Sunday, July 29, 2012

The Shema

As usual we were welcomed warmly by Pastor Brad this fifth Sunday in July. “Good morning… This past month we’ve been looking at our big God… bigger than our troubles and our pain." He then introduced today's theme, the Shema, the central prayer in the Jewish prayerbook and the first words that children in Israel would learn when they first learned to speak.

1. Wednesday August 1 the Capital Campaign Group will be meeting here at the church.
2. The Harvest Festival Group will meet Thursday to evaluate this year's event.
3. August 11 is the Twig 5K Run. Our church has traditionally run a water station at this event and we welcome volunteers to help. It's a great way to meet folks in the community.
4. Women’s Retreat this year will be Sept 14-16

Darlene, Ken and Chuck led worship this morning. Chuck introduced the first song by reading Luke 8, a story about storms. The song they sang was called Master of the Wind. After the worship time, the trio sang If That Isn’t Love while the offering was taken.

Today’s Scripture reading by Gwen was from Mark 6:30-34 and 53-56.

There were three birthdays today, so we sang Happy Birthday for Gail, Nancy and Violet.

The prayer time included prayer for those who are grieving the loss of loved ones.

The Shema

As Christians we say that we want to love God and love people and serve the world. These words come from the Old Testament. I want to unpack what these words mean, to love God and love others and serve the world.

Given to the people of Israel in Deuteronomy 6:4-9

4 Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. 5 Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. 6 These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. 7 Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. 8 Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. 9 Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.

This was the central text for all of Israel. Wisdom began here: Love God with all your heart and soul and strength. The way you do this is to write them on your doorpost and on your foreheads and walls.

The Hebrews believed you should be willing to die rather than worship another God. Jewish martyrs would recite the Shema even as they were being executed. At its core was One God who made everything. All other tribal peoples had regional gods and when you moved you fell in step with the people of that region worshiping the god of that region.

"I want all of your heart, not just part of it but all of it. I would like to have exclusive rights to your heart," God is saying. 

Jewish men would recite the Shema twice a day. A Jewish man would put on a prayer shawl and more... it was an important daily ritual. 

Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is one...

This was the most important thing, and the only thing that can get you out of saying it is death.

Why was reciting these words so important? They believed these words were the answer to the great questions of life. How should I live my life? What is wisdom? What is important in life? Why are we here?

In our day, conventional wisdom says that when it comes to values, when it comes to what matters, when it comes to meaning and goodness, you've got to think for yourself.

Brad then told a story about the president of Yale's introductory speech to a new batch of undergrads. “We cannot supply you with a philosophy of education any more than we can supply you with a philosophy of life…” In other words, the university has nothing to offer as regards basic life guidance. "We have facts, we have history, but as for learning how to live, you have to figure that out yourself."

The people of Israel practiced a rather counter-cultural approach. Prov 3:1-5 states:

My son, do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart, 2 for they will prolong your life many years and bring you peace and prosperity. 3 Let love and faithfulness never leave you; bind them around your neck, write them on the tablet of your heart. 4 Then you will win favor and a good name in the sight of God and man. 5 Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding...

He is a very big God that we worship.

“Hear, O Israel, listen….” This is Torah, this is law, this is wisdom. This was not a set of legalistic rules. They represented life and death.

Brad told a story about a boy who was swept to sea in a riptide. The father then tried to help and swam in for the son, and also got swept to sea. Despite his strength he made no progress toward shore. The father’s brother who knew the terrain swam out to a sandbar and said, “Come to me.” The shortest route to safety seemed to be to swim toward shore but was actually to swim parallel to shore, a counterintuitive solution.

A rabbi asked Jesus what the greatest commandment was. Jesus said, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart...” affirming the Shema… but then added to it, which was an utterly audacious act. It would be akin to Brad adding to the Apostle’s Creed, only more than that. 

Jesus alone has authority to add to the Shema. "Love your neighbor as yourself." Love God, love people. That’s the whole deal.

Jesus’ love for people is an unconditional regard for others, helping them to become the kind of people God wants them to be. Everyone, everyone you meet throughout the day… the people you live with, the people in the next cubicle and the people at the checkout lane at the grocery store. Life is about loving people.

Wisdom is arranging your life around these two things… Loving God with everything you’ve got and loving your neighbor as yourself.

Jesus re-defined loving God. In the Old Testament it meant following Torah. In New Testament it means following Jesus, listening to Jesus, studying what Jesus taught, being pre-occupied with Jesus and striving to  become like Jesus.

This is wisdom: to live your life in such a way that when it comes to an end, and it will, God will look at it and say, “Well done, good and faithful servant. Well done.”

Sunday, July 22, 2012

The Fragrance of Forgiveness

Pastor Brad and our youth are back from CHIC and Brad felt immensely invigorated once again by the experience. He welcomed us warmly and shared a few insights from the week. The theme was Five. And it's aim was to sink home five important questions for young people of all ages.

1. Who are you looking for ?
2. Who do you say that I am?
3. Do you love Me?
4. Do you want to be made whole?
5. Who should I send?

The key announcement today was that Tuesday evening there will be a council meeting. This is an important one as summer is flying fast and there's a lot to do to get ready for fall.

Darlene, for an introit, performed a beautiful rendition of The Lord’s Prayer….

Singing and worship was led by Brad and Chuck with Darlene’s accompaniment.

Before the offering Brad shared another anecdote from CHIC. One evening an offering was taken for Covenant work in one of the neediest countries in Africa. The youth and chaperones gave an impressive $127,000.

The Scripture reading was from Mark 6:14-29.


Louie Giglio was the last speaker… He said that commitments are not an endpoint but a launching point. Pray for your kids.

The Fragrance of Forgiveness

Today's sermon was drawn from the Gospel of Luke 7:36-50

Brad begand by noting that the world is full of smells. "Think about it… is this a good smell or bad?"
Coffee in the morning
Magic Markers
My mom’s new perm
Spring rain
Wet dogs
Crackling fire
Bacon frying on the pan, burgers on the grill…

This story from Luke takes place around dinner time and you can guess that there were plenty of smells, aromatic fruits, breads, etc.

Notice how Jesus was always getting invited to parties. He must have been a pleasure to be around. The religious leaders didn't like some of the people whom he went to parties with. Some were even notorious sinners. There's the story of Zachias, and another time he went to the house of a Roman IRS agent named Matthew. And in this story it was a Pharisee named Simon, with lots of guests.

Unexpectedly an uninvited woman enters the party and a new smell would soon fill the atmosphere… the fragrance of forgiveness.

This was a woman who practiced a lifestyle of habitual immorality. She hears that Jesus was going to be there and she shows up. At one time in her life she may have even been there on business. On this occasion she brought an alabaster container of perfume.

The reason she was there is because she had previsouly had an encounter with Jesus and she was no longer in the business. She had been changed by Jesus. She was now a forgiven, priceless, treasured child of God. Her past erased, her body no longer for sale because her soul has been purchased.

This woman walks in to the party, and becomes emotionally wrecked. Before she can get the alabaster jar open she begins to cry. The emotion was not refined, was not properly contained dignified emotion. She was sobbing, like a heavy rain. She’s weeping, undoes her hair and wipes the Lord's feet with her hair. And then pours the perfume over his feet.

As the woman does all this, Jesus doesn’t say, “What in the world are you doing? This is not a proper thing to do.” He just allowed it to happen.

Brad commented, “I think Jesus was basking in her changed life. He took in the fragrance of her forgiveness and said, ‘Man, that smells good.’”

Another smell in the room was the smell of judgmentalism. Simon was thinking to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

In verse 40 Jesus answered this man’s thoughts. “Simon, I’ve got something to tell you.”

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii,[a] and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

Now here’s the 26,000 dollar question. "Which one will love him more?"

In verse 44 Jesus turns toward the woman, but continues talking to Simon. "Do you see this woman?" And you can hear the intonation, "Do you see her as she really is? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

Note: It is not her love that saved her. It’s His love that saved her. Jesus hates what sin does to us…. And the reason she is this way is that she has been forgiven.

Simon knew the essence of God’s message but it didn’t touch him. She was devastated by it, by God’s love.

How is your love for God these day? Do you find yourself more like Simon or the woman?

These are important questions to ask ourselves. Do I still find his grace amazing? Do I pour my love out on Him in uninhibited ways? And how is my love for other people?

When the love and grace of Jesus found me it changed me. When you know you have been forgiven lavishly, you lavish love on others.

In verse 48 Jesus says, “Your sins are forgiven.”

Shock. Horror! This was even more shocking to the Pharisees than what the woman had done.

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” 

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

Jesus’ blood is “tough on dirt.” He is able to clean up any sin, any stain. And He is entirely approachable. Let Him transform you today.

Sunday, July 15, 2012

My Dad Knows God

Leonard Armstrong welcomed us and reminded us that Pastor Brad is on his way to Tennessee with the youth heading to CHIC. He noted that Rev. David Eaton would be preaching this morning. Leonard then introduced Chuck who invited us to worship with the trio Ken, Darlene and himself as they sang an opening number and led us in music.

After the offering, the Scripture reading was from Mark 6:1-13.

Leonard shared a humorous anecdote before leading us in a prayer time. Rev. Eaton was then introduced and went forward to take the pulpit.

My Dad Knows God

Rev. Eaton began by saying how much they appreciate Pastor Brad in their hospice program. "He is truly a community pastor out here… involved with so many families." His intro included mention of his own experience with CHIC many years ago. He then turned to his theme.

Most of us are familiar with the story of Samuel. When he was a little boy living in the tabernacle he thought he heard a voice. Three times he went to Eli who finally realized that God was speaking to the boy.How this boy Samuel came to be living in the temple is another story.

Eli was a priest and one day this woman Hannah was praying in a somewhat strange way, her whole heart moved and her lips moved but there were no words coming out. Eli presumed she was drunk. Her prayer was for God to open her womb and if God would do this she would give the child to God and no razor would ever touch his head. Eli said, "May the God is Israel grant you what you have prayed."

Hannah conceived and bore a son whom she named Samuel. When the boy was weaned Hannah brought him back to Eli to be given to the service of the Lord as promised. In short, Eli became Samuel's adoptive father.

Eli’s one fatal flaw was that he was a weak father. When you read the story you can guess that his two sons, Phinehas and Hophni, were pampered and spoiled. Eli was a descendant of Aaron and one of his two sons should have been the next high priest, but they were less than godly, even shameful in their behavior.

Rev. Eaton then read to us from I Sam 2:12-36 which begins, "Eli's sons were scoundrels; they had no regard for the Lord."

Eli’s leniencies toward his sons did not go unnoticed by God. God watches over what we do. God sends a prophet to Eli's house and he is told that a judgment is coming, and as a sign both his sons will die on the same day.

It is at this point in the story (Chapter 3) that the young Samuel hears God speaking to him. 

In the fourth chapter Eli's judgment arrives. Israel is at war with the Philistines and the Hebrews take it on the chin. But the elders of Israel believe that if they bring the ark of the covenant to the battlefield it will empower them. Unfortunately, despite the initial dismay it brings to the Philistines, ultimately the battle once again goes their way. A messenger is sent to Eli to give a report and we read these words… “also your two sons are dead and the ark of God has been captured.”Upon hearing that the ark had been capture, Eli fell over backward in his chair, broke his neck and died.

Eli would not have been Man of the Year material. The judgment of God extended beyond Eli and his sons.  On one occasion years later when David was fleeing Saul he kept his men nourished by getting bread from the priests of Nob. Saul, when he learned about it, killed them all… 85 total. These also were Eli’s descendants.

Rev. Eaton asked, "What does it take to be a successful parent?"
Here are some answers to this inquiry.
1. A successful parent is a teacher. Being a teacher is more than words, but also includes modeling. The successful parent transfers the values of life. This includes...
a. Spiritual training
b. Reproducing our faith, making Jesus central in our lives
c. Moral teaching
Society tends to do a lousy job of teaching morals. Everything is relative in this society where there are no absolutes except the maxim "there are no absolutes." We must teach morals by both words and actions.
d. Financial teaching, vocational teaching and lines of authority are also important.

2. A successful parent is a lover.
a. Make your home an atmosphere of love
b. The best gift dads can give children is love for their mother.
c. Love is self-sacrificing, and wanting the best for another.
d. Spoiling does not mean you loved too much, it means you loved too little.

Our guest preacher closed with a story about boys bragging about their fathers. The father of one of the boys was listening in as the kids exclaimed their fathers' greatness.
“My dad can do engineering schematics,” said the first.
“My dad knows the mayor,” said the second.
“My dad knows the governor,” boasted the third.
 The father's breathing hesitated as he leaned to hear what his own son would say.
“My dad knows God,” the boy exclaimed.

The father crept back to his study, deeply moved... and I am guessing challenged. 

Sunday, July 8, 2012

God Is Big Enough To Comfort My Suffering

Brad welcomed us and then stated that our sermon today would be a walk through the book of Job.

Announcements included mention that we had two babies born into the church family this week. Sam and Kelly had baby Isabella on July 4. Jessie and Lisa Smith brought Lincoln Jessie Smith into the world. Because the latter was a C-section birth, meals would be welcome for the next three weeks. (Sign up in the back or call Brooke)

The Scripture reading today was from Mark 5:21-43

Before our time of prayer we prayed for those going to CHIC in a few weeks.

God Is Big Enough to Comfort My Suffering 

Some books in the Bible are wintery in that they talk about times when God seems distant. But it’s a great place to learn about how big our God is.

The story of Job begins in Uz, which was somewhere east of there… Job is righteous, pious and blessed. In the beginning of the story there is a correlation between his good deeds and his blessing. But beginning with verses 6-12 there is a change in the story.

Picture a theater with a lower stage and an upper stage. Job, his family and friends live in the lower stage. Theater goers see that God resides in the upper stage, but Job is unaware of what is going on there, a transaction between God and Satan.

The story moves to the lower stage and we see Job smitten, but he remains faithful to God.

The next scene is back at the upper stage and we see Satan asking for permission to cause yet more suffering. Satan says, in essence, to God, "Job loves you because everything is going his way. God, you turn off the faucet of blessing and you will see Job turn his back on you because the core of this man is like all men. People are fair weather friends. People are basically selfish." This is exactly the point Christopher Dawkins tries to paint in his book The Selfish Gene

In contrast, God says the core of the universe and our lives is self-giving, self-sacrificial love.

But things do get worse for Job. In the end Job is diseased, covered with scabs, sitting on a dung heap as his wife say, “Curse God and die.”

Brad made an interesting observation at this point. Many people paint Job's wife with a dark brush, but in reality keep in mind that she has suffered immensely as well. She lost her family, her home, all her possessions, and now her life is centered on taking care of a diseased man who will soon die, the man she loved and who has been providing for her all these years. It is a very challenging time for her. Brad's comments exhibited a merciful approach toward her remark that showed a special kind of compassion.

Yet, in all this Job did not sin by charging God with wrongdoing. (Job 1:22)
After the second round of disasters, the Bible says Job did not sin in what he said. But the astute reader can see that he is struggling in his heart.

Job, once famous for his wealth and influence now is famous for his sorrow and suffering. So when Job’s friends arrive, begin to weep when they see him. They see immediately what a bad way he is in. They sit with him for seven days and nights…. Being there is a form of comfort

Paul says mourn with those who mourn. He does not say “give good advice” or suggest they “snap out of it.”

Job pours out chapter after chapter of bitterness. His friends reply, saying essentiall that "whatever you are experiencing is because of what you did." It's a common perspective that is with us to this day. If things are going well, it is because your choices and your troubles are because of your choices. It's conventional wisdom: you must have done something wrong. Otherwise, how do you explain this?

Job says he was the same person both before and after these mind-numbing events that occurred. So that line of argument doesn't make sense.

Yes, there are times when choices and consequences are related. But sometimes it has nothing to do with anything we have done.

"If only I could talk to God. I would present my case," he say. 

When everyone has said their piece and re-hashed all their arguments, God shows up and speaks to Job out of a storm. (Job 38)

God does not answer the questions Job asks, however, or explain what happened. Instead, God points out that Job has a finite mind, and that we can’t see the whole picture from our vantage point.

God asks questions. And the questions reveal the character of God who cares for land where people don’t even live. There's a whole section about God creating and how He is involved in things that have no value for anything other than just because they are. In short, God reveals Himself to be irrationally loving and gratuitously good.

Job never finds out what happened on the upper stage, and Job’s story is our story. We, like he, can’t see the why of anything, but we can see who God is. We can see His character. And in this the Book of Job is a foretaste of the cross, where God sent Jesus into the lower stage, and showed what kind of God He is.

Self-giving, self-sacrificial love is the core of this book.

In the last chapter, chapter 42, God let’s Job’s friends know that Job was right, and the friends, who thought they were defending God, were put on notice that they were wrong.

Brad took a moment to highlight another feature of the story. In the end, Job 42, everything Job lost was restored double. He also had seven more sons and three daughters,which has a twist to it here.

There are a lot of things in the story that we would miss today. The names of daughters mentioned, instead of the sons. And the names of Job’s daughters are all about beauty: a dove, cinnamon and makeup. And Job gave a portion of his inheritance to these daughters, not a typical act in those days. Why? Because what you gave as inheritance can be siphoned by in-laws. But his character is revealed and being hilariously giving and generous, like the creator whom he loves.

Can a human being hold on to God when it doesn’t seem to pay off at all? Job  was broke, sick, confused, suffering, in anguish… and he didn’t know how long it would go on. Yet he was faithful… he did not give up.

Our suffering matters…

But our response matters as well, more than we can ever imagine. So friends, don’t let go because our God is a big and great God.

Sunday, July 1, 2012


Click image to enlarge
Hot summer days are here this first Sunday in July. It’s a beautiful weekend in the rural Northland.

Chuck brought a group of bluegrass-style music friends to church this morning so it was fun having worship accompanied by drums, bass, keyboards, mandolin, harmonica and washboard. Your faithful blogger contributed with a few harmonica accents and harmonies.


At the beginning of the service Pastor Brad gave us a riddle that hinted at the summary of out message today. He asked, "How is a farmer like a cow?"

began by reading Psalm 49 (which I recommend reading now.)

A man steps out from the pages of the bible and he has a riddle that applies to everyone -- rich, poor, wise, ignorant, believers and atheists. We need to listen because his words will give wisdom. The word used for "wisdom" here means a skill for living. And we will also have understanding. Insight. Understand means we see into things. Instead of just seeing only the surface, we learn to see behind the surface…

The psalmist is giving it in the form of a song, about a proverb…. “With my harp I will expound my riddle.”

A man who has riches without understanding is like the beasts that perish. In other words, sometimes a man can be like a cow.

This psalm was written by a man living in an evil time. Not unlike the days we live in today. The righteous have a difficult time and are at a disadvantage.

The man in this story was swindled, taken advantage of, and it tested his faith. But out of this bitter experience he had come to wisdom.

The psalm makes reference to Exodus 21:30. "However, if payment is demanded of him, he may redeem his life by paying whatever is demanded." The law allows a person with means to buy freedom from penalty of death in a situation.

But in the final analysis, neither money nor a Ph.D. will save you or me from death. Philanthropy doesn’t save you. People have states, or cities or streets named after them….but in the end they all die. Even the richest men, despite their riches, can not endure. He is like the beasts which perish. 

The recognition that nothing can save us from death changes our perspective.

Brad told a story about a man who found a newspaper that is from six months in the future. The man gets excited about reading where stocks will be in six months, underdog teams that become champions. He realizes that gambling and investment opportunities will make him exceedingly wealthy soon. He then turns the page and sees... his own obituary. 

Brad the shared about an order of Trappist monks who dig a grave that they leave open. Each day the monks go out and look at the open grave. When one of their number dies,  he is put in the grave and a new grave is dug. They do this for perspective.

What’s the understanding this psalm writer has in mind? It's this: when life is over it is not over.

Death will feed on those in the grave. Death is like a shepherd that leads his flock to the slaughterhouse. This is their end.

It's important to keep perspective. Do not be overawed when man gets rich. When people die, they die naked. They do not take with them their splendor, their bank account, etc. The wicked go into the darkness of the tomb. They also go into the darkness of eternity.

But when life is over it is not over. For the righteous, there is light ahead of them. For the righteous, God can pay the price that saves from death.

"If you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." Rom. 10:9

Jesus has gone before us. He went to the tomb and rose to life. What happened to Him will happen to us. This is the understanding that changes everything for us. Therein lies the freedom we all so desperately desire.

Farmer and cow… both will die. The farmer who does not have understanding is no more than a beast.

Brad shared how easy Chuck’s cows have it… no stress, easy life getting fat, no responsibilities. But those cows are being fattened for slaughter. If the farmer dies with no more understanding than the cow, then his end is no better than the cow’s.

John Wesley once visited a wealthy man at his fabulous estate. The wealthy man said, “You know, you could have had all this.” Wesley said in the next life he will have more.

This understanding changes everything. When life is over, it is not over. This is the gospel.

We then shared Communion as Brad affirmed, "The object of our trust should be Jesus."

POSTSCRIPT:  This was the first time in a lifetime of attending church to hear a sermon on Psalm 49. The insights were refreshing, but inadequately captured here. Reading this blog is probably a good thing, being present for the service would have been better. Especially this Sunday.