Sunday, September 30, 2012

Downward Mobility

The service began with uncommon punctuality as Pastor Brad greeted us and indicated that today’s message will be on the familiar passage from Philippians 2:5-11. 

Today's Announcements:
Brief meeting with the council after the service today.
Thursday at 7 p.m. building committee meeting here at the church.
Brooke noted that this Wednesday we'll be hosting the first Family Night, with Adventure Club meetings for youth and young adults, 6:00 – 7:30.
Dawn Walsh mentioned a fund raiser for blankets during the month of October for Bethany Crisis Shelter, an on-going need that we have helped with in the past.
Paula also requested old flannel shirts for a special quilt being made.
Chuck said the Salvation Army Brass Band will be in town this Friday, 6:30 pm at Salvation Army.

Darlene initiated worship with a tender rendition of This Is My Father’s World. Then, Drake Peterson and Megan Blomberg, seniors at UMD, were introduced. Originally from other parts of Minnesota currently in leadership with Campus Crusade at the university. Trivia: Drake is the mascot for the UMD Bulldogs.

Drake and Megan led us in worship this morning and hope to become more involved with our church family this coming year.

Come Holy Spirit
Come in the wind
Come be Lord of our hearts
Come fill your Church once again…

After worship we shifted to a time of prayer for the various needs in our church family. 

Downward Mobility

Brad began with the commnet that Philippians 2:5-11 is an earth-shattering text.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

6 Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
7 rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!

9 Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
11 and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father.

This text ties to everything in history from the Garden of Eden onward. Upward mobility is what life seems to be about for people of all ages. Downsizing, downscaling, demotion, etc. all have a negative connotation. The values in this passage are not embraced many. It is perhaps the most counter-conventional passage in Scripture.

Paul’s life goal in Phil. 1 is plain: “For me, to live is Christ… and to die and be with Christ is even better."

What does living for Christ mean? In this passage Paul shows that it has something to do with downward mobility.

Vs 5: Think like Jesus thought. Have Jesus’ attitude...

Brad noted that this passage shows seven downward steps to greatness in the eyes of God.

Where did Jesus start from? He was God. He began at the top. He was never a VP like Joe Biden or junior partner to God. He was equal to God, a singular person in the Godhead.

“He did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped.”

First voluntary demotion: From God to being a human….

How willing are you willing to loose your grip on your own prerogatives? We tend to be clutchers… power, positions, possessions… We have difficulty letting go…

“He made himself nothing…” He emptied himself. He did not cease from being God, but he put aside his God-rights. He divested himself of that which He had every right to hold.

Verses 3-5 all relate to the incarnation:
~ The God of the universe took on the appearance of a man
~ To be made in the likeness of man
~ To become a bondservant

Here's an amazing thought. God took on the binding confines of the flesh to rub shoulders with people whom He created. It's a mind-boggling transition. Jesus relaxes his grip to take on the likeness of a bondservant, serving obstinate sinful people.

From there He humbled Himself yet even further and became obedient unto death. He let death win. The eternal life-giver gives up His life. And not just any death... He became obedient to the humiliation of crucifiction, the most intense form of hellish suffering, all the while being mocked. This is the basement of human abasement.

Best selling books are usually rags to riches books. What Paul outlines here is a fully contrarian stance… riches to rags. Jesus decreased and downscaled to lose on purpose. This happened in history. There were eyewitnesses and Jesus did it out of love for you and me. That at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow…

There will be a day when the world wakes up to who Jesus is. When people die and enter the world beyond the veil each will hear the thunderous high-volume choruses of He is Lord.

Why did Paul write this text? To remind us of who Jesus was? Not primary though true. Rather, Paul is calling every Christian to a life of downward mobility.

Decreasing, demoting, downscaling for the advancement for the Gospel.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

A hard frost fell across the Northland during the night, but we were quickly warmed by the company of friends as we gathered this morning for worship. In his usual manner Pastor Brad greeted us. "I'm grateful you're here today."

Darlene, Chuck and Ken led the worship this morning, lively and upbeat. After Brad's invocation Dawn shared how the young people this year would be raising money for needy families in the Congo. Then Gwen followed, energetically sharing her excitement about this new Sunday School year. The theme was the world, which she shared with visuals, including lollipops that were globes.

After the offering, the Scripture reading this morning was from I Corinthians 9:19-27.

Passion for the Prize

In this morning's message Brad re-visited the life and times of the Apostle Paul, especially his motivations. He began by noting that he did not find Paul to be a heroic character early in his Christian life, but eventually this changed. Perhaps in part this was due to Paul being seemingly different from him.

The 5'7" apostle bore on his body the marks of brutal persecution. His life was devoted to traversing a very harsh, demon-infested world with multiple obstacles. His life ended in a dungeon in Rome, slain during Nero's persecutions.

So what was it that enabled Paul to endure so much and make such an impact on his time? Keep in mind that this was a world that was every bit as opposed to the Gospel as today.

The answer runs throughout Paul's letters, Brad wished us to zero in on passages from I Corinthians 9.

24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air. 27 No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

The image that Paul used here was the Greek games. We think we live in a sports obsessed society. Check out the Greeks. They measured time in light of the Games. For the Jews, their calendar began with creation. Christians date time forward and backward based on its relation to the birth of Christ. The Roman calendar began with the mythical founding of Rome. For the Greeks everything was measured in relation to the Olympic games, every four years at Olympus and every three years at the Isthmian Games at Corinth. (Corinth was located on an isthmus between Peloponnesia and Greece.) 

Trivia: the word gymnasium comes from the Greek word "gymnast" which means naked.

In these Olympics the athletes competed for the prize, a laurel of leaves twisted into a crown.

Paul's declaration is that "this is the spirit I bring to this ministry. I am competing for the prize and will do whatever it takes to achieve it."

So what is Paul aiming for in his ministry? What is he striving for? Brad points to verse 16 as a clue.
16 For when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, since I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel!

Paul preaches the Gospel because he is committed to preach it. It was a commission. God summoned him to reach the Greek world and he was obligated to follow through.

It would be like a scientist at a great university who discovered a cure for AIDS. Imagine what would happen if she refused to share her discovery, to share this cure with others. Her heart would have to be concrete. So with Paul, he "discovered" the Gospel (God literally knocked him to the ground to get it through his head.) and was obligated to share. And we, like Paul, have the same obligation. To fail to share is to be derelict.

The reason Paul says he gets a reward is not because he shared the Gospel. This was his obligation. It's the passion he brought to his ministry... He was willing to give up any and all rights in order to make Christ known.

What rights? In verse 3 he says he gave up the right to food and drink. In another place he says he gave up the right to be married. He also gave up the right to receive a salary, even though he had the right to be paid. When Paul went to Corinth, he was not seeking Corinthian gold. He wanted Corinthians.

The strength of any cause depends on the people committed to it. It depends on their self-sacrifice and dedication. Only fanatics make a difference in the world. Paul was a fanatic for the Gospel.

Brad noted that fanatics have a downside. They tend to build walls instead of bridges. Paul recognized this and went further. He gave up all his personal rights.

Paul never changed his message ("I preach Jesus Christ and Him crucified.) but he did change his approach anywhere and everywhere, if it would build a bridge. He became a Jew to the Jews, a Greek to the Greeks, a Roman to the Romans. To the educated he was educated and to the "blue collar" working class he was working class. In the end, Paul's passion drove him to do anything short of sinning in order to win others to Christ.

As Jim McKay used to say at the beginning of ABC's classic Wide World of Sports, "the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat." Everyone who gives him or herself to winning people to Jesus Christ wins the prize. But the greatest thrill will be the thrill of giving yourself to ministry and through your ministry see men and women come to God. An even greater thrill will be when you stand before your Lord and have him place a gold medal around your neck, and an eternal crown on your head.

Bob Richards, Olympic pole vault champion, said he would ask Olympic athletes how they handled the pain. They never said, "What pain?" Pain was part of being an athlete competing at these highest levels. That goes for running, boxing, swimming and every other physical competition. That is the spirit of the athlete. And that is the spirit of the men and women who make a difference for God in their day. They wil do anything short of sinning to win men and women to Jesus Christ.

That's the passion of the apostle Paul. And Paul says that needs to be your passion as well.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Seek First His Kingdom

First Sunday of the new Sunday School year and 16th Sunday after Pentecost.

"Good morning! I am grateful you are here this morning to worship with us," Pastor Brad Shannon said as the service was called to order.  

The announcements included a reminder that the council meeting would be this Tuesday at 7:00 p.m. and that the church building project has been moving forward with much groundwork having been laid by the building committee.

With Darlene and Chuck on a vacation this weekend, Ed played for the introit, offertory and closing hymn.Today's Scripture reading was from Luke 12:13-31, the parable of the rich fool. After a time of prayer Brad presented the message.

Seek First His Kingdom

This is a challenging text that Steve read to us. Pastor Brad began by citing a humorous observation on preaching today, calling it "the fine art of talking in someone else’s sleep." If it's any consolation sometimes even Jesus’ own followers didn’t hear what He had to say.

In Luke 12 Jesus was talking to a large multitude about important matters... life, death, love and fear God. Then a man interrupts Jesus in the middle of His sermon and says, “Teacher, tell my brother to split the inheritance with me.”

This man was not hearing what Jesus was saying. The man was obsessed with resolving the family matter and the issue pre-occupied his mind. 

Jesus responds, “Why do you think I am the one who has to be judge and divider over you?”

In essence Jesus is saying, “I am not going to be reduced to being a Moses or county judge. This is not what I am about. This is not why I came.”

There are a lot of ways we reduce who Jesus is and what He was about. Some people reduce Jesus to be nothing more than a teacher. Other says Jesus came to be an example for how we should live, "which is something I will always fail at."

No, this is what Jesus was about: Jesus came to bring God to man and man to God. Jesus Christ came to make men and women who were spiritually dead alive.

“Beware of covetousness, for a man’s life does not consist of the the abundance of things he possesses.”

Covetousness is a word that seems to have lost its cutting edge today. We do not think of it as a first class sin… as if it were added to the other nine commandments just to round it off at ten.

Pastor Brad defined covetousness in this way: “Craving more of what you have enough of already.”

The message of our times being pounded into our brains daily via the media, life DOES consist of what we have. Things are everything. The cultural message is that owning more is better and the  key to happiness. Yesterday’s mansion becomes yesterday’s boarding house. Beware of craving more and more of what you already have.

Jesus then tells a story about a farmer.

Brad set up the story with a few side remarks. First, it is a mistake to judge people by what they have rather than who they are. Second, riches are not evil in and of themselves. Abraham, David, Solomon were blessed by God and lived with wealth. Joseph of Arimithea was the wealthy man who gave the tomb where Jesus was buried.

But for every passage that speaks of wealth, there are ten that warn of its dangers.

It’s one thing to have money and another thing for money to have you. 

Returning now to the story of the farmer… Farmers don’t get successful by being lazy. It is hard work. Industry is a good thing, but it is possible to be industrious about the wrong things. This farmer was successful. Industrious. Rich. Progressive. And as he made plans to build bigger barns, he is visited by Death.

This man who achieved so much was probably buried with words of praise on his tombstone. But the angel of the Lord walked through the cemetery that night and wrote one more word on the tombstone: Fool.

If we are religious but live as if God does not exist, we are no different than this man.

This is how it will be for anyone who stores up things and is not rich toward God.

This is the context for the following well known words:

22 Then Jesus said to his disciples: “Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat; or about your body, what you will wear. 23 For life is more than food, and the body more than clothes.

And just a little further:

27 “Consider how the wild flowers grow. They do not labor or spin. Yet I tell you, not even Solomon in all his splendor was dressed like one of these. 28 If that is how God clothes the grass of the field, which is here today, and tomorrow is thrown into the fire, how much more will he clothe you—you of little faith! 29 And do not set your heart on what you will eat or drink; do not worry about it. 30 For the pagan world runs after all such things, and your Father knows that you need them. 31 But seek his kingdom, and these things will be given to you as well. 

God is not saying to not do things like eat or buy clothes. He is saying don’t worry about these things. Live for what is eternal, not temporal things. Make His kingdom first in your life.

Life is like a wheel…. At the center is the hub, with the spokes going out. The hub has to be strong. I know men and women who live for possessions. Their life is governed by things, getting things. Others live for passion and live to feed that  There are others who live for power.

Is God at your center? What you put at the center of your life determines the spokes of your life… Link your life with that which is eternal, that which will never fade.

Brad then shared a long story to bring home this point that our greatest investment should be in things of eternal, not temporal value. You never know when your end will come, so it is imperative to have prepared for that day.

And don't be a fool. Beware of covetousness. A man’s life does not consist of the things he possesses.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Harvest Fest

Our service was held at the Twig Town Hall in celebration of the new Sunday School season. The theme for this year’s Harvest Fest was Come Deepen Your Roots Wit Us. It’s one of the early autumn days where the sun warms by day and temps drop during the night. As we gather beneath the pavilion there are some in jackets because of the chill and some in short sleeve shirts soaking up the sun. The pillars and front of the makeshift sanctuary are adorned with orange and yellow sun flowers and maple leaves, splashed with sunlight.

“I’m grateful you’re here. I hope you can all hear me,” Pastor Brad said, informally attired in a blue-grey T-shirt. Announcements in the bulletin included… but other practical matters were addressed, such as the easiest way to reach the restroom.

Brad elaborated on the theme for today, deepening your roots, and then read from a passage in Colossians 2, “Be rooted in Christ… And put on love…” What does it look like to be rooted in Christ?

This was Elsa's last week with us and Brooke brought Brad an envelope with a card that included the gift of an oil change for the car Chuck helped her find. We all then prayed for her to be blessed as she went on with her life path.

Darlene, Chuck and Ken led us in some songs including I Saw the Light, You Are My All In All, and others.

Invocation, Offering, a Scripture Reading from Mark 7:4-8, 12-13 and 21-24, Prayers for needs in the Church Family and Special Music by Ed Newman carried us to the message Brad delivered this day.

A Few Words for Our Time

I read about a play on Broadway that opens in a smoke-filled hotel room. It is a political meeting and they were looking for a candidate. Once they identified their candidate, they began looking for a winning platform. Ideas are thrown around, and nothing sticks so they ask the chambermaid who says their campaign should be about love. "Everyone wants love. The platform should be Love."

Today’s politicians do the same thing, looking for a word that tells their story: Hope, Change, Integrity… But so often it all just feels like words.

But the early church did make their platform Love.

Love is essential, but not easy. I Cor 13:4-7 sums it up. What love does and things is does not do. In the midst of this, Paul writes that love always hopes.

The Greeks had plenty of everything but they did not have hope. Located in the center of Corinth was a Temple to Aphrodite, in which employed massive quantities of temple prostitutes so the very name Corinthian meant slimy.

Paul went there and preached with the aim of making an impact. Paul’s hope was not based on wishful thinking, but rather on his knowledge of the power of the Gospel and God's love which impelled him. Love always hopes. There are no hopeless people. Love always endures.

Brad told the story of a Muslim man who listened to the Gospel and noted what it would cost this man to become a follower of Jesus.Everything.

In one of Paul's letter's to the Corinthian church Paul outlined the extent of his own suffering on behalf of the gospel. Brad then noted that there have beeb more martyrs on behalf of Gospel this past century than the previous nineteen and shared other examples of what people have sacrificed for God.

Ultimately, we see Jesus in the Garden and his own anguish in the shadow of the cross. "Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done."

Suffering is not going to make it as a plank on anyone’s political campaign, but God has a higher purpose for you... to make you like Christ.

Come deepen your roots with us.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

The Object of Our Faith

Punctuality is not a strong suit in our church family. Maybe that isn't such a bad thing in a world so corporate with everything timed to a tightly wound schedule. I doubt that Jesus was impatiently waiting for the crowds to get seated so he could start the Sermon on the Mount "on time." For what it's worth, in our summer period we're a bit loose on this point, but the warmth of our church family is visible everywhere as we gather on Sunday mornings. And it was another great message from our pastor today.

Pastor Brad came to the front and welcomed us as he always does. "I’m grateful you’re here today. Today I’m going to talk about the object of our faith. I am convinced that the size of the God we worship determines the trajectory of our lives." He summarized main points of previous sermons in our summer series and noted today's theme.

1. Brooke showed us a blue binder in which everyone has been invited to sign up for the various activities and volunteer opportunities here at New Life Covenant.
2. Gwen mentioned that next Sunday is Rally Sunday, and thanked everyone who is making dirt pies. Bring lawn chairs, and kites if you have them.
3. Chuck noted that $1200 was raised for homeless and needy families in Duluth.
4. Elsa invited everyone involved with our youth to an all youth group bonfire at Borndal’s next Saturday evening. Also next Sunday is Elsa’s end of the year in service to us. She thanked us for our hospitality and the wonderful connections she made with us.

Darlene transitioned us into worship as Brad quotes from Psalm 24 saying "Lift up your heads O gates… that the King of Glory should come in.”

We sang a pair of hymns including Amazing Love.

The Scripture reading was from John 6:56-69 followed by a time of prayer in which we lifted up again the many needs in our church family.

The Object of Faith

Pastor Brad's sermon was based on a familiar old story from the book of Judges, the story of Gideon. He began by sharing one of the games he used to play when his kids were small. He'd ask, “How big are you?” And he'd say, “I’m so big.” The idea being that he wanted his children to feel boundless in terms of their futures. 

This was just a game, but the question Brad wanted us to consider is no game at all. How big is your God? How we live is a consequence of how we view God. Do you have an all powerful, all-present, all-loving, totally capable God? We will live differently if our God is shrunken and small. The result is stagnation and fear when our God is too small.

We do not serve a little tribal God. Whatever we need our God is bigger.

In Judges 6, before Israel had kings like David, the Israelites had problems, one of them being the Midianites. This was all setup for the story of Gideon.

The Midianites did more than harass Israel. They took Israel's crops at harvest time, ravished their lands and left Israel impoverished. For this reason the story begins with Gideon threshing wheat in a wine press. He was terrified of the Midianites who might spy him and take his wheat. A winepress is far from the ideal place to thresh wheat. It is a small, confined space. Furthermore it lacks the wind necessary to thresh properly. But for Gideon is was safe, because he lived in fear of the Midianites.

Gideon was not a Samson, nor a super hero.But the angel of the Lord came to Gideon and called him a mighty warrior. Gideon didn't see himself this way at all. When we have a little God we don’t believe things can ever change. Our job simply becomes a matter of survival. Gideon rationalized his passivity by his smallness, the smallest member of the weakest tribe, most insignificant.

God’s response: “I will be with you and you will strike down the Midianites with one hand."

What is unthinkable and undoable on our own becomes possible when God is with us. “You don’t have to live your life in hiding. You have a great big God and He has called you to do something, so get on with it. “

Gideon was told to knock down the altar to Baal, god of a fertility cult that involved infant sacrifice. 

Gideon and ten of his servants knock down the altar… at night. He was still scared to publicly carry out God's will. His dad had built the altar but responded in this surprising way: if Baal is God he will take care of it.

God then asks Gideon to lead Israel against the Midianites. Gideon asks God for a confirmation, and what follows in the famous incident with the fleece.God affirms that he is with Gideon. Gideon then rounds up an army, is told to go to battle, to lead.

Though Gideon army was outnumbered 4 to 1 God says he has too many men for this battle. Gideon is instructed to send everyone home who is afraid. 22,000 went home.

But the army was still not small enough. There was another sifting so that Gideon was left with 300 men vs. 120,000 Midianites, 450 to one odds.

God says, “It’s my battle. You don’t have to wrestle with fear.”

Brad reminded us that the single most repeated commandment in Scripture is “Fear not.”

Modern genome science claims to have found the worry gene. Worry is a common malady. Problems and outcomes we have no control over….. But at times when overwhelmed I sometimes here God say to me, “You and I are going to walk through this thing together. Just trust me.”

OK God, I will live this life with as much joy and hope as possible. God is enough to see us through. God is the inner reality. Nobody else can give this kind of peace. It is a peace that comes from God alone. God says, “I am bigger than your problems, your regrets.“

And in the empty tomb we see that God is bigger than death itself.

God knows about the Midianites in your life. He knows you. He knows about your worries. He knows about your kids. He knows what you’ve lost. He knows about the divorce. He knows about the divorce. He knows about the crumbling marriage. He knows about the affair. He knows about the abortion. He knows about the job failure. He knows about where you are stagnant. He knows where your dreams have died. But He has better dreams for you. If you just ask him, He will be a bigger presence in your life than you have known.

After the closing hymn we celebrated the Sacrament of the Lord's Supper.