From Pastor Brad…

Jul 30, 2016 by

Brad's New Message!!

We all have experiences from our early years that have shaped our characters. One such experience for me was watching my parents fight their way out of debt after a job loss and a move across state. My parents portrayed this set-back as an adventure, and to THEM it was, they had grown up during the Great Depression! They told stories of family lost their farm because of a merciless note holder, and how my father, along with his brother and their father, all worked separate jobs besides farming in order to keep the family farm from another “watchful” note holder. Times were really tough back in those days. Yet, what seemed like a bump-in-the-road to my parents – selling their dream house, moving us back to their home town, and then buying a smaller “fixer-upper” house – put its mark on me as a child. It left me with a fear of being in debt. My debt-fear was real and it consisted specifically of being obligated to someone who would have power over me. The dictionary definition of “obligation” goes something like this: “The action of binding oneself by a social, legal, or moral tie – La duty or requirement that compels one to a certain course of action.” The words that really rub me the wrong way definition are: “binding”, “duty” and “requirement.” I don’t like these concepts because they take away my freedom to follow my own course, and I just don’t like that! As a young man, out in the world on my own, I worked hard and led a Spartan lifestyle, banking as much of each paycheck as I could. I was determined to preserve my freedom. Yet, when the Lord touched me with His call for ministry, I had to come to terms with my debt-fear as school expenses ate away at my bank account faster than I could replenish it. There is an interesting paradox when we look into the Bible at this issue of “obligation” verses “freedom.” The Bible tells us that as God’s children, we can really only be “free” WHEN we are “obligated – obligated to God and His precious dealings with us in Jesus Christ. You see, in spiritual matters, we are really not free at all, unless we are debtors to God’s grace in Christ. Without God’s grace, we are just slaves to our own sinful natures, pulled around by our world and it’s values. Paul’s declaration of freedom by God’s grace in Romans 8 begins with, “there is no condemnation in Christ” (vs. 1) and ends with “nothing shall separate us from the love of God in Christ” (vs. 39). Between these two statements, Paul explains that being a debtor to God’s grace actually sets us free from our sinful world and from our sinful selves. It is only by God’s gracious forgiveness that we can live as truly free daughters and sons of God – we are set free to say “NO” to the dark ways of our world and “YES” to God’s ways of light. We are free BECAUSE we are bound to God’s grace – as Robert Robinson’s 18th century hymn “”Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” celebrates: O to grace how great a debtor – Daily I’m constrained to be! Let that grace now like a fetter – Bind my wondering heart to Thee. . . This Easter season, take some time to celebrate and re-experience God’s gracious actions for us in Christ. Revisit the cross of Christ and His empty tomb – the acts of God by which He has made us into His children, binding us to His grace. Experience His gift of Easter freedom by which we walk under an open heaven. By His grace, be bound, and be free.

Think Spring

Yes! The hard winter months of January and February are gone, and we can now begin to think spring! Even if March decides to come in like a lion, its days are numbered and the big thaw is inevitable, sooner, rather than later. The days are noticeably longer, and it’s really nice to need sun glasses when I drive to the church office in the morning. As we enjoy turning the calendar to March, we also find ourselves in the season of Lent, with Easter Sunday poised on its very last day like a light house shining its beacon out across the stormy waters of our Lenten repentance – that beam of brilliant light proclaiming, “He is risen!” March is a month of light – more sun light, and more spiritual light. As we move through the March Lenten season to Easter, we are witnessing once again God’s light shining into our darkness. We are recharging our spiritual batteries by remembering how God demonstrated His goodness to us at the cross of Jesus Christ. It was at that cross where God’s light of judgment exposed our sin, and the light of His mercy revealed the depth of His love for us. It was there that Jesus took our sin and guilt upon Himself and proclaimed to us, “It is Finished!” Our call to worship back on the last Sunday of February captured this theme of light very well and propelled us into March with the anticipation of God’s light. The Lord is my light and my salvation– whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life– of whom shall I be afraid? (Psalm 27:1-2) It didn’t matter to God that we were in darkness – that we were fumbling around unable to find Him. He just turned on the light of His love and sent His Son to shine upon us! The light of God’s salvation, that stronghold He has given us in His Son, dispels the darkness of our fear of judgment and protects us from the enemy who wages war against our souls. By the light of the cross, we can see God as our Friend, and Jesus as our life-long Companion and Defender. As we say goodbye to winter and welcome the warmth of spring, remember the warmth of God’s love shining down on us in Jesus Christ. May that warmth thaw out the frozen places of our hearts and bring new things to life! Amen.

He Is Our Peace

We live in a fallen world – a place that has fallen far from its Creator’s design. The tragedy of madness that unfolded in Newtown, Connecticut on December 14th has reminded us that evil; sin, suffering, and death are still very much a part of our world – even in the Christmas season, and even for our children. Tragedies like Newtown leave our hearts aching for another world. The prophet Micah wrote his prophecy of the coming of Christ at the end of the 8th Century BC. It was a time of serious trouble for the little nation of Judah. God’s people were cold to Him, and cruel empires dominated the world. The northern tribes of Israel had been overrun by the Assyrians and scattered among the nations. Now, only the kingdom ofJudah was left, alone by itself in a dangerous new world. But this is when God spoke to Micah about where to look while living in a dangerous world. He pointed them to His promise of a Savior. And what kind of Savior did He show them? How would He meet the danger of their fallen world? What hope did He offer those who looked to Him for deliverance? First, God did NOT promise a military Savior who by violence would bring a violent end to a violent world. Rather, God promised to send them a “Shepherd,” a Man of peace who by disarming death would bring true peace. He will arise and shepherd His flock in the strength of the Lord, in the majesty of the name of the Lord His God. And they will remain, because at that time He will be great to the ends of the earth. This One will be our peace. (Micah 5:4-5) And so during the time of another cruel empire, the Roman Empire of the 1st Century AD, this Shepherd of peace was born in a stable in Bethlehem, surrounded by livestock, and angels who announced that his arrival marked “peace on earth.” It’s this Savior that God calls us to consider as we live in our fallen world. And God tells us something amazing in Micah’s description of Him – He says quite literally that, “He will be peace.” This can be hard for us to understand because we have been trained by our world to view “peace” as a pause between violence. But the problem with this “pause-peace” is that it depends on everyone being peaceful at the same time. And this is where it always breaks down, for it only takes one person, whether a cruel emperor with an army, or deeply disturbed 20 year old with gun to shatter this peace. So God tells us that the Shepherd will be peace. “Peace” God tells us here, is first and foremost a Person – a Person who came down from heaven into our deeply troubled world, a Person who was not ashamed to call us His brothers and sisters, a Person who experienced the real suffering and death of our messed-up world. In doing this, He did something that only a Shepherd would do. He didn’t conquer us with violence but with His love as He set us free from death itself. Because of Him, death is not THE end. In His action on the cross, our Shepherd of Peace solved the very heart of our world’s trouble – rebellion, sin, and death. At the cross, as Jesus gave His innocence into the hands of evil men and asked the Father to forgive them, He shows us that God’s love really is the ultimate reality. His love will out-last this world’s violence. His love will conquer all the madness. Jesus met the world’s trouble with peace, and He calls out to us to “Go and do the same.” The wounds of our Shepherd show us that we are free to reach out to others as His agents of peace, to “shepherd” others to Him and to His peace. We can do this because of the confidence He gives us that His peace triumphs over human hearts, and over our troubled world. Amen.

He Found Us

I was doing some cleaning the other day – you know, the kind of cleaning you only do every once in a while because it involves moving furniture. As I moved my dresser to vacuum beneath it, there it was, covered in dust, an old photograph that I had given up ever finding. “I found it!” came out of my mouth as I flipped it over to see the memory captured on it. Suddenly, the drudgery of cleaning disappeared as I sat on the edge of the bed reliving the memory of that family trip to Medora in the summer of 2002. As I carefully wiped the dust from the photo and returned it to the top of the dresser, the thought hit me, “How can a simple 4 x 6 inch photograph bring me such joy?” It’s really not much of a picture after all, just a snapshot that Marty took of the kids and I with our heads sticking out of a hotel pool in North Dakota. We’ve certainly been to more exciting places –Glacier National Park, Disney World, etc. But the value of the picture isn’t in its setting, it’s in the people I’m with and in the relationships I have with each of them. This December, as we relive the Christmas story once again, may we hear God’s elation through it all as He declares to us “I found you!” Tougher than moving a dresser, and certainly more dirty than cleaning the dust beneath it, God moved heaven and earth to get to us. He sent His Son down into the hidden places of our dark and dirty world to find us, and to the cross to wipe away our sins forever. That’s really what this Story is all about. As the Apostle Paul put it, It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners… (1 Timothy 1:15) And like the photo under the dresser, it’s the value of the relationships that gives the Christmas Story its power. Specifically, the family bonds between a fatherly God and His wayward children. Relationships – that’s after all, why God created us; and that’s why when we fell into sin and away from Him, He sent His Son to find us, clean us, and return us to where we belong – forever with Him. The manger and the cross; they tell us that God values His relationship with us. And, because of Jesus, we are back on the top of God’s dresser. Have a very merry Christmas this year, and come Christmas Eve, don’t be afraid to let out the joyful Christmas shout, “He found us!”

Freedom to Serve

In a Harvard Business Review article entitled “Why Talented Leaders Are Driven to Bad Behavior,” Bill George, a Professor of Management Practice and Ethics at the Harvard Business School reacts to the recent leadership problems in the banking and stock market industries. The following points are a summary of three of Prof. George’s interesting critiques: 1. Lack of self-reflection: When leaders answer the important question, “Why do I want to lead?” with a selfish answer, trouble looms for those affected by their leadership. Leaders whose primary goals are power over others, great wealth, and personal status tend to look at people as mere tools to be used in their own quest for personal gain. Leaders with this mind-set will quickly believe their own self-gratifying publicity and even slip into thinking that the institution they lead exists for their own personal goals. 2. The greed trap: Although leaders may not start out seeking money, power, and prestige; the rewards of stock options, bonus checks, and other financial perks can create a selfish desire for more and more wealth. When leaders focus on such external gratification instead of the inner satisfaction of caring for others, they lose their ethical grounding causing them to reject any honest criticism. Leaders of this type will surround themselves with people who only tell them what they want to hear – they then become insulated from reality. 3. The abuse of power: Leaders, who get to the top by imposing their will upon others, leave a long line of destroyed people in their wake. When these leaders reach the top, they tend to become paranoid, thinking that others are trying to knock them out of their position in the same ruthless manner by which they themselves achieved power. They become incapable of acknowledging their failures because they fear being perceived as weak and vulnerable. When they are confronted by their own failures, they are quick to either deny them, or to blame others. This type of leadership will cause the entire organization they lead to lose touch with reality. When we look at the costly examples of failed human leadership that have touched us all in recent years, we can better appreciate the true gift of leadership that Jesus Christ offers to us. In a way that runs counter to our experience of abusive human leadership (leadership that seeks out power for self) our Lord shows us that He has used His power to serve us for our betterment. And, by His unselfish leadership, we are delivered from a distorted focus upon ourselves. Listen to the True Leader: 42 And Jesus called them to him and said to them, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. 43 But it shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, 44 and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all. 45 For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Mark 10:42-45) By showing us His true power in serving and ransoming us, Jesus gives to us a true ethical compass by which we understand what leadership really is. When we look to His leadership at the cross, we find our “true north.” Everything we need for significance and security (which we are tempted to achieve by our own power) is gifted to us by Him at the cross. As we look to this cross, and His love for us that held Him on it, we are freed from ourselves, and thus free to lead others by serving. To God be the glory, great things He has done!

Seasonal Changes

I think most of us really enjoy this time of the year. Yes, we are a little sad to see the long warm days of summer pass, but we have to be honest: a little nip in the morning air gets our Minnesota blood going. And then there is the visual change. My daily drive to Grace now features the stunning colors of fall – all the yellows, oranges, and reds we associate with the changing of the season great me every morning as they jump through my windshield dancing to the music of the morning sun. Our lives also change seasons, and we can see this change in the church. Maybe it’s our children or grand children starting Sunday School or Confirmation for the first time. It could be that our family pew is filling up with new arrivals. Or maybe someone is no longer sitting in that pew because of military service, college, or relocation to another address – earthly or heavenly. A new season of life change came to me this past July when my oldest daughter got another last name, I got a new son-in-law, and she now has another place to come home to on weekends – but this is life isn’t it? Whatever our season of life change may be, it’s good to know that we are not alone in it, because God is in it with us. Several passages we have used for our Sunday calls to worship in September remind us of this great fact: Psalm 116:1-2 (Sunday, September 16) I love the Lord, because he has heard my voice and my pleas for mercy. Because he inclined his ear to me, therefore I will call on him as long as I live. (ESV) Psalm 54:4 (Sunday, September 23) Behold, God is my helper; the Lord is the upholder of my life. (ESV) Change can be hard, worrisome, frustrating, and even painful, especially when we find ourselves looking back on something that was comfortable and familiar – but that “something” has now changed, and we are searching for a new normal. Yet, one look at the cross of Jesus should remind us that God is serious about being with us, that He was with us through the worst season of all – the season when our sin landed upon His Son so we could experience the beautiful season of His righteousness on us (and this season does not change). To think about Christ’s empty tomb is to be reminded that we are never alone in our ever-changing seasons of life; we have a living Savior who will not let us walk alone. While we may not know the future, we do know that He is on the journey with us, and unlike the seasons, He does not change, for “He is the same yesterday, today, and forever.” As you take in the beauty of this new fall season, be reminded that our world and our lives are full of changes. But also remember that our heavenly Father will “uphold” us through all of them, and He invites us to “call upon Him as long as we live.” Peace to you all.

The Missing Ingredient

Years ago when I was a young bachelor, I enjoyed helping my friend Matt with his farm work. Matt was like an older brother to me and his wife Connie was a really good cook. Now it shouldn’t take you long to do the simple math on this arrangement: farm chores = home cooking. This was a no-brainer for a twenty year old who had a lot of energy, liked good company, and really loved to eat. So when Matt asked me if I could come out to his farm on Saturday to help him sort cattle, I jumped at the chance (I could already taste the stuffed pork chops or the lasagna – two of Connie’s favorite meals). So there I was at the farm bright and early the next Saturday morning, and even though it was just the two of us, Matt and I managed to get all the cattle squeezed down to the narrow end of the feed lot, fenced off, and sorted for market. The sorting went so smoothly that we ended up in Connie’s kitchen a little earlier than usual for lunch – the stuffed pork chops were still baking! Seeing the hungry looks on our faces, Connie offered us the apple crisp she had made earlier that morning. She knew Matt and I all too well, one piece of dessert (or two) wouldn’t ruin our appetites one bit. My mouth watered in anticipation as that first fork-full of sweet delight was lifted to my smiling face. But what happened next was a complete shock to my taste buds. Instead of tasting a delicious mixture of apples, brown sugar, and crunchy buttery topping; all I could taste was SALT! My senses were completely conflicted. Visually, this perfectly browned and baked dessert could have appeared on the cover of a Betty Crocker cookbook, but its taste was absolutely repulsive. As fast as we had taken our first bite, Matt and I in unison spit it out. In disbelief, Connie also tried and failed to retain the delicious looking dessert in her mouth for more than a few seconds. And then it happened, Connie began to laugh as she realized that instead of borrowing a cup of sugar from her mother-in-law’s kitchen that morning, she had accidently taken a cup of salt. Although all the other ingredients that went into her famous dessert were perfectly blended into a visual masterpiece, the one key ingredient that pulled the other components together into a perfect harmony was missing – and its accidental substitute only left a bad taste in our mouths. We can sometimes become a reflection of this out of whack apple crisp – when we leave God and His goodness out our lives, we find that all the other things in our lives don’t quite blend together the way they should. The reason for this is that all these other good ingredients that make up our lives like family, friends, homes, and hobbies are gifts from the gracious hand of God. So, when we try to enjoy His gifts without enjoying the Giver also, we are left with an unsatisfactory or even empty taste in our mouths. Remember what the Lord told the fretting Martha who was so flustered by all her preparations while her sister Mary sat listening to Jesus, …you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her. (Luke 10:41-42) Spend a little time with the Lord each day and soak in His love for you. Ask Him to make all the ingredients of your life fit together – you just might find that life gets a lot sweeter.

 

 

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