Sunday, May 30, 2010

"18 Inches From Your Head To Your Heart"

A beautiful Sunday morning here on this Memorial Day weekend. Pastor Brad welcomed us, then spoke at length about the theme he would be exploring this summer, the life of David. When Samuel anointed David, he found a man after God's own heart, a man who loved God with wild abandon.

Announcements included a reminder that VBS is just around the corner, June 14-17 at Twig Town Hall from 9:30-noon. There will also be a family night on Friday from 5:30-6:30. Full details at

Brad also mentioned that some interesting discussions have been taking place in our church leadership. Our mission here at New Life Covenant is to help connect disconnected people to Jesus Christ, nurture them and help them grow, and for the church to become a community that reflects Christ's priorities in the world.

After the introit and the reading of Psalm 121, we worshipped in song and in giving. Leonard then read from Romans 5:1-11 and Brad began his message.

"18 inches from your head to your heart"

David, Brad observed, was a true Renaissance man. Think of all this attributes. He was a skilled musician who was summoned to play for the king to alleviate his depression, a form of musical Prozac. He was a legendary as a warrior, subjugating Israel's enemies. As a poet, the Psalms he wrote expressing his longing for God are so illuminating and comforting that they have been the most used and moving piece of devotional literature ever written in history. As a statesman/politician his wisdom and skills brought Israel a level of economic and political stability never again achieved in its history. His reign would be forever remembered as the Golden era of Israel. He was also a physically attractive person, wise men and women were drawn to him in a magnetic way.

So here you have it: the poetic soul of a Shakespeare, the competitive heart of a Brett Favre, the musicianship of Pavarotti, the statesmanship of Abraham Lincoln, the physical attractiveness of a Brad Pitt... all wrapped up in one guy.

David was, in many ways, the central character of the Old Testament. Abraham's life is covered in 14 chapters and the great prophet Elijah is featured in 10. But David is featured in 66 chapters of the OT and mentioned hundreds of times more. He is even the last character mentioned in the Bible where in Rev 22:16 Jesus says, "I am the offspring of David, the bright morning star."

It's clear that this man is a worthy object of deeper study. David's most important feature was not the outward achievements or his looks, but his heart.

Brad sent us to I Samuel 16 to read the story of David's anointing by Samuel. Samuel was a great prophet in Israel. He was now an old man, having served a full lifetime for God. In this story, Samuel was told to go to Bethlehem to anoint a new king because Saul had gone bad and was failing his people.

Bethlehem was a very small town and the arrival of such a great man as Samuel was noteworthy. When he arrived at Jesse's house there, it would have immediately turned Jesse into a "somebody" not unlike a Big Man On Campus.

It was actually a very dangerous task for Samuel, because Saul was quite alive and this kind of activity would not be favorably looked upon by a reigning king, to anoint a substitute. Nevertheless, Jesse was proud to offer his son and was undoubtedly proud to be so chosen that one of his boys would be selected.

Samuel told Jesse to fetch his sons, and the firstborn looked perfect. Eliab would be like a star quarterback today. Tall, handsome, capable, cool under pressure. Everyone, including Samuel, thinks, "This is The Man." But God has a different idea, and indicates as such.

Not to worry, Jesse has seven sons in line for the anointing, but Samuel dismisses each and when they are finished with niceties, Samuel asks, "Do you have another son?" There is indeed an eighth son, herding sheep on the hillside outside town. Off they go to fetch the boy, and when David is brought back, Samuel recognizes (by God's spirit) that he is the one.

Brad pointed out how birth order is not always God's order in things. Historically, the progenitor, the favored son, is the first born. But God has a way of turning those things on their head, as with Ishmael and Isaac, or Jacob and Esau.

The human race tends to obsess over external appearances and accomplishments. But God's ways are not our ways. "In My kingdom everyone has something to offer."

Brad noted that talents and gifts are not irrelevant, but that in an ultimate sense, there is something more important. God looks on the heart.

Brad made a distinction between religion and a relationship with Jesus. "Religion happens in the head, a relationship with Jesus happens in the heart," he said.

He talked about the energy and wild abandon of children, how they sometimes are so bursting with life that they get enjoyment simply from jumping up and down. "When was the last time you jumped up and down?" he asked.

Brad noted several examples from the life of David that revealed his heart for God. "David had a heart that was passionately abandoned to God." He wasn't calculating and cautious. He was generous and free with his love for the Lord and expression of it.

This summer, as we study the life of David, Brad's prayer is that he will be able to impart this quality to us. "I just think it would be a great thing. Hearts characterized by a wild abandon to God."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

What's It All About?

During Pastor Brad's warm greeting we were reminded of the challenge of sharing our faith with unbelieving friends and relatives. This theme was underlined in the message today which was delivered by Leonard, who served as Guest Speaker.

Today is Pentecost Sunday, a significant day marking the birth of the church. If you are a Christ follower, you have His presence and power with you, Brad affirmed.

Announcements included a reminder from Brooke of our upcoming Vacation Bible School, June 14-18 at Twig Town Hall. And guess what! This year you can register online.

Gail made several announcements as well. (1) We're collecting Bibles to give away. If you have unused Bibles please bring them to the church next week. (2) We have enough people for the Blood Drive to come to our church. Please do let us know if you would like to be added to the list. (3) We still need helpers for the rummage sale. Please see Gail or Paula.

The Quartet graced us with their wonderful music today. Chuck began by reading from Psalm 24, which served as an excellent lead in for "Your First Day In Heaven." We were all invited to participate in "Worthy of Worship." This was followed by the offering and "Heaven On My Mind" which never fails to raise our spirits.

Pastor Brad read for us from that most powerful passage Acts 2:1-21, which was followed by a time of prayer. Leonard then took the podium and presented today's message with his inimitable style.

What's It All About?

Leonard began by telling a story about Castro giving a speech for seven hours, and that everyone paid attention because there were dire consequences for falling asleep during a Castro speech. Leonard used the anecdote to imply that it would be nice to have several hours to make the many points he wished to make, but there would be no dire consequences for us if we failed to stay in the game. For certain, the message today was simultaneously entertaining and substantive.

This introduction was followed by a brief commentary on Neil Young's career. Young famously quit the rock group he was part of called Buffalo Springfield just before they appeared on the Johnny Carson Show. Evidently this became a pattern, as he was joined Crosby, Stills and Nash, then later left to do his solo material and assembled yet other groups. When asked about that first bailout with Buffalo Springfield, "Hey Neil, what was that all about?"... he replied, "It's about the music."

For Christians, the question is appropriate: What's it all about? Only the answer is different, and today's sermon took us there.

Leonard began by reading from John 16:5-16 where Jesus talks about the coming of the Spirit. The events which followed included the crucifixion, his death and resurrection, a period of forty days and then His ascension. A short time after came Pentecost.

We were then escorted into the Old Testament to gain some important insights from the Book of Job pertaining to today's theme. Leonard first read Job 32:1-22.

In order to properly discuss the passage here cited, Leonard provided an overview for us of Job's story. Job was the wealthiest man of his time and godly. Satan approached God and said that Job was only good because his circumstances were good. God, therefore, allowed Satan to bring damage to Job's fortunes. His children were all killed in an accident while partying. His livestock was decimated in various ways. Still, Job did not falter in his faith.

At this point, Satan made an appeal to go further still, bringing personal suffering to Job's body itself. God permitted this and Job ended up covered with sores and sitting in ashes.

It came about that Job's friends came to Job to help if they could. Leonard noted that they must be Scandinavians because they came over to where he was but didn't say anything for seven days. Finally, one by one three of the men spoke. Instead of bringing comfort, they condemned Job. He must have been bad or this wouldn't have happened, they concluded. Job's reactions were self-righteous on the other hand.

Finally, in chapter 32 the young man Elihu spoke. He was young and brash, but he was right. Job's friends were certainly earnest, and the things they say here even sounded fine... but were not.

The challenge is this: How do we know what to say, and when?

The Book of Job is very much like a trial. The friends accuse, Job defends himself. Back and forth it goes. We've all given these windy windbag speeches at one time or another (like those here in Job.) Who of us has not said cruel or mean or unkind things... or simply been wrong.

Finally Elihu, who had expected wisdom from his elders, has to speak because the Spirit is burning in his heart. And here, Leonard affirmed, is what it's all about:

"For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord." (Romans 8:38-39)

The role of the Holy Spirit is to help us know this and understand this truth. It's the only thing we really, really need to know.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

So Now What?

This week being Confirmation Sunday, the service revolved around the completion of two years of study by our five confirmands today. In his opening remarks, Pastor Brad reminded us that the word "confirm" means "to make sure." Confirmation in our church is a two year period during which the Old and New Testaments are studied, with the aim of confirming the faith in our young people. Ultimately, Brad said, "It's your decision to follow Jesus," advice which applies to all of us.

Announcements included the reminder that beginning next week we will begin our summer schedule with worship beginning at 9:30 a.m.

Norm mentioned that the Modest Home Makeover Project has been moving forward. The burning of the house took place yesterday with coverage on the evening news. There will be a fund raiser May 20th. Contact Norm for more information.

VBS is coming quickly and there a few things where volunteers could help. See Brooke.

Darlene's introit, a medley of classic worship songs beautifully blended, began with Open My Eyes, Lord.

The five confirmands were Tyler Grages, Kassie Haedtke, Levi Landsverk, Brooke Ness and Janzyn Westgard. Jordan Smith also participated in the service.

All the confirmands contributed to the service in one way or another. Jordan and Tyler read today's Scripture readings from Deut. 6:1-9 and I Thess. 4:13-18. Then all were asked questions related to Luther's catechism in which the young people responded with answers. Kassie and Levi each shared their testimonies, personal and powerful.

Though much of the service was a commemoration of our five confirmands, Brad gave a heartfelt message to day as well.

So Now What?

Brad began with the passage in Mark 1:14 where John the Baptist has been jailed. At this point, Mark says, Jesus went into Galilee and began preaching the Good News, the gospel. John the Baptist had been proclaiming "the time has come, repent and believe the Good News of the kingdom" and now the Kingdom had arrived in the person of Jesus.

Brad was concerned that becoming a Christian has been reduced to a definition that portrays faith as a minimum entry requirement to heaven. Jesus' message was much more than that. The message of the Kingdom is a life changing, earth changing message. God's power and presence are available to us today, here now, not in some ethereal by and by.

Being a Christian is not about having the right answers to the questions, though at times it can appear that way. Real faith has to do with bringing the Kingdom of God into your sphere, your realm.

Brad elaborated on how we each have a sphere of influence, and a place we have reign over, whether it is a section of the back seat of the car (as children) or your garage. This is the place we are to bring Christ's rule and reign.

He noted that in a world quite lacking in good news, with much brokenness all around, the Good News of the Gospel is especially relevant and a strong basis for hope not only in this life but in the world to come.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Things That Happen in the Chair

You could tell it was Mother's Day even before you got inside the church today. The parking lot was packed. Quite a few families were here early for that special Mother's Day Breakfast that is becoming a tradition at New Life Covenant. (Thanks Duayne & to all the fellows who pitched in.)

Once inside, the narthex was filled with conversation, and a table of flowers for Moms. And up front, there was an easy chair and other reminders of the special family message prepared for us this Sunday. Brad's voice rose above the din to welcome us as we quieted for the beginning of the service.

Important announcements included these:

Two from Norm... first, to get out and vote on Tuesday if you are from Grand Lake Township. There are important issues on the ballot. Second, Norm reminded us that next Saturday they will be burning the Halfrush home at 1:00 pm. This is all part of the Modest Home Makeover project. They will be at 25 East Orange Avenue, just off Arlington in the Central Entrance part of Duluth.

Pam shared that the Bethany Crisis Shelter has more needs than ever, but the economy has put a dent in contributions and they need supplies. Currently they serve 75-100 families monthly. Our church has helped, but the need for supplies is ongoing.

The introit led us into worship, followed by the offering, a Scripture reading by Cheryl Borndal (John 14:23-29) and a time of prayer.

Things That Happen in the Chair

"I love being a dad," Pastor Brad began. "I've always loved being a dad. I love the nursery. I love playpens and I love toys. I love stories and stuffed animals. And I love chairs like this one," he said, nodding to the central prop for today's message. "And I need to tell you upfront that anything I say here comes from a struggling, imperfect father. And anything of value I say here comes directly from the wisdom of Scripture."

The message focused on three things that happen in the chair.

1) Fears get expressed in the chair.
Becoming a parent causes all kinds of fears to emerge. Can I actually do this? Am I ready for this? What if the baby's not healthy? Can I afford this?

There are real costs associated with raising children. One survey indicated that 40% of all parents said, "If we had known then what we know now, we would not have started."

It's important to know the stakes of parenting. It's not like bringing home a puppy where if things don't work out you can send it to a farm in Iowa.

Parenting forces you to be honest with yourself, with others and with God. It's a mix of excitement and anxiety, and ultimately forces you to say, "God, I need your help."

God's answer is found in Philippians 4:6-7 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.

Fears can overwhelm. Peace comes when Christ displaces fear.

2) Dreams also get expressed in chairs like this.
What will he be like? What will she become? These are thoughts all parents share.

Brad stressed that we want to be careful, though, about imposing our dreams on our children. They need to dream their own dreams, and not be forced to live out ours. Help your kids discover who they want to be.

Ultimately, it is character that counts though. Success is not in what they do, but in who they are becoming. "I share my dreams for my kids in this chair," he said. "I don't really care what they do with their lives. I want them to love God. I want them to do well in school and I'd love for them to be honor students, but what's going to make me the most proud is that they honor God. And that they love people the way Jesus loves people."

3) Nurturing takes place in this chair.
You have to be in the chair for nurturing to take place. And when it comes to giving guidance, you ave to be home for that to happen.

One problem today is that the American Dream has become a nightmare. We have houses, but do we have homes?

Brad mentioned the role of discipline in helping children grow. You need to discipline while they are young enough to learn.

Our focus should be on positives though, not negatives. And it should be a rule of conduct for all that we treat one another with respect inside the home.

At some point your kids will be on their own and you have to let them go, but you never stop being a parent, being there to guide them through the next stage.

As Brad neared the close of his message these are words a father or mother might have fo son or daughter. "I gave you life, but I can't live it for you. I can teach you things, but I can't make you learn. I can give you direction, but I can't always be there to lesd you. I can take you to church, but I can't make you believe. I can teach you right from wrong, but I can't always decide for you. I can teach you to share, but I can't make you unselfish. I can advise you on friends, but I can't choose them for you. I can pray for you, but I can't make you walk with God. I can teach you how to live, but I can't give you eternal life."

Kids have free choise. You can't do it for them. Ultimately, you have to give them to God, and pray. We say our prayers in chairs like that.

Brad says that as he's sat in that chair and prayed for God to show him how to be a good dad, it always comes back to Micah 8:6... to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with God. It's an adventure that begins in the nursery.

Sunday, May 2, 2010


The sunny morning light invited us to a bright new day, and to the gathering of the faithful in our little country church. Pastor Brad welcomed us warmly, as is his custom. In his welcome he noted that his message today would be about yet one more gift that is ours through the Holy Spirit: His seal, the gift of assurance.

Announcements included the following:
1. Last year we had a rummage sale to raise money for various good causes including Break the Chains. Paula asked for someone (or a team) to take the helm this year if able because she cannot at this time.
2. Duane shared that next weekend the men will make and serve a Mother's Day breakfast. Those men wishing to help can arrive Saturday evening at 7 p.m. for prep and/or 7:30 a.m. Sunday for setup.
3. Pam mentioned that the donations from Adventure Club and Sunday School have enabled us to purchase a second bike for the Congo mission work.

It should be noted that though the introit is usually mentioned in passing here on the blog, it is no minor portion of the service. We often arrive heavy laden with cares and concerns, and these things often don't readily slip from our hearts and minds upon entering the sanctuary. Somehow, once the church business (announcements) is completed, this wonderful little space is inserted as a mechanism to help us truly letting go of the daily grind so that we're more receptive to God, His Spirit, His message and His messenger. Thank you, Darlene, for your faithfulness in taking us away from earthly cares through your musical selections and the sensitivity with which you play each week. These moments serve a wonderful function that contributes to the meaningfulness of the whole.

Today Darlene played How Great Is Our God as an introit, and it was wonderful.

Brooke took the pulpit to share a Moment for Mission, focusing on three areas this morning.
1. Thanks to everyone who helped make Adventure Club the success it was again this year.
2. VBS will be held at Twig Hall this summer instead of at the church. There's more space to run, and for other activities. Two things of note. The hours have changed, will be in the mornings this year. Second, we need more volunteers. VBS will be the week of June 14. A planning meeting will be held Wednesday evening at 6:00 here at the church.
3. Brooke was able to the Covenant Northwest Conference this week and again found it very special. Our denomination has 11 regions and this has been the 18th consecutive year of growth for the NW Conference. There were 8 new churches birthed this year and 17 ordinations. Brooke closed by saying that it is "exciting to be a part of something bigger than ourselves."

After an offering was taken and the reading of Revelation 21:1-6, Brad shared a message from the Scriptures.


Brad began by having us look at Mark 1:9-11

9At that time Jesus came from Nazareth in Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. 10As Jesus was coming up out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. 11And a voice came from heaven: "You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."

In numerous places New Testament writers refer to our being "sealed" by the Holy Spirit, having our faith affirmed. This passage serves to show how Jesus was Himself "sealed" and affirmed by God's Spirit. Brad noted that the crowds did not hear or see this. This event took place for Jesus' benefit.

Jesus, Brad reminded us, was a man. When He was a baby, He was a baby, and did not have a baby's body with God's full knowledge. Brad comically shared how it might have been had that been the case when the Lord was born in a manger. "Phew, it smells in here."

No, Jesus was human in His knowledge and understanding which He gained through avid study of the Scriptures and prayer. At the beginning of His ministry God affirmed His sonship and "sealed" Him with the Spirit. This even took place for Jesus' benefit. And Jesus had to draw upon it many times in the years to come because there are many voices striving for our attention with the intention of causing us to veer from God's purpose. In the wilderness Satan challenged, cajoled, tempted. And in His ministry other voices mocked, scolded, questioned His identity. Even while nailed to the cross, Jesus was challenged, tempted. Yet He never wavered, because He knew the one voice that mattered.

How is it that Jesus maintained such a steadfast commitment to His call? The Gospels show that no matter how busy He was he found time to withdraw to a quiet place to listen to God's voice.

Brad talked a little about the acronym DTR. It means, Define The Relationship. He shared how when a guy asks a girl to marry him, he gives a ring. It is an expression of a pledge, something of value and also a reminder of the promise. It is like a seal that the relationship is more than just friends, that there is a future here.

In the same way God seals us with His Spirit. God doesn't want us to simply belong to Him, He wants us to know that we belong to Him. If you made a decision to follow Christ, you have been sealed and you are marked. God wants you live with a settled confidence of His favor every day of your life.

All this was the lead in to Brad's three main points. He stated that there are three occasions or experiences which are recurring in life in which we need to do what Jesus did... that is, to withdraw and listen to God in a quiet place.

1) When we feel disappointment

Disappointments are a part of life, but we can't let them throw us off track. The verse he directed us to was II Cor. 5:1-5

1Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. 2Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. 4For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.

One thing that can cause disappointment is that our earthly bodies are subject to deterioration. We take care of it best we can, but still, it can be a burden. For those in Christ it is good to know that we are more than the tent that houses us. One day our tent will come down, but this is not the end for us.

2) When we feel convicted over sin

In John 16:8 Jesus says the the Spirit will convict the world of guilt in regards to sin and righteousness.

What's interesting is that before we were Christians some things were not painful to us, but as we grow they become painful through awareness, or conviction of our sin. This pain is a good sign that we have not been abandoned by God. If you have pain over sin, it is not because of God's absence from you life. It is because of His presence.

3) When we feel alone

Brad asserted that God speaks in a still, small voice, and we have to get very still to hear it. He then told a moving story about a girl with a deformity who grew up fully aware that she was different and she hated it. The girl was convinced no one outside her family could love her. She had a very special teacher, Mrs. Lenard, who did something that cut through to her in an powerful way. It was the day of the hearing test. Mrs. Lenard conducted the test by sitting away from the pupil and whispering. Everyone in th class had taken their turn, and this little girl now sat in the place designated where her hearing was to be tested. She expected questions about the sky being blue or what color her shoes were, and she waited. Instead, she heard seven words that changed here life. "I wish you were my little girl."

"You're here today," Brad said, "because somewhere along the way one day the Holy Spirit came to your heart and whispered, 'I wish you were my son' or 'I wish you were my daughter.'" You're here today because of the amazing ministry of the Holy Spirit.

At this, we celebrated the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

NOTE: Photos on the blog entry today are from the art projects of our young people during Adventure Club. Click images to enlarge.