Sunday, December 22, 2013

Jesus' Christmas Message

Before the service Darlene often fills the sanctuary with music, and this morning was especially suited to the mood. Come And Worship rang out as snowflakes fell outside, adding another blanket atop the drifts already accumulated there. This was followed by O Come All Ye Faithful.

It's the Fourth Sunday of Advent. And as Pastor Brad welcomed us he shared thoughts about home and that longing for home that is within us. How our hearts long for that "safe place" that is the essence of home.

Noted: Our Christmas Eve service will be Tuesday at 4:00 p.m.

Drake led us in several Christmas hymns and then Brad lit the fourth Advent candle. Drake also sang a song for us while the offering was taken. Then we shared a time of prayer for the various and numerous needs in our world.

Before delivering the sermon our women's choir sang a special rendition of the classic Christmas hymn Silent Night.

Jesus' Christmas Message

I don't know how long you have to be away from home before you starting longing to be back home. Brad then asked us to break into small groups and discuss a tradition that is part of our family.

Home is an evocative word. Some of you can't wait to go home for the holidays. For some it is a painful experience though. There's a gap between the ideal and the reality.

Why does the idea of home touch us so much? Why do we get homesick? Why to we long for home?

Several reasons come to mind. Home is where our story begins. We get molded there. We begin to form our identity. In the Bible the home is where children are to learn about and love God. Home is supposed to be a place that is safe. A place of rest.

It is not O.K. when a home is not a safe place.

Brad cited several lines from Robert Frost's poem "The Death of the Hired Man" to illustrate how the idea of home is bound up with grace. In the poem, an undeserving old man, a former farmhand who had abandoned his work during haying season, has now returned to find a safe place to die. The farmer and his wife debate what to do, and one line tells so much of the story: ‘Home is the place where, when you have to go there, They have to take you in.’

The old man did not deserve to have this place available to him. He had fled, had left his employer in the lurch. But the wife brings mercy into the equation. Home is a sanctuary of grace.

The first verses of the Bible are about a home God made for Adam and Eve, The Garden of Eden. What made this place home for the first couple? God was there.

After the Fall, because of sin man and woman were banished from this home.

The story of Moses is intertwined with the meaning of home. It begins as a story about exile. The people of Israel are slaves in Egypt. Moses himself for forty years lives on the backside of the desert seaprated from his people. After he returns to his people he leads them in the Exodus, then spends 40 more years wandering in the wilderness. His life ends with a visit to a mountaintop where he can see the Promised Land, his peoples' homeland, but is not permitted to enter.

Psalm 90 is written by this "homeless" man.... Verse one declares, "Lord, you have been our dwelling place (our Home) throughout all generations." In God's presence we are home. There is no safe place on this earth, only God.

Psalm 91 opens with this great statement along the same line: "He who dwells in the shelter of the Most High will rest in the shadow of the Almighty." And Psalm 84 opens with this declaration: "How lovely is Your dwelling place, O Lord Almighty."

Our longing for home is an echo of our longing for God.

Our human problem is that we want God, but we still want to do things our own way. There is a sense in which we are all runaways, like the prodigal son. What the son doesn't know is that his father has been looking for him every day with a broken heart. God is ever saying this: "Won't you please come home."

Brad then digressed on how weddings took place in Jesus' day, highlighting most notably that between the (arranged) betrothal and the wedding, the groom's responsibility is to prepare a place for his bride, a home. In those days, however, that home was often a room attached to the family's.

This background was used to shed light on that familiar verse in John 14. "Let not your hearts be troubled. You believe in God, believe in Me. In My father's house there are many mansions." This is the King James Version, but a better translation is "many rooms.'

Jesus was getting ready to go to the cross, but wanted them to know He was preparing a place for them, a place of safety, of belonging, of identity.

Paul wrote, "You have been bought with a price..." This is the bride price. We are the bride.

And finally, the culmination: Revelation 21.... Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.

Jesus has indeed prepared a place for you.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

The Best Part of Christmas

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT

"Good morning! I'm grateful you're here this morning," Brad said warmly on this frigid December morn.

Announcements
1.Please join us for the Christmas program today at 4:00 p.m.... Leonard will be making a meal and you're invited to bring a dozen Christmas cookies.
2. Youth group will be going to see the Hobbit this Wednesday. Be here at 6:00 p.m.
3. The food items and gifts we have gathered for our "adopted family"

Brad began the service by having all the young people come to the front to listen as he read the Christmas story from the Gospel of Luke. The lighting of the third Advent candle followed.

Chuck, Ken and Darlene led us in worship, beginning first with All Is Well and Master of the Wind. We then joined in on a trio of Christmas hymns.

An offering was taken followed by a time of prayer.


The Best Part of Christmas

Brad began with Proverbs 19:21

The Roman kingdom was so extensive, the Caesar ruled the known world. He was known as the king of kings. And in 27 B.C. he was declared Caesar Augustus. It was glory in the highest and peace on earth... The Pax Romana created a network of safe roads. And at a moment of time, this king made a decree.

This decree set in motion seemingly insignificant events with incredibly significant ramifications. A poor family from a small town called Nazareth travelled over rough terrain to Bethlehem.

Interestingly, Brad asks which king really moved the world to make this happen. Was it Caesar? Or did another, higher King set this in motion?

Often, we ourselves live life as if we are kings, and forget that many times things have been set in motion by a higher King.

Brad then cited the story of Yertle the Turtle, a king who wanted to expand his glory because he would be king of all he could see. So he built a kingdom on the backs of his subjects. Literally. His vision continued to expand and made him feel marvelous, until one day the turtle on the bottom burped, a small little thing with big consequences. As a result the mud became all that king could see.

So it is with the Christmas story. Caesar was king over all the known world. The Roman empire stretched far and wide. Then one day, a little package came into the world. It was a very small thing, but the consequences for this world have continued far beyond the glory that was Rome.

We all have the same kingdom problem. We want to control our sphere, our kingdoms. When we get stressed about things not going the way we want, and even angry and frustrated. Often it is because another's will has crossed our will. But who's will is it?

"Many are the plans of a man's heart, but it is the Lord's purpose that will prevail."

There went out a decree, but the Lord was the one who had His own plan, and God was up to something that would make the angels sing. Yes, the angels sang and the heavens rang, because God, the infinite God, wrapped Himself in swaddling clothing, and became finite, confined in the body of this little tiny baby.

He who occupied the entire universe would have to learn how to walk.

It's staggering to think of it... He created the universe, yet would now have to learn how to talk. He will get cuts and bleed, will get the flu in flu season.

In the incarnation the eternal God confined Himself to space and time. God would have to learn to wait.

The eternal God would also learn submission. He would have to learn how to obey others, His parents, authorities.

He went from king to living in poverty. He was a carpenter's assistant. The incarnation is a riches to rags story.

The angels watched as the God who knew perfection would experience being despised and rejected. He took on our worry, fear and loneliness. He took on our guilt and our sin. He took on His shoulders the sins of the world.

These weren't the best things though. These things were all wrapped up in the Incarnation. The Word became flesh. The Eternal came in time. The Infinite restricted himself to a body. Omnipotence became weakness. Perfection came to carry our sin. And yes, these were all amazing things. But what really amazed the angels, what really amped them... The best part is this.... He came for you. He came for you. He came knocking on your door one day... for you.

"And we beheld His glory."

This is what makes Christmas Christmas. "My peace," He said, "I give to you."

Sunday, December 8, 2013

Closing the Gap

The weather since last Sunday has been decidedly harsh, reminding us that winter is seriously upon us. Despite 2-3 feet of snow (depending on where you live) and then a fierce cold front dropping temps to minus 30 or so (depending what part of the area you live) ... we are gathered once more to celebrate the Advent season. It is another Sunday at New Life Covenant.

Church members paid for 300 loads of clothes and help fold clothes.

Tracy and Chuck
"Good morning!" Brad exclaimed, welcoming us to this second week of Advent.  He began by thanking Chuck and all who helped rent the Washbucket Laundromat to offer free laundry to homeless and poor. Over 170 people were served, and a very special time was had. People were asking, "What's the catch?" There is no catch. That's the Gospel... a wonderful ministry.

Christmas program coming next Sunday, December 15 at 4:00 p.m.  This Wednesday, the Youth will be going to Bentleyville and then Sammy's Pizza after. Bring $10.

Our new "traditional greeting" goes like this...
Pastor Brad: "God is good."
Response: "All the time."
Brad: "All the time..."
Response: "God is good."

Darlene then ushered us into worship with a Christmas medley... Then Drake and Megan led us as we sang a pair of Christmas hymns and a beautiful "We Exalt Thee." The service seems to have an especially sweet spirit today.

There were many prayer needs shared and praise for having Dwayne back after the four month hiatus. Cindy is home at last, and grateful for re-dscovering the things that matter: health, family and friends.

Closing the Gap

Have you ever noticed that around Christmastime there are some people who are so excited they can't keep a secret? Brad shared a story of how he blurted out to his mom what his dad was giving his mom for Christmas.

Brad used this to lead into God's excitement about bringing his Son into the world that He told the shepherds about that amazing birth... "To you has been born a Savior."

Before Brad would continue, Darlene accompanied a women's chorus in the song Christmas Is a Time to Love.

At its core The Christmas Story is essentially that a young woman was told she was pregnant with child, though she had never been with a man. For two thousand years this fact has been a central affirmation of the Christian faith. Do you believe that the virgin birth really happened?

Thomas Jefferson and others have a problem accepting this miracle. One modern denominational leader stated that there is a diversity of opinion on this....

The virgin birth is not an opinion. It is a historical claim, not a legend. And something unlike any story ever contrived to explain things in other cultures. Greek and Roman gods were nothing like this.

Brad then cited Luke 1:1-4 noting that Luke wrote explicitly as a historian. As regards Jesus' birth there are geographical details and historical details deliberately gathered and shared, facts that could be questioned or countered since people who were there were still living.

People in Jesus' day did and said things that were clearly understood in His day. "Before Abraham was I am." The meaning of this was not lost on people who heard it.

What God claimed, Jesus claimed. What God said, Jesus said. And He said, "My Word will not pass away."

The virgin birth is not a myth. It is not a fable. And it matters, which is Brad's aim in this sermon.

In Islam God sends prophets into the world because He (Allah) is so high and holy that He must be kept holy and above it all. God cannot touch this unclean, messy world. So Jesus was sent, as a prophet, to point to God.

Citing the series British television series Upstairs Downstairs Brad noted how the upper crust were not friends with the downstairs class. Upstairs is where the "gentleman class" lived. There was a clear gap or chasm established between the upstairs and downstairs people.

So it is in the Islamic picture of how things are, and an infinite distance between God and humanity. This is why Muslims cannot grasp how God could become a man, how Jesus could possibly be God because there is this fixed impression that God is way up there and would not, cannot, cross this divide without being Himself defiled.

But here is the Good News, that God has come downstairs, has come into our messy world and stayed with us. Jesus, born of a virgin, took on humanity an dwelt among us.

Jesus bridged that infiinite gap, so we can all be together. "No longer do I call you My servants," Jesus said. "I call you My friends."

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Images of Advent

The severe chill of last weekend lifted somewhat but winter is here, and with it our thoughts turn toward Advent and the season of our Lord's birth. "Good morning!" Brad exclaimed. He review last week's message briefly, that all we have including our connections to one another is a gift. "Traditionally we light the Advent candle at the beginning of the service, but today I will light it after."

Life of the Church
1. Tuesday 10:00 a.m. to 11:30 is Women's Bible Study
2. At 2 p.m. Tuesday there will be a hymn-sing at Chris Jensen Nursing Home
3. Christmas program will be December 15 at 4:00 p.m. Please bring Christmas cookies to share. There will also be a meal, by Leonard.
4. Cheryl shared how the Christmas Shoeboxes we created were received last week. We also have received a family to make Christmas happen for a needy family with three children. Pray about it and sign up to give something.
5. Friday there will be a Free Wash Day at the Washbucket laundromat in Lincoln Park to help the homeless and needy people wash their clothes for a day. Looking for volunteers to help out December 6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. plus anyone who can help provide soap and other necessities. Posters have been posted throughout the neighborhood to promote this ministry of generosity.

The Trio -- Chuck, Ken and Darlene -- sang the beautiful song "Mary Did You Know?" before singing worship songs from the silver songbook.

The children of the church collected our Covenant World Relief cans before the offering was taken. A number of needs were shared as we entered into a time of prayer.

Images of Advent

The lights were dimmed and Brad shared how meaningful the song O Come, O Come Emmanuel is to him. There is a longing in the world for light to come chase away the darkness.

Isaiah 9:1-2 it states that we are living in darkness, but that there is a great light. That darkness is choking our hearts.

Examples are many of how our hearts all too often choose darkness, or make excuses regarding ways we fail to make caring choices or fail to listen when our conscience speaks with that still, small voice. Our hearts deceive us. Brad shares examples from his own experience.

There are horrible things in the world that are going on and Brad shared more examples of the tragic brokenness of our world. There is darkness anywhere you look. And too often we say, "That's someone else's problems."

John 3:19 says, "This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil."

In addition to sin there is death. We walk in the shadow of the valley of death... But God says, "I know. I have seen that. And I am going to do something about that darkness.'

Brad then shares the story of Little Bear and how he was afraid of the dark. But because there is one who is with us we can be comforted.

Even though we are stained with sin straight through, God sees this, and sees our world... and doesn't send a warning or punishment. He sent us His Son... a person, Jesus, who says, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life."

God says, "There is nothing you have done that can make me love you any less.""

This light is for you. Come to God. Confess to God. "I want to be your child. I want to step into the light."

God has promised that His light will sustain us and guide us. That is the hope of Christmas.

Before celebrating Communion Ed Newman sang O Come, O Come Emmanuel.

Afterwards we sang our way through Communion.

Sunday, November 24, 2013

Expressions of Thanks

It was exceedingly chilly this morning. Brad in his opening remarks shared that we will be talking about gratitude today.

Announcements
1. Anyone interested in being part of a choir for the Christmas program see Darlene.
2. Drake mentioned a men's outing on Saturday December 14 to go to Fleet Farm in Blaine. Let Drake know if you are interested so they
3. Next three Sundays the youth of church, all ages thru high school, will be practicing for Christmas program. 9:00 a.m.
4. Next week we will be collecting the Covenant World Relief soup cans.

Drake read from Ezekiel about a vision of the glory of the Lord, then led us in worship, accompanied by Darlene on keyboards.

After the offering the children carried to the front the Offering Christmas Child shoeboxes they assembled for needy children overseas.

Many prayer requests and updates regarding various concerns we have been praying for.


Expressions of Thanks

Brad said he would be making a few remarks about gratitude and then give us the opportunity to share our

He then prepared us for a verse from Paul by saying, "There are two kinds of oughts, the ought of obligation and the ought of opportunity."

For example: You ought to see Jackson Hole in the spring. This is an ought of opportunity.

We often teach gratitude out of obligation, as a duty. But obligations become a burden when it is a duty. True gratitude is of a different nature.

"Give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God's will for you in Christ Jesus." ~ I Thes. 5:18

Brad shared that as he thought on this theme a number of statements people came to mind. One was, "Though I lost my job this year, I am grateful that God has been with me." Many other statements were shared with similar sentiments, from a girl going through chemo, from a man with no legs.

Whatever you're going through, God knows. And being "in Christ" is the foundation of our gratitude. It is not circumstances that give us gratitude. It is being in Him that makes it possible for us to be continually grateful... in all circumstances.

Pastor Brad then read Psalm 23, focusing especially on the phrase "my cup overflows."

Rejoice in all circumstances. This is God's will for you, in all circumstances.

Brad had us talk to one another in family units (or small groups) to discuss what we're grateful for. After taking time to listen to one another, several people shared their blessings and what they were grateful for, with specific details, some of them very personal and precious.

We were then encouraged to extend this beyond these walls and share faith matters with our families at home, closing the service with Hymn 59, Let All Things Now Living.

Afterwards Chuck shared how grateful he is for partners in ministry, sharing examples of ways in which needs have been met through this past year. Chuck said that our church will rent the Washbucket laundromat in Lincoln Park to help the many young people wash their clothes for a day. Looking for volunteers to help out December 6 from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. plus anyone who can help provide soap and other necessities. 

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Seven Promises to Renew Your Joy


Despite the gloomy grey weather, things inside the sanctuary were lively and invigorating thanks to Chuck and Darlene who assembled a band of musicians to lead us in a service of music and singing. The theme for the service was Seven Promises To Renew Your Joy.

Announcements included the following:
1) Chef Leonard will again offer up a Thanksgiving Dinner, for all who have a desire to be with friends from our church family and those who have no where else to go. RSVP by signing up in the back of the sanctuary.
2) Tuesday women's Bible study is at 10:00 a.m.
3) Operation Christmas Child boxes will be packed Wednesday evening at 6:00 p.m.
4) Saturday Nov. 30 there will be a brunch at the church for those who want to help decorate for the Christmas season.
5) Paula shared that 9 blankets were made Saturday for the Women's Shelter, picture above.

The service unfolded like this. A promise from Scripture was declared, followed by a Scripture reading from various members of the congregation followed by a suitable song or hymn. The readings and hymns went as follows.

Though this list of readings and the songs we sake may seem dry as you read it here, the energy of the service was quite uplifting. Be sure to take time to review the passages shared and imagine the sound of a full congregation accompanied by guitars, mandolin, drums, keyboards and harmonica.

#1 Be lead by the Spirit. II Corinthians 3:17-18
Spirit Song

#2 Be free in Christ. Psalm 119:41-48
Power in the Blood

#3 Be uncomplicated. John 10:7-10
Just As I Am

#4 Be confident in God.
In Christ Alone

#5 Be quick to forgive.
How Great Is Our God

#6 Be outrageously blessed.
Blessed Assurance

#7 Be content.
What A Friend (We Have In Jesus)

Be blessed and and a blessing.


Sunday, November 10, 2013

What A Surprise!

Our Mission: To Connect, Grow and Become!

"Good morning! I'm grateful you're here today," Brad declared as we began our service.

Announcements
1. Sign up for a Friendship Dinner at the back table. The dinners will begin in January for three months.
2. Operation Christmas Child... Wednesday Nov. 20 we will be packing Samaritan's Purse Christmas boxes during family night.
3. Saturday Nov. 30 there will be a brunch at the church for those who want to help decorate for the Christmas season.
4. Ed and Susie would welcome assistance from anyone with strong arms and backs who can help move some furniture from their father-in-law's apartment.
5. The three Sunday mornings in December will be practice for the children's Christmas program during adult Sunday School.
6. Paula wanted us to know that everyone is invited next Saturday to make make blankets for the women's shelter.

Darlene, Ken and Chuck transitioned us into worship, accompanied by Drake on percussion. After Brad's opening prayer. Chuck spoke briefly about God's grace and then sang "Grace, Marvelous Grace" with the trio. The congregation joined in singing a number of worship choruses, followed by the trio giving us a cheerful rendition of the Gaither's "God Is Good. (He's Good All the Time)".

There were a number of prayer requests including prayer for our veterans as tomorrow is Veterans Day.

Drake read the first verses of Matthew, the genealogy of Jesus.

What A Surprise

What was Matthew thinking to start with this genealogy? You would think he'd start with something that would grab people's attention.

But back in those days people liked genealogies. They told stories, didn't play video games. A genealogy gave people a sense of identity.  "I'm not just a nobody. I am a somebody, connected to these people. I have a history." In Jesus' day it was an oral tradition to recount the stories of your forefather. And to be a priest you would have had to trace your genealogy to the line of Aaron.

What's surprising is how Matthew slips in some unexpected names in this opening story about the Messiah. For example, in verse 3, he mentions Tamar. This is not a story you want associated with a genealogy.

Tamar's story is found in Genesis 38. Judah found a Canaanite woman named Tamar to marry his son Er. Er was wicked and was ultimately killed. It was a tradition that when the son dies the father Judah is supposed to take care of her, but he doesn't. Tamar decides to deceive Judah, dresses as a prostitute and seduces him. He can't pay at the moment but lets her have his staff, seal and cord as security. A few months later the pregnant Tamar is accused of prostitution on account of her being pregnant, and the proper sentence is stoning. Except that when she produces the staff, seal and cord it is apparent that Judah has wronged her (now twice) and he intervenes.

So this is all part of the story of the genealogy of Jesus of Nazareth.

Interestingly enough, Tamar gives birth to to twin sons, and the hand of one comes out first so the nurses tie a red cord on his wrist. This red thread will carry through much of the story and is next found in the story of another woman in the genealogical account, Rahab, who was not only a prostitute but a gentile. She didn't just dress like a prostitute; she was a prostitute.

There were three options for single women in ancient times: starve, beg or be a prostitute. According to Old Testment Scripture, Rahab hid the spies who came to Jericho when Israel came to take back the land. When Jericho was destroyed, Rahab was saved by identifying her location with a red cord.

Ruth was yet another listed in this genealogy. Ruth a Moabite. Moabites were offspring of the incestuous relationship between Abraham's brother Lot and his eldest daughter.

Then there is another woman mentioned in this genealogical account, Uriah's wife, with whom we are all familiar as the story of David and Bathsheba has been often recounted, yet another scandal in the genealogical line.

What brad noted here is that it's a genealogy that is inclusive. This is not a pristine history of perfect people without spot or blemish. Rather, it is a collection of sinners, from whom a spotless lamb emerged.

Christ is not ashamed of sinners. He even puts them in His family tree. In fact, His nickname was "friend of sinners." On the day he was crucified Jesus was dressed in a scarlet robe. Throughout this inglorious past these is the thread of grace, the red strand, the red cord.

Brad then read a Tony Campolo story about waking early one morning in Hawaii and going to a restaurant. It was a place where Honolulu prostitutes gathered at the end of a night's work or in the midst of. Campolo overheard one of them say her birthday was the following day, but then noted she has never had a birthday party in her life. Campolo took this opportunity to conspire with the restaurant owner to throw Agnes a birthday. The effect is stunning, core-shaking.

When the restaurant owner learns that Campolo is in the ministry, he asks, "What kind of church do you belong to?'

 "I belong to the kind of church that throws birthday parties for prostitutes at 3:30 in the morning."

We're not here to win Christians to our churches from other churches. We're here to bring Christ to the truly needy. Prostitutes, kings and everyone in between on that genealogical list.

"My challenge to us," Brad said, "is that during this season you will pray like crazy for people who you want to see touched and changed. The Messiah is still looking for people who feel like they are a million miles away."

Sunday, October 27, 2013

For Me, Belonging is a Family Matter

Pastor Brad Shannon welcomed us with his usual warmth and tipped his hand on today's theme by talking about the importance of family, and that this is not just a cliche, but something real in our church family.

Announcements
A eew baby is here with us today, born Wednesday to Megan and Drake… Elanor Sophia… 8 lb 4 oz
Cheryl… asked us to support KICY, a radio station in Nome, Alaska that reaches outlying regions of Western Alaska and the far eastern parts of Russia across the Bering Strait.
Campbell’s soup Can labels coming soon, to raise money for Covenant World Relief
Samaritan’s Purse, November 20 … shoeboxes of goods for needy areas in Operation Christmas Child

The trio opened with "All Is Well" and then led us in a number of songs from the silver songbook.

John Vanderscheuren, a graduate of Teen Challenge, was invited to share his testimony. He began by stating he was an addict for 12-13 years. Much of his life he thought he wasn't good enough for God or his family. He shared  Philippians 1:6... "Be confident of this, that He who has begun a good work in you will carry it to completion on the day of Christ Jesus." God has been with him these past two years as he moves into a new life in Christ.

Prayer requests were shared, several of them related to people with cancer. There were also praises for good things God has done.

For Me, Belonging is a Family Matter

Pastor Brad opened by reading Psalm 71:17, 18
Since my youth, God, you have taught me,
and to this day I declare your marvelous deeds.
Even when I am old and gray,
do not forsake me, my God,
till I declare your power to the next generation,
your mighty acts to all who are to come.

We have a huge responsibility to pass down the faith to the next generation. Brad shared that families are the way in which God connected people... beginning with the manner in which babies come into the world and the miracle of the first smile and how when the infant wraps its arms around our necks we learn why arms and hands were created.

Children, when done right, learn that they are loved and they are prized. Grownups learn that when they give they also receive. They will all learn by experience what grace is.

The whole idea of family is an expression of the love and care and grace of God. Families were created to express the character of God. The family is expected to mirror the ultimate reality of the universe. It is not just a biological mechanism to procreate. It is intended to be a manifestation of His kingdom.

The second critical moment in the history of the family was when the first family allowed sin enter into their relationship, recorded in Genesis 3. When God confronted Adam did he take the blame? No, he blamed the woman, and blamed God for giving that woman to him.

Genesis is a book full of family stories. Not a history of great nations and palaces. It's a series of stories about dysfunctional families. Cain and Abel, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Esau, Jospeh and his brothers....  This is just the first book of the Bible.

There has never been a Golden Age of the Family.... Yet in the midst of these messed up families God is active.

The church is not made up of families who have it all together who smugly congratulate one another for their righteousness. Rather, it is a collection of families who come together with their neediness.

Brad proceeded to detail by name the reality of family life for us here in our church... Brad chose to read a list of family problems within our midst, affecting our homes or the homes we grew up in from children who wrestled with spiritual doubts, or insecurity or peer rejection or low self esteem or drinking problems or an abortion or angry, bitter words got spoken regularly, or where parents felt like financial failures, or kids plagued by anxiety or stress, or married couples who have not slept together in years and nobody knows, or young people who feel like losers or families rocked by unfaitflulness or sexual addiction, or people who are single and wonder if they will ever fit in or be wanted.... The list was detailed and went on for some length of time. Then Brad had everyone stand up who had any of these issues in their families or the families they grew up in. His point was made that we are a family of people with pain, not people who have it all together. He said, "You will notice that I am standing also."

There are three critical moments in our family history. Grace came first. Then sin enters. The third critical moment is Hope, and the name of that hope is Jesus. Everything hinges on Jesus.

There is a story in Scripture where Jesus is teaching and someone says, "Your mother and brothers are here." Jesus replies, "Whoever does God's will is my sister or brother or mother." Jesus started a new definition for family that transcends culture, skin color, gender and everything else.

He said to this new family, "Love one another as I have loved you." You do that for each other. Become brothers and sisters.

As we walk through this world we continually brush up against people of incalculable worth. You have never looked on a person for whom Jesus did not die.

Brad concluded with Psalm 27:10 "Though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me."

Jesus has started a new family and it is here.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Believe It Or Not

"Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.' ~ Psalm 51:12 

Today is the 22nd Sunday after Pentecost. A light snow is falling outside as Darlene warms the sanctuary with a medley of classic hymns including This Is My Story. The growing volume of chatter in the narthex adds additional warmth to the atmosphere inside the church as friends and church family share stories of the week behind and plans for the week ahead. Into the cacophony of sound Pastor Brad takes his place at the front and lifts his voice with boisterous cheer, "Good morning. Merry Christmas." Laughter. "I'm grateful you're here today..."

In Sunday School we had a good class as the sermon will continue on this theme of what it means to say "I believe." How do we grow in our relationship to Christ.

Announcements
1. The friendship dinner sign-up sheet is being passed around the sanctuary and we'll be connected to other couples with groups of six or eight who will have dinners together
2. Cheryl shared that there will be a number of opportunities to give  in the coming months. We're not trying to bombard you but it's our turn to give and we want you to be aware of opportunities. Operation Christmas Child will be next Wednesday.
3. Paula shared that we are having a jacket drive for needy people at the CHUM Walk-In Center.
4. Susie shared that Girls Art Club will be next Sunday.

After Darlene's introit she sang a duet with Brad, the first verse of "This Is My Father's World." The women of the church sang the second, and then all together on the third. Brad then committed the service to God.

Chuck brought Madison Johnson up to the front to sing for us... Beginning with the verses from the Sermon on the Mount, "You are the light of the world..."  The song, familiar to many of us from our own childhood, Let the Sunshine In.

A time of prayer followed, along with praise for God's work in our lives.

Believe It Or Not

Imagine two people standing, affirming the same statement. One is humble, truthful and everyone wants to be around that person. The other has the same beliefs. This second though is judgmental, angry, critical, and no one wants to be around this person.

Ephesian 2:8   "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God..."   If faith is so important, how can two people have the same faith but be so different?

Three kinds of convictions.  Public convictions that we state, but may not line up with what we really believe. The story of Herod stating he wanted to find the Christ child so he could worship him was an example of this.

A second kind is private convictions that we believe we believe but then when push comes to shove prove to be fickle.

The third type of convictions: those that our actions reveal about us. Example of gravity. We act consistently with what we believe here, because we act as if gravity were true.

What would our lives look like if an impartial entity watched everything we did for a year and drew up our personal creed based on our actual behavior?

The heart is deceitful and depravity is wrapped around it very deeply.

When Jesus came, was He concerned about what we say we believe? Or was He more concerned with the deeper core convictions we have. To be impacted by Jesus it will change the things that we do.

Jesus lived completely consistent in what he believed and spoke and how He behaved.

Disciples began with faith in Jesus, then had the faith of Jesus, and as they walked in His way developed their thinking to be Jesus in their way of thinking and behaving.

What people do with their lives will show what we believe in that innermost self.

What Jesus wants to change in us is not what we say. It's not what we say that Jesus is aiming for. He is aiming to change us in those deep places of the heart.

Here's the Path
Learn what Jesus taught. What are Jesus's ideas about how we should live our lives. In order for God to begin to change us, I will need trust Him.

In one of his books Henri Nouwen shared a story about watching trapeze artists. He went so far as to get to know them and became friends with them. He learned that what the flyers do is nothing other than trust. The flyer must trust with outstretched arms and wait. The catcher catches. And we, like the flyer, must trust that God will be there for us when we obey.

What are you being called to let go of? Anything that will get in the way of your relationship to God. Will you let it go?

Abraham is a great example of faith because he was told he will be father of a multitude, but he had to wait 24 years. Abraham didn't wait well, but in the end he gets caught by a God who does not and cannot fail. The flyer can do nothing, the catcher everything.

God is there saying, "Will you trust me? Will you do as I say?"

If you don't believe in Jesus, then what in the world are you waiting for? Let go... of your selfishness.... of your depravity... of your life. He will catch you.

Jesus believed that there was a catcher... and so do I.

Sunday, October 13, 2013

The Heart of the Matter

A splendid sunshine is spilling into the sanctuary this morning as Darlene plays a medley of songs on the keyboard, from Give Thanks to Jesus Name Above All Names. Pastor Brad energetically welcomed us with a hearty "Good morning. I'm grateful you're here today." In his welcome he shared about the building project progress.

"Last week we talked about worship. Today we're going to talk about the heart of the matter..."

Brad introduced some of the Shannon's friends, Rosie Peterson and her son Chris. They have been head of Covenant Pines Bible Camp for many years.

Announcements
1. There is firewood across the street which can be taken
2. Council meeting Tuesday at 7:00
3. Sam, a Yorkshire Terrier, is in need of a new home. Contact Kelly Smith.
4. Bring aluminum cans and Matt will help recycle them for building funds.

Today's quartet was comprised of Chuck, Ken, Darlene and Patty who sang the beautiful In Christ Alone.

In Christ alone my hope is found;
He is my light, my strength, my song;
This cornerstone, this solid ground,
Firm through the fiercest drought and storm.
What heights of love, what depths of peace,
When fears are stilled, when strivings cease!
My comforter, my all in all—
Here in the love of Christ I stand.

If you know it not, I strongly encourage you to find this hymn and meditate upon its richness. During the offering they followed up with How Long Has It Been?

We shared our needs and lifted up our many needs in prayer, and the quartet returned to the front of the hall to sing one more... "Praise the Lord."

Praise the Lord
He can work with those who praise Him,
Praise the Lord
For our God inhabits praise,
Praise the Lord
For the chains that seem to bind you
Serve only to remind you that they drop powerless behind you
When you praise him

Joanne Winship read from the Scriptures with the young people scattered about around her. The reading was about how Jesus found His helpers.

Brad then did a drawing of Highway 53 and the various businesses along the way asking us what value each offered to the community. He ended by noting that the Good News of Jesus was not given to these businesses but to us, the church.

The Heart of the Matter

People have never really liked the tax people but in Jesus' day it was even worse. Though Matthew was an Israelite, he worked for Rome, the oppressor. They often siphoned off money for themselves, from their own countrymen. They were despised by the people. Rabbis wouldn't even look at one. They were worse than untouchables. Even the Romans disliked them because they were Jews. Their only friends were other tax collectors.

Matthew was a low level tax collector. He worked at a toll booth on the side of a road going to Galilee. He was often on the receiving end of verbal abuse for doing his job.

One day, as Jesus was passing Matthew's toll booth he said, "I want you to be my friend. I invite you to be part of my community, to be one of My students to learn from Me."  Matthew's response: he got up and followed Him.

In Jesus' community, everyone is welcome. Everyone is accepted. On this day, Matthew was blind-sided by grace.

After this happens he is a changed man with a new purpose and a new heart. But Matthew is only just begun. He thinks about the other tax collectors in his former circle and decides to throw a party for these other tax collectors. He believes in Jesus so much that Matthew is sure to show up.

As the dinner goes on, Matthew is thinking about how petty making money must have been. Matthew is thinking how cool it is to have brought these people he cared about and put them together with Jesus, just to see what would happen.

If I take a risk pointing someone to Jesus who will I know is with me there? Yes, the Holy Spirit. 

Brad illustrated this with a story about a 92-year-old woman who was being robbed at gunpoint in the parking lot of a Wal-Mart. He asked for her money as he pointed a gun at her. She didn't have much money but still said no, and added, "If you shoot me I will go to heaven and you will go to hell." The man broke down, convicted to his core, and ultimately was praying to God for forgiveness of his sins. When the transaction with heaven was completed, the woman gave him the ten dollars she had to help him begin a new life direction.

What's keeping me from doing what Matthew did, introducing people to Jesus?

There were pharisees there who questioned Jesus' presence there. "Why do you sit with tax collectors and sinners?"  The pharisees thought being spiritually mature meant distancing oneself from sinners. Jesus replied, "It is not the righteous but sinners who need forgiveness."

How can we get the people we care about in touch with Jesus? Ask the Lord to make it happen. We carry the Kingdom of God with us.

There is no greater adventure in life than bringing people to Jesus. This is not a program. It is simply you and me, a heart deal. When the fire burns brightly inside a church people are saying, "I will do anything." It's this kind of church that can accomplish anything.


The message was delivered with power. Thank you, Brad.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Make a Joyful Noise

Today was Communion Sunday and it seemed a very special service despite the weather. Pastor Brad seemed at the top of game with a sermon on worship that had energy and insights.

Announcement
~ Brad thanked everyone who helped keep watch for this week's brush burn across the street. A second burn will begin tomorrow (Monday, the 8th) at 8:00 a.m. If you are able to keep watch, as it is required we have people on the grounds to satisfy fire marshall regulations, please notify the pastor or Chuck.
~ Paula said that the church is having a jacket drive to help those in need as we head into winter.
~ Paula also invited women and children (men are welcome, of course) to help make fleece blankets for the women's shelter
~ Yesterday's church bazaar at the town hall raised $2,214, in spite of the dismal weather.

Walt Cresman, chairman of the building committee, gave us an update. In the next few weeks we'll be seeing significant progress across the way, including grading and excavation, septic system installation and more. Walt shared how one of the keys to our being able to complete this project within our budget expectations is due to the volunteer assistance within our church family. By utilizing our skills and efforts we will be able to shave $300,000 off the costs such a building would produce if handled wholly by contractors. Thank you to all who have been helping and are able to help in the coming year.

After a time of worship, giving and prayer, Brad took the pulpit to deliver the message.

Make a Joyful Noise

Pastor Brad began by pointing to a passage from Psalm 98: Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth; break forth into joyous song and sing praises! (vs. 4)

He then shared a brief YouTube video that showed us what a joyful noise sounds like... a giggling, laughing baby.

Whoever thought of this sound. Where did it come from? This laughter... Whatever did this child do to contribute to this fun? So it is that our own experiences of joy are an undeserved gift.

It is in response to God's generous gift of love that we worship. Here are some reasons worship is good.

1) It takes our attention off ourselves.
Since World War 2 depression has gone up 1000%. It is an epidemic of our times. As a people we have lost a connection with something bigger than ourselves. We've been made to think about something bigger than our smallness.

Perhaps this is why we revel in sunsets and other things compellingly beautiful. Laughter and beauty say something about the character of God.

2) When we worship it produces a spirit of gratitude.
When I worship I remember all the good things God has done for me. Brad suggested we make a list of all the things we are grateful for.

3) God is bigger than our hardships.
In Habakkuk 3:17-18 we hear this response to life's hardships.

17 Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls, 18 yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Savior.

God is bigger than it all.

4) Worship connects us to others.
Brad pointed us to the famous celebration that occurred after Israel crossed the Red Sea and Miriam spontaneously grabbed a tambourine to celebrate God's deliverance... "the horse and rider have been thrown into the sea." Then he directed us to the three days of preparation Israel underwent to worship God at Mount Horeb. In each case it was the same God, but distinctively different styles of worship. "

It's not about style, it's about God. There are 41 Psalms that admonish us to "sing unto the Lord." When we worship together it builds a special bond. We are not alone in the world.

5) The Best Reason to Worship: What it does for somebody else.
That Somebody is God. God is a person. Like all persons {we were made in His image} God has feelings. God grieves. God feels delight. It gives God joy when we worship. Not because he has a need. He is self-sufficient. It's His desire to deliver us from ourselves.

After the message Ed Newman sang 'Be Still My Soul" and we celebrated the sacrament of communion.

Saturday, October 5, 2013

Thought for the Day

To love means loving the unlovable. To forgive means pardoning the unpardonable. Faith means believing the unbelievable. Hope means hoping when everything seems hopeless. 
 ~ Gilbert K. Chesterton

Sunday, September 29, 2013

Call On My Name

Pastor Brad Shannon welcomed us warmly on this bright autumn day with the colors beginning to burst. In welcoming us he said today's theme would focus on the difference between hoping for something and hoping in Someone.

Announcements
1) For the next 3 days we need people who can stand watch over the burning of the log piles across the street where the new church is to be built. Please contact Bob Winship if you can help in any way. Responsibilities are minimal. We just need someone present.
2) Family Nights begin this Wednesday. Leonard will be making meals as we meet for Bible study and  activities for youth. 6:00-7:30
3) We're having friendship dinners the next three months. Sign up sheet is in the back of the sanctuary. Once a month dinners with other members and friends of our church family to help strengthen ties and get to know one another.
4) Next Saturday is our church bazaar at Twig Town Hall from 9 a.m. to 3:00 p.m. Volunteers are always helpful for setting up or cleaning up.
5) Matt Danielski shared that because scrap yard prices are up, he is helping to gather scrap metal to raise money for the new building. If you have scrap metal or old vehicles you wish to donate, please contact Matt to make arrangements.

Chuck opened the service by reading a portion of Psalm 103 and then sang Dallas Holm's I'll Rise Again with Ken and Darlene. After the offering, prayers and a time of worship Brad took the pulpit to talk about hope.

Call On My Name
In the days of Samuel, Israel was in an ongoing conflict with the Philistines. After one of Israel's defeats the leaders decided to improve their odds of victory by carrying the Ark of the Covenant into battle with them. Their erroneous idea was that God would not allow the Ark to be captured because it was the symbol of God's presence with Israel.

Brad used this story from I Samuel 5 to illustrate the manner in which we often have a false basis for hope and that ultimately this kind of hope almost always disappoints. Perhaps it is our hope to have a cancer test come up negative or for a job interview to work out. Sometimes these things fall our way, but sometimes they don't. Then what?

Israel hoped to win the battle but instead lost the ark.

The Philistines were beside themselves at this turn of events, for they believed -- again falsely -- that capturing the ark proved that their god Dagon was stronger than the God if Israel. In the aftermath of battle they placed the ark of God inside the temple of Dagon in Ashdod. But the next day the statue of Dagon was fallen on its face, as if worshiping the Ark. The Philistines propped up the statue of their god but during the night Dagon not only had fallen toward the Ark, his hands and head had broken off.

The Philistines became frightened by these things and sent the ark of God to Gath, another Philistine city. When the people there had an outbreak of tumors and people of all ages were dying, they moved the ark of God yet again, this time to Ekron. Again, people began to die and those who did not developed ugly tumors. Ultimately the leaders decided the ark of God needed to be returned to Israel.

Brad used this story to talk about three-day stories. The Bible is full of such stories. In the capture of the ark by the Philistines we see the pattern. First day: the ark is captured. It is a day of sorrow, loss of hope and despair. There is no answer as to how or why this was allowed to happen. The second act in the three-day story is a time of uncertainty, ambiguity. The day after the ark was captured we find Dagon fallen on his face before the ark. What next?

On day three we see God's vindication. Not only is Dagon, the statue, knocked over yet again, he is broken in pieces.

Examples of this pattern abound. From the story of Joseph, to Esther, to Jonah and elsewhere we see it repeated. Hosea 6:1-2 spells it out like this...

1 “Come, let us return to the Lord.
He has torn us to pieces
but he will heal us;
he has injured us
but he will bind up our wounds.
2 After two days he will revive us;
on the third day he will restore us,
that we may live in his presence.

Pastor Brad then compared Jesus to the ark of God, who "became flesh and tabernacled among us." Jesus was not, during His lifetime, "God in a box" who could be manipulated to benefit people with an agenda, and today He is the same Jesus. Not a token to be carried around in our pocket for good luck, but a living God....

At the end of His time on earth He still would not be what the Pharisees or the Romans or the Zealots... and as a result He was nailed to a cross. That was day one of the three-day story. The Messiah was unexpectedly defeated, whipped, beaten, stripped, publicly humiliated and crucified. The second day was that uncertain, ambiguous period. Roman guards had been posted and a rock rolled in front of the tomb. But then there was day three, God's day. Who could have expected this?

You never know what might happen on a third day. When we're in the uncertain second day of confusion and ambiguity, we can't look at circumstances for our hope. God is our hope, and He alone will never disappoint.

Sunday, September 22, 2013

Loving One Another

"Beloved, let us love one another, for love is of God." ~I John 4:7

Announcements
1) There will be a Church Bazaar/White Elephant Sale with lunch on October 5
2) Girl's Art Club will begin next Sunday for girls 9-15. Adult women welcome.
3) There will be a baby shower for Megan in a couple weeks.

Pastor Brad opened the service stating that we would be doing a heart check today. How receptive are our hearts to God?

Loving One Another

Brad began by reading I John 2:13-27. He then shared some stats about our physical hearts. A human heart first begins beating 22 days after conception. Throughout our lives the heart pumps 14,000 pints of blood a day. Many other heart facts were shared. And the beat goes on, throughout our lives.

Then he shifted to talking about our spiritual hearts. As Proverbs 4:23 states, "Above all else, guard your heart for everything you do flows from it."

What is the condition of your heart? Brad asked that the way physicians check the condition of our physical hearts is to put them under stress.

It is the natural tendency of our heart to deceive ourselves. We can sometimes confuse sentimental emotions with religious feeling. We like to make ourselves appear better than we are.

But for real heart healing we need to bring our hearts to God. And here's what heals: when we find out who we are. John explains. "See what love the Father has given us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are." (I John 3:1)

The manner in which God heals is spelled out in Ezekiel: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." (Ezek. 36:26)

As noted earlier stress is what makes our physical hearts longer. The same program works to make our spiritual hearts stronger. And God's way to stress us is by bringing others into our lives. And loving these other people is what we're called to do. John explains this further... "Let us not love only in words, but in deeds..." and further, "If you don't love the people you can see, how can you say you love God whom you can't see?"

When Jesus walked with His disciples he emphasized this important imperative: "A new commandment I give to you, love one another. Brad stated, "If you want to see what love looks like, look at the cross."

Church is not about programs. It's about your hearts. Here is a checklist of questions Brad concluded with some diagnostics designed to tell us a little about ourselves.

Do I really believe, do I really believe that Jesus is it.
Do I really believe that it's true that He is the atoning sacrifice for sins for the whole world, that there is no way to God other than Him?
Do I carry a burden for people who don't know Him?
Who am I praying for regularly who doesn't know God?
Am I deliberately getting close to people who don't know God?
Am I helping them to take the next step?
Am I growing in my ability to share my faith?
Am I getting bolder at taking risks?
Am I working at getting better telling my story in helping steer conversations in a spiritual direction?

"He who does not love does not know God, for God is love." ~I John 4:8


Sunday, September 15, 2013

Fellowship

The first week of Sunday School drew a healthy turnout. The adult class is watching segments of a video series on Christian Atheism, about people who "believe in God but live as if He doesn't exist." Pastor Brad led a discussion, exploring aspects of the ideas that there are different levels of knowing God.

Sunday School for all ages begins at 9:00 a.m. and the worship service resumes at our regular 10:15 a..m. hour. After greeting us, Brad stated that he would be talking about community, and the importance of being connected.

Announcements began with a thank you letter from Cindy Anderson, who now has a new set of lungs and moving into a healthy full recovery. The letter included a reminder to live each day as if it were your last. An insert in the bulletin noted that Girls Art Club will be starting up again soon. One a month Susie Newman will be leading art projects for all girls ages 9-15. Adult women are welcome as well. The art club will be held on the last Sunday of each month (Sept. 29th this month.) Contact Susie if you are interested so she can bring enough materials for everyone. Bring a bag lunch.

After the offering was taken and a time of prayer, Chuck shared from his heart and sang a duet with Darlene before leading us in songs from the silver song book.

Fellowship

Brad's message today focused on demonstrating that community is at the heart of what we believe. He began by reading from Mark 1:14-20. It is the beginning of Jesus' ministry, a journey that leads to the cross. The first task that he undertakes is to gather his team, a community of followers. When Jesus ascended after His resurrection, he did not leave assets or buildings, only His circle of friends.

Christianity is not a self-study initiative. It is a community who of people, intersecting circles of commitment and intimacy. To illustrate, Brad had us picture what happens at a bonfire when you roll a log out of the fire. It usually goes out.  The writer of Hebrews stated that we are not to forsake meeting together.

Community helps prevent spiritual drift. Proverbs 27:17 states, "As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another." Jesus never talked about going to church. He called people to community.

Christian community is the one place where it's safe to take off our masks. In Paradise, before the fall, Adam and Eve "were naked and not ashamed." After the fall, Adam's guilt and shame led him to hide from God. It is our tendency to hide from one another that needs to be dispensed with. James 5:16 says that we need to become more transparent: "Confess your sins to one another." The reason is that you can only be loved to the extent that you are known. You can only be fully loved when you're full known. This kind of depth takes time.

Community is the place where we learn to love as Jesus loves. In His last hours with the disciples, Jesus repeatedly told them to love one another. (John 13:35, John 15:12 and 17)

Community is not easy. When you read the list of disciples you find some interesting backgrounds. One of these called ones was Simon the Zealot. A Zealot was the modern equivalent of a terrorist. The zealots were politically motivated Jews in Jesus' day who by a hatred of Roman occupation of Palestine which they found incompatible with monotheism. They had even taken an oath to kill anyone working in concert with Rome, which would include people like Matthew who was a tax collector. There economic differences between some of the other disciples. But in Jesus' circle none of these differences were to make any difference at all in the new community.

Pastor Brad concluded by encouraging us to take further steps to strengthening our community by signing up for a series of "Friendship Dinners" that we'll be having over the coming months. All who sign up will be grouped in sets of eight, so we can get to know one another in a more intimate setting... our homes.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Rally Day / Harvest Fest

This Sunday we gathered at the Twig Town Hall rather than our sanctuary and celebrated the new year with a festival aimed at making us feel we're not really Minnesotans. Criss-crossed surfboards, and all manner of banners designed to make us feel we were in Hawaii or on a southern beach. Alas, it was chilly and despite the Hawaiian leis it wasn't hard to remember that we were in Minnesota. Nevertheless, Pastor Brad greeted us with joyous warmth. Autumn is a time for re-gathering and re-focusing, and today's message would be a clarification of what Jesus was inviting us into.

The informal service out in the open air began with a pair of announcements. First, Gail shared that the fish and chips fund raiser brought in $1200 thanks to Gordy's Hi Hat. Darlene then shared that the Women's Bible Study would begin this Tuesday at 10:00 a.m.

The Sermon
Pastor Brad began by reading from the latter portion of the Sermon on the Mount, Matthew 7:13-27. Being that this was the opening of NFL Football weekend, he used sports stars to illustrate a point. There are many athletes whom we admire, but how many are there whom we'd be willing to follow?

Brad shared instances in the New Testament where there were many crowds drawn to Jesus, and many who admired him, but at the point of decision only a few walked with Him to the end.

Several stories illustrate the way that Jesus used to challenge people to cross the line and become more than admirers. In John 3 Nicodemus comes to Jesus by night. He admired Jesus, but had to meet with Him in secret because he couldn't afford to be identified with Him. He had a reputation to maintain, wanted to maintain His stature.

The rich young ruler had a different issue. Jesus confronted him as well, at his point of weakness. "Are you going to follow Me or simply admire Me?" Jesus asked.

In the passage from Matthew 7 Jesus notes that there is a narrow way and a broad way. Only the narrow way leads to life. The broad way is the way of this world, and they who go that way only drift.

At this point Brad put in a word for the upcoming Adult Sunday School theme for this fall, "The Christian Atheist."

Many times people justify their distance from Jesus by focusing on other Christians' failings. But the issue is not a question of others living their faith. Jesus only puts the question to each of us. Where do you stand?

Is Jesus Christ your Master?

Brad stated that he would rather be part of a smaller, devoted community than to a large one that is simply drifting.

He then shared the Charles Blondin story. Blondin was a tightrope walker and showman who drew crowds by various stunts on the tightrope in the 19th century, one of them being the attraction of an enormous crowd to see him walk across Niagara Falls. After performing a variety of stunts he took a wheelbarrow and asked the crowd who was willing to sit in the wheelbarrow as he crossed the great falls. The number of volunteers for this exhibition proved far smaller than the number of admirers.

Jesus wasn't trying to impress crowds. His miracles may have attracted crowds and created buzz, but He had a more important agenda. He was asking us to get in the wheelbarrow, to trust him with our very lives. He wanted us to put everything -- our sins, our past, our future, our all -- into that wheelbarrow.

Brad's message was equally heartfelt and very challenging. We were each given a deeper understanding of what Jesus was calling us to.

* * * *
The photos here offer a glimpse of this special kickoff to a new season.

Sunday, September 1, 2013

Conviction

“Good morning!” Pastor Brad shouted as he invited us to take our seats and prepare for worship. Brad began by saying Happy Birthday to Rick, and then a few words about today's message. "I’m going to preach on the first message Jesus gave after He ascended."

Announcements included the following:
1. Next week is our Fall Kickoff. We will worship at 10:15 at the Town Hall in Twig. Leonard will be cooking…. I hope you will make time in your schedule to join us….
2. Our Sunday School teachers are in place for the new year. We hope you will join us for the Sunday school hour that precedes worship beginning the 15th.
3. Mae announced that the books are in for our women’s Bible study….
4. The Church Bazaar is October 5. A beautiful quilt was displayed which will be raffled during the event.
Next week there will be a meeting after church next week to begin planning for the Bazaar.
5. Brooke announced a baby shower for Megan on Oct. 6. She is expecting to deliver Oct 18.
6. There will be a Women’s Retreat Sept 13-15.
7. Nursery needs volunteers …. Please sign up

Ed opened the service by singing O Love That Wilt Not Let Me Go. The congregation sang together I Surrender All, then greeted one another before getting seated. Brad reminded us again that the church is a community, not an institution.

A time of prayer followed as we lifted up the many needs in our church family.

Drake led us in a few more songs beginning with Blessed Assurance.

Conviction 
Pastor Shannon began by reading Acts 2:36-41. Peter is preaching on the Day of Pentecost with the surprising outcome that 3000 were added to their number that day. This were many of the most devoted Jews, having made the trek from far away places (some). It could have gone differently. They could have stoned Peter just as they mob called out for his Lord to be crucified. But instead, the Holy Spirit moved with power and the people were convicted of their sins.

Brad talked briefly about how we are often self-deceived regarding our self-assessments. We have a hard time grasping where we are really at in many regards. He shared how he thought he was a pretty good skier, until he faced the slopes of Jackson Hole in Colorado. He thought he was a pretty talented volley ball player, till he came up against a real pro who showed what a novice he was. Until we have something to measure ourselves against we are clueless about our real skill level.

This tendency toward self-deception carries into all of life. We deceive ourselves by failing to compare against the true standard of a holy God. How would your life grade out against that standard.

In Peter's sermon that day, the day the church was born, he stated, "Your actions led to the crucifixion of the best man who ever lived." The crowd was cut to the heart when he finished, because "when the Holy Spirit comes He will convict people of sin.

Brad explained how conviction is different from some other typical responses of being found out. Conviction by the Holy Spirit is not the same as fear of punishment. Nor is it the same as embarrassment for having been found out or caught. Conviction is what happens "when I finally become aware of the kind of person I really am." It is painful, very painful, but good.

Our capacity to recognize moral truth is what makes us human. Without the Holy Spirit, we do not have an accurate assessment of who we are. In the ultimate scheme of things it doesn't matter what people think of me but what God thinks.

Who are you going to trust?

At this point we entered into communion.  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Priorities

Clearing the land.
We gathered this morning on one of the most beautiful summer weekends in memory to celebrate the 13th Sunday after Pentecost. Pastor Brad welcomed us warmly, stating that today's message would be about "what's most important." His message would be taken from a passage in Jesus' Sermon on the Mount.

Announcements first.
Joanne noted that the new Sunday School season is fast approaching and that in order for us to better know what the needs were for materials and teachers it would good if everyone could sign up in the rear of the sanctuary, the number of children they have an their ages.
This past couple years Gwen spoke about how the acronym GROW was our watchword for the mission of our Sunday school program.
G -- God's Word
R -- Relationships
O -- Obedient Living
W -- Worship
Also, next Saturday morning we're having a "clean out" day to prepare the classrooms for this coming school year.
Gail reminded us of next Saturday's Fish Fry Fund Raiser which will be Saturday afternoon from 1 - 4 p.m. (or until the food is gone) here at the church. After the service today Ken fried up samples and, oh my oh my, they were tasty. A special thank you Ken, Gail and Gordy's Hi-Hat for today's treat. The best is yet to come.
Janzyn shared about an event some of our youth attended called "Feed My Starving Children" in the Twin Cities. Essentially everyone helped package healthy food for starving children in other parts of the world, in this case for children in the Philippines. Over 14,000 meals were assembled.

John and Nancy Peyton became members today. Welcome to our church family. (smile)
After a time of worship, the offering and prayer Brad took the podium to give the message.

Priorities

Brad began by noting that we all tend to operate under the illusion that we are each in control of our lives.

His message would be built around the important theme of priorities. All of us have known times when our lives were simply too full with commitments, and even the basic responsibilities of brushing teeth, flossing, getting enough sleep, exercising, working and everything else we wish to accomplish. Our lives are full, no question about it... so full, in fact, that what ends up on the back burner is our relationship to God.

Brad illustrated this by having a large bag of rice poured into a somewhat small jar. The rice represented our activities and commitments. The problem is this: we only have 24 hours in a day, but we have way more rice to put into that jar which represents one day of life. If you live 75 years you will have less than 30,000 jars (days) of life to fill. How will you fill your jars?

The message drew upon the passage from Matthew 6:25-34.  What does this passage mean?

1) Transformation.
First off, God is desirous to transform us. To do this we need to set aside time to me alone with God.

2) Love
We are to be exemplars of God's love.

3) Calling
Our calling is to get in the game. Use the gifts you have been given and make a difference.

4) Joy
Set aside your worries. Discover anew the joy of God's presence in your lives.

As for the troubles of life, Jesus offers this advice. Don't worry about tomorrow. Tomorrow will have enough trouble of its own. Take each day on its own. Trust God about the morrow. And trust God with today as well. "His mercies are new every morning.

Below: A current progress report in photos.


Sunday, August 11, 2013

Inside Out

The big surprise this morning was seeing the progress that had been made across the street in the vicinity of our parking lot. Trees had been cleared and logs of various lengths set aside for removal.Looks like we're underway.

After welcoming us, Pastor Brad shared that today's theme would be along these lines. We live in a world that glorifies giftedness. But there's something more important.

Today's chief announcement had to do with the upcoming Fish Fry, Saturday, August 24, from 1-4 p.m. with fish donated from Gordy's Hi-Hat in Cloquet, plus donations from Sam's Club, Super One, and McDonald's as well as Ken and Vicki Smith. (Thank you all.) Your only responsibility is to bring bars and spread the word about our event.

The service opened with the Trio singing "You Raise Me Up."  Brad made note of Elsa's presence with us as we entered into worship. She is leaving soon for Pasadena, California where she will be attending Fuller Seminary. 

Today's message, titled Inside Out, dealt with these contrasting sets of values, between the world we live in and God's values. There have been many sermons over the years about God's gifts and discovering our own gifts, but the giftedness spoken of here has to do with talents and skills, which may be valued by our celebrity culture but can be at odds with Kingdom values when not accompanied by Christlike character.

Judges 14-16 formed the basis for today's sermon. It was the story of Samson, a Nazarite from birth who was himself gifted but lacking in character. In the end, people without character become their own worst enemies.

Brad underscored one of the saddest verses in all Scripture that appears near the end of Samson's story after he's violated the third of his three Nazarite vows. "But he didn't know the Lord had left him."

Near the close he shared this maxim for Christians of all ages: We overestimate what can be done in the short term; we underestimate what can be done in the long term. This is our basis for hope.

Saturday, August 10, 2013

Another Look At Worship

"We are not an institution; we are the body of Christ." ~Brad Shannon

After welcoming us, Pastor Brad shared that our theme would be on worship. A fish fry was announced for Saturday, August 24, from 1-4 p.m. with fish donated from Gordy's Hi-Hat in Cloquet, plus donations from Sam's Club, Super One, and McDonald's as well as Ken and Vicki Smith. (Thank you all.) Your only responsibility is to bring bars and spread the word about our event.

We dedicated Everly Anne McGregor today (daughter of Scott and Cheyenne) in the midst of our worship time.

The message today was about worship. The sermon flowed from Psalm 73, which Brad read with paraphrasing at times and commentary.

Ultimately, we were made for worship, with our amazing God as the object of our worship. Brad cited a quote from Dallas Willard who said, "There is no limit to the goodness of His intentions or the power to carry them out."