Lent is a time to remember and reflect.  So we’ve asked a number of people to share their stories with us.  Today, we hear from Steve Larson, one of our pastors…

Born in Livonia, MI, my parents raised me in the church on 8 Mile Road which eventually moved to Farmington Hills and became Faith Covenant Church.  I have no “conversion moment” because church, God, and my relationship with both was simply part of life from the very beginning.  Sunday mornings, Wednesday nights and the occasional event in between were set calendar items for our family.  With Dad chairing the church, or the C.E. Board, or the Sunday school program, and with mom teaching, singing in the choir and baking, baking, baking for church events, “family” and “church” were in some ways synonymous.  And through the church family, I grew.

From the age of 5 through the age of 8, we spent our summers (dad was a teacher, mom was home raising us) managing Portage Lake Covenant Bible Camp in Onekema, MI.  Being the “camp kid” was a joyful thing for me.  I got to experience church, God, and my relationship with both outside the building and scheduled times.  And through our camp experience, I grew.

It wasn’t until high school that I truly began to make my faith my own, however.  In 9th grade, my English teacher soon learned that I would be fitting my faith into every public project she assigned.  Whether “Share Your Talents Day” where I sang Christian music, or a report on “The Most Important Thing in Your Life” where I preached my first sermon, Mrs. Bauer always shook her head and graded me down, but continued to give me opportunities to share my faith in class.  This was not easy for a shy, introverted, uncomfortable kid like me, but I never considered doing anything else.

A thespian and choir geek, I learned (sometimes the hard way) how to be comfortable in front of an audience.  A leader in my youth group, I learned the organization it took to pull off a really fun event that still made a difference in people’s lives.  And so through my high school years, I grew.

My call to ministry came just after CHIC ’88, our triennial youth conference.  And I’ll tell you all about it… tomorrow.

 

It’s been a few days since our last devotional due to the men’s retreat at Covenant Point.  With no cell service, I chose not to post.  Today, we’re back.

“Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap. For with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” – Luke 6:38

Today is leap day, that special day every four years that is added to our lives.  Sure, its there to make sure our calendars line up correctly (who knew in first grade that there weren’t really 365 days in a year, but 365 1/4), but today I choose to receive it as a gift.  Too often we complain about not having enough time to do the things we must or want, and many have rhetorically asked me if I didn’t think it would be fantastic to have an extra day.  Well, here you go!

As I think this Lent about Jesus’ gifts of salvation and resurrection, about giving things up, and about the call to give our own selves away as gifts to others, this passage came to mind.  “You’ll receive gifts in the same way you give them,” is how I read this.  Too often we’ve read it as, “You’ll receive the same level, amount, or kind of gifts you give,” but that can’t be right.  I know that I receive so much more from God than I give to Him.  You can’t “out-give” God.  You can’t even match Him.  So this can’t be about the amount of the gift, or even the value of it.

I believe this is speaking to the attitude of the gift.  If we give begrudgingly out of a sense of duty, we will receive less because one of the great gifts we receive is the joy of giving itself.  In fact, elsewhere the bible tells us, “The Lord loves a cheerful giver.”  When we give out of the joy of gratitude for what we’ve received, then not only do we receive more, but the very act of giving is a gift.  When we give, we get the opportunity to join with God in His amazing plan for His people.  What could be a better use of our money, our time, our talents, ourselves than that?  What else do you want to spend it on or save it for?

What is your attitude when it comes to giving?  Take some time this Lenten season to sit quietly with God and ask Him and yourself that question.

What is your attitude toward the gifts you receive from Him?  Are you a “cheerful giver” like God, or are you giving your time and talents and tithes to church because you have to, because God won’t love you if you don’t, or because “if I don’t, nobody will so I guess I better”?  When we recognize our giving as an opportunity from God, a gift in and of itself, then we’ll begin to see that God’s gifts come, “pressed down, shaken together and running over.”

Lord, this Lent, may we truly comprehend the lavishness of your generosity and respond with an equal joy in the gifts we give.  Amen.

Lent is a time to remember and reflect.  So we’ve asked a number of people to share their stories with us.  Today, we hear from Claudia Nauman, Chair of our Deacon team…

Paul and I arrived at Libertyville Covenant Church in 1991, both from denominations other than the Covenant. We knew no one nor anything about the Covenant, but we saw a loving group of people sharing life as a healthy Christian family. The following year we became members. I came to the Covenant as a Catholic, intimidated to be amidst those who loved and knew the Bible, for I knew next to nothing. Every Bible study that was offered at church I attended, and every opportunity to soak in more about our Triune God became a place for me to sit and learn. I am thankful that I found people in our church who were interested in walking the Christian walk, and I casually looked to a few of them to mentor me in the ways of the Bible. They taught me that disciplined studying and reading of the Bible is an expression of my love for God, and that He’s always there for me. They also taught me about prayer, both the simple act and the profound triune mystery attached to it.

In 1992 I began to read through the entire Bible for the very first time, and it was exciting but really hard.  I needed some sense of familiarity, one day while commuting downtown, and turned to one of the few OT passages I knew: Psalm 23 and across from it I spied Psalm 27, which spoke to my heart, and past hurts, and became my very first memory verse: The Lord is my light and salvation. Whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life. Of whom shall I be afraid? My being held that verse ever so closely, leaning on it to help me to break dependence on pains of the past and uncertainties of my future.

24 years later I know that verse, though I’m in a different time and a different space in life.  I’ve walked, ran, and at times hid  from my God of Psalm 27, but His promise to be my light, strength, and salvation has never changed. I, however, have. I’m His. Forever.

A Prayer of the Puritans: “A Cry for Deliverance”

Save me entirely from sin.
I know I am righteous through the righteousness of another,
but I pant and pine for likeness to Thyself.
I am Thy child and should bear Thy image,
Enable me to recognize my death unto sin;
When it tempts me may I be deaf unto its voice.
Deliver me from the invasion as well as the dominion of sin.
Grant me to walk as Christ walked,
to live in the newness of His life,
the life of love,
the life of faith,
the life of holiness.
I abhor my body of death, its indolence, envy, meanness, pride.
Forgive, and kill these vices,
have mercy on my unbelief,
on my corrupt and wandering heart.
When Thy blessings come I begin to idolize them,
and set my affection on some beloved object –
children, friends, wealth, honor;
Cleanse this spiritual adultery and give me chastity;
close my heart to all but Thee.
Sin is my greatest curse;
Let Thy victory be apparent to my consciousness, and displayed in my life.
Help me to be always devoted, confident, obedient, resigned,
childlike in my trust of Thee,
to love Thee with soul, body, mind, strength,
to love my fellow man as I love myself,
to be saved from unregenerate temper, hard thoughts,
slanderous words, meanness, unkind manners,
to master my tongue and keep the door of my lips.
Fill me with grace daily,
that my life be a fountain of sweet water.

Lent is a time to remember and reflect.  So we’ve asked a number of people to share their stories with us.  Today, we hear from Bruce Thorson, a member of our Deacon team…

I was raised in a Christian home – Christian in the sense that we went to church.  Christian in the sense that we said grace at meals. We believed in God.  But I’m not sure growing up that I ever really heard or at least understood the message of God’s love in a way that I could relate to personally.

It wasn’t until I was in college that I came into a personal relationship with Christ through the work of Campus Crusade for Christ. A friend of mine had come to faith and was meeting with the Crusade students and it seemed to me something was different about him. He had changed – and he had a new and hopeful outlook on life. A new joy in his heart. I met some of the other students in Crusade and they had the same thing.  They were different and I wanted what they had.  They told me in a way that I could relate to personally of God’s love and plan for my life. I surrendered to God’s love and asked Jesus into my heart.

It wasn’t long before I noticed a change in my own life and heart. A new quality of love and a desire to talk about God’s love to others.

Why is confession so hard for us?  Often we will sit for days, knowing that we need to confess but unwilling to do it. At other times, we will go for years pretending that all is fine rather than take that step of confessing to another what we have done.  But sitting with unconfessed sin increases our stress, steeps us in guilt, and leads to other unhealthy behaviors.  So why is confession so hard for us?

All sin harms not only ourselves but others, not matter how “personal” or “secret” that sin is.  Maybe we fear the response of the one receiving our confession.  “I’m so sorry I hurt you,” could lead to forgiveness and the restoration or strengthening of the relationship, but it can also lead to a poisonous outburst and the end of the relationship, and we can’t know which.  And so rather than facing the possibility of attack and separation, we move on with a wounded relationship devoid of life and joy.

Or perhaps we fear what the other may ask of us as payment for our sin.  Whether that punishment is public shaming, (“You will admit to my family what you have done!”) or simply a shift in power (“Yes, I was unfair, but it was nothing compared to what you did to me!”), fear grows in the face of unknown punishments.

And so we justify our sins, or ignore them, or simply live with them, suffering the soul-eating consequences of our decision.  Until we are willing to hear once again the promises of scripture in Psalm 103…

8 The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.
9 He will not always accuse, nor will he harbor his anger forever;
10 he does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities.
11 For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him;
12 as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us.

When we confess our sins to God, we don’t need to fear the dissolution of our relationship with Him.  On the contrary, we know that confession restores our relationship which is broken by sin.  Our confession strengthens our relationship with God, making it stronger than it was.

When we confess our sins to God, we don’t need to fear repercussions from Him.  Sin has a cost, but He has already paid it through Jesus Christ His Son.  Our confession allows us to live in gratitude and thankfulness rather than guilt and fear.

And confessing our sins to God makes it much easier to confess our sins to one another.  This lent, spend some time in prayer, asking God to reveal the sins we commit.  And then confess them to Him.  Your faith, your relationship with God, and your contentment in life will be the stronger for it.

Walking this journey with you,
Pastor Steve

Our high school youth recently attended the annual OneLife retreat at Covenant Point.  The video that accompanied their storysharing in worship is below.  We hope you’ll enjoy it! [embedit snippet=”onelife2016video”]

Lent is a time to remember and reflect.  So we’ve asked a number of people to share their stories with us.  Today, we hear from Merileen Thorson, a member of our Deacon team…

I heard the Gospel presented many times growing up. Billy Graham Crusades on television…Youth for Christ rallies…church services…Bible camp. Growing up in a Christian home, there were many chances to hear and respond to the salvation message. It seemed if the church doors were open, we were there. And if an invitation to accept Christ was given, I was ready. It wasn’t until I was in high school that the passage in Revelation 3:20 registered for me, “Behold, I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I WILL come in…” Somehow I had missed that assurance.

Moving on to college years, I had opportunities to grow and learn what the decision to follow Jesus I had made so many times as a young person really meant. It did not mean there would not be challenges or difficulties, but it meant there was Someone to walk with me.

The words of the old hymn, “Just as I am, without one plea,

But that Thy blood was shed for me And that Thou bidst me come to Thee

Oh Lamb of God I come, I come” remind me of a decision that has directed my life.

Today’s devotional comes from one of Jim Hawkinson’s blog post of 5 years ago.  

Shattered shards of clay pots, that’s all we really are.  Knowing it deep within and being reminded often – whether in dreams by night or everyday events – there is no hiding from our own brokenness as human beings.  Is that why the pervasive anxieties all around are so hard to truly face, much less absorb?  The Old Testament Nathan’s prophecy to King David (2 Samuel 12) was hardly spent on him.  It continues through the ages, coming down on us as well:  “You are the man!”

One can, of course, like so many keep doing, run and hide from it all, proudly pretending innocence.  We see it all the time in others and know it in ourselves, deep within.  Ought we not rather thank God that He persists in calling the likes of Nathan to break through our hidden nature and confront us with our sin?

What’s so amazing about grace is that the God who thus probes our depths does so not to destroy our lives but to recreate them from within.  Stay up on your own high hill and you will be brought low.  But receive him in the valleys of your life and you will be exalted.

Read the hymn by Joseph Hart (1712-1766) below – even sing it to the Beach Spring tune if you can. Allow it to illumine the darkness within you.  And let it awaken the joyous reminder that God sent His Son to make us whole.

Come, you sinners, poor and needy, bruised and broken by the fall;
Jesus ready standsto save you, full of pard’ning grace for all.
He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more;
He is able, He is able, He is willing, doubt no more;

Let not conscience make you linger, nor of fitness fondly dream;
All that He requires of sinners is to turn and trust in Him.
He will save you, He will save you, ‘tis the Gospel’s constant theme.
He will save you, He will save you, ‘tis the Gospel’s constant theme.

Lo! Th’ incarnate God, ascended, pleads the merit of His blood;
Venture on Him, venture wholly, let no other trust intrude;
None but Jesus, none but Jesus can do helpless sinners good.
None but Jesus, none but Jesus can do helpless sinners good.

Lent is a time to remember and reflect.  So we’ve asked a number of people to share their stories with us.  Today, we hear from Jill Heath, a member of the LCC family…

I was blessed to be born into a Christian family and raised in the Covenant church going to Sunday School. One night at age 6, I could not fall to sleep until I asked Jesus into my heart. I got out of bed and found my mom in the living room. I told her I needed to ask Jesus into my heart. She prayed with me and my life was changed forever.