Sunday, September 25, 2011

Reflecting On Your Biblical Story

After a hearty "Good morning" Brad thanked all the people who helped make the Harvest Fest such a successful event again two weeks ago. Announcements included mention that Family Nights will begin in October. Meals together and groups for all ages will help build and strengthen our church family. Volunteers are still needed for certain tasks.

Brad also expressed gratitude for our community of faith as everyone has been so generous in the aftermath of the Shannon's loss of their home. Needless to say they have no intention of spending all their money and time in a hotel and hope to find a mobile home they can move to their property before winter.

The worship began with our quartet singing "Somebody Touched Me." After another song and a time of corporate worship the offering was taken. Leonard read Daniel 1 to set up today's message.

Reflecting On Your Biblical Story

Each of us has a story. The book of Daniel is about Daniel's resiliency in difficult times. The first chapter is the focus of today's message and Brad aimed to bring home three main points.

1) Daniel did not expect to be in Babylon.
In many respects Daniel growing up was a golden boy with a future in leadership. He came from a family with high social status, was strikingly handsome, intelligent and had great prospects.

Unfortunately, after years of decline, Israel was not a nation with great prospects. While Daniel was still a young man the Babylonian armies ransacked Jerusalem, destroyed God's temple and made captives of its people. This was a painful experience as Daniel lost his culture, lost his relationship and even lost his name. Life did not turn out the way he had planned.

There's a world of heartbreak in the first two sentences of this chapter. What do you do when you find yourself in Babylon. How do you respond when life goes different than you had planned? What do you do? How did God let this happen?

2) Resolve and resiliency.
There was a study of people who experience great suffering to determine why some are defeated by it and others seems to thrive and grow through the experience. The key ingredient in the latter group is their resiliency.

In the study there were three characteristics common to those who were resilient. The first we see here exhibited by Daniel. Inside there is a deep resolve to honor their deepest values. We see this in verse 8... which leads to taking intiative, not resignation. Daniel determined his path, to honor God. This gave him courage to take a stand and not be just a helpless pawn in his life circumstances.

"What resolve do you need to make?" Brad asked. "What got you into your Babylon?" God is calling you to be like Daniel. Too many people spend their time making excuses. "If only I had more time." Or, "If only I had a better church."

Brad then stated emphatically, "This is your one and only life and it is short."

A second characteristic of resiliency in hardship is their commitment to community. Spiritually resilient people are committed to living in community. They don't go it alone. Connectedness is not only important, it is vital.

Daniel had three friends, Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego, who went through this experience with him.

Dr. Julius Segal, in his book Winning Life's Toughest Battles, details some of the ways in which James Stockdale's fellow POWs communicated to him and one another in an effort to keep his spirits alive. In the midst of horrorific torments, the men encouraged him with the snapping of towels, and an assortment of sounds to communicate to him in code. Men risked their lives to keep community alive, and here where relationships are easy to come by we fail to value them.

Do you have a community? If not, make it a priority. What a difference it has made for Brooke and I. People need to hear the code that they matter.

3) Suffering and meaning.
For spiritually resilient people, their suffering gives them meaning. It's not the intensity of the suffering but the meaningless of it that causes people to give up.

Daniel discovered God's hand was at work in his circumstances. God was not sleeping. And so with us, God is present and at work.

Resolve to be faithful. Trust God that He is at work in your situation.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

He Must Increase and We Must Decrease

Today was a significant service one several levels. It was the official kickoff of our fall schedule so that our services will return to their standard 10:15 a.m. starting time. And second, the Shannons preached the most powerful sermon in their lives by the manner in which they responded to the total loss of their home by fire 16 hours previous.

The service began with a greeting, and then remarks about the experience of losing one's home by fire. He noted that there seems to be a fraternity of people who have similarly lost their homes and that there were many emotions associated with the experience. Ultimately Brad stated that he felt a deep sense of gratitude for his family and our church family. Their loss was simply a loss of stuff, and at worst its a terrible inconvenience, but nothing like a death in the family. The Shannons were grateful for the outpouring of concern and the willingness of so many to help.

Announcements included the following. (1) There is still a need for assistants on Wednesday night, which is now to be a family night that will include meals for all in addition to the children's programs and youth group. (2) There will be some adult small groups this fall and we are in need of facilitators who will help lead. (3) There is also a sign up sheet for nursery, and the more who help will ease the burden for those who are already signed up.

We transitioned into the service by singing together "Worthy of Worship."

Gwen Cressman and Chuck Vandercheuren then re-enacted the parable of the sower for us. Actually Gwen read the parable as Chuck planted seeds in the various soils represented at the front of the sanctuary. Gwen shared again the GROW acronym (God's Word, Relationship with God and each other, Obedience, and Worship) and shared flowers with all the young people. When they come up to receive their flowers, Brad prayed for the children of the church.

We took an offering, prayed for the many needs we share, and then Brad took the pulpit.

He Must Increase & We Must Decrease

We've just finished a series of messages here at New Life on the theme that God is greater than. We learned that God is greater than our failures, greater than our hurts, greater than our disappointments and our confusion. That's what he is and that's why we worship him.

In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for greatness carries the notion of towering. In other words when it says God is great, it's saying that God towers over everything including anything else that tries to control your life.

Brad illustrated just how much God towers over everything by citing the story of Moses, who asked God what he was to say to pharaoh to make him listen. God said, "Tell him 'I am' sent you." The eternal, never tired, totally self-sufficient 'I am' who towers over all is the God we worship and serve.

They say that human knowledge is now doubling every two years, yet this is a fragment of what God knows and He already knows what's next to be known in our small realm of knowledge.

When I recognize that I am "less than," then I can begin to understand how truly great He is.

Today's sermon focused on a story from the book of Daniel, chapter 4, the story of King Nebuchadnezzar and how he learned about how great God was. The conclusion of the matter is found in verse 37 where the kind declares, "Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble."

This verse carries the nut of it... Pride is a dangerous weapon of mass destruction. But those who walk in pride, God is able to humble.

Someone once stated that Ego was an acronym for Edging God Out.

Scripture has plenty to say about God and pride. Brad noted several verses to illustrate including Psalm 18:27, "You rescue the humble but humiliate the proud," and Proverbs 29:23, "A man's pride brings him low, but a man of lowly spirit gains honor." James 4:6 states directly, "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble."

So why does God make such a big deal about pride? Brad said, "Because our world doesn't."

God detests pride, opposes the proud, and the story of Nebuchadnezzar reveals how God removes a man's blinders and bring him low. Nebuchadnezzar, like all who are caught up in this condition, could not see himself as he was.

The Babylon Nebuchadnezzar built was a remarkable feat in the ancient world. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon have been labelled one of the seven wonders of the world. The city itself was an achievement with 56 miles of walls, but the hanging gardens that he created for his wife exceeded everything. He took great pride in all this splendor.

Then one day the kind had a dream which greatly disturbed him. First he called his court magicians and enchanters to explain the meaning of the dream, but they failed, and so he called upon Daniel, who now bore the name of Belteshazzar. Daniel himself was troubled by the king's dream, and the king could tell that Daniel did not want to say what it meant. He cared about this man and did not wish to hurt him. But to the king's credit he requested that Daniel be straight with him. "I need you to tell the truth about me." And so Daniel explained the meaning of the dream.

Brad here inserted that pride comes with tunnel vision, and each of us sometimes needs a Daniel to speak truth to us.

In this case, the dream was about a great tree that was cut down. Daniel had to say, "You are that tree. You will be living in the wilderness eating grass like an animal until you acknowledge God, the most high."

Nebuchadnezzar is not unlike the modern self-made man and serves as a symbol as such. Pride creates a dangerous illusion of self-sufficiency. Did Nebuchadnezzar realize he had a problem? No. This is one of the dangers of pride.

Do you ever forget that your abilities are a gift of God? Do you always have to be right? Do you always have to make people feel that you're in control?

Brad asked another hard question. How do you handle interruptions? Do you get irritated when things interfere with your schedule. Getting irritated over interruptions is a pretty good indication that we have an overweening sense of our own importance.

According to Bonhoffer, interruptions are a part of Christian service. In Christian community active helpfulness is a principal characteristic, and this often comes in the form of unplanned interruptions, often in trifling and small matters but important. Jesus' entire minitstry could almost be considered a series of interruptions as he went on his way to speak to a crowd and was grabbed at, or requested to attend to a Centurion's servant. Even on the cross in the midst of His suffering he was interrupted by a man who pleaded, "Remember me when you come into your kingdom." That's what life really is... a ministry of interruptions.

Back to our story... Nebuchadnezzar asks Daniel to be straight with him, and Daniel replies, "You need to renounce your sins and start doing what is right." But nothing changes in Nebuchadnezzar's life and it's still twelve months later before his judgment arrives, revealing the patience of God, giving the king time to choose.

But no, one evening as he stands upon his roof and looks over his kingdom he says to himself, "Isn't this great what I have done? At that very moment, God brings down His judgment.

God is opposed to pride, is against any pride in your life, not out of meanness but out of love. Selfish pride is incompatible with selfless love. For this reason, everyone who exalts himself will be humbled.

Brad cited Larry Giglio who said, "If God is the great I am, then I am not." He then compared us to to the goods in an outlet mall, slightly irregular, nothing perfect. We ought to be wearing nametags that say, "I am not." The smaller I make myself, the bigger God gets.

Brad ended the sermon with these important words. When you hit your knees tonight, acknowledge your complete dependence on a greater God. Find a Daniel who can point ou your blind spots. Be interrupted so you can love and serve like we were made to do. It's true God opposes the proud but He gives grace and peace to the humble. Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.

Below: the remains of a home where many precious memories were created.

Sunday, September 11, 2011

Get Connected to God's Hope

Today was our Fall Fest, an outdoor service at Twig Town Hall and much more. The church family took in a lot of sun, and amidst all the bungee ramping, face painting, finger painting, music and games, there were a fair share of serious moments as we remembered 9/11, veterans, and the reason for our Christian hope.

The service itself was to some extent traditional despite its non-traditional setting. We began with our quartet singing followed by a time of worship. An offering was taken. We shared a time of prayer and a moment of silence for the victims and families of 9/11. And then Brad took the "pulpit" to give his message.

Get Connected to God's Hope

Brad began with a pair of humorous quotes from Bill Cosby and Homer Simpson. Then proceeded to note that he would be speaking to us from the Beattitudes. There are so many great passages in what has been called the Sermon on the Mount. But today he wanted to talk about parties.

Parties are an interesting part of our culture. Two questions always come to mind when we think of parties. (1) Who's invited? (2) What's it going to be like?

The party Brad wished to discuss with us here had to do with heaven. In Jesus' day it was the scribes and pharisees, the spiritual elite, who were the gatekeepers who declared who was welcome at God's party.

But then, this fellow Jesus came along, doing miracles and bringing hope to people who'd pretty much given up hope. Crowds came from all around wherever He went. To each and all He had a message about the Good News of the Kingdom. He said the Kingdom was not far off, but here and now.

On one occasion thousands had gathered and He gave a sermon which can be found in our Bibles today in Matthew 5-7. The first lines of this message talked about what the meaning of happiness is. The blessedness Jesus speaks of is not dependent on circumstances, like a good pie or television show. It is a happiness in spite of circumstances.

Blessed are the poor in spirit... these are the ones who are eligible for heaven, a complete contrast with what the pharisees were saying. The Pharisees set a high bar and you had to be worthy or walk away. Jesus said all you had to do was admit you were a zero. It's hard to admit we are so unworthy that we are a zero, but this also opens all the doors to everyone and anyone.

Jesus looked out at the crowd and probably saw someone weeping, and the next thing He said was, "Blessed are you who mourn... you will be comforted."

Then, radically, He said, "Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth." Not the hard chargers, but the ones who have been trampled on.

Blessed are the merciful... these are the ones who will receive mercy.

The kingdom of God is nothing like what people thought. And everyone is invited, even you. The invitation has nothing to do with a report card that you have to get A's on. This party, God's party, is not based on jumping through impossible hoops or on how many tassels you wear.

Brad re-stated the great truth that earth has no sorrow that heaven cannot heal, and invited all of us to the living hope that is deep and abiding.

Sunday, September 4, 2011

The Next Generation

With an even more informal greeting than usual, Brad cheerfully welcomed us to worship. He noted that our theme today would be drawn from Psalm 71 which was written by an elderly King David looking back on the lessons he'd learned over the course of his long life.

Announcements included a reminder of next week's Harvest Fest. There will be donuts waiting for us at 9:00 a.m., and at 9:30 we'll be playing the family game Minute-To-Win-It. In addition to our worship service there will be a catered lunch, pie tasting, face painting and much more.

Brad always noted that Wednesday nights will now become family nights here at the church. The goal will be to develop community. There is a need for volunteers to help in various leadership roles.

Today's Scripture reading: Matthew 18:15-20

After worship and a time of prayer Brad preached a message titled....

The Next Generation

Pastor Shannon began with an anecdote about a Covenant pastor who shared with Brad his experience in sub-Sahara Africa. One of his lingering memories was the time he spent on a small front step of a mud brick home in Zambia with an HIV AIDS-infected mother of six children. Two of these were just infants. Her first husband had died and she re-married a man who infected her with AIDS. Two of these children were by this second husband.

The pastor asked the woman if she had had the children tested for the disease, and he saw the look of fear in her eyes. The fear that her children could be part of the next wave of AIDS death on the continent was almost too much to bear.

As he left that encounter he was unable to speak for literally an hour. He could not get her situation out of his mind, and when he was asked later how it went out there he could barely enunciate the three words that came to mind... "It wrecked me." And he couldn't say another word. The leader of the compound said to him, "Let it wreck you. Don't ever forget this moment. Don't ever let it stop wrecking you."

Brad bared his heart at how the brokenness of this world is painfully evident to all of us, and sometimes it really wrecks us. Our response is sometimes like Habukkuk, who asked, "Why are You silent, God? What's Your strategy?"

Today's sermon, as noted at the opening of the service, was extracted from Psalm 71. And in verse 4 of this Psalm of David we see that the world he lived in was broken as well.

4 Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked,
from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel.

David used words like wicked, evil and cruel because his world was also painfully broken. This is a man who has seen a lot of life, now at the edge of life's sunset, hair grey, body not what it used to be.

{Blog Editor: At this point I must interject that the sermon today was rich with humour interjections about aging and other things in that inimitable manner that only Pastor Brad can deliver.}

In verses 5 and 6 David asserts how he has relied on God for a lifetime, which he reiterates in verse 17. He uses these affirmations to strengthen his plea, "Do not cast me away."

The message went on to explore the relationship between the generations. In Leviticus 19 there is a command to the young to stand up and show respect for the aged. But Brad reminded those of us in the camp of the aged that we have a responsibility to live worthy of that respect.

The book of Job points out that wisdom resides among the aged. "Does not long life bring understanding?" the writer asks. there is much we can learn from those who have walked further along the road of life than ourselves. Look to your elders for wisdom.

Brad noted that despite the worlds brokenness and his own frailties upon aging, David uses the word "hope" twice in this Psalm. In verse 5 he writes, "For you have been my hope, Sovereign LORD, my confidence since my youth." And again later affirms the same. David is not a bitter old man. He is optimistic about the future.

What is the source of this optimism? Vs. 18 gives a clue. David is looking forward to influencing the next generation that will come after him. He is looking forward to what God will do through this coming generation.

David knew that God had done great things in his own lifetime, and even by his own hand. But his days were numbered. He saw the future in the hands of the young who were coming. God's greatest work in confusing times is through the young people. Young people teach us to put teeth to our faith.

Brad's message to our young people: We need you to help us shape our future. Brad's message to the older ones among us: We have a responsibility to unleash the next generation.

Young people today hunger to have older persons breathe into them, to mentor them.

The service ended with Brad having everyone who has been a follower of Jesus for more than 30 years to stand to be honored.

After the service we participated on the breaking of bread, celebrating communion.