Saturday, October 30, 2010

Navigate 2011

Thursday evening we had a large turnout for the chili dog fundraiser and semi-annual meeting that had been billed as Navigate 2011. $800 was raised for Adventure Club from the dinner portion of the evening, and then we slipped up to the sanctuary for the meeting.

Pastor Brad opened by reading to us from one of his favorite passages, Romans 10:14-15.
14How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them? 15And how can they preach unless they are sent? As it is written, "How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news!"

Brad then talked with us about the facets of our Mission Statement... Connect, Grow and Become.

Connect. Connecting unconnected people to our Savior Jesus Christ, the eternal focus of what God has called us to do.

Talking with people about Jesus is not about "closing the deal." Rather, it is any word or deed that brings a person closed to connectedness to God.

Grow. New birth is a beginning, not an end. As Christ followers our mission is to pursue spiritual transformation over a lifetime.

Become. We are not simply individuals consuming religious goods. Our mission is to become a community that reflects God's priorities in the world.

Brad followed this by sharing our Vision... to be a healthy, missional church that reflects our context where people are coming to personal faith. Our core values are to be Biblical, devotionasl, missional and relational.

It was apparent from the meeting that the church leadership has been quite active and there is not any sense of "business as usual" there. The building committee was identified and their mandate shared, to identify within 12 months a direction with regards to a future building project.

Pam Johnson shared New Ministry Initiatives being undertaken for 2011. They included:

1) A short term missionary trip somewhere within the U.S.
2) Community connections... meeting needs in our local community.
3) "Grow For It"... fall and spring activities to help us in finances and our marriages.
4) Small Groups... unforced. If interested in this, let Walt, Gwen or Pastor Brad know.

Chuck then presented a recommended budget for the coming year, which included over 10% to missions. The new budget had some modest increases, but when voted on was readily adopted.

In short, the meeting was valuable for orienting us toward continued growth.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

The Story of Forgiveness

Despite the dreariness of the day, Brad welcomed us with his usual bright warmth. "Good morning!" Included in his opening monologue was the statement, "We can overestimate our righteousness before God," tipping his hand to today's theme.
Announcements included this Thursday's Navigate 2011, an important semiannual church meeting in which we will plan and discuss our vision for the new year and present new ministry initiatives. Dinner, a chili dog fundraiser for Adventure Club, will be at 6:00 p.m. with the meeting commencing at 6:45. Stay tuned for more information about Operation Christmas Child as well.

After the introit Brad read to us Psalm 23 and we entered into a time of worship followed by the offering and prayer.

The Story of Forgiveness

Today's sermon was essentially a modernized retelling of the Lord's parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector as found in Luke 18:9-14...

9To some who were confident of their own righteousness and looked down on everybody else, Jesus told this parable: 10"Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. 11The Pharisee stood up and prayed about[a] himself: 'God, I thank you that I am not like other men—robbers, evildoers, adulterers—or even like this tax collector. 12I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.'
13"But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.'

14"I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted."

On his way home from Florida this week Brad shared his faith with someone on the plane. Such situations offer many opportunities for sharing. After the initial introductions, "What do you do?" is a normal question and a conversation can quickly become oriented to spiritual things when you are a pastor.

This week's encounter had an earnestly positive outcome, but for today's message Brad wished to share about a similar on-the-plane encounter he'd had another time on a flight from Chicago to Minneapolis.

He set it up with a story about playing racquetball at the Y. Brad had played a bit of racquetball and felt confident enough to enter a tournament. There were three classes in the tourney -- A, B and C -- and he was trying to decide what level to compete at. Needless to say, he figured the C class was fielded by beginners and the only decision was whether to be in the A or B category. In Brad's mind the C league was for rank amateurs and since he had played for a few months the only decision was whether to go a winning the B category or competing in the A group for experience... and who know?

While he was studying the poster an older gentleman of somewhat short of stature asked if he were thinking of entering the tournament. Brad could tell the guy was checking him over as to what level he played at, and Brad was doing the same. With stubby little arms and a potbelly, the guy looked like a physician and no threat. The man said he had played in last month's tournament and Brad asked what level. The man said, "C" and Brad thought, "It figures." With a measure of pride the man added that he came in tenth, and even seemed proud of it, which Brad dismissed thinking, "If I came in tenth in the C class I'd crawl in a hole and die." Brad decided to play the guy to gauge how well a C player can play. This would hep him determine whether to sign up for the A or B level.

"You can see where this is going," Brad said, and yes, we could. The guy smoked him. 21-zip.

Athletics is not the only area where people overrate themselves. It happens in business, and it can happen in politics. Most people are convinced that they are playing in the A level with pleasing God, too. Yes, most people overrate how good they are in the eyes of God.

This story was a perfect setup for the story of that flight from Chicago to Minneapolis, the quintessential business traveller. After the usual niceties the man asked what Brad did for a living. The man told how he used to go to church, and believed his kids needed a little religious orientation. Brad decided to spice things up a bit. "If someone asked you how to get to heaven..."

The man admitted that he wouldn't know what to say.

Brad then asked if the man were planning to go to heaven when he died. His reaction said, "of course," and he proceeded to elaborate on some of his good deeds and his business ethics. Brad replied, "Do you really want to know what God's standard of good is?"

Brad took out a napkin and drew a line up and down from top to bottom and wrote GOD at the top. Parenthetically, he added "God's standard of goodness." Then he asked the man to put an ex on the napkin to represent the place where he viewed himself at in regards to being good in God's eyes.

Just before handing the man the pen, Brad asked, "Who do you think is the best person living on planet earth right now?" and after thinking for a minute he said, "Mother Teresa."

Then Brad said, "I wouldn't argue with that." (This was when Mother Teresa was still alive.) And Brad added, "There's something I think you should know about Mother Teresa. I've heard her on audio tape, and she feels terrible about how far short she has fallen below God's standard of goodness and perfection. She would place her X about two-thirds of the way down that vertical line.

Then Brad asked who the best person in this country might be. The man offered up Billy Graham as an exemplary man, but Brad replied, "I've heard Billy Graham give some talks and I feel that I could say, without fear of him contradicting me, that he would probably place his X a little south of Mother Teresa."

Brad then acknowledged that he himself was in the ministry and doing the best he good to honor God and would still put his X well south of Billy. Brad then put his X on the line. At this he said, "You need to know that Mother Teresa is in trouble and she knows it, and Billy's in trouble and he knows it, and I am in trouble and I know it. But I think you're in trouble and you don't know it." You could tell the guy's wheels were turning.

Brad pointed out that this drawing was aimed at showing how we overrate our goodness if we don't have any benchmarks. And we underrate the seriousness of this issue.

Brad had an opportunity to go further with the businessman, who admitted shortcomings in terms of his business ethics and his relationships. It was presented as a golf scorecard, and as they went through the areas of his life, the score looked far worse than he envisioned or admitted.

God is holy and His standards are high. When we fall short, someone has to take a hit, someone has to pay the price for our sin. Because of God's outrageous love for you and me, God commissioned Jesus to come to earth as a human and die a substitutionary death on behalf of each of us as sinners.

Have you ever taken a moral inventory? How many of us overestimate our value? One day we will each stand before God...

Sunday, October 17, 2010

The 21st Sunday After Pentecost

Today's service was an interesting departure from our typical Sunday rituals in that we did not have a sermon per se, though the Lord's voice could be discern through the music and testimonies shared this morning. Chuck Vanderscheuren lead the service, welcoming us with Brad's traditional greeting. Pastor Brad, it was noted, is in Florida for a wedding.

Announcements included the following...
1) On Thursday, October 28 we are gathering here at the church for our semi-annual meeting, which will begin at 6:00 p.m. with a chili dog fundraiser for Adventure Club. The event has been titled Navigate 2011 and it's importance cannot be understated as we will be discussing how to implement our vision for the coming year.
2) Joanne noted that she is seeking a substitute teacher for October 31.
3) Pam Johnson shared that there is a need for diapers at the Union Gospel Mission, that we are collecting sizes 3, 4 and 5 diapers.

The quartet opened the service with a joyous song followed by more, and then led us in worship after which we shared in the offering. Today's Scripture reading from Luke 18:1-8 tied remarkably to a later portion of the service. After a time of prayer, Chuck as Norm Livgard to share his testimony.

Norm's Story
Norm began by sharing about his Lutheran roots and some lessons he learned as a young man. His career as a surveyor eventually ed him here to the Northland where he became county surveyor in 1974.

In 1999, after personal turmoil brought him low and he married Mae, they went to the Southwest for the first time. In February 2000 they found themselves painting a children's home in Apache Junction when he had a powerful experience. Previous to this trip Norm felt that there was something missing in his life. Here he felt this visit was an answer to his prayers.

As it turned out, the city of Mesa had been putting pressure on the children's home because they wanted it gone. Though once located in the desert, the developing outskirts of Phoenix now surrounded the children's home. City officials had been demanding that the property be surveyed in order to permit any further remodelling of the facilities. This surveying could amount to a twenty thousand dollar expense. Instead, Norm being there at the right time, was able to complete the land survey at no cost to the home.

This past year Norm also had a chance to be involved in the Modest Home Makeover project, which was similarly rewarding. With his sleeves rolled up, Norm is ready for new marching orders, eager to help where needed.

Ed's Dream
Before singing, Ed shared that while a youth growing up he used to keep a dream diary, and through this exercise became skilled at recalling many of his dreams. One of these was shared with us this morning you can read here: In Another World. After sharing, he was joined by Peggy Carlson and together they sang the classic hymn O Sacred Head.

Peggy's Testimony
Peggy then briefly shared from the heart about being parents of two adult children, about being persistent in prayer, sharing Jeremiah 31:15-17 and Psalm 9:10, and yes, reminding us that today's Scripture about the woman persistent in prayer was so intended for this morning. She then sang a beautiful rendition of "His Eye Is On the Sparrow."

Gwen's Songs
At the close of the service Gwen Cressman shared a word of encouragement to dad's. She recalled for us one time when her dad read to her from Psalm 23, and then told about how God was the Good Shepherd. This incident put a desire in her heart to know the Scriptures like her dad. This was followed by an unaccompanied, beautiful version of Psalm 23.
In closing she shared a second very short message in song: "So let us press on to know the Lord."

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Growing in the Faith

Indian Summer has been keeping us upbeat this past week, and this morning was no different as we drove to church under sunny skies, generously warm for this time of year. As we entered the sanctuary it was quickly evident that we were having some special music, with all the trappings of a first class sound system. We had the privelege of being joined today by the DeLoach family singers to lead us in worship.

Pastor Brad greeted us warmly as always and after tipping his hand on the theme of his sermon we got updated on announcements.

1) Thursday October 28 we will be having our semi-annual meeting, with the title Navigate 2011, from 6-7:30. Meal included.
2) Tuesday evening is a building committee meeting at 6:00 p.m.
3) Norm stood and noted that this is Pastor Appreciation Month, and today is Pastor Appreciation Day. He served Brad with a hug on behalf of us all. Thank you Brad, for your vision and commitment for this community.
4) Steve Borndal was recognized for having achieved the rank of Eagle Scout. Congrats, Steve.

The DeLoach family then ushered us into worship.

After the offering, Len read today's Scripture reading from Luke 17:11-19, followed by a special time of prayer. Christina DeLoach then shared a song from her heart about God's amazing grace.

Growing in the Faith
Pastor Brad began by noting that there is a tendency of really smart people to let everyone know how smart they are. But the smartest and wisest of all was Jesus. What's amazing is that with all His brilliance and understanding, He never tried to impress people with it.

When it came to teaching, He chose to teach through a method that would instruct both the learned and the simple. His method was to use parables.

Our text this morning was from Matthew 13:1-23, the parable of the sower. Brad stated that he would love to see this become the theme of our church. It is a parable about growth. Growth is a sign of life, and is something miraculous. When you cease growing, you start to die.

In medical terms, there is a terrible condition called failure to thrive. It is uncertain what all the causes are, but children are meant to grow. Failing to grow is a strong indicator something is wrong.

Spiritually also, God wants us to not only grow, but to thrive, to flourish. Two signs of spiritual growth are that sin is less attractive and that we love more fully.

In His own time Jesus saw the countless ways people were held back, failing to thrive spiritually. For this reason he sat and told a story about seeds, a sower, and soil. Brad pointed out that the parable is not about the seed, because the seeds do not change, and the sower sows liberally, so it is not a matter of the sower either. Rather, the Lord's intent is to draw attention to the nature of the soil. Whether the seed takes root and thrives is totally dependent on the condition of the soil.

Soil Analysis

1) So, there are four types of soil in this parable. The first is the path. Paths consist of compacted soil, hardened soil. Jesus knows that people with hardened hearts will not be receptive, will have their defenses up. Hence the aim of the parable is to get past those defenses with thought provoking imagery that will awaken in them later.

Some are hardened due to hurts, others through cynicism. The plow needs to come and tear open a crack in the soil so that the seed will take root. It is painful, but there is something worse: failure to thrive, and a lifetime of bitterness.

2) The rocky soil is a terrain that looks okay on the surface but a few inches below there are rocks so that there's no place for the roots to go. Roots need to go deep.

Richard Foster has stated that superficiality is the plague of our nation. Is there depth in you?

3) Clutter is a the next type of situation the seed falls into. Cluttered lives choke the seed. The heart is soft toward God, Jesus says, but the thorns and weeds choke the seed. There may be depth, but the soul still fails to thrive.

Weed rarely go away on their own, Brad noted. Some of you need to do some weeding.

4) Where soil is soft and soil deep and uncluttered, look out. There will be fruitfulness beyond comprehension.

In turn, sow the seed. Be lavish. And let God do His miracle.

Sunday, October 3, 2010


Today's service began with Brad asking the question, "Are you an optimist or a pessimist?" His theme would be drawn from an insight he had while preparing this summer's messages on the life of David.

Announcements included:
1) The church leadership, in an effort to make the semi-annual meeting more interesting, has planned a dinner for Thursday, October 28 with the theme "Navigate 2011." The dinner/meeting will take place from 6:00 to 7:30 p.m.
2) Adventure Club and Youth Group will begin this week. Adventure Club will run from 5:30 to 7:00 p.m. and Youth Group from 6:00 to 8:00 p.m.
3) There will be a Women's Tea Saturday at noon, with a program by Sharry Widriff.
4) A special Eagle Scout Court of Honor will convene Saturday at 1:00 p.m. at St. Rafael's Church near the intersection of Highway 53 and Ugstad Road. Steven Borndal will be among those honored for this achievement.

Darlene ushered us into worship with a lively introit, then assisted Brad in leading our congregational singing. After the offering Scripture reading (II Tim. 1:1-14) and prayer, Peggy Carlson sang for us a wonderful rendition of Take My Life. Brad then spoke to us from his heart.

"I hold in my hand the proverbial glass..." Yes, it was the half full/half empty glass of which so much has been made. Optimists tend toward seeing the glass half full, pessimists see it as half empty.

Is there a Biblical basis for hope as we wrestle with the issues of this life? There are plenty of reasons for being pessimistic, so many conflicts and difficulties which lead us into a downward spiral of hopelessness and pessimism.

Brad then shared the phrase that leaped out at him from the life of David in II Samuel chapter 12. The circumstances were these. David had greatly failed God and his people, having killed a righteous man in order to have his wife. The prophet Nathan had come to David at great risk to himself and confronted the king with a word from God, that David's son would die. It was a grievous judgment, and when the son became ill David prayed earnestly that God would spare him. But the child died.

Here is the passage the immediately follows:
20 Then David got up from the ground. After he had washed, put on lotions and changed his clothes, he went into the house of the LORD and worshiped. Then he went to his own house, and at his request they served him food, and he ate.

21 His servants asked him, "Why are you acting this way? While the child was alive, you fasted and wept, but now that the child is dead, you get up and eat!"

22 He answered, "While the child was still alive, I fasted and wept. I thought, 'Who knows? The LORD may be gracious to me and let the child live.'

Brad's message today focused on this statement by David, "Who knows? The Lord may be gracious." What's striking here is that David had been told that the child was going to die. Yet, he travailed in prayer, and remained optimistic. "Who knows? Maybe the Lord will be gracious."

Where did this optimism come from? Brad traced it back to his time shepherding his father's sheep. The first instance of tested faith was when a bear threatened to devour some of the flock. David could have run, could have played it safe. But instead, he put himself between the bear and the sheep. Brad compared it to a toss of the coin.... perhaps David would be mauled or killed by the bear, but he had to trust God and do the right thing by his father's property. And God came through.

The second time was when a lion came to make off with the sheep. Again, David chose to trust God and in the process learned something. His optimism and faith brought him through, even when it seemed hopeless.

So it is that one day David was asked to bring food to his brothers who were fighting in the army. There he saw Goliath, the Philistine giant, trash talking the army of Israel, and their God. David had flipped the coin before and God came through. He once again would take that chance, do the right thing and meet this trash talking enemy. As he grabbed the last of the five smooth stones, his experiences with the bear and lion were not far from his mind. "Who knows? Maybe God will come through again?" And there it is, the mind of an optimist.

In verse 21 of chapter 12, when his son died, the very first thing David did was to worship. He had hoped for something miraculous, but accepted the judgment. He went into the house of the Lord, still an optimist, his optimism rooted in his God.

Brad shared that one reason for this message today is that he himself needs this. The troubles of this world conspire to bring us down. But who knows? Maybe God will show up today? Maybe today will be the day that something holding you back will be released. Maybe today a burden you have carried a very long time will be lifted.

At this we entered into Communion. Jesus said, "Remember Me."