Sunday, March 28, 2010

Responding To Jesus

Today we celebrated Palm Sunday at New Life Covenant Church. Pastor Brad welcomed us and reminded us that it was no ordinary Sunday. Today ushers in the events of Holy Week. Two thousand years ago Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey, showing the world that His was a different kind of kingdom. Other kings might be carried in or ride in on chariots. The character of His kingdom was in stark contrast to these others.

Announcements began with a reminder that the Good Friday worship service will be at 7:00 p.m. On Easter there will be no Sunday school, and we will instead have a breakfast from 9-10 followed by an Easter Egg Hunt for the young.

If you are still interested in having a "Secret Sister" contact Joanne Winship.

And there is still a need for five more volunteers to donate blood in April.

Susie brought some of the bowls to show what some of you in our church family made in her studio for the Empty Bowl Project, which raises money for the hungry in Duluth.

Before entering into a time of worship we enjoyed a skit about the meaning of Hosanna, which people were shouting during the Lord's entry into Jerusalem. The skit was a perfect lead in to the reading of this passage from Luke 19 beginning at verse 28, the commencement of what has come to be known as Holy Week.

Responding To Jesus

Two thousand years ago this day began in a very extraordinary way. No one would have guessed that but a few days later it would end at a tomb. Numerous themes crowd around the events of Holy Week. One that Pastor Brad noted today was that our busy lives are not altogether dissimilar from the chaotic crush of crowds in Jerusalem at that time. And in the midst of all this activity, it is possible for us to miss the significant moments just as the Lord's disciples did at that time.

Today's message was striking in its both its simplicity and its brevity. Brad asked, "Will we recognize Him and crown Him King?"

It's hard to imagine the excitement of that first Holy Week beginning with what is now known as Palm Sunday. Two million people jammed the city of Jerusalem for the Passover. And only a few days earlier Jesus raised a man named Lazarus from the dead. Word was spreading that this Jesus was coming to town. When Jesus appeared riding on the back of a donkey, Zechariah's prophesy came readily to mind of a Messiah who would deliver His people arriving in this manner.

The emotional crescendo as He came to the road that went down the Mount of Olives must have been remarkable as the crowd of disciples praised God in loud voices for all the miracles they had seen. This was a scene like nothing that anyone had ever seen before. Something extraordinary was about to happen.

Yet, even in the midst of all this, the disciples were distracted by their own inward issues and self-absorbed lives. You can see this, Brad said, in the way that they came to Jesus asking him about details like, "uhm, Jesus, where do you want us to go prepare the Passover supper?" It would seem they were more preoccupied with details and were missing the significance of the moment.

Just the day before Jesus told them He was going to be handed over to the authorities, mocked, flogged and crucified. Still, the disciples failed to grasp this. Jesus was fully conscious that these were the men to whom he would be handing over the baton of leadership. These were His final hours. Jesus not only knew He was going to die, but how he was going to die. He knew He would endure not only the physical suffering, butu would bear the sins of the world and experience a separation from the Father.

"Excuse me, Jesus, like, have you made plans for the Passover yet?" Jesus could have been annoyed that these, his closest friends, were so clueless and distracted by trivialities.

Brad turned this around to us. "Are you so distracted by life's business that you miss the significant moments?"

During that first Holy Week the disciples were distracted, but Jesus still invited them to be with Him. Jesus wants to spend time with you, too.

Brad concluded by encouraging us not to miss these moments. Read your Bible this week and acknowledge what Jesus has done for you. We worship a living Savior and a living Lord. God is inviting distracted people to be with Him on this extraordinary week.

At this we turned to celebrate the sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

Sunday, March 21, 2010

Keep the Line Tight

The Fifth Sunday in Lent

Brad's welcome this morning included a reminder that next week is Palm Sunday and that it is already the fifth Sunday in Lent, which is traditionally a time of reflection, repentance and renewal. "Do you want to get well?" he asked again, which is the theme he has been returning to in various ways these past several weeks. It begins, he said, by admitting we are spiritually busted. Then we surrender, our lives and our wills, to God. Taking a fearless moral inventory was his theme two weeks ago, and last week he spoke of forgiveness, both the need to extend it toward others and to ask for it.

Today's message would be about what is involved in walking down a new street in your life, and the kinds of shoes you will want or need.

1. Eric and the youth group will be filling Easter eggs for an Easter Egg Hunt for the kids Easter morning. If you bring the candy, they will fill the eggs.
2. Joanne W. will be managing the Secret Friend planning this year. If you have an interest in being a secret friend, see Joanne to sign up before the end of the month.
3. The Women's Ministry took half the money from its rummage sale to support Break the Chains, a ministry aimed at fighting human trafficking.
4. The discount rates for early registrants for Covenant Park summer camp will end soon. Please get your $50 deposit to Cheryl Borndal by next week if you have a child you plan to send to camp.
5. Now that Caribou Lake School fell through as a consideration for our future, the building committee is meeting to discuss plans going forward. There will be a congregational meeting in May for the purpose of visioning.

Darlene played the classic hymn "He Hideth My Soul" for an introit today. A very special rendition, as usual. The choir came forward and ushered us into worship with "Beneath the Cross of Jesus."

The Scripture reading today was John 12:1-8, read by Paula Saxon. A time of prayer followed. It was especially good to see Joe and Arlene back with us after a long winter. (A praise!)

Keep the Line Tight

Those who fish know what this means. Keeping tension on the line is important in order to keep the fish on the hook.

Pastor Brad started by sharing a poem by Porsche Nelson called An Autobiography in Five Short Chapters.

Chapter 1
I walk down the street and there’s a deep hole in the sidewalk, I fall in, I am lost, I am helpless, It isn’t my fault, It takes me forever to find my way out.

Chapter 2
I walk down the same street and there’s a deep hole in the sidewalk, I pretend I don’t see it. I fall in again, I can’t believe that I’m in the same place but it isn’t my fault. It takes a long time to get out.

Chapter 3
I walk down the same street there’s a deep hole in the sidewalk, I see that it is there, I still fall in, it’s a habit, my eyes are open, I know it’s my fault. I get out immediately.

Chapter 4
I walk down the same street there’s a deep hole in the sidewalk, I walk around it.

Chapter 5
I walk down another street.

"My prayer," Brad said, "is that some of you have started down a different street" during this Lenten season. It is interesting how something so simple and amusing can contain such profound understanding.

Citing II Corinthians 5:17, we were reminded that the Scripture talk much about being a "New Creation" and taking a new direction, being a new person and by extension walking in new shoes down a new path.

Today's message stemmed in part from a discussion Brad had with some men last week after church regarding shoes as a metaphor. How do new shoes feel? Sometimes not as comfortable as what we were used to initially. New ways feel different.

So it is with a new life. How do you keep walking in a new direction? Brad used various shoes to illustrate the facets of our new life in Christ so that we could walk in the freedom God intended for us. But first, some of the potholes that can trip us up. It's that time of year when we're painfully aware of the potholes in our roads.

1) Willpower. To get out of the holes we're in we need God's help. Will power is not enough. "Not by might, nor by power, but by My Spirit, says the Lord."

2) Don't wait to start feeling good to start doing good. Choose the right thing and do it. The feelings will catch up. Major changes do not always feel good at first.

3) Perfection is another pothole that trips us up. Don't focus on perfection. Focus instead on taking one step at a time toward your goal. You have one decision to make -- commitment to walk a new life -- followed by a day-to-day process. Matthew 6:34 says don't worry about tomorrow, worry about this moment.

4) Surround yourself with people who will lift you up and not bring you down. Galatians 5:7 says, "You were running a good race. Who cut in on you and kept you from obeying the truth?" Don't allow old ties to leave you tangled up. "Bad company corrupts good morals." (I Corinthians 15:33)

I Peter 4:3-5 says, "For you have spent enough time in the past doing what pagans choose to do—living in debauchery, lust, drunkenness, orgies, carousing and detestable idolatry. 4They think it strange that you do not plunge with them into the same flood of dissipation, and they heap abuse on you. 5But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead." If you're going to walk in a new direction, you can't worry what old friends think.

In Romans 12:1-2 Paul writes that transformation has two components. God's part is to transform us. The Greek word here is metamorpho, the same root as when a caterpillar is metamorphosed into a butterfly. Our part is to renew our minds. To fill our thoughts with God's thoughts.

We need to make new ruts or we'll continue to be stuck in our old ones. It is a daily choice we make to renew our minds.

And now to the shoes.

First, before putting on our shoes, we need to learn how to kneel. We came shoeless before God, beginning our day on our knees. "Be still and know that I am God." Surrender to His leadership, daily.

As a symbol of this daily surrender Brad showed us a pair of slippers. It is to be an honest communion between us and God, daily. He cited several important passages. In Psalm 39 the psalmist writes, "Search me, O God, and know my heart." Psalm 19 addresses this theme in a similar way. And Galatians 6:4 invokes us to test our actions to see where we're at.

Flip flops speak to us about relaxing with God. Friendship with God should be a time of feeling hood in His presence. Take a vacation from being at the center of the universe.

Some of us are in bondage to worry, and flip flops invite us to a more carefree stance. Philippians 4:6-7 states, "Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus."

The next show Brad shared was a pair of wingtips. Though wingtips seem a bit geeky to some, there's nothing geeky about seeking knowledge. Psalm 119:92-93 states,
92 If your law had not been my delight,
I would have perished in my affliction.
93 I will never forget your precepts,
for by them you have preserved my life.

Brad is working on a bathroom re-modeling project. It's not enough to pull the old wallpaper off. You have to fill in the new surface with substance to make it what it needs to be.

Brad then showed a pair of clogs and equated them to dancing and inward joy. We need to inwardly celebrate our victories.

Finally, he pulled out a pair of cletes. These, he said, speak of battle. Battles will come. The enemy will try to trip us up. To combat this, Paul admonishes us to put on the armor of God.

10Finally, be strong in the Lord and in his mighty power. 11Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. 12For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. 13Therefore put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.

Brad chose cletes because they are associated with team sports. Our battles are not to be isolated. We go through these together. He then cited the popular song by Bill Withers, "Lean on me... when you're not strong, I'll be your friend, I'll help you carry on."

Brad couldn't find a pair, but he liked the name of a brand of Nike shoes called Nike Free. "I want to live free," he said. "Free to be what God intended me to be. I want to walk free every day."

He then appealed to us to place everything we do before God. Everything. This is freedom. This is life, walking free with purpose and passion in your life. Do you want to get well?

Our closing hymn was appropriately, "I Want To Walk As A Child of the Light."

Sunday, March 14, 2010

Right Relationship

The service opened with Brad sharing the new technology which has been provided to help people hear throughout the congregation. First, new speakers in the back which don't crackle, and second a new headset no unlike the one Anthony Robinson and other speakers use. Though a bit modest about wearing it, Brad agreed it improved his ability to be heard and the message doesn't quite have the same impact if you miss some of the words. So... it is a new chapter here.

After the welcome, and a review of the previous Lent messages, we wished a very Happy Birthday to Dorothy Thiry who turned 88 years old today.

There were a number of other announcements today. Paula noted that there were still some holes in the schedule for monthly coffee and cleanup responsibilities. Also, there are "Secret Friend" forms in the back for those interested in participating again this year. Easter's approaching and we could use a hand preparing food and get a sense of how many we'll be feeding.

Pam mentioned that there will be a brief missions/stewardship meeting after church next week after the service.

Norm stood up and shared that a number of people who participated in last year's Home Makeover experience have decided to try another such project called Modest Home Makeover (MHM). There will be a benefit concert at Duluth Gospel Tabernacle featuring Christina DeLoach and The Thunder Brothers in concert Saturday, March 20 at 7:00 p.m. The goal is to build a new home for Rick and Brenda Hallfrisch who has had serious health issues and insurmountable medical bills. The home has many unsolvable problems and a group of people have decided to raise a new roof. For more info call 218-393-9326.

The quartet led us in worship today, beginning with some of their own "just plain good music" and then inviting us to join in a few hymns and worship songs. The Scripture reading from I Corinthians 5:16-21 was followed by a time of prayer.

Right Relationship

Pastor Brad began his message by reminding us that his focus during lent has been on "getting well." Themes have included Brokenness, Surrender and Fearless Moral Inventory, which means taking responsibility for one's actions.

Today Brad said we were going to address relationships because life is meant to be lived in the context of community. "Life is too short to not make things right with other people," he said. "People have hurts, and we hurt others."

So how do we repair the damage? Colossians 3:13 clearly states that we are required to forgive, as the Lord forgave us. Wellness comes with no other option. If I have been forgiven, I need to forgive.

We all know the trap we can get into when we say to ourselves, "They owe me. They hurt me and they're gonna pay."

But God did not give us what we deserved. He did not do us "fair" in that way. We tend to want payback. We want those who hurt us to "die hard with a vengeance." Revenge, however, is a lie. Revenge does not set you free.

As Job 5: points out, "Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple."

Resentment can neither change the past, nor the person who has hurt you. It has no benefit. It blinds us spiritually, interferes with your prayer life, and steals your freedom. Many there are who get sick or stay sick because their being eaten inside by bitterness. (See: Job 21:23-25)

Forgive, because you will also need to be forgiven one day.

Brad then offered this practical advice. Take time to reflect and make a list of people you need to forgive. Add your own name to that list and forgive yourself. Then add God's name to this list, and forgive God for allowing others to hurt you.

He shared briefly what forgiveness is not.
1) Forgiveness is not forgetting.
2) Forgiveness is not something lighthearted where we can say, "No big deal." The hurts were real, and really hurt.
3) Forgiveness is not a feeling, it is a choice.
4) And finally, we have to forgive from the heart. Forgiveness is God's way of ending the cycle. You can't undo the past, but you can be free from it.

Paul writes in Romans 12:17, "Do not repay anyone evil for evil. Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everybody." There are consequences for our choices. We can live in the bondage of bitterness or the freedom of forgiveness.

Brad noted that forgiveness does not mean accepting future abuse.

As we go through our lists, forgive each one. Don't say, "God, I want to forgive." Say, "I choose to forgive."

Brad shared how Otis, the town drunk in the Andy Griffith Show, could reach the keys that held him in jail. He would let himself out and put himself in. We likewise have the power to imprison ourselves or set ourselves free, by letting go of bitterness and forgiving.

There are also people in our lives who need to hear us say, "I'm sorry." To help us we need to ask four questions.
1) Who have I hurt?
2) What did I do?
3) Why did I do that?
4) What happened as a result?

Don't expect forgiveness. But there is a good path to travel when we embrace Micah 6:8

8 He has showed you, O man, what is good.
And what does the LORD require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.

Do the right thing. Fall in love with giving mercy away, and always walk humbly with other people. Especially walk humbly with your God.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Coming Clean

Pastor Brad Shannon welcomed us warmly with his usual greeting today, "Good morning, I'm delighted you've joined us." With an unseasonably warm week behind us, Brad reminded the congregation about his theme this year during lent. He has extracted this question from a passage in the story about Jesus who encountered a crippled man at the Well of Bethesda: "Do you want to get well?" Today's message would continue the depth probing of recent weeks, as he would talk to us about what it really means to come clean, and the importance of taking a fearless moral inventory of our lives.

The chief announcement this morning was that Bible camp is coming. Cheryl Borndal reminded us of the value and influence camp has had on lives. This year's theme is, "What's your story?" The Bible is the story of God, and the aim will be for everyone to getting a better sense of the roles we each play in God's story. It costs $250 per child this year, though a $50 discount for early registration and scholarships can defray costs for some.

After the introit and a time of worship, we were treated to the baptism of Finn Alexander Stroschein.... at the top of the blog page here, being introduced to the congregation.

The Scripture reading this morning was from Luke 13:1-9, the parable of the fig tree, with these serious words of Jesus, "Unless you repent you, too, will all perish."

Coming Clean
Pastor Brad's message today did not begin with humor or the usual lightheartedness. The past two weeks have been messages about brokenness and surrender. In today's message he called for us to do a self-exploratory operation, to examine ourselves with fearless honesty, and confessing our faults with someone we trust.

All businesses have to run an inventory check from time to time. Brad said in our spiritual lives we need to conduct a fearless moral inventory. He called it a "Journey to the Center of the Truth.." The ultimate goal is a life lived in complete honesty.

For various reasons many we are often afraid to look inside. For some it is because of a shame-based family or church environment which leads us to conceal our faults, weaknesses, and bad behaviors. For others, self-worth is so fragile we fear letting anyone see our real selves for fear of rejection. Yet one of the deepest longings in the human heart is to know that someone knows us as we really are, and loves us anyway.

God says, "Don't be afraid. I already know you." And His love for each of us is unconditional.

Brad then shared with us the "How" of taking a personal inventory. First, we need to get alone, with a pen and a note pad or notebook. Then, we sit and ask the questions, "What is wrong with me? What do I feel remorseful about? What are some of the things I have done that hurt people? What are my faults and character defects that need changing?"

Even though you are alone, you are really not alone because God will be there with you. In Psalm 139 David wrote, "O LORD, you have searched me and you know me." This God will help you know yourself as well, bringing things to mind that maybe you want forgotten. This is why a fearless moral inventory is not exactly a trip to the Dairy Queen.

Proverbs 28:13 states, "He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy." And at this Brad declared, "The sin you want to conceal most is the one you need to reveal most."

So the process begins with pen and paper. Take your time. Be sure you are in a quiet, uninterruptible place. Writing helps us focus. The process of writing also helps us get our thoughts untangled.

It is important not to to compare yourselves to others. If we drink too much, we can't excuse this by saying, "At least I'm not like that derelict passed out in the park." If we have an anger problem, we can't say, "At least I didn't hit her like her last boy friend." Don't rationalize, don't minimize.

Another way we can short circuit the benefits of taking inventory is to blame others for our problems. We have to accept responsibility for our behavior.

Brad told a story about a man who wore his wedding ring on his index finger, and when he was asked about it said, "It's because I married the wrong woman." But did it ever cross his mind that he might be the wrong kind of spouse himself? We each have to come to grips with our own stuff.

In I John 1:8 it says that if we claim to be without sin we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we have trouble writing anything down (about ourselves) we're living in a world of illusion. If you want to stop killing yourself you've got to stop kidding yourself. You won't fix anything by changing relationships or jobs or bosses or towns or families, because wherever you go you will bring all your "inner baggage" with you.

"The old adage is true," Brad said, "that where ever you go, there you are."

So it is time to open yourself up to God, saying, "I can't change anyone else, but God, you can change me."

At this point Brad shared a letter from an 11 year old girl who was trying to cope with her father's alcohol and sexual addictions, lost jobs, rehab, and the like. She compared her dad to a red shirt that has been washed in a load of white shirts. "I feel like my dad is a red shirt in a white load of laundry, tainting everybody else with his actions."

What are the actions and behaviors that stain those in our own lives? It's time to go deep and come clean. Why do I drink so much? Why do I exaggerate the truth? What's behind all that? Why do I have to be in charge all the time? Why do I sit for hours memorizing NFL point spreads? Where does my unhealthy need to compete and win at all costs come from?

God can help you bring this deep stuff to the surface so you can begin to deal with it. But remorse is no guarantee of genuine repentance. In II Corinthians 7 the Apostle Paul notes that there are different kinds of sorrow. "Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death." (vs. 10)

Turning to Isaiah 1:18 we read: "Come now, and let us reason together, saith the LORD: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool."

The message concluded with an appeal to go further than just taking inventory, but to find someone you can trust, to confess your sins to one another, as James has written, "Therefore confess your sins to each other and pray for each other so that you may be healed."

Confession is like lancing a boil and letting the poison out of your inner life. There's big time relief in this step. You can't skip this step if you want to get well and be all that God intended for you to be.

Start here... Get a pen and paper, and write a prayer: "God where do I begin?"

We concluded the service with the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.