Sunday, April 29, 2012

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

“Hey, good morning! Sing with me!” Reverend Brad Shannon welcomed us and rang out again, “Sing with me!“ And we broke into If you’re happy and you know it clap your hands.

"In Sunday school we were talking about the kingdom of God, which is a difficult concept for a lot of people. The kingdom of God in Scripture refers to the sphere of God’s effective will. What God wants to see get done gets done. You who profess Jesus are within the kingdom and hence pray, 'Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.'"
Announcements this morning included:
1.       Congregational meeting will be held after the service.
2.       Elsa explained that the youth will be selling shares of stock to raise money for CHIC.
3.       Yesterday's rummage sale raised $944.50

For the introit Darlene played “Savior Like a Shepherd Lead Us” and it was very beautiful. Worship time seemed especially meaningful today, beginning with How Majestic Is Your Name and concluding with the beautiful classic hymn Come Thou Fount…

Verse three begins…
“Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee…”

After the offering Leonard read to us from Acts 4:5-12. Pastor Shannon then led us in a time of prayer.

Should We Stay or Should We Go?

Brad addressed us from the floor of the sanctuary this morning. He began by noting that though he intended to start a series on the book of Ephesians, he had some things come up and decided to go in a different direction. “I’m hoping you will let me just wander today.”

At the end of your life what matters more, that you were successful or that you were faithful?

Brad began with a story from his youth involving raking leaves.  Brad’s father had asked him to rake the leaves in the back yard one Sunday afternoon. But wanted to watch a football game. His plan was to watch game, then during half time rake as many leaves as possible as fast as possible at halftime and then be raking after when his dad came home. His strategy at halftime was to rake the leaves under the porch. His aim was to give the illusion of faithfulness, not being faithful. There is a difference and it is a really issue that applies to us. Do we want to be faithful to Christ or only give the appearance of being faithful.

There’s a story of Saul in book of Samuel. In which he was instructed by God to utterly wipe out the Amalekites including all their animals. But Saul compromised on this and spared a few people and kept the best sheep and animals for himself.

God had said to destroy everything, but he did not. But when God sent Samuel to address this matter, Saul acted as if he had indeed followed God’s instruction. Saul  acted all cheerful because he was O.K. with the impression of faithfulness. Samuel replied, “What’s this bleating of sheep I hear?”

“What do you want to hear at the end of your life?” Brad then asked.  Boy, you had a successful business. Your church really grew. Or “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

You cannot minimize little acts of faithfulness that you might do. You will never know what a little act of faithfulness will accomplish.

Brad then told the story of an inner city church that was situated in a community that changed around it. It was a white church in a black inner city neighborhood. The church was dying and had withered to only twenty members. One day a black woman came into the church with her kids and sat in the back. She worked two jobs, was tired. The pastor welcomed her, and then later visited her in her home that afternoon. This visit led to the pastor recognizing the importance of making an effort to connect to this community and it changed the direction of the church. That woman was Debbie Blue, and she is now director of compassion, mercy and justice in Covenant Church.  

Brad asked us to close our eyes and think about those who have been influential in our lives. Who has been influential in your life?

What would it mean for someone else to live their life worthy of you? It’s a question of legacy. Not everything God wants to accomplish through us can be completed in our lifetime. We do our part to move it forward and pass on the legacy to another generation as Moses had to do.

In Numbers 14 the people of Israel were in between places, between Egypt to the Promised Land and all they had done was complain. At this point they had to make a decision. Do they want to spend forty years in the Wilderness, or do they want to choose to follow where God is leading them?

We, too, have decisions before us.

After a closing hymn we broke for coffee, then gathered again for an important congregational meeting.


Chuck Vandscheuren led the meeting, beginning by asking Bob Smith to pray for God’s presence and blessing.

The agenda was as follows.
1.       Approval of minutes
2.       Financial Report
3.       Nominations
4.       Building Committee
5.       Capital Campaign Committee
6.       Constitution

While the financial reports were being handed out we voted for an approved the new board, which was as follows:
Chairman: Leonard Armstrong
Secretary: RuthAnne Schelinder
Financial Secretary: Duane Anderson
Facilities: Bob Winship
Missions: Dawn Walsh
Pastoral Relations Committee: Chuck Vanderscheuren
(All but the last two are two year positions.)

The budget discussion followed.  Budget was accepted and approved. Duane and Dale then stood and presented the progress of the building committee.

Duane shared how this is a two-phase construction project. The first phase will not have a dedicated sanctuary but would instead have a multi-use area until the second phase can complete the project. The various rooms were identified, including an art and music multi-use space with a sink. The sound system is very important in the plan and many other details are being attended to from septic system locations to wetlands issues, parking spaces and a well, which costs $47 a foot plus costs for permitting, etc.

Joanne Winship made a speech regarding the capital campaign, and then Chuck explained a change in the constitution that we needed to approve in order to get a loan from the denomination.

All in all, decisions were made and things are moving forward. Communication is important though, and everyone involved is available to answer questions. 

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Now You Know

Third Sunday of Easter

"Good morning! I love the chatter that takes place," Brad declared. "It’s nice to have this celebratory mood, and then we transition into worship. Next week I’m going to start a series on the book of Ephesians. Today we’ll look at what’s at stake when it comes to following God."

1.       Next week is our semi-annual meeting. This will be an important one as the building committee presents the vision for the building project and recommendations for the near future.
2.       Last Kids Club is this Wednesday.
3.       Rummage Sale next week at Twig Town Hall.
4.       Covenant Park Bible Camp coming. Next Sunday is the last of the days for least expensive rate.
5.       CHIC is in fund raising mode. Give and pray for the kids who will be going to CHIC this summer. Starting next week the kids will be selling shares of stock as an investment in the lives of our young people.

Brad thanked Darlene for over 37 years of service playing piano here at New Life Covenant. Then Chuck shared a passage from Psalm 135 to introduce the time of worship. The trio of Ken, Darlene and Chuck sang Through It All he trio and followed with Without Him, a gospel favorite written by Mylon R. Lefevre that Elvis Presley once recorded.  Then the congregation sang several songs from the silver songbook.

As the offering was taken we were reminded that it is more blessed to give than receive and that Christ withheld nothing on our behalf.

Today’s Scripture reading was from Acts 3:12-19 which preceded a time of prayer and lifting up the many needs on our hearts.

Now You Know

Brad began by asking us to turn with him to Deuteronomy 30:11-20

In this passage Moses is at the end of his life. Israel is on the verge of entering the Promised Land, but he is aware that he's not entering in. So he gathers the people of Israel, who have spent forty years wandering the wilderness up to this point after the miraculous exodus from slavery in Egypt, and he makes a final exhortation. These are people who were not a great group. They were afraid of the pharaoh, worshiped a golden calf when they got bored at Mount Sinai, complained about their supernaturally provided manna, got jealous, were stiff-necked. In short, they were a lot like you and me.

But God loved them.God's dream for the human race, a loving community of transformed human beings, rested on this little group of stiff-necked people. And Moses realized he wasn't going to be around to steer them any more. They were going to have to "get it" for themselves. So he gathers them together for a final message to instill in them a sense of urgency for what's at stake. He distills it down to a single choice, a choice that every human being makes as much as a hundreds times a day.

"The word is very near you," Moses says. It's not up in heaven so you have to figure out how to ascend there and get it. And it's not across the seas. "It is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it. See, I set before you life and prosperity or death and destruction...." (read the passage linked above)

Moses is an old man, has learned he is not going into the Promised Land. So he gathers the people and outlines for them his final thoughts. Moses tells them what’s at stake. 

This is a story about a choice every human being must make every day. In big ways and small ways we make this decision. These words from Moses are God’s words to us today. There is a way that leads to life, and there is a way that leads to death.

It’s no casual thing. Moses calls heaven and earth to witness this. (vs. 19) We live every day in light of these words. 

One road is called life. Verse 16: "If you obey the commandments…" Obedience looks like this.  A. Love God   B. Conduct yourself in a wise and holy way.   C. Follow His guidelines, decrees and ordinances. Result: you will thrive. God’s blessing will be on you.

The Word is very near you and it is not difficult to understand. 

To paraphrase verse 17, if your heart turns away, it’s a loss of devotion. If you do not hear, and are not attentive to his Voice or strive to do his will, you will be led astray.

You don’t plan to offer yourself to the altars of success or any other false god. Instead, what happens is that you allow yourself to drift, to conform to this world. But disaster is the consequence, and loss... loss of blessing.

Why does Moses even bother to say this? If you were coming down a road and came to a fork in the road and it says life or death, who wouldn't choose the road marked "life"?

Sometimes, however, the things we think will lead to life lead to death. For this reason Moses is compelled to spell it out. Brad then shared story of how a ski trip cost far more than he expected. In another story he shared about talking to a man who had had emphysema and smoked his cigarette through the hole in his throat caused by his tracheotomy.

We do the same thing in our lives when we go down certain roads where we get mired because we're confused about what leads to life.

Maybe you have been dishonest in some area of your life. You know it was a decision toward death. You have to say, “God, today I choose life.”

For some of you this fork in the road involves your financial life. Giving to the poor and being generous leads to life. The clutching heart is the way of death. Is money something you use only for yourself? How does God want you to spend your resources? 

There are some choices that are neutral. But others produce life or death.

For some of you it has to do with relationships. Some of you have been gossiping. Some of you have been unforgiving. The Bible says this is a road to death.

Wedding vows and other important events need witnesses. Witnesses affirm the significance. Moses selected heaven and earth as witnesses regarding this threshold moment that would begin a new chapter in Israel's history.  “People, won’t you choose life?” Today, tomorrow and every day for the rest rest of your life.

Paul writes about these words in his letter to the church of Rome. "The nearness of God has come to us supremely in Christ, this offer of life. 

Today you can devote yourself to prayer or remain prayerless, you can be generous or horde, speak the truth or deceive. To lust or remain pure is a choice. For God’s sake and the sake of your own soul, and the people that we minister to, choose life.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

All In

"Good morning," Pastor Shannon said in welcoming us this morning. "We’ve been through a week in which we celebrated one of the greatest days in the Christian year… the grave is empty! How did you do this week living in recognition of the power of the risen Christ?

And then, our traditional greeting... "Christ is risen."
And the congregation replied, "He is risen indeed."

Capital campaign meeting tonight at 6:00 p.m.
Property committee meeting Tuesday evening.
Calendars available in the back if the sanctuary if you do not have internet access to the Church website where our activities are being documented.
Brooke also shared that for VBS this year over fifty kids are signed up and fifty volunteers have offered to help in various ways.
There will be a large New Life Rummage Sale the last Saturday in April. We can use help with advertising and setting up. Friday the 27th we'll be setting up, pricing, etc. from 9-5. There will be a special time for helpers to shop from 5 to 5:30 after everything is priced.

Darlene played Because He Lives for the introit, which was followed by a short time of worship. Before entering into worship Brad read to us from Ephesians 3:14-21.

Pete Wizneski of Gideons International was with us today to share with us about the work. Pete shared a story about soldiers who were too macho to accept free Bibles when they went overseas to war, but every single one accepted New Testaments when offered by the chaplain later after the bullets were flying. Not everyone can go into all the world to preach the Gospel but this is what the Gideons are about, bringing the Word to the nations and especially to places where there are no Bibles or where they are needed most.

The Gideons started in 1898 in Wisconsin. Tens of millions of Bibles given out this past year in prisons, colleges, and most countries throughout the world. The Gideons consider themselves an extension of our ministry. Pete came asking us to donate for Christ’s work and to plant seeds.

The offering was taken followed by a Scripture reading by Chuck, who first noted that we have a new cross, thanks to Bob Winship and Pastor Brad. He then read for us from John 20:19-31.

Brad took the pulpit and led us in a time of prayer on behalf of needs in our church family and community. He then commenced to preach today's sermon, a reflection on this passage about "doubting Thomas."

All In

2000 years ago, Scripture proclaimed that because of our moral failure, God became flesh to take our sin upon Himself. For our sin He was crucified... died, and was raised from the dead.

What does it mean to us that He is risen? “I have been asking myself this question all week in light of the brokenness of our world. If Jesus has not been raised from the dead, what we are doing here in church is just a game."

Peter wrote, “Jesus is alive… and in God’s great mercy He has given us the possibility of a new birth into a living hope.” Our sins can be forgiven, no matter how bad we’ve blown it. Even though we don’t deserve it, we can be right with God. We don’t have to live as those who have no hope.

"There’s a difference between believing in God and believing God. Even demons believe there’s a God." Brad noted that there are three kinds of believers.

Casual believer
The casual believer says, “I believe in God, I’m a good person. I didn’t kill anybody. I do a ton for the community.” They believe in God but it doesn’t change their lives.

Convenient believer.
If it helps you get the contract, if it helps you close the deal, or get the date... if it helps you, is advantageous for you, you may be in this category. Serving is inconvenient. Giving is, too. 30% of church attenders neither serve nor give.

Committed believer
The third category is the committed believer. The committed believer understands that life is not all about me. It’s not about my needs. "My greatest purpose is to reflect God’s glory in the world. My life is to glorify God."

So we looked again at the story of Thomas. Brad noted the significance of rabbis in ancient Israel.
Rabbis were teachers. It was a very special privilege to be selected by a rabbi to be a disciple. Jesus was a rabbi, which is why when Jesus called him, Thomas immediately threw down his fishing nets and followed. This was a great honor for Thomas. But when Jesus was crucified Thomas bailed.

Elements of Thomas’s story… Thomas had questions. Even the most committed Christ-followers in this room have had doubts. After Jesus was risen, Thomas was not among those who had seen Him and when he was told of this he replied, “Unless I touch Him, unless I see for myself I won’t believe it.”

Thomas was saying, “I have to know for myself. If I am going to commit my life to this, I need to see it to believe it.” It was an important point in his life and he needed a greater certainty.

So, why are you here? Are you here because your spouse is here? Because you inherited it like a tradition?

Many people ask questions… why? Why am I here? Is Jesus really the only way to God?

If you have doubts, you need to sincerely seek God for answers. Jesus can handle our doubts.

"God doesn’t always give you what you want, but He gives you what you need," Brad affirmed.

The disciples were locked in a secret room in hiding, for fear of the Romans. Unexpectedly, Jesus came to where they were gathered and said, “Peace be with you.” This was a supernatural peace… for all time. God speaks and it is. But Thomas was not there. And when he was told about the incident he famously doubted.

But a week later, Jesus returned and Thomas was there with the disciples. And here, Jesus gave Thomas what he needed. Jesus said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe."

As you seek Him, God will give you exactly what you need to believe.

Brad shared a story from his freshman year in college. He didn’t know if he was going to make it. Then God gave Brad exactly what he needed. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast." Eph 2:8,9

You can be right with God, not by your own efforts. God was so real in my doubts and questions… That text changed my life. God worked in me in a significant way. I needed to be broken. I needed to be humbled. I needed faith.

Doubt, discovery, belief.

Thomas' response was recorded in John 20:28. “My Lord and my God.” As if to say “You will be the center of my life from now on. I will never renounce Christ.”

Thomas, tradition has indicated, later went to India spreading the Gospel for the next twenty years and was later martyred for his faith.

Where are you at? Are you a casual believer? Convenient believer? Step across the line to commitment. Embrace a new life…

Jesus said, "if you want a part of My kingdom, deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me.”

If the resurrection is true it demands our whole life. This is not a game. We’re not just playing church. He is alive.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Resurrection = Living Hope

We had a packed sanctuary this morning as we gathered to celebrate Easter on a sunny Sunday morning. Before the service we shared a delicious breakfast banquet and all the tables were filled. At a certain point in time the children gathered for an Easter egg hunt and then gradually we made our way upstairs for worship.

Pastor Brad greeted us with enthusiasm. "Happy Easter to you. I am glad you’re here to worship with us. This is the high point of the church year as we celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ and that we've been born again into a living hope… the hope of life eternal with God."

The quartet opened the service with “I’ll rise again.”
Then Brad declared, "Christ is risen!"
And the congregation replied, "He is risen indeed!"

If you're one who loves the old time hymns, this was a morning to be here as we sang the following classics: Christ the Lord Has Risen Today, I Know That My Redeemer Lives, Low in the Grave He Lay, and Easter Song

Scripture readings from Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24 and Acts 10:34-43 preceded special music by the quartet, “He Died on the Cross.”

A time of prayer led us up to today's sermon.

Resurrection = Living Hope

Gospel text: John 20:1-18

I want to talk to you today about the significance of the resurrection. How big is the God that you worship? How big is your God? Because Easter is really the celebration of a huge God.

“I am the resurrection and the life," Jesus declared. The resurrection theologically means that Jesus is who He claimed to be. The resurrection demonstrates that Jesus could do what he said he was going to do. It is the certification and proof of His promises. And it authenticated His claim to be the Messiah.

The resurrection is the centerpiece of the Christian faith, Paul wrote. If the resurrection is not true, all these meetings and church services are foolishness. The resurrection is the hinge point of all history.

Before going deeper into the meaning of the resurrection for us today, Brad explored a different set of questions.

How long can a human body go without food? 30 days on average.
How long can we go without sleep? The record is about 10 days.
How far can a human walk before they keep over? The record for a man is something like 600 miles and for a woman 500 miles.
How long can a person go without water? 3 days. It's a life and death deal. We're highly dependent on water.

Now the Bible was written in a very arid part of the globe. A lot of parched soil with limited water. So when Jesus taught it's no surprise for Him to make references to water. He would talk about people with parched lives and parched souls.

One time He was at a well talking to a woman who was far from God and he said these words to her: "Whoever drinks of the water I give will never be thirsty again." This caught the woman's attention.

In John 7:37 Jesus said, "If anyone is thirsty let him come to Me and drink." If we have this huge God who can quench our thirst, what are you thirsty for?

First, people are thirsting for meaning in life. Where did I come from? Where am I going? Why am I here? Is there a purpose to anything? Where am I going when I die? These are the great questions of life. People are thirsty to know the answers to these meaning of life questions.

When I think about music, Bob Dylan in 1963 wrote a song filled with questions. How many roads must a man walk down before you call him a man? How many times must the cannon balls fly before they are forever banned? Here he is talking about the insanity of war. How many years can some people exist before they're allowed to be free? He's talking about racism. How many times can a man turn his head and pretend that he just doesn't see? Denial. And then he goes to the answer... "The answer, my friend, is blowing in the wind."

The song hearkens back to Ecclesiastes where the writer, after experiencing all pleasure and unrestrained living and ended up discovering wealth and excess are all but a meaningless vapor, blowing in the wind.

Brad went on to cite T.S. Eliot's “a thousand lost golf balls” as a symbol of luxury's emptiness.

The search for meaning is intense. Some people think there are answers and others no answers.
All my life I had just enough kicks and thrills to know what pleasure can and can’t get, what money can buy and can’t buy, what relationships can give you and what they can’t…. and until I found Christ there was a hole.

These questions have been answered for me. It’s settled… I’m not at the place where I can’t get no satisfaction.

This thirst is a universal condition. Human beings thirst for deep connection. Sometimes my children just want to be held, want connection. Teens go to school and wonder, "Is there a group that I can belong to?" This need goes on and on in life. Every human thirsts for a deep connection.

Brad brought us back to the illustration in Jeremiah 2… God will fill you with His love, He will fill your cistern if you open up the lid. If you close yourself off to that, you will be like a leaky broken cistern that will never be filled.

Relationships will never fill you the way that the love of Jesus will fill you. Meaning from relationships has to be right-sized.

Another need that gnaws at us is that we have a thirst to be clean. Brad shared what it feels like to be bailing hay on a hot day, dust in nose and ears, grimy and sweaty. At the end of the day, you’re not thinking about girls or food or fun… you just want a shower.

The same goes for moral dirt. Human beings not only have an aversion to physical dirt, they also have an aversion to moral dirt. We know our hearts are weighed with guilt; we know we want to be clean. We are moral human beings who want our guilt washed away.

Psalm 51 David, who committed terrible moral sin with Bathsheba, called to God, "Cleanse me... and I will be clean. Wash me and I will be whiter than snow." The only way to become clean is to stand under the shower of the forgiving grace of our gracious God.

Jesus carried away our uncleanness and brought it to the cross.

Who needs a shower? There is not a case that is too bad to be redeemed. I need you, God, to wash away my sin.

One more thirst that we have, and it is again related to resurrection. We thirst for a grander vision. Christian faith is not fire insurance. The life we have this side of eternity is part of the calling. God not only has meaning for us, but wants us to be part of bringing meaning to others. “I’m going to restore this broken world one life by one life by one life.”

Jesus is alive and it changes everything. It quenches our thirst for meaning and for cleansing and for a grander vision beyond themselves. God has a grander vision for our lives. My job is to say God has a purpose for your life, but you have a responsibility to work that out, between you and God.

Maybe today is the first day of the rest of your life.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Good Friday

All who attended tonight's very special Good Friday service will attest that it was meaningful. The Cross has always been and continues to be central to Christian faith. The joy of Easter resurrection must first pass through the darkness of Calvary.

By means of a solemn and creative service, the message of the cross was profoundly brought home to all who participated.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

The Power of the Cross

Today is Palm Sunday and the theme of Pastor Brad's sermon was the power of the cross. Brad opened the service by noting that Palm Sunday has a tension in it because it recalls for us the adoration of Jesus and celebration of his triumphant arrival in Jerusalem. But as we celebrate it we know the rest of the story. His kingdom ended up being very different from the kingdom they expected.

Announcements included the following:
1.Prayer sheets from the last couple bulletin inserts will be collected for next few weeks.
2. There will be a special Good Friday service at 7:00 p.m. this week. There is no Easter without the cross.
3. Easter Sunday there will a breakfast here at the church from 9:00 to 10:00 a.m. and an Easter egg hunt for the young 'uns right after.
4. We were invited/encouraged to bring Easter Lilies to decorate the sanctuary next week.
5. The VBS Website is up. You can register online. Brooke has also been very busy putting together a church calendar to help communicate and coordinate church activities. You can see it here at the blog below, as well as here on our church website.
6. A relatively new multi-church men's ministry called Northland Sharpening Iron is hosting a workshop on April 14 from 9:00 a.m. till noon at Clyde Iron Works. You can see details at their website. They are hoping men will register by April 4 in order to secure an estimate of how many to expect.

The worship officially commenced with Darlene playing "Jerusalem" on the piano.

Today's Scripture readings were from Psalms 31:9-16, Isa. 50:4-9 and Phil. 2:5-11. Te taking of tithes and offerings followed.

There many prayer requests again today, as there are many needs in our community and fellowship. There were also words of thanks and praise as well. Health issues, decision issues, … we worship a great God who is active and meeting those needs. After this time of prayer, Brad took the pulpit to deliver the message.

Power of the Cross
After reading to us Luke's account of the crucifiction of Jesus as found in Luke 19:28-40, Brad began his message by singing the Lenny LeBlanc worship song Above All with the congregation joining in on the chorus: “Crucified, laid behind a stone, you lived to die rejected and alone, like a rose trampled on the ground you took the fall, and thought of me, above all.”

He began his sermon by talking about how companies use logos as symbols to establish their brands. The symbol links an image of the brand with the minds of consumers. Brad cited three for us.

First, Nike's Swoosh. The swoosh is a symbol of victory, he said, and noted for us that the word Nike originated from a Greek word that means victory. The Swoosh symbol increases the value of the shirt it is emblazoned on.

Then he cited the giant golden arches that adorn McDonald's. That logo has become a symbol that designates its restaurants as home of the happy meal, meal of joy. It is a sign of abundance, and cheap, fatty, artery-clogging food that you can get fast.

The third symbol, Mercedes-Benz, which bears some similarity to a Peace sign, is a sign of status. "You can’t buy happiness, but now you can lease it." The business world is all about compelling symbols that make people respond, “I want to be associated with that.”

For 2,000 years, the most widely recognized symbol of Christian faith happens to be an instrument of death, made of two pieces of wood upon which criminals were hung. This begs the question, “Why a cross? Why would you choose a cross as your logo?”

Brad asked how people would respond if an electric company used an electric chair as a symbol, with the slogan, “The power is on.” No, that wouldn’t go over well.

Yet we see the cross as the symbol for believers now for two millennia.

The cross is a sign of a death, not a sign of status, abundance, or happiness. It’s one of the most profound mysteries of our Christian faith that the God of the universe would choose a cross as the ultimate expression of His character.

Brad wants us to have a clear understanding of the meaning of the cross, and what it means to be a people of the cross. Next week is Easter and we will celebrate that, but there would be no resurrection without the cross.

He then shared a little background about the cross. Ancient cultures knew how to kill people in a variety ways. Socrates was poisoned in a less public manner. There were less messy ways to kill people. Why crucifixion?

First, crucifixion was a way to maximize pain. Second, Romans utilized crucifixion to maximize public humiliation. The man to be condemned would be forced to carry the cross beam across his back, led by soldiers, one of whom carried a sign announcing what crime he committed. The aim is to make the condemned man a public spectacle. One reason for doing this was to help subdue foreigners over whom Rome ruled.

The average criminal would suffer severely. The condemned would be beaten and whipped with whip that had pieces of bone or metal affixed. This was a cruel form of punishment designed to do maximum flesh-tearing. The team of soldiers managing this pre-execution brutality had to take care not to cause so much bleeding as to kill the victim before he'd reached the crucifixion itself.

But the most terrible part was what followed after the spikes were nailed into the hands and feet. Hanging by the arms caused the rib cage to push the air out of the lungs. In order to breathe, the condemned would lift himself up in order to breathe by means of pushing up from the spike through feet. This caused excruciating pain. And "Jesus did this for you and me," Brad noted.

The four Gospels say little about the details. Mark simply says, “And they crucified Him.” It was His spiritual suffering that was the greatest and most painful aspect of this profound event. “He who knew no sin became sin for our sake.”

Think about the darkest thing you’ve ever done that would bring shame if projected on a screen in front of everyone here. Place the weight of this and every sin ever committed by every human ever committed, every sin of abuse, every betrayal, ever genocide, every murder, every mean spiteful word, every sacrifice of integrity, every lie… Imagine the weight of all that sin weighed down in one human heart. This is what Jesus bore on our behalf.

Throughout His whole life He had never been lonely, never knew a moment of feeling unloved by the Father. Yet here, on the cross, He cries out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

On the cross Jesus experienced something impossible for us to imagine, utter abandonment by God. Even people who walk in sin experience God’s goodness as God wakes them each morning.

Scripture says that on the cross Jesus freed us from the curse by becoming cursed for us.

A second aspect of the cross is this. We easily see the pain of the cross, but the power of the cross was also present in this story. Darkness came over the land, the ground shook, the curtain separating the holy of holies was torn from top to bottom.

On this one man was the collective guilt of the human race was laid. The blood of Jesus cleanses us from every sin. Not because we deserve it.

When the veil was split in two, it was a symbol of our being given full access to God as if God were now saying, “You can approach My throne with boldness.” We are invited, sin-stained as we are, to come to God any time we like.

Where do we get this power? That’s the power of the cross.

It is also about reconciliation, not just reconciliation to God but to one another. In Ephesians 2 Paul writes about the dividing wall between Jews and Gentiles, between races, between men and women, parents and children. This dividing wall was torn down at the cross. The ground is level at the foot of the cross. When people recognize this, they get reconciled.

Third, there is victory over evil through the cross. When Jesus died, Satan was disarmed. The Romans thought they were making a spectacle of Jesus, but Jesus was defeating sin and death and making a spectacle of the evil one. We do not have to be trapped by sin. We don’t have to be stuck. It’s the power of the cross.

That’s why the symbol of faith is not a candle or a star, it’s a cross.

Paul wrote, “The message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to those who are being saved it’s the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18)

I believe Jesus’ main desire is that we become a people of the cross. This does not mean wearing symbols on our bodies, but by the manner of our lives.

“If any one would come after Me, he must deny himself, take up up his cross daily and follow Me” (Matthew 16:24)

Have you chosen to become a person of the cross? Whatever it is that is keeping you from this, pick it up and nail it to the cross. Do you have the courage to say, “I’m going to be a man or woman of the cross”? I hope that you will choose this. Because if you do, then you will really understand what Easter is about next week.

Brad then stepped down to lead us in the sharing of Communion. “Friends, it’s now our sacred privilege to celebrate this supper…”