Sunday, September 27, 2009

Connecting Point

With Pastor Brad not yet returned from his conference, Chuck Vanderscheuren led our service today, welcoming us warmly.

There were a host of announcements. Here are the main ones.
1. Darlene is starting an adult choir which is open to anyone with a heart sing. Practices will be held noon to one on the 2nd and 4th Sunday of each month.
2. There will also be a children's choir, with practices on Wednesday evening the 1st and 3rd week of each month.
3. Adventure Club is beginning on Wednesday October 7, a weekly program for children preschool to 6th grade. Volunteers always welcome. Contact Brooke for more information.
4. There will be an Old Fashioned Hymn Sing at the Newmans next Sunday at 4:00 p.m. It will also be a potluck meal, with meat provided.
5. Paula noted the Annual Women's Luncheon on Saturday, October 10. A very powerful speak will be sharing.
6. The deacons toured Caribou Lake School this past week to determine its viability as a potential new building to grow into. This was a very preliminary review and there are many variables. Please pray for wisdom for the church leadership.

Chuck then opened the service with the traditional, "The Lord be with you." To which the congregation replied, "And also with you."

The worship team consisted of Ken, Darlene and Chuck, who opened by reading Psalm 105. Then they jumped right in to a rousing version of Your First Day In Heaven, followed by a very powerful Midnight Cry. After a set of worship choruses, Gwen read to us from I Corinthians 12:12-27, the famous passage about the interconnectedness of the body of Christ.

Prayer needs and praises were shared. Then Walt Cresman came forward to share the message.

Connecting Point

Walt brought to church individual bags of Legos for every person in the congregation which were distributed just as he began his message. His aim was to use these Lego sets to share a number of insights pertaining to church life, family life and our purpose in life.

He first drew attention to the fact that all the pieces were different. So it is in the body of Christ and our church family, that we are all different. God forms each of us in different ways and for different purposes.

If you have ever had Legos, you will notice how the one thing they all share is the ability to connect to other Legos. These connecting points enable us to build relationships in various ways. One other thing Walt noted at this time is that the individual pieces may be a variety of colors, but color is not a variable that has any impact on our ability to connect.

He then shared this passage from Ephesians 4:1-6

1As a prisoner for the Lord, then, I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. 2Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. 3Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to one hope when you were called— 5one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

Walt asked, "What does God intend our church to look like?"

Walt said he purchased nearly every Lego set in town in order for us to experience this set of object lessons today. Only one had a steeple, but that is O.K. After showing us how the steeple piece prevents additional connections on the top, he suggested that the best form for a church would be flat, wide and broad. This would allow the maximum number of open connectors for bringing people in to the church family.

Walt also showed how families are an important part of the church. The broad connectivity strengthens a community of believers.

The passage from Luke 10:25 and following was referenced, the wonderful story of the Good Samaritan. Walt noted that acts of kindness make an impact on people. This is one of the ways we make connections.

Walt also asked us to consider how Legos can show a marriage relationship. What does marriage look like?

He showed one example, of two single piece Legos, in which they are connected, but one is on top of the other. A second example was a single Lego with two connectors. The side by side relationship was good, but then he showed us a three piece Lego and cited the role of the Holy Spirit in our marriages. A three-fold cord is not easily broken.

At this point Walt went a bit sideways to make an important point. He spoke about expectations, how our disappointments are in proportion to the disparity between unmet expectations and reality. It is very true that the variance between our expectation and reality can cause us hurt.

He noted then that we're all wired differently, and for this reason we all, like the Lego blocks, have varying numbers of connectors. This was a setup for a profound observation. Like the Lego blocks our pastor and his wife also have a finite capacity for deep connections. Our expectation is often that because our pastor and family is so wonderful we all want to be in a tight connection there. However, the truth is, only God has unlimited, infinite connectors. God can connect to all of us in a manner which is deep and significant.

This was a profound observation, and your faithful blog scribe was impressed by it. America's pastors have one of the toughest jobs in the world. We can play a significant role in providing encouragement and praying for him as he strives to bring us God's truths.

It was a good service, and I believe there were many good messages for all.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

And Can It Be That I Should Gain

Today we kicked off our new schedule with Sunday School at 9:00 and the worship service at 10:15. Pastor Brad welcomed us warmly, then quickly summarized the main points of today's message before running through the announcements, which were as follows:
1. The Truth Project will begin next Sunday. If interested, see Brad to sign up. Cresman's will host two groups at their home. One will be held on Sunday afternoons and the other Monday evenings. Contact Brad or Walt & Gwen for more information.
2. Adventure Club is scheduled to begin on Wednesday, October 7 for children from age four to sixth grade. AC will meet Wednesday evenings from 5:30 - 7:00. If interested in helping, contact Brooke.
3. An Old Fashioned Hymn Sing and Potluck will be held at the Newmans on October 4 at 4 p.m. Meat will be provided... bring your favorite sides or desserts.
4. Anyone interested in making Christmas ornaments can join us on Thursday mornings now through Christmas. See Gail Brown for details.

After a period of worship and prayer, the Scripture reading was from Colossians 1:9-14.

And Can It Be That I Should Gain

Brad opened his message by re-reading the passage from Colossians chapter one.

9For this reason, since the day we heard about you, we have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will through all spiritual wisdom and understanding. 10And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God, 11being strengthened with all power according to his glorious might so that you may have great endurance and patience, and joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the kingdom of light. 13For he has rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins.

The first verses, 9-11, were the focus for today's message. Paul here is telling the Colossians what he is praying for as he thinks of their community of believers. The four things are (1) that they would be filled with the knowledge of God's will, (2) that they would live worthy lives, (3) bear fruit, and (4) have an enduring faith.

The context of Paul's letter to the Christians in Colossae was that were a number of false teachings creeping in to the church. It wasn't a single "great white shark" tearing them up, but a mix of smaller issues which needed to be addressed. One was that Jesus was not involved in the Creation, based on a false concept of the Trinity. A second was that certain people had special knowledge that was not available to the rest of the church. Lifestyle questions also were part of the mix. There was also a bit of angel worship as well as the notion that there were demons behind every bush.

As often happens with young churches with a lot of new believers, their lack of Bible training can cause them to take in ideas that seem religious or right but are not Biblical. Similarly, the Colossians needed help getting clarification in a variety of areas.

Brad then went into detail regarding the four prayers in this section.

1) Knowledge of God's will
The is a difference between knowledge of God and the knowledge of His will. We can know a lot of facts about God, but still miss what He expects of us. God's will matters. Do you know what God's will is for this world? You should be filled with is. God's will for the world is peace, that violence would end. That is all throughout Scripture. It is also that those who have more would feed those with less. God's will is that there would be a common community established in our world. Also, He has a will for lost people, that they be found.

And God's will for His church is that it would prevail everywhere. His will for the poor and oppressed is that they would be fed and set free.

Our prayer should be, "God, show us Your will."

2) Live a worth life
This piece of Paul's prayer deals with all the lifestyle debates which were occurring there. One group focused on very strict regulations and another group was saying it didn't matter how you lived. Paul's prayer was that they would live a life worthy of the calling on their lives. Ultimately, we're to walk as Christ walked. What Would Jesus Do? (WWJD)

3) Bear fruit
Brad noted that as we bear fruit we will grow in our knowledge of God. The goal of our Christian lives is not merely salvation. We're God's handiwork, a masterpiece... but also a work in process. That is why we need to persevere in our Christian walk.

4) Be strong, persevere by God's glorious might
"There is an enemy power out to thwart you," Brad said. Life has many hardships. That is why Paul continually encouraged the saints to persevere. In his letter to Timothy he stated, "I have fought the good fight, I've finished the race."

It never pays to drift. It's better to pay the price of endurance that to go through the pain of error and sin.

In summary, God has qualified you... that is, made you qualified to be in the Kingdom, not because you were good, but because of His mercy.

Brad then shared this illustration. "If you see a turtle sitting on a fence post, you know it's because someone put him there." It's a cute picture of grace. I'm heaven bound not because I can climb there on my own, but because Someone put me there.

Christ, Paul says, has transferred up from a bad place to a better place. He's paid the price to redeem us. There's always a price.

Another illustration of grace... In Sudan there's a civil war taking place. Women and children have been put into slavery and are victims of despicable deeds. European Christians aware of the situation risked their lives to meet with the warring factions to determine a price for the slaves so they could raise money to buy their freedom. For $33 each they redeemed as many as they were able.

Can you imagine what these women and children felt was they were relieved from their suffering by people they didn't even know? So it is with ourselves. We were bought with a price, and that price was a lot more than 33 bucks. It cost God the spilt blood and pierced body of His son, the second person of the Trinity.

You have been qualified, transferred and redeemed. And now you are safe and secure and relocated and forgiven forever through Jesus Christ. That's the message that we get to proclaim to our broken, messed up world.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Beginnings

What a great way to start the new year. As we entered the sanctuary, Ken greeted us and handed us the new Church Directory (along with a bulletin). It’s really great to have a directory with all these photos of folks in our church family. I can’t tell you how many times I have had to use the old directory to connect names with faces. It is also a useful prayer tool, and a great asset to help new attenders become better acquainted with us. So, thanks to all who were involved in putting it together! And be sure to pick one up next time you’re around if you did not get one today.

After a warm welcome and greeting from Pastor Brad, a few announcements were made, including the Church Council meeting Tuesday and the start of our Wednesday night program with Adventure Club and Youth Group, both at 6 p.m.
Also, on October 4 there will be a hymn-sing with pot luck at the Newmans. (More information in the weeks to come.)

The Quintet (I have to stop saying The Quartet plus Levi) ushered us into our worship time with some rousing Gospel tunes. Always great to hear them sing.

Walt and Gwen Cresman then shared with us an introduction to The Truth Project which they are planning to host at their home beginning September 27. The truth Project is a program created by Dr. James Dobson’s organization Focus On The Family, designed to help provide answers regarding the challenges brought about due to competing worldviews in our culture. There is no cost. Contact the Cresman’s for more information or to sign up. (See your new Church Directory.)

Leonard read our Scriptures today from Proverbs 1:20-33 and Mark 8:27-38. After a time of sharing needs and of prayer, Pastor Brad took the pulpit.

New Beginnings

“Has anybody seen a rainbow lately?” Brad began. Several had. And Brad replied that God said this would be a sign to us… a sign that says He keeps His promises to us. It’s the sign of new life.

Brad then shared several comical signs he’s seen or heard about. On the door of a convenience store a sign said, “Push. If that doesn’t work, Pull.” At an out of the way gas station a sign read, “If it’s after nine and you want gas, keep your shirt on while I get my pants on.” Another business had a sign that read, Veterinarian/Taxidermist. Either way you get your dog back.

This was a setup, of course for the sign that Brad said really bugs him. We’ve all seen it: No U-Turns.

In God’s word, and in the book we will be studying the next several weeks, there are signs all over the place that U-Turns are welcome. In fact, U-Turns are often necessary in life.

This was Brad’s intro to Paul’s letter to the Colossians. Paul wrote to Christ followers in all kinds of major cities, including Corinth, Ephesus and Rome. Colossae was probably the least important, least strategic, least impressive city Paul ever wrote to. But it certainly wasn’t the least impressive church. Even though he’d never been there (it was probably founded by a man named Epaphras whom he references in the letter) he had heard tons of good about this fellowship of believers.

Because Brad aims to go through the book in over the next many weeks, he began with a brief overview of its contents. Of Colossians 2:6-10 he said the book hinges on this passage which tells us what we are in Christ.

So then, just as you received Christ Jesus as Lord, continue to live in him, rooted and built up in him, strengthened in the faith as you were taught, and overflowing with thankfulness.
See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.
For in Christ all the fullness of the Deity lives in bodily form, and you have been given fullness in Christ, who is the head over every power and authority.

In chapter three there are many other great passages. For example, in verse 5 it says “Put on a new nature” and in verse 16, “Let the Word of Christ dwell in you richly.”

This morning, however, Brad wished to draw out five characteristics of healthy, prevailing churches, based on the greeting in chapter one.

1) Holiness
Every effective, prevailing church has this characteristic, which we sang about last week. Holiness is what we aim for and what we need.

Holiness means being set apart for God's exclusive use. This is not to be confused with seaparateness. We are in the world, but not of it. Our influence comes about by being in our communities and in the world. The Pharisees lived by rules that appeared "holy" but their hearts were otherwise. A holy, distinctive life is something different from self-righteous legalism.

2) Passionate Faith
In verse four Paul states, "We heard about your faith." Churches that prevail are filled with people who have a passionate faith. A dynamic church is one in which God's hand is moving through spirit filled people with a passionate faith.

3) Inclusive Love
This church was recognized not only for its faith, but also "for the love you have for all the saints." It was an inclusive church with arms extended, not a church of cliques. All kinds of people were welcome, and they shared a love in the spirit. Jesus Himself said, "By this will all men know you are My disciples, by your love." Unconditional, real love.

Brad cited James 2:1-4 to bring home an important point.

My brothers, as believers in our glorious Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism. Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in. If you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, "Here's a good seat for you," but say to the poor man, "You stand there" or "Sit on the floor by my feet," have you not discriminated among yourselves and become judges with evil thoughts?

Colossae refused to be that way. There are needs all around and needy people who need us to pull them in. What is especially needed among Christians is creativity in order to reach our culture and be relevant to a postmodern mind.

4) Immersed in the Word
Brad mentioned Ron Sider's book that noted that there is not a lot of difference between Christians and non-Christians. The problem is that many Christians get saved, but do not take the next step toward personal transformation by renewing their minds. What is needed is to bring every thought captive to Christ.

The Word of God is vital to our personal growth and transformation.

At this point Brad challenged us to read and re-read the book of Colossians, and to meditate on its contents. Meditation is not emptying the mind and sitting cross-legged on the floor. Rather, Christian meditation is more like a cow chewing its cud. It swallows the cud, regurgitates it and chews some more. (Not a pretty metaphor, but apt.) The original word for meditation is somewhat akin to rolling a ball around inside a cup. We take a passage of Scripture and roll it around in our minds. We were invited to take this letter of Paul's to the Colossians and roll it around in our minds for the next month or so.

5) Cling to a Living Hope
Faith and love spring from the hope stored up for us in heaven. Heaven is the goal, the prize, and the church at Colossae shared an awe at the prospect of being there. There is a reward at the end. Life is hard, but the reward is real, and worth it... for one day we will share in His glory.

After a closing hymn, we all went to the park in Twig to share a great meal and picnic fellowship. But the spiritual food we received while seated in the pews really hit the spot.

Sunday, September 6, 2009

Lessons From Moses On Prayer

"I'm delighted you're with us," Pastor Brad began, and on such a beautiful autumn day that felt more like summer he warmly welcomed us. The theme, he said, would be a continuation of last week, based on what Jesus said, "My Father's house shall be a house of prayer."

A few announcements were interjected before commencing the service. We were reminded that next week church begins at 10:15 and that afterwards we will all go to Twig Park for a potluck picnic. We hope you will all be there.

Also, the new church directory is almost done. (After the service your faithful blog scribe noticed a few people scrambling to get last minute pictures taken.) This Thursday a few volunteers will be gathering here at the church to assemble and staple together the directories for distribution.

After an introit by Darlene, Pastor Brad led us in worship.

Today's Scripture readings were as follows...
Proverbs 22:1-2, 8-9, 22-23
Mark 7:24-37

After the offering, and a time of prayer, Brad took the pulpit to continue his theme.

Lessons From Moses On Prayer

As with last week, Brad asked how we would rate our personal prayer lives on a scale of 1 to 10. He reminded us once again that God's prevailing power flows through those who pray.

After reading again the passage from Exodus 17:8ff Brad noted that the battle was not won in the valley below, but on the hillside, through prayer. Joshua indeed served his purpose, and did need to fight, but the battle was won on the mountain.

In short, we must seriously devote time to prayer if we would be victorious in our daily battles. This is an important business. Get out your calendars and mark them, set aside time for prayer. Moses did not lead the troops. He was away from the battle.

In our modern times we are obsesses with being productive. Producing visible stuff has value, by some standards. But what has value by God's standard? Brad tested us. Which of the following are Productive and which are Unproductive?
Watching TV?
Using large power tools?
By the world's standard prayer falls into the unproductive category, along with TV and vacation.

Too often we let the world set our agenda. To the world, prayer does not seems productive, though some try to crib this a little by saying if we prayer more, our lives will become more efficient, as if God is a button we can push to make things fall our way.

Brad reminded us though that prayer time is not wasted time. It does involve a sacrifice of time.

He told a story about a judge he knew who turned down a Federal Judgeship because it would cut into the time he spent in prayer. His prayer life was more important than career advancement.

Several points were made throughout the sermon drawn from this passage. First, that we are utterly dependent upon God. Second, that prayer takes time. Third, Moses accomplished his task with the help of some aids. Here are examples of things that helped. He went up onto a hillside where he could see what was going on. This vantage point gave him a good view. We, too, need to find ways to stay in touch with what is going on.

Brad suggested some of the following small ways we can be praying for others. We can pray for each person we meet during the course of a day. When we read the paper we can pray for those whose names we encounter there.

Moses,when he climbed up on the hill, carried the staff which he had with him years before when he first encountered God at the burning bush. This staff had been transformed briefly into a poisonous snake, before he was instructed to grab its tail, whereupon it became his staff again. Wherever he carried it, the staff was a visible reminder of the power of God.

Brad asked if our minds ever wander while in prayer. A few chuckles... because who has not experienced this at one time or another. It is one of the great difficulties of prayer. He cited a quote by Henri Nouwen that our minds are like a banana tree filled with monkeys, all jumping about, quite distracting when we're trying to be still.

Sometimes we need aids to help us be still, or to feel God's presence. One man placed a chair in the room to acknowledge Jesus' presence.

The verse, "Be still and know that I am God" is our starting point.

A fourth lesson from the passage is that Moses involved other. Aaron and Hur came with him up the hillside. Brad noted that our deacons are "praying deacons" who are helping fight the battle with regard to our church mission. We ourselves can ask others to pray with us or for us.

Brad outlined a fifth lesson: afterwards the built an altar. The altar acknowledged God had been there to help them win the battle. One example of a way we can close the loop might be to write down answers to prayer in a journal.

As we face the new year, building decisions and new programs, the most important project is making God's house a house of prayer.

Celebration of the sacrament of communion followed the message.