Sunday, June 26, 2011


In his morning greeting Brad told about a recent incident involving Dale who was on his way to Canada for a fishing trip when just this side of the border he became aware that he'd forgotten his passport. He must have said to his fishing buddies, "Well, I only forgot one thing" but in this case it was the one thing that matters if planning to leave the country and come back again. In the same way today's sermon deals with one thing of vital importance, the atoning work of Christ Jesus.

After a beautiful introit by Darlene we stood for a moment of silence to acknowledging the passing of Gordy Garrett from the Isle of Mann, who passed this week.

Announcements included two by Cheryl Borndal.
1) We're looking for helpers who can participate in the worship in various ways from special music and Scripture reading to drama and greeters. Cheryl then put her "camp hat" on and made a second announcement.
2) We have 26 kids going to camp this summer from our congregation. Cheryl reminded us to pray for these youth as many will have life changing experiences there. An offering was taken after the service to help defray expenses for these young ones.

The Scripture reading was from Romans 6:12-23, which was followed by a time of prayer.


Pastor Brad, a baseball fan, created an imaginary baseball league for us as an illustration to make a few points about today's theme. He called this leabe the All Universe Baseball Association. He said there were special requirements to be in this league. First, you had to have five years experience. Second, no errors for an entire career. And finally, you had to have a perfect batting average of 1,000.

In real life, of course, these kinds of numbers would be impossible to achieve. Even the best batters of all time get a hit only one in three times. And an errorless career has never been experienced by even one ballplayer. The qualifications for the All Universe Baseball Association are but an impossible dream, and any player who seriously sought to qualify for this imaginary league was likely himself living in a fantasy world. No matter how good you are going forward, the errors of the past will not permit you to achieve a perfect, errorless career.

So it is that the illustration sets up Brad's message, based on passages from Romans 3, Paul's letter to the church at Rome.

Brad said that according to Scripture there are two ways to get to heaven. The first is based on performance. That performance is a lifetime of sinless perfection. Not only no errors, though, but also every hit is a home run, a blend of perfect altruism and perfect rightousness in thought, word and deed.

This standard is so high that any realistic attempt to achieve it will end in futility. No one has done this, and no one will. Hence in Romans 3:10-12 Paul quotes the Old Testament passage affirming as such:
10 “There is no one righteous, not even one; 11 there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. 12 All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.”

It is not possible to work one's way to heaven. BUT.... there is another way. And with regard to this other way, all sinners are eligible. This "other way" is to take the righteousness manifest in Jesus and appropriate it to ourselves. This is the meaning of the atonement. All are justified by faith in Jesus' atoning work.

We become eligible to this gift by acknowledging that we are sinners. In verses 21 and 27 Paul notes that this salvation is obtained apart from the law. And again, in Roman's 4:5 Paul re-affirms the same. Salvation is ours apart from the law, irrespective of works.

Brad said he sees three kinds of people in the world today. Group one believes they will get to heaven by doing the best they can, and taking their chances with God. This group of non-Christians justifies themselves by saying, "At least I'm not an axe-murderer." The second group are Christians who believe that by praying, by having a right relationship with God and doing good and hoping for the best that they will get to heaven based on doing the right things.

The third group are those who understand the narrow way, that it is a narrow door... a priceless treasure. And is ours apart from works. Jesus said, "I am the way. I am the door."

The day will come when we stand before God, and some people will have their life record in hand believing it's pretty good, and they God's light will show how their very own records condemn them. Salvation is a gift, a free gift apart from works.

"For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law." (vs 3:28)

When it comes to atonement, it's like Dales forgotten passport. It's the one thing that matters. We need to appropriate that grace into our lives.

The service closed with the classic affirmation hymn, "My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less."

Sunday, June 19, 2011

The Other Half of the Story

Today's drear was lifted a bit by Brad bright greeting. Despite the grey outside, he told us that today's message would be the Blue Sky view, which meant he was taking us above the clouds to a larger overview of this summer's theme, an exposition of the book of Romans.

The announcements included...
1) An acknowledgement of several members of the church who ran in yesterday's marathon, including Pam Johnson and Rich Mullvain. Special commendation to Rich who could not run a year ago due to back surgery. Nice comeback, kid!
2) Today is Father's Day. All fathers were to make sure they got a helping of pie after the service.
3) Brooke gave a VBS report. We had more kids than ever this year. More than eighty participated during the week, with a high of 67 on one of the days, only 20 of which were from New Life. The week also raised $823 for Thailand mission needs. The theme this year was Pandamania... "God is wild about you." The kids got it.
4) The blood drive is next Sunday. If you are able to give and will be here, call Ruth Anne by Monday.

Chuck, Ken and Darlene led us in worship today, with Chuck noting that his dad was his first hero. A fitting tribute to begin a father's day service.

After worship, offering and a time of prayer, Brad delivered today's message.

The Other Half of the Story

Brad began with the exclamation, "I am here because of grace." Grace is amazing. But too often we allow time to muffle the amazement of grace so that eventually it is intriguing grace and finally "Ho hum, grace." In church, surrounded by Christian friends, we start to take grace for granted.

So we turn to Romans again and the receive an overview of the first three chapters. Paul notes that all people instinctively understand that there is a God. But in a variety of ways we move away from God, cut ourselves off from Him. After details of debauchery, Paul details how people can get into making and keeping rules to show how "good" they are (better than others) and puff themselves up with a blather of self-righteousness. This latter attitude puts us no closer to God than the former behaviors. In short, as Paul emphatically underscores with a passage from the Old Testament, "No one is good. No, not one."

At this point Brad led us to the book of Ephesians where Paul details our exact situation before grace. We were "dead in our transgressions." Dead equals no life. That is, we can dress them up but dead flowers are quickly wilting and becoming dust. Once cut off from God, the soul dies.

And here is Paul's point: Since all have sinned and fall short, human beings cannot save themselves.

We are wholly dependent on God, then. Saving faith is not a gift man offers to God. It is from God to man. Grace always flows downward.

I was a sinner. Now I am called a saint. Not by merit, not by having matured spiritually. Saint means sanctified for God's service and set apart for His use.

We don't "try to become saints." We ARE saints.

Then Brad had us turn to Romans 5:6-8

6 You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7 Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. 8 But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

No matter how far you are from God, His grace can reach you. Rahab, the prostitute, is a perfect illustration of this. In fact, she gets numerous mentions in Scripture. In the famous "heroes of the faith" list in Hebrews 11, she is right there with Moses and Abraham.

Grace did not come to Rahab after rehab. She believed, responded to God, and God lifted her.

The rest of her story is equally remarkable. She married and had a son, whose name was Boaz, and she is listed in the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah.

I am because of grace, Brad affirmed. And because of grace, Scripture declares I am God's child, Christ's friend, united with the Lord in one spirit, born of God and the evil one cannot touch me.
What's more... I am the salt of the earth and the light of the world, I am the branch of the true vine, Jesus, a channel of His life, I have been chosen and appointed by God to bear fruit, I am a personal, Spirit-empowered witness of Christ, I am a temple of God, a minister of reconciliation for God and God's fellow worker, seated with Christ in the heavenly realms, God's workmanship, created for good works, prepared in advance. I may approach God with freedom and confidence and know that I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.

"Friends, you are not defined by what anybody else says you are," Brad said in closing. Fill your minds with the truth of who you really are in Him. Because of grace.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Urgency of the Matter

Another beautifully sunny morning here at New Life Covenant Church in Saginaw, MN. A man walks in and another, and a couple, several families, three women and a youngster, and now the group from downstairs sauntering in as we gather for worship as the sanctuary fills. After several personal acknowledgements about the room Pastor Brad, with characteristic energy, checks the microphone and greets us. “I’m glad you guys are here today….”

He reminds us that we are now studying the Paul's letter to the Romans. His warm-up pitch went like this: "Paul has an urgency in today’s text about his desire to go to Rome. It’s a text that might alter you."

Announcements this a.m. included:
Darlene: Next Sunday is Father’s Day… We're asking all women to make pies, adding, "If a father wants a specific pie in particular, he can make it himself."
Brooke wore her bright colored Pandamania t-shirt this morning as she made final VBS announcements. VBS will be daily from 9:30 – noon every day at the Twig Town Hall. This Friday everyone is invited for the closing ceremony/program at 7:00 p.m.
Suzy Lane announced that donations would be welcome to feed the 100 or so youth and adults daily at VBS.

Brad read from Psalm 150 to lead us into worship.
1 Praise the LORD.
Praise God in his sanctuary;
praise him in his mighty heavens.
2 Praise him for his acts of power;
praise him for his surpassing greatness.
3 Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet,
praise him with the harp and lyre,
4 praise him with timbrel and dancing,
praise him with the strings and pipe,
5 praise him with the clash of cymbals,
praise him with resounding cymbals.
6 Let everything that has breath praise the LORD.

Praise the LORD.

We then sang together a contemporary version of Amazing Grace and several other contemporary worship songs. After the offering Ruth Anne read from Acts 2:14-21, which was followed by a time of prayer and the sermon.

Urgency of the Matter

Today's message was drawn from Romans 1:18-23
18 The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against all the godlessness and wickedness of people, who suppress the truth by their wickedness, 19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse. 21 For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. 22 Although they claimed to be wise, they became fools 23 and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images made to look like a mortal human being and birds and animals and reptiles.

We're all familiar with urgent messages. "Tom, call home, it’s urgent!" Or, "Judy, call home, it’s urgent! The first section of the book of Romans is dripping with urgency, an expression of Paul's laser-focused mission. Paul loved the church, committing his life to planting churches, training churches… because he loved what Jesus loved: the church.

Today's sermon could be called “No excuses.” Brad warned us this this section of Scripture could be hazardous to our assumptions. It conveys Paul’s awareness that unbelievers everywhere are daily committing a spiritual crime that will place them eternally separated from God.

In presenting the message, Brad rearranged the verses to help make the case with greater clarity.
1. God has revealed Himself clearly to all human beings everywhere. (19,20)
2. Unbelievers suppress the revelation of God. (18b, 21-22)
3. Suppressing the revelation of God continually unleashes God’s angry displeasure. (18a)

God has revealed Himself clearly to all. Since creation of the world His divine attributes have been clearly seen. This passage asserts that knowledge of God is evident inside all people. Every person everywhere knows that there is a God.

Vs. 20 elaborates. People understand through what has been made. In theological terms this is called “General revelation.” You cannot walk this planet and claim that there were no clues.

No one looks at a car in our parking lot, and doesn’t know that the car was designed by someone. You could even find, if you looked hard enough, the one who did it. Likewise our watches. So it is with the Creator.

The world is littered with clues. Creation bombards us with so much evidence that we must not only conclude God exists but that he is eternal and powerful. When you see an ocean or a rainbow, what does that say about God?

God’s invisible attributes can be seen within nature, and in moments of wonder, even unbelievers often involuntarily exclaim, “Oh… my… God.”

Therefore, Paul states, every human being is without excuse.

The next point Paul makes is this. Unbelievers suppress the revelation of God (18b, 21-22)

There is a God and He is worthy of worship. But unbelievers, rather than responding with integrity, do the untruthful thing. They suppress the truth and refuse to worship. “This, my friends, is a crime against the almighty God,” Brad said.

Suppressing the truth is like trying to hold a beach ball under water. It takes effort to suppress the truth. The unbeliever doesn’t want to deal with it, doesn't want to know the truth and has to push it down. The truth can cause trauma, and it’s easier to believe lies. Truth is disruptive, causes inner turbulence. Our tendency is to love the darkness rather than light. Truth traumatizes sinners.

Sinners have a vested interest in suppressing truth. If you do not suppress truth, it will stare you in the face and harass you till you come clean. There are two options: Confess sinfulness or suppress the knowledge of God.

God’s grace is amazing. When we confess, He is a merciful God.

The third point is this. Suppressing the revelation of God continually unleashes God’s angry displeasure. God has revealed Himself in many and various ways and has now revealed Himself in Jesus.

Some day all of us will stand without excuse before God. It that day, it will not be a knowledge problem, but rather had an acknowledgement problem. That is, we know the truth in our hearts.

In the end, God will give those who reject God what they sought after… freedom from God’s presence… that is, separation from God, for ever.

On judgment day, the cry of the unbeliever will not be, “I just didn’t know.” It will be, “I wouldn’t bow.” And there will be unfathomable regret. Anguish.

"For seven years I have preached about God’s love in this church," Brad said. God loves us so much and He doesn’t impose His will on us. He lets us choose. Brad’s appeal: it doesn’t matter where or how, just bow down.

In closing we sang, “Jesus, what a friend for sinners.”

Sunday, June 5, 2011

The Cathedral of the Christian Faith

The sanctuary was boisterous and alive this morning as we gathered for worship this sunny Sunday morning. Sunshine and smiles were exuberantly displayed everywhere. Pastor Brad welcomed us and noted that we were embarking on a new summer series devoted to the Book of Romans, a New Testament book which at least one theologian called, "The Cathedral of the Christian Faith."

Announcements included several regarding Vacation Bible School which begins June 13. There will be a meeting of volunteers at the Twig Town Hall after the service next Sunday at 11:00 a.m.
They are also looking for 5'x3' self standing boards as well as monetary donations for craft supplies.
Even if you are not involved as a volunteer, you're invited to the Family Fun Night on the very last day, Friday the 17th.
It was also noted that the Bloodmobile will be here on June 26th after the service. Please sign up to give blood if you are able.

The worship team sang for us and led us in song, which was followed by the offering. Eric Borndal read to us from Acts 1:6-14.

This week we honored the many grad who are among us by having them come to the front to be recognized. Steven Borndal, Monica Mullvain and Casie Westgard have now graduated from high school. Sara Borndal finished college and will be going to South Korea in a few months to teach English. Lisa Smith completed four years of post-grad studies in the pharmaceuticals field. Their lives are ahead of them, and we pray for them to make good choices while following their dreams. (See photo of the grads at bottom of this page)

The Cathedral of the Christian Faith

Martin Luther called the book of Romans the purest Gospel, noting that even a cursory study of this book will have life-changing consequences. Pastor Brad began by breaking today introductory passages into three sections as we lay the foundation for the weeks to come.

Romans 1:1-7 Paul's introduces himself, the writer of this letter to the church in Rome.
Verses 8-10 Paul sentiments toward the church in Rome.
Verses 11-17 Paul's dreams for the church and his intentions.

How Paul saw himself

Unlike many of the letters which were written to churches he founded, this one is different. Paul had never been to Rome and did not found this church, so he begins by introducing himself.

1 Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle and set apart for the gospel of God...

Even the first word is pregnant with meaning. Paul, each time he reflected on it, could no doubt remember that he had once been Saul, a legalist and persecutor of the early church. The name Paul had been given to him by Jesus, who called him to be an Apostle, specially chosen and commissioned, set apart to proclaim the Gospel, the good news of salvation through the Jesus.

But Paul was not a ladder climber and did not aspire to this high position. Rather he saw himself simply as a bondservant, which is to say slave, of Jesus Christ. There were six million slaves in the Roman world. To be a slave is to be someone's property, and when Paul used this language, everyone knew what it meant. He was the property of Jesus, in service to the wishes of his master.

The letter begins with Paul citing his new name, new status, new calling and proceeds to outline his new passion.

At this point Brad paused and asked what we would say about ourselves in the opening of a letter of introduction? What is your status, your ministry, your passion?

Paul's sentiments toward the church

8 First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is being reported all over the world. 9 God, whom I serve in my spirit in preaching the gospel of his Son, is my witness how constantly I remember you 10 in my prayers at all times; and I pray that now at last by God’s will the way may be opened for me to come to you.

Paul is so in love with Jesus that he loves what Jesus loves. Jesus once compared the church to a bride, an object of love rich with meaning. Paul, too, loved the church, and upon hearing the good things happening at the church in Rome, he earnestly prayed for that church as well as prayed to be able to one day visit.

How much do you love the church? Do you love the people there? Brad said that while growing up it seemed that for a lot of people church was simply something to be endured or that others endured.

This church in Rome was interesting. There were liberals and conservatives, educated and uneducated "barbarians"... but they shared a common love for Christ. Paul longed to go there.

Paul's dreams and intentions

11 I long to see you so that I may impart to you some spiritual gift to make you strong— 12 that is, that you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith. 13 I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that I planned many times to come to you (but have been prevented from doing so until now) in order that I might have a harvest among you, just as I have had among the other Gentiles.

14 I am obligated both to Greeks and non-Greeks, both to the wise and the foolish. 15 That is why I am so eager to preach the gospel also to you who are in Rome.

16 For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes: first to the Jew, then to the Gentile. 17 For in the gospel the righteousness of God is revealed—a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: “The righteous will live by faith.”

Why does Paul say he is so eager to preach the Gospel in Rome? Because he wants to witness and be a part of the unleashing of God's power in Rome. He had seen it elsewhere and longed to see it here.

Brad said he identifies with this longing. It's not about new buildings or new carpets, new liturgies or new styles of worship. It's about the power of God, and Paul was confident that when he reached Rome and preached the Word of God, powerful things would happen.

God's word gives strength, direction and nourishment. And it isn't one person that makes it happen. It happens in communities of faith working together. God can do that here if we speak the truth and are not ashamed. Go the second mile and watch what happens.

Paul was ever dreaming about the church. "I'm never going to stop dreaming about what God can do when unleashed," Brad said.

When was the last time you dreamed about the church? It's not about me doing this alone. It's about us.

After a closing hymn we proceeded to share communion together.