Sunday, December 18, 2011

Joe the Carpenter

Today was the fourth Sunday of Advent. Brad greeted us and reminded us about the message Elsa gave last week about Mary. Today, Brad would be presenting the birth and life of Jesus from Joseph's point of view.

Announcements chiefly centered on the times for next weekend's Christmas services. Our Christmas Eve service will be at 4:00 p.m. next Saturday. Christmas day there will be no Sunday school and we worship here at 10:15 a.m.

We also sang Happy Birthday for Don Bodin who turned 89 today.

Darlene's rendition of The First Noel was heart-warming and a fitting intro to our time of worship and the singing of carols. After the offering and prayers, Elsa read from Matthew 1:18-25 and Ed Newman sang Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence. Pastor Brad then stepped forward wearing a carpenter's belt heavy laden with tools to deliver the message.

Joe the Carpenter

Actually, Brad didn't really preach this morning. He play-acted a role, the story of Joseph based on the Haddon Robinson's sermon titled The Neglected Joseph Davidson, which begins...

I think I had better introduce myself. My name is Joseph Davidson. Many of you already know me. I've been hanging around Christmas for a long time. But I suspect that you do not know me very well. Sometimes I feel a bit like the father of the bride in a wedding. Nobody notices him, but he has to pay for the whole affair. I know that you enjoy celebrating Christmas, but I want you to know Christmas cost me a great deal. Let me tell you a bit about myself.

Robinson's creative approach to telling the age-old story can be read in its entirety here. But to really enjoy the full impact, Brad's live "performance" is something not to be missed for the freshness and life he brings to it.

It's good to be reminded of the struggles, the doubts, the pain and confusion, the rough circumstances that were all part of the real story which sometimes gets overlooked in the comfortable surrounding of our modern world. The fresh approach is a tool to help us get through our preconceptions to the earthy realities we often miss. Joseph was real person. Mary, too. And God, creator of the universe, became a baby. When you see a nativity scene or a creche, remember, it really happened.

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Mary’s Song

On a brightly lit winter's morn we assembled again here at New Life Covenant Church in Saginaw. Brad greeted us with his usual "Good morning" and noted that it was the Third week of Advent
Announcements Today
1. This afternoon is our Christmas program at 4:00 p.m. followed by an International meal.
2. We've adopted a family through Salvation Army to help them enjoy a fuller Christmas. Those desiring to contribute, bring your things by Wednesday. Wrapped if possible, but not necessary.
3. To those baking Christmas cookies for St. Louis County Jail… let Ruth Anne know if you are baking cookies. We need them by Tuesday a.m.
4. Next Saturday there will be a family Christmas event… caroling for shut-ins followed by soup and sandwiches, then a bonfire.

After Darlene's introit Brad read to us from Isaiah 2:4 and lit the third Advent candle.

4 He will judge between the nations
and will settle disputes for many peoples.
They will beat their swords into plowshares
and their spears into pruning hooks.
Nation will not take up sword against nation,
nor will they train for war anymore.

Our praise and worship time consisted of singing hymns and carols selected by the congregation, always appreciated at this time of year. The offering was taken and then we read from Isaiah 64:1-4, 8-11

After a time of prayer Elsa Holmgren was introduced to deliver today's message.

Mary’s Song
Elsa began by sharing how she's spent a lot of time thinking about the story of Mary, stimulated in part by an article by Scot McKnight which appeared in Christianity Today:

There are two Marys. One wears a Carolina blue robe, exudes piety from a somber face, often holds her baby son in her arms, and barely makes eye contact with us. This is the familiar Blessed Virgin Mary, and she leads us to a Christmas celebration of quiet reflection.

Another Mary—the Blessed Valorous Mary—wears ordinary clothing and exudes hope from a confident face. This Mary utters poetry fit for a political rally, goes toe-to-toe with Herod the Great, musters her motherliness to reprimand her Messiah-son for dallying at the temple, follows her faith to ask him to address a flagging wine supply at a wedding, and then finds the feistiness to take her children to Capernaum to rescue Jesus from death threats. This Mary followed Jesus all the way to the Cross—not just as a mother, but as a disciple, even after his closest followers deserted him. She leads us to a Christmas marked by a yearning for justice and the courage to fight for it.

Elsa took the nativity figurine of Mary and was studying it this week, noting how the Mary's gaze was directed toward the Child Jesus. So, too, Mary's words draw our focus to Jesus in her first exclamations after learning about the Lord's purpose for her.

What kind of God would choose Mary of all people? She was the first to receive the amazing news of this coming king, visited by Gabriel. (Luke 2:26ff) It is a grand proclamation with sweeping cosmic news that came to a 14 year old girl who had no status in society… ethnically wrong group, poor, living amongst a people waiting for deliverance from a foreign power.

By the world’s standard, Mary may have been the smallest person in the world that God could find. In terms of social stature and importance she was, in the grand scheme of things, equivalent in significance as plankton in the ocean. From a poor family in the humble estate of nobody.

Upon hearing Gabriel's announcement that she would conceive and bear a child who is son of the Most High God who would ascend to the throne of David and rule forever, Mary ran to her cousin Elizabeth's house and exclaimed,

“My soul glorifies the Lord 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has been mindful of the humble state of his servant. From now on all generations will call me blessed, 49 for the Mighty One has done great things for me— holy is his name. 50 His mercy extends to those who fear him, from generation to generation. 51 He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. 52 He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble. 53 He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, remembering to be merciful 55 to Abraham and his descendants forever, just as he promised our ancestors.”

All this was laying the foundation for a key point that Elsa strove to make. That is, to understand what the Gospel is, it helps to recognize what kind of Gospel it is not.

In those days, there was the gospel of Rome. In Rome's "Gospel" the Emperor was "the power." A system of roads and governance brought a form of peace to the civilized world which was under Roman rule. But in the true gospel, the Good News was that the son of God was an actual savior who would bring true peace…

It is interesting how God chose the powerless to shame the powerful…. And Mary’s song reflects the subversive nature of the Gospel: “God is on the throne and will crush all the Caesars.” Implication: A new king has arrived.

The Gospel of Rome says we have to wear the right clothes, have the right things. The true Gospel says we are not slaves to the Gospel of Rome. Jesus transforms us into heirs to the Good News… the path to Christ’s kingdom is to give up on the Gospel of Rome.

Not only did God become a baby, but He became a baby of the lowest of the low in social stature. He was a man of no reputation… and Isaiah writes of him, "He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him." (Isa. 53:2) All this is in stark contrast to the Gospel of Rome, focused on success, power and a winning smile.

Elsa stressed the importance of rejecting the world's value systems. Only by the grace of God can we have the strength to reject the Gospel of Rome. "Repent of Rome and run back to Him. Our God is not tired of forgiving."

In closing she reiterated that we have a glad invitation to reject the Gospel of Rome and Rome’s rat race… to embrace the Gospel of freedom, meaning and life.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Consolation and Hope

During Advent there have been special services during the Sunday School hour. The turnout was strong downstairs preceding the service, and fun. Once we were assembled in the sanctuary, Brad greeted us with his traditional "Good morning!" and reminded us that it was the second week in Advent, the season of anticipation for the coming of light.

Two important announcements
If you are planning to make cookies for people in jail, we'll need your cookies by the 15th. Contact Ruth Anne for details.

Also, next Sunday will be out Christmas program with dinner, starting at 4:00 p.m. Children who are to be in the program should come to the church next Saturday morning to practice from 10 a.m. till noon.

Darlene helped us transition into worship with another nice introit. Brad and Elsa led us in three hymns after the lighting of the second Advent candle. The offering was followed by Leonard's reading of Isaiah 40:1-11. Then Brad took the pulpit and shared from the Scriptures.

Consolation and Hope

Pastor Brad began by reading to us from Hebrews 1:1-4.

1 In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, 2 but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom also he made the universe. 3 The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven. 4 So he became as much superior to the angels as the name he has inherited is superior to theirs.

"When people speak about something with extraordinary importance," he said, "they give us cues." For example, when a teachers says, "This will be on the final," the students takes notes. And when watching TV, when a flashing red bar goes across the bottom of the screen declaring, "Weather Alert" you know it is a message to pay attention to.

This passage underscores that the birth of Jesus into this world was something important. In the past, God spoke through prophets, but here now is a new thing. God speaks to us through his son. Not only is the son the radiance of God's glory, but He is "the exact representation of His being." Jesus is God's ultimate declaration to the world: "If you want to know what God is like, look at Jesus."

So what do we see when we look at Jesus. God's entrance into human history was not in a palace, rather it was in a stable, and the infant --God of very God -- was laid in a feeding trough for cattle.

There's much misunderstanding about Jesus, Brad said. But it doesn't have to be. We need to slow down, be still. God doesn't slam a gavel to get our attention. He speaks in a quiet way and we have to listen. Take time to be still and read your Bible. Study the Gospels, what Jesus says and does. Jesus, who was God in human form, lived among us.

Brad then asked us to imagine that God was in the room. He said to imagine the person next to us being God in bodily form. Then he asked us to imagine what must have gone through the minds of Mary and Joseph and those who knew who He was.

Why would God come to a family in a remote part of an obscure country who were an oppressed people? Why not come in a more glorious manner?

In an attempt to answer this question, Kierkegaard once shared a parable about a very great king who fell in love with a common woman who was not royalty. She was a peasant girl, dressed in rags. If he attempted to bring her to the palace to show all his wealth and power, she'd be scared and run away. So he thought and thought, and finally it occurred to him that if he left his throne, removed his crown and set aside his robes, he could approach her as a peasant and perhaps win her heart by declaring his love for her.

To some extent this is the story of Jesus, who thought about these ragged creatures whom he'd made. "How do I tell them that God loves them? How can I keep them from being overwhelmed?" And there was a way. The Bible puts it like this:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

God traded a palace for a hovel.

Who Jesus really was and is goes far beyond these stories alone. Isaiah writes,

6 For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

God speaks in quiet nudgings. And He speaks to us through His Word when we still ourselves.

Here we see Jesus is not just a wise person, but a Wonderful Counselor. A Prince of Peace... and an Everlasting Father who will always be there for us.

"We need to quiet ourselves and listen."

After the message we celebrated the Lord's Supper by singing and sharing "A Carol Setting for Holy Communion."

Sunday, November 27, 2011

The Old Familiar Story

A dusting of snow reminded us that we're moving into a new season here in the Northland, and with it is the commencing of Advent. Today is the first Sunday in Advent, which is a time of preparation for the coming of the Lord's birth. The actual word means "coming of light" and for Christians it is a time of celebration. But more important, Brad stressed, is that "we get Christmas right." He would amplify this sentiment in today's message.

Today's primary announcements:
1) Be sure to bring your soup cans filled with coins next week for Covenant World Relief.
2) There is a sign-up sheet in the back of the sanctuary regarding how you wish to help our adopted family for Christmas. Our church desires to make Christmas special for a needy family with five children.

After the offering was taken, there was a dedication ceremony for Aarilyn Marie MacGregor, always a special time in the life of our fellowship.

Today's Scripture reading was taken from Isaiah 64:1-9. Brad then called all the children forward to read them the Christmas Story as it is relayed to us in the Gospel of Luke. Prayer for the needs of the church family followed and then Pastor Brad began his message.

The Old Familiar Story

Brad began by asking if any of us have experienced "buyer's remorse." Nearly everyone was familiar with the concept, and he compared it to the feeling many of us feel the first week of January when someone asks, "How was your Christmas?" All too often we're frustrated because we expected too much or got too busy. Instead of having given to the poor or reaching out to friends or doing other things of value, we all too often feel like we missed the point of it all, again.

"What if we decide that this year we're going to covenant together to get it right?" he said.

Before presenting his points he noted that this message was just as much for himself as for us. Too often we can get caught up in Christmas parties and other activities, never really taking time to read and contemplate the Christmas story.

Brad shared with us these words from his favorite Christmas card:
If our greatest need had been information, God would have sent us an educator; If our greatest need had been technology, God would have sent us a scientist; If our greatest need had been money, God would have sent us an economist; If our greatest need had been pleasure, God would have sent us an entertainer; But our greatest need was forgiveness, so God sent us a Savior.

At the front of the church Brad had set out some items that would be familiar to most of us at this time of year. He wanted us to use these as object lessons for remembering some critical concepts or truths.

1) Nativity Scene
Pastor Brad shared a couple of the thoughts he's had when driving past a nativity scene in someone's yard. "Who's got the time to put that up?" he said... and "Where do they store all that stuff the rest of the year?"

Then he gave us a new thought to call to mind every time we see a nativity scene: THIS REALLY HAPPENED IN HUMAN HISTORY.

There was a time when God came into this world in human form, and amazing event that is the centerpiece of our faith. So when we see a Nativity creche, Brad encourages us to remember, "This really happened in human history, and it happened for me."

2) Christmas Music
Next, Brad showed us a Christmas CD. All too often Christmas music is nothing more than background noise for shopping or whatever else we're doing this time of year. We can choose to tune it out or allow it to affect us.

Brad suggested that we tether this music to the very first Christmas carol: "Glory to God in the highest. Peace on earth and good will towards men."

3) Christmas Cards
When we get a card it is nice to know we are on somebody's friendship list. But here's a verse that adds a dimension to this thought, John 15:5.

"I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master's business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you."

"We're on God's friendship list," Brad said. God is a flawless friend.

4) Credit Card
Brad showed us his credit card, which a lot of people use this time of year. He asked us not to write down his card numbers right after showing it. The thought he wanted to sink home was what we should do during those 20 seconds after our card is swiped at a store, while the card info is being processed when making a purchase.

We all know how they work. We use the card now, and pay the bill later. That's the part that hurts. This year, whenever we're using our credit or debit cards, Brad wants us to say, "My moral debt that came due one day & Jesus came and paid it... and it hurt Him."

5) Presents
Brad then showed us a wrapped gift, a present. Sometimes presents are hard to accept. But what good is unexpressed love? People who love give. Love motivates giving.

What I needed most in my life was forgiveness. And it came my way as a gift.

Jesus Christ is God's Christmas gift to you and to me. God saw this broken world and came to us as a gift. As we open gifts say, "What an unbelievable God we worship."

"My prayer," Brad said, "is that we would get this Christmas right."

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Becoming a Reflection of the Kingdom of God

Pastor Brad began the service by reminding us of the mission statement for New Life Covenant: Connect, Grow and Become. Connecting to Jesus Christ and to one another is a starting point, but God's design is for us to grow. Today's theme would be about becoming. Jesus talked repeatedly about the kingdom of God. It is not small matter. It is God's desire that we reflect the kingdom of God in this world.

Before entering into worship Brad shared that each year our congregation adopts a needy family to help make Christmas special for them. Next week there will be a sign-up sheet for ways you can help the family we have selected.

Thursday this week is Thanksgiving. This is a reminder that people who don't have a place to go and would like some friendly company on this holiday can join us at the church. Leonard will be cooking a special Thanksgiving dinner, to be served at 2:00 p.m. If you know someone who needs transportation, give us a call. The meal is free. Donations will help replenish the benevolence fund.

Last Wednesday evening was devoted to packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child. This morning the children brought these gift boxes to the front of the church, 68 in all.

After Darlene's introit, Brad and Darlene proceeded to lead us into worship, beginning with Lenny LeBlanc's beautiful song, Above All.

An offering, Scripture reading and prayer followed and then Brad presented the message.

Becoming a Reflection of the Kingdom of God

If we are to reflect who God is in this world, our community and how we connect really matters. Life is more than just meeting minimum requirements and treading water till we die.

What is the Gospel that Jesus preached? How would you respond?

After John was put in prison, Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The time has come,” he said. “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” ~Mark 1:14-15

Brad then read an overview of verses about this theme that so permeates the New Testament. THIS is the Good News, that we can live in the realm of God's power and reign.

The message of the Gospel is not about knowing the "correct answer" to get into heaven.

When Jesus said, "Repent" He wasn't just talking about changing your behavior, but was aiming at the idea that we must change our thinking. Jesus' Gospel is not only about the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life by grace, but it's so much more than that. Jesus lived a life designed to manifest the reality of the kingdom. He wasn't just putting in time until His death on the cross.

The change in thinking that is integral to kingdom living permeates every aspect of life. In Matthew 6 Jesus explains how far this goes.

25 “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or drink; or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not much more valuable than they? 27 Can any one of you by worrying add a single hour to your life?

28 “And why do you worry about clothes? See how the flowers of the field grow. They do not labor or spin. 29 Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 30 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’ 32 For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. 33 But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. 34 Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own.

Brad pointed out that in order to understand the kingdom of God we need to understand the meaning of kingdom. Essentially, it is the range of our control where our will has power or, in other words, our sphere of influence or rule. We may not sit on thrones or feel like we have a lot of power over the world, but the region where we do have power is the scope of our kingdom. It is you who decides what flowers to plant in your garden or where to build the hutch. Unfortunately, our kingdoms are junked up by sin.

There are bigger kingdoms than our personal ones. Families, towns, cities, nations are all a part of what is called the kingdom of earth.

The kingdom of God is wholly other. It is not geographic, but a realm where all that takes place meets with God's approval.

Jesus said that this kingdom, God's realm, is available to all who want it. In one place He stated that "whoever humbles himself like a child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. This statement is not fully understood until we realize that a child was essentially the lowest rung in society, a non-person in the larger scheme of things. The kingdom of God is for people who give up on their notion of status. It is a community where everyone is beautiful and sensitive to others' hurts and needs and loneliness. It is a community where there is no hurtful gossip, no anxiety, and joy reigns. All of this is overseen by the Father of Jesus, who Himself is the origin of self-giving love.

When Jesus taught us how to pray it included the phrase "Your kingdom come." In other words, that God's kingdom of love and service up there would be manifest down here.

In contrast to God's kingdom we see a broken world where 80 countries practice state-sponsored torture, 8 countries cut off hands and feet as punishment, and millions of children die of starvation.

Jesus said that the kingdom is not intended to just be "up there" but also manifest down here, is intended to invade this earth, and it is through us, the church, through our community of faith that God aims to achieve this, reflecting the kingdom of God here in our time. Let's be this and do this.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Good Soil

Pastor Shannon often begins the service with some kind of anecdote or story that ties in to the message, but with hunting season underway Brad went a different direction and shared an amusing story that took place earlier today. There was a deer outside the Shannon home and Brad grabbed his rifle. Details included Brooke doing the SWAT Team hand gestures to give him directions once outside, but there was nothing to shoot by the time he was equipped and ready. "When I hunt, the deer have never been safer," he said.

Brad swerved to a more serious topic, the importance of connection, especially as it related to connecting people to the Good News of the kingdom and to purposeful living for God.

Conversion is not the same thing as growth. You make a decision to follow Christ, but you do not automatically morph into change or maturity. While it is true that only God can give growth, it is our job to remove the barriers to growth. This is part of what today's message would deal with.

The primary announcements this week include the following:
1) Wednesday night at 6:00 p.m. we will be assembling shoe boxes for Operation Christmas Child.
2) Elsa announced that Saturday night at 6:00 p.m. will be a movie night... all kids invited.

Chuck, Ken and Darlene led worship this a.m. with some traditional Gaither songs beginning with "It Took a Miracle." After several worship choruses. an offering was taken followed by a time of prayer.

Good Soil

Brad began with an Albert Einstein anecdote, following it with the point that Jesus was undoubtedly the smartest man that ever live. Yet, he did not spend any of his energy letting people know how smart He was.

His teaching style was to tell stories. Parables.

This parable, found in Matthew 13, as well as in Mark and Luke, is about a sower who went out sowing seed. It's a simple story, but designed to get deep into your hearts. Here's the passage from Matthew:

1 That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat by the lake. 2 Such large crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat in it, while all the people stood on the shore. 3 Then he told them many things in parables, saying: “A farmer went out to sow his seed. 4 As he was scattering the seed, some fell along the path, and the birds came and ate it up. 5 Some fell on rocky places, where it did not have much soil. It sprang up quickly, because the soil was shallow. 6 But when the sun came up, the plants were scorched, and they withered because they had no root. 7 Other seed fell among thorns, which grew up and choked the plants. 8 Still other seed fell on good soil, where it produced a crop—a hundred, sixty or thirty times what was sown. 9 Whoever has ears, let them hear.”

There is something amazing about growth. Parents love watching their kids grow, from their first steps to so many new thresholds. Growth is a sign of health, of life. When we stop growing, we start dying.

Brad talked about a condition known as Failure To Thrive (FTT). Thriving and growth are normal processes in life. So, too, in spiritual life. Growth is normal and expected. God wants us to thrive.

Ways we recognize spiritual growth are many. Sin becomes less attractive to us. Sharing our faith becomes easier. Speaking truthfully is increases in importance.

In the passage we see that Jesus sat down to teach. This was, and is to this day, a common way for rabbis to teach.

There are three elements in this story: the seed, the sower and the soil. Notice how the seed and the sower are constants. The seed is the same in all four situations, and the sower is lavish in his distribution of the seed. The sower, like God, is extravagant in sharing grace. The lesson is in the soil, the one variable in this parable.

Brad said it was time for each of us to do soil analysis.

The Hard Soil
A footpath is packed down and hard. Many of us have a heart that is hardened. Often it is because we have been hurt. There is a protective barrier around the heart to shield against additional pain. Bitterness, too, can lead to a hardened heart.

"Some of you have a hard spot in your heart," Brad said. We need to ask God, "Will you make my heart tender?"

Cynicism, or lack of gratitude may be the cause of the hard soil. This is soil that needs to be softened somehow, or plowed. It may take tears of repentance to soften the soil. There is a pain that is worse than the plow however. It is the sterility that comes from a hardened heart.

The Shallow Soil
In order for seed to thrive, the soil needs to be both soft and deep. In much of Israel there was bedrock below the surface. Roots can't go down into that kind of land.

Richard Foster wrote that superficiality is the curse of our age. Our lives are lived on the surface and we do not invest time to go deeper in our relationship with God or with others. People all too often bail out when things get hard. Roots require time. Relationship with God requires time, unhurried time.

The Cluttered Soil
Jesus said the third kind of soil is covered with thorns, thorns that crowd out the good seed.

Clutter is dangerous, and a deadly enemy to growth. When the "cares of this world" clutter our minds, we need to do some weeding. The clutter can take many forms. Workaholics are crushed by one form of clutter. Becoming financially burdened can also clutter our lives with a low-grade anxiety that is distracting. Failure to weed out the thorns will lead to a failure to thrive.

Unfathomable Fruitfulness
Jesus says the seed sown on the good soil produces astounding fruitfulness, 100-fold, 60-fold or 30-fold.

But in a twist on the parable, Brad notes that we ourselves are not only the soil in the parable, we are to be seed sowers as well. In this regard we are to continue sowing and not lose heart.

In Mark 4:26 Jesus said, “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground..."

God gives the growth, but our responsibility is to keep sowing. Good seed can find its way into the smallest of cracks.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

All Saints Sunday

On the piano there were photos of loved ones who have passed that people brought today as we reflect on those who have gone before us who have influenced our lives in positive ways. These remembrances were used as a challenge to be that kind of person to others.

Brad talked about a vehicle he has in which the battery is always going flat. This story was an illustration of there being two kinds of people, those who fill us and those who drain us.

Events and Announcements
November 16: Operation Christmas Child. A larger than usual dinner will be served at church including desserts. Afterwards we will pack shoeboxes for Operation Christmas Child, an annual project of Samaritan's Purse.

Soup covers and labels were passed out to be placed on our counters for collecting loose change. The money raised by this ministry of our denomination goes to help meet many needs around the world including famine relief, digging wells and redevelopment of poor areas.

November 19 is a women's brunch at the Swamp Sisters. Join us at 10:30 a.m. for lefse and other homemade delights, or come a little earlier to take part in making the food.

A free Thanksgiving dinner will again be served at church for anyone in the community who would like to join us.

Congratulations to Shaun & Kim Frye who had a baby girl this week.

The Message

The Bible often tells us to encourage one another. Barnabas' name meant Son of Encouragement. This friend of Paul's was from Cypress, which meant that not being from Israel he would not have been able to help in the temple. He was excluded, yet he didn't stand apart and remain uninvolved. The Bible says he sold his land and gave it to the Apostles. He gave generously to a larger need.

Think of the people in your life who have helped you sacrificially in some ways. That's what we're called to be. When we give we tap into God's resources and into God's joy. If you are stingy you lose your joy.

No one trusted Saul, who became Paul, because he had persecuted the early believers. It says that they sent Barnabas to see him. Barnabas didn't let the past that people knew about Paul dictate what sort of person he would become. Instead, he became an advocate for him to the others, telling of his conversion. (Acts 9:26)

The message of the Gospel was now going beyond the Jews for the first time. Previously it had only been amongst the Jews. When the message went to the Greeks there was much drama and much change. Again, in this time of upheaval the people sent Barnabas who sees potential in people and gives encouragement. (Acts 11:19)

In the Bible when names are listed it is important to note whose name is listed first. Up until Acts 13 it is said "Barnabas and Saul" because Barnabas was considered more important. In Acts 14 it now says Paul and Barnabas.

Barnabas is the kind of person who is all about giving the other person a second chance, and giving the other person power. At a previous time John Mark had deserted them and Barnabas does not want to desert him. He wants to bring John Mark along and give him a second chance. We believe John Mark to be the author of the Gospel of Mark.

There is a great cloud of witnesses, people who have not deserted you, who have encouraged you. What will people say about you at your funeral? Who have you encouraged?

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Right Motivation

On a dreary late autumn Sunday morning Pastor Brad warmly welcomed us, as is his custom. Today he would be presenting the fourth and last message in this current series on his theme "living for the sake of the call." What is the motivation that keeps us in the game?

Darlene transitioned us into worship with a beautiful introit. The Scripture reading after worship and an offering was Matthew 22:34-46. Brad led us in a time of prayer and then began his message.

The Right Motivation

Why is it that the life expectancy for women is so much longer than for men? Brad told a few amusing stories about risky things he's observed men do and got a laugh by answering with the statement, "Because men are dumber."

After the anticipated laugh we moved into the real question he wanted to ponder. Why do some servants in the family of God have a longer service life than others? Some become intensely motivated very quickly but in a year their passion for service has cooled significantly. Why do some remain faithful over time and others lose their drive?

The key is being motivated by the right fuel, God's mercy.

Brad shared a story to illustrate how love is a strong motivation than doing the right thing "because dad told me to." When we're kids that may work for a while, but not for a lifetime. Only one motivation is sufficient for the full distance of a lifetime: the Cross.

Paul sets this out in Romans 12:1 where he notes that in light of what God has done for us, our only sensible and appropriate response is to consecrate our lives to God.

Hebrews 13:16 contains another secret of the enduring life of service. "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." Doing nice things that other people do not expect, this pleases God. People who are in it for the long haul do it for God's approval. If you do things in the hopes of being stroked in return there will be two ways you can lose. First, if people are indifferent you'll be disappointed. The other response is equally troublesome, when we use our gifts to get attention and become addicted to the praise.

Are we serving for the applause of others? Do you serve to meet a need or to get some kind of praise in return? The smile of God should be our only aim. Use your gifts without the need to draw attention to yourself.

At this point we have learned that the fuel for a long life of service is the right motivation, and living for an audience of One.

In Matthew 19:27-29 Jesus addresses another matter relating to our motivations.

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

Peter's question has undoubtedly been voice by many of us in one form or another as we've sought to follow Jesus. Why have we sacrificed so much? Jesus affirms that whatever sacrifices we've made, it will be worth it in the end. Knowing this and believing it are a strong support through the hard times.

Brad told a story about playing basketball without a hoop. It can be fun, but it's not long before you know that you really do need a goal. And the more inviting the goal, the more we're willing to sacrifice to get there.

Who applause are you serving for?

There are many martyrs in the New Testament, and millions more throughout church history.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

This morning Pastor Brad's greeting included a reminder that he has been doing a series on living for the sake of the call. Today, we would be looking at the story of the Good Samaritan, something he believes to be a worthy study at least once a year.

Announcements included next Saturday's Hunter's Expo in Poplar. The event runs from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There will be a carpool, so contact Brad or the church if you are planning to attend.

The kindergarten and first graders came up and recited I John 4:7 in a creative way. "Beloved, let us love one another for love is of God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God."

The quartet opened worship with the great hymn, "He Hideth My Soul," inviting the congregation to join on the chorus. This was followed by a time of worship, the Scripture reading by Ally (Luke 10:25-37) and a time of prayer.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

Brad snuck into the side room first, then Darlene began playing "It's a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood," the theme from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. What got us all in chuckles was the way Brad started off by taking a seat and talking like Mr. Rogers. It was an entertaining intro, even if Brad neglected to wear the red sweater which Mr. Rogers made part of his daily regimen on the show.

Brad began by asking us about the neighborhoods we grew up in. He even had us tell our pew neighbors about our neighborhoods. Most of us remember not only the people next door, but the whole neighborhood. We knew our neighbors because we played together, ate together, did things together. But Brad said when he got saved, Jesus expanded his understanding of the meaning of neighbors. Today's story of the Good Samaritan was instrumental in this.

The passage begins in Luke 10:25.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

In some translations "expert in law" is translated lawyer, but what it really means is not a lawyer like Perry Mason or today's courtroom lawyers. Rather, he is an expert in the religious laws as laid out in the Pentateuch. It's noteworthy here that his aim was to test Jesus, not listen to Him. So he asks the pointed question.

Jesus flips it back at him. “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

The lawyer recites the "correct" answer. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” At this Jesus assents, but adds, "Do this and you will live."

The lawyer didn't let it go here, though. Wanting to justify himself he asks still another question. "Who is my neighbor?" And Jesus, being the Master teacher He was, with His piercing eyes of holiness could see directly into this man's heart and knew exactly where that question was coming from.

Instead of a direct answer Jesus tells a story.

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

We're so familiar with this story that we don't hear it sometimes. The man going down from from Jerusalem to Jericho was traveling a dangerous road. That robbers would jump him and leave him half dead was no surprise to the hearers of this tale because this kind of thing happened along that way. That a priest would go by and walk on the other side of the road was probably not a surprise. He was probably returning from a cleansing ceremony in Jerusalem. He was under holy orders to stay "clean." The Levite, too, was famously a keeper of the law. He could not afford to be involved.

The crowd knew there would be a third person coming along. Maybe a common blue collar guy like them. They were eager to see this man be the hero of the story, but instead Jesus has that third man be a Samaritan. Samaritans were half-breeds and hated by the Jews. It was not the right hero for this story.

But it was the Samaritan who did the right thing. He took pity on the man, probably tore his shirt into strips in order to bandage his wounds. He put the injured man on his donkey and walked till they reached an inn whereupon he paid two months ahead for a room for the man, offering to cover any additional expenses not covered.

When Jesus asks, "Which of these three were neighbor to the man?" the lawyer again knows the right answer, as do all of the hearers of this story. It was the one who had mercy. And we're instructed to go and do likewise.

Brad put it to us this way. We need to engage our neighbors. We need to listen to them, not preach at them. In a profound way he stated that as we listen to our neighbors' stories, we should do so with an ear to hear where God is already at work in their circumstances, to see where God is intersecting with their lives. In this manner we can meet people at their point of need.

Living out the Gospel is a lifestyle, not a "church program." It's about relationships. It's about broadening our view of who our neighbors are.

"Go and do likewise."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

You're A Priest

Overheard before the service: "My wife's here. Now I can start church."

Pastor Brad welcomed us even more warmly than the unseasonably warm weather we've had this week. Our topic today would be the second of four messages based on Steven Curtis Chapman's song, "My Turn Now." Brad shared last week how this song changed his life and this week began the service by playing it for us. Based on what Jesus has done, it's "my turn now to give my life away."

Today Brad's message would be an elaboration of this main point. There are two kinds of churches. In one kind of church the pastor is the professional who does ministry. In the second kind of church, we're all priests, all called to exercise our gifts.

Announcements included mention that Wednesday night family nights have begun and everyone is invited. Second, there will be a Hunter's Expo for men at Mission Covenant Church in Poplar on October 22 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Chuck led us in worship after which an offering was taken. The Scripture reading was from I Corinthians 12:12-31. This was followed by a time of prayer in which we were again reminded of the many needs around us. Brad then began his message.

You're A Priest

Brad began by underscoring that this was an urgent message. It's time to stop being a spectator and to get out of the stands.

There are two kinds of people at a ballgame, the players and the spectators. Spectators watch. Their gifts don't matter. Their proper role is to watch and enjoy the game. The Chicago Cubs fan who interfered with a fly ball a few years back was ostracized for his behavior. He was not a hero.

But imagine if things changed and next spring one of the fans decides he wants to get in the game and instead of sitting back as a spectator he jumps the rail and heads out onto the field, and the other fans follow so that we have 3o,ooo people on the field saying, "We want to be players."

God does not want a church made of clergy and spectators. This is not God's plan, Brad said as he directed us to Exodus 18. This is the passage where Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, points out that Moses alone cannot carry out all the responsibilities he is grappling with. Moses selects others to whom he can delegate some of the responsibilities of leadership.

At this point Brad commenced to ask us five important questions.

1) Do I perceive myself as a minister of Christ?
The structure in Egypt under Pharaoh was simple. There was Pharaoh and then there was everyone else. When Moses led Israel out of Egypt he followed the same pattern, until his father-in-law stepped in.

After the resurrection Peter, by inspiration, understood the new pattern for the church. We are, he writes in I Peter 2:4, a kingdom of priests. We are all, each of us, called to be a channel of God's grace to the world, not spectators.

2) Have you gotten in the game?
Have you actively stepped out of the stands to minister? God's will is for everyone to get out of the stands and to get in the game.

3) Am I growing in ministry?
God has gifted each of us in different ways. We have a responsibility to unwrap our gives.

At this point Brad told a story about Bob Nadine who as a child saw his own home go up in flames. It was Christmas and as he stood outside the house and watched flames licking the tree, he also saw the presents underneath and sprang into action, rushing in to the house to grab as many presents as he could. Perhaps the point for us is that we all have gifts and should not just let them go to waste.

4) Am I helping others grow in ministry?
Are we encouraging and affirming others who step out?

In Numbers 11, two men began prophesying and a young man ran to Moses to exclaim with concern, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” 29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

Indeed... Would that all God's people were prophets. Instead of criticizing them, Moses wished that he would like more like that.

5) Have you eliminated every ounce of pride in your life?
Numbers 12:3 states as an aside that Moses was the most humble man on earth. What's interesting is that the original word for minister in the Bible is also translated servant in other places. Spectators who want to become players are not those seeking the limelight, but those willing to serve. This is something we are all called to do and be.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

For the Sake of the Call

Another very special service today. The sermon dealt with a text that Brad said was instrumental in his life. After greeting us he asked, "What does it mean to live for the sake of the call?"

Announcements today included:
1) Wednesday night is Family Night here at New Life. Everyone is invited for a meal at 6:00 with activities for all ages afterward. Sharing a meal and time together is a valuable way to build community.
2) Elsa Holmgren will be coming to help our church for a month. She is looking forward to being with us and seeking out her path to service while serving our community.
3) Cheryl Borndal asked us to all sign up for various roles in church ministry, from reading Scripture to special music to ushering and in other ways. The sign up sheets are in the narthex.

Brad read from John 13 to set the stage for the message. After a time of prayer he began his sermon.

For the Sake of the Call

We're at a time in history where this topic is so needed and so necessary. Tsunamis, AIDS, terrorism, war, poverty, racism, oppression... so much is going on in our world. It's a perfect time to spend four weeks trying to figure out what it means to live the Christian life with reckless abandon.

Brad pulled out a deck of cards and set them on the pulpit, noting that there are many Christians who would be uncomfortable showing a deck of cards in church because they are often used for games of chance. There are homes where parents or grandparents would discourage even touching a deck of cards. What they were afraid of is that playing card games might lead their children to the allurement of gambling.

The appeal of gambling is that one day you might get lucky and, if you pulled the right slot machine or picked the right numbers, you would hit the jackpot and never have to work again.

Despite the odds against it (you are 121 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning) we have all heard stories of big jackpot winners, and know that such things can and do happen. This is what keeps the gambling industry alive. People want a payoff without perspiration.

But there's another reality about those jackpot winners. After the three years the odds are very high that those same winners will be less happy. In the wake of winnings we see jealousy, divorce, mistrust, broken relationships and more. Hence Jesus warned, "Beware of the deceitfulness of riches."

John 13 is the story of the last supper Jesus had with His disciples. The evening meal was in progress. But something was amiss. Normally, at meals like this there will be a servant hired to wash the feet of the those who entered. Roads were dusty. Someone should have been there with the towel and basin of water, but no one was taking on that role this day. Who would step up and wash the feet when the official foot washer doesn't?

Jesus then took the towel, knelt and began washing feet.

As He washed the disciples' feet, He noted that they did not understand what He was doing for them. "Do you know what I've done for you?" He was setting for them an example, and summed up with, "Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them."

Three points were drawn from this.

1) Jesus calls every one of His followers to a life of towel-bearing.
Holding a door open matters. We're to be ready to serve at all times. Christians today are too often known for what they are against. What the church ought to be famous for is its selflessness in service.

2) Jesus, by His example, is essentially saying, "If it isn't beneath Me, it's certainly not beneath you."

3) You will be blessed if you do this, if you bear the towel on a daily basis.
Do you really believe that if you put others' needs ahead of your own that you will be blessed?

Brad contrasted the person wearing the towel with the one pursuing the American Dream. In Ecclesiastes 2 we find Solomon sharing what he learned about the pursuit of pleasure. He had it all, houses, gardens, vineyards, silver, gold, servants, a harem, singers, riches beyond compare. He writes, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired." But in the end learned through the experience that it was all meaningless vanity.

Each of us has a choice: pursue the American Dream or the towel. Will you live for yourself or for those beyond yourself. Choose your road... There is a payoff when the pursuit of your heart is Jesus.

The service was consummated with the celebration of the Lord's Supper.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reflecting On Your Biblical Story

After a hearty "Good morning" Brad thanked all the people who helped make the Harvest Fest such a successful event again two weeks ago. Announcements included mention that Family Nights will begin in October. Meals together and groups for all ages will help build and strengthen our church family. Volunteers are still needed for certain tasks.

Brad also expressed gratitude for our community of faith as everyone has been so generous in the aftermath of the Shannon's loss of their home. Needless to say they have no intention of spending all their money and time in a hotel and hope to find a mobile home they can move to their property before winter.

The worship began with our quartet singing "Somebody Touched Me." After another song and a time of corporate worship the offering was taken. Leonard read Daniel 1 to set up today's message.

Reflecting On Your Biblical Story

Each of us has a story. The book of Daniel is about Daniel's resiliency in difficult times. The first chapter is the focus of today's message and Brad aimed to bring home three main points.

1) Daniel did not expect to be in Babylon.
In many respects Daniel growing up was a golden boy with a future in leadership. He came from a family with high social status, was strikingly handsome, intelligent and had great prospects.

Unfortunately, after years of decline, Israel was not a nation with great prospects. While Daniel was still a young man the Babylonian armies ransacked Jerusalem, destroyed God's temple and made captives of its people. This was a painful experience as Daniel lost his culture, lost his relationship and even lost his name. Life did not turn out the way he had planned.

There's a world of heartbreak in the first two sentences of this chapter. What do you do when you find yourself in Babylon. How do you respond when life goes different than you had planned? What do you do? How did God let this happen?

2) Resolve and resiliency.
There was a study of people who experience great suffering to determine why some are defeated by it and others seems to thrive and grow through the experience. The key ingredient in the latter group is their resiliency.

In the study there were three characteristics common to those who were resilient. The first we see here exhibited by Daniel. Inside there is a deep resolve to honor their deepest values. We see this in verse 8... which leads to taking intiative, not resignation. Daniel determined his path, to honor God. This gave him courage to take a stand and not be just a helpless pawn in his life circumstances.

"What resolve do you need to make?" Brad asked. "What got you into your Babylon?" God is calling you to be like Daniel. Too many people spend their time making excuses. "If only I had more time." Or, "If only I had a better church."

Brad then stated emphatically, "This is your one and only life and it is short."

A second characteristic of resiliency in hardship is their commitment to community. Spiritually resilient people are committed to living in community. They don't go it alone. Connectedness is not only important, it is vital.

Daniel had three friends, Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego, who went through this experience with him.

Dr. Julius Segal, in his book Winning Life's Toughest Battles, details some of the ways in which James Stockdale's fellow POWs communicated to him and one another in an effort to keep his spirits alive. In the midst of horrorific torments, the men encouraged him with the snapping of towels, and an assortment of sounds to communicate to him in code. Men risked their lives to keep community alive, and here where relationships are easy to come by we fail to value them.

Do you have a community? If not, make it a priority. What a difference it has made for Brooke and I. People need to hear the code that they matter.

3) Suffering and meaning.
For spiritually resilient people, their suffering gives them meaning. It's not the intensity of the suffering but the meaningless of it that causes people to give up.

Daniel discovered God's hand was at work in his circumstances. God was not sleeping. And so with us, God is present and at work.

Resolve to be faithful. Trust God that He is at work in your situation.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

He Must Increase and We Must Decrease

Today was a significant service one several levels. It was the official kickoff of our fall schedule so that our services will return to their standard 10:15 a.m. starting time. And second, the Shannons preached the most powerful sermon in their lives by the manner in which they responded to the total loss of their home by fire 16 hours previous.

The service began with a greeting, and then remarks about the experience of losing one's home by fire. He noted that there seems to be a fraternity of people who have similarly lost their homes and that there were many emotions associated with the experience. Ultimately Brad stated that he felt a deep sense of gratitude for his family and our church family. Their loss was simply a loss of stuff, and at worst its a terrible inconvenience, but nothing like a death in the family. The Shannons were grateful for the outpouring of concern and the willingness of so many to help.

Announcements included the following. (1) There is still a need for assistants on Wednesday night, which is now to be a family night that will include meals for all in addition to the children's programs and youth group. (2) There will be some adult small groups this fall and we are in need of facilitators who will help lead. (3) There is also a sign up sheet for nursery, and the more who help will ease the burden for those who are already signed up.

We transitioned into the service by singing together "Worthy of Worship."

Gwen Cressman and Chuck Vandercheuren then re-enacted the parable of the sower for us. Actually Gwen read the parable as Chuck planted seeds in the various soils represented at the front of the sanctuary. Gwen shared again the GROW acronym (God's Word, Relationship with God and each other, Obedience, and Worship) and shared flowers with all the young people. When they come up to receive their flowers, Brad prayed for the children of the church.

We took an offering, prayed for the many needs we share, and then Brad took the pulpit.

He Must Increase & We Must Decrease

We've just finished a series of messages here at New Life on the theme that God is greater than. We learned that God is greater than our failures, greater than our hurts, greater than our disappointments and our confusion. That's what he is and that's why we worship him.

In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for greatness carries the notion of towering. In other words when it says God is great, it's saying that God towers over everything including anything else that tries to control your life.

Brad illustrated just how much God towers over everything by citing the story of Moses, who asked God what he was to say to pharaoh to make him listen. God said, "Tell him 'I am' sent you." The eternal, never tired, totally self-sufficient 'I am' who towers over all is the God we worship and serve.

They say that human knowledge is now doubling every two years, yet this is a fragment of what God knows and He already knows what's next to be known in our small realm of knowledge.

When I recognize that I am "less than," then I can begin to understand how truly great He is.

Today's sermon focused on a story from the book of Daniel, chapter 4, the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and how he learned about how great God was. The conclusion of the matter is found in verse 37 where the kind declares, "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble."

This verse carries the nut of it... Pride is a dangerous weapon of mass destruction. But those who walk in pride, God is able to humble.

Someone once stated that Ego was an acronym for Edging God Out.

Scripture has plenty to say about God and pride. Brad noted several verses to illustrate including Psalm 18:27, "You rescue the humble but humiliate the proud," and Proverbs 29:23, "A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor." James 4:6 states directly, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

So why does God make such a big deal about pride? Brad said, "Because our world doesn't."

God detests pride, opposes the proud, and the story of Nebuchadnezzar reveals how God removes a man's blinders and bring him low. Nebuchadnezzar, like all who are caught up in this condition, could not see himself as he was.

The Babylon Nebuchadnezzar built was a remarkable feat in the ancient world. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon have been labelled one of the seven wonders of the world. The city itself was an achievement with 56 miles of walls, but the hanging gardens that he created for his wife exceeded everything. He took great pride in all this splendor.

Then one day the kind had a dream which greatly disturbed him. First he called his court magicians and enchanters to explain the meaning of the dream, but they failed, and so he called upon Daniel, who now bore the name of Belteshazzar. Daniel himself was troubled by the king's dream, and the king could tell that Daniel did not want to say what it meant. He cared about this man and did not wish to hurt him. But to the king's credit he requested that Daniel be straight with him. "I need you to tell the truth about me." And so Daniel explained the meaning of the dream.

Brad here inserted that pride comes with tunnel vision, and each of us sometimes needs a Daniel to speak truth to us.

In this case, the dream was about a great tree that was cut down. Daniel had to say, "You are that tree. You will be living in the wilderness eating grass like an animal until you acknowledge God, the most high."

Nebuchadnezzar is not unlike the modern self-made man and serves as a symbol as such. Pride creates a dangerous illusion of self-sufficiency. Did Nebuchadnezzar realize he had a problem? No. This is one of the dangers of pride.

Do you ever forget that your abilities are a gift of God? Do you always have to be right? Do you always have to make people feel that you're in control?

Brad asked another hard question. How do you handle interruptions? Do you get irritated when things interfere with your schedule. Getting irritated over interruptions is a pretty good indication that we have an overweening sense of our own importance.

According to Bonhoffer, interruptions are a part of Christian service. In Christian community active helpfulness is a principal characteristic, and this often comes in the form of unplanned interruptions, often in trifling and small matters but important. Jesus' entire minitstry could almost be considered a series of interruptions as he went on his way to speak to a crowd and was grabbed at, or requested to attend to a Centurion's servant. Even on the cross in the midst of His suffering he was interrupted by a man who pleaded, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." That's what life really is... a ministry of interruptions.

Back to our story... Nebuchadnezzar asks Daniel to be straight with him, and Daniel replies, "You need to renounce your sins and start doing what is right." But nothing changes in Nebuchadnezzar's life and it's still twelve months later before his judgment arrives, revealing the patience of God, giving the king time to choose.

But no, one evening as he stands upon his roof and looks over his kingdom he says to himself, "Isn't this great what I have done? At that very moment, God brings down His judgment.

God is opposed to pride, is against any pride in your life, not out of meanness but out of love. Selfish pride is incompatible with selfless love. For this reason, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.

Brad cited Larry Giglio who said, "If God is the great I am, then I am not." He then compared us to to the goods in an outlet mall, slightly irregular, nothing perfect. We ought to be wearing nametags that say, "I am not." The smaller I make myself, the bigger God gets.

Brad ended the sermon with these important words. When you hit your knees tonight, acknowledge your complete dependence on a greater God. Find a Daniel who can point ou your blind spots. Be interrupted so you can love and serve like we were made to do. It's true God opposes the proud but He gives grace and peace to the humble. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.

Below: the remains of a home where many precious memories were created.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Get Connected to God's Hope

Today was our Fall Fest, an outdoor service at Twig Town Hall and much more. The church family took in a lot of sun, and amidst all the bungee ramping, face painting, finger painting, music and games, there were a fair share of serious moments as we remembered 9/11, veterans, and the reason for our Christian hope.

The service itself was to some extent traditional despite its non-traditional setting. We began with our quartet singing followed by a time of worship. An offering was taken. We shared a time of prayer and a moment of silence for the victims and families of 9/11. And then Brad took the "pulpit" to give his message.

Get Connected to God's Hope

Brad began with a pair of humorous quotes from Bill Cosby and Homer Simpson. Then proceeded to note that he would be speaking to us from the Beattitudes. There are so many great passages in what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. But today he wanted to talk about parties.

Parties are an interesting part of our culture. Two questions always come to mind when we think of parties. (1) Who's invited? (2) What's it going to be like?

The party Brad wished to discuss with us here had to do with heaven. In Jesus' day it was the scribes and pharisees, the spiritual elite, who were the gatekeepers who declared who was welcome at God's party.

But then, this fellow Jesus came along, doing miracles and bringing hope to people who'd pretty much given up hope. Crowds came from all around wherever He went. To each and all He had a message about the Good News of the Kingdom. He said the Kingdom was not far off, but here and now.

On one occasion thousands had gathered and He gave a sermon which can be found in our Bibles today in Matthew 5-7. The first lines of this message talked about what the meaning of happiness is. The blessedness Jesus speaks of is not dependent on circumstances, like a good pie or television show. It is a happiness in spite of circumstances.

Blessed are the poor in spirit... these are the ones who are eligible for heaven, a complete contrast with what the pharisees were saying. The Pharisees set a high bar and you had to be worthy or walk away. Jesus said all you had to do was admit you were a zero. It's hard to admit we are so unworthy that we are a zero, but this also opens all the doors to everyone and anyone.

Jesus looked out at the crowd and probably saw someone weeping, and the next thing He said was, "Blessed are you who mourn... you will be comforted."

Then, radically, He said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Not the hard chargers, but the ones who have been trampled on.

Blessed are the merciful... these are the ones who will receive mercy.

The kingdom of God is nothing like what people thought. And everyone is invited, even you. The invitation has nothing to do with a report card that you have to get A's on. This party, God's party, is not based on jumping through impossible hoops or on how many tassels you wear.

Brad re-stated the great truth that earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal, and invited all of us to the living hope that is deep and abiding.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Next Generation

With an even more informal greeting than usual, Brad cheerfully welcomed us to worship. He noted that our theme today would be drawn from Psalm 71 which was written by an elderly King David looking back on the lessons he'd learned over the course of his long life.

Announcements included a reminder of next week's Harvest Fest. There will be donuts waiting for us at 9:00 a.m., and at 9:30 we'll be playing the family game Minute-To-Win-It. In addition to our worship service there will be a catered lunch, pie tasting, face painting and much more.

Brad always noted that Wednesday nights will now become family nights here at the church. The goal will be to develop community. There is a need for volunteers to help in various leadership roles.

Today's Scripture reading: Matthew 18:15-20

After worship and a time of prayer Brad preached a message titled....

The Next Generation

Pastor Shannon began with an anecdote about a Covenant pastor who shared with Brad his experience in sub-Sahara Africa. One of his lingering memories was the time he spent on a small front step of a mud brick home in Zambia with an HIV AIDS-infected mother of six children. Two of these were just infants. Her first husband had died and she re-married a man who infected her with AIDS. Two of these children were by this second husband.

The pastor asked the woman if she had had the children tested for the disease, and he saw the look of fear in her eyes. The fear that her children could be part of the next wave of AIDS death on the continent was almost too much to bear.

As he left that encounter he was unable to speak for literally an hour. He could not get her situation out of his mind, and when he was asked later how it went out there he could barely enunciate the three words that came to mind... "It wrecked me." And he couldn't say another word. The leader of the compound said to him, "Let it wreck you. Don't ever forget this moment. Don't ever let it stop wrecking you."

Brad bared his heart at how the brokenness of this world is painfully evident to all of us, and sometimes it really wrecks us. Our response is sometimes like Habukkuk, who asked, "Why are You silent, God? What's Your strategy?"

Today's sermon, as noted at the opening of the service, was extracted from Psalm 71. And in verse 4 of this Psalm of David we see that the world he lived in was broken as well.

4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.

David used words like wicked, evil and cruel because his world was also painfully broken. This is a man who has seen a lot of life, now at the edge of life's sunset, hair grey, body not what it used to be.

{Blog Editor: At this point I must interject that the sermon today was rich with humour interjections about aging and other things in that inimitable manner that only Pastor Brad can deliver.}

In verses 5 and 6 David asserts how he has relied on God for a lifetime, which he reiterates in verse 17. He uses these affirmations to strengthen his plea, "Do not cast me away."

The message went on to explore the relationship between the generations. In Leviticus 19 there is a command to the young to stand up and show respect for the aged. But Brad reminded those of us in the camp of the aged that we have a responsibility to live worthy of that respect.

The book of Job points out that wisdom resides among the aged. "Does not long life bring understanding?" the writer asks. there is much we can learn from those who have walked further along the road of life than ourselves. Look to your elders for wisdom.

Brad noted that despite the worlds brokenness and his own frailties upon aging, David uses the word "hope" twice in this Psalm. In verse 5 he writes, "For you have been my hope, Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth." And again later affirms the same. David is not a bitter old man. He is optimistic about the future.

What is the source of this optimism? Vs. 18 gives a clue. David is looking forward to influencing the next generation that will come after him. He is looking forward to what God will do through this coming generation.

David knew that God had done great things in his own lifetime, and even by his own hand. But his days were numbered. He saw the future in the hands of the young who were coming. God's greatest work in confusing times is through the young people. Young people teach us to put teeth to our faith.

Brad's message to our young people: We need you to help us shape our future. Brad's message to the older ones among us: We have a responsibility to unleash the next generation.

Young people today hunger to have older persons breathe into them, to mentor them.

The service ended with Brad having everyone who has been a follower of Jesus for more than 30 years to stand to be honored.

After the service we participated on the breaking of bread, celebrating communion.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Under Authority

The Shannons took a welcome vacation this past week, so Leonard Armstrong served as our stand in for the sermon. Brad himself was back to lead the service and welcomed us warmly. "This is the day the Lord has made, let us rejoice and be glad in it."

1. The Harvest Festival is coming quickly, September 11. It is an important piece of our yearly calendar, letting the community know that God's love is free. Volunteers are still needed for various tasks. And be sure to invite your friends.
2. Volunteers for the nursery and for Sunday school can sign up on the sheets in the back or the sanctuary. Thank you to all who are able to contribute their time in this manner.

After a time of worship and the offering, Brad read to us from Matthew 16:21-28. The many needs in our congregation were lifted up in prayer. Leonard then took the podium to give the message.

Under Authority

Leonard began by thanking us for letting him speak in the church he was carried into, which gave us a chuckle. On a more serious note he followed this with the observation that while Christian faith is an individual matter, it is something we live out together.

The springboard passage for today's message was Luke 7:1-10, the story about the faith of the centurion.

Leonard began by explaining the concept of "conversational bias" which is essentially our tendency to not understand what we are hearing or reading because of the psychological grid through which we perceive and interpret things. Sometimes this colors the way we read the Scriptures.

In this passage a centurion whose valued servant was ill and about to die sent some Jewish elders to Jesus to heal the man. Jesus headed over to the centurion's house, but while still on the way some friends of the centurion came out to relay a message to Jesus. He said that he wasn't worthy to have Jesus come to his house, but knowing that Jesus like himself was under authority, Jesus could just say the word and his servant would be healed.

Jesus was amazed at this centurion's understanding of faith. It is one of two places where Jesus was amazed, the other being an incident in which He was amazed at a lack of faith.

Centurions were part of the Roman legion, and not popular in Israel. He would have been the equivalent of a company commander in our own military, with a hundred men under him. He, being under Roman authority knew how authority worked and that Jesus was under authority.

What does authority mean? To answer this Leonard directed us to Ephesians 5:22ff, where Paul writes about the relationship between husbands and wives.

The passage is controversial, but is also used outside the manner intended. Recently Michele Bachmann was asked in an interview if she would submit to her husband while president because the Bible says to do so here. Leonard noted that a similar red herring was raised when John F. Kennedy ran for president. Would his allegiance be to America or the Pope?

We were reminded to keep the context in mind. In the Roman world it really was a man's world. Women had no rights. To a remarkable extent this passage demands that husbands love their wives. She is important. And the notion that wives respect their husbands follows. Interestingly, this difference between the genders is relevant to this day. Women want to feel loved, men want to feel respected.

The notion of submission to authority did not apply strictly to this marriage relationship, it was part of something much larger. The crusty old centurion understood this. Jesus was here under authority. And had he been acquainted with it later, he would have understood what Paul wrote in Philippians 2 about Jesus...

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; 7 rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross!

Leonard, who himself spent 25 years in the military in one capacity or another, understood the nature of authority, as did that centurion whose faith so amazed Jesus. Jesus was a man under authority, and we ourselves need to be under His authority.

The sermon was seasoned with many anecdotes not conveyed here, but gave a good flavor to the "meal."