Sunday, March 23, 2014

Everyone's Issue

Third day of spring at New Life Covenant...
Hoo boy, it's another cold one. Twelve below doesn't feel like spring, but the days are getting longer and it's highly probable that the temperatures will warm our countryside the way making music warms our hearts. Pastor Brad welcomed us again with enthusiasm on this Third Sunday in Lent.

Sin is the primary issue that the human race has to deal with and today's theme will be about spiritual healing, a need we all share.

Brad stated that he will lead a New Members class for those interested in joining our family.
Mary and Irv Stauffer will be speaking here Friday, April 4, 5:30. After a ham dinner they will share her experience of being kidnapped with her daughter and held hostage. It was a time of terror but also of strength drawn from faith and trust in the Lord. It is an amazing story.

Chuck, Ken and Darlene performed Dallas Holm's Rise Again and Andrea Crouch's Through It All before leading us in a time of worship. The offering followed after which the trio sang What A Day That Will Be.

A number of prayer needs were lifted up and people remembered..

Today's Scripture reading was from Romans 3:10-18.

Everyone's Issue

...and third week of Lent.
I need to be healed, not just physical. The heart needs to be healed.

In the Old Testament there is a real connection between the forgiveness of sins and the healing of bodies. Psalm 103 makes the connection and many other verses do as well. God is good and He cares about our brokenness.

When Jesus came, healing was central to His mission. It was a sign that in Jesus, God's work to heal human brokenness has begun.

Brad shared how in the book of Matthew, the writer tells a string of stories of healings, and in the middle of this states how he was called. What is implied here is, "Hey, I got healed, too."

What does it look like for us to be healed? What does it look like for us to be a healing community?

In Matthew 9 Jesus says "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but those who are sick and needy." In other words, the unrighteous, the broken, the shunned. The doctor in this parable is Jesus. Who did He come for? The sick. He did not come for the healthy ones.

What's the disease the sick people are suffering from? Jesus said "I come for sinners." The disease that the needy suffer from is sin. At the core, the disease that really threatens our souls is sin.

Part of the power of sin is that it blinds us to how sinful we are. The multitude of ways we twist the truth, we spin, we hype.

What are the greatest temptation you face with regard to sin? Now think about the list of things wrong with the world.... the hate, violence.

Here's what God says about our condition:

10 “There is no one righteous, not even one;
11 there is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away,
they have together become worthless;
there is no one who does good,
not even one.”
13 “Their throats are open graves;
their tongues practice deceit.”
“The poison of vipers is on their lips.”
14 “Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness.”
15 “Their feet are swift to shed blood;
16 ruin and misery mark their ways,
17 and the way of peace they do not know.”
18 “There is no fear of God before their eyes.”

Self-serving words and tones, the way we cater to people because they are wealthy or attractive, jeaousy, chronic ingratitude...

Paul wrote, "I do not understand what I do..."

Brad talked briefly about habits. Habit is neutral. Habits are what we do without thinking, second nature. Without habits we couldn't make it through a day. All of us are a collection of habits. The problem is when sin permeates the core of our habits. When bad habits become second nature, it corrupts our behavior.

Fixing the problem is not going to happen by sheer willpower. Over the long haul, your habits will always defeat your willpower. That is why our only hope is not more willpower, but a new set of habits.

We must surrender our will, die to our past habits and let God give us new habits. This is the essence of AA. We must replace sinful habits with new habits. "Offer yourselves to God."

Enter into a new way so that you may experience the freedom.

Brad closed with an explanation of original sin. Sin has bent human nature from the beginning. Paul states that there is something wrong with the world that is deeper than any logical explanation. The world is intrinsically broken. It's a complicated mess, and at the core is the problem of sin, not out there somewhere but at the core of my being.

What it takes for Jesus to work in our lives is to admit the truth, that we are in the category of the sick, not the healthy. A central feature of AA is brutal honesty. Our strength comes from this confessing our brokenness and failings.

Confession, openness and honesty are an essential part of healing.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

A Mighty Fortress

"Good morning," Pastor Brad said to open the service. "I'm grateful for today. We're going to be looking at Psalm 46, this declaration of confidence in who God is.... Isn't it great to know we worship a great God."

` Council meeting Tuesday
~ Mary Stauffer and her husband will be here to share their story on Friday April 4. It's an amazing story about her and her daughter's kidnapping off the street in St. Paul 30 years ago.
~ VBS will be the week of June 16 at the Twig Community Center

We opened the worship with two great hymns of the faith, Holy, Holy, Holy and A Mighty Fortress Is Our God.

After the offering we lifted up a host of needs in prayer, and praised God for the positive things He has done.

A Mighty Fortress

Brad began by reading Psalm 46, the foundation of this message, and then a story about an event in which Brad was canoeing through white water rapids and his experienced partner just gave up and let go of his paddle to get a grip on his canoe as they went over.

Pace of change in all kinds of ways is accelerating. Pluto is no longer a planet. Crimea, when did that happen? And will be a country tomorrow? Fashions changed, values seems to change. Technology changes... and guess what? We don't get to vote on it. Change happens.

Isn't it encouraging that despite all this change, there is an unchanging God in the midst of it, our refuge and strength.

If we're not clear on what is our anchor, our rock, our hope in this fluid, fluctuating world, we're in trouble. The only way to thrive in this world in flux is to hold onto that which is in firm and changeless. .

The first verse of the psalm says, "God is our refuge and strength." People are moody, circumstances vary, but God never has a bad mood day. God never wakes up on the wrong side of the bed. His faithfulness never changes. His holiness never changes. His character never changes. Through Malachi, God said, "I, the Lord, do not change."

The internet is vast, but think about this. Everything that has been known, can be known in all the universes that exist, are held with ease in the mind of God.

God's love is perfect, and forever. He is always infinitely wise. He is always there for us no matter how everything else changes. "God is our refuge and strength, an ever present help in time of trouble."

Then we read verses four and five:
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God, 
 the holy place where the Most High dwells.
 God is within her, she will not fall; 
 God will help her at break of day...

We are bombarded with information, but starving for wisdom. No matter how many books get written every day, this one book, The Bible, is sufficient for all our needs, a book without compare in terms of influence and power. It is a continuing outpouring of the sustaining Spirit of God, a river that nourishes us.

Nations are in uproar, kingdoms fall; 
he lifts his voice, the earth melts

What is amazing is how things all seem fine and in an instant all can change. We think we're in control but we are not. We live with an illusion that there will be a solution to the human problem. But all these technical and medical advances have unexpected consequences and do not fix it.

If you look at the history of utopian communities, they always begin with good intentions and end as train wrecks.

We need to pray, at all times and circumstances. When we work, we work. When we pray God works.

The wonderful climax of this psalm goes like this:
“Be still, and know that I am God; 
 I will be exalted among the nations, 
 I will be exalted in the earth.”

Isn't it good news that in Him is the hope of the world.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

Politicians come and go. Administrations come and go. But none are the hope of the world. Jesus is the hope of the world.

As a church, we are not in the politics business. We are in the Jesus business.

Circumstances will always ebb and flow. That is why our anchor needs to be affixed to that which is unchanging. 

Sunday, March 9, 2014

Lessons from the Trail

Spring has not yet spring per se, but it's moving in the right direction. The days are getting longer and last night we were instructed to turn our clocks forward an hour for Daylight Savings Time. It's getting warmer and it seems hard to believe less than two weeks ago it was thirty below. Pastor Brad was just back last week for his near 2000 mile trek to Hudson Bay by snowmobile. And this morning he's planned to share many of the God-moments he experienced on this trip of a lifetime.

"Good morning! The Lord be with you!"
"And also with you," the congregation replied.

1. Brooke shared about an app for your smartphone or iPad for a daily devotion supplied by the Covenant Church.
2. Secret Sisters is after church today.
3. March 28-29 there's a Red Hat event in which there is a need for assistance setting up. The assistants will be paid $200. Call Paula Saxin for details if interested.

Chuck, Darlene and Ken led worship today beginning with the song One Scarred Hand, a favorite of Ken's with it's tender chorus, "The Great Physician's touch is a balm that can mend broken hearts with one scarred hand." Afterwards while the offering was being taken they sang No One Understands Like Jesus.

After a time of prayer, the pastor shared his...

Lessons from the Trail

Brad began by thanking us for allowing he and his family yo go on this adventure. He wanted to share today about the trip because it is a metaphor for stepping out into the unknown.

Most common question he was asked: Did you see any polar bears?
No, most are out on the ice hunting or hibernating.

The second most asked question: Did you have any moments you feared for your safety or that you were lost? There were a couple times where the trails were inaccessible, and one day we had to go 375 miles because the planned trail was closed. There were a few other places where we were anxious and had to turn back for another route.

What if you break down? How do you travel when there is no trail? Proverbs says you need to plan. Planning involves anticipation of things that could go wrong. This was not a joyride. There were risks.

Was the journey as scary as it seems from the outside?

Any time we attempt something big it may appear scary to others. But like the church building project, it wasn't scary to follow God's leading. God calls us to step out in faith.

Brad shared a story from Gary Haugen that was a good metaphor for the life of faith.  Haugen tells story of hiking on Mount Rainier with his family when he was ten. He saw a sign that warned all the dangers to beware of, and it scared him so much that he stayed in the visitors center. He brother and father went on that hike and saw some fabulous things. He later regretted that he played it safe.

Brad noted too often the church in Amercia opts to play it safe, but misses something spectacular because they didn't want to take risks.

We ourselves fall into the same trap, choosing safety rather than risk, missing out on more fulfilling experiences.

The safest place is not the visitor center but to be in the center of God's will.

This does not mean that things always work out. --> cite Hebrews 11

The American Trinity seems to be comfort, pleasure, and success, and because of this one of our big idols is safety. We are the most seat-belted, air-bagged, bike-helmeted, knee-pad-wearing, hyper-insured, sunscreen-slathering, massively medicated, protected and inoculated generation in history, and all it has done it to make us more afraid," he said.

Safety shrinks our lives. We become like the

Safety shrinks God. It becomes a celestial seat belt...

God believes in life after birth, not just life after death.

Lessons from the trail...
1. I didn't and couldn't have done this trip alone. Whenever you want to do something big for God, it always takes teamwork. It's a beautiful thing when people come together around something.
We live in a culture that makes it hard for people to work together, in part because we need to learn trust. Pride and process can be a problem, but it always takes teamwork to make the dream work.

Brad expressed gratitude to his family, and for those many faithful friends and well-wishers who helped in various stages along the way.

God is more concerned about the players than the play. It's always about transformed lives.

Brad then read from Ephesians 4
3 Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace. 4 There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.

2. The big things we want to do for God always boil down to the small things we do daily for other people.
I wasn't scared because it was one day at a time.

We tend to overestimate as human beings what can be done in the short term and underestimate what can be done in the long term when our priorities are right.

3. If you want something you've never had, you need to do something you've never done. There's a part we play. God is powerful and active and present, and our willingness is more important than our competence. When we have a sense that God is with us it enables us to move beyond our comfort zones.

At the end of his report Brad shared slides from the journey. It was a very special service.

Sunday, March 2, 2014

A Message from Erin Swanstrom

Pastor Brad is back from the Hudson Bay but our special guest speaker is Erin Swanstrom. The sanctuary was super lively as everyone seemed anxious and excited to welcome Brad back from his near 2000 mile adventure. In his opening remarks Brad said he would next week share many of the lessons he learned while on his journey to the Arctic. 'We sensed God with us all along the way."

Ash Wednesday is this week. We will share a meal together with the service at seven afterwords.

Ed filled in for Darlene this week on piano.

Before sharing with us Erin beautifully shared a song about trust. "My trust is without borders/let me walk upon the waters wherever you call me..."

After a time of prayer Brad read to us Psalm 32.

A Message from Erin Swanstrom
Our guest speaker began by noting her Duluth roots and said it is good to be back.

This Psalm has been a source of comfort for her in difficult times, especially verse 7, "You are my hiding place." This was a song that David wrote, with lessons for us all.

The psalm begins with this: "Blessed is the one whose transgressions are forgiven." This is actually a beatitude, like the beginning of Psalm 1 or the opening portion of the Sermon on the Mount.

The psalm uses three different words for sin...
The first means disobedience.
Second, missing the target.
The third addresses waywardness and disrespect for God.
These three ways that David demonstrate the full range of forgiveness that God provides.

The fortunate life, the good life, does not belong to the one who is perfect. The happiness of the good life is for those who have been forgiven. This verse notes that David was honest about his sin. He is not one who covered it up, though he tried. "When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long." Vs 3

When we're in denial it has an impact on us. But in verse 5 we see that David acknowledged his sin and confesses his sin. In this openness with God David is forgiven. Erin pointed out that David's confession of failure was a public act as part of a community of faith.

In verse 6 David tells us to not wait till we're at the bottom before we reach out. And then he prays, "You are my hiding place..."

And God responds:
I will instruct you and teach you in the way you should go;  
I will counsel you with my loving eye on you.

Walking with God does not require us to be perfect, but honest with God.

In the end she shared Proverbs 3:5-6 from The Message.

Trust God from the bottom of your heart; 
 don’t try to figure out everything on your own. 
Listen for God’s voice in everything you do, 
everywhere you go; he’s the one who will keep you on track.

Let God make you new.

Afterward we celebrated the Lord's Supper.