional information to come.

Brad began by promoting his theme, based on Exodus 33, that it is not success or security or freedom that matters most, but having God's presence in our midst, whatever our circumstances.

The worship was contemporary and meaningful this morning. Brad read from Psalm 84 to set the tone. "How lovely is You dwelling place, O Lord." After the offering he also read John 6:56ff.

During the prayer time we remembered many needs in our church family. Several anniversaries were also mentioned, including Borndals (29), Newmans (30) and Olsons (52). Following two more worship songs, Pastor Brad took the pulpit to deliver today's message.

Great Worship

Brad said his theme this morning would essentially be this: what does it mean to be a worshipping community? Today's message began with Exodus 33:1-6.

1 Then the LORD said to Moses, "Leave this place, you and the people you brought up out of Egypt, and go up to the land I promised on oath to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, saying, 'I will give it to your descendants.' 2 I will send an angel before you and drive out the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Hivites and Jebusites. 3 Go up to the land flowing with milk and honey. But I will not go with you, because you are a stiff-necked people and I might destroy you on the way."

4 When the people heard these distressing words, they began to mourn and no one put on any ornaments. 5 For the LORD had said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites, 'You are a stiff-necked people. If I were to go with you even for a moment, I might destroy you. Now take off your ornaments and I will decide what to do with you.' " 6 So the Israelites stripped off their ornaments at Mount Horeb.

God has made an offer to His people, and when you think about it, He has given them everything they could have ever wanted, freedom from Egypt, guidance, success, protection, and now they were about to enter a homeland flowing with milk and honey. "But I will not go with you." God says in verse 3. In other words, "You get everything you've always wanted, but you just won't have Me."

Many churches would actually accept this. Not Israel. They wanted God's presence.

Have you told God that above all else you want to live in His presence? Do you want to live day by day, moment by moment in the presence of God?

This is not mindlessness, which is so very common. For example, have you ever read a page in a book and when you got to the bottom of the page you didn't know what you just read?

After a humorous personal anecdote Brad admitted that he doesn't always live with God's presence, sometimes rushing through prayers in order to get to other things he wants to do. He emphasized that we can't allow ourselves to live a life of mindless drifting.

This led us into Jacob's dream in Genesis 28.

After Jacob had left home he stopped for the night in a certain place. While sleeping he had an incredible dream of a stairway leading to Heaven, with angels ascending and descending, and God, looking down upon him from above, blessed him. Brad noted Jacob's response. "Surely the Lord is in the place and I did not even know it!" Jacob understood he was in the presence of God, and exclaimed, "How awesome is this place!"

What Moses and Jacob had, God wants all of us to experience, to see and know God's awesome presence in this place.

We're not to be just spectators either, Brad urged. He then gave an overview of a typical Sunday morning service here, and how we can get more engaged and experience more of God through our worship.

Usually there is a somewhat festive mood in the sanctuary with hugs and warmth. As we settle, we need to take a moment to still our hearts, prepare our hearts.

Prayer time is for all of us. Use that time for personal prayer, he said. It is not spectator time.

In the passage from Exodus 33 we see Israel gathered at the Tent of Meeting, but only a few enter in. Our worship is for all to participate in.

Did you know there are 41 Psalms that command us to sing to God? This is why singing is a part of our worship. The offering is also a part of our worship. As we give we can also be praying that God will do something great with this gift. And even announcements give us an opportunity to pray.

And when we learn together, that's an act of worship. Moses tells God he wants to know more about Him. It is a desire we can all have. And right now God is longing to reveal Himself to you. At the climax of this story in Exodus, after Moses had seen God like he never had before, it says he bowed his head toward the earth and worshipped. Moses poured his heart out to God.

Well, we're going to do that right now... Be open to God speaking to you, and as Moses did we're going to respond to God.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

A Sword or a Cup?

Despite the somewhat muggy, drizzly weather, the sanctuary was vibrant with chatter and enthusiasm prior to the service beginning. Chuck could hardly get our attention to begin, leading us today because Brad and family are off in Colorado this week.

Opening announcements included Pam's reminder that we are again collecting school supplies for local schools and needy students in our community. Joanne mentioned that it is time to sign up for Sunday school if you can help this coming year in some capacity. Also, today was the last day for getting your picture taken for our new church directory. The church directory is a wonderful tool for helping us learn one another's names and getting us connected. It is also a useful tool for helping members pray for one another.

Chuck handed out a handout developed by the Deacons itemizing various ways in which our church family can participate in building up the church body. The handout was titled God's Body Building Plan, based on I Corinthians 12:12, "The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with Christ." As Chuck noted, we need to exercise our faith, not just our (physical) bodies.

Today's Scripture readings were from Psalm 111 and John 6:51-58.

A time of worship, offering and time of prayer were all part of the first half of our service leading into guest speaker Leonard Armstrong's message.

A Sword or a Cup

After an amusing anecdotal comment Leonard had us turn to Hebrews 4:12-13.

12For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart. 13Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of him to whom we must give account.

When we think of swords many images come to mind such as the Three Musketeers with rapiers drawn, for example, or Olympic fencing. Historically, there have been embarrassing moments in church history where unbelievers were converted at the point of a sword. Charlemagne and the Crusades come to mind here.

But the word used in Hebrews 4, Leonard noted, was making reference to a very specific sword, the two-edged sword wielded by Roman soldiers. It was a weapon of annihilation. In warfare during Roman times people lived in walled cities. When the Roman army would break through the wall, those very walls of protection would become walls of entrapment as the sword wielding Romans brutally slaughtered men, women and children.

Paul here compares God's word to a living sword that penetrates the deepest parts of the heart.

Leonard pointed out that whereas the Word is a sword, it is not the manner in which Christians are to manifest their faith. Our stance is very different from the ruthless brutality exhibited by Roman legions. It is the Holy Spirit's role to convict of sin. Paul's instructions for us are better illustrated in his second letter to Timothy, verses 20-26.

20In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. 21If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work.

22Flee the evil desires of youth, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, along with those who call on the Lord out of a pure heart. 23Don't have anything to do with foolish and stupid arguments, because you know they produce quarrels. 24And the Lord's servant must not quarrel; instead, he must be kind to everyone, able to teach, not resentful. 25Those who oppose him he must gently instruct, in the hope that God will grant them repentance leading them to a knowledge of the truth, 26and that they will come to their senses and escape from the trap of the devil, who has taken them captive to do his will.

Leonard pointed out the the word "articles" in verse 20 has a deliberately indefinite meaning, something akin to saying our house has lots of "stuff" in it. Some of these articles are more useful than others. In a sense, we are to be like cups and bowls, containers of God's love. Paul instruction is that we be converted from useless to useful articles.

Salvation is not God's endgame. It is a first step. Transformation is the next.

In Biblical times homes were small and there weren't as many things, but there were "large houses" or "great houses" in which a whole assortment of things were present, including articles of gold and silver. We are not to be swords, but instruments... and God is waiting to transform us from ordinary to extraordinary articles of silver and gold. Leonard noted that silver and gold cannot be destroyed by fire.

Fill your life with noble deeds, he said, so that you do not have time for ignoble.

In the latter portion of this passage Leonard noted that we should not quarrel, that we should instead be kind to everyone, not just fellow Christians or people who smell and look like you. Instruct with gentleness, Paul said. The Holy Spirit will wield the two-edged sword.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Lessons in the Desert

After his traditional welcome, Pastor Brad told us about an incident with his Farmall tractor which some men from the church helped him get started yesterday. To make a long story short, he managed to get the tractor stuck in the muck at the edge of the lake, requiring a but of expense to get it pulled out. He said his new name was Quicksand Shannon.

The story got laughs, as did the typo in the bulletin regarding the title of the sermon. Although there are probably a some worthy life lessons from a message on Lessons in the Dessert, today's message would be about Israel's departure from Egypt and the lessons they learned in the desert.

A time of worship, the offering and prayer time flew past. The reading of the NT passage today was from Ephesians 4:25-5:2. Then Brad took his place at the front to deliver a message both sobering and sensitive.

Lessons In The Desert

What should have taken two and a half weeks took forty years. This must have been frustrating for the Israelites. Certainly we get frustrated because it seems like God never seems to be in a hurry. Israel was on a journey from the place of slavery to the land of milk and honey. But for the moment they were stuck in a desert, a dry and arid place.
"Many of you have been in desert places," Brad said, "or will be. Some of you are there right now."

When you're in the desert there may be many causes. Symptoms vary, but often you are fatigued and even sleep does not renew you. But in whatever your circumstances, your situation, God never leaves you when you are in these places.

Israel, despite their forty year trek, were made consciously aware of this fact as the pillar of fire and pillar of cloud led them. God provided a daily ration of manna as well. Even though it had but a one day shelf life, it was always abundantly supplied the following morning and kept them nourished all the way through while simultaneously reminding them of God's provision and care.

Brad identified many places where life can be a desert. He mentioned marriages that are difficult. "Will you say 'Yes' to God in that desert?" he asked. Whatever the circumstances, we must resolve in our minds that we will not go back to Egypt.

The first lesson, then, is patience. We must trust God and be patient. He will see us through.

The second lesson in the wilderness is this: God is giving us strength. It's interesting that it took God about one year to get Israel out of Egypt and forty years to get Egypt out of Israel.

Brad pointed us to the stories of Joseph, David and Daniel who each travelled a circuitous, indirect route to positions of influence and leadership. Joseph spent years in prison. David was homeless and lived at one time in caves. Daniel ended up in a lion's den. But God used these experiences to strengthen them.

The third lesson of the wilderness is this. It is in the wilderness where God confronts us with our own sin. It is in the wilderness where everything is stripped away and we see ourselves for who we are.

Brad told the tragic story of a man named Max who lived in denial about a horrible thing he had done while on a binge. Coming to grips with the truth about yourself can be painful. But we have to deal with the truth about ourselves.

Brad shared that the desert is also a place where you find out if you love God for God.

It's easy to have faith when things are going well. When everything has been stripped away, it's a must that you say, "I will not go back to Egypt."

Will you say "Yes" to God in the desert?

Sunday, August 2, 2009


Today's service had a number of special features that made it somewhat unique. First off, we had two worship teams arrive, each unaware of the other. Perhaps one of the nice features of a small church is the opportunity to demonstrate its flexibility. In addition to the quarter+1 we also had De Elliot Bros. jugband to share some gospel tunes with us.

Pastor Brad Shannon welcomed us with a warm "Good morning" on a chilly mid-summer day. He thanked us for the special 40th birthday surprises and picnic we gave him last week. He then said he would be talking again about taking risks, and in particular, as it applied to forgiveness.

Announcements included the Tuesday evening board meeting here at seven p.m. Also, Mae urged us to make sure we verified our personal information for the church directory. And if you have not had your picture taken, they will use the photo from the last directory. Pam then stood and said that for the next three weeks we will be collecting school supplies to donate to local schools for needy kids.

At this, the two worship teams combined for an introductory number that got us in the mood for the service. The music was special for the musicians as well as the congregation.

Brad read two passages from Scripture before the prayer time. The OT reading was from Psalm 51:1-12. The NT came out of Ephesians chapter 4, verses 1-16.

During the prayer time Rebecca Bruley shared a deeply personal and moving account involving a powerful healing of more than 100 nodules on her lungs. The story gave evidence once more that we have a living God who cares about us intimately.

De Elliot Brothers performed one more song and then Pastor Brad spoke to us from in front of the communion table.


Brad began the message by putting on a backpack and asking if anyone here had carried something heavy for a long time. Nearly all of us have had to carry things, but especially those who have gone canoeing in the Boundary Waters or general camping in the wilderness have known the experience.

"It's bad enough," Brad said, "when carrying something is physically back breaking, but to carry emotional burdens is worse." He was referring especially to grudges. He compared grudges to babies, which was interesting. He pulled a small, fist sized rock from the backpack and held it up. Like babies, we nurse our grudges, we feed them... we help them grow.

He then pulled out and held up an even larger rock, saying that our "grudgette" soon becomes a full grown grudge. This is where we get in trouble.

Brad shared the story of Lamech from Genesis 4, a descendant of Cain. Cain, when he killed his brother Abel, was marked by God who said, “If anyone kills Cain he will suffer vengeance seven times over.” Humans are not supposed to take vengeance, the pastor stated

Lamech, the first bigamist, evidently took Cain’s life and even seemed to glory in it, saying, "If Cain is avenged seven times, then Lamech seventy-seven," thereby justifying his grudge.

Grudges have tragic consequences, with some being passed on to future generations. Many do not know that Ann Landers was actually a sister of Dear Abby. Though they both gave years of advice to people on how to get along, neither one spoke to the other, having each nourished their perpetual grudges against one another. Sadly, the daughters of these two influential women continue to carry on the unforgiveness and enmity that split their mothers.

Nursing grudges happens in the workplace and it happens in the church. But Jesus came along to tell us there's another way.

In the famous passage from Matthew where Peter asks his Lord how many times he must forgive saying, "Up to seven times?" ... well, Jesus raises the bar. "I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times."

Brad drew our attention once more to the parable about the unmerciful servant who was forgiven much by his master, but in turn was mercilessly brutal to someone who owed him a pittance. The parable ends with what Brad calls "the scariest words in the Bible." From Matthew 18... 33Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?' 34In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
35"This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you
forgive your brother from your heart."

Put down the stone, your grudge... and forgive.

We so easily forget the cost of forgiveness. It cost Jesus the Cross for God to forgive us.

Brad shared story about going to the prom in his ultimate best outfit, feeling jazzed and atop the world, looking spiff with his cane and accessories. His cheer was dampened a bit when a bird, flying overhead, let go a dropping to land on his shoulder. This suit was stained.

So it is that we ourselves have been inwardly stained by our sins, a major source of stain being our unforgiveness.

At this point Brad held up the rocks and said, "There's a place to put these rocks," which were symbols now of our grudges. He carried them to the foot of the cross and urged us to not focus on the rocks, our grudges, but to put our eyes on the cross.

"What is the grudge that you're carrying?"

Afterwards we celebrated the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper, followed by a picnic at the Cresman's who graciously hosted the church on their lakefront property.