Sunday, July 25, 2010

Lessons from Daniel 4

On a sunny Sunday morning we gathered again for worship here at New Life Covenant Church. Notes from our breakfast meeting and dialogue will be shared at the end of today's summary of the service.

Chuck welcomed us this morning, informing us that Pastor Brad took an impromptu vacation. Today's message would be delivered by guest speaker Erin Swanstrom. There were several announcements.

1) August 14 is the Twig 5K Run, and our church family will be represented. Details to come.
2) The Harvest Festival is September 12 at the Twig Town Hall.
3) Walt & Gwen Crestman have invited the church family to a Pot Luck and Beach Day. Anyone desirous to be baptized might consider this a special time to do so.
4) The September Sale is approaching, scheduled now for 9/11. Begin assembling items to bring...
5) There is a Modest Home Makeover fund raiser at Five Guys hamburger joint from 4-8 p.m. August 2. 10% of all proceeds from sales that evening will go to the MHM project.

After the announcements the quartet ushered us into worship, and even sang a bonus song during the offertory which followed.

This morning Nathan Deloach spoke to us about the Modest Home Makeover project which several people in our church are involved with. MHM is a takeoff on the television show Extreme Home Makeover. Nate began by sharing a video about the project and the beneficiaries of this rebuilding project, Brenda and Rick Hallfrisch. We were informed that $36,000 has been raised for this $150,000 three-bedroom house that is being built, but that with all the donated services by local contractors, the real financial burden is significantly less. Rick has been battling cancer since age fifteen and has had as many as forty surgeries. Their involvement in local ministry has included prison ministry, ministry to racers, Teen Challenge, foster care and more. A special offering was taken after the service, but those who wish to contribute further or participate in upcoming fund raisers may also go to the Modest Home Makeover website.

After the Scripture reading (Galatians 5:1,13-25) and a time of prayer, our guest speaker was introduced, Erin Swanstrom.

Daniel 4

Erin began by commenting on a billboard she saw which intrigued her: Your success is our passion. Although the idea of preaching a "success" gospel seemed a bit off-putting to her, she shared that there are actually two definitions of success. The first is "a favorable outcome." It would seem that any of us could embrace this definition. Today's message did focus on the second definition, the attainment of wealth, position, honors. Erin shared with us insights from the experience of King Nebuchadnezzar in Daniel 4.

King Nebuchadnezzar was an emblem of success, a great re-builder. Nebuchadnezzar's problem was not his success, but his pride. Though few of us could be considered "King of the World", in a very real way we do share this with Nebuchadnezzar. We want to be recognized. Nebuchadnezzar wanted the world to know, "Look how great I am."

In the earlier chapters of Daniel, God has sought to get Nebuchadnezzar's attention, but failed. Now, God has taken more drastic measures. The king has had a dream which he strongly desires to understand, about a large tree which is cut down.

God knows how destructive pride is. And it appears in various forms, Erin said. Our need to get the last word in, or jealousy when others receive recognition are just two manifestations of pride takes. Our drive for recognition is is another.

Pride's impact can damage our lives in a variety of ways. Its effect on our ministry or service, its effect on our attitudes in relationships, its effect in our view of sin... and its impact on our walk with God because pride conceals the true condition of our hearts. This is why it is written, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

In verse 34, Nebuchadnezzar looks up. He has been humbled, and he not only receives his sanity back, but also his kingdom. Erin referenced an Andrew Murray quote that states that "humility is an attitude of dependence on God."

The struggle with pride is common to us all. We can't "make" ourselves humble though. It is a gift of being in Christ. Ask God to do whatever it takes to cultivate humility in us.

She closed by sharing a story about a most humble man whom she encountered who said, "I don't deserve to be here. I'm just grateful to serve."


Breakfast Dialogue

Pam Johnson led this morning's discussion as we continued dialoguing about the 25 questions we've been exploring this summer. Today we continued with the question, "Where is the Lord in all this? And what Bible stories reflect where we are at as a church today?"

Pam began by reading Luke 7:47-49.

Today's discussion seemed especially rich. Some of the Bible stories brought up in answer to the question included:
The parable of the talents
The story of David
Noah and the ark
John the Baptist
and Nehemiah building the wall.

There was additional discussion regarding how to discern God's will versus our will, and an insight about rural communities and loneliness.

The second question we began to dissect was whether our leaders are catalysts or stabilizers. Some said we have a nice mix of both, and that there is a measure of intentionality in the leadership to do both. Leonard noted that a catylitic converter and the true meaning of catalyst involves both change and stability, that the ultimate end of catalytic change is to create stability.

The conversations have been rewarding and we encourage all who are able to attend to do so.

Sunday, July 18, 2010


"There is a friend who sticks closer than a brother." ~Prov. 18:24

This morning was Kaitlyn Shannon's inaugural worship experience. Not sure she got much out of the message, but it was good to have Brooke back with us, and the Shannon's healthy baby girl in our midst.

Brad mentioned the Breakfast Roundtables we've been having as part of his welcome and a summary of this morning's discussion will appear at the end of this blog post. Everyone is invited as we discuss significant, thought provoking issues and questions pertaining to our church's vision and future. Breakfast buffet style is ready at 8:15, with discussion following at 8:30 a.m. Sunday mornings throughout the summer.

There was also an announcement about a woman who had surgery and our church is helping provide meals. Contact Karen Mehle for details. Also, Norm reminded us that there are a number of Modest Home Makeover fund raising events coming up. Last night netted more than $4,000, which provided an excellent boost forward. You can contribute or follow along here:

Before commencing with his traditional greeting, Brad explained for us the meaning of this greeting in which he says, "The Lord be with you," and the congregation replies, "And also with you." It is not just a meaningless formality. It is rather a way in which the pastor invites a response from the congregation indicating that worship is participatory, as opposed to spectator sports where one purchases a seat and watches others perform.

Darlene and Brad performed a duet for the introit today singing, "People need the Lord." A time of worship, including the offer, a Scripture reading (Col. 1:1-4) and prayer.


Pastor Shannon began by asking what we believed was the single most important influence in shaping one's character. Books? Teachers? Solitude? The media? Brad proposed the notion that friendship is the single most important influence in shaping souls and lives.

"Friend" is one of the most powerful words, he said. "I don't think anyone can have a great, deep friend and be called poor. And I'm not sure anyone lacking in friends can be called rich."

Today's message was about the relationship between Jonathan and David, one of the great friendships in history. The story begins in I Samuel 18:1-4.

1 After David had finished talking with Saul, Jonathan became one in spirit with David, and he loved him as himself. 2 From that day Saul kept David with him and did not let him return to his father's house. 3 And Jonathan made a covenant with David because he loved him as himself. 4 Jonathan took off the robe he was wearing and gave it to David, along with his tunic, and even his sword, his bow and his belt.

Brad pointed out that Saul attempted to kill David at least five times, thrice by javelin and twice by chicanery. And when nothing else worked he sent out assassins. But in the midst of all this, a significant friendship have developed between David and the king's son, Jonathan, heir to the throne. This is why the actions of Jonathan are so significant.

Jonathan here makes a covenant with David, giving to him his royal robe, his royal sword, and even his tunic, bow and belt. It is as if Jonathan were saying, "When I look at you I see a king. This is what God made you to be." There was no envy, no jealousy. It was a friendship that helped David through turbulent times. Jonathan's friendship was an anchor for David's soul.

In chapter 20 of I Samuel, Jonathan struggles with the balancing act of being loyal to his friend while striving to honor his father. At this point he does not yet know Saul has been trying to kill David, and he determines to get to the bottom of things. In verse 30 we see that Jonathan is willing to risk everything for his friend.

Chapter 23:15-18 records the last known meeting between Jonathan and David. It is a heartbreaking parting as they re-affirm their commitment as friends. These are two men who should have been rivals and at each others' throats.

Jonathan was killed in battle not long afterwards as was Saul, who fell on his sword rather than be captured by the Philistines. David became king and ruled forty years. Brad pointed out that though his friend was gone, the memory of that friendship never left him. Years later he one day declared, "Is there anyone left in Jonathan's house to whom I can show kindness?"

There are many levels of friendship, but "there is no wonder like a spiritual friendship." Brad encouraged us to seek it out, if it is not part of our lives right now. "What I want for each of us is a life giving spiritual friendship." But how do we find this, he asked.

First, it takes a relational risk. We have to be open to moving deeper. It's also not something you can force. There is an element of mystery to the way friendships develop.

Second, you have to take you time. Test the water for a while. You test the water by moving a little further beyond polite conversation, which is aimed at not hurting feelings. In this phase we look for people who are empathic as listeners and who honor confidentiality.

The third phase is when a relationship enters a spiritual dimension.

How many of these kinds of friendships can we expect? No, not 50. It is a small number. Brad encouraged us to prayer for friends like this with whom we can become vulnerable and open up.
Brad reminded us that a friend is not like a "spare part" that we use and then discard when it doesn't work any more. And sometimes becoming vulnerable can result in our being hurt. But it is a necessary risk. The absence of friends will make the heart grow hard, so it is worth the search.

Brad elevated the point by noting that David wanted to be Jonathan's friend more than he wanted to be king, and that we have a friend like this in Jesus, who made a name for Himself as a "friend of sinners." For Jesus, it was more important to be our friend, so much that He died on a cross for us, than to be king of the world.

Brad opened with a few introductory remarks saying, "If a community of faith gets serious about moving forward, you can count on being broken." He then read to us from II Corinthians 1:8-9, "We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers, about the hardships we suffered in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life. Indeed, in our hearts we felt the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead."

We are in this together, he said. Church ministry will involve all of us.

Today's discussion questions were:
What are the critical areas where our church can be more dependent on the Holy Spirit? And, how as a church do we continually challenge ourselves to move forward into God's future?

Are we too timid? Too frenetic? Have we been too risk averse? Someone noted that commitment is a missing quality in today's culture and it carries over into church commitment as well. There were too many good comments to capture here, including confession, repentance, prayer, but the candor and open exploration was refreshing.

We each asked ourselves, "Am I willing to be inconvenienced for God?"

Brad read Romans 12:1-2 from Eugene Petersen's The Message: "So here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life—your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life—and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him. Don't become so well-adjusted to your culture that you fit into it without even thinking. Instead, fix your attention on God. You'll be changed from the inside out. Readily recognize what he wants from you, and quickly respond to it. Unlike the culture around you, always dragging you down to its level of immaturity, God brings the best out of you, develops well-formed maturity in you."

We closed with this question: What Biblical story most describes what is happening in our church now. One person said, the parable of the talents... what will we do with ours? Another said, Noah building the ark. In an unsafe world, we are seeking someplace safe.

What Biblical story do you think most describes what is happening in our church today? Join us next Sunday for breakfast. We'd like to hear from you.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Finishing Well

Overcast skies did not deter us from filling the sanctuary this morning, this seventh Sunday after Pentecost. Pastor Brad greeted us with his usual warmth and reminded us that our theme this summer was the heart of David, a man after God's own heart. Today was the second part of a message on Saul, the king whom David saw decline and decay.

Announcements included a few remarks about the funeral of Jeanette Ciaccio and a thank you for the way in which the church family stepped up. It was also mentioned that the Shannons have expanded their family with the birth of Kaitlyn Elizabeth this week. Darlene stated that there will be a Tuesday morning Women's Bible Study beginning in September, but that we'd like sign ups by August 8 so there would be time to order study books.

Brad also commented on the breakfast meetings we have been having this summer. In addition to free breakfast (no cost and no clean up responsibilities!) we have been having a significant dialogue each week about the role of the church in our community and the vision for the future. Everyone is invited. Breakfast begins at 8:15.

Here are some notes your faithful blogger recorded from this morning's breakfast dialogue.

Brad set the stage for this morning's discussion by citing three aspects of church life: the social chemistry, the spiritual, and the strategic planning, framework, etc. The church leadership has introduced a new mission statement intended to encompass these and help direct our future. That mission statement is, Connect, Grow & Become. The aim is to become a community of faith reflecting Christ's priorities.

He then opened the discussion with a reading from the Book of Revelations, the letter to the Church in Ephesus.

For several weeks we have been discussing a series of 25 questions aimed at helping us think about our mission and purpose as a church. Today's discussion question was, "If our church ceased to exist tomorrow, would the surrounding community weep? Would anyone notice and would anyone even care?"

There were a variety of responses and some excellent insights, discussion about finding balance between evangelism and meeting needs. It was noted that Christ meets people at their point of need. Someone brought up the value of the "Camp Model" in which a non-threatening environment is created in order to move into the deeper layers of peoples' needs. It was estimated that there are currently as many as 300 people connected to New Life Covenant in a significant way, and that the members' intersect with many times more than that.

Brad rephrased the question and asked, "What would we need to do to be a church the community would grieve if lost?"

The food was good this morning, and the food for thought even better.

After announcements, we proceeded into worship with Brad's traditional greeting and an introit by Darlene. A time of worship, the offering a passage of Scripture (Luke 10:25-37) and prayer time followed.

Finishing Well

Today's message was the second half of last week's message on the decline and fall of King Saul, who started well but finished by becoming a shell of the man he once had been. It is sad, tragic, when a business or church fails, but saddest of all is the decay of a human soul.

Last week we learned about the first stage in Saul's decline: he tolerated subtle disobedience. Today we heard about the three following stages.

(2) Saul learned to tolerate the loss of intimacy with God.

In I Samuel 16:14 we learn that the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul and he was tormented by an evil spirit. Some people might say it was a demon, others a troubled spirit, but whatever it is the clear message is that Saul is in disintegration as indicated by his behavior. Mood swings, paranoia anger... but he discovers when David plays his harp, it soothes his soul.

Music has enormous spiritual power. It changes us, moves us. Music helped Saul feel relief. It helped him avoid having to deal with deeper issues in his life, such as his relationship with God.

Do you have the courage that Saul didn't have? Do you have the courage to ask God, "How are things between you and me?"

(3) Saul learned to tolerate poisoned relationships.

Chapter 18 reveals Saul's jealousy of David. Three times we see references to David's successes. Sadly, Saul's relationship with David is poisoned by envy and jealousy.

Brad cited the numerous relationships in Scripture that have been poisoned by envy, going all the way back to the story of Cain and Abel, and later Jacob and Esau. Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, Leah was envious of Rachel. Jealousy and envy are corrosive. It is a toxic force. Saul's envy galls his spirit.

The truth is, an envious heart is never satisfied and Saul concludes that eliminating David would solve his problems. But, Brad asserted, you have no right to tarnish the unity for which Christ gave His life.

(4) Saul betrayed the values he once embraced.

In chapter 28 of I Samuel Saul is so distressed before a battle with the Philistines that he consults with a medium, the witch of Endor. Instead of honoring God with his obedience, he violates his conscience and everything he once believe in an effort to get what he wants. When he calls back Samuel from the grave, Samuel offers such a stern rebuke that Saul falls to the ground, filled with fear.

Saul has reached his end, having become an old, broken down wreck. Ultimately, he dies by his own hand, falling on his sort when all is lost.

When Samuel died, people wept. When Saul died, David wept, though he urged all Israel to weep as well. Brad closed by asking: When you die and there are tears, will they be tears of gratitude or regret? When Saul died, David wept... at what Saul had failed to become.

When you die, will they be tears of gratitude or regret? Of all the forms of decay known in this world, the saddest is the decay of the human spirit. Don't let it happen to you. Guard your heart, and determine that you will finish the race.

Sunday, July 4, 2010

Saul's Slide

Today is the Fourth of July and Communion Sunday, which we celebrate the first Sunday of each month. In Brad's welcome, a shadow passed over our hearts as we learned that Jeanette Ciaccio left us to be with the Lord last night.

During announcements Brad also cited the Breakfast Roundtables which we have been sharing this summer from 8:15 to 9:25 each week. Members and regular attenders are invited to join us each week for breakfast to discuss questions and issues of importance in our visioning for the future. This morning we discussed these questions: Do we see the church as a safe haven from change or as a change agent in the culture? And, does our church view the changing culture as a problem to be solved or as an opportunity to be had? And finally, with many insights resulting, how has the community around our church changed in the last five years and how have we changed or not changed with it?

The quartet led us in worship this morning with their usual warmth and expression. Eric Borndal read the Scripture after, Galatians 6:1-17, which was followed by two Independence Day standards, O Beautiful for Spacious Skies and Mine Eyes Have Seen the Glory.

Our prayer time preceded the sermon, a continuation on this summer's theme from the Book of Samuel.

Saul's Slide

Pastor Brad opened with this powerful insight: I think one of the saddest things in this world is to see something that was once strong and useful and vigorous and full of beauty end up in a state of decay. Restaurant closings in the area were cited as examples. No one starts a restaurant with the aim of seeing it fail. A person has a dream, and when it fails it is painful. Companies, too, fail... and so do churches when the passion and vision is lost. It is a painful thing to watch something decay. The saddest is to see the deterioration and decay of the human spirit. When you think about what they might have become, it breaks your heart.

This morning's sermon was the beginning of a two part message about Saul's slide. David had a front row seat as Saul declined.

In I Samuel 9 begins with the anointing of Saul as Israel's first king. Saul is an impressive man, standing head and shoulders above the rest of Israel. Samuel says about Saul, "Do you see the man the Lord has chosen? There is no one like him among the people." Coming from a prophet of God, this is a very high compliment.

Saul was also humble. When he discovered he was going to be honored he replied, "But I am from the smallest tribe of Israel and my clan is the smallest clan. Why do you honor me?"

Saul was anointed king at age 30 and he reigned 42 years. He began with a bright future, but in the end he was just a shell of what he had been. How does this happen? Nobody plans in the beginning to be wicked or violent or cruel. Brad believes that Saul failed because he was unable to face the brokenness inside him.

Brad made reference to an article with this title: Totally Normal Women Who Stalk Their Ex. What's comic about this title, he said, is that there are no "totally normal" people of either sex. If you were to sit with anyone for a while and probe deep enough, you would find that no one is "totally normal." We all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

The question each of us must ask ourselves is, "Will I have the courage to face my own brokenness?" Brad appealed to us to fight spiritual decay. There are four stages of spiritual decay. This week, Brad shared the first and next week we will hear the following three.

1) Saul's spiritual decay started when he began to tolerate subtle disobedience.

The first recorded example of subtle disobedience appears in I Samuel 13. Israel was at war with the Philistines, with many of them deserting or hiding in caves out of fear. Saul has been told to wait seven days for Samuel to arrive in order to make a burnt offering to the Lord. To bolster the men's courage, Saul grows impatient and decides to make the burnt offering before Samuel arrives. Just then, the prophet shows up and says, "What have you done?" Saul makes rationalizations. He distorts the truth instead of owning up. Saul did not trust God.

In chapter 15, Saul was sent into battle against the Amalekites with the specific instruction to not only wipe them out but to destroy everything they own, including the cattle. The army attacked and successfully defeated the Amalekites, but instead of obeying the explicit instructions, Saul permitted his men to keep the cattle as spoils of war.

The issue here is Saul's "selective obedience." We think that because we obey some of what God asks of us, it is good enough. Saul did most of what God asked. He then twisted things to make his disobedience seem like a good thing. "The soldiers kept the best of what was found so they can sacrifice it to the Lord."

To which Samuel replied, "To obey is better than sacrifice."

The first step toward spiritual decay is subtle disobedience. Are there areas in your life that you are withholding from God?

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