Sunday, March 22, 2015

New Beginnings

On a quiet, sunlit day Pastor Brad welcomed us warmly to New Life. Brad began by telling us how many conscious decisions we make a day... at least seventy, which means we make thousands of decisions a year. "How many of you have ever made a decision you wished you could take back? Raise your hand." Most raised hands, and a few did not so he said, "Some of you have decided to lie in church, which is not a good decision."

Announcements included a reminder that next week is Palm Sunday, that there will be a Good Friday service, and that Easter Sunday we will have breakfast at the church along with an Easter Egg Hunt.

Ed played piano this morning in Darlene's absence and also played a harmonica solo as introduction to singing Were You There When They Crucified My Lord.

The offering and a time of prayer preceded the special music, which was followed by Brad's sermon.

New Beginnings

Brad began with a story about bringing a bunch of young people to the Mall of America for a scavenger hunt game in which the kids had to find a bunch of people they knew who were dressed in disguises. He was dressed like a wizard and even though he'd cleared the game with Mall of America management, the security officers seriously questioned what was going on or what his intentions were. He afterwards regretted having done this.

Of course we all have regrets about things we have done. It may be lying to your spouse or an addiction you are hiding.

Unfortunately, you can not go back and change the past. This is the hardest problem with bad decisions: you can't go back. Some people say you just have to forget it and let it go. Others say you need to overcome it by replacing it with good karma going forward. But how does God deal with our bad decisions?

This intro was a setup for the story of Peter's failure, his denial of Jesus in His hour of need. It is a familiar passage. After Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane the disciples fled. Peter, however, wants to know where the authorities have taken Him and tries to find out what is happening. It's dark and it's cold, and he warms himself at a fire that some people have built outside where Jesus is being questioned. Someone asks whether he was with Jesus, and he denies it. Another person chimes it, "Yes, you were with Him." He denies again. When a third person asserts that he recognizes him as having been with the Nazarene he is even more vehement.

Now the Lord had told Peter earlier that before the rooster crows "you will deny Me three times." To Peter this seemed utterly improbable. But when the rooster crowed, Peter remembered these words and it broke him.

The disciples' reaction to the death and resurrection of Jesus was in some ways surprising. These were the men who Jesus had trained to bring the message of life to the world. But each was aware of his failures and not yet ready. The Lord's next move was to set about to heal these wound men, each of them keenly aware of their failings.

Like many people who have issues they dealing with, they avoided facing up to it and set about going back to what they were familiar with.

Today's sermon drew upon John 21.  Peter said, "I'm going out to fish." He went off to do what was comfortable and familiar to him. So Peter and company went out and fished all night, but caught nothing. He's living with regret, and it feels like God is so far away from him.

But Jesus shows up in verse 4, though they did not recognize Him. Jesus calls out from the shore, "Do you have any fish?"

They would rather avoid the truth, to blame something else. But here they simply reply, "No."

God can begin His redemptive work only when we are honest. We can't fake it.

What's really going on in your heart? What regrets did you bring into this room that you can leave here and not carry back out with you?

After Jesus heard them answer he said, "Throw your net on the other side of the boat." They catch so many fish it's astounding, nearly breaking the nets. John suddenly sees, "It's the Lord."

Jesus didn't needle them for having failed Him. Instead, He chose to bless them. Grace finds you right where you're at.

Jesus was saying, "Come and have breakfast. Come and be with Me."

Paul wrote in his letter to the Romans, "Just as one trespass resulted in condemnation for all people, so also one righteous act resulted in justification and life for all people." Jesus is our redeemer. Many religions can give advice on becoming a better person. No other religion addresses this matter of sin and our separation from God.

Returning to the 21st chapter of John, Brad discussed John 21:15-19 where Peter is forced to become uncomfortable as Jesus helps him face his sin so that their relationship can be reconciled. Jesus wants to bring Peter back to where Peter can follow Him again, and become a leader of the church.

"Do you love Me?"  In other words, do you want another chance? Do you want back what you lost? Are you ready?

Jesus isn't doing this to rub it in Peter's face. He's saying you do not have to see yourself as a failure.

God doesn't erase our past. He redeems it, no matter how bad it is. And this is what he offers to us, a clean slate, so we can accomplish the things He has prepared us for.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

The Heart of the Gospel

Greeting the new faces.
Pastor Brad welcomed us with his usual greeting: "I'm grateful you're here today." He introduced the service by welcoming Jim and Cathy Fretheim. Jim, who would be speaking today, gave Brad his first job when he got out of seminary.

Council will meet Tuesday at 7:00 pm
Membership class will be soon. Contact Brad.
During Holy Week we will have a Good Friday service, and Easter we will have a breakfast here and the traditional Easter Egg hunt.

The introit by Darlene was very nice again, Change My Heart O God, flowing like a soothing fragrance over the room. This was followed by a time of singing from the new songbook, closing with the hymn I Will Sing The Wondrous Story. An offering was taken as Darlene played another comforting melody.

The time of prayer began with a request from Brooke to pray for the Borndals. The grandchildren are now home safe from the hospital, and Rick is preparing for a mission trip. Many other needs were shared from around the congregation.

Brad read to us from John 3:3-17, then introduced our speaker. Jim was introduced as retired, so "he might be rusty," which brought a laugh.

The Heart of the Gospel

You can fake being a preacher, but you can't fake being a plumber. The evidence is in whether the pipes leak or not. In the same way, the Scriptures are true or they are not. The evidence is changed lives.

John 3 is probably one of the most conversion stories in the Bible. It's the story of Nicodemus.

Nicodemus came to Him at night. The night is a symbol of many things. Fear among them. Why did he come at night. Did he fear being seen with Jesus?

Nicodemus wants to know, can you tell me what thes

Verse 14 is the heart of the Gospel: Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, 15 that everyone who believes may have eternal life in him.

This statement is based on a story from the Book of Numbers during the time in which the people of Israel were wandering in the wilderness. Because of their rebelliousness God sent poison serpents, but Moses appealed to God for mercy and was instructed to place a bronze serpent (snake) on a pole and everyone who got bit could be healed by looking at it. In addition to foreshadowing the Cross, Jim said we find healing by look at the things that we are afraid of.

Then the most familiar verse in the Bible follows, "For God so loved the world..."
Jim asked us to think about this verse as he dissected it. It begins with God.... and all He represents.
God so loved.
The world.
That He gave...
His one and only son.
That whosoever, anyone anywhere...
Believes in Him...
Shall not perish.   The greatest rescue that has ever been proclaimed.
And shall have everlasting life, the greatest promise ever given.

Jim told the story of a man who fell into a deep hole and couldn't out. He began crying out, "Help!"
A psychiatrist comes by, and writes him a prescription for sedatives.
A priest comes by and offers a prayer.
A friend comes by and falls in with him. "What are you doing? Now we're both stuck here."
The friend replies, "No, I've been here before and I know the way out." That friend is Jesus. He lived and walked among us and knows our neediness and situation.

There are three warnings that follow this great text in verses 17-20. Then in verse 21 Jesus makes the promise again.

The speaker concluded his message with this assertion. "In all my years of preaching there's nothing more powerful than a changed life, and the excitement that follows when a new convert tells everyone 'what God did for me'."


Sunday, March 8, 2015

Don't Be Fooled

Pastor Bradley Shannon brought the service to order and said "I'm grateful you're here." while carrying a rotary telephone, illustrating the manner in which times change. Phone went from rotary dial to digital buttons, and from dumb phones to smart phones. We live in a world of continuous change, but how do we react when changes rock your world and break your heart?

There is a new members class being assembled. Notify Pastor Brad if you are interested in becoming a member.

The trio led us in worship today, selecting songs from the 70's, the first being "He Died On the Cross." This was followed by a song Elvis used to sing to his mother, "Without Him" after which we sang three songs from the Silver Songbook. During the offering the Trio also sang "On the Jericho Road."

John and Christina are in the hospital this morning, and even though you are not supposed to work on the Sabbath, Christina is in labor at this moment. Other requests were lifted up, including many hard things that happened to people close to our church family.

Don't Be Fooled

The lectionary text for this day, all over the world, is I Corinthians 1:18-25

What seems like foolishness to some seems like the power of God to others.

Brad read a passage from No Wonder They Call Him the Savior, by Max Lucado. Ultimately if true the Cross is history's hinge. If not true it is history's hoax.

The Cross is central to everything, and as much as it has been maligned through history it can never be ignored or forgotten.

Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever. His compassion, His humility, and His love are unchanged.

God knows everything about us, including our bad behavior, improper reactions to things, yet God is always reaching toward us to comfort, to demonstrate His care. His character is perfect and does not change.

The second question, when you think about God's power, His omnipotence, is this real?

Our beauty, our strength all fade. Sooner or later we all peak and go downhill. Likewise presidents and even countries come and go.

Psalm 145 says "Your dominion endures for all generations." God's power is as vast as it ever was. God hasn't eased up or tired out. His power is endless and infinite.

The third question: Do you believe it's a hinge or hoax that God absolutely hates sin.

This culture seems to minimize sin. It's no big deal anymore. But if sin were no big deal, there was no need for the Cross.

God is intolerant of greed, injustice and racism. God hates how lives get broken by deceit, immorality, and envy. God hates the wounds caused by sin.

After creating the world and all that is in it, God had one more act of creation that is more astounding than all.... He created forgiveness. At the Cross, God created a divine whiteout the erases our sins.

The Cross is the hinge of history where forgiveness can take place and bring redemption that we might be His people.

Do you believe that it's the hinge of everything or a hoax, that God has given us -- the church -- this mission to share this message? Brad reasoned that if we said yes to all the other questions, it is a natural progression to conclude that this is also a yes. And it is not a "burden" we're asked to carry, but a privilege. We get to be part of God's mission. It' an incredible mission, and we have the opportunity to contribute.

The world is a mess. Horrible things happen every day, but we are God's arms to comfort, we are the expressions of His caring. All we have is the love of Jesus and the love of a family.

When people are hurt, we can come alongside and weep with them, as Brad and Ruthanne did this week. When things are confusing for others, we offer our confidence and faith in an unchanging God through the Cross of Jesus Christ, a God who is love and mercy and kindness. That's all we have, and we believe every human being needs this. Everybody does.

In a heartbreaking world, Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today and forever.