Sunday, August 28, 2011

Under Authority

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

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

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

Under Authority

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Fear Not

"Good morning," Brad said as he welcomed us. "Last week we talked about disappointment. Today I would like to talk about fear... and Psalm 46. God is greater than our fears."

Sunlight filled the sanctuary as we began our service with announcements that included the following.
1) Harvest Fest is just around the corner and will be held on September 11. We need your help and would like volunteers to sign up on the sheets downstairs after the service. Our aim with Harvest Fest is to extend a hand of friendship to our community.
2) Those interested in more details on the Women's Ministry Retreat at Covenant Park should contact Brooke.
3) There will be a very special guest speaker at the Women's Tea on October 8. Please mark your calendars.
4) We are again coordinating donations of school supplies for needy students as the new school year begins.

The quartet led worship this morning, beginning with a rousing medley of old country Gospel tunes followed by one of this blog writer's favorites, The Lighthouse. The congregation joined in several choruses, which was followed by the offering, a reading from Scripture (Matt 16:13-20) and a time of prayer. Brad then commenced his sermon.

Fear Not

Brad began by reading Psalm 46.

1 God is our refuge and strength,
an ever-present help in trouble.
2 Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way
and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea,
3 though its waters roar and foam
and the mountains quake with their surging.[c]

4 There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy place where the Most High dwells.
5 God is within her, she will not fall;
God will help her at break of day.
6 Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall;
he lifts his voice, the earth melts.

7 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

8 Come and see what the LORD has done,
the desolations he has brought on the earth.
9 He makes wars cease
to the ends of the earth.
He breaks the bow and shatters the spear;
he burns the shields with fire.
10 He says, “Be still, and know that I am God;
I will be exalted among the nations,
I will be exalted in the earth.”

11 The LORD Almighty is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.

"What is the most common command in all Scripture?" Brad asked. A few guessed and a few remembered from the last time he asked us this... "Fear not." This is the most frequently stated command from God to the human race. "Don't be afraid. You can trust Me," God says.

Fear is a universal issue. Almost everyone wrestles with it in one way or another and at one time or another. Dave Barry put it like this: “All of us are born with a set of instinctive fears - of falling, of the dark, of lobsters, of falling on lobsters in the dark, or speaking before a Rotary Club, and of the words 'Some Assembly Required.'"

Some fear is good, like when we see children playing in the middle of the highway. It also can keep kids from touching hot stoves. But there are bad fears as well, fears that paralyze us or keep us from doing what we ought to do.

Scripture provides many examples where the circumstances are the same but people react differently, some motivated by fear and others by faith. One example is when Jesus is asleep in the boat while the disciples are utterly terrified of imminent disaster. The story of the twelve spies who went into Canaan to give a report on the land is another example. Ten came back with a bad report that all was hopeless. Two had eyes of faith and saw a land of milk and honey.

Young David was another who saw Goliath as nothing more than an insolent giant who needed to be taught a lesson, whereas the armies of Israel under Saul quaked in their boots and hid behind rocks.

How will we respond when God calls us to step up? Will we panic or move with peace in our hearts and confidence that if God be for us, who can be against us?

The most important thing is to keep you sense of proportion. Unhealthy fear distorts our ability to maintain perspective and is the number one factor that keeps people from living in risky obedience.

Brad then elaborated on what it costs us to allow fear to hold us back.

1) Eats away our sense of self-worth. Take action gives us strength. Wimping out when we know what to do but don't do it will erode our self-confidence. A display of courage and taking initiative will make you feel great, while failing to act causes us to die a little more inside.

2) Stagnation instead of growth. We were never meant to spend our whole life waiting in a waiting room. Life is more than that.

3) It will cost you your joy. Worriers have a high capacity for imagination. It is easy for them to fall into the habit of catastrophizing. Joy and fear are incompatible.

4) End result: a mountain of regret at life's end. We must learn now to trust God. No one who ever trusted God ever regretted it. We do, however, have the power to say "no" to God. The rich young ruler said no and one wonders how things turned out for him when he became a rich old ruler. Who wants to leave this life regretting what might have been?

5) Mindset of fear is contagious. If we hold onto it, we will pass it on to our kids. It's unhealthy for all of us.

"I am with you," God says. And if that is really true then you have nothing to be afraid of. When people in Biblical times and people in our times grasp this truth it revolutionizes their lives. Take the risk. We have a big God.

Top Right: Picture by Ed Newman titled, Little Guy Faces His Fears.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

He Is Greater

The congregation met on a lovely Sunday morning in mid-August, the Ninth Sunday after Pentecost and the second Sunday after Pastor Brad's vacation. Your faithful blogger, not being present was unable to take notes today. I did, however, receive a good report on the service.

Pastor Shannon veered from his series of messages based on Romans to remind us of some important thoughts related to how we respond to disappointments and the injustices we see in our world and sometimes in our own lives. It was a message from the heart, based on Psalm 77 which begins:

1 I cried out to God for help; I cried out to God to hear me. 2 When I was in distress, I sought the Lord; at night I stretched out untiring hands, and I would not be comforted.

He cited David's honesty and frustration. And also noted that from our vantage point we are unable to see what God is doing upstream.

At the beginning of the service Brad handed out a sheet of paper that later in the service we were instructed to read. Compiled by Barry Adams, it is subtitled, The Cry of a Father's Heart from Genesis to Revelation.

Compiled by Barry Adams

My Child:
You may not know me, but I know everything about you – Psalm 139.1
I know when you sit down and when you rise up – 139.2
I am familiar with your ways – Psalm 139.3
Even the very hears on your head are numbered – Matthew 10.29-30
For you were made in My image – Genesis 1.27
In me you live and move and have your being – Acts 17.28
For you are My offspring – Acts 17.28
I knew you even before you were conceived – Jeremiah 1.4-5
I chose you when I planned creation – Ephesians 1.11-12
You were not a mistake, for all your days are written in My book – Psalm 139.15-16
I determined the exact time of your birth and where you would live Acts 17.26
You are fearfully and wonderfully made – Psalm 139.14
I knit you together in your mother's womb – Psalm 139.13
And brought you forth on the day you were born –Psalm 71.6
I have been misrepresented by those who don't know Me – John 8.41-44
I am not distant and angry, but I am the complete expression of love – I John 4.16
And it is my desire to lavish my love on you – I John 3.1
Simply because you are My child and I am your Father – I John 3.1
I offer you more than your earthly father ever could – Matthew 7:11
For I am the perfect Father – Matthew 5.48
Every good gift that you receive comes from My hand – James 1.17
For I am your provider and I meet all your needs – Matthew 6.31-33
My plan for your future has always been filled with hope – Jeremiah 29.11
Because I love you with an everlasting love – Jeremiah 31.3
My thoughts toward you are countless as the sand on the seashore – Psalm 139.17-18
And I rejoice over you with singing – Zephaniah 3:17
I will never stop doing good to you – Jeremiah 32.40
For you are My treasured possession – Exodus 19.5
I desire to establish you with all my heart and all my soul – Jeremiah 32.41
And I want to show you great and marvelous things – Jeremiah 33.3
If you seek me with all your heart, you will find me – Deuteronomy 4.29
Delight in me and I will give you the desires of your heart – Psalm 37.4
For it is I who gave you those desires – Philippians 2.13
I am able to do more for you than you could possibly imagine – Ephesians 3.20
For I am your greatest encourager – 2 Thessalonians 2.16-17
I am also the Father who comforts you in all your troubles – 2 Corinthians 1.3-4
When you are brokenhearted, I am close to you – Psalm 34.18
As a shepherd carries a lamb, I have carried you close to my heart – Isaiah 40.11
One day I will wipe away every tear from your eyes – Revelation 21.3-4
I am your Father, and I love you even as I love my Son, Jesus – John 17.23
For in Jesus, My love for you is revealed – John 17.26
He is the exact representation of My being – Hebrews 1.3
He came to demonstrate that I am for you, not against you – Romans 8.31
And to tell you that I am not counting your sins – 2Corinthians 5.18-19
Jesus died so that you and I could be reconciled – 2Corinthians5.18-19
His death was the ultimate expression of my love for you – 1John 4.10
I gave up everything I loved that I might gain your love – Romans 8.38-39
If you receive the gift of my Son Jesus, you receive Me – 1John 2.23
And nothing will ever separate you from my love again – Romans 8.38-39
Come home and I'll throw the biggest party heaven has ever seen – Luke 15.7
I have always been Father, and will always be Father – Ephesians 3.14-15
My question is – will you be My child? – John1.12-13
I am waiting for you – Luke 15.11-32

Love, Your Dad, Almighty God

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Free At Last

Summer's here, Brad is back... let's have a service! As church families and friends entered the sanctuary the decibel level kept climbing until at its peak Brad gave us a boisterous welcome, bringing our attention to the opening of today's service.

Announcements were numerous as we slide the downslope of summer toward autumn.
1) September 11 will be our 2nd annual Fall Fest. Volunteers are needed a variety of tasks including ushers, the arts and crafts table, scavenger hunt and more.... And we also need pies, too, for the pie tasting competition, a bit hit last year that promises to be a ongoing tradition.
2) The Twig 5K Run is next weekend. All who are able please join us as we give water to the runners and mountain climber carabiners that say, "Get Connecting to God's Hope." We're gathering at 8:00 a.m. at Twig Town Hall.
3) Building committee news: We're moving forward on obtaining a buildable plan, having signed a contract with Morton Builders.
4) October 8 is the annual women's tea/luncheon
5) October 22 will be conducting a bazaar at the Twig Town Hall... details to come.

After a time of worship and the offering, Brad read Romans 6 in preparation for today's message.

Free At Last

Pastor Brad began his sermon be relating a story about a man with whom he had shared his faith while at North Park University. They exchanged stories, and the man shared about his use of drugs, his deep personal debt and how he was entrenched in a group of friends who were pretty doped up all the time. The fellow was in an unfulfilling minimum wage job and saw nothing exciting in his future.

Brad thought this was a perfect candidate for the Good News of salvation in Jesus. At the end of their conversation Brad asked if he'd like to meet again so they could talk more. The young man said, "No, I prefer my freedom." The response was revealing. Despite all this fellows enslavements, he thought he was free and that becoming a Christian would be bondage. The story was an eye-opener for Brad and a perfect setup for today's message.

We've been listening to a series of sermons on Paul's letter to the Romans this summer. In Romans 1-5 Paul demonstrates the need for the Good News of the Gospel, and explain how to be justified, that is, to be right with God. In this chapter, he moves to a discussion of how to be sanctified.

Paul makes the point that outside of Christ we are all slaves of sin. When sin is a way of life we are slaves of sin, slaves to self-will. Slaves of sin and slaves of self-deception as well. They believe they are free. The only real freedom is through Jesus who broke the power of sin and death. As Jesus said in John 8:36, "If the Son shall make you free, you shall be free indeed."

That people cannot see that they are slaves should not be a surprise to us. As Paul wrote in II Cornithians 4:4, the god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers so they cannot see. Once we're saved, delivered from the deceptive power of the evil one, God's first act is to open our eyes to see.

When Christ frees us, three things happen.
1) Our perception of sin changes. It is no longer fun, and we're aware that what we thought was freedom is not freedom at all.
2) Our desires change. The patterns of sin lose their appeal.

Scripture calls it having a new heart. The new heart has a new disposition. Brad illustrated the point by noting how the animals at the State Fair are all dressed up looking their finest, in ribbons and bows. But when its over, the pigs will return to their slop, and the seep will avoid the mud, daintily avoiding the muck when it is in their path. So it is, that Christians follow the disposition of their hearts.

This is not to suggest temptation is gone, but there is a new awareness, a new sensitivity to God's voice which speaks to the conscience.

3) You are responsible to preserve your freedom. Trust, obey, follow.

There is only one Master in all the world whose enslavement liberates. God is doing a great work here. Let's walk out free.

After the message and a closing hymn we celebrated the Lord's Supper.