Sunday, May 27, 2012

You Will Receive Power

It's hard to say whether the dreary weather, holiday weekend or the first week of summer hours was responsible for the thin turnout this morning, but those who were here were greeted by a red-themed cross and flowers that brightened the sanctuary. Today was Pentecost Sunday. "If you are a believer in Jesus Christ God has given you His spirit to empower you," Pastor Brad said as he welcomed us.

Announcements today included:
1. Duayne Anderson lost his mom. The memorial service for Virginia Anderson will be held at Bethlehem Lutheran Church down the road. We need a few volunteers, and also need people to bring bars. Call Ruth Anne for details.
2. We could still use help with food for VBS in June.
3. Baby shower next Sunday for Lisa and Jesse Smith. (It's a boy!)
4. In order for the Bloodmobile to stop here in July we need to have at least 20 people. Let Ruth Anne know if you are planning to donate blood.

After singing a set of beautiful worship songs the offering was taken, followed by a time of prayer.

You Will Receive Power 

Brad began by reading Acts 2:1-21. "Every time I read this page something new strikes me," Brad stated. In preparing this week he was struck by the amount of divisiveness in the contemporary church, much of it due to fuzzy ideas about the Holy Spirit. "Jesus was not vague about the Holy Spirit." In John 16 Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, it is for your good that I go away….”

Put yourself in the shoes of these disciples. Their lives had been on a treadmill up until this Jesus entered their lives. They spent 3 years following, having given up everything to follow Him, always looking forward to what would happen next. They did not expect it to end this quickly or in this manner.

Here in John 16 Jesus tells them it will better for you to live in the period of the spirit than while I was here with you. This does not seem possible.

One clue as to why it will be better is found in Acts 1:8 where Jesus says, “You will receive power when My spirit comes upon you.” One word that is associated with the Spirit: power. "You will receive power." The disciples were no doubt wondering how it would happen. What would happen if they missed it?

They really didn’t have to worry about it…. Suddenly … like a mighty wind… What an amazing demonstration of power. "The disciples began speaking in languages… Egyptian, because there were Egyptians there, and Greek because there were Greeks there… and Swedish because that was the original language of heaven." (congregation laughs)

It was an amazing event. Peter stood and spoke with such power that 3,000 were saved in that one day. The power of Spirit was demonstrated in that groups at odds with one another were made one. Scripture says that there was such oneness in the community that there was not a needy person among them.

After the Spirit fell, the disciples experienced the power to heal. And the power of changed lives. Peter, who denied Christ, later rejoiced to be beaten for His name.

You will receive power…

For over 2000 years the Holy Spirit has been the fuel for the church. Brad urged us to reverence the Spirit’s power and mystery. 

The Holy Spirit is not our genie in a bottle, nor is He someone who retired 2000 years ago. The Holy Spirit is a person, the third person of the Trinity.

Brad’s prayer for us was that we would align ourselves with what Spirit is doing. Don’t quench the Spirit. Walk with the Spirit. Become a student of the Holy Spirit. Request the Holy Spirit to manifest His power in your life. Earnestly ask.

Brad reminded us of Paul's prayer for the Ephesians: "I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being." 

Why can’t that happen to us here? The power of the Holy Spirit poured out over this place… Ask God to let that wind blow freely. I don't know a lot of things about where it comes from or where it's going, but God, let it rip, let it blow. I know only this one thing: you shall receive power.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Must Not Despair

"Good morning. The first thing I’d like to say is Happy Mother’s Day," Pastor Brad announced. "When I was a child I tried to honor my mother but I didn’t fully appreciate the work involved in being a mother. I also want to thank the men for putting on an excellent breakfast." It was indeed Mother's Day.

1. One more week of the youth selling stock to raise money for CHIC, a life changing youth event. The stockholders dinner is next Sunday at 6:00 pm.
2. Brooke announced that the Smith’s are expecting a baby and we’re having a baby shower June 3.
3. VBS related, Brooke said we can’t cook at the Town Hall, but if you would like to help prepare or serve, see Brooke for details.
4. Leadership council meetings take place on third Tuesday of each month, which is this week.

Darlene played a bright rendition of All Creatures of Our God and King, specially suited for this loveliest of spring days. We proceeded into a time of worship.

As an intro to the giving of tithes and offerings Brad mentioned that the capital campaign committee this past week and that the theme for this campaign is faithfulness. As we prepare for our giving we’re reminded that we have a God who is faithful, who spared nothing on our behalf.

After children 1-4 were dismissed for Children’s Church, Cheryl Borndal read to us from John 15:9-17. Before entering into a time of prayer Brad said, “That text Cheryl just read is one of my favorites. ‘Here’s my command: Love one another.”’Not a suggestion, a command.” This time of prayer and a duet by Brad and Darlene transitioned us to the sermon.

Must Not Despair

Brad began his message with a story about a submarine that sank. On board was a Russian sailor whose life was about to end and he wrote a two word message to his wife: “Mustn’t despair.”

In the last moments of life, all the scaffolding of our life gets stripped away. So what does your life consist of? If the final moment were here right now for you, what would you write as your last words?

The message today would be on Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, three young men with hearts full of hopes and dreams. And they, too, faced their last moments as they were about to be thrown into a fiery furnace because they would not compromise their faith.

Often the last message is a message of regret. Or a wish that we could stay around.

If these three men would just bend the knee to the king’s god, and compromise their faith they would not be in this spot. It was a life and death decision and they chose death. “The God we serve will is able to deliver us but even if He does not we will not serve your gods.“ 

The king was furious. First he tried to woo them, but when unable to persuade them he simply lost it and ordered that the intensity of the fire in the furnace be increased sevenfold.

To deliberately burn someone is one of the most inhuman ways to treat a person. Yet this was the fate these men faced voluntarily.

In verse 21 the clothes are described and would be mentioned again. The furnace was so hot that the flames even killed the men throwing the three young men into the furnace.

The writer wants us to understand that Nebuchadnezzar’s fury was so great he doesn’t even notice that his own men have been killed  in the act of throwing Meshach, Shadrach and Abednego into the fire.

Imagine this scene. Real people, carried to the furnace, with a mix of fear and faith… and expectation of suffering, and instead they end up unbound, walking around inside the fire.

In verse 24 Nebuchadnezzar leaps to his feet, shocked… because they threw three men into the fire, and he sees a fourth man in the fire with these three men. Thought the Bible never says explicitly, we know who it is. The world’s greatest small group meeting. Can you imagine what they said to each other. Perhaps Jesus told them how proud He was of them because they were faithful to the end. Who would have thought it that the names of these three men would still be talked about thousands of years later?

And I wonder what they said to the fourth man. Think about it, the thing that seemed like it would be the end of their lives became the greatest experience of their lives, the place where they met God.

Sometimes God rescues us before the furnace, but sometimes God chooses to simply meet us in the furnace. Jesus says, “I will meet you in the furnace. It’s going to look dark and scary, but don’t worry. I will be there if you are faithful.”

Picture the look on the faces of the governors and prefects. When the three men came back out, the hair on their head was not singed, their robes were not scorched. Suddenly, the king is amazed, and congratulates these men for being willing to give up their lives for their own faith. He shows them respect and lifts them up to new responsibilities
I wonder what the rest of their lives looked like. I wonder if when they were old whether they would get together and talk about that experience where they spent a few moments in the presence of the living God. Ironically, the furnace that looked like death turned out to be the safest place they could be.

I think today’s world is challenging because we so want a comfortable existence. Our prayer too often is for furnace avoidance. Paul later wrote about his thorn in the flesh, and three times prayed for its removal, but God said, “My power is made perfect in weakness.”

Imagine this, whatever furnace you’re in…. picture God having a calendar with a note that said “10:00 a.m., meet Meshach, Shadrach and Abendigo in the furnace.”

Consider this… Instead of asking God for less heat, my prayer is that we would ask, “God, give me an opportunity to show my devotion to You.”

Think about how we get rattled over the littlest things. I’m telling you, I think God is calling us to a new level of relationship. Maybe God’s plan is to meet you in the furnace. Maybe we should not be praying for deliverance from the furnace. Following Christ has never been about having an easier life.

In closing Brad returned us to the last words of the sailor at the beginning of this message: "Mustn’t despair. God is here. Friends, this is our day. Let’s follow Christ."

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Refiner’s Fire

Communion Sunday and the Fifth Sunday of Easter 

Any minute now the service will begin. The sanctuary is abuzz with members and visitors catching up on the week, the chatter vibrant with life.

“Hey, good morning! We’ll start with ‘the Lord be with you.’"

“And also with you,” we reply.

1. Brad shared the decision that was made last week in our congregational meeting, approving the raising of funds for a downpayment on the construction of a new church building.

2. Men will meet here next Saturday at 5:00, go to Sammy’s for pizza and return to prepare breakfast for the following morning’s Mother’s Day Breakfast.

3. Youth are selling shares of stock as a fund raiser for CHIC. May 20 will be the stockholders’ dinner.

4. VBS is coming and they are inviting everyone to participate, June 11-15. There will be a Friday meeting at 10:00 a.m. here at the church.

The quartet began the service by singing He Hideth My Soul. Pastor Brad prayed for God to bless the service and the quartet followed with a lively tune called Movin’ before transitioning to a series worshipful songs that we sang together as a congregation.

Norm read the story of Philip and the Ethiopian that is found in the book Acts. Brad then led us in a time of prayer.

Refiner’s Fire

Brad began by introducing a character that he's introduced before. But first, he showed us a rock that had been dug up by his excavator. It’s hard to carry around heavy things, he told us, and he proceeded to share a story about portaging in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area. The canoe was heavy and during a two mile portage his father had sunk in some mud and crumpled to his knees so that he was under this heavy canoe. It made for a comical image and an apt illustration for the sermon.

Who would sign up to do something that would burden their heart for along time.  I’ve been thinking about grudges this week. What would it look like if it were a tangible object? Brad described junior varsity-sized grudges and fully mature grudges and even made reference to little grudges that he called grudgettes.

Hold a grudge, carry a grudge, nurse a grudge… we feed it to keep it alive… feed it emotions and other food that makes it grow, and we carry it around for months and even years. “I don’t talk to them. I have nothing to do with them.” 

People wake up in the morning, pick it back up and carry it throughout the day.

It makes us feel superior when we carry a grudge. There is something about righteous indignation that makes us feel better.

Grudges do not make us happier, though, and do not make us better people, yet we keep them alive and carry them.

Every human being has been hurt by another human being. The number of people who don’t talk to their family members is tragically large. Fathers and sons that don’t talk to each other, mothers and daughters, brothers and sisters....

Brad shared the story about Dear Abby and Ann Landers who were sisters who feuded their whole lives and now a second generation is carrying on the fight.These are people who make a living giving advice on relationships.

Sometimes people in the same church do this. Judgment, bitterness and hostility in their heart, even though they worship the same God.

The Patron Saint of the Grudge, Brad noted, was Lamech. You will find him in Genesis 4, a couple generations after Adam and Eve. Background, Cain killed his brother Abel, and God put a mark on Cain and said no one should kill Cain because revenge is not God’s way. Lamech, a descendant of Cain, was hurt by someone and got even by killing him.

Lamech exclaimed to his wives that if Cain is avenged seven time, then "Lamech seventy-seven times."

Lamech in his boasting was justifying himself. His enemies had it coming. “You hurt me, I’ll hurt you back.” 77 times…. That’s the way bitterness works.  How much is enough? Seven times is not. On and on is how it goes.

Jesus comes along and says, there are a lot of ways to kill someone. He said this to people who prided themselves on how religious they were. Jesus said love is not about murder avoidance. You can kill with harsh words. Or you can just withdraw, the passive/aggressive approach. When you’re married you can get really skilled at this.

Do this enough you become a stone carrier, carrying a stone of bitterness. Judgmentalism, coldness, meanness of spirit is all working inside you until it pervades your whole personality.

There is, however, another way. Jesus came along to proclaim that in light of God forgiveness there is an alternative in life. You can respond differently, you can forgive.

One time Peter came to Jesus and asked, “How many times do I have to forgive this guy? Do I have to forgive seven times?" That seemed like a lot to Peter, but he threw it out there. This happened as they prepared for the Day of Atonement. Reconciliation is an important thing to do, and the task of reconciling was one’s responsibility in preparation, but he figured there has to be a limit on this matter.

So Peter asks, “It’s the other guy’s fault. Why do I have to make the first move, the other guy did me wrong. How many times do I have to forgive? Seven times?” He thought he was being generous.

Jesus said not seven, but 70 times 7.

Brad said he believed Jesus chose this amount because it was a reversing of the Law of Lamech. “Peter, put down the stone. Following Me means you put down the stone." He added, “Unless you forgive from the heart, God will not forgive you.” Doesn’t that scare anyone?

My forgiveness came at the cost of that cross. When I forget how deeply I am stained by sin,it has unhealthy consequences. We are in desperate need of forgiveness. Spiritually I am deeply stained by my sin. It starts with pride, self-centeredness, and grows from there.

The cost to liberate us from this burden was high. There is only one safe place to put a grudge, that is at the foot of the cross, Brad stated. "You don’t have a right to that grudge. Remember the price that was paid for your forgiveness. Leave your stone at the cross."

After this we entered into communion.