Sunday, January 30, 2011

Eye Exam

"There's no better way to start our week than to spend time with God who loves us." So began another service here at New Life Covenant Church in Saginaw, MN.

Announcements today included:

1) The Valentine's Banquet is coming soon, Feb. 12 here at the church. This celebration of romantic love includes a free dinner ($10 donation per person welcome) and an evening of entertainment. The social hour begins at 5:30 upstairs. The very special meal will be followed by a talent show, as well as a coffee and dessert bar.
2) Paula Sexton invited everyone to go see a theater production of Agatha Christy's "And Then There Were None" at St. Scholastica on evening of February 19th or afternoon of the 20th. Let Paula know your preferred time and a group will be assembled.

The Quartet led our worship today after which Paula Gayle shared with us about a program she is part of called Mentor Duluth. Paula shared stories of friendships and the influence adult mentors are having on young lives, many of which develop into long term relationships. It is a form of building community. Paula noted the need for more mentors for boys. Anyone interested in more information can speak with Susie Newman who has been active as a mentor for several years.

The offering was taken, then Angela read the first twelve verses of the Sermon on the Mount found in Matthew 5:1-12. This was followed by a time of prayer as we lifted up the many needs in our midst. Pastor Brad then proceeded with his sermon.

Eye Exam

Pastor Brad began with some hilarious examples of similes used by college students. Here are a couple that had us in stitches.

John and Mary had never met. They were like two hummingbirds who had also never met.

Her hair glistened in the rain like a nose hair after a sneeze.

I missed the point of all this, but we all had a good laugh.

The Sermon on the Mount could have been given a different title, Brad noted. He would possibly have called it "What Lies Beneath" because it touches on many themes but always goes deeper, goes underneath to the heart of the matter. Matthew 6:19-21

19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. 21 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also."

In another place Jesus said to guard our hearts above all else, and that the eye was the lamp unto the body. When our eyes are good, we're focused on God, and sunshine fills our souls. But when we have an eye toward the world, our hearts deceive us and lead us astray.

The media is a very powerful influence and sometimes uses that power to get us to focus our attention on what we don't have, or what they tell us we "deserve" to have. We've all heard of urban myths. Here are some Suburban Myths we can fall prey to.

Myth 1: "When I have more stuff, like them, I'll be happy."
Myth 2: "When I have more stuff, like them, I'll be more important."
Myth 3: "When I have more stuff, like them, I'll be more secure."

Brad briefly discussed the havoc envy can cause. It will darken our souls and is the antithesis of kindness. He said it is like an "evil eye" and he defined it like this... "Envy is resenting God's goodness in other peoples' lives while ignoring God's blessing in yours."

In Psalm 73 David owned up to his struggle with envy.

2 But as for me, my feet had almost slipped;
I had nearly lost my foothold.
3 For I envied the arrogant
when I saw the prosperity of the wicked.
4 They have no struggles;
their bodies are healthy and strong.
5 They are free from common human burdens;
they are not plagued by human ills.
6 Therefore pride is their necklace;
they clothe themselves with violence.
7 From their callous hearts comes iniquity;
their evil imaginations have no limits.
8 They scoff, and speak with malice;
with arrogance they threaten oppression.
9 Their mouths lay claim to heaven,
and their tongues take possession of the earth.
10 Therefore their people turn to them
and drink up waters in abundance.[c]
11 They say, “How would God know?
Does the Most High know anything?”
12 This is what the wicked are like—
always free of care, they go on amassing wealth.
13 Surely in vain I have kept my heart pure
and have washed my hands in innocence.

21 When my heart was grieved
and my spirit embittered,
22 I was senseless and ignorant;
I was a brute beast before you.

EdNote: For a refreshing read, check out Psalm 73 in The Message, Eugene Peterson's modern interpretation of the Scriptures.

"Unchecked envy will destroy you." Brad cited several passages to support this statement including Proverbs 14:30 "A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones." And James wrote, "For where you have envy and selfish ambition, there you find disorder and every evil practice."

Brad also reminded us that it was because of envy that the religious leaders of Jesus' day handed Him over to the authorities to be crucified. Let's not fool ourselves. Envy can cause great damage.

And so, we return to the Eye Exam. Here are four tips for maintaining healthy eyes.

1) Put stuff in its proper place.
It's not wrong to possess things, but it is wrong for things to possess us. Most of it is just junk anyways and you can't take it with you. Billionaire Ross Perot acknowledged that "things don't buy happiness."

2) Refuse to play the comparison game.
Comparing is always going to cause problems. If you compare to someone above you, you feel inferior. If you compare with someone below, it only feeds your pride, which is also unhealthy. Our identity is found in being children of God, not in how many possessions we accumulate or what neighborhood we can afford to live in.

3) Become the most generous person you know.

4) You cannot serve two masters. It's either God or money.

Jesus alone is worthy of worship. Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face, and the things of earth with grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Resolution #4: The Me Monsters

Brrrr, it's been cold this week. Fortunately most of us got out cars started so we could gather again this morning for another special service. With a booming "Good morning!" Brad opened the service and our attentions went to the front for the opening commentary and announcements. This was to be the fourth message about things that can steal our joy in the new year.

Announcements included these two important ones:
1) The Covenant Park Annual Meeting will be tomorrow evening, January 24th at Gethsemane Covenant Church, 6:30 p.m.
2) The Valentine's Banquet will be February 12 and we'd really like to see everyone there, so the price for one of Chef Leonard's spectacular meals is free, with a Free Will Offering according to ability. Basically, we don't want anyone to miss the dinner because of the cost of babysitters. After the meal there will be entertainment... an open mic with singing, poetry, and whatever other talents our church family chooses to put on display. Dinner begins at 5:30 and everyone is invited.

Darlene ushered us into worship with another beautiful introit. After several choruses the offering was taken followed by the reading of Scripture by Cheryl Borndal. (Matt. 4:12-23)

The Me Monsters

Brad opened with a story about the days when pagers were the rage. One one occasion so many people had pagers that he went a took the garage door opener out of his car and snapped it onto his belt to look like he was also wearing a pager.

The theme today was about the great lengths to which people go to create an image of success. If you want to see an exceptional degree of posturing, check out a tenth anniversary high school reunion. Some folks actually rent nice cars to establish the appearance of success.

The need to look good begins early in life. In too many families school and sports are all about performance and there is that constant expectation to excel. Consider these lyrics from the song Perfect by Alanis Morrisette:

Sometimes is never quite enough
If you're flawless, then you'll win my love
Don't forget to win first place
Don't forget to keep that smile on your face
Be a good boy
Try a little harder...
To make us happy
We'll love you just the way you are if you're perfect.

Brad asked the question, "What makes us compete so hard?" Many believe it's our inordinate need for affirmation. We have a huge need for acceptance. Certainly this is what drives many workaholics. Success and achievement are important because "I can't stand feeling like a nobody." This drives many to do "whatever it takes" to be recognized.

In truth, our significance comes not by human achievement, but through Jesus Christ. Our lives are a performance, for an audience of one. When we grasp this truth our lives begin to make sense.

In our American culture image is everything. That "image" shapes who we are.

In Luke's gospel we have an account of a rich young ruler who looked like the epitome of success, but came to Jesus because he sensed something was missing in his life. He asks, "What must I do to be saved?"

Jesus replied, [paraphrase] "You're keeping the rules, right? But there is one thing you lack... surrender. You're bowing before the wrong image. God doesn't have your heart."

Once we know God better, have a deeper intimacy with God, we will have better intimacy with our spouses, kids and friends.

Brad directed us again to a favorite passage, Paul's prayer in Ephesians 3. "And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God." (Eph. 3:17-19)

"I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts as you trust in Him," Brad said. Once we understand this we can each say, "I'm somebody, because I'm God's child."

Brad then shared this recent insight he'd gained from John's gospel. In John 21:20 we read, "Peter turned and saw that the disciple whom Jesus loved was following them." John was talking about himself. He didn't say anything about his importance, just that he was someone Jesus loved. This was his identity, and that is also our own identity. Every other identity is but a mirage, an illusion.

Scripture affirms, "Draw near to God and He will draw near to you."

Success is not measured by things we accumulate or the prestige of a corner office or a home in the right neighborhood. Success is nothing more than allowing the love of God to flow through you, wherever you are. The fruit of the Spirit abounding in us, that is success.

Brad closed his sermon with a passage from Max Lucado's devotional When God Whispers Your Name.

For the next twelve hours I will be exposed to the day’s demands. It is now that I must make a choice. Because of Calvary, I’m free to choose. And so I choose.

I choose love . . .
No occasion justifies hatred; no injustice warrants bitterness. I choose love. Today I will love God and what God loves.

I choose joy . . .
I will invite my God to be the God of circumstance. I will refuse the temptation to be cynical . . . the tool of the lazy thinker. I will refuse to see people as anything less than human beings, created by God. I will refuse to see any problem as anything less than an opportunity to see God.
I choose peace . . .
I will live forgiven. I will forgive so that I may live.

I choose patience . . .
I will overlook the inconveniences of the world. Instead of cursing the one who takes my place, I’ll invite him to do so. Rather than complain that the wait is too long, I will thank God for a moment to pray. Instead of clinching my fist at new assignments, I will face them with joy and courage.

I choose kindness . . .
I will be kind to the poor, for they are alone. Kind to the rich, for they are afraid. And kind to the unkind, for such is how God has treated me.

I choose goodness . . .
I will go without a dollar before I take a dishonest one. I will be overlooked before I will boast. I will confess before I will accuse. I choose goodness.

I choose faithfulness . . .
Today I will keep my promises. My debtors will not regret their trust. My associates will not question my word. My wife will not question my love. And my children will never fear that their father will not come home.

I choose gentleness . . .
Nothing is won by force. I choose to be gentle. If I raise my voice may it be only in praise. If I clench my fist, may it be only in prayer. If I make a demand, may it be only of myself.

I choose self-control . . .
I am a spiritual being. After this body is dead, my spirit will soar. I refuse to let what will rot, rule the eternal. I choose self-control. I will be drunk only by joy. I will be impassioned only by my faith. I will be influenced only by God. I will be taught only by Christ. I choose self-control.
Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. To these I commit my day. If I succeed, I will give thanks. If I fail, I will seek his grace. And then, when this day is done, I will place my head on my pillow and rest.

Copyright (Thomas Nelson, 1994) Max Lucado

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Resolution #3 -- Jenny Craig vs. Jesus

On a cold winter morning, sun brightly glistening on the fresh snow, Pastor Brad welcomed us warmly and said that today he was going to talk to us about the mirror. What do we see when we look in the mirror? But first...

1) Next week the adult Sunday School class on finances will commence. This is a six week course and Brad asked that everyone planning to attend make a commitment for the duration.
2) The Valentine's Banquet is scheduled for Saturday February 12. Leonard will again prepare a gourmet delight. Live entertainment will follow.

The quartet opened the service with a wonderful rendition of "Keep Me In Your Will." This was followed by several songs from the silver song book and then the offering.

Scripture reading: I Corinthians 1:1-9

Resolution #3 -- Jenny Craig vs. Jesus

What do you see when you wake up in the morning? Someone beautiful? Someone handsome?

Today Pastor Brad addressed a third issue that is stealing our joy. We live in a culture that is obsessed with external appearance. There is great pressure exerted on us to conform to society's notions of beauty and value.

In his usual engaging manner Brad told stories that made us laugh but also made a point. The culture we live in repeatedly tells us our value is directly proportional to our external beauty or physical perfection, a message directly at odds with God's perspective of value. The harder we try to follow the messages of our culture, the further we get from hearing God's message: "I love you as you are."

Brad then presented four principles which he called Victorious Secrets, in direct opposition to the messages of our culture.

1) Know What God Says
Henri Nouwen once said, "Even though you may not be chosen by the world you are chosen by God. Every time you listen to His voice you will discover within yourself a desire to hear that voice longer and more deeply... it's like discovering a well within the desert."

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

What we need to do is run all of our internal messages through the Truth Grid of Philippians 3:8. "Summing it all up, friends, I'd say you'll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse."

God has been intimately involved with us from conception. As David states in Psalm 139:13-14... "Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother's womb.
I thank you, High God—you're breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something."

2) See What God Sees
Beauty, from God's perspective, is an inside-out thing. God looks at the heart.

Who among us has not encountered a person who was outwardly beautiful but when you got to know them even a little they were ugly inside.

Some people note that Esther in the Old Testament received praise for her beauty. Brad pointed out that her physical beauty was mentioned but once, and that the next ten verses highlighted her courage, a real value in that challenging time, because it revealed her character.

While our culture implores us to wear the hip brands, God reminds us that there is better attire to wear. "Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity."

3) Love What God Loves
Audrey Hepburn once offered beauty advice. “For beautiful eyes, look for the good in others; for beautiful lips, speak only words of kindness; and for poise, walk with the knowledge that you are never alone.”

God loves people. When we love others, we forget about ourselves in a way that is quite liberating. There is so much self-loathing in our culture because even though we are supposed to wear smiling faces, we hate ourselves for not "measuring up." God loves you.

4) Reflect Who God Is
In I Corinthians 6:19-20 we're reminded that our bodies are a temple of the Holy Spirit and that we were bought with a high price... It is our privilege and responsibility to reflect God's image and reveal His heart. As Paul states it, we are God's love letter to the world.

As the moon reflects the sun, so we are to reflect the Son. The only time the moon goes dark is when the world gets in the way.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

Resolution #2 -- Right Relationship

Brad intended to bring a prop with him this morning, but it's one we are all familiar with. He'd planned to bring that children's toy for toddlers that has different holes of different shapes. The loose pieces each fit neatly into one of the holes, and the square peg does not fit into the round hole. The application would be plain in today's message about relationships.

1) There were new Secret Sister forms in the back of the sanctuary today. Secret Sisters of 2010 will be revealed as a luncheon this coming Saturday and new selections for 2011 will be made.
2) Adventure Club begins again this Wednesday.
3) The Third Annual Valentine's Banquet will be Saturday, February 12. More details to come, but mark it on your calendars now.
4) Sunday School is starting again. The adult classes will be as follows. Leonard will teach on the Book of Acts. Brad will lead a six week class on finances.

After a time of worship, a reading from Acts 10:34-43 and prayers Brad took the pulpit to deliver the message.

Resolution #2 -- Right Relationship

The message began with the story of Solomon, a man who had everything, had the opportunity to try everything and still ended up empty. No matter what or how he tried, and he did it all, he was unable to fill the hole in his heart.

As with Solomon, deep within each of us is a God-shaped hole that nothing can fill but God. God alone is the right shape.

Citing Proverbs 19:22 Brad noted that what each of us desires above all else is unfailing love. Romance books, Hollywood films and love songs all promise this. But until God fills the hole with Himself, everything else will come short and disappoint us.

Each of us has a deep longing for acceptance. We have a need to be needed, and all too desperately seek meaning through others. But people eventually hurt us, break promises, betray us or let us down in painful ways.

The result, when disappointment comes, is often bitterness. "This bitterness will eat you up," he said. When we allow bitterness into our hearts, we are the ones whom are hurt, and the many consequences are spelled out in Scripture. Bitterness results in spiritual blindness, damage to our prayer life, toxic relationships, and even destroys our health. It becomes a prison and even changes who we are.

For this reason, we must learn to forgive. Forgiveness is not necessarily forgetting. It is a letting go of resentment and giving up the right for vengeance.

The goal of forgiveness is freedom in Christ. Forgiveness is a choice.

In Colossians Paul lays it out for us. The Lord forgave you, you must forgive others.

Ultimately, you will not, cannot, have right relationships with others till the hole is filled in your own heart. This hole is filled by God's unfailing love alone. There are as many as forty passages in the Bible about God's unfailing love, Brad stated, citing the following:
Psalm 32:10
Psalm 33:5
Psalm 36:7
Psalm 130:7
Psalm 17:7-8
and Isaiah 50:4
God is referred to as a Father to the fatherless. His love for us is not only beyond measure but beyond comprehension. For this reason Paul makes it his prayer that we apprehend fully how deep and wide and high and vast it is.

The word Paul uses here, "apprehend" has as its root the word "rust" which eats right through metal. The idea being that the knowledge of God's love for us would so penetrate into our understanding that it eats right through to our deepest parts of our soul.

There is nothing more secure and significant that knowing who we are in Christ, that we are children of God.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

It's A New Day

With a bright sun and the first Sunday of the year upon is, it seems appropriate that today's message would be titled, "It's A New Day." Brad welcomed us by noting that sometimes we can get stuck in ruts, but that if that's the case with any of us, it's good to know that 2011 can be different. For the next few weeks Brad's sermons would be focused on things that steal our joy.

The quartet did us good by singing a couple of favorites in their usual good form, Heaven On My Mind and The Lighthouse. They led us in worship as well with several songs from the silver songbook.

Paula read to us from the Gospel of John 1:1-18, which includes so many great statements including, "And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us. We have seen His glory..."

After a time of prayer Pastor Brad delivered the message.

It's A New Day

Brad began by citing a few memories from his school days. This soon led to the schoolyard practice of giving people nicknames, some of them being quite hurtful.

The point was soon made that we do not want the past to be what defines us. Many of us have painful memories of failure and mistakes made. Adultery, abortion, addictions, porn, a DUI, perhaps even jail time. "Your past can hack away at your soul like nothing else," he said.

Children have a good understanding of guilt. One seven year old said this: "Guilt is a pot inside you that burns when you're not good." Pretty insightful, and actually a good things when guilt leads to confession, repentance and restoration. But unresolved guilt is destructive.

In Psalm 51, King David declares that he's well aware of how bad he's been. David had not only committed adultery, but arranged the death of Bathsheba's husband in an attempt to cover it up. Secret sin is at odds with inner peace.

Modern psychology has observed that there is a direct connection between guilt and physical maladies. Not that all sickness is due to sin, but that sin does produce guilt which often manifests itself in sickness as one's energies become diverted from productive enterprises and end up devoted to cover ups. Proverbs 28:13 says it well. "He who conceals his sin does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy."

Brad shared an acronym for guilt.

Guilt is actually good because it leads us toward restoration when we heed it's painful reminders. On the other hand, unresolved guilt morphs into its sinister, ugly cousin: Shame. The difference between the two is this... we feel guilty for things we do, and shame for what we are.

Shame is a dangerous enemy. Grace is shame's energy.

When we feel guilt it's time to get honest with God. But it's also important to know the power of getting honest with each other. I John 1:7 states, "If we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His son, purifies us from every sin."

The next couple weeks we will be discussing Ephesians 3:17-18
" that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ..."

Other Scriptures Brad noted before entering Communion included:
Isaiah 43:25
Isaiah 44:22
Micah 7:19
Psalm 103:12
Hebrews 10:17
Roman 8:1

"My mercies are new every morning." God be praised.