Sunday, June 27, 2010

Teen Challenge

Today was another special day, the fifth Sunday after Pentecost and the first official Sunday of summer. Our congregation was enriched by the presence of a group from MN Teen Challenge who, with the exception of Brad's welcome greeting and Darlene's introit, basically conducted the entire service.

Before the service many of us met for breakfast and a time of dialogue pertaining to church growth and visioning for our future. All members are invited to these breakfast meetings as we explore expectations and our role in the community.

Brad began our discussion with the maxim, "You can't have resurrection without death." Pam followed with a passage from I Corinthians 15:3-4 that affirms this principle of death and life, thus leading into two of our discussion questions today.

1. What needs to die in order for us to live?
2. What programs or ideas were effective in the past are now limiting the health & growth of the church?

Walt noted that growth challenges some of a small church's strengths, which kicked off a good discussion about who we are and what are the qualities that have attracted people here to our church family.

We also began to tackle a third question: How do we view and handle conflict? Conflict is inevitable in churches because of the differences amongst us. It was noted that discernment is important so that we know which differences are deal breakers and core issues, and which are simple peripheral.

All in all, the discussion was good, the insights many.

Teen Challenge

The service began with a video about the work of MN Teen Challenge, with an introduction to the needs in our culture which led to the founding of this organization. Substance abuse and drug addiction cripples tens of millions of lives, and impacts millions more. I was struck by the statistic that the Twin Cities is one of the most intoxicated in America. Adults of all ages come into the program in an effort to find a new hope and build for themselves a better life.

The group of men stood at the front to sing and share testimonies. The songs were moving, with the opening number being Jeremy Riddle's Sweetly Broken.

A young man named Peter shared his story, from Christian home to being locked up in prison. A man named John shared his story, and how his addictions resulted in "hurting everyone I knew." This was a very special time in the service leaving very few untouched.

Josh, the son of a pastor who ended up doing a year in prison in Portland, noted that the men who were with us today had a variety of different experiences but all shared this common denominator: "I fell hard and I need your prayers."

The group of men sang a number of songs, and shared other stories with us. Afterwards, we also shared a meal with them. Many more personal stories were passed along. Each has a story. Each has value. These are men, not throwaways. May God be praised.

Sunday, June 20, 2010


There was a high level of energy in the room when Pastor Brad called out his “Welcome” to open today’s service. In part it might have been the prospect of a seriously nice summer day with sunshine in abundance splashing off the wildflowers now in bloom along all our country roads. Or it might have been the enthusiasm generated by a successful week of Vacation Bible School, now behind us. Or, it may have been the Breakfast Roundtable which preceded today’s service.

A large cross-section of the church joined us early, from 8:15 to 9:15, for a Continental breakfast during which we were given opportunity to discuss a number if ideas and thoughts that might have a bearing on the future of our fellowship. Everyone in the church is welcome for these gatherings which will be conducted throughout the summer. Led by Pastor Shannon and Pam Johnson, each table was given the task of discussing three questions. There will be at least 25 questions for us to chew on this summer, with no grades or papers required. There was a surprisingly strong turnout for such an early hour, and it was a very worthwhile beginning.

Brad opened with comments about behavioral covenants for a community of faith. The Pam read the well-known Parable of the Talents from Matthew 25. All of this served as a good intro to the discussion which followed.

The three questions dissected today were these:
How, as a church, have we played it safe?
How do we use what Jesus has given us, right now, and multiply that to glorify God.
How are we becoming the kind of church that God can entrust with more?

Many good thoughts came from the discussions which followed, with more in weeks to come. You are all invited to join us as we strive to make a difference in our community.

After the pastor’s greeting, announcements included a re-cap of the very successful VBS this week. There were at least 50 people who helped as volunteers in one way or another and Brooke thanked everyone as she described the week. We took a risk in holding VBS at the Twig Town Hall instead of here at the church, and the risk was rewarded with a 33% increase in attendance/participation. We all thanked Brooke for her leadership and enthusiasm for this ministry.

Fathers were acknowledged also on this Father’s Day, after which Darlene played a beautiful introit to usher us into worship.

After worship, the offering, a reading from Galatians 3:23-29 and a time of prayer, Pastor Brad gave the message from I Samuel 17.


This summer Brad has been speaking about why David was a man after God's own heart. Last week he began to two part message on boldness. David had a heart that was bold, and his encounter with Goliath is one way to catch a glimpse of what made David tick.

Brad opened by reminding us of last week's insight that a bold heart doesn't "just happen" when we need it. David's willingness to confront Goliath came from a confidence he had in previous encounters and experiences which strengthened and prepared him for this moment. We learned that boldness is developed as we step up and confront everyday challenges.

The second lesson in this story of David and Goliath is that we develop this bold heart in the face of criticism and opposition.

Here's the setup. Goliath, a nine foot giant, has laid down a challenge to the armies of Israel. "Send out one man to fight me. Which ever side loses will serve the other." The challenge included taunts and mocking as Goliath defied the cowering Israelites. Since no one was stepping up to take on the giant, Saul began to incentivize the deal, offering not only great wealth but also his daughter's hand in marriage and a lifetime tax exemption for his father's family. Pretty good deal.

David shows up on the scene not as a soldier but to deliver food to the army. When he see what is going on he asks, "Who is this uncircumcised Philistine that he should defy the armies of the living God?" The situation was explained by some of the men there, but his older brother essentially said, "What are you doing here?" and chastened for leaving the sheep as well as questioning his motives.

Brad brought out an interesting point. Goliath had been challenging the Israelite army now for forty days. Each day that Goliath taunted Israel, the men's hearts shrank a little more, their confidence wilted a little more. David's older brother, Eliab, spoke harshly to David because he no doubt did not want his younger brother to see how cowardly he had become.

When you cower to your Goliath, it corrodes your self-respect. It makes you ashamed.

David's response is noteworthy. David doesn't argue with Eliab. He doesn't hit him with his slingshot. He does agree with him. He simply turns away and continues with his mission.

Sometimes criticism is accurate and we need to take it to heart. But sometimes it is off base and we should not give it an inch. Don't let criticism cause you to lose heart, Brad said.

The third key to having a bold heart is to resist pressure to conform.

When David saw what was going on he offered to be the man to take down Goliath. Saul first had to be persuaded, since David appeared to be too young for this challenge. David's courage showed through and Saul not only gave him permission to represent Israel, he also gave David his armor to wear.

Saul was head and shoulders taller than anyone in Israel and his armor was way too cumbersome for David. This is where David revealed yet more courage. He did not conform to the typical way soldiers fought, with shields and swords and armor. David had to do it his own way. He removed the armor and went to the creek to select five smooth stones. It would be him and God against the giant Philistine.

So it is in our own battles. What works for someone else may not be the way for us. No one else can do it for you. You have to lean hard on God and do battle, with a bold heart.

Whether it is parenting or life, there are all kinds of books people might suggest. But the real question is, Will you be bold enough to stand for God.

When Goliath saw the young David coming at him, his trash talking began in earnest.

43 He said to David, "Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?" And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. 44 "Come here," he said, "and I'll give your flesh to the birds of the air and the beasts of the field!"

David's whole life had led to this moment, and this was his reply:

45 David said to the Philistine, "You come against me with sword and spear and javelin, but I come against you in the name of the LORD Almighty, the God of the armies of Israel, whom you have defied. 46 This day the LORD will hand you over to me, and I'll strike you down and cut off your head. Today I will give the carcasses of the Philistine army to the birds of the air and the beasts of the earth, and the whole world will know that there is a God in Israel. 47 All those gathered here will know that it is not by sword or spear that the LORD saves; for the battle is the LORD's, and he will give all of you into our hands."

A moment later, with a single stone to the forehead, Goliath was out. Brad jokingly noted someone's comment that Goliath's last thought was, "Nothing like this ever entered my mind."

What God did for David, He can do for you. If you let Goliath intimidate you, you will die inside a little bit every day. Trust God and be bold.

Sunday, June 13, 2010

Living With Boldness

The dreary weekend weather didn't stop Pastor Brad from greeting us with his warmest welcome again today. "I'm glad you've come this morning to worship with us," he said as he proceeded to tip his hand with regard to today's message about one of the most memorable encounters in all of Scripture, the story of David and Goliath.

Announcements followed. (1) The final preparations for Vacation Bible School are being taken care of as VBS begins tomorrow at Twig Town Hall. The theme this year is "High Seas: Exploring the Mighty Love of God." (2) There was an announcement that New Life Covenant will begin recycling, which many thought a good idea. (3) Teen Challenge will be joining us in two weeks to minister to us in song and with testimonies. (4) The Blood Drive last week resulted in enough donated blood to save 42 lives. (Thank you to all who gave.)

Following the offering, today's Scripture reading was from Galatians 2:15-21. Then we went into a time of prayer, remembering needs and giving praise for God's good gifts.

Living With Boldness

Brad began by reminding us that whatever our situations or obstacles, one little stone and the power of God are stronger than any force this world can throw at us. "So be bold."

With this introduction we turned to I Samuel 17:1-11. It is the famous account of when Goliath challenged the Israelite army. "Come on! Give me a man and we'll fight each other." Goliath was an immense giant of a man, and his challenge left the Israelite army trembling, "dismayed and terrified."

Brad turned to a twentieth century experiment to illustrate the circumstances conveyed here. The experiment involved dogs and showed how even when safety and deliverance from an unpleasant experience is possible, some dogs become absolutely helpless to change their situation and circumstances. This "learned helplessness" is a major dilemma, for many of our problems begin with internal attitudes that chain us to failure.

So it is that the army of Israel looked at Goliath and only saw a hopeless situation. As a result, they cowered in fear.

But then, David stepped in. The King and head of the army, Saul, was not immediately impressed by the lad's confidence. But David relayed his experience in defending the sheep he shepherded, and that it was God who delivered him from the bear and the lion. And God would deliver him from this beast of a man, Goliath.

David's boldness impressed the army of Israel, and we all know how he stepped forward with a God-inspired confidence onto that battlefield.

Brad followed, however, with the acknowledgement that boldness doesn't just happen. David exercised boldness in his daily life, strengthening his confidence in the course of tackling daily responsibilities. David did not become bold overnight. His experience with the bear and the lion were preparatory steps toward his confrontation with Goliath. When Goliath slandered the name of the God he served, David had no choice but to step forward. "God delivered me from the lion and the bear, and will deliver me from this Philistine," he declared.

Brad closed by directing his message to us with a question. How are you doing in the everyday challenges of your life? And more pointedly, what is the Goliath in your life that needs to be defeated today?

Sunday, June 6, 2010

Other Heart Matters

"I'm delighted that you braved the rain to be here today." Thus were we welcomed by Pastor Brad for another very special communion service.

In his opening remarks Brad commented on the joyful spirit of a recent wedding and had us all join in singing, "The Joy of the Lord Is My Strength."

Announcements included a reminder that Vacation Bible School is but a week away. Brooke filled us in on details. If any child needs a ride, let us know. There will be T-Shirts available. If anyone would like help purchasing T-Shirts for the kids, they will be $5.00 each. There is also a need of materials for crafts, including:
23 egg cartons, 2 rolls of magnetic tape, 45 1/4" Google Eyes, 45 ice cream buckets, Sand, Crepe paper, 5 rolls double stick tape, red, white & blue felt, modeling clay, duct tape, shipping tape... Contact Brooke to learn where you can best help.

We entered into worship with the reading of a passage from Psalm 67. After the offering JoAnn read Galatians 1:11-24, followed by a time of prayer. Then Brad took to the pulpit and spoke from the heart.

Other Heart Matters

What is it that prompted God to call David, "a man after My own heart"? Last week we examined David's passion and his heart of wild abandon. This week we will look at two other features that characterized this most remarkable man.

The second thing David heart was characterized by was deep reflection. Here's a typical statement from 139: "Search me, O God, and know my heart." This is a rare combination, a man of passion and action, yet deep reflection, but it's vintage David.

Brad believes David learned this kind of attitude while alone for many years herding sheep, many even after he had been anointed king. Last week we reviewed how the prophet Samuel came to Jesse's home in Bethlehem and anointed David to be the next king of Israel. But David was not suddenly whisked away to the throne. Instead he went back to what he had been doing before until the time was right. These desert years were not wasted years. David was learning how to be alone with God.

Like David, we need to grow deep. But it's challenging in today's busy, noisy world. It's not easy to be alone and quiet. Brad jokingly said that in today's world the gift people really need is phoneless cord.

Henri Nouwen once wrote, "Solitude forms self-righteous people into gentle forgiving persons who are so deeply convinced of their own great sinfulness and so fully aware of God's even greater mercy that their life itself becomes a ministry." Brad repeated this last phrase, "their life itself becomes a ministry." And it goes to the heart of Brad's prayer for our church in this community.

"I want a heart that goes deep for God," he said as he turned to Psalm 1 and it's metaphor for such a heart.

1 Blessed is the man
who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked
or stand in the way of sinners
or sit in the seat of mockers.

2 But his delight is in the law of the LORD,
and on his law he meditates day and night.

3 He is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

It takes time for tree roots to go deep. We live in a hurried, frenzied world and it is not easy to take time or make time for solitude.

At this point Pastor Brad recommended that as we go through the life of David this this summer, that we take time to read the book of Psalms and reflect on them as we study David's heart. The Psalms will teach us how to pray, how to lament, how to repent, how to love God. The Psalms will help you deepen your heart.

The third facet of David's heart was a stubborn love. Brad said that if he had to only choose one of the three, it would be this one. David's heart was characterized by stubborn love, a love for God and others that would never give up. He loved people with the loyal heart of a shepherd who just keeps loving even the most obstinate sheep.

Saul, for example, though king of Israel was tormented by a pathological jealousy of David and even tried to kill him. Yet David never stopped loving him. David knew his faults, and his possibilities, and when Saul died David's declared "Weep for Saul," and "How the mighty have fallen."

Jonathan was another whom David loved, recorded as one of the great friendships in history. They wept when they finally had to part.

When David was king he learned that one of Jonathan's sons was still alive. Although potentially a rival because of his lineage as grandson to Saul, David went out of his way to welcome Mephibosheth into the royal home because of his great love for Jonathan. This demonstration of love even for a potential adversary reveals the kind of heart David had.

So, too, when his handsome but rebellious son Absalom attempted a coup to steal his father's throne, David never stopped from loving his son. When the uprising was put down, and Absalom slain, David mourned deeply. "Oh Absalom, my son. If only I could have died instead of you."

When David loved you, you stayed loved.

Pastor Brad then peeled open his heart a bit and said, "If at the end of my life I could have people say that about me, I'd be a success... and if that can't be said about me, I will have failed."

David loved people because he loved God. He was not a perfect man. He did stupid things at times and got sidetracked, but his heart kept coming home to God.

This is what I want for us... that we worship with wild abandon, from the depths of our hearts. And that God would say of us that we loved with a stubborn love. With God's grace, we will.