Sunday, December 26, 2010

The Hope of the World

Upon greeting us Pastor Brad reminded us that Christmas is not just a day, it's a season, a season in which we celebrate Jesus breaking into the world that we might experience hope.

After singing a number of Christmas songs, Brad read to us the passage in Matthew 2:13ff which has come to be known as the slaughter of the innocents. It's a dark feature of the Christmas story and a reminder that there is real darkness in the world, and real sorrow. In the midst of this darkness Christ sent His son to bring humankind a real hope.

The Hope of the World

Brad began his message by reminding us that Jesus said, "When all your hopes are disappointed, put your hope in Me." Beginning with this notion, Pastor Brad threaded a number of images together from the Old Testament to paint a picture for us of what that hope is all about.

In Genesis 1 there is an image of God at the very beginning hovering over creation, which is as yet formless and void, hovering like a dove. At the culmination of this creation account we see God breathing the breath of life into a lump of clay, breathing his spirit into something inanimate to make life, to make a man.

This man, and the woman whom God created with and for him, were designed to work in partnership with God for the purpose of tikkun olam, which means to help the world realize or achieve its full potential. The world was not "complete" when He finished creation in the sense that His design included giving Adam and Eve responsibility to help complete God's plan in partnership with God.

Brad next brought us to Genesis 3:7 where Adam and Eve have violated God's instructions regarding eating the fruit of the tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. Brad pointed out the phrase, "and their eyes were opened." What did they see? They saw their shame and guilt. The ground itself was cursed, thorns and thistles grew and things changed. They were exiled from the Garden and lived in a condition of permanent exile, the consequence of sin.

After many generations, God found a man whose offspring would become the tribe of Israel, the people who would partner with God to fix the world. But things went wrong and ultimately even these people of the Promise were exiled from their native land. Prophets spoke of a day that would come when all would be made right again, but many centuries passed.

Brad next cited Mark 1, the account of the baptism of Jesus where it say Heaven was torn open and the Spirit descended like a dove. What did this mean? It meant that the wall of separation had been broken open, the separation between God and man.

Brad then shared texts showing how the people of Jesus' time began to get their hopes up. They had been exiled, they had been defeated, but here was a hope for Israel. Could this be the one?

There had been others. Historians and Scripture record stories of several others in whom the people of Israel had hoped. The Romans crucified each, wrecking the hopes of those who had imagined this was the time of God's breakthrough.

In this context Brad retold the story of the pair on the Emmaus road.

Jesus, like so many others, had been taken by the Romans and executed. Luke's post-resurrection account tells of two people leaving Jerusalem, their hearts having been broken by all that occurred there. They were joined by a third person as they walked along heavy with despair, telling the stranger what they had seen and heard. "We had hoped he was the one." They shared, too, how the women went to his tomb and his body wasn't there.

The stranger then recounted all the many ways that the Old Testament pointed to these exact things coming to pass. Afterwards they stopped to eat and in the breaking of bread the two recognized Jesus, their eyes being opened.

Just so we didn't miss the point, this is an echo of Adam and Eve's story when their eyes were opened, only a reverse effect.

So, too, Brad shared another parallel. When God finished the Creation, He rested. At that point His work was finished. This did not mean that there was no more work to be done. He entrusted the work to Adam and Eve, and gave them authority along with that responsibility.

And when Jesus hung on the cross, His own last words were, "It is finished." It was a different kind of work He had completed. It was the work of bringing redemption to the world. But as it was in the beginning, Jesus had done His part and entrusted the completion of the work to His disciples, not only giving them responsibility but also authority.

Before ascending Jesus breathed on them, just as God breathed into the inanimate clay bringing Adam to life. And in the same manner breathing life into Jesus as He lay in the tomb after being put to death.

Brad compressed all these anecdotes and instances into a picture that he hoped we would understand with new clarity. We are God's agents designed to partner with Him in fulfilling His purposes in the world. We are to be light-bearers and hope-bringers in a dark and hurting world.

May Jesus Christ be praised.

Friday, December 24, 2010

Christmas Eve Service: Let There Be Light

Our Christmas Eve service was again very special. Led by Pastor Brad Shannon, our time together included much singing and special music that included several contributions from our Homegrown Quartet and Shylee Smith.

The theme of the service was light. Brad stated that the Christmas story is ultimately about light and resonates with us for that reason. When he was on earth Jesus said, "I am the light of the world." But when he ascended it was his aim for us, his followers, to be bearers of that light.

Let your light shine, and may your Christmas be wonderfully bright.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Our Worthy Model of Faith

Pastor Brad greeted us with a warm "Good morning!" and reminded us that it is the third week of Advent, noting for us that the message this morning would center on lessons from the life of Mary, "a worthy model for us from start to finish."

Announcements included a reminder that the Christmas program would be at 4:00 p.m. this afternoon.

The Scripture reading came from Matthew 11:2-11. After a time of prayer and praise, Brad spoke to us about the many qualities that make Mary's life worth studying.

Our Worthy Model of Faith

Brad began with a few light-hearted jests about the differences between women and men. He then called Janzyn to the front of the church to show us how young Mary likely was when she first appears in the Scriptures. The typical age for marrying in that culture was 15-17 years old.

The message consisted of 15 features of Mary's character and personhood, each beginning with the letter C.

1) Child
In Luke 1:27 we read that Mary was a virgin pledged in marriage to a young man named Joseph. She was but a youth.

2) Called
Her calling was supernatural in origin. The angel Gabriel was sent to notify her that she was to conceive and give birth to a son who would be seated on the throne of David and reign forever.

3) Confused
Her response is presented in a straightforward manner. She was a virgin. This was beyond understanding.

4) Curious
Yet she asks, "How can this be?" The angel responds that it will be a supernatural experience.

5) Cooperative spirit
Her response is not to fight it, but to accept it, to go with it. "I am God's servant. Let it be as you have said."

6) Composes a song
This was her response on the path to a great adventure.
“My soul glorifies the Lord
and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior,
for he has been mindful
of the humble state of his servant.
From now on all generations will call me blessed,
for the Mighty One has done great things for me—
holy is his name.
His mercy extends to those who fear him,
from generation to generation.
He has performed mighty deeds with his arm;
he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts.
He has brought down rulers from their thrones
but has lifted up the humble.
He has filled the hungry with good things
but has sent the rich away empty.
He has helped his servant Israel,
remembering to be merciful
to Abraham and his descendants forever,
just as he promised our ancestors.”
Luke 1:46-55

7) Creative
The story of the birth of Jesus shows much about the creative initiative Mary took to turn a stable for animals into a home for the King of kings.

8) Ceremonies
In Luke 2:39 we see that Mary is a conscientious mother who sees to it that all the ceremonies were fulfilled.

9) Contemplative
There were many unusual and significant events surrounding the birth of the Savior. Scripture says that Mary treasured these things in her heart and pondered them.

10) Concerned
It's the well known story of the family going up to Jerusalem for Passover when Jesus was twelve. He had become separated from his family and for three days Mary and Joseph searched for him. The story reveals the heart of a concerned mother.

11) Confidence
The story of the wedding in Cana where Jesus performed His first recorded miracle (John 2) shows Mary's confidence in what her son could accomplish.

12) Character
The incident in Luke 11:27-28 wherein a man from the crowd praised the mother who birthed such a wise son shows Mary's character. Jesus replied, "Blessed are those who hear the word of God and obey it."

13) Courage
Mary lived to see her son die, which is difficult for any mother. But especially painful was the manner in which he was put to death, with such brutality. Mary remained present to the very end, a courageous act.

14) Crushed
Seeing her son crucified had to have crushed Mary. Jesus even spoke to her from the cross.

15) Constant prayer
Acts 1:14 is the last time Mary is mentioned by name. Here we see that she is amongst the disciples, constant in prayer. Mary saw it all, from the beginning till the birth of the church at Pentecost.

It was here that Brad shared the reason for this message, a message for women. It is a great challenge to be a woman today. The culture puts so many unrealistic expectations on women that it is a form of crazy-making. You're not enough unless you are this or that.
The story of Mary offers three steps out of these entangling, confusing expectations. First, what are you called to? Having clarity about your call helps one to push aside all the distractions. Second, have courage to believe and to stand secure in your mission. Finally, be consistent and prayer. God has a plan for you. Without clarity about who you are, you become a sitting duck for every "should" that comes your way.

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Peace on Earth

This morning we celebrated the 2nd Sunday of Advent, a time of anticipation of the Lord's coming. Brad welcomed us and indicated that we would be taking a fresh look at the Christmas story found in Luke 2.

There were quite a few announcements, the most relevant being these:
1) Pam reminded us to bring food and gifts next week for the family we've "adopted" for Christmas this year through the Salvation Army.
2) The weekly Woman's Bible Study will be taking up a new theme beginning January, studying the Book of James.
3) This Friday at Mitchell Auditorium there will be a special Teen Challenge Christmas Concert.
4) There will be a Christmas Program practice this Saturday from 9:30-11:30.
5) There is also a need for 12 volunteers to bring two dozen cookies each for the Christmas program next week. A few helping hands for setup and cleanup are always welcome. The Christmas Program will be at 4:00 p.m.

After the offering, the second Advent candle was lit in conjunction with a reading. A time of prayer concluded with the beginning of today's message.

Peace On Earth

Brad opened by stating that our Christian faith is rooted in history. The people of the Bible were real people who inhabited real places. He then showed slides of various places he hopes to see one day, significant places in the Holy Land: the Jordan River were Jesus was baptized, the Sea of Galilee where Jesus calmed the storm, Nazareth, Bethlehem and Jerusalem.

In the photo of Jerusalem the Dome of the Rock is prominent beyond the wall, and a church with crosses stands prominent in the lower left. It is clearly a crossroads. Three religions have roots here, Judaism, Christianity and Islam.

Nazareth, a small town of 600 in the days of Mary and Joseph, was 85 miles to the north. This was a simple town, not comprised of the country club set, but rather a blue collar time of ordinary people, poor, scratching out a life, living hand-to-mouth. An unlikely place for God to enter humanity.

They travelled the 85 miles to Bethlehem for the census, no easy hike at any time, but especially riding a mule when nine months pregnant as Mary was. Our familiarity with the story makes us forget the realities. Upon arrival they could find no room and slept instead with the animals. Mary was soon in labor.

The shepherds were equally unlikely people to be the first notified of the new birth, by angels no less. The shepherds of that day were the bottom of the barrel in terms of social class, living with their animals, smelling like animals. But to these common ones, the angel of God appeared, his first words being, "Do not be afraid. I bring you Good News..." And then a great company of angels appeared, praising God and saying, “Glory to God in the highest heaven, and on earth peace to those on whom His favor rests.”

Isaiah spoke of such a one who would given to Israel who would be called Prince of Peace. Yet today in the Middle East we see everywhere tension and conflict. The Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem is where Muslims believe Abraham offered up Ishmael and is the place where Mohamed received the Koran.

The world is not filled with political tensions alone. There are also tensions in our homes and families, often amplified by the holiday season as it approaches. Emotional stress from fractured relationships is real and painful. Brad said that if he could give us anything for Christmas it would be restoration in our relationships.

The shepherds sought out the baby that was announced, saw and believed, telling Mary and Joseph all they had seen and heard. From there they went into the crowd city and told everyone what had happened. People were astonished when they heard.

Brad asked what Jesus would do to bring peace today? And what is our responsibility? An eye for an eye never brings healing. Someone must die to self for healing to begin.

If more of us would live as peace makers... Isn't it about time we bury our hatchets? The Christmas story reveals a God who does miracles. Have we lost faith that God can still do miracles?

In John's gospel Jesus said, "Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid." (John 14:27)

Gwen Cresman then came forward and sang a song from her heart to usher us into Communion, first reading the following two passages.

Isaiah 26:3
You will keep in perfect peace
those whose minds are steadfast,
because they trust in you.

Luke 2:14
“Glory to God in the highest heaven,
and on earth peace to those on whom his favor rests.”



Our traditional Christmas Communion followed.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

When He Comes Again

Pastor Brad opened the service by citing the Annie Dillard quote, "How we live our days is how we live our lives." Today's message would carry the theme that how we live our lives matters.

It is the first weekend in Advent. Announcements included the following:
1) The Christmas Program will be December 12 at 4:00 p.m. here at the church.
2) Don't forget to bring your soup cans next week.
3) A request was made for anyone interested in baking cookies for people in prison should bring them by December 14th. See Ruth Anne Schelinder to make arrangements.

Today's Scripture reading was from Matthew 24:36-44.

36 “But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37 As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left.
42 “Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. 43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him."


After a time of prayer Pastor Shannon gave the message.

When He Comes Again

The text for today's sermon was taken from Revelations 21:1-3.

1 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,” for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God."

The Book of Revelations is not a typical book of the Bible. It is filled with images, pictures and symbols that speak to us. In this passage, we see Heaven crashing into earth.

Brad attempted to convey to us that the Second Advent or return of Jesus might not be as sensationally wonderful as we imagine. If Heaven can be described as a place where things are as God wants them to be, are we ourselves truly ready for Heaven? If Jesus were to return tomorrow, would you be comfortable? It might actually make us un-comfortable. Are we ready?

Having noted that this is a book of "pictures" Brad's sermon highlighted a few of this for us.

1) God is light.
In Revelations 22:5 John writes that there will be no more night. The reason is apparent to anyone familiar with Scripture, for God is light.

In I Corinthians 4:5 Paul writes that God will bring to light that which is hidden. This includes our motives. And in the Gospel of Luke, it is written that there is nothing concealed that will not be made known.

Everything you do matters, Brad asserted. "We're called to live in the light."

Many people think God is like the Santa song where "he's making a list and checking it twice to find out who's been naughty or nice." But God is not making a list. When God shows up, He will by the light of His presence make us aware of our shortcomings.

Brad gave the example of people whose good deeds or good behavior convicts us, even though they have no such intentions. People who exercise make those of us who don't aware that we ought to, and people who are generous can unintentionally make us feel ashamed of our stinginess. In the same way God's purity and goodness will make us aware of our shortcomings there. God loves us, and knowing this will make us want to live in His way.

2) Our talents and gifts
Brad next read to us from Matthew 25, the parable of the talents. In the story, the one man was given ten, the second five and the third one. The first two used their talents, but the third buried his. The Master was not pleased.

We've each been given gifts. These are not to be buried. We're to do something with our gifts and talents, to use them, not deny them.

When Heaven crashes into earth, how we used our talents will also be revealed by the light. What have you been given? What did you do with it?

3) God is a consuming fire.
Many people think of hell as a place where people get burned up, and they associate this image with that kind of scenario. But the reality is different.

Yes, God is a fire, but the fire serves a useful purpose. In I Corinthians 3:10-12 Paul writes:

10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as a wise builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should build with care. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw...

Fire reveals what the lives we've built are made of. The fire will purify gold, silver and precious stones, but will burn the wood, hay and stubble. When the Lord returns, His light will reveal what is hidden, and His fire will refine us.

The question, then, is what did you do with your life? And more importantly, what do you want to do with the life you have ahead of you as an act of gratitude to Him?

In closing Brad re-visited the passage once more from Matthew 24. No man knows the hour or the time. The Son of Man will return at an hour when you do not expect it.

Much to think about here. We were all challenged.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Authenticity

Pastor Brad greeted us warmly and began the service by noting that God is the object and subject of our worship. This was followed by several announcements of importance to our church family beginning with tonight's ecumenical service at Faith Lutheran Church in Culver.

1. Today was the last official week of Sunday School. For the next four weeks of Advent we will turn the Sunday School time into an Advent-ture time. It will be interesting, entertaining and thought provoking all rolled into one.

2. There will be a Thanksgiving Dinner with Chef Len here at the church for folks looking for friendly company or don't have family nearby. Dinner is free, though donations will be welcome to replenish the church Benevolence Fund. Time and place: 2:00 p.m. Thanksgiving Day, at the church. Call ahead to let us know you're coming, so we know how much food to make. 729-5476 or 729-7448 (Len).

3. New Life Covenant has signed up again for the Salvation Army's adopt-a-family program. We will help make Christmas special for a family of six this year. There is a sign up sheet for needs they would like fulfilled. Bring items by December 12.

Chuck, Ken and Darlene led worship this morning followed by presentations from Walt and Norm regarding progress the Building Committee has been making. Walt noted that the committee will be seeking input from the congregation and will be doing a lot of listening. Norm shared that there are a variety of preliminary designs but that a Needs Analysis has to take place before we have enough information to make any real decisions. This Friday and Saturday there will be a pair of work days to do site prep across the street. All are invited.

During the offering Chuck, Ken and Darlene sang, "It is no secret what God can do."

Today's Scripture reading: Luke 1:68-79

A time a praises and prayer preceded the message.

Authenticity

Brad began by having us look to the mid-portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Chapter 6 of Matthew's Gospel. The first part of the Sermon on the Mount is about the meaning of Kingdom living. Today's message focused on roadblocks to living in the Kingdom, chiefly these two:
1) If you need approval from others.
2) If have a need to acquire more and more material things.

He read verses 1, 2, 5 and 16 for us. In each case Jesus identified a good behavior which gets twisted when its motivation is "to be seen by others," whether doing good deeds, being generous, praying or fasting.

Brad stated that Image Management is a major problem that creeps into the church when we try to control others' perceptions of us. Image management is a game we play in an effort to get others to see us a certain way. Jesus' message to us, and Brad's this morning, cut across this tendency in human nature. Authenticity is who we are when no one is looking.

The opposite of authenticity is hypocrisy. The word hypocrite comes from the masked actors of ancient times who wore masks projecting externally something different from what they were. In other words, concealing what they were within in order to project something different.

Authentic people are the same wherever they are. Mask wearing can become such a way of life for many people that it becomes normal.

Brad noted two tests that address the matter at hand. The Audience Test: Who am I doing this for. The Secrecy Test: Would I do the same thing if no one knew?

Jesus used the example of giving. Why do we give? Is it to show off our wealth? Is it to exercise the power of affluence by influence? Is it to look good in the eyes of others? Or is it because of an authentic desire to help others and honor Christ?

In the Audience Test, the question is this... Is it about expanding the Kingdom, or expanding your kingdom? How much would we give or pray if nobody knew, if no one was looking? Know this, that God sees, even if no one else sees.

Brad shared a Max Lucado story about a time when he accidentally unplugged their freezer while they went on a vacation for a week. The stench when they returned was unbearable. Unfortunately, unless it was cleaned the freezer was useless. He made the point that cleaning the outside of the appliance, no matter how it was dressed up, would not resolve the problem of the stench.

Jesus talked about people who were like whitewashed tombs that looked good on the outside but were filled with dead men's bones. Scripture notes that the heart is deceitful above all things. What is needed is a spiritual catharsis to cleanse the heart.

Authenticity also includes being able to share our struggles. Brad cited the way Alcoholics Anonymous meetings begin with transparency. We need this same transparency in the church. Perhaps a 12 Step Program for Recovering Pharisees would be useful. The meeting would begin with, "Hi. I'm John and I'm a sinner."

It's time we tear off our masks and be real together.

Brad said he'd hoped that the sermon today with the sound of masks hitting the floor. His prayer is that each of us would have the courage to say, "This is who I am."

Sunday, November 7, 2010

Finishing Well

"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us..." ~Hebrews 12:1

Today is All Saints Day, a day when we remember and honor the saints who have gone before us. In his welcome, Brad affirmed, "I am who I am today because of those who ran the race before me." The service, therefore, opened with an invitation to place photos of loved ones who were influential in our lives. A slide show also played simultaneously during Darlene's introit.

With the baptismal font centrally placed and a small host of Shannon kin present it was evident that young Kaitlyn was to be baptized this morning in a special ceremony.

After singing Holy, Holy, Holy an offering was taken and the baptism of Kaitlyn Elisabeth Shannon commenced. Ed Newman read from Luke 20:27-39 and after prayers from the congregation, Brad & Darlene sang "May Those Who Come Behind Us Find Us Faithful."

Finishing Well

Brad began by reading about the faith of Moses from Hebrews 11:23-28 and finishing with Hebrews 12:1-2. "Keep running, don't quit," he said. Though never having run a marathon himself, he has seen them and knows that the start is always fun, but finishing is not always so. The beginning is the pleasure phase. Runners spirits are high, and everyone is getting off on everyone else's energy.

There are several stages runners go through when running a marathon. Beginning with the high, there is the establishment of a pace... but ultimately at some point along the way, depending on how in shape the runner is, every runner hits the wall. The test of every runner is whether they keep running when they hit the wall.

"Finishing is hard work," Brad said. "Finishing well is glory." Then looking earnestly to the congregation Brad asked, "Will you run with me till the end? Will you finish well?"

At this point Brad detailed for us the story of Moses beginning with Exodus 5. It's the famous account where Moses has returned to Egypt to confront Pharaoh. "Let my people go." Pharaoh was not impressed with this Hebrew upstart, and proceeded to put a heavier burden on Moses' people, to make bricks without straw. Despite believing he was following the Lord's leading, Pharaoh refused to listen and his own people abandoned him.

Moses was tempted to quit.

Brad told the story of a speechwriter for Mayor Daley who wanted a raise, but whom Daley continued to dismiss, arguing that the speechwriter should be gratified just to have the privilege of being associated with such a great American hero. Daley was famous for not reading through his speeches before delivering them, and this speechwriter decided to give Daley a little surprise. Mayor Daley was delivering an important speech to a throng of veteran's stating, "and so today I want to unveil 17-point plan to care for the veterans of this country..." With all eyes on the mayor Daley turned the page and read, YOU'RE ON YOUR OWN NOW YOU GREAT AMERICAN HERO.

In one sense, that is Moses. He's been called, reluctantly obeyed and though persistent he eventually hits a wall. The difference is, unlike Mayor Daley here, Moses was not alone. And neither are we.

Brad stated that if we're going to finish the race there are two things we'll need.


1) Persistence in Prayer
Christian persistence begins in prayer and ends in prayer.
Brad asked, "What is your challenge?" He then asked us to draw a line in the sand and say, "I'm going to do what Jesus commands no matter what." Persist in prayer. Don't go back; don't give up. Persevere.
2) No On Runs Alone
We're surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.
The profile of a marathoner is not just sleek athletic types. Some are cancer survivors, others are amputees, and some of these in wheel chairs. The one thing all have in common is that the keep running till they finish the race. Don't give up.
The service ended with Brad praying for us in all our various points of need, after which we were ushered into Communion.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Navigate 2011

Thursday evening we had a large turnout for the chili dog fundraiser and semi-annual meeting that had been billed as Navigate 2011. $800 was raised for Adventure Club from the dinner portion of the evening, and then we slipped up to the sanctuary for the meeting.

Pastor Brad opened by reading to us from one of his favorite passages, Romans 10:14-15.
14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

Brad then talked with us about the facets of our Mission Statement... Connect, Grow and Become.

Connect. Connecting unconnected people to our Savior Jesus Christ, the eternal focus of what God has called us to do.

Talking with people about Jesus is not about "closing the deal." Rather, it is any word or deed that brings a person closed to connectedness to God.

Grow. New birth is a beginning, not an end. As Christ followers our mission is to pursue spiritual transformation over a lifetime.

Become. We are not simply individuals consuming religious goods. Our mission is to become a community that reflects God's priorities in the world.

Brad followed this by sharing our Vision... to be a healthy, missional church that reflects our context where people are coming to personal faith. Our core values are to be Biblical, devotionasl, missional and relational.

It was apparent from the meeting that the church leadership has been quite active and there is not any sense of "business as usual" there. The building committee was identified and their mandate shared, to identify within 12 months a direction with regards to a future building project.

Pam Johnson shared New Ministry Initiatives being undertaken for 2011. They included:

1) A short term missionary trip somewhere within the U.S.
2) Community connections... meeting needs in our local community.
3) "Grow For It"... fall and spring activities to help us in finances and our marriages.
4) Small Groups... unforced. If interested in this, let Walt, Gwen or Pastor Brad know.

Chuck then presented a recommended budget for the coming year, which included over 10% to missions. The new budget had some modest increases, but when voted on was readily adopted.

In short, the meeting was valuable for orienting us toward continued growth.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Story of Forgiveness

Despite the dreariness of the day, Brad welcomed us with his usual bright warmth. "Good morning!" Included in his opening monologue was the statement, "We can overestimate our righteousness before God," tipping his hand to today's theme.
Announcements included this Thursday's Navigate 2011, an important semiannual church meeting in which we will plan and discuss our vision for the new year and present new ministry initiatives. Dinner, a chili dog fundraiser for Adventure Club, will be at 6:00 p.m. with the meeting commencing at 6:45. Stay tuned for more information about Operation Christmas Child as well.

After the introit Brad read to us Psalm 23 and we entered into a time of worship followed by the offering and prayer.

The Story of Forgiveness

Today's sermon was essentially a modernized retelling of the Lord's parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector as found in Luke 18:9-14...

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

On his way home from Florida this week Brad shared his faith with someone on the plane. Such situations offer many opportunities for sharing. After the initial introductions, "What do you do?" is a normal question and a conversation can quickly become oriented to spiritual things when you are a pastor.

This week's encounter had an earnestly positive outcome, but for today's message Brad wished to share about a similar on-the-plane encounter he'd had another time on a flight from Chicago to Minneapolis.

He set it up with a story about playing racquetball at the Y. Brad had played a bit of racquetball and felt confident enough to enter a tournament. There were three classes in the tourney -- A, B and C -- and he was trying to decide what level to compete at. Needless to say, he figured the C class was fielded by beginners and the only decision was whether to be in the A or B category. In Brad's mind the C league was for rank amateurs and since he had played for a few months the only decision was whether to go a winning the B category or competing in the A group for experience... and who know?

While he was studying the poster an older gentleman of somewhat short of stature asked if he were thinking of entering the tournament. Brad could tell the guy was checking him over as to what level he played at, and Brad was doing the same. With stubby little arms and a potbelly, the guy looked like a physician and no threat. The man said he had played in last month's tournament and Brad asked what level. The man said, "C" and Brad thought, "It figures." With a measure of pride the man added that he came in tenth, and even seemed proud of it, which Brad dismissed thinking, "If I came in tenth in the C class I'd crawl in a hole and die." Brad decided to play the guy to gauge how well a C player can play. This would hep him determine whether to sign up for the A or B level.

"You can see where this is going," Brad said, and yes, we could. The guy smoked him. 21-zip.

Athletics is not the only area where people overrate themselves. It happens in business, and it can happen in politics. Most people are convinced that they are playing in the A level with pleasing God, too. Yes, most people overrate how good they are in the eyes of God.

This story was a perfect setup for the story of that flight from Chicago to Minneapolis, the quintessential business traveller. After the usual niceties the man asked what Brad did for a living. The man told how he used to go to church, and believed his kids needed a little religious orientation. Brad decided to spice things up a bit. "If someone asked you how to get to heaven..."

The man admitted that he wouldn't know what to say.

Brad then asked if the man were planning to go to heaven when he died. His reaction said, "of course," and he proceeded to elaborate on some of his good deeds and his business ethics. Brad replied, "Do you really want to know what God's standard of good is?"

Brad took out a napkin and drew a line up and down from top to bottom and wrote GOD at the top. Parenthetically, he added "God's standard of goodness." Then he asked the man to put an ex on the napkin to represent the place where he viewed himself at in regards to being good in God's eyes.

Just before handing the man the pen, Brad asked, "Who do you think is the best person living on planet earth right now?" and after thinking for a minute he said, "Mother Teresa."

Then Brad said, "I wouldn't argue with that." (This was when Mother Teresa was still alive.) And Brad added, "There's something I think you should know about Mother Teresa. I've heard her on audio tape, and she feels terrible about how far short she has fallen below God's standard of goodness and perfection. She would place her X about two-thirds of the way down that vertical line.

Then Brad asked who the best person in this country might be. The man offered up Billy Graham as an exemplary man, but Brad replied, "I've heard Billy Graham give some talks and I feel that I could say, without fear of him contradicting me, that he would probably place his X a little south of Mother Teresa."

Brad then acknowledged that he himself was in the ministry and doing the best he good to honor God and would still put his X well south of Billy. Brad then put his X on the line. At this he said, "You need to know that Mother Teresa is in trouble and she knows it, and Billy's in trouble and he knows it, and I am in trouble and I know it. But I think you're in trouble and you don't know it." You could tell the guy's wheels were turning.

Brad pointed out that this drawing was aimed at showing how we overrate our goodness if we don't have any benchmarks. And we underrate the seriousness of this issue.

Brad had an opportunity to go further with the businessman, who admitted shortcomings in terms of his business ethics and his relationships. It was presented as a golf scorecard, and as they went through the areas of his life, the score looked far worse than he envisioned or admitted.

God is holy and His standards are high. When we fall short, someone has to take a hit, someone has to pay the price for our sin. Because of God's outrageous love for you and me, God commissioned Jesus to come to earth as a human and die a substitutionary death on behalf of each of us as sinners.

Have you ever taken a moral inventory? How many of us overestimate our value? One day we will each stand before God...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The 21st Sunday After Pentecost

Today's service was an interesting departure from our typical Sunday rituals in that we did not have a sermon per se, though the Lord's voice could be discern through the music and testimonies shared this morning. Chuck Vanderscheuren lead the service, welcoming us with Brad's traditional greeting. Pastor Brad, it was noted, is in Florida for a wedding.

Announcements included the following...
1) On Thursday, October 28 we are gathering here at the church for our semi-annual meeting, which will begin at 6:00 p.m. with a chili dog fundraiser for Adventure Club. The event has been titled Navigate 2011 and it's importance cannot be understated as we will be discussing how to implement our vision for the coming year.
2) Joanne noted that she is seeking a substitute teacher for October 31.
3) Pam Johnson shared that there is a need for diapers at the Union Gospel Mission, that we are collecting sizes 3, 4 and 5 diapers.

The quartet opened the service with a joyous song followed by more, and then led us in worship after which we shared in the offering. Today's Scripture reading from Luke 18:1-8 tied remarkably to a later portion of the service. After a time of prayer, Chuck as Norm Livgard to share his testimony.

Norm's Story
Norm began by sharing about his Lutheran roots and some lessons he learned as a young man. His career as a surveyor eventually ed him here to the Northland where he became county surveyor in 1974.

In 1999, after personal turmoil brought him low and he married Mae, they went to the Southwest for the first time. In February 2000 they found themselves painting a children's home in Apache Junction when he had a powerful experience. Previous to this trip Norm felt that there was something missing in his life. Here he felt this visit was an answer to his prayers.

As it turned out, the city of Mesa had been putting pressure on the children's home because they wanted it gone. Though once located in the desert, the developing outskirts of Phoenix now surrounded the children's home. City officials had been demanding that the property be surveyed in order to permit any further remodelling of the facilities. This surveying could amount to a twenty thousand dollar expense. Instead, Norm being there at the right time, was able to complete the land survey at no cost to the home.

This past year Norm also had a chance to be involved in the Modest Home Makeover project, which was similarly rewarding. With his sleeves rolled up, Norm is ready for new marching orders, eager to help where needed.

Ed's Dream
Before singing, Ed shared that while a youth growing up he used to keep a dream diary, and through this exercise became skilled at recalling many of his dreams. One of these was shared with us this morning you can read here: In Another World. After sharing, he was joined by Peggy Carlson and together they sang the classic hymn O Sacred Head.

Peggy's Testimony
Peggy then briefly shared from the heart about being parents of two adult children, about being persistent in prayer, sharing Jeremiah 31:15-17 and Psalm 9:10, and yes, reminding us that today's Scripture about the woman persistent in prayer was so intended for this morning. She then sang a beautiful rendition of "His Eye Is On the Sparrow."

Gwen's Songs
At the close of the service Gwen Cressman shared a word of encouragement to dad's. She recalled for us one time when her dad read to her from Psalm 23, and then told about how God was the Good Shepherd. This incident put a desire in her heart to know the Scriptures like her dad. This was followed by an unaccompanied, beautiful version of Psalm 23.
In closing she shared a second very short message in song: "So let us press on to know the Lord."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Growing in the Faith

Indian Summer has been keeping us upbeat this past week, and this morning was no different as we drove to church under sunny skies, generously warm for this time of year. As we entered the sanctuary it was quickly evident that we were having some special music, with all the trappings of a first class sound system. We had the privelege of being joined today by the DeLoach family singers to lead us in worship.

Pastor Brad greeted us warmly as always and after tipping his hand on the theme of his sermon we got updated on announcements.

1) Thursday October 28 we will be having our semi-annual meeting, with the title Navigate 2011, from 6-7:30. Meal included.
2) Tuesday evening is a building committee meeting at 6:00 p.m.
3) Norm stood and noted that this is Pastor Appreciation Month, and today is Pastor Appreciation Day. He served Brad with a hug on behalf of us all. Thank you Brad, for your vision and commitment for this community.
4) Steve Borndal was recognized for having achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. Congrats, Steve.

The DeLoach family then ushered us into worship.

After the offering, Len read today's Scripture reading from Luke 17:11-19, followed by a special time of prayer. Christina DeLoach then shared a song from her heart about God's amazing grace.

Growing in the Faith
Pastor Brad began by noting that there is a tendency of really smart people to let everyone know how smart they are. But the smartest and wisest of all was Jesus. What's amazing is that with all His brilliance and understanding, He never tried to impress people with it.

When it came to teaching, He chose to teach through a method that would instruct both the learned and the simple. His method was to use parables.

Our text this morning was from Matthew 13:1-23, the parable of the sower. Brad stated that he would love to see this become the theme of our church. It is a parable about growth. Growth is a sign of life, and is something miraculous. When you cease growing, you start to die.

In medical terms, there is a terrible condition called failure to thrive. It is uncertain what all the causes are, but children are meant to grow. Failing to grow is a strong indicator something is wrong.

Spiritually also, God wants us to not only grow, but to thrive, to flourish. Two signs of spiritual growth are that sin is less attractive and that we love more fully.

In His own time Jesus saw the countless ways people were held back, failing to thrive spiritually. For this reason he sat and told a story about seeds, a sower, and soil. Brad pointed out that the parable is not about the seed, because the seeds do not change, and the sower sows liberally, so it is not a matter of the sower either. Rather, the Lord's intent is to draw attention to the nature of the soil. Whether the seed takes root and thrives is totally dependent on the condition of the soil.

Soil Analysis

1) So, there are four types of soil in this parable. The first is the path. Paths consist of compacted soil, hardened soil. Jesus knows that people with hardened hearts will not be receptive, will have their defenses up. Hence the aim of the parable is to get past those defenses with thought provoking imagery that will awaken in them later.

Some are hardened due to hurts, others through cynicism. The plow needs to come and tear open a crack in the soil so that the seed will take root. It is painful, but there is something worse: failure to thrive, and a lifetime of bitterness.

2) The rocky soil is a terrain that looks okay on the surface but a few inches below there are rocks so that there's no place for the roots to go. Roots need to go deep.

Richard Foster has stated that superficiality is the plague of our nation. Is there depth in you?

3) Clutter is a the next type of situation the seed falls into. Cluttered lives choke the seed. The heart is soft toward God, Jesus says, but the thorns and weeds choke the seed. There may be depth, but the soul still fails to thrive.

Weed rarely go away on their own, Brad noted. Some of you need to do some weeding.

4) Where soil is soft and soil deep and uncluttered, look out. There will be fruitfulness beyond comprehension.

In turn, sow the seed. Be lavish. And let God do His miracle.

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Optimism

Today's service began with Brad asking the question, "Are you an optimist or a pessimist?" His theme would be drawn from an insight he had while preparing this summer's messages on the life of David.

Announcements included:
1) The church leadership, in an effort to make the semi-annual meeting more interesting, has planned a dinner for Thursday, October 28 with the theme "Navigate 2011." The dinner/meeting will take place from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
2) Adventure Club and Youth Group will begin this week. Adventure Club will run from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. and Youth Group from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
3) There will be a Women's Tea Saturday at noon, with a program by Sharry Widriff.
4) A special Eagle Scout Court of Honor will convene Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at St. Rafael's Church near the intersection of Highway 53 and Ugstad Road. Steven Borndal will be among those honored for this achievement.

Darlene ushered us into worship with a lively introit, then assisted Brad in leading our congregational singing. After the offering Scripture reading (II Tim. 1:1-14) and prayer, Peggy Carlson sang for us a wonderful rendition of Take My Life. Brad then spoke to us from his heart.

Optimism
"I hold in my hand the proverbial glass..." Yes, it was the half full/half empty glass of which so much has been made. Optimists tend toward seeing the glass half full, pessimists see it as half empty.

Is there a Biblical basis for hope as we wrestle with the issues of this life? There are plenty of reasons for being pessimistic, so many conflicts and difficulties which lead us into a downward spiral of hopelessness and pessimism.

Brad then shared the phrase that leaped out at him from the life of David in II Samuel chapter 12. The circumstances were these. David had greatly failed God and his people, having killed a righteous man in order to have his wife. The prophet Nathan had come to David at great risk to himself and confronted the king with a word from God, that David's son would die. It was a grievous judgment, and when the son became ill David prayed earnestly that God would spare him. But the child died.

Here is the passage the immediately follows:
20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

21 His servants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!"

22 He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.'


Brad's message today focused on this statement by David, "Who knows? The Lord may be gracious." What's striking here is that David had been told that the child was going to die. Yet, he travailed in prayer, and remained optimistic. "Who knows? Maybe the Lord will be gracious."

Where did this optimism come from? Brad traced it back to his time shepherding his father's sheep. The first instance of tested faith was when a bear threatened to devour some of the flock. David could have run, could have played it safe. But instead, he put himself between the bear and the sheep. Brad compared it to a toss of the coin.... perhaps David would be mauled or killed by the bear, but he had to trust God and do the right thing by his father's property. And God came through.

The second time was when a lion came to make off with the sheep. Again, David chose to trust God and in the process learned something. His optimism and faith brought him through, even when it seemed hopeless.

So it is that one day David was asked to bring food to his brothers who were fighting in the army. There he saw Goliath, the Philistine giant, trash talking the army of Israel, and their God. David had flipped the coin before and God came through. He once again would take that chance, do the right thing and meet this trash talking enemy. As he grabbed the last of the five smooth stones, his experiences with the bear and lion were not far from his mind. "Who knows? Maybe God will come through again?" And there it is, the mind of an optimist.

In verse 21 of chapter 12, when his son died, the very first thing David did was to worship. He had hoped for something miraculous, but accepted the judgment. He went into the house of the Lord, still an optimist, his optimism rooted in his God.

Brad shared that one reason for this message today is that he himself needs this. The troubles of this world conspire to bring us down. But who knows? Maybe God will show up today? Maybe today will be the day that something holding you back will be released. Maybe today a burden you have carried a very long time will be lifted.

At this we entered into Communion. Jesus said, "Remember Me."

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Security

A five star autumn morning and a five star sermon made it another special service here at New Life Covenant.

Brad opened by commending the leadership team that worked so hard to make last week's Harvest Festival such a special event. We were also reminded that our new fall schedule features Sunday School at 9:00 a.m. and worship at 10:15. Other announcements included:
1. On October 3 and 6 there will be a music festival at our sister church First Covenant in Lincoln Park.
2. There will be a women's tea at noon, October 9 here at the church.
3. Gail thanked everyone who helped or contributed to the success of the rummage sale which raised $340 last week.
Darlene then blessed us with the introit, which was followed by a time of worship, which included a taking of the offering. Ellie read today's Scripture reading, Luke 15:1-10, which was followed by a time of prayer.

Security

Brad opened by reading these words from what is probably the most famous sermon of all time, Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

"Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock. But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash." ~Matthew 7:24-27

The contrast is clear. A rock is solid. A rock foundation is a place of stability in a world where everything is uncertain.

Brad delineated just some of the experiences of recent years which have rocked our worlds. The 9-11 attack, anthrax fears, the tech stock crash, housing market collapse and banking crisis which have combined to make us less confident about our economic futures.

Having a job is no guarantee of security these days either. Companies get bought and sold, and jobs shuffled or eliminated. Brad cited a very recent example.

Some people who have lost everything say, "Well, I still have my health." They find security in having good health. But this, too, can turn around overnight in a hundred different ways, as we so painfully see year in and year out.

Family and friends are a source of security for many people, but even the best friendships are temporary for as we all know, life itself is a temporary stay on this earth and sooner or later one of us must go.

Brad noted that the introit Darlene played was that classic hymn, The Solid Rock, with these memorable words:

"On Christ the solid rock I stand,
all other ground is sinking sand."

ALL other ground is sinking sand... The only really solid foundation is a relationship with Jesus Christ, whose 24/7 love for us is ever present and without fail. With Christ you also get a permanent pardon for your sins.

Brad noted that in a relationship with Jesus we also get rock solid power, power to build bridges with others, to control our tempers, our greed and our lusts. And power to get through hard times.

Jesus also gives us a rock solid sense of guidance and purpose. God will guide our futures, and will be there with us all the way through. Of this we can be confident instead of leaving us to face uncertain tomorrows alone.

And most significantly, with Christ you have a rock solid assurance of where you're going to go when you die. All of this is available through a relationship with Christ.

Many people who go to church know all these things and want these things, but still don't know how to get it, Brad has observed. Over the years he has met many a person who has taken a run at faith, but feel and say "it didn't work."

Brad asks these people, "Well, what did you do?" and often the answers go something like this: "Oh, I tried to get into God and tried to clean up my life and promised God and myself that I would use less profanity and drink less beer and go out partying less. I'd be a better boy scout... but there wasn't much joy in it. I didn't know if God was happy with me so I bailed."

Someone else might reply that they decided to get involved with more charities, serve in a soup kitchen... "and after that I felt O.K. but I never knew if it was enough. I never got to the place where I really felt secure."

How do I get from the shifting sands to the solid rock?

No one makes it through human effort, through their own power. The only way is for a third party to lift you up and place you there. God alone can do this for you, and He will do this when you take a humble, sincere step of faith. As it is written, "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." It is a gift from God. This is the only way to go from shifting sand to Solid Rock.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Harvest Fest


The Harvest Festival at Twig Town Hall was wonderfully attended and a really fun time for the church family as we interacted with the local community. The hot air balloon was grounded because of brisk winds, but everything else was pulled off as planned. Treasure hunts, art projects, Belgian horse-drawn hayrides, and that most appreciated gift of sunshine over the whole morning. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful.

The service at eleven was a special event in the middle of the festival, with some of the best singing from our church family quintet, opening with "Heaven On My Mind." There were lots of photos taken which will no doubt be shared soon.

We shared in the singing of some great songs and then Brad read a passage from the Psalms and led us in prayer. The sermon was brief but pointed and delivered from the heart.

Missing Ingredients

Pastor Brad began by stating that his new fall sermon theme would be about Missing Ingredients. He noted that he enjoys watching masterful chefs at work, and cited that "look" a chef gets when he's taken a taste of whatever he's stewing up and is trying to determine what ingredient is missing that would make it a perfect concoction.

Today's sermon was about purpose. And his starting point was the book of Ecclesiastes, written by a man who had done everything he could think of to find satisfaction. He successfully pursued money, power, pleasure and everything else under the sun that he could think of... but concluded that all was vanity. We were made for more.

One form of torturing prisoners is to make them dig holes and move dirt and then make them move it back again, turning their labors into futility and pointlessness. This kind of purposeless labor is emotionally devastating.

Brad told how he sometimes gets the wheels turning in peoples' head by drawing a circle and asking "Do you look inside or outside yourself when seeking purpose?" It's natural to look inside oneself, he noted, but not smart.

Brad talked about how purposeful God is. We live in a broken world, a self-evident truth when we look at all the poverty, oppression, injustice, pain, war, etc. God has His hand stretched out to each of us to partner with him to redeem, mend, heal, restore this broken world.

The pastor read Acts 13:36 for us about David serving God's purpose in his generation, and noted that we are called to partner with God's purposes in our own generation. We've been designed to live with purpose. God's appeal to us is, "I'll work on that with you if you are willing to participate with Me."
~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

If you joined us for the Harvest Festival we hope it was a very special time. The pictures here only tell part of the story. Click to enlarge.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Public Invited to Community Harvest Festival at Twig Town Hall

New Life Covenant Church is sponsoring a community Harvest Festival at the Twig Town Hall on Sunday, September 12. The event will include free food and activities for kids and adults of all ages.

In addition to the usual fun and games, there will be:
Hot Air Balloon Rides from 8:00 a.m. to 11:00 a.m. (weather permitting)
A hayride with Belgian horses
Karaoke
A pie tasting contest
Treasure hunt for the young
Art fun
A bounce house
And more. …

Activities begin at 8:00 a.m. but will run through mid-afternoon till 2:30 p.m. Everyone is invited to join us for worship at 11:00 a.m. at the Town Hall

Celebrate the harvest season with New Life Covenant Church.
For more information call 729-5476

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Memory Loss

As the summer closes, Brad's series of messages on the life of David also have been completed. Today's communion service served as a transition into fall. Next week is our big Harvest Festival at the Twig Town Hall, and we were all encouraged to invite our neighbors. We still need volunteers for some activities. Please call church leaders for details.

Other announcements included:
1. September 11 will be the Rummage Sale, which now will be at the church. There is a need for clothes racks and plastic bags.

2. There will be a day long Beth Moore Simulcast event on September 18. Twenty dollars also covers the cost of lunch. See Peggy.

3. We'd like to get a sense of how many kids will be involved with Sunday School so we can order materials. Contact Joanne if you did not sign up your children yet.

4. Dawn and George have been married 40 years!

The quartet became a quintet this morning as Carol joined the music team. They sounded great. After the tithes and offering was taken Pastor Brad read from Luke 14:25-33, which was followed by a time or prayer, and then the sermon.

Memory Loss

What would it be like to have complete memory loss? Brad shared the story of a man named Jimmy who lost all his memory as a teen. by the time he was fifty, he still had no memory and when he looked in the mirror he did not know who the man was whom he was looking at. Brad stated that who we are is dependent upon our ability to remember.

Today's sermon drew upon a passage from Paul's letter to the Corinthians, beginning at I Corinthians 11:23ff. In this passage are the famous words of Jesus, "Do this in rememberance of Me."

Did Jesus think His friends would forget him?

The word remember has long roots in the Old Testament. Brad cited the passage where Joshua had the 12 tribes of Israel gather stones as a rememberance of the crossing of the Jordan. The "Ebenezer" marks the places where God has helped us in our journeys.

Other passages involved with remembering include remembering the Sabbath, remembering the Exodus, remembering the years in bondage and the liberation wrought by Passover. The Christian faith is a theology of remembering.

The reason remembering is so encouraged and important is because of our natural capacity to forget God, living as if God doesn't love us, has forgotten us.

Paul, therefore, says we must avoid spiritual amnesia. When we remember, what was real before becomes real again. The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob is a living God. He is our God.

This passage about remembering Jesus isn't just about warm memories. It is also about blood, real blood, and suffering, and death... a body broken for us.

There's another problem we have with memory. We often forget what we should remember, but also all too often remember what we should forget. Brad reminded us that God is not only the greatest rememberer, but also the greatest forgetter. As stated in Psalm 103, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgeressions from us."

There are things we need to forget. We should not be tortured by our past failings, our past sin. We live under a new covenant: Grace.

Brad shared a story about how he once blew through a stop sign in Texas on his way to a mission outreach in Mexico. The police officer who stopped him was merciful and did not write up a ticket. The result was that Brad was far more careful as a driver the rest of that summer. He did not take this act of grace for granted. Grace is not a free ticket to continue bad behavior. The policeman's mercy changed his behavior.

When Jesus was crucified between two thieves, one thief asked Jesus to remember him. Jesus replied with words that affirmed He would not forget him: "This day you will be with Me in paradise."

At the end of the sermon Brad returned to the story of Jimmy. One day the doctor treating him found him in the chapel and was amazed at what he saw. "In the moment of communion, he found his soul."

At this we shared in the breaking of the bread...

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Crossroads

How quickly the summer has flown. This morning was the last of our Breakfast Roundtables, a very special time of sharing and visioning that many have participated in this summer. Today, also, Pastor Brad completed his summer series on the life of David.

Brad opened the breakfast discussion with something that was passed on to him from this summer’s 125th Annual Meeting of the Evangelical Covenant Church in St. Paul earlier this summer. Peter Cha, an associate professor at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, gave a message about the questions college students are asking as pertains faith issues.

Forty years ago, Paul Little of Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (IVCF) recorded that the four most prevalent questions asked by college students in the modern era were these:
1. Is there a God?
2. Is Christ God?
3. Is the Bible reliable?
4. Is it full of errors?

In our own time Rick Richardson, an IVCF evangelism associate, has studied the recurring questions college students are asking in a post-modern era. They are these:
1. How can I trust the Church that has done such terrible things in the name of Jesus?
2. Does your religion help society, especially those who suffer and are marginalized?
3. Aren't you just another self-serving group?
4. Doesn't the Church justify and maintain racial and gender hierarchical structures in the society?

It was a thought provoking opening to our Roundtable discussion, and like all of our discussions this summer, mentally stimulating and challenging.

The discussion this morning centered on the importance of health and vitality in the church. Churches need to remain vital, which means that they must be in a constant state of renewal. “Churches need to invest in their own vitality,” Brad noted, which is not dependent on size, location or the age of the congregation.

Each of us has a personal responsibility in this regard.

After another good discussion, we moved upstairs to prepare ourselves for worship.

Brad welcomed us warmly and noted that today would be the last message on his summer series about the life of David. He said he would be talking about sin today. He noted that we are all sinners saved by grace, hence as we gather here we are forgiven people, not perfect people.

Announcements included the upcoming Harvest Fest to be held in two weeks at the Twig Town Hall. There are still some volunteers needed to help pull it all together. Also, there are some oranges left which can be given to your neighbors inviting them to our community event. Be sure to take an orange when you leave next week... and to share it.

Wednesday night Adventure Club is also in need of volunteers for the coming year. Please contact Brooke if you have a passion for working with the young people in our church.

Also, Brooke keeps a calendar of events so that we can coordinate our various activities. If you have something planned, notify Brooke so she can get it placed on the calendar.

And finally, Gail noted the the church rummage sale is just around the corner and we need a couple volunteers to help price things.

After a time of worship, offering, Scripture reading (Luke 14:1, 7-14) and prayer, Brad presented his sermon from the front of the sanctuary.

Crossroads

Today's message was drawn from the account of David and Bathsheba, as recorded in II Samuel 11 and 12. Brad opened by saying that if you are not struggling today, one day you will be struggling with sin. Whether it's a habit of cutting sarcasm or Internet porn, sin is damaging.

When we look at the story of David and Bathsheba, one wonders how a guy who was called "a man after God's own heart" and who loved God have behaved so badly. Brad showed us how this kind of thing happened in David's life and how it can happen to us.

Keep in mind that we are mistaken when we categorize sin into acceptable and unacceptable. All sin is sin in God's eyes.

The metaphor Brad use was of an intersection with a traffic light. Green means go, red means stop and yellow caution. The lights were red but David blew right through three of them. Here's the first.

Spiritual Drift
II Samuel 11 begins with the first clue. It was the spring, a time when kings go off to war, but "David remained in Jerusalem." Here was the leader of Israel not being where he was supposed to be.
There are a variety of reasons we sometimes don't follow the rules. It may be we think they no longer apply to us. We know that we should follow the rules, but when push comes to shove we often slip because we don't trust that God has our best interests in mind. Brad had us jump over to II Samuel 12:7-8 where we see how God wants to give us even more than we could imagine.
Playing God
One evening while David was walking on the roof of his palace he saw a beautiful woman named Bathsheba bathing on her roof. David, who was married, ignored any warning lights and sent someone to find out more about her. The man came back stating she was married to Uriah the Hittite and the daughter of Eliam. None of this hindered David who then sent messengers to get her. David disregarded the warning light and proceeded to sleep with her.
This sending is typical of people who play God, treating others as pawns in the service of their own needs. But we're not God, nor are we in control of all the variables. There are always consequences for sin. In this case, Bathsheba becomes pregnant.
David had two choices at this point: (A) Cover up... and thus perpetuate the problem. Or (B) Confess and repent, which is the path to restoration.
In verse 6 David does more sending, this time having Uriah retrieved from the battlefront, in the hopes that he will solve the pregnancy problem by sleeping with his wife. But Uriah is a man of integrity. Instead of going to his wife, he stays at the palace, sleeping with the servants. David attempts then to get Uriah drunk and send him back to his wife but Uriah, even when drunk, continues to behave honorably, stating that as long as the armies of Israel are sleeping in tents and open fields, he will not go home and sleep in his bed.
So David becomes cold, calculating, and let's Uriah return to the front, but gives orders to Joab that will ensure that Uriah dies in battle. David's heart has become cold.
Brad made the point here that David thought his biggest danger was getting caught. But there is a bigger danger, and that is not getting caught. The biggest danger, when we have sin in our lives, is getting away with it.
The Last Crossroads
Up till now David has done all the sending. But in chapter 12, God sends the prophet Nathan to confront David. Nathan, who is confronting a man who just killed someone to cover his tracks, uses a parable to get David's attention. The story riles David's righteous indignation. Then comes the twist, and God's voice broke through.
This is the last crossroads. God's judgment is next. "Some of you have gone down the road of sin for so long that you don't even know what the truth is," Brad said. "Listen to God. He wants to bless."
It's important that we get this right. Confession and repentance is the door to restoration and life.

Sunday, August 22, 2010

That I May Have a Harvest Among You

It was a somewhat unusual service this morning. Saturday night word went out via the prayer chain that Pastor Brad was on his way to the hospital, most likely appendix related. Those of us who gathered at the Breakfast Roundtable learned that Pastor was heading into surgery. By the end of our discussion on the question, "Do I believe God's best blessings are before us or behind us?" we learned that Brad's surgery was already complete, went well and he was in recovery.

Chuck Vanderscheuren stepped into Brad's shoes to lead the service. Darlene was also out today and Ed Newman filled in on piano. Chuck greeted us, and began with announcements which included the following:
1. The Harvest Festival at Twig Town Hall is coming soon. There will be a whole host of activities on September 12 from 8:00 a.m. till 2:30 with a worship service sandwiched in the middle. Hot air balloon rides will begin early, but there will be plenty more, including food, games, art, and a treasure hunt.
2. Volunteers are still needed for the rummage sale.
3. JoAnn Winship talked about Christ formation in our Christian education program and additional programs that are being discussed by our leadership team. There may still be a need for teachers and assistants.

As an introit Ed played Majesty in Spanish on the piano, pronounced Majastad. Chuck led the congregation in a number of hymns, which was followed by an offering and a time of prayer.

That I May Have a Harvest Among You

Chuck began by talking about how sometimes we feel helpless, perhaps like a car spinning on an icy road out of control. He shared a humorous letter written by Eric Borndal from camp to his parents when he was very young. The food and accommodations were so awful he thought he was going to die. Chuck remembered the first day of kindergarten being that way for some kids who cried because they had to leave their parents and come to school.

With this we began a short study of Romans 1:1-17.

Paul begins his letter to the Romans with a little information about himself. This is a letter to the church of Rome, a church which he has never seen, a church which he was not involved in founding, like many of the others he wrote letters to. In the opening he makes reference to his new birth, and his status, "a bondservant of the Jesus Christ."

Chuck described what a bondservant is. In ancient times when a slave has completed his service and is released, he could stay on as a permanent servant/slave to the master. The man would place his ear on the master's door and have it pierced, making him legal property of the master.

Paul was also an apostle, a calling not a job one obtains through ambitious maneuvering. He notes that he has been set aside for the Gospel.
After going through Paul's resume, Chuck asked what our spiritual resume would look like.

Beginning in verse 8, Paul shares his sentiments toward the church in Rome, how he is grateful for them and longs to see them. Paul's aim in coming to Rome was mutual encouragement as they each shared their gifts.

In verse 16 Paul declares that through preaching the Gospel, the power of God is unleashed, and in the God's salvation the character of God is revealed.

This letter was written at a time when Paul was dreaming about the possibilities of the Gospel when he comes soon to Rome. When was the last time you dreamed about seeing God's power released here? The best is yet to come.