Sunday, December 30, 2012

Highly Favored

"Welcome… I love being here. It’s still the season of Christmas. I hope you’ve had a wonderful Christmas season," Pastor Shannon declared as he opened the service. "As we enter the new year do we recognize and embrace what it means to be highly favored by God."

Announcements include:
1. Brad will be starting a new members class sometime by the end of January. Let us know if this interests you.
2. Sunday school begins again next week Women’s Group January 19th. Bring a treat to share. More information in the weeks ahead.

Worship began with Chuck, Darlene and Ken singing a medley combining Gentle Shepherd and Freely, Freely. Brad committed the service to God and the trio then sang For Those Tears I Died, then led us in worship.

Offering taken, followed by a Scripture reading: Luke 1:46-56

Einstein once said, "There are two ways to live: you can either live as if nothing is a miracle, or as if everything is a miracle."  

Before our time of prayer Brad gave the congregation an opportunity to share things they are grateful for, and numerous people shared very personally from the heart.

Highly Favored

The focus here today is on one word: Favor. It’s a beautiful word, appropriately reflecting the beauty of the season. The pastor described three scenes to help illustrate the meaning of this word and its application to us today.

The first: a young woman is sitting in a small village. She’s from a poor family. And the angel Gabriel comes to her and greets her as one who is favored.

Favor means, “Kindness beyond what is due or usual.”

The angel explains what this favored status means."The Lord is with you... you will give birth to a son... he will be great and will be called Son of the Most High... He will reign... and his kingdom will never end."

In Mary's case, being favored mean that God's son, wholly God and very God, was inside her. But what does this mean for me?

Brad's answer was clear. To be a Christian means that the life of Jesus is within you. “Christ in you, the hope of glory.” In Galatians 2:20 Paul writes, "I am crucified with Christ and no longer live, but Christ lives in me.” And in Gal 4:19 Paul speaks of his pains, as if in childbirth himself, “till Christ be formed in you."

In other words, the Christ formed in Mary in flesh is formed in believers by His spirit.

Second word picture… In Roman times the shepherds were such an underclass population that their testimony would not hold up in court. How strange and amazing that these were the first people to whom the angels declared that God’s son was born in Bethlehem.

A lot of people see God as someone with a big angry expression and accusing finger. Do you see harshness or kindness?

A third scene… found in Luke 4. Jesus at age 30, at a Sabbath day in Nazareth where He has been handed a scroll in the synagogue

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free, 19 to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” 

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”

What an incredible statement.  Every in that room would have understood what Jesus was referring to when He said, "the year of the Lord's favor." It was the Year of Jubilee.

The Year of Jubilee was a truly wonderful break for the poor, a once in a lifetime deal in which debts were cancelled, slaves were set free and family land would be returned. The Year of Jubilee was commanded by God, but it ended up a practice that never happened. The haves, the ones with power, always had an excuse to not fulfill this.

But Jesus comes along and says, “I am here to blow the trumpet…. To fulfill this Year of Jubilee.”

I am glad Jesus came to fulfill the day of the Lord's favor and not the day of justice. We need kindness. We need to see our debts cancelled and freedom from enslavement.

Debts always have a price and someone has to pay. Every time a debt is written off, a loss is incurred. God absorbs the debt for our sin. He takes the loss for our gain.

How should we respond? Christmas is about the favor of God… Mary embraced this truth, this reality.

If you're a Christian, you live in the favor of God. I hope you see how rich you are in Christ. You have been set free. Your sins are forgiven. The life of God is within you.You are privileged. You are loved. You are surrounded by the kindness of God that is beyond what is usual and what is due.

The other side is this… how great a loss it is for those who have rejected or never found Him.

Sunday, December 23, 2012


It was a very special service again this morning. The primary announcement this morning pertained to tomorrow's Christmas Eve service, which will be at 4:00 p.m.

After the congregation sang a pair of beautiful Christmas hymns, Brooke Shannon talked about what God has been doing in her life this past year in a ministry moment. Her sharing was all the more powerful because the only Brooke we have seen publicly seems to be a bright-spirited, cheerful leader in our church family. This morning she allowed us to see through the windows into her heart and what it meant to lose her home in a house-fire 15 months ago.

Brooke began by sharing that there's one word that came to mind when she thought about this matter: Home.

To put things into a bigger context, she stated that she has moved 27 times in her life. When she lost her house, and her wedding dress, she had three things she was grateful she did not lose: her family, her faith and her church. Now that they've moved into the new house they built, she shared how this word is an acronym for the lessons she learned.
H... Humility  What I have is not mine.
O... Ongoing  The journey doesn't end. There will be more trials or victories.
M... Maturity  A deepening knowledge of God
E...  Endurance

Brooke shard her low point this past year. "Honey, should we just move?" But then she recognized that they have been called to this community. It was a very powerful message.

During the offering Brad mentioned that normally the church does not take an offering during the Christmas service, but that tomorrow an offering will be taken to support the missional commitments of the Covenant churches here and abroad. After a time of prayer, Pastor Shannon delivered the sermon.


Brad began by asking, "What was going through Joseph's mind when he learned his betrothed was pregnant?" And also, "What does it mean when the Bible calls Joseph a righteous man?" We looked closely at a detail that often gets lost in all the more familiar details of the Christmas story.

18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. 19 Because Joseph her husband was faithful to the law, and yet did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly. (Matt 1:18-19)

Our English translations of the Bible vary, but the original word that the NIV translated "was faithful to the law" is translated "a righteous man" which still fails to fully convey the meaning of the word. The word here is "sadiq" which means "uncompromising obedience to the Torah."

A sadiq was one who did what was right. He kept the Sabbath and all the laws. He was someone people looked up to so that his identity was associated with this honorable behavior. This is why it was an exceptionally problematic situation when he learned the woman to whom he was betrothed was now pregnant, and he himself had not had anything to do with it.

Joseph's identity was associated with being a righteous man. The problem is, the letter of the law would require that he make her sin public. This was a stoning-level offense. His reputation was on the line in how he handled this. 

When Mary explained the situation to Joseph, that she was "with child" but that she had not been with any man, that this was God's child, Joseph did not initially believe it. This was just too much, and he undoubtedly experience great anxiety as her wrestled with what to do. He'd already decided to divorce her quietly when an angel came to him with words of comfort and instruction.

It's interesting here that God allowed Joseph to experience this anguish while his world was being turned upside down.

At this point several things became clear in Joseph's mind. First, by taking Mary back as his wife, he was about to lose his reputation (as a righteous man, as a sadiq.) Second, if he married a pregnant girl his life would never be the same. Third, his identity as a sariq would be lost.

But the angel said, "Don't be afraid." And Joseph brought Mary home to him.

Brad pointed out an interesting detail from the Gospel of Mark. In Mark 6 it is noted that Jesus had four brothers, named after the Patriarchs of Israel. In verse 3, there is a reference to Jesus as "the son of Mary." At the time, and through most of history, the designation for sons would be as sons of their fathers. Being a small town, it would appear the lost reputation of Joseph continued, and when it says in verse 4, "they took offense at him" it was tantamount to calling him a "son of a ___."

In short, Joseph gave up his reputation and identity for Jesus, and did so even before Jesus was born.

Could this upbringing be one more reason Jesus had a heart for the downtrodden, the rejected, the women who had been stained, because he saw that his father was this kind of man who demonstrated a new kind of righteousness, based on mercy and compassion.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus declared, "Unless your righteousness passes that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law" -- the old system -- "you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven." Jesus must have been thinking inside, I've seen the better kind of righteousness firsthand; my father was such a man.

When Joseph made the decision to wed Mary, he thought it was the end of his being known as a righteous man. He did not know fully that the child he would adopt would bring to the human race a new kind of righteousness. That is what we're celebrating this Christmas.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

God Keeps His Promises (Part II)

The recent Connecticut school shooting weighed on many hearts as we gathered for worship today, and it weighed on Pastor Brad's heart as well. "Good morning… It’s been a tough week. The idea that kept coming to me was 'Come, Lord Jesus, come.' Waiting is hard. Jesus Christ is the hope of the world."

The only announcement this morning was an invitation to join us this afternoon at 4:00 for the Christmas Program and ethnic potluck dinner, the theme being, "Christmas Around the World."

Darlene transitioned us into worship with a creative variation of Hark the Herald, then Norm and Mae lit the Third Advent Candle, the candle of joy.

Chuck led the worship which consisted of Christmas hymns selected by the congregation including The First Noel, a beautifully reflective Silent Night and the tender What Child Is This.

Ministry Moment
Chuck Vanderscheuren shared briefly about what God is dong in his life. He shared how he has been going down to the Salvation Army now for four years and it has been one of the best things that has happened in his life. He said it has forced him to try to be a better person. He shared Micah 6:6-8… “Act justly, love mercy and walk humbly with your God.” Rev 12:10,11 In heaven there will be rejoicing, singing and we will be known by our testimony.

Chuck brings breakfast on Wednesdays.

Brad read today's Scripture passage Zephaniah 3:14-20 and after a time of prayer began today's message.

God Keeps His Promises (Part II)

Waiting is hard. I don’t like to wait in line at a shopping mall. I don’t like to wait in a gas station waiting for someone to pull away.

Brad asked us to imagine a couple scenarios. You’re at a toll booth. The driver in the car in front of you is having an extended conversation with the toll booth operator. How do you respond?
1. You’re happy at their fellowship and how well they get along.
2. You think of things you want to say to the toll booth operator, none very kind.
3. You attempt to drive between the car and the booth.

The second scenario given a similar treatment: You’re in a waiting room for an hour…

There are other kinds of waiting that is hard. A single person wondering if they will ever have someone to share a life with. A waiting of a couple longing to get pregnant and start a family. There are other situations as well that we do not have power in our hands to resolve.

Waiting for a hope deferred is challenging.

There are many Psalms that speak of waiting patiently for the Lord. Abraham was visited by an angel and told he would have a son, but it was 24 years till the miracle happened... that is a long wait. All through Scripture there are stories of waiting. And then the many centuries after the time of the prophets in which all Israel was waiting for a promised Messiah to deliver them.

In the years before our Lord's birth there were many who were waiting for or looking forward to this One who was to redeem Israel. Simeon was promised by God that he would not see death till he had seen the Messiah, and as an old man this promise was fulfilled. Anna, a widow in her 80’s, was another who waited with longing. After her husband passed away she never left the temple, waiting for the coming redeemer.

When Jesus grew up and began his ministry, His disciples believed He would restore the Kingdom…. But He was crucified, and event that startled and confused them. When He rose from the grave, He gathered them and told them what to do: to wait in Jerusalem. (Acts 1:4)

43 times in Old Testament people are told to wait. The last chapter of the Bible, “Behold, I am coming soon” yet we find ourselves waiting. Waiting is a form of suffering that produces perseverance, and perseverance character, and character hope. (Romans 5:3-5)

But waiting is not passively hoping something or someone comes along to help you take care of your problems. Nor is waiting a way to evade painful realities. Waiting on the Lord is a daily decision to trust God.

Here are three aspects of waiting pastor highlighted for us.

1. Waiting on the Lord requires patient trust.
a. II Peter 3:8-9 God’s perspective is not ours.
b. All too often we want God’s resources but not His timing.
c. Waiting is a time when God is doing His work in us. It has a purpose in our own growth and development. and helps you learn who you are.
d. Henri Nouwen wrote a beautiful book about trapeze artists who said there is a special relationship between the flyer and the catcher. The flyer must let go, and his job is to be absolutely still and remain that way until the catcher catches you, an illustration that aptly describes our role in relationship to God as we let go and trust.

2. Waiting on the Lord requires confident humility.
a. Confidence and quietness
b. Waiting is something only the humble can do with grace
c. I must learn that “I’m not calling the shots.”
d. Society allows people with status to wait less. But we are waiting on God.
e. Mark 4 tells the story of Jesus asleep in the boat while a storm is happening. The disciples were frantic, finally waking Him. He stills the storm and silences their fears as well. Though Jesus experienced all the things we've experienced, God is never frantic, never in a hurry.

3. Waiting requires that we learn how to recognize God’s voice.
a. God’s voice is never frantic. When you hear frantic, panicky thoughts in your head, this is not God’s voice.
b. My sheep know My voice.

Hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what is seen? (Hebrews 11) What we wait for is not more important than what happens to is when we wait.

As you wait, hope. As Isaiah explained...

30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who wait upon the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint. 


Sunday, December 9, 2012

God Keeps His Promises

A fresh snowfall fell gently over the countryside during the night and continued again this morning. The outdoor quiet lay in distinct contrast to the energetic practice taking place in the sanctuary in preparation for the upcoming Christmas concert. Downstairs many others were assembled for a Christmas-focused adult Sunday school gathering.

Brad welcomed us and grabbed our attention with a booming “Good morning! Thank you for braving this storm today.”

He then directed us toward the theme that he would be sharing from the pulpit this morning. "There is only one person who always keeps his promises and that is God. How does God break into our world to keep His promises even today."

Life of the Church

Tonight at 5:00 p.m. there is a men’s ministry event taking place here, Men as Peacemakers. Fire departments throughout the region will be here for a presentation on domestic abuse. There will be a meal preceding.

Christmas Around the World is our theme for this year’s Christmas program which will be next Sunday. There will be an international meal after the program which begins at 4:00 p.m. This is a reminder that the children need to be here for Wednesday and Saturday practice. (10 – noon next week.)

Regarding the Salvation Army family we have adopted, a Mom and 2 kids: bring your gifts by next Sunday.

Ed Newman played piano this morning in Darlene’s absence, beginning with an Appalachian carol, and then accompanying the congregation as we sang several Christmas hymns.

The lighting of the second Advent candle followed with Larsen family… Advent is a time of waiting and anticipation. The first candle is the Candle of Hope. The second, which was lit today, is the Candle of Preparation as Christians "prepare" to receive God.

Duayne Anderson shared with us during a Ministry Moment in response to the question, “What has God been doing in your life?”

“What I’m sharing is what God is doing in my life by being in my life.” He shared about his brother-in-law’s recent passing last month. Throughout his suffering with Lou Gehrig’s Disease, he was happy to know he was saved and repeatedly said “God doesn’t give you more than you can handle.”

Shared the challenge it is when faced with suffering in others’ lives. Duayne affirmed that whatever we go through He is there, and we can go to Him.

God Keeps His Promises

For a lot of people the Christmas season has other emotional associations. For Pastor Brad, this time of year reminds Brad of his father’s passing, and the difficult time that preceded it as Brad was involved with taking care of him as he declined. What made the experience especially difficult was that many people prayed for his father’s healing, but it never happened.

In A Grief Observed, C.S. Lewis bared his soul as he wrote about the passing of his wife, Joy Davidman. The reason he married her was to assure her that when she died of cancer he would take care of her sons, but then she survived and the formality of marriage became something more. But then, she was taken from him as her cancer returned, and he turned his skillful pen toward expressing the pain and grief of his loss. 

It was so personal that he wrote the book and published it under a pseudonym. primarily because it was so open about his anger and questioning God.It was only after he died that the book was properly attributed to this influential Christian.

In both instances, Lewis' and Pastor Shannon's, there was pain because expectations about God's intervention did not happen in the manner they assumed God should intervene.

We live in an assumptive world… all too often confused and disillusioned when things don’t happen the way we think they should and our belief structures are shaken.

Here's the passage from Isaiah 40 that Brad proceeded to read:

25 “To whom will you compare me?
Or who is my equal?” says the Holy One.
26 Lift up your eyes and look to the heavens:
Who created all these?
He who brings out the starry host one by one
and calls forth each of them by name.
Because of his great power and mighty strength,
not one of them is missing.

27 Why do you complain, Jacob?
Why do you say, Israel,
“My way is hidden from the Lord;
my cause is disregarded by my God”?
28 Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
The Lord is the everlasting God,
the Creator of the ends of the earth.
He will not grow tired or weary,
and his understanding no one can fathom.
29 He gives strength to the weary
and increases the power of the weak.
30 Even youths grow tired and weary,
and young men stumble and fall;
31 but those who wait upon the Lord
will renew their strength.
They will soar on wings like eagles;
they will run and not grow weary,
they will walk and not be faint.

How does God keep His promises? How does God work? Some strong Calvinist friends say that God controls everything. We're just going through the motions of appearing to have a say in our life choices. Others see absolutely no involvement and we’re left to muddle along on our own.

But how does God break into human affairs? There are three ways which were presented.

1. Intervention is where God actually reaches down and intervenes. An example of this is in Exodus 14. Israel left Egypt, but got stuck at the Red Sea with Pharaoh’s army’s rapidly approaching chariots coming on strong. As we remember, God parted the Red Sea and the fleeing Israelites cross on dry ground, a miraculous intervention of God on behalf of His people. In NT we see another example in Luke 18. A man born blind receives his sight at Jesus' word. Jesus spoke, and the man could see.

Too often, though, we think this is the way God should act, always, and we can expect that He will act when we have a need.

It’s good that we expect or desire miracles from God. Many of us can share stories like this. It’s not wrong to expect a miracle. but here is the problem. It is not God’s primary method of working and it will leave you disillusioned if you expect this kind of problem solving all the time.

2. Interaction is where God works through His people. Here is another example from Exodus, this time from chapter 2. Moses kills an Egyptian to save Israel from oppression, but flees to the backside of desert because of his fear. Moses' life can be summed up in three acts. The first 40 years he learned he was a somebody thru association with pharaoh’s courts. The second 40, he learned he was a nobody. In his third 40, he learned what God could do through a somebody who knew he was a nobody.

God says to Moses, “You go, and I’ll go with you.” They are team. He is a worker together with God.

I have friends who say they have miracles every day… before breakfast, later in the afternoon and again in the evening. My experience tell me there are some things that will not be changed unless God works and WE work together with Him.

The Great Commission is an example here. Jesus affirms His omnipotence and omniscience, but in between, God commissions his people to change the world by making disciples of all nations. Unless we do our part, it will not happen.

3. Inner Action is where God does not do a miracle, or change our situation, but through His inaction He does something beautiful inside us. An example can be found in II Corinthians 12 where Paul talks about his thorn in the flesh. It is never identified, but what we know is that God did not pull the thorn. Nor could Paul remove the thorn himself. But by means of the thorn Paul's relationship with God was deepened.

8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

Brad then shared the story of Jim, a wheelchair-bound man whose situation was not changed, but who became an incredible man through God’s inner action.

The people of God were awaiting a Messiah for centuries. God seemed to have forsaken them. But God was not absent and had not forsaken them.

Then Brad opened the windows into his own life and shared how difficult this past 14 months had been after their home burned. " I often wondered if I could make it through the day… and many days I ended the day thankful that I had walked and had not fainted."

God's promise is that our strength will be renewed when we learn to wait on Him. God keeps His promises. Sometimes we can soar on eagle's wings or run and not be weary, but other times we will walk and not faint. You can bet your soul on that.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

God So Loved the World

Pastor Brad Shannon begand by greeting us with his usual warmth, "Good morning. I’m grateful you’re here today." He then noted this this is the  first Sunday in advent, which speaks of the time of longing, preparing for the coming of the Messiah. Today, first advent candle would be lit, representing hope. Jesus Christ is the hope of the world. Our hope is not in government or material possessions but in Jesus Christ.

Announcements included the following...
1. Next Sunday, December 9, the group Men as Peacemakers will be with us for a dininer and time of learning about domestic abuse.
2. Bring your Covenant World Relief cans next week
3. This year we are again adopting a family through a Salvation Army to help make Christmas special for a needy family. The family we are sharing with is a Mom with two three-and a half year olds. The boy is size 5T. Jeans, slippers, Spiderman, buzz cars and sleds are on his list. The little girl has Tinker Belle, Disney Princess and sleds on her list. See Dawn Walsh for details. Bring your gifts by the 16th.
4. The 16th will also be our Christmas Children’s Program, the 16th, the theme being Christmas Around the World.

Chuck and Darlene were away for the weekend. Ed Newman filled in on the piano for our introit and music during the offering and communion.

The Borndal family lit the first Advent candle and shared the meaning of this first candle: Hope… awaiting for the hope of Christ to come into our lives in a new way.

The offering was taken after which Ed shared a few thoughts on the theme of “What is God doing in my life?”

Today's Scripture reading was from Luke 21:25-36.

There were many requests for the church family and needs in our world today during our time of prayer.

God So Loved the World

Brad began by sharing memories of Christmas growing up. He remembered the pressure to make each Christmas the “best Christmas ever” though also in the aftermath they would say, “We’ll have to cut back next year.”

Our Christmas rituals included shopping, getting gifts, Mom baking cookies, etc. But for many of us Christmas memories include family times with grouchy relatives, unspoken issues in the midst of everything else, Christmas parties on top of other parties, economic uncertainties… What would it take for this Christmas to be the best Christmas ever?

To answer this question Pastor Shannon had us look at what made the first Christmas great and so we can make this Christmas great again. He had us turn to John 3:16, the first words that expressed what launched Christmas."For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life."

What made the first Christmas great is that God gave…. Giving is what God is into.

God is so generous, and has been so right from the beginning. James rights that we shouldn't be deceived about God… “Every good and perfect gift is from above…”

Brad shared an anecdote about a famous surfboarding location called Half Moon Bay. Surfers come from all over to surf here. One stated, “We are the luckiest organisms in the history of the world to be able to enjoy this.” Once again, God’s generosity is lavish and continual.

As expressed in the Book of Lamentations, “Your mercies are new every morning. Great is Your faithfulness.” God is constantly giving. Every day. It's as if He greets us each day like this: “You liked yesterday’s sunrise? Here’s another…”

But when God gave us Jesus He outgave Himself. God gave the gift of a savior to people who needed it most…

What makes Christmas great is not the Christmas tree It's not the music or food. It's not the moments we create, or feelings we experience. It's our giving.

What if we expressed record levels of compassion in sometimes costly ways? What if we so loved the world that we gave to others in ways that blessed more?

Instead of a "see more, shop more, stress more, frenzied more Christmas, let’s make it a Christmas of compassion.

Giving is not something good only for others. Jesus said, "It is more blessed to give than receive." In other words, you will be enriched and enhanced when you give. Jesus did not say, “You should give more” or “It is better to give.” He said you will be blessed.

Brad shared the results of a study of two groups of youth, those who did volunteer work with younger kids and those who did not. The first group was much more well adjusted, less likely to end up with teen pregnancies, drug addicitions, etc. But at all ages, people who volunteer with school children have more satisfaction. It is more life-giving to give.

Bringing it down to practical applications, Brad invited us to bring extra food to church with us for area food shelves. And to bring something for the family we’ve adopted. "Go on an adventure of giving."  

I know God gave His only son… What can I give?

To illustrate what it is like to be on the Taker road, Brad explained how to catch a monkey. Get a jar with a narrow mouth. Put some bait inside the jar. The monkey reaches in, grasps the banana or orange. And because he only wants to grasp, he won’t let it go, even though grasping keeps him from being able to pull out his hand.

The story of the Rich Young Ruler comes readily to mind. "Good teacher? What must I do to inherit eternal life?" It's the right question, but the young man didn't like the answer. "Sell all you have, give it to the poor, and follow Me." The rich young ruler walked away sad.

On the other hand the Gospels tell another story of a man with wealth who encountered Jesus, Zachias. Zachias has a different response, giving lavishly. This is the path toward making this the best Christmas ever.

~ ~ ~

Today we concluded the service by celebrating the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The Wisdom of the King

After a warm greeting Pastor Brad explained the seasons of the church year – Lent, Pentecost, etc. -- and that this is Christ the King Sunday as we prepare for Advent.

The Inviting everyone to join us for informal adult Sunday school gatherings Dec 9 chili feed… Men as Peacemakers afternoon Dawn shared: Salvation Army adopt-a-family wish list is in the back of the sanctuary

The Scripture reading today was from John 18:33-37, a passage dense with profound insights, the encounter between Pilate and the Christ:

33 Pilate then went back inside the palace, summoned Jesus and asked him, “Are you the king of the Jews?”
34 “Is that your own idea,” Jesus asked, “or did others talk to you about me?”
35 “Am I a Jew?” Pilate replied. “Your own people and chief priests handed you over to me. What is it you have done?”
36 Jesus said, “My kingdom is not of this world. If it were, my servants would fight to prevent my arrest by the Jewish leaders. But now my kingdom is from another place.”
37 “You are a king, then!” said Pilate.
Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. In fact, the reason I was born and came into the world is to testify to the truth. Everyone on the side of truth listens to me.”

After the worship time, Duayne Anderson shared with us some notes from this past week’s leadership meeting. He talked briefly about the work that is being done through the Covenant church around the world using the funds we generously give from our weekly offerings. Millions of dollars of free care has been provided for handicapped, medical care in the Congo, support for churches in 38 countries and more. Our church is part of something much larger than what we simply do here.

Our time of prayer made us aware again of the many needs in our church family as we lifted up them up.

The Wisdom of the King

Pastor Shannon gave himself a task this week: to find something to tell us to help us deal with the times we live in. In this case he chose as his source the wisdom of another man’s pen, a man named Agur. Agur was so wise that God chose to include some of his wisdom in the Scripture. Proverbs 30:24-28.

Instead of focusing on big leaders and big creatures, he chose small, unattractive creatures, modeling down, not up.

24 “Four things on earth are small,
yet they are extremely wise:
25 Ants are creatures of little strength,
yet they store up their food in the summer;
26 conies are creatures of little power,
yet they make their home in the crags;
27 locusts have no king,
yet they advance together in ranks;
28 a lizard can be caught with the hand,
yet it is found in kings’ palaces.

Some people live in the past, always thinking about what was, with regret or comfort. Some live in the present, their motto being "Now is the accepted time." Some live in the future. Like Annie they sing, "Tomorrow, tomorrow, there's always tomorrow"… or like Dorothy, "Somewhere over the rainbow..."

Ants work in summer to prepare for the winter that lies ahead.

Brad used the ant to remind us how important it is that that we be people of the Word. Proverbs, repeatedly reminds people to read and understand and know the word of God. Our lesson from the ant is this: Take advantage of the summer, because the winter lies ahead.

There are many ways we experience winter. Unexpected disease, children that reject us and our values, job loss... In a variety of ways we see winter coming, with its broken hopes, broken dreams and broken hearts.

We live in a culture with much winter. For many life itself is like Narnia when it was ruled by the White Witch, always winter and never Christmas.

Though ants have little strength they know they must use the summer to prepare for the winter than lies ahead. Message: We must be people of the Word in preparation for the winters that comes for all. It takes time to study the Bible… it is work, but it’s like taking vitamins. It is a daily regimen that strengthens us for life.

Conies are creatures of little power that make their home in the rocks. Coney is another name for the rock badger. They're grey, the color of rocks. When predators come, they hide in the rocks. They know where their security lies.

If you have the wisdom of a badger, you will know where your security is. It lies in a relationship to God. Knowledge about God is not the same thing as knowing God and having a relationship with Him. Knowing about the Bible does not mean we know God.

Two things of note regarding the coney:
1. He’s got sense enough to know his weaknesses
2. He’s got sense enough to know his strength

"The locusts have no king but they advance together in ranks."

A grasshopper by itself is not very formidable, but joined together they have power. A swarm of locusts did 500 million dollars damage on the plains at the beginning of the last century. When we think of swarms of locusts and Scripture, the word that comes to mind is plague.

The more positive reference to locusts applies to our relationship to the body of Christ, the community of believers. You can’t be a Christian alone. You must be with other Christians. Christians together have power.

When Jesus sent out His disciples he sent them out two by two, not alone. The apostle Paul made a mark on history but he did not do it alone. He was linked with many others.

The New Testament is filled with the message of community. We need others and they need us. If you just go to church and don’t get involved, you are not going to make it or make the difference God intended you to make.

We are the body of Christ. The Lord's prayer begins, "Our Father..." You can’t go it alone.

A lizard can be caught with a hand yet is found in king’s palaces."

Small, unattractive, yet in the presence of a king. It’s incongruous. The image of grace embedded in this.

Brad told a story about trying to remove a screw once, and how impossible it was until someone showed him that it was not a typical screw and had to be turned the opposite way of all the usual screws most of us use. “It took me 30 years to learn the way to turn a screw," Brad said, "and now they changed the rules?” It was a reverse screw.

Everything in culture is at odds with truth. In God's equation, the way up is down. The way to rule is to serve. God' way is to elect and use the ordinary, not the Donald Trumps of the world. The ordinary, the fallen the broken will one day live in the King’s palace.

Pastor Brad cited a passage from C.S. Lewis' essay The Weight of Glory to underscore that there are no ordinary Christians.

“It is a serious thing to live in a society of possible gods and goddesses, to remember that the dullest most uninteresting person you talk to may one day be a creature which,if you say it now, you would be strongly tempted to worship, or else a horror and a corruption such as you now meet, if at all, only in a nightmare. All day long we are, in some degree helping each other to one or the other of these destinations. It is in the light of these overwhelming possibilites, it is with the awe and the circumspection proper to them, that we should conduct all of our dealings with one another, all friendships, all loves, all play, all politics. There are no ordinary people.... People small, and frail and not particularly attractive will one day be in God’s palace."

Summing up...

Four things on earth are very small, but if you could sit at their feet -- if you could find their feet -- you could learn some lessons. From the any you learn the value of knowing the times, knowing that today is summer and that winter is coming. From the coney you understand the need to know where your security is, that your security is in the Rock. From the locust you discover that your power is in community, rather than being a rugged individualist who foes it alone. If you have the perspective of a lizard, you see God’s incongruity. As you look at others you realize that these men and women with whom you share life here are destined to live in the presence of the King of Heaven.

Sunday, November 18, 2012


Loud, almost boisterous chatter filled the sanctuary before the service today, no doubt due in part to the beautiful weather this weekend and the number of worshippers with us this morning. To bring us to order Pastor Brad stepped forward and declared, “I’m grateful to be here today.” With the approach of Thanksgiving he noted that “there is a specific kind of gratitude in Christianity.” And this would be our theme today.

~It's been a busy week. Brad noted that we had a funeral for Joe Stapleton Thursday, a witness to the resurrection…
~Bazaar/fundraiser for the building fund, raised over $2,300. Wednesday, meal at six and Christmas program practice.
~Last week filled boxes for Operation Christmas Child… The children carried armloads of boxes to the front of the sanctuary.
~We had become aware that our American flag had only 48 stars, which means it was older than 1959. The family of Brent Lee has donated new flags for the church which were installed this morning and dedicated.
~An insert in today's bulletin mentioned Thursday's Thanksgiving meal at the church for those who would like to enjoy the holiday with company or would like a place to go. Call the church to RSVP or if you need transportation. Walk-ins will be served.

Transition to worship, led by Chuck Vanderscheuren who began by commenting on some of the things we have been learning in our adult Sunday school Bible study, then sang Life’s Railway To Heaven with Ken and Darlene, followed by one of Elvis Presley’s favorite songs, Without Him.

During the offering, the trio sang “It’s a great, great morning, your first day in heaven…”


Brad began his message by citing several passages pertaining to thankfulness. In Thesalonians, Paul wrote, "Rejoice always… give thanks in all circumstances."

To the Ephesians Paul wrote, "Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, 20 always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (Eph. 5:19,20)

To the Colossians he repeated three times, “and be thankful.”

Brad said he wanted to train us this Thanksgiving week. Normally he prefers we pay attention when he's preaching but today he invited us to let our minds drift, toward gratitude.

There are a lot of therapeutic benefits to gratitude, but Christian gratitude is more than that. Robert Roberts said there is a framework for gratitude. You can’t manufacture gratitude by willpower. It comes from a way of seeing the world.

"Bene" is the  first part of a number of key words pertaining to the development of a gratitude attitude.

Benefit… I must perceive it as a gift. As David wrote in Psalm 103…
2 Praise the Lord, my soul, and forget not all his benefits—
3 who forgives all your sins and heals all your diseases,
4 who redeems your life from the pit and crowns you with love and compassion,
5 who satisfies your desires with good things so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s.

“forget not His benefits.” Too often we are blind to them.

Benefactor… One who does good. You not only must believe you are the beneficiary. The good things come from a benefactor who has good intentions toward you.

The writers of the Bible has

Don’t be deceived. Every good and perfect gift comes from above. (James)

Beneficiary... One who receives the good. You are the beneficiary of the benefits of God, who has your best interests at heart.

We must believe we are receiving something that we did not earn or merit. Humility is a critical factor in being grateful. We are not entitled to a good life. It is a gift.

As a sinful human race we often feel entitled. This is one reason we see such a proliferation of lawsuits when we don’t get what we think we deserve. Brad cited several examples. A few years ago the New York Giants were sued for passing out father’s day cards only to men.

Ingratitude is not just a psychological problem. Ingratitude is a sin, the hallmark of a life opposed to God. Every moment of life is a gift of grace. Grumbling is the quintessential character of a life of ingratitude. “Do not grumble as some of them did and were destroyed…” Israel in the wilderness.

Every devout Jew would pray the 18, the Eighteen Benedictions. Bene means Good, Diction is words… Good words. To bless. To thank God.

Blessed are you, Lord, who abundantly forgives. Blessed are you who sustains the living and raises the dead.

Gratitude doesn’t come when you get more stuff. It comes from seeing reality, that everything comes from God.

Every day devout rabbis and Jews would say the 18 Benedictions. Life with God is a life of giving thanks to Him.

When the disciples asked Jesus how do to pray, He gave them The Lord’s Prayer, which is actually a concise summary of the 18.

Gratitude was an important part of every aspect of life. A devout rabbi would say a man must not taste anything without blessing God for giving it. The principle: bless God for every gift. It is a misuse of the gift if we are not thankful for it.

Light is a gift. Rain is a gift. No occasion is too menial for giving thanks.

And significantly, we should thank God for people, both those we get along with easily and those who are hard to get along with.

The task is not to try to feel grateful, but to train ourselves to see the reality that we are living in God’s presence. It is not perfect people or circumstances that will enable us to be grateful. If we have to wait for perfect circumstances, we will be waiting a long way.

It is dangerous to be grateful only when good things come our way. Being transformed by God means being able to be grateful in all circumstances. Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you.

Humility is the real key to a grateful heart. At one time a prayer that acknowledged our unworthiness of God's blessings was common, but now it grates our modern sensibilities to say we a sinners and "unworthy of these multitude of benefits."

As you make your list of things that we are grateful for, above all, thank God for the gift of Jesus….

Brad ended by giving us two experiments to conduct.

Experiment 1: Write a gratitude letter to someone, telling why you are grateful to God for them. Make the letter count. Then meet with them, and read it to them face-to-face.

Experiment 2: Prayer your own 18 Benedictions…. If that is too many for starters, start with four. If you do this each day this week, you will have a Thanksgiving Day filled with thankfulness.

Each day is a gift.

Sunday, November 11, 2012

If You’re Happy and You Know It, Clap Your Hands

“Good morning!” In his intro remarks Pastor Brad stated that for four months he has been returning to a familiar text, I Corinthians 13. Today, he will be focusing on a little word in verse 6.

~ Wednesday evening we are packing boxes for Operation Christmas Child. Join us for a meal and help pack our boxes. Pick an age bracket and bring gifts. Financial donations are welcome to defray cost of shipping the boxes.
~ Gwen announced the Christmas program planned for this year, and on Wednesdays (after next week) there will be rehearsals here after the meals.
~ Friday, Nov. 16 will be our Fall Bazaar with Crafts and Bake Sale at the Swamp Sisters, 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. Tell your friends.
~ Saturday, also at the Swamp Sisters, there will be a Ladies Pre-Holiday Brunch
~ Covenant World Relief soup can labels were handed out to raise money for a range needs. Covenant World Relief is the humanitarian aid ministry of the Evangelical Covenant Church
~ Leonard is once again making a Thanksgiving Dinner for those who have no place to go for Thanksgiving. We also sang “Happy Birthday for Paula whose birthday was this weekend.
~ Men as Peacemakers will be here in December to talk about domestic violence.

Joe Stapleton passed from our midst yesterday. He was ready and looking forward to be with the Lord, so we sang one of his favorite songs together to begin our worship: “Soon and Very Soon.”

An offering was taken and then the children dismissed for children’s church as Brad read to us from Mark 12:38-44, the story of the widow’s mite.

We prayed for needs both within our church family and in other places.

If You’re Happy and You Know It, 
Clap Your Hands

We've been hovering around I Corinthians 13 this year, and today Pastor Brad's message zeroes in on one particular phrase. Verse 6: Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth.

In John’s first letter to the churches, the apostle writes:

9 This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. 10 This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.

And a little further on John makes it clear that whereas God is invisible, He makes Himself known by our actions, specifically the love we show one another.

"I was trying to think back over my life," Brad said, "and I have never heard it quite applied this way. 'Since God has loved us, we should so love one another.'”

This passage says the invisible God is made visible through the love His people show to one another. His love for us prompts us to love others.

Brad shared a little background about the Amish to set up a story he was going to share. There are Amish communities in a number of areas around the country.  They came from Europe as part of a larger family called Mennonites. They are famous for their simple living, plain attire and reluctance to adapt with the times. It's as if they were determined to maintain a lifestyle from the 18th century.

On October 4, 2006, in the village of Nickel Mines in Lancaster County, Amish country, a man named Charles Carl Roberts went into the school with guns. After sending out the men and boys, he tied up ten young girls, firing 18 shots into their heads and then taking his own life. The response of the community shocked the media that covered the shooting. The response was forgiveness. Two of the elders from the community went to the shooters wife… told her he was forgiven, and they also helped with funeral expenses. Media did not understand the Amish response.

One scholar who knew the Amish explained it. "The Amish believe God told them to forgive. They acted on their belief. Their emotions would follow after.”

How do you do that? You just do it.

In I Corinthians 13 Paul wrote: Love does not delight in evil. 

He is talking about the delight some people have when other people do evil. Love is not happy when other people go wrong. This is the heart of gossip, isn’t it? We talk about other peoples’ failures. One reason we do this is that when we compare ourselves to others, it makes us feel better about ourselves.

A former prime minister of England once said, “The mistakes of the great are the consolation of fools.” Taking consolation in others’ failures is not loving. Yet this is so pervasive in our culture today. Rumors are the poison fruit of politics. This recent political campaign exemplifies how we focus on the failures of our leaders.

The Apostle Paul had ample opportunity to let his detractors get him distracted. Paul bore in his body the marks of many beatings, stonings and more. Ten years after he wrote I Corinthians he found himself writing letters to the churches he founded while in prison in Rome. In the first chapter of his letter to the Philippians he wrote about his chains, and his observations that some people who were preaching the gospel out of wrong motivations, some out of rivalry or selfish ambition. Notice that he doesn't focus on their malfeasance, rather he states, “But what does it matter, … in every way Christ is preached, and I rejoice.”

Can we rejoice when truth prevails? When truth advances wherever it is proclaimed.”

Brad concluded with an illustration of his point with. People like to show him photos of their grandchildren, and he enjoys the connections from this sharing. They love to show pictures. They usually beam with joy at how cute this one is and how this one is now in college and this one is a star in basketball. But sometimes their voices soften, and they say “Pastor, I’d appreciate you praying for my grandson Larry…”

Brad recognizes this reaction for what it is. Larry has made bad decisions, is not going the right path. But it's a reaction of love. They don't say mean things, rather they care and bear it. Love doesn’t delight when people go wrong.

But we’re gladdened by truth, wherever it is found.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Music Time

The majority of this week's service consisted of music and song led by Chuck Vanderscheuren and friends from the Salvation Army group he and Darlene make music with. After the a greeting from Pastor Brad and a reading from the Pslams by Chuck, the service almost all worship and singing.

Pastor shared a brief message encouraging us to live the faith we profess. Here are some pictures providing an overview of today's singers and musicians: Jim Stensrude, Karen Moore, Tom Kari, Sreve Leslie, Ed Newman, Chuck, Darlene and Ken.

L to R: Ken Smith, Steve Leslie, Darlene and Chuck warm up beforehand.
Darlene and Steve Leslie get in tune.
L to R: Tom Kari, Ed Newman, Karen Moore and Jim Stensrud.
Praise the Lord.
Sing to the Lord a new song, his praise in the assembly of his faithful people.
2 Let Israel rejoice in their Maker; let the people of Zion be glad in their King.
3 Let them praise his name with dancing and make music to him with timbrel and harp.
                               Psalm 150:1-3

Sunday, October 14, 2012


New faces, new hair cut for Brad, New Life Covenant Church…. “Good morning! I’m delighted you’re here this morning to worship with us.” Pastor Brad opened by reminding us of a sign that used to hang out front that read, "No Perfect People Welcome" or something like that. In other words, we welcome you to our church where we're all damaged goods, imperfect people who gather to help one another and strive to honor a perfect and loving God.The message today would be about what it means to be blessed.

Announcements included a reminder that there will be a council meeting Tuesday and a thank you from Agape House for the gifts from our children. Darlene transitinoed us into worship with a beautiful rendition of  "‘Tis So Sweet To Trust In Jesus" after which we sang All Creatures of Our God and King, How Great Thou Art and How Great Is Our God.

Cheryl Borndal read Mark 10:17-32 and Brad led us in a time of prayer.


Pastor Brad's message was essentially an overview of how the Scriptures speak of blessing. Blessing is a gift of grace, undeserved. The word blessing appears over 400 times in the Old Testament alone.

The first time we see the word in the Bible is in the very first book, Genesis, on the fifth day of creation.

21 So God created the great creatures of the sea and every living thing with which the water teems and that moves about in it, according to their kinds, and every winged bird according to its kind. And God saw that it was good. 22 God blessed them and said, “Be fruitful and increase in number and fill the water in the seas, and let the birds increase on the earth.”
 God creates, then blesses.

The next day, God creates man...

26 Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals,[a] and over all the creatures that move along the ground.” 27 So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them. 28 God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it. Rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky and over every living creature that moves on the ground.”

Then, on the seventh day God rested. He loved it so much He blessed the seventh day and made it holy.

In Genesis 9, after the flood God blessed Noah and his sons, saying, "Be fruitful and multiply..."

In Genesis 12 God talks to Abraham, saying, “I will bless you… and you will be a blessing.”

In this passage the pattern is clear: blessing begins with God and flows through us. God blesses us and we spread that blessing further.

Our aim is not the enhancement of our own blessedness. Sometimes we focus on getting blessed instead of blessing others. Our aim, in the pattern of our creator, is to be a blessing.

What is the good life? Is it money? Good looks? Health? Blessing is different from success. It's not about showing the world how blessed I am. Do people see you as a blessing in their lives? That is a good life.

Many people feel like damaged goods because they are living outside of blessing. Story of Jacob and Esau gives this a different perspective. It's the story of family disruption and anguish. The father loved one son, the mother loved the other and it resulted in family strife. This is the story of Isaac's two sons, each striving for the blessing. At one point, Esau the firstborn sells his birthright for a bowl of stew. The younger Jacob, whose name means heel-grabber, strove by cunning, deception and determination to obtain the blessing.

There was a desperate battle between these two boys, both desperate for blessing. Eventually, Jacob deceives father to get blessing and Esau vows to kill him so Jacob runs away. Esau gets wealth and power but can’t get what he wanted… the blessing of his father. Jacob after many years away returns home.

It's a well-known story. The night before he arrives home he spends the night wrestling with the angel of the Lord to be blessed by God. In the end he receives what he has striven for but also gets a broken hip in the encounter, a wound he will never recover from in this life.

Jacob has feared this meeting with Esau and on the appointed day he learns Esau is coming with 400 men. But when the moment arrives Esau runs to meet Jacob and embraces him, hugs and kisses him. Jacob’s brokenness touched Esau… Maybe Jacob’s wound is more of a blessing than his wit and good looks, Brad noted. Later, in Genesis 49 Jacob blesses each of his 12 sons… the blessing suited for each.

God doesn’t bless based on whether we deserve it. In the ancient world, blessing used to flow through firstborn, but God's way is not that way. In Abraham’s sons, Isaac is the blessed, not Ishmael. Again in Isaac’s sons and Jacob’s sons the blessing bypasses the firstborn. It's interesting that Joseph is one of the most famous stories in Genesis but blessing flowed through Judah.  Blessing comes through people who are not first born. God’s blessing is to the damaged goods department.

At this point Brad brought forward two points he wished us to grasp.

1. God’s blessings should be received and we need to view ourselves as richly blessed by God.

You are blessed. Are you aware of how blessed you are?

Brad then shared various insights on prayer from Jewish culture including how they were historically committed to praying attentively, not mindlessly.

The New Testament also offers insights on blessing. Recall the hymn “Count your blessings, name them one by one…” It's interesting how sometimes the more blessing we have the more grumpy we become. We take them for granted.

2. Joyfully bless others.

Brad mentioned how people who experience meaningful touch ten times a day live longer. The younger generation is starving for a blessing.

Here's a graduate level blessing challenge: Bless those who curse you. Giving blessings will change lives.

You are blessed. 

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Downward Mobility

The service began with uncommon punctuality as Pastor Brad greeted us and indicated that today’s message will be on the familiar passage from Philippians 2:5-11. 

Today's Announcements:
Brief meeting with the council after the service today.
Thursday at 7 p.m. building committee meeting here at the church.
Brooke noted that this Wednesday we'll be hosting the first Family Night, with Adventure Club meetings for youth and young adults, 6:00 – 7:30.
Dawn Walsh mentioned a fund raiser for blankets during the month of October for Bethany Crisis Shelter, an on-going need that we have helped with in the past.
Paula also requested old flannel shirts for a special quilt being made.
Chuck said the Salvation Army Brass Band will be in town this Friday, 6:30 pm at Salvation Army.

Darlene initiated worship with a tender rendition of This Is My Father’s World. Then, Drake Peterson and Megan Blomberg, seniors at UMD, were introduced. Originally from other parts of Minnesota currently in leadership with Campus Crusade at the university. Trivia: Drake is the mascot for the UMD Bulldogs.

Drake and Megan led us in worship this morning and hope to become more involved with our church family this coming year.

Come Holy Spirit
Come in the wind
Come be Lord of our hearts
Come fill your Church once again…

After worship we shifted to a time of prayer for the various needs in our church family. 

Downward Mobility

Brad began with the commnet that Philippians 2:5-11 is an earth-shattering text.

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!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

This text ties to everything in history from the Garden of Eden onward. Upward mobility is what life seems to be about for people of all ages. Downsizing, downscaling, demotion, etc. all have a negative connotation. The values in this passage are not embraced many. It is perhaps the most counter-conventional passage in Scripture.

Paul’s life goal in Phil. 1 is plain: “For me, to live is Christ… and to die and be with Christ is even better."

What does living for Christ mean? In this passage Paul shows that it has something to do with downward mobility.

Vs 5: Think like Jesus thought. Have Jesus’ attitude...

Brad noted that this passage shows seven downward steps to greatness in the eyes of God.

Where did Jesus start from? He was God. He began at the top. He was never a VP like Joe Biden or junior partner to God. He was equal to God, a singular person in the Godhead.

“He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

First voluntary demotion: From God to being a human….

How willing are you willing to loose your grip on your own prerogatives? We tend to be clutchers… power, positions, possessions… We have difficulty letting go…

“He made himself nothing…” He emptied himself. He did not cease from being God, but he put aside his God-rights. He divested himself of that which He had every right to hold.

Verses 3-5 all relate to the incarnation:
~ The God of the universe took on the appearance of a man
~ To be made in the likeness of man
~ To become a bondservant

Here's an amazing thought. God took on the binding confines of the flesh to rub shoulders with people whom He created. It's a mind-boggling transition. Jesus relaxes his grip to take on the likeness of a bondservant, serving obstinate sinful people.

From there He humbled Himself yet even further and became obedient unto death. He let death win. The eternal life-giver gives up His life. And not just any death... He became obedient to the humiliation of crucifiction, the most intense form of hellish suffering, all the while being mocked. This is the basement of human abasement.

Best selling books are usually rags to riches books. What Paul outlines here is a fully contrarian stance… riches to rags. Jesus decreased and downscaled to lose on purpose. This happened in history. There were eyewitnesses and Jesus did it out of love for you and me. That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow…

There will be a day when the world wakes up to who Jesus is. When people die and enter the world beyond the veil each will hear the thunderous high-volume choruses of He is Lord.

Why did Paul write this text? To remind us of who Jesus was? Not primary though true. Rather, Paul is calling every Christian to a life of downward mobility.

Decreasing, demoting, downscaling for the advancement for the Gospel.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A hard frost fell across the Northland during the night, but we were quickly warmed by the company of friends as we gathered this morning for worship. In his usual manner Pastor Brad greeted us. "I'm grateful you're here today."

Darlene, Chuck and Ken led the worship this morning, lively and upbeat. After Brad's invocation Dawn shared how the young people this year would be raising money for needy families in the Congo. Then Gwen followed, energetically sharing her excitement about this new Sunday School year. The theme was the world, which she shared with visuals, including lollipops that were globes.

After the offering, the Scripture reading this morning was from I Corinthians 9:19-27.

Passion for the Prize

In this morning's message Brad re-visited the life and times of the Apostle Paul, especially his motivations. He began by noting that he did not find Paul to be a heroic character early in his Christian life, but eventually this changed. Perhaps in part this was due to Paul being seemingly different from him.

The 5'7" apostle bore on his body the marks of brutal persecution. His life was devoted to traversing a very harsh, demon-infested world with multiple obstacles. His life ended in a dungeon in Rome, slain during Nero's persecutions.

So what was it that enabled Paul to endure so much and make such an impact on his time? Keep in mind that this was a world that was every bit as opposed to the Gospel as today.

The answer runs throughout Paul's letters, Brad wished us to zero in on passages from I Corinthians 9.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

The image that Paul used here was the Greek games. We think we live in a sports obsessed society. Check out the Greeks. They measured time in light of the Games. For the Jews, their calendar began with creation. Christians date time forward and backward based on its relation to the birth of Christ. The Roman calendar began with the mythical founding of Rome. For the Greeks everything was measured in relation to the Olympic games, every four years at Olympus and every three years at the Isthmian Games at Corinth. (Corinth was located on an isthmus between Peloponnesia and Greece.) 

Trivia: the word gymnasium comes from the Greek word "gymnast" which means naked.

In these Olympics the athletes competed for the prize, a laurel of leaves twisted into a crown.

Paul's declaration is that "this is the spirit I bring to this ministry. I am competing for the prize and will do whatever it takes to achieve it."

So what is Paul aiming for in his ministry? What is he striving for? Brad points to verse 16 as a clue.
16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

Paul preaches the Gospel because he is committed to preach it. It was a commission. God summoned him to reach the Greek world and he was obligated to follow through.

It would be like a scientist at a great university who discovered a cure for AIDS. Imagine what would happen if she refused to share her discovery, to share this cure with others. Her heart would have to be concrete. So with Paul, he "discovered" the Gospel (God literally knocked him to the ground to get it through his head.) and was obligated to share. And we, like Paul, have the same obligation. To fail to share is to be derelict.

The reason Paul says he gets a reward is not because he shared the Gospel. This was his obligation. It's the passion he brought to his ministry... He was willing to give up any and all rights in order to make Christ known.

What rights? In verse 3 he says he gave up the right to food and drink. In another place he says he gave up the right to be married. He also gave up the right to receive a salary, even though he had the right to be paid. When Paul went to Corinth, he was not seeking Corinthian gold. He wanted Corinthians.

The strength of any cause depends on the people committed to it. It depends on their self-sacrifice and dedication. Only fanatics make a difference in the world. Paul was a fanatic for the Gospel.

Brad noted that fanatics have a downside. They tend to build walls instead of bridges. Paul recognized this and went further. He gave up all his personal rights.

Paul never changed his message ("I preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.) but he did change his approach anywhere and everywhere, if it would build a bridge. He became a Jew to the Jews, a Greek to the Greeks, a Roman to the Romans. To the educated he was educated and to the "blue collar" working class he was working class. In the end, Paul's passion drove him to do anything short of sinning in order to win others to Christ.

As Jim McKay used to say at the beginning of ABC's classic Wide World of Sports, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Everyone who gives him or herself to winning people to Jesus Christ wins the prize. But the greatest thrill will be the thrill of giving yourself to ministry and through your ministry see men and women come to God. An even greater thrill will be when you stand before your Lord and have him place a gold medal around your neck, and an eternal crown on your head.

Bob Richards, Olympic pole vault champion, said he would ask Olympic athletes how they handled the pain. They never said, "What pain?" Pain was part of being an athlete competing at these highest levels. That goes for running, boxing, swimming and every other physical competition. That is the spirit of the athlete. And that is the spirit of the men and women who make a difference for God in their day. They wil do anything short of sinning to win men and women to Jesus Christ.

That's the passion of the apostle Paul. And Paul says that needs to be your passion as well.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Seek First His Kingdom

First Sunday of the new Sunday School year and 16th Sunday after Pentecost.

"Good morning! I am grateful you are here this morning to worship with us," Pastor Brad Shannon said as the service was called to order.  

The announcements included a reminder that the council meeting would be this Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. and that the church building project has been moving forward with much groundwork having been laid by the building committee.

With Darlene and Chuck on a vacation this weekend, Ed played for the introit, offertory and closing hymn.Today's Scripture reading was from Luke 12:13-31, the parable of the rich fool. After a time of prayer Brad presented the message.

Seek First His Kingdom

This is a challenging text that Steve read to us. Pastor Brad began by citing a humorous observation on preaching today, calling it "the fine art of talking in someone else’s sleep." If it's any consolation sometimes even Jesus’ own followers didn’t hear what He had to say.

In Luke 12 Jesus was talking to a large multitude about important matters... life, death, love and fear God. Then a man interrupts Jesus in the middle of His sermon and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to split the inheritance with me.”

This man was not hearing what Jesus was saying. The man was obsessed with resolving the family matter and the issue pre-occupied his mind. 

Jesus responds, “Why do you think I am the one who has to be judge and divider over you?”

In essence Jesus is saying, “I am not going to be reduced to being a Moses or county judge. This is not what I am about. This is not why I came.”

There are a lot of ways we reduce who Jesus is and what He was about. Some people reduce Jesus to be nothing more than a teacher. Other says Jesus came to be an example for how we should live, "which is something I will always fail at."

No, this is what Jesus was about: Jesus came to bring God to man and man to God. Jesus Christ came to make men and women who were spiritually dead alive.

“Beware of covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist of the the abundance of things he possesses.”

Covetousness is a word that seems to have lost its cutting edge today. We do not think of it as a first class sin… as if it were added to the other nine commandments just to round it off at ten.

Pastor Brad defined covetousness in this way: “Craving more of what you have enough of already.”

The message of our times being pounded into our brains daily via the media, life DOES consist of what we have. Things are everything. The cultural message is that owning more is better and the  key to happiness. Yesterday’s mansion becomes yesterday’s boarding house. Beware of craving more and more of what you already have.

Jesus then tells a story about a farmer.

Brad set up the story with a few side remarks. First, it is a mistake to judge people by what they have rather than who they are. Second, riches are not evil in and of themselves. Abraham, David, Solomon were blessed by God and lived with wealth. Joseph of Arimithea was the wealthy man who gave the tomb where Jesus was buried.

But for every passage that speaks of wealth, there are ten that warn of its dangers.

It’s one thing to have money and another thing for money to have you. 

Returning now to the story of the farmer… Farmers don’t get successful by being lazy. It is hard work. Industry is a good thing, but it is possible to be industrious about the wrong things. This farmer was successful. Industrious. Rich. Progressive. And as he made plans to build bigger barns, he is visited by Death.

This man who achieved so much was probably buried with words of praise on his tombstone. But the angel of the Lord walked through the cemetery that night and wrote one more word on the tombstone: Fool.

If we are religious but live as if God does not exist, we are no different than this man.

This is how it will be for anyone who stores up things and is not rich toward God.

This is the context for the following well known words:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.

And just a little further:

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 

God is not saying to not do things like eat or buy clothes. He is saying don’t worry about these things. Live for what is eternal, not temporal things. Make His kingdom first in your life.

Life is like a wheel…. At the center is the hub, with the spokes going out. The hub has to be strong. I know men and women who live for possessions. Their life is governed by things, getting things. Others live for passion and live to feed that  There are others who live for power.

Is God at your center? What you put at the center of your life determines the spokes of your life… Link your life with that which is eternal, that which will never fade.

Brad then shared a long story to bring home this point that our greatest investment should be in things of eternal, not temporal value. You never know when your end will come, so it is imperative to have prepared for that day.

And don't be a fool. Beware of covetousness. A man’s life does not consist of the things he possesses.