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.

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