Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Right Motivation

On a dreary late autumn Sunday morning Pastor Brad warmly welcomed us, as is his custom. Today he would be presenting the fourth and last message in this current series on his theme "living for the sake of the call." What is the motivation that keeps us in the game?

Darlene transitioned us into worship with a beautiful introit. The Scripture reading after worship and an offering was Matthew 22:34-46. Brad led us in a time of prayer and then began his message.

The Right Motivation

Why is it that the life expectancy for women is so much longer than for men? Brad told a few amusing stories about risky things he's observed men do and got a laugh by answering with the statement, "Because men are dumber."

After the anticipated laugh we moved into the real question he wanted to ponder. Why do some servants in the family of God have a longer service life than others? Some become intensely motivated very quickly but in a year their passion for service has cooled significantly. Why do some remain faithful over time and others lose their drive?

The key is being motivated by the right fuel, God's mercy.

Brad shared a story to illustrate how love is a strong motivation than doing the right thing "because dad told me to." When we're kids that may work for a while, but not for a lifetime. Only one motivation is sufficient for the full distance of a lifetime: the Cross.

Paul sets this out in Romans 12:1 where he notes that in light of what God has done for us, our only sensible and appropriate response is to consecrate our lives to God.

Hebrews 13:16 contains another secret of the enduring life of service. "And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased." Doing nice things that other people do not expect, this pleases God. People who are in it for the long haul do it for God's approval. If you do things in the hopes of being stroked in return there will be two ways you can lose. First, if people are indifferent you'll be disappointed. The other response is equally troublesome, when we use our gifts to get attention and become addicted to the praise.

Are we serving for the applause of others? Do you serve to meet a need or to get some kind of praise in return? The smile of God should be our only aim. Use your gifts without the need to draw attention to yourself.

At this point we have learned that the fuel for a long life of service is the right motivation, and living for an audience of One.

In Matthew 19:27-29 Jesus addresses another matter relating to our motivations.

27 Peter answered him, “We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?”

28 Jesus said to them, “Truly I tell you, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.

Peter's question has undoubtedly been voice by many of us in one form or another as we've sought to follow Jesus. Why have we sacrificed so much? Jesus affirms that whatever sacrifices we've made, it will be worth it in the end. Knowing this and believing it are a strong support through the hard times.

Brad told a story about playing basketball without a hoop. It can be fun, but it's not long before you know that you really do need a goal. And the more inviting the goal, the more we're willing to sacrifice to get there.

Who applause are you serving for?

There are many martyrs in the New Testament, and millions more throughout church history.

Sunday, October 16, 2011

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

This morning Pastor Brad's greeting included a reminder that he has been doing a series on living for the sake of the call. Today, we would be looking at the story of the Good Samaritan, something he believes to be a worthy study at least once a year.

Announcements included next Saturday's Hunter's Expo in Poplar. The event runs from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. There will be a carpool, so contact Brad or the church if you are planning to attend.

The kindergarten and first graders came up and recited I John 4:7 in a creative way. "Beloved, let us love one another for love is of God. Everyone who loves is born of God and knows God."

The quartet opened worship with the great hymn, "He Hideth My Soul," inviting the congregation to join on the chorus. This was followed by a time of worship, the Scripture reading by Ally (Luke 10:25-37) and a time of prayer.

"Won't You Be My Neighbor?"

Brad snuck into the side room first, then Darlene began playing "It's a Wonderful Day in the Neighborhood," the theme from Mr. Rogers' Neighborhood. What got us all in chuckles was the way Brad started off by taking a seat and talking like Mr. Rogers. It was an entertaining intro, even if Brad neglected to wear the red sweater which Mr. Rogers made part of his daily regimen on the show.

Brad began by asking us about the neighborhoods we grew up in. He even had us tell our pew neighbors about our neighborhoods. Most of us remember not only the people next door, but the whole neighborhood. We knew our neighbors because we played together, ate together, did things together. But Brad said when he got saved, Jesus expanded his understanding of the meaning of neighbors. Today's story of the Good Samaritan was instrumental in this.

The passage begins in Luke 10:25.

On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”

In some translations "expert in law" is translated lawyer, but what it really means is not a lawyer like Perry Mason or today's courtroom lawyers. Rather, he is an expert in the religious laws as laid out in the Pentateuch. It's noteworthy here that his aim was to test Jesus, not listen to Him. So he asks the pointed question.

Jesus flips it back at him. “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?”

The lawyer recites the "correct" answer. “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” At this Jesus assents, but adds, "Do this and you will live."

The lawyer didn't let it go here, though. Wanting to justify himself he asks still another question. "Who is my neighbor?" And Jesus, being the Master teacher He was, with His piercing eyes of holiness could see directly into this man's heart and knew exactly where that question was coming from.

Instead of a direct answer Jesus tells a story.

30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. 31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. 32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’

36 “Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?”

37 The expert in the law replied, “The one who had mercy on him.”

Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”

We're so familiar with this story that we don't hear it sometimes. The man going down from from Jerusalem to Jericho was traveling a dangerous road. That robbers would jump him and leave him half dead was no surprise to the hearers of this tale because this kind of thing happened along that way. That a priest would go by and walk on the other side of the road was probably not a surprise. He was probably returning from a cleansing ceremony in Jerusalem. He was under holy orders to stay "clean." The Levite, too, was famously a keeper of the law. He could not afford to be involved.

The crowd knew there would be a third person coming along. Maybe a common blue collar guy like them. They were eager to see this man be the hero of the story, but instead Jesus has that third man be a Samaritan. Samaritans were half-breeds and hated by the Jews. It was not the right hero for this story.

But it was the Samaritan who did the right thing. He took pity on the man, probably tore his shirt into strips in order to bandage his wounds. He put the injured man on his donkey and walked till they reached an inn whereupon he paid two months ahead for a room for the man, offering to cover any additional expenses not covered.

When Jesus asks, "Which of these three were neighbor to the man?" the lawyer again knows the right answer, as do all of the hearers of this story. It was the one who had mercy. And we're instructed to go and do likewise.

Brad put it to us this way. We need to engage our neighbors. We need to listen to them, not preach at them. In a profound way he stated that as we listen to our neighbors' stories, we should do so with an ear to hear where God is already at work in their circumstances, to see where God is intersecting with their lives. In this manner we can meet people at their point of need.

Living out the Gospel is a lifestyle, not a "church program." It's about relationships. It's about broadening our view of who our neighbors are.

"Go and do likewise."

Sunday, October 9, 2011

You're A Priest

Overheard before the service: "My wife's here. Now I can start church."

Pastor Brad welcomed us even more warmly than the unseasonably warm weather we've had this week. Our topic today would be the second of four messages based on Steven Curtis Chapman's song, "My Turn Now." Brad shared last week how this song changed his life and this week began the service by playing it for us. Based on what Jesus has done, it's "my turn now to give my life away."

Today Brad's message would be an elaboration of this main point. There are two kinds of churches. In one kind of church the pastor is the professional who does ministry. In the second kind of church, we're all priests, all called to exercise our gifts.

Announcements included mention that Wednesday night family nights have begun and everyone is invited. Second, there will be a Hunter's Expo for men at Mission Covenant Church in Poplar on October 22 from 11:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m.

Chuck led us in worship after which an offering was taken. The Scripture reading was from I Corinthians 12:12-31. This was followed by a time of prayer in which we were again reminded of the many needs around us. Brad then began his message.

You're A Priest

Brad began by underscoring that this was an urgent message. It's time to stop being a spectator and to get out of the stands.

There are two kinds of people at a ballgame, the players and the spectators. Spectators watch. Their gifts don't matter. Their proper role is to watch and enjoy the game. The Chicago Cubs fan who interfered with a fly ball a few years back was ostracized for his behavior. He was not a hero.

But imagine if things changed and next spring one of the fans decides he wants to get in the game and instead of sitting back as a spectator he jumps the rail and heads out onto the field, and the other fans follow so that we have 3o,ooo people on the field saying, "We want to be players."

God does not want a church made of clergy and spectators. This is not God's plan, Brad said as he directed us to Exodus 18. This is the passage where Jethro, the father-in-law of Moses, points out that Moses alone cannot carry out all the responsibilities he is grappling with. Moses selects others to whom he can delegate some of the responsibilities of leadership.

At this point Brad commenced to ask us five important questions.

1) Do I perceive myself as a minister of Christ?
The structure in Egypt under Pharaoh was simple. There was Pharaoh and then there was everyone else. When Moses led Israel out of Egypt he followed the same pattern, until his father-in-law stepped in.

After the resurrection Peter, by inspiration, understood the new pattern for the church. We are, he writes in I Peter 2:4, a kingdom of priests. We are all, each of us, called to be a channel of God's grace to the world, not spectators.

2) Have you gotten in the game?
Have you actively stepped out of the stands to minister? God's will is for everyone to get out of the stands and to get in the game.

3) Am I growing in ministry?
God has gifted each of us in different ways. We have a responsibility to unwrap our gives.

At this point Brad told a story about Bob Nadine who as a child saw his own home go up in flames. It was Christmas and as he stood outside the house and watched flames licking the tree, he also saw the presents underneath and sprang into action, rushing in to the house to grab as many presents as he could. Perhaps the point for us is that we all have gifts and should not just let them go to waste.

4) Am I helping others grow in ministry?
Are we encouraging and affirming others who step out?

In Numbers 11, two men began prophesying and a young man ran to Moses to exclaim with concern, “Eldad and Medad are prophesying in the camp.”

28 Joshua son of Nun, who had been Moses’ aide since youth, spoke up and said, “Moses, my lord, stop them!” 29 But Moses replied, “Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the LORD’s people were prophets and that the LORD would put his Spirit on them!”

Indeed... Would that all God's people were prophets. Instead of criticizing them, Moses wished that he would like more like that.

5) Have you eliminated every ounce of pride in your life?
Numbers 12:3 states as an aside that Moses was the most humble man on earth. What's interesting is that the original word for minister in the Bible is also translated servant in other places. Spectators who want to become players are not those seeking the limelight, but those willing to serve. This is something we are all called to do and be.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

For the Sake of the Call

Another very special service today. The sermon dealt with a text that Brad said was instrumental in his life. After greeting us he asked, "What does it mean to live for the sake of the call?"

Announcements today included:
1) Wednesday night is Family Night here at New Life. Everyone is invited for a meal at 6:00 with activities for all ages afterward. Sharing a meal and time together is a valuable way to build community.
2) Elsa Holmgren will be coming to help our church for a month. She is looking forward to being with us and seeking out her path to service while serving our community.
3) Cheryl Borndal asked us to all sign up for various roles in church ministry, from reading Scripture to special music to ushering and in other ways. The sign up sheets are in the narthex.

Brad read from John 13 to set the stage for the message. After a time of prayer he began his sermon.

For the Sake of the Call

We're at a time in history where this topic is so needed and so necessary. Tsunamis, AIDS, terrorism, war, poverty, racism, oppression... so much is going on in our world. It's a perfect time to spend four weeks trying to figure out what it means to live the Christian life with reckless abandon.

Brad pulled out a deck of cards and set them on the pulpit, noting that there are many Christians who would be uncomfortable showing a deck of cards in church because they are often used for games of chance. There are homes where parents or grandparents would discourage even touching a deck of cards. What they were afraid of is that playing card games might lead their children to the allurement of gambling.

The appeal of gambling is that one day you might get lucky and, if you pulled the right slot machine or picked the right numbers, you would hit the jackpot and never have to work again.

Despite the odds against it (you are 121 times more likely to be struck and killed by lightning) we have all heard stories of big jackpot winners, and know that such things can and do happen. This is what keeps the gambling industry alive. People want a payoff without perspiration.

But there's another reality about those jackpot winners. After the three years the odds are very high that those same winners will be less happy. In the wake of winnings we see jealousy, divorce, mistrust, broken relationships and more. Hence Jesus warned, "Beware of the deceitfulness of riches."

John 13 is the story of the last supper Jesus had with His disciples. The evening meal was in progress. But something was amiss. Normally, at meals like this there will be a servant hired to wash the feet of the those who entered. Roads were dusty. Someone should have been there with the towel and basin of water, but no one was taking on that role this day. Who would step up and wash the feet when the official foot washer doesn't?

Jesus then took the towel, knelt and began washing feet.

As He washed the disciples' feet, He noted that they did not understand what He was doing for them. "Do you know what I've done for you?" He was setting for them an example, and summed up with, "Now that you know these things you will be blessed if you do them."

Three points were drawn from this.

1) Jesus calls every one of His followers to a life of towel-bearing.
Holding a door open matters. We're to be ready to serve at all times. Christians today are too often known for what they are against. What the church ought to be famous for is its selflessness in service.

2) Jesus, by His example, is essentially saying, "If it isn't beneath Me, it's certainly not beneath you."

3) You will be blessed if you do this, if you bear the towel on a daily basis.
Do you really believe that if you put others' needs ahead of your own that you will be blessed?

Brad contrasted the person wearing the towel with the one pursuing the American Dream. In Ecclesiastes 2 we find Solomon sharing what he learned about the pursuit of pleasure. He had it all, houses, gardens, vineyards, silver, gold, servants, a harem, singers, riches beyond compare. He writes, "I denied myself nothing my eyes desired." But in the end learned through the experience that it was all meaningless vanity.

Each of us has a choice: pursue the American Dream or the towel. Will you live for yourself or for those beyond yourself. Choose your road... There is a payoff when the pursuit of your heart is Jesus.

The service was consummated with the celebration of the Lord's Supper.