Sunday, May 29, 2011

Control Yourself

"Good morning!" Pastor Brad welcomed us with his usual warmth, then proceeded to note that this was the last of a series of messages addressing the fruit of the Spirit as found in Galatians 5:22-23. Today's message would be on self control.

1. Breakfast Roundtables are scheduled to begin next Sunday morning at 8:30 a.m.
2. Next week also the grads and youth will be acknowledged.
3. Brooke shared that VBS is but two weeks away. There will be a meeting for all the volunteers next Sunday at the Town Hall at 11:00 a.m. There are still a few needs, including volunteers to help with clean up and a few meals.

There was also a recognition of all who helped with Sunday school this past year.

Darlene played "Holy, Holy, Holy" to transition us into worship, which was led by Brad this morning. Leonard read from the Scriptures after the offering was taken, his passage today being John 14:23-29. After a time of prayer Brad entered into the message.

Control Yourself

Brad began the sermon with the story of a man who began drinking at 16, joined the army when his grades were dropping in school. Got kicked out of the army and spent ten years at home promising he would quit drinking, never holding down a job for long then being out of the home but continuing to show up at all family gatherings drunk and disruptive.

It's a painful story repeated all too often in many homes, leaving many parents, spouses and children with broken hearts and much sorrow. People with behaviors they can't control.

Brad pointed out that alcohol is not the only addiction that disrupts lives. Many people have problems with spending and addictive shopping, others with gambling, still others with eating, or pornography, anger issues. He also pointed out that the tongue itself can do enormous damage.

Paul himself acknowledges that he was not free from his own struggles. (Romans 7:14ff) It's an exasperating behavior pattern. Paul ends his lament by asking "Is there a power that can free us from this cycle?" Yes, there is, thanks be to God... by God's grace.

Pastor Brad proceeded to lay out three steps for getting back our lives.

1) Admit we are powerless and that our lives are out of control.

Too many people embrace denial on this matter. "Hey, I'm fine. I can stop any time I want."

Sometimes, unfortunately, the only antidote to denial and continued addiction is pain. Pain is God's megaphone to get our attention. A humiliating arrest, divorce, and other painful experiences can show us that we have hit an emotional, physical or psychological bottom.

In one of the Psalms King David lamented, "My dishonesty made me miserable and filled all my days with trouble."

Our need is to stop lying to ourselves. "God, I am absolutely powerless over my sin." Remember, powerless is not hopelessness. With God in the equation, there is always hope.

2) Surrender control of your life to the power greater than you.

Have you reached the point where you admit you can't do it on your own? Surrender control of your life to the power greater than you.

It's humbling to recognize one's powerlessness but this is the position where we learn how powerful God is. "If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed."

The fruit of the spirit, including self control, is produced through a relationship with Jesus Christ. Surrender control of your life to God. Addictions destroy families.

Brad pointed out some additional practical facets of living a disciplined Christian life. First, after getting saved by God's power we need to remember that living the life requires God's power, too. Many Christians flip back into their former way of trying to live the life by sheer will power. In Galatians 3 Paul addresses this very issue.

"Let me put this question to you: How did your new life begin? Was it by working your heads off to please God? Or was it by responding to God's Message to you? Are you going to continue this craziness? For only crazy people would think they could complete by their own efforts what was begun by God. If you weren't smart enough or strong enough to begin it, how do you suppose you could perfect it?" (The Message, Gal. 3:2-3)

3) Find a healthy environment/support network.

Life is hard and we are not supposed to go it alone. We all "need someone to lean on" as the song goes. God comforts us in our troubles so that we can comfort others.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Gentle "Giants"

Pastor Brad began by noting that he wasn't prepared to give a message this morning because he thought the world was ending yesterday. The congregation laughed as this was a fairly widespread story in the news this past week with a certain group predicting the rapture would occur on the 21st of May at 6:00 p.m.

The key thought for today's message was that gentleness is not an absence of power. Jesus was very powerful, but he is also gentle in His dealings with us.

Numerous announcements preceded the commencement of worship.
1) Summer hours begin next Sunday, Memorial Day weekend. Worship services will begin at 9:15.
2) There will again be a series of Breakfast Roundtable meetings beginning in June.
3) Dwayne Anderson thanked us for our support of the greenhouse business over the years. They were having a plant sale this weekend and the sales of all unsold inventory this afternoon would be donated to the building fund.
4) Bob Nading will help get your clunkers sold to raise money for the building fund. If you have an idle car that needs to be discarded, see Bob. (Only vehicles that are still operational, please.)

Brad gave a special thanks to all who helped with Bob Allen's funeral yesterday after which we all stood for a minute of silent tribute.

The quartet led worship today and the team was on their A-game beginning with that Gospel favorite "Heaven On My Mind." After the offering, today's Scripture reading was from Acts 7:55-60. We prayed together, then Brad delivered the sermon.

Gentle "Giants"

The past two months have been focused on the fruit of the Spirit as outlined in Galatians 5:22. Some people might wonder how gentleness made the list, but Brad pointed out that it is deceptively powerful.

We were asked to picture an automobile dashboard with gauges on it. One of these gauges can be called the "Gentleness" gauge which measures our Gentleness Quotient. "Where do you register on this gauge? Do you have an edge on your attitude?" Brad asked. Are you inconsiderate? Biting?

At the other end of the spectrum is true gentleness, a person who is truly considerate. Where do you measure up? Are you known as a gentle person?

After asking us to internally put a notch on where we see ourselves, he then asked us why our "x" is where it's at. How did it happen that you turned out this way? Often it may be due to a harsh father or mother with an anger issue. You may have become tougher simply as a protective stance, a matter of survival.

Brad acknowledged that he tended to be a bit hyper, but that it's nice to be in a room with gentle people.

Citing Ronald Reagan as an example (no matter what you politics), it is said that even though he was one of the most powerful people in the world he was a gentle person when you were with him.

Lest we take too much credit, sometimes our gentleness is simply the result of temperament. But no matter where we begin, God's aim is to move us into greater gentleness. As it is written in Phil. 4:5, "Let your gentleness be evident to all."

Brad gave us three pieces of instruction to help us on this path.

1) It always starts in the heart.
If you try to be gentle by sheer will power, saying a few kind words and "act" gently, it won't be long before you revert to who you were before you began this exercise. God's way is to cause something to shift within us, to change our inner person.

Elijah was an Old Testament prophet who needed an attitude shift once. God had performed many miracles through Elijah, but he got into a grumbling frame of mind as if he were the only one really serving God the way God was supposed to be. God called him to a mountain in order to deal with Elijah's heart by showing His power. First, a mighty wind tore at the mountain, shattering rocks, but God was not in the wind. Then an earthquake shook the mountain, which was then followed by a great fire. God was neither in the earthquake nor the fire.

Then God spoke in a whisper. Some versions say. "a still, small voice." God's gentle whisper broke Elijah's heart.

2) Watch your words.
Words are how we damage one another. A harsh word can cut deep. There's a Proverb that states, "A gentle answer turns away wrath." Words can polarize and cause pain, or they can comfort and soothe. Brad pointed out that it is not only the content of what we say but also the tone that is important. If you use incendiary terms with each other, if you raise the volume level or take on a superiority quality in your voice, that works against gentleness and destroys the gentle dynamics that can lead to conversation, reconciliation and healing.

3) Don't underestimate the power of appropriate, loving touch.
Sometimes it's just a hand on the shoulder. This gentle affirmation can speak volumes, far more than words.

The service closed with a hymn, and sunshine.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Step Out In Faithfulness

Like the bright sun streaming into the sanctuary, Pastor Brad greeted us warmly again today. "We worship a God who is faithful. He's never made a promise He hasn't kept," Brad said in his introductory remarks. Then he made this point. "It's not just about believing in God, but believing God." Our sermon today would elaborate.

Announcements included the baby shower that was to follow our service this morning. And also a plug for VBS, which is approaching quickly. Brooke noted that if you wish to help you can register online or fill out a paper form in the back of the sanctuary indicating the ways you would like to help volunteer. The theme this year is PandaMania. A planning meeting has been scheduled for Wednesday from 6:00-7:00 p.m.

Darlene played a variation of Come Thou Fount as an introit, and then we sang the great hymn together to begin our worship time.

Today's Scripture reading was from Acts 2:42-47, followed by a time of prayer.

Step Out In Faithfulness

Brad opened by stating that "to live in faithfulness is the only way to live." He followed by noting that this is really contrary to the direction our culture has been going. Unfaithfulness is one of the things we most dislike in others and it is a disease running rampant in our society.

Faithful means firm, steady, rock solid. In the New Testament the word used is pistis, which is a synonym for reality. It's the real deal. It conveys a sense of sureness, steadfastness, honest and safe. Faithfulness is rooted in the believability of God.

In the sermon Brad elaborated on several aspects of faithfulness. He first indicated that faithfulness means persisting even when you don't feel like it.

Athletes understand this, as do musicians. Practice and persistence are the hallmarks of success in both of these fields. Runners and swimmers know that when they hit the wall, they have to keep going. Musicians put in their hours of practice whether they feel like it or not. It's the price of being a world class performer.

In contrast, the motto in our culture seems to be, "If it feels good, do it. If it doesn't, don't."

All too often we want everything now, and we want it to come easy. God, however, wants us to be in it for the long haul. We're to live by commitments, not emotions.

Brad then confessed that he has chosen not to live by feelings, because sometimes he just doesn't feel like being friendly. Sometimes he feels like being a grump. Sometimes he doesn't feel like putting his wife's needs first, or being attentive to his kids' needs. Or reading his Bible and talking to God. "But you know what I'm discovering? When I don't feel like it is usually the time I need to do those things most. And when I do those things, even when I don't feel like it, God does something inside me."

Godly men and women don't become that way by accident. They have made choices, choosing daily to cooperate with the Holy Spirit to do those things and develop good habits, whether they feel like it or not.

Successful people do the things that other people skip over because they just don't feel like it.

Another facet of faithfulness is keeping one's word. Numbers 23:19 states, "God is not a man that He should lie, nor a human being that He should change His mind."

David wrote in Psalm 145, "The Lord is trustworthy in all He promises, faithful in all He does." In other words, God is the ultimate promise keeper.

How about you? Can people count on you? If you're a young person, do your parents trust that you'll be where you say you're going to be? And if you're a parent, is your word golden to your children?

Brad shared a story that illustrated the pain and hurt caused when parents make promises to their kids and fail to follow through.

Proverbs 20:7 points to a better way: "The righteous walk in integrity; blessed are their children after them." The righteous keep their promises.

Sometimes God asks us to do things that don't always make sense. We have to learn that even when we can't see it, we have to trust. He used an incident from an Indiana Jones movie where Jones was told to take a step of faith (trust) that appeared to be into nothingness. He was told a bridge would appear, and it did once he took the step.

Hebrews 11:6 states that "without faith it is impossible to please God." The entire eleventh chapter of Hebrews is an overview of men and women who trusted God, who acted in faith because they believed in His faithfulness. Brad noted, however, that faith always involves risk. The step of faith is one of trust, not certainty. Many people want guarantees. They want to completely understand first. God says, "Trust Me."

Faith is an adventure.

Someone asked a group of 95 year olds, "If you had it all to do over again, what would you do different." Many shared this sentiment: "I would risk more, reflect more, and do something with their lives that would live long after I'm dead and gone."

How are you going to live your life?

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Goodness Gracious

It's Mother's Day here in the Northland and the morning began with a breakfast, waffles with an assortment of add-ons, prepared for the women of the church by many of the men of the church. The food was rich and the fellowship even richer.

The service began with Pastor Brad greeting us and offering a clue to today's theme. The opposite of good is not bad, he said. Rather, it is selfishness. The sermon was to elaborate.

The Quartet opened our service with a bit of lively singing and then ushered us into a time of worship.

The announcements were two in number. First, that Bob Nading has taken it upon himself to manage a Saginaw version of the Cash for Clunkers program. In this case, vehicles would be donated for sale to help raise money for the New Life Covenant Building Fund. (Contact Bob for details.) The second announcement pertained to a baby shower next week after the service for Shylee Smith, Shyanne McGregor and Kim Frye.

After the offering, Leonard read the familiar story that took place on the road to Emmaus, Luke 24:13-35. Brad then took the pulpit to lead us in prayer and to present the message.

Goodness Gracious

Brad began with a game show flair, having us shout back words that meant the opposite of what he shouted. Beginning with words like Black, Big, Short, and Republican he came to the word of the day, Good. Many would say bad was the opposite of good, but Brad challenged this notion, citing a passage from II Timothy, chapter 3. "In the last days there will be terrible times... people will be lovers of themselves, not lovers of the good." Brad proposed that the opposite of good is selfishness.

The sermon centered on the account of the rich young ruler, Luke 18:18ff.

A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

This guy was an affluent, high achiever. Brad said he could picture the guy in his Armani toga, Italian leather sandals, driving a 4-wheel drive chariot, with Brad Pitt looks, abs of steel, and a bronze tan.

There must have been something inside the guy that still wondered how good he really was, though. "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

It's a decent question. We all have these questions at times in our lives. But Jesus' reply is something of a kicker. "Why do you call Me good? Only God is good."

Right off we see that Jesus uses the word "good" in a different manner than the rest of us. Apart from God the whole concept of good has a huge problem, because ultimately only God is good.

Well, Jesus continues to talk with this affluent fellow to help him understand how good or not so good he is. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’"

The rich young ruler replied, "I'm straight A's on this stuff. I've done all this since I was a boy."

Hmmm. Brad said it reminded him of a certain trait that psychologists call "Self-Serving Bias." Self-serving bias is our tendency to attribute our successes to personal qualities, and blame our failures to factors beyond our control... parents, circumstances, a bad teacher, etc. We have an idealized view of ourselves. Even prisoners see themselves as nice guys who had a bad break.

Brad illustrated by telling a story about a serial killer on death row who was convicted of brutal murders of sixteen men. When a book was published about his life and deeds, he sued the author and publisher for 60 million dollars damages because he said it smeared his good name and unjustly portrayed him as a sick twisted man, thus ruining his chances for future employment.

So the question in light of this tendency toward seeing ourselves as better than we are, how do we get past our self-deception?

One problem we have is that we think heaven is a reward for good behavior. It's actually a gift of God's love for us, not earned but received. In the Mark account of this same story there is an additional sentence: "Jesus looked at him and loved him."

Goodness begins in us when God has our hearts. Eternal life is not something you earn. But this man's heart was possessed by his possessions. And here, Brad shared The Materialist's Prayer:

Now I lay me down to sleep
I pray my Cuisinart to keep
I pray my stocks are on the rise
And that my analyst is wise
That all the wine I sip is white
And that my hot tub is watertight
That racquetball won’t get too tough
That all my sushi’s fresh enough
I pray my cordless phone still works
That my career won’t lose its perks
My microwave won’t radiate
My condo won’t depreciate
I pray my health club doesn’t close
And that my money market grows
If I go broke before I wake
I pray my Volvo they won’t take.

So, how do we become good? We need to put ourselves in soul-building environments. You pursue spiritual goals. And as Galatians 5:22 states, when the Holy Spirit controls our lives, He will produce this kind of fruit in us... love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness.

To be good though is not a static thing. It is to be good-for-something. Where do you find the happiest people? Volunteering, mentoring, prison ministry, helping the needy. As Luke wrote in Acts 20:35, "In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’"

It's good to be pushed beyond our comfort zones, Brad said. Doing good, real good, will raise conflicts in us, will challenge us. But consider these words from Jesus when we help those who are needy...

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

Mother Teresa understood this. Using your time, talents, resources for the less fortunate is an opportunity to serve Jesus.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Simple Acts of Kindness

Pastor Brad greeted us warmly on this Communion Sunday, despite the chilly reception our weather gave us, which included yet another dusting of snow. "I'm delighted you're here today," he said, and then briefly commented on the theme of his message. "Kindness is a serious act." It would be another seriously good message.

1. Mother's Day is next week and the men of the church will be helping prepare breakfast for the women and families of our church. If you are a man who would like to help, contact Jamie. There will be some prep work Saturday evening and waffle making Sunday.
2. There will be a prayer time after church to seek wisdom for the building project starting today.

The worship time was special, led by Brad on guitar, accompanied by Darlene.

Simple Acts of Kindness

Brad began by noting that kindness levels vary. Some people ooze kindness. Other are kind when they're in a good mood or when things are going their way. Still others are kindness challenged.

The Bible contains some very direct statements about kindness. In II Timothy 2 Paul states that we are to be kind to everyone. Colossians 3 has a verse that says "clothe yourself in kindness." It is like a garment we wear. II Peter states, "add to your faith kindness." And we're all quite familiar with the famous statement in I Corinthians 13, "Love is kind."

Brad's aim, in this message, is to call us to a higher level of kindness.

Some people, he has observed, seem to take nasty pills. They can be hurtful and even real jerks.

Sometimes even Christians are unkind, though Brad warned against being judgemental and harsh toward people. He cited C.S. Lewis' observation, "I wonder who hurt those people." When Christians are unkind, Lewis admonishes us to understand that everyone starts somewhere and many are in negative territory when they get saved. Brad's take is this: "No matter where you're starting from, Christ is calling you to a higher level of kindness."

Brad then outlined three levels of kindness.

Level 1 Kindness
Lowering and eliminating your nastiness disposition.
Having a bad day does not justify being unkind. Being a jerk is never O.K. If you're a Christian is is no longer cool. Ephesians 4:32 says, "Be kind and gentle, tenderhearted to one another."

Level 2 Kindness
When the Spirit reveals to you that kindness is a better way.
Retribution never works. We can see this in nearly any direction one looks. Kindness empowers us. It is not "a girl thing." Kindness can cross ethnic boundaries. And it can lower others' stress.

Level 3 Kindness
Graduate level.
This is when we start dreaming up ways to show outrageous kindness. Outside the box, creative kindness. Brad then shared the story of King David's over the boundaries kind of kindness which he showed to Mephibosheth, his extreme kindness to a crippled youth who was the son of his best friend, but also potentially an enemy by virtue of being the last living heir to the throne. Mephibosheth was totally undeserving of this kindness, the invitation to eat at the king's banquet table. And in this sense the story is a picture of Christ's kindness to us, for who among us is worthy of being on the receiving end of His great mercy and sacrificial love?

Kindness is what is needed, in our community, in our homes, and in the places we work.

At this, we shared the Sacrament of the Last Supper.