Sunday, June 24, 2012

Reflection on Jonah

“Hey, good morning!” After a few comments about the flood damage last week, Brad said, “I thought it would be appropriate today to preach about Noah.” Which got laughs from the congregation. He did, however, decide to talk about Jonah, whose story is also water related.

Darlene helped us transition into worship with a sensitive and melodic tune. Brad then read Psalm 133 .
The worship singing itself was led by Brad with accompaniment by Darlene. 

The Scripture reading was from Jonah 2 in prepation for the message.

Reflection on Jonah 

One of the problems we have with the book of Jonah, a lot of people think they know the story. But they don’t. At the beginning of the story the Word of God comes to Jonah to tell the people of Nineveh that God’s judgment is coming. Jonah goes the opposite direction. When he is thrown overboard the Lord appoints a great fish to swallow Jonah. (Pastor Shannon made a big show of testing us on this, lest we think it was a whale when Scripture specifically calls it a great fish.) Three days and three nights he was in the belly of that fish. The fish had been commissioned by God to pick up Jonah, as if God spoke and the fish obeyed.

Because of the nature of this story, since I have been a kid, it seems like a hard to believe kind of story. Brad took this further. "I am glad you’re here and if we have trouble with this, that’s O.K."

Brad brought to our minds how a number of years ago a man had survived being inside a whale for three days, as if this we need proofs like that to assure us that the Bible is true. "The point of the book is not about what kind or whether a giant fish that can swallow man for three days. The point is, it would take a miracle for this to happen. And is God capable of miracles" We know the answer to this.

Brad noted how one of the key words in this book was the word great. Jonah is instructed to go to a great city, he flees and there is a great storm, great fish, etc. God does great things.

In contrast, the key word associated with Jonah, is down. He went down to Joppa, down into the sea, down into the belly of a great fish. Down to to the very bottom where Jonah is finally constrained and can do nothing now on his own, except pray.

The sea was a place of great fear for the Israelites, a place of death. Hence Jonah begins his prayer, "From the depths of the grave I called for help…” and in another translation we read, "From deep in the realm of the dead I called for help."

This is a strange story, a man praying from inside the guts of a fish. He had been told to go to Nineveh but instead went to Joppa. He didn’t pray about where to go… didn't pray about getting on the ship.

Why did Jonah begin to pray? He had nothing else to do. He had hit rock bottom.

Why do we have a hard time praying? It may be we have so many other things to do… we’re too distracted. Jonah was brought down and he had nothing left. Jonah had had his own plans, but they all resulted in disasters.

So we reach the point of it. This story is all about hitting bottom. There, he discovers God. Hitting bottom was the best thing that ever happened to him.

Has anyone else been in over your head like Jonah was over his head? If yes, pray. God is never more than a prayer away. Even when we hit bottom and have nowhere else to go, God comes to us.

Jonah was rescued on the third day. Third days are pretty big in Bible stories. On the third day the fish vomited Jonah onto the beach.

All stories fit in two categories… tragedy or comedy. In tragedy joy loses, life loses, hope loses. In comedy hope wins.

This story is full of interesting elements. Pagan sailors come to the prophet and ask him to pray. Jonah is asleep in a boat in a storm while everyone else is in a panic? Sound familiar? Maybe this will trigger your memory. Jonah was from a town called Gath Nappur, not far from Nazareth.

Here's yet another clue. Jonah’s name means dove. When Jesus went down into the water at baptism, what did people see? A dove.

And when Jesus was confronted by the Jewish leaders as regards His being the Messiah, He told them they would receive no sign except "the sign of Jonah."

The early church met in the catacombs, underground tombs because of persecution. The first art inspired by Jesus, therefore, was not in cathedrals, it was in the catacombs. And the artwork most found in these catacombs was the story of Jonah.

The real message of Jonah is that death has no sting, the grave cannot hold us.

We were told the story of an alcoholic lawyer who went down and down, who ended up in rehab, and found his life again. Jesus says, “If you will let me, I will meet you at the cross. And I will be there to meet you at the tomb.”

* * * *
As a closing hymn we sang My Hope Is Built On Nothing Less.

Sunday, June 17, 2012


"I’m delighted you’re here," Brad said in greeting in greeting us this sunny summer day. Up at the front is a large red plastic 4x4 truck that will undoubtedly serve as an object lesson. And our theme this morning has to do with this question, “Who’s driving the car?”

It’s been a big week. Tuesday we bore witness to the Gospel with Peggy Wargin’s funeral service. It’s also been a big VBS week. First, a big “Thank you” to everyone who helped make VBS 2012 a huge success. There were 85 kids impacted this week, and only 43 come to our church, so it was a really great experience for the community. They also raised $460 to support missionaries. Brooke shared several great testimonials

There will be a Council meeting Tuesday at 7:00 and Wednesday the 27th we’re having an important meeting with the Church Council and Building Committee.

And finally, it’s Father’s Day, and some of the women of the church made pies for the fathers.

Chuck, Darlene and Ken opened the worship with “Heaven On My Mind.” Brad then dedicated the service to the Lord and the worship team followed with “God Is Good.” As the offering was being taken the trio sang “Somebody Touched Me.”

The Scripture reading by Vicki was from Mark 3:20-34.  

“Let’s turn our hearts to God in prayer this morning,” Brad stated after taking the pulpit. Many requests for needs and praise for the good things that have been happening, including Lillian’s 90th birthday this coming Tuesday.


Brad pointed to the big red plastic vehicle at the front of the sanctuary and said it was given to them by Angela. He said that when his kids go to ride it, you can guess which seat they fight for. It's always the driver’s seat.

Brad then read the passage in Matthew 16 where Peter privately rebukes Jesus for saying He would be going to Jerusalem soon to suffer at the hands of the priests and then be killed. Jesus rebuke’s Peter in response and says "Get thee behind me Satan," then proceeds to talk at length about denying yourself.

24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save their life[f] will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.

When it was time to bring our first son home from the hospital, we put him in the car seat, wrapped with blankets, and he looked so fragile. It was a scary day. The next scary day will be when he turns sixteen and I hand him the keys to the car.

It’s a big moment when you hand someone the keys. Right now, I drive… but if I let someone else drive you have to trust that person. Sometimes I drive and someone says, “Why are you going this way? It’s the long way.” And I have to remind them that it’s my car, my keys.

I mention this and am reminded of the day Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey. Everyone was shouting to him to help them, heal them… Everyone cheers Jesus when He is doing something for them.

We all like Jesus when he is in the passenger seat. But Jesus came to drive. It’s His agenda, His life. My wallet is His wallet. My mouth is His mouth that must be used for His purposes.

Whose driving your life? Is Jesus in the car? If so, is He in the driver’s seat?

Jesus said, "Whoever finds their life will lose it, and whoever loses their life for my sake will find it." (Matt 10:39) And in another place he said, "Very truly I tell you, unless a kernel of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds." (John 12:24)

In several other places Jesus said "Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny himself, take up his cross and follow Me."

This does not mean you just have a que sera sera attitude or passively resigned "it is what it is" approach to life. Surrender is “the glad and voluntary acknowledgement that there is a God and it’s not me.”

There comes a kind of Copernican moment for our souls when we realize that we’re not the center of the universe. (Copernicus was the scientist who proved and announced that the sun, moon and stars did not revolve around the earth.)

Some Christian messages play well in any cultural context. “No matter how much you mess up, God loves you.” Or how about, “Come to me who are weary and heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” The general populous hears the comfort in these words and is not averse to being told God loves them. But some messages have a bit more bite and aren’t quite so exciting. “Deny yourself, take up your cross and follow Me,” is one of these.

Brad shared his own personal story in this regard. He was a class president, and did many leadership things, but was covering up how internally insecure he was. He felt a need to project leadership and confidence, but the greater the gulf between his internal feelings and how he thought he should be, the more weight it placed on him so that the role was not a joy but a burden. The burden became great and he brought it to the Lord where he said he was willing to give up being a leader. He put it on the altar and gave it to God. It was hard, and painful, but on the other side of that cross was joy and freedom.

Though now in a leadership position, it is no longer need-based.

Unless that you trust that Jesus has your best interests in mind, you yon't turn everything over to Him. But there is no other way to freedom. Death to self is like discarding a useless shell to that the real person you are and were meant to be can thrive. Surrender.

Brad brought up the example of Alcoholics Anonymous and their twelve-step program. AA doesn’t say “Try really hard to not drink.” Nor does it say, “Try to quit.” No, the will fails. The solution is surrender.

Step one: Admit that you are powerless over your addiction, that your life has become unmanageable.
Step two: Believe that a Power greater than yourself could restore you to sanity. Step three is a decision to turn our will and life over to the care of God.

Surrender is the path to victory, not just with alcohol and addictions, but also with habits and sin in general.

Why does the will fail? Because our minds are crazy and will mess us up. We are unable at certain times to bring into our minds the suffering and grief that we felt even one week ago.
Temptation is a form of temporary insanity. But there is a path out. Surrender. “Whoever wants to be My disciple must deny himself and take up his cross daily…” Paul puts it this way. “Offer your body as a living sacrifice…” This is an ongoing surrender.

Surrender is when I say, “I will seek to handle this in a way that honors You.”

A lot of times it takes courage to do what is right or required of us. It's not an inner feeling, but usually involves an external action. Brad shared another personal anecdote to illustrate this point.

Who’s driving? If you live with a divided heart it will result in a miserable existence. If you keep Jesus out of the driver’s seat it will knot you up inside.

In point of fact, the life you gain is way better than the life you lose.

“I have been crucified with Christ. That old false self lives, but Christ lives in me," Paul wrote to the Galatians.

Jesus was relentless with this. Whatever it takes… Your wallets? Your relationships? Maybe it’s a grudge or a habit or an attitude….

Jesus took this approach in the garden before going to the cross. “I don’t want this burden, this pain, this ordeal." But He ended with "Not My will but Yours be done.”

Maybe you’ve surrendered before and you need to surrender again. This is our day…

The service ended with the hymn Take My Life and Let It Be.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

Communion, Not Competition

We've finally adjusted to our summer schedule and a sunny summer morning it is. The red sash on the cross, hung there last week as a reminder of Pentecost, seemed especially vibrant this morning with the sunlight streaming in the window.

"Good morning!! I’m grateful you’re here today," Pastor Brad said in his opening remarks. "As it is the first Sunday of the month, we will be celebrating communion… instituted by Jesus, who said, 'Do this in remembrance of Me.'"

Announcements were several.
Elsa 1: Bonfire one week from today at Borndal’s 7:00 p.m.
Elsa 2: I have need of containers, bins and things for youth group project. They will be returned.
Ruth Ann:  The Bloodmobile will be here July 8, parked out back. July is a month when blood is especially needed….
Brooke 1: Baby shower after church.
Brooke 2: VBS starts a week from tomorrow. Asked to bring items we buy from the dollar store. Volunteer orientation next Sunday 11:00 a.m.
Dwayne thanked the congregation and Brad for all the help and support as his mother was passing away.

Traditional greeting set us in the direction of worship, initiated by Chuck and the quartet. “And I know, yes I know, Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner free.”

The worship songs today were from the silver song book. During the offering, the quartet proceeded to sing “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder” a capella.

Today's Scripture reading was taken from John 3:1-17, the story of Nicodemus.

Before prayer it was pointed out that Muriel is now 94 and we sang “Happy Birthday” for her. We lifted up many needs, spoken and unspoken.

Communion, Not Competition 

Brad began by reading I Corinthians 13. “And now I show you the most excellent way…”

Have you ever looked at a catalog for a Christian college or larger church? The back part is information about the classes or the financial statements. Usually it is quite dry. The front part is put together by PR people who show pictures of green hillsides with kids playing soccer, or students sitting on the grass with their teacher, all listening attentively, smiling.

The aim of these the images is to show us more than just a college or church. If you come here, you will be part of a community. Folks come to church looking for community. Another word for community is church.

Paul’s letter to Corinthians is a letter to a community, a community of believers. He states that these people are quite talented, gifted. But gifts by themselves do not bring community. Gifts are valuable but it is the wrong focus to focus on our gifts. Love is the basis of community.

“What do you mean by love, Pastor Brad?”you may ask.

The word here is agape, which has nothing to do with emotion. Paul is talking about a mindset, an act of your will… a determination that I will seek that person’s highest good. I will not return evil for evil.

I Corinthians 13 is about love in action: Love is patient, love is kind. It reflects the God we worship. God does not deal with us according to our sins…

Other aspects of love deal with the nature of community. Love does not envy.

To illustrate the way envy works, Brad shared a legend about some people who were trying to get a holy hermit to sin. First, they appealed to his lusts, without success. They then attacked his doubts and other areas of weakness. No luck. Then the devil got in the act and went to the hermit and said, “Did you know that your best friend has just been elected to be Bishop of Alexandria?” The holy man’s face showed that he was crestfallen, a look of envy in his eyes.

Brad cited examples of envy from all walks of life, including pastors. Envy latches on to the differences between us. But love is not this way… Love sees people as people, not cars, houses, retirement income.

It was pointed out that when we think that we want to swap places with someone with goods or the rest, you have to swap everything. Not just what we see, but everything, including the children, the cancer, the hidden pressures they carry. An example of this is found in the poem Richard Cory by Edward Arlington Robinson. People in that town thought the respected Richard Cory was living the ultimate good life, but they couldn't see the whole picture.

We were reminded to remember that whatever gifts we have come from God.

Brad then told the story of his friend who was a pastor, and how a church a mile away grew to a thousand members and Brad’s friend was jealous... until one day while in prayer the Lord showed him that this church was an answer to his own prayers. He had been praying for God to reach unbelievers and needy in their neighborhood. This church was attracting people who his own church was not attracting. Instead of seeing that church as competition, he understood that it also had a purpose in God's plan and he even gave a financial contribution to that ministry.

"If God gives you something, accept it with a grateful heart. But boasting puts us in competition, not communion."

I have a friend who died last summer, Jim Hawkinson. Jim, who was known for his bluntness, said, “God has given you some good gifts.”

“Thanks,” Brad said.

“What are you thanking me for?”

“That seemed like a nice compliment.”

“I wasn’t complimenting you. I was complimenting God.”

The message was brought to a culmination by a story about William Carey's remarkable humility in light of all that he achieved in India. Love is not puffed up. Love is not proud. We're not to be like cotton candy, all fluff and no substance.

One problem with knowledge is that it puffs people up. Love builds up. All too often we look down on people who don’t know as much as we do.

Love does everything it can to preserve community. The mark of the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life is how you love people.

Here's a prayer for you today: Lord, show me myself as I really am. And above all, show me who You are.

We ended the service by sharing the Sacrament of the Lord’s Supper.