Sunday, July 31, 2011

Lessons from the Life of Joseph

Pastor Brad will be back Tuesday evening, so Chuck greeted us and led the service today. Our guest speaker was Pastor David Eaton, a chaplain and Covenant pastor who has been with us before and becoming a friend of the New Life Covenant family.

1) Gwen shared II Peter 3:18 with us as an intro to her theme about Sunday School. We're called to "grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." GROW as an acronym means
God's Word

2) Cheryl B. noted that our community of believers sent 28 kids to camp this year, a real achievement and a life changing experience for many.

While Darlene played Worthy of Worship, Chuck read Psalm 29, which in itself is rich, but especially enhanced against the backdrop of Darlene's accompaniment. After a time of worship, Chuck and Gwen sang a duet during the offering.

Our Scripture reading was from Romans 9:1-5. After a time of prayer, Gwen took the pulpit to minister in song, sharing with us The Solid Rock.

David Eaton then stepped up to deliver the message.

Lessons from the Life of Joseph

Pastor Eaton shared how much he enjoys the stories from the Old Testament, and that today he would be bringing us way back to one of its earliest books, the Book of Genesis. He then challenged us with a series of questions beginning with, "Do you believe God is good? Do you believe God is good in every situation?"

Our response is often filtered through our own experience and we often re-phrase this. "Is God good for me?" We also ask other questions like, "How could you let this happen to me?"

How do we handle it when life treats us unfairly? The variety of ways we can be wounded are innumerable. Terrible things can happen to people. How do we deal with it? Pastor Eaton noted that, "It's all about grace."

At this point he interjected the conclusion of his sermon, Genesis 50:20, noting that it's all about perspective. Joseph, speaking to his brothers, said, "You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives."

The story of Joseph is a familiar one. He was the "golden boy" of the Jacob's twelve sons. The first ten were born three of Jacob's wives while his favorite wife remained barren. Eventually she gave him two sons, Joseph the first. And Jacob was elated. Joseph got special treatment, not the least of which was the coat of many colors his father bestowed upon him. All this caused a jealousy to fester between he and his brothers. This is the background for today's sermon, and the rest of the story.

Grace Unknown

In Genesis 37 Joseph tells his brothers about a dream he had.

5 Joseph had a dream, and when he told it to his brothers, they hated him all the more. 6 He said to them, “Listen to this dream I had: 7 We were binding sheaves of grain out in the field when suddenly my sheaf rose and stood upright, while your sheaves gathered around mine and bowed down to it.”

This and a subsequent dream caused the brothers' jealousy and rage shoot through the roof. Some of the brothers were so angry they actually wanted to kill him, but Reuben prevailed and instead they sold him into slavery, faking his death so that their father believed he'd been eaten by a wild animal.

God's hand was on Joseph, and while in the service of Potiphar, a land owner in Egypt, good things happened for Potiphar and Joseph's value increased. Unfortunately, Potiphar's wife took a hankering for Joseph. When he refused her advances, she told her husband he was putting the moves on her, attempted to violate her, and Joseph was unjustly sent to prison.

But even in prison it was apparent that God was with him, and as time crept forward, Joseph eventually was able to assist in the interpretation of the king's dream. This giftedness led to his ultimate release, after the longest time, to become 2nd in command in Egypt.

Meanwhile, the brothers may have been free of Joseph's dreamings, but they were in no way free of the guilt over what they had done to him. As "luck" would have it, a drought forced Jacob to send his sons to Egypt for food in a time of need.

In Genesis 42 the brothers show up in Egypt to get food for Canaan and it is Joseph to whom they must apply for assistance. Though he recognizes them immediately, they do not recognize him. And since he has been talking with them through an imterpreter, they do not realize he can understand them when they lament over their guilt from their behavior years earlier.

21 They said to one another, “Surely we are being punished because of our brother. We saw how distressed he was when he pleaded with us for his life, but we would not listen; that’s why this distress has come on us.”

They had done wrong and they knew it, but they did not have the power in themselves to fix it.

Grace Extended

In Genesis 45 Joseph finally reveals himself to his brothers and extends his grace to them. The revelation must have been an incredible moment, as they undoubtedly never expected to see Joseph again. Though they deserved harsh justice, they received from their brother mercy.

So it is with us. God loves us. Regardless of our checkered past, His grace is extended to all.

Grace Received

Perhaps the most incredible insight from today's message comes from this passage in Genesis 50:15...

15 When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, “What if Joseph holds a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrongs we did to him?”

It's 17 years later and even though Joseph had forgiven them long ago, they still lived in fear of him. When Jacob died, the brothers connived a plan to make sure they would be safe. They did not understand that Joseph had extended mercy and it was not based on anything but love for them.

The brothers had presumed that Joseph was being kind to them out of deference for Jacob. Jacob was a safety net. Once the net was gone, their old fears returned. Now, they believed, Joseph would do what he's always wanted to do. They still did not understand the extent of his grace and unconditional mercy.

So it is with God, who loves us and desires that we accept -- fully -- His unconditional mercy.

Pastor Eaton said that throughout his life experience, especially in chaplaincy, he has encountered people who believe in God but still do not believe and receive his grace. I you are one of these, in that space between believing and receiving, the time to settle it is now.

Top right: David and Shawnee Eaton

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Narrow Gate

The ceiling fans were flapping vigorously on this warm, muggy morning here at New Life, offering a nice circulation of air to help keep us attentive in case the pastor rambles and we succumb to heat stroke. Despite the heavy air Pastor Brad, with unflappable enthusiasm, grabbed our attention with his usual panache and set our thoughts in the right direction with a brief summation of the Sunday school discussion which preceded. He asked us to consider what the common denominator of dynamic churches was. He answer, the common quality in dynamic churches is their focus. Dynamic communities of believers are focused outward, not inward.

Two announcements. (1) There will be a council meeting Tuesday evening. (2) The women's group will meet Tuesday at Carol Sertich's at 10:00 a.m.

The quartet was at the top of their game today as they led us into worship with a pair of songs that moved us, including The Blood Will Never Lose Its Power by Andrea Crouch. After the reading of Scripture and a time of prayer, Pastor Brad introduced his message, based on Romans 5:12-21.

The Narrow Gate

Brad began with a sweeping summary of the first several chapters of the book of Romans, highlighting key passages. Paul makes several important points along the way, most significantly in Romans 3:10 the fact that we are all fallen, have all come short of the high standard of holiness. All have sinned. "There is none righteous, no, not one."

After establishing the futility of trying to reach heaven by being "good enough", Brad led us to the gospel's hope, verses 21 & 22. "But now a righteousness, apart from law, has been made known.... this righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe."

Paul seems to underscore in these passages that there are essentially two camps, the lost and the redeemed. And in chapter 5 he further develops the nature of these two groups, or camps as pastor Brad refers to them. First, there is Adam's camp. And then there is the camp of the justified, which consists of all who have owned up to their sinfulness.

As he did last week, Brad stated that many of us would be more comfortable with a three camp theology. The first camp would be composed of truly bad people and Pagan Christ-rejecters. The second camp would consist of the company of the committed. But many of us would also like a third camp for those nice people who seem to have good hearts.

But true Christianity is not built on a three camp theology. Paul, in Romans 5, asserts that there are but two camps: Adam's camp and Christ's camp.

There are key contrasts between the two camps, but it all boils down to choices. Adam and Jesus each made a decision, a choice with consequences. Adam chose disobedience. Jesus chose obedience unto death.

Romans 5:17 details the implications of these choices. Adam's choice resulted in the reign of death. In Jesus we see the victorious reign of life.

Adam's sin made many become sinners. Evil entered the world. Adam's descendants inherited a bent toward sin, called by theologians a sin nature. As a result, all are condemned and the stain of death corrupts all, causing immeasurable suffering and brokenness, undercutting our dreams, our relationships and our confidence.

Worst of all is the prospect of a hell where our ultimate prayer for cessation of consciousness remains unanswered.

In contrast, verses 18 and 19 proclaim the consequences of Christ's obedience.

" also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people... so also through the obedience of the one man the many will be made righteous." Life reigns. Life and vitality. Service, giving, the use of one's talents, and heaven's doors opened. And, Brad noted again, our suffering in this life is but for a season.

Another difference between the two camps is their entrance requirements. To become a part of Adam's camp, we only need be born. To become a part of Christ's camp, we must be born again.

Brad summed up his message by reminding us that if we love Christ, we love what Christ loves. This is a closing thought worth pondering more deeply.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Life & Death

Beautiful summer morning here. Brad welcomed us. "I'm grateful that you're here." He added that this summer we're "bopping around (the book of) Romans," adding that today's message would be drawn from Romans 8 and the reality of joy.

Ruth Anne stood to say thank you from the Blood Drive folks who were here last week. Each pint of blood will save three lives.

The Scripture reading was from Romans 5:12-21, and after a time of prayer Brad began his message.

Life & Death

Anyone who has been a Christian for any amount of time knows that Christianity is supposed to be about joy, a joy that is not dependent on circumstances. In John 17, one of Jesus' prayers for his disciples was that they would have a joy that nothing could take away.

Brad said he has wrestled at time with this, and suspect that we have too at times because life is hard. In such a broken world we can be hit by so many things that it can be difficult "rejoice always" as Paul wrote more than once. And yet....

When we look at Romans 5-8 we see such a rich discussion about God's grace, the culmination which can be found in today's passage from Romans 8:28, "And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose." Pastor Brad illuminated three lessons we could learn by reflecting on this verse.

1) Bad things turn out for good.

Bad things happen in life, and becoming a Christian does not automatically reduce or eliminate these bad things.

Flipping this around, Brad asked where the good things come from? Good things are a miracle of grace. If good things happen, God worked it thus.

This verse is often misapplied. It is not a cure-all for the suffering caused by bad things. When Lazarus died and Jesus wept, it was real sorrow that moved him. It wasn't a fake show He put on while knowing all along He'd be raising Lazarus from the dead. Jesus hates death, loneliness, isolation, suffering and those things that really hurt like selfishness and self-deception.

2) Truly good things will never be lost.

Brad pointed out that verse 28 is not an isolated verse, but in a context, followed immediately by these lines.

29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. 30 And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified.

Our suffering is not purposeless. God's aim in our lives is to conform us to the image of His Son, to the likeness of Jesus. It is a predestined purpose, fixed, immovable, a given. God will conform us into His likeness, will transform us to be like Christ. This verse is written in past tense, as if an accomplished fact.

The radicality of the Gospel is that in an era during of inequality, where women had few rights, there were no second class citizens in Christ. All were adopted into God's family, no matter what their station in life.

3) The best is yet to come.

When Pastor Brad reached this third point, he stepped down from the pulpit and stood at the front of the sanctuary. Citing the last two chapters of the Bible, Revelations 21 and 22, he told us how Heaven awaits us. It is real and not a pipe dream. What matters most is who I am and what I am becoming.

And in that day we will be thoroughly joyful. That is what is promised us in heaven. One reason is because we will be morally flawless inside and out.... and we will see God face-to-face. When you understand what is to come, you can handle anything in this life.

Whatever you are going through, know this. There is a God who in the end will make everything right.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Yes, We Can

A beautiful Northland weekend, sunny blue skies, and warm hearts.... Welcome to New Life Covenant. Pastor Brad expressed his gratitude for our presence as we gathered for an informal July4 weekend worship service. Darlene's rendition of America the Beautiful certainly set the tone for a special time together.

We then sang a number of choruses, capping off the worship time with O Beautiful For Spacious Skies. After the offering a Scripture reading from Romans 7 and time of prayer, Brad commenced the sermon.

Yes, We Can

Brad began his sermon with the story of Handley Page, a pilot who at one point in his life delivered mail solo in the early days of aviation. On one occasion he was flying at 10,000 feet when he noticed a rat on board. Shortly thereafter he heard a gnawing sound. The rat was chewing a hydraulic line that operated his landing gear, not a good situation.

But the pastor chose to leave us hanging and said he would return to the outcome a bit later.

Today's message was drawn from the Paul's famous struggle with regard to the power of sin, Romans 7:15-25, which begins like this: I do not understand what I do. For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.

In this short section 10 verses in length, Paul uses the word "I" 21 times. This is his story, his struggle, before discovering the liberating power of grace. And it is a struggle so many understand, have shared.

The JB Phillips New Testament makes a statement elsewhere that "God gave us the straight edge of the law to show us how crooked we are." Here in Romans 7 Paul dives into that same idea. The more he tries to keep the law, to follow what he knows is right, the more aware he is of his failings, his crookedness.

The wonder if it all is despite the continuous failing, so many keep trying to do it on their own. Paul finally came to a different place, saying, "I can't do it any more. I just don't have the power. Who will rescue me?"

Then, we see Romans 8. "Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus..." No condemnation, and free from being controlled by sin.... all by grace.

If this is so, why do so many live as if it were not? Brad illustrated with a historical anecdote about the passage of the 13th amendment in 1865. Even though all slaves were declared free, in point of fact slavery did not end because many were not aware of this event. Some were kept in the dark deliberately, others were simply afraid to act on it. In other words, the law declared that men were free, but they continued to live as if they were not.

In moral law there is the same problem. The law tells us what to do and not do, but has no power to enable us to do it. Nor does law have any power to heal. Grace empowers and heals.

We do not "try to become children of God" by sheer will power. We ARE the children of God by virtue of God's redeeming work in Jesus. In the same way it is not by self-effort we find strength to do right. It's all grace.

A critical point was made in these remarks. It is exceedingly important to know who we are in Christ. We are called "saints" in Scripture. We are not addicts "trying" to live a good life.

The Chicago Bulls' Michael Jordan was hailed as a star who could defy gravity. Brad said, "No, he did not defy gravity. When he leapt up, he always came down again."

Jesus, defied not only the law of gravity, He also defied the law of sin and death. An in Him we too defy the law of sin and death.

Satan's primary weapon against believers is the lie. Lies, lies and more lies. This is why Jesus said, "The truth will set you free." And this is why it is important for Christians to study the Scriptures, to know their Bibles, to be in God's word.

In spiritual warfare, as illustrated in Ephesians 6, the first piece of armor Paul draws our attention to is the belt of truth. Knowing the truth is the best way to recognize lies. So it is that FBI agents learn to recognize counterfeit money by studying the real and true versions of printed money.

Now, back to Handley Page. This was back in the days before autopilot and he was flying solo. Fortunately, he remembered something from his school days regarding rats. Supposedly they need more oxygen than people do, so Page decided to fly up high in the sky where the air thinned. As luck would have it, the trick worked and when he landed he found a dead rat in the back of the plane.

Moral: When rats are gnawing at your life, climb higher. Draw near to God, and He will draw near to you.