Sunday, August 26, 2012

Faith That Works

Brad opened the service with a recap of recent messages he's been giving on the themes Jesus alone and Grace alone, and last week's message by Elsa, The Glory of God alone. "The only way to understand grace is through faith," he said, add that someone asked him last week, "how good is good enough?"

So today the message would focus on looking at the meaning of this phrase, "faith alone."

There will be a clean up day the Saturday after Labor Day weekend. A binder with various categories of needs was passed around for helping with Sunday school, Nursery service, a Women's Bible study group that is starting, a Women's retreat and Wednesday night programs. Sign up to participate or help.

Gwen shared that Rally Day is Sept 9 and they will be making dirt pies to help sink home the message "Deepen your roots with us." Gwen is therefore seeking volunteers to make pies. Recipes will be provided.

Signe nee Armstrong stood and said, "I would like to praise God for this church and the new faces here." Signe and Peter were married here in this church forty years ago. She said is is wonderful to see God’s presence in this community and the work that is continuing on.

A time of worship followed, led by Brad. Afterwards tithes and offerings were taken. The Scripture reading today was from John 6:51-58  

Faith That Works

Pastor Brad gave a good sermon that addressed one of the most devisive issues in the history of the church, going back as far as the first disciples. The argument centers on faith. One group takes this position, “That’s true, you can’t earn being saved but we don’t want cheap grace. Saving faith includes the intention of following Jesus as Lord.”

The pushback comes from those who say, “You can’t say that because that add works to faith. No one is saved by works. We’re saved by faith alone. Grace plus nothing is what gets us saved.”

Brad used this morning's message to weigh in on his own opinion here. "If you are asking my opinion, both sides are misled," he said. "The problem with both groups is in the manner in which they define being saved. They focus on the minimum entrance requirements for heaven."

Brad asked, “When did Jesus set this as an option? Heaven is not where you want to be if you want only to do the minimum."

Saving faith is not about minimum entrance requirements. Saving faith is when you put total trust and confidence in God.

Another confusing thing in the matter is this: What is the relationship between faith and works?

Paul in several places cites Abraham as the father of our faith. In Romans 3:28 sums up his position thus, "For we maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law."

James, whose letter affirms a place for works and appears to disagree with Paul said this about Abraham in James 2:23... "And the scripture was fulfilled that says, 'Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness,' and he was called God’s friend."

The nature of faith that matters to God is faith that changes a life.

There is a difference between what I think I believe and what I actually believe. Brad pointed us to the story of Moses. When the plagues were done and Pharaoh gave Moses the go-ahead to lead his people to the Promised Land, the Israelites with one voice said they would follow Moses. But when they reached the Red Sea and were blocked in they complained, “Hey, weren't there enough graves in Egypt to bury us there?”

All too often we're the same. When things get shaky we discover what our real beliefs are.

Our core convictions are demonstrated by our behavior. We show that we believe gravity is real because we do not step off tops of buildings. Our behavior is the real barometer of our beliefs. If we claim to believe something and act differently, it’s apparent that our beliefs are not what we claim.

Martin Luther declared that faith cannot help but do good works. It is as impossible to separate faith from works as it is impossible to separate heat and light from fire.

So what do you do when you feel that you don’t trust God enough?

Brad read from Rom 4:1-3 and 16-21.

In the New Testament Abraham has been presented frequently as model of faith. In Genesis 12 God tells him to leave home, that his offspring will be a blessing for the entire human race.

And yet, in the very next chapter we find Abraham lying to Pharaoh to conceal the identity of his wife. Why did you do this thing if he had believed God's initial promise? In Genesis 20 Abraham again fails to trust God.

Brad tells the story of Abraham’s failings but then places this story into context of the day. This story did not depend on the largeness of Abraham’s faith. It depended on God’s promise. It’s better to put a little faith into a great God than great faith in a little God.

It’s not the quality of your faith that saves you. It is the object of your faith that saves you.

There has never been anyone like Jesus, the only worthy object of faith Don’t focus on the quality of your faith. Focus on the object of your faith, Jesus.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

For the Glory of God Alone

On a sunny cool August morning Pastor Brad opened the service with his usual welcome ("I'm grateful you're here") and, noting the chattering going on, said it's nice how much we all enjoy one another's company, that we could probably chat all day if we didn't start the service. He summed up the past few messages stating that we've been doing a series on the basics of our faith… Jesus alone is our savior. Grace alone is good enough. An that Elsa Holmgren would be bringing us the message today on the theme, "For the Glory of God Alone."

Announcements included the following:
1. Council meets Tuesday at 7:00 p.m.
2. Gail noted that there is a large assortment of fresh vegetables downstairs
3. It's time to sign your kids up for Sunday school.
4. Sept 9 we’ll be worshiping at the park to kick off the new year…
5. Tonight at 6:30 there is a special evening of Old Time Gospel Music with a free will offering to benefit the vulnerable and homeless of Duluth.

Darlene and brother Darrell ushered us into worship with a piano and violin medley that included Fairest Lord Jesus as an interlude.

Brad led the worship today. The offering taken, followed by a reading from John 6:35, 41-51 and a time of prayer. Brad then invited Elsa to come forward and deliver the message.

For the Glory of God Alone

I’m going to come at this topic in a roundabout way… I've been reading book about the prodigal son. It's the story of a son who asks for his inheritance in advance. The son squanders it and sinks so low that he has nothing so that he ultimately comes back and asks permission to be his father's servant. The father celebrates this son’s return and kills the fatted calf.

There is a second part to the story though. The older brother is paralyzed by resentment. He is angry that the father celebrates instead of punishing the younger son. "All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends. But when this son of yours who has squandered your property with prostitutes comes home, you kill the fattened calf for him!" (Luke 15: 29, 30)

The Father says to this son “You have always been with me. Everything that I have is yours.”

Too often we do not take advantage of all that God has for us. This enormous gift of being sons and daughters of the God of the universe is ours.

The Old Testament is filled with stories where the glory of God shows up in amazing ways. The glory of the Lord appeared on Mount Sinai after Exodus. In chapter 24 it is written, "To the Israelites the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain."  

Moses later asks to see God’s glory, and God places Moses in the cleft of the rock and passes by but it would kill him to actually see God’s glory.

The Hebrew word actually means dwelling. It is understood in Scripture as the visible manifestation of the presence of God… God who is everywhere, localized. Ezekiel writes that when he saw the glory "I fell on my face…" He was  lifted up and the glory filled the temple.

For years this was what was meant by the glory of the Lord. But then one day there is a baby born and the baby is the radiant glory of God, in human form. Here is the radiance of the glory of God… The very same God who said "Let light shine out of darkness." II Cor 4:6

The whole earth is full of the glory of God. The heavens declare the glory of God. Paul wrote to the Colossians that all things were created through Him and for Him and that in Jesus all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell.

When Moses came down from Sinai he put a veil over his face to hide radiance. But in Jesus we behold God's glory and as we do are being transformed into the same image of Christ Himself.
This is God’s huge promise to us. “YOU will be the radiance of My glory” God says.

It is God’s gift to us… those of us who are beholding Christ are being transformed…

In His last hours Jesus prayed, "The glory you have given to Me I have given to them." (Jn 17:22) It's not because we've earned it or have done such a good job of praying for it.

If your eyes and heart are fixed on Jesus, God promises you are being made into the image of Christ. The forgiveness of sins is the first step only, not the end point. God’s aim is to make us like His firstborn son…

The cherry on top: It is not your job to make yourself into the glory of God. That is His promise. Most of us can’t lose five pounds let alone trying to transform ourselves into the replica of His glory.

Trust in Jesus and leave it there. Believe God’s promises and receive it.

Too many of us settle to serve a miniature God instead of letting this enormous God move our mountains and fulfill His grand plans for each of us.

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Note: Your faithful New Life Covenant blogger was late to church today and missed Brad's every warm welcome and introductory comments. This blog entry begins with announcements. 

Sept 9 there will be a scaled back Rally Day. Mark your calendars. The service will be at Twig Town Hall as in year's past.

Walt Cresman gave us an update on the building project and the capital campaign. Next they will be evaluating where a well can go in and the manner in which the building will be set out on the land. Walt summarized the church's financial picture and asked, "Are we able to generate additional funds in order to make this happen?"

Sept 9 will be Elsa’s last Sunday, and she will be missed.

The transition into worship: a violin and piano duet by Darlene and her brother. 

After time of worship Elsa shared a slide show of photos and video from the recent CHIC trip this summer. Five of the seven youth who went were present and shared highlights. They were Janzen, Taylor, Grant, Luke and Levi.

Janzen shared with us five key questions that were central to the week and really spoke to her.
Who are you looking for?
Who do you say that I am?
Do you love Me?
Do you want to be made whole?
Who should I send?

Levi shared his experience of how a white flag that was used as a symbol of surrender. Seeing so many kids surrendering with their white flags made him realize that God was so much bigger than just the words he once used.

Rick shared how impressive the positive day in and day out experience was. 
Elsa said she was challenged on two levels, the lessons from the teaching and the epxerience of watching the kids grow. Elsa asked us to keep praying for these kids that they would build on the lessons learned at CHIC

Back to Basics

It’s important for us to be reminded of why we do what we do. Brad began by mentioning an ad that he saw lately which said, “Must Have” Must Haves. There are all kinds of "must haves" in life. Employers have Must Have lists (minimum requirements), grads have Must Have lists… men and women have Must Have lists when dating.

What are the Must Haves in our relationship with Jesus. What is essential to our identity as Christians? Core believes… Saved through Faith alone. Saved by Christ alone. Sola Scriptura

Salvation through Christ alone. Healing through Christ alone.

To many people the claim that "Jesus is the only way" sounds arrogant and narrow minded. The church has not said this for 2000 years out of smugness. Only Jesus is fully God and fully human. God loves us enough to become one of us….

Only Jesus led a sinless life. Jesus didn’t gossip. He wasn’t greedy. He did not take advantage of other people According to GK Chesterton, "Sin is the only theological concept that can be 100% proven."

Here's an interesting notion that Bard shared: "The religion you choose will be based on the problem that you think that you have."

Only Jesus was raised from the dead. In the first century there were numerous people who believed could have been Messiah. All of them died… but only one rose from the dead. When Jesus died they may initially have thought it was the same old song. But then, He rose again.’

Paul noted that there were hundreds who saw Him resurrected… "and if you don’t believe me you can check it out because they are still alive."

After, they called Him Lord Jesus.

Brad told a story about playing King of the Hill on a diving raft… There can only be one King of the Mountain. And there is but one Lord. This is not just a doctrinal statement.

If Jesus is Lord and king, it raises challenges for us. Do I give Him control of my relationships? My finances? My life? 

Sometimes we lose sight of why we’re here.

Only Jesus offers us a relationship with a loving God. Jesus is not just a God whom we must find. He comes to find us. Jesus wants to find you so He can say I love you."Behold, I stand at the door and knock..."

Will you let Him in? Only you can decide if he will be Lord of your life.

The service ended with our celebration of the Lord's Supper.