Sunday, July 31, 2016

The Gospel, Freedom and Homeland Security

Chuck Vanderscheuren opened the service by welcoming us. As has been his custom this past several weeks he has given us an update on Brad and his family. They're doing well and Adventurous Christians on the Gunflint Trail is beginning to feel like home.

After the service we were invited to stay after the service and fellowship with us. Chuck also introduced Jeff Burton who will be delivering the message this morning.

The quartet ushered us into worship with the beautiful song "Take my life and let it be consecrated, Lord, to Thee" in its contemporary rendition. After a prayer consecrating the service to God they followed with "Give them all to Jesus, shattered dreams, wounded hearts and broken toys... and He will turn your sorrow into joys."

After several contemporary songs from the blue hymnbook and offering was taken as the quartet serenaded with a song about being led by the Master's hand.

Chuck invited us to share prayer requests and praises, and after a time of prayer he introduced the a guest speaker.

The Gospel, Freedom and Homeland Security

Jeff Burton began by saying he wants to go a different direction from the sermon title printed in the bulletin. The original message was going to be about the power of the Gospel to bring us freedom, but that freedom has to be guarded, by our own internal department of homeland security.

He quickly summarized the main points... Secure your borders, be alert to dangers, in certain situations don't travel alone, etc. Instead, his message today would be about what it really tales to move the world.

Today's replacement sermon began with an Archimedes quote: "Give me a lever and a place to stand and I can move the world."

The actual quote was originally, "Give me a place to stand and a lever and I can move the world." This quote is used frequently in graduation speeches, which often use only one side of the equation or the other. "This institution has given you a lever," or "This institution has given you a place to stand."

For Christians, the place to stand is the foundation laid by the Word of God, and of primary importance in the equation.

This Archimedes Principle served to introduce the familiar story of Jacob, but Mr. Burton succeed in making it fresh by having us look at it from a new angle. Jacob and Esau were brothers trying to build their lives. Jacob, the younger of the two, was asking himself what his place would be in the grand scheme of things. "What does my life consist of? What am I going to achieve with my life?"

In Genesis 27:5 his mother Rebecca steps in and helps Jacob deceive his father in order to obtain "the blessing" of his father, which would normally go to the firstborn. She suggested that while Esau was off hunting, Jacob could dress in Esau's clothes and put a hairy fur on his skin in order to fool his father who had now lost much of his sight.

Has his mother given Jacob a lever or a place to stand? Burton answered, Jacob had been given a lever. It was a clever lever, an angle. But he did not have a firm place to stand. Truth is a foundation. Jacob didn't get the blessing via truth, and there were consequences. Esau vowed to kill him.

The net result is that because of his treachery Jacob has to go into exile. And he does what a lot of people do. He gives a reason for leaving, another lie. Instead of just being honest he says he's going to find a wife. He flees to live with a relative of his mother's named Laban.

The story is well known. He works hard for Laban, falls in love with Laban's daughter and bargains to marry her. But Laban's a schemer, too. Seven years Jacob must labor, and the daughter will be his. Unfortunately, Jacob is not the only clever one. Laban gets the young man drunk and sneaks the older daughter Leah into the tent with Jacob. Jacob is forced to work seven more years to marry the daughter he worked for in the first place.

When Jacob left home years earlier he stopped at a place called Bethel where he had a dream about the future. In the dream God told him that his descendants would be a blessing to the whole world. God promised, "I am with you and will watch over you wherever you go and I will bring you back to the land."

Eventually, things got dicey with Laban, who had sons that were jealous of Jacob's successes in business. Jacob was between a rock and hard place. He could stay and be killed or go home and face Esau, risking the same outcome. Twenty years in the school of hard knocks taught him some important lessons. God tell him to go back home and that He would be with him. Jacob chooses to come back to his homeland with his wives and children.

On the return, the night before he gets home, Jacob was alone whereupon a man wrestled with him till daybreak. It's a famous passage and the implication is that he's wrestled with God. This time his encounter with God is not a dream. God dislocates his hip and for the rest of his life he walks with a limp as a reminded. He is also given a new name, Israel, because he "struggled with God and men and have overcome."

After this event Jacob, now Israel, takes a new approach to life. After being tricked multiple times Jacob grasps that it's time to change. He begins to tell the truth. He puts his scheming behind him. God has given him a place to stand and he knows God is with him. God has given Jacob a place to stand. Jacob goes back to clean up his past and God is with him.

The more you mature in your walk with Jesus, the more you will be wrestling with God. But here's a tip: you will always lose when you wrestle with God. But with God, in losing you win.

Jacob re-united with his brother and it was a beautiful reunion. As a summing up, Mr. Burton shared how Jacob went on to have another son, named Joseph, who never knew his father as a deceiver or a clever manipulator. Joseph lived a honest life, many insights can be gained from grasping the significance of this detail.

In our modern world there is a bias against foundations. Isaiah 33:6 states, "He will be the sure foundation for your times..."

In Matthew 7:24-25 Jesus exhorts, “Every one then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house upon the rock; and the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat upon that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock."

In another place Paul declares, "No one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ."

Let's move the world.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

Christ in a World of Diverse Opinion

Chuck welcomed us warmly, then shared a story about Brad and Brooke's first day on the job at Adventurous Christians, something of a baptism by fire. Fortunately it had a happy ending. He then had Walt Cresman come forward to share that we have now found an interim pastor who will serve our congregation as we commence our search for a permanent replacement for Pastor Brad.

Chuck then shared a passage from the Gospel of John after the Last Supper and preceding the events in the Garden of Gethsemane, a message of promise and hope. Darlene then played Shine, Jesus Shine to usher us into worship.

There will be a Congregational Meeting next Sunday after the service.

After the offering and a time of prayer, our guest speaker Dave Peterson stepped forward to preach this morning. Dave is a longtime friend of the Covenant and currently pastor at Salem Covenant.

Christ in a World of Diverse Opinion

The passage Dave preached from is Acts 17:16-34. But first he shared a story from his college days. There was a gathering of young people from diverse points of view who met off campus to address and maybe solve all the problems in the world. The meeting took place at a building owned by a mainline denomination. As it turns out, everyone had their own ideas about what the truth was and the meaning of everything.  Whatever the issue, everyone had a viewpoint. Finally, someone asked, "What about God?" And everyone disagreed on this, too.

At this point the moderator exclaimed that he saw the answer. Some people find meaning in believing, some find meaning in not believing. "So what's important isn't what you believe but that you find meaning and purpose in it."

This is, of course, silly.

In many ways nothing has really changed in the past 40 years, and when we look at Acts 17 we find that in some respects not much has changed in the past 2000 years as the story from the book of Acts illustrates, in which Paul found himself in Athens. Paul's spirit was provoked and distressed by what he saw there, the pervasive worship of idols of a wide range of perspectives.

The incident took place on Paul's second missionary journey through Asia Minor (now Turkey) on his way to Europe into Greece. He found himself in Athens, a major center of trade and a bustling metropolis of diverse ideas. Here are some points Dave drew out of this story.

1) Expect to be distressed by what you see in your culture.
Paul looked around and saw that the city was full of idols and the Bible says his spirit was provoked. Essentially he had a mixture of sadness and irritation to see the emptiness, shallowness and futility of the city. Dave noted that we should not be surprised when sinners act like sinners.

2) Be ready to speak with anyone who God leads you to in any place.
Paul was willing and able to engage anyone in conversation. Paul spoke to Jews, God-fearing Gentiles, and people in the marketplace. Paul was at home speaking with people on Wall Street and Main Street. He also spoke with the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers there. Epicureans are functional atheisic materialists who emphasize pleasure and tranquility. Stoics stressed Reason as the rule of the universe, promoting a pantheistic view of God in everything as opposed to over all things. The Stoics emphasize duty and individualistic self-sufficiency.

While Paul was conversing with the philosophers there were some who took an interest in his "strange ideas." They brought him to the Areopagus at Mars Hill to continue talking.

3) That which is new and strange is at the core of today's spirituality.
The Areopagus was the highest governmental assembly in ancient Athens. It was was the ruling government met. Paul was brought before this diverse assembly to address it. Our speaker pointed out that there is a curiosity about spiritual matters that can be an both an opportunity and an obstacle for Christians.
As an Opportunity: there is an openness new ideas, even strange ideas.
As an Obstacle: People have developed an attitude that says, "I must remain open to other ideas," which precludes coming to any conclusions about anything. If I affirm something at Truth, then how can I affirm anything else that comes along that contradicts it?

Paul noticed that there was an altar "To An Unknown God."

4. Build bridges without avoiding vital and sometimes uncomfortable truths.

Paul built a bridge to his listeners by acknowledging that they were religious. In addressing them Paul quoted their own poets, again building additional connections.

There were some uncomfortable truths Paul had to share, too. This Unknown God is not unknown any more. We have a known God who has revealed Himself. Also, He is not a limited god that resides in a human-made temple. He is an unlimited God. In verse 26 he reminded them that He is their Creator and Lord. And next Paul notes that He is not far from us.

Paul's example is a challenge to us to be wise, truthful, loving and relevant as we engage our world today. The message Paul brings is that people everywhere are called to respond.

God's grace is available to all. Our job in response is to repent. God's mercy is not an approval of sin. There is a fixed day when God will judge all mankind. This is not a speculation.

Our job is to repent. To change our minds, our wills, and put our trust in Jesus Christ. The repentant sinner is in the proper position to accept God's forgiveness.

In verses 32-34 the writer states that some dismissed him and mocked him, but others were open to hearing more.

Dave shared why this passage gives him hope. When Paul went to Athens the people he found there had lived their whole lives in a culture unfamiliar with Christian truth. Yet even here God touched hearts through Paul's witness. We live in a similar culture that has a greater diversity of views than ever before. Despite their fuzzy ideas about God and the world we live in, there are many here among us to whom God is speaking, who may be ready to hear and receive the truth... maybe even through you.

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Gift of Life

Chuck welcomed us this morning and then invited Pam to give an update on current activities.
Brooke was our worship chair so that her role had been left unfilled when the Shannons left two weeks ago. The council selected Cheryl Borndal to fill that position. The interim pastor search has been moving along in a positive manner while the pastoral search committee is forming to find a permanent replacement for the Pastor Brad. July 24 there will be a congregational meeting after the service.

Chuck asked that we take a little time for silent prayer for the lives unnecessarily lost this past week in the Twin Cities, Dallas and elsewhere. He read a letter requesting that our church strive to be salt and light in the midst of all this darkness. Chuck then read Psalm 90, which includes this memorable line, "From everlasting to everlasting You are God." The psalm expresses God's eternal strength and man's frailty.

We shared a number of prayer requests and had a time of prayer before taking the offering. Zach Crosby was then introduced to deliver the message.

The Gift of Life

Zach began by reading John 10:1-10, the text for today's sermon. But first, before preaching, he briefly shared about his health, the heart condition that he's dealt with for 25 years which has been a lifetime struggle, including a heart transplant about 2 years ago. He currently lives in Superior where he is working on developing a marina at one of the former ore docks. As it turned out his personal story was significantly integrated into the message.

The passage in John begins by mentioning a sheepfold, a metaphor that is foreign to us because none of us have ever had a sheepfold. In Jesus' day sheep were an important part of the economy. Essentially, sheep would be taken out of the sheepfold by day so they could graze, but then would be brought back to where it was safe at night.

Jesus used the metaphor to teach us some things about life. Anyone who doesn't come in through the gate is a thief or bandit. Zach said he always had a problem with Jesus comparing us to sheep because they tend to be dumb. Since this a metaphor, what are our bandits? What is it that steals our security and joy? Health issues? Money, or lack of it? Broken relationships?

At this point he shared in his own story in greater detail. While in seminary, near graduation with four children and a beautiful wife, he came home from a pastor's conference and unexpectedly passed out while picking up a toy from the floor. The process of figuring out what the cause was took years, and caused a lot of inner turmoil. He shared that he has been legally dead seven times. It steals your peace and your sense of security.

It also makes an impact on your finances. His heart transplant cost a million and a half dollars. Wouldn't it be nice to have a million and a half dollars?

His heart got so enlarged he couldn't live a normal life. He ultimately had to go to Mayo Clinic where he spent 68 days in intensive care, and experience that separates you from friends and family, and from your dignity.

These are the thieves and bandits that steal our security and hope.

But then there is the Good Shepherd who leads his sheep out to pasture and back to the safe place. Because the sheep know his voice they are calm.

Zach shared that when people are waiting for a heart they sooner or later end up depressed, and when that happens they often become ill the next day. When they get ill they can't go through surgery so it is a major problem. Zach said he prayed for God to help him minister to others there while he was in the ICU.

Another passage about sheep is Psalm 23. If you follow Christ He will lead you to peace and security. "Yea, though I walk through the shadow of death I will fear no evil."

God can take the most miserable situation and turn it into the best ministry of your life.

In verse six the writer points out that the disciples didn't understand the metaphor. Jesus gives additional insight. In verse seven Jesus goes further. "I am the gate," He says.

The thief comes to kill, steal and destroy. Jesus came that we might have life, and have it abundantly.