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Archive | Church Connection

Learning to love grackles

Courtland-OakfieldUMCPastor Robert Eckert

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist

10295 Myers Lake Avenue

Rockford, MI 49341

Since moving to this area in 2011, I’ve gradually been adding to the number of bird feeders in the backyard of the parsonage. It’s been a thrill for this city boy to be an eyewitness to seasonal changes and corresponding changes in who comes to eat at different times of year. This past winter was the first time I saw juncos, and seeing the tufted titmice that have stopped by these first few weeks of spring has been a new experience for me, too.

As winter fades, however, I’ve been seeing more and more grackles. Grackles. It almost makes one’s skin crawl just to say the word out loud. And what is it about grackles that makes them look so sleazy? That purplish sheen they have when sunlight hits them makes them look like they’ve slunk out of an oil slick. I look out the window at them and I think, “Who invited you? What makes you think I put seed out for you to suck down your gullets?”

Yet how can I begrudge their presence among the chickadees, finches, and cardinals? I am a Christian, and Jesus, whom I attempt to follow, had something to say about how the birds of the air are fed by God’s own self. “Birds of the air,” he said, not, “the birds you want to see, Robert.”

Jesus had a thing about inclusiveness. He kept company with society’s rejects and pariahs. He touched the untouchable and spoke words of grace to the unmentionable. Jesus’ response to those who criticized him because he “welcomes sinners and eats with them,” is commonly known as The Parable of the Lost Sheep. It’s the story of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep of his flock safe in the fold to search for one who is lost until he finds it. (Luke 15:1-7).

At least one church I know of has been building its ministry since 1996 on this prayer, “God, send us the people nobody else wants or sees!”

There are at least two lessons for me in this. First, I’m grateful that God does not look at me as I look at grackles. I’m glad God isn’t looking for ways to shoo me off in favor of someone more desirable. Second, I need to learn to love all the grackles out there just as God loves this one. In God’s ecology, it’s not about competing for survival and it’s certainly not about loveliest.

Jesus’ full statement in what I’ve referenced above speaks to each one of us: “Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are?” (Matthew 6:26, Common English Bible).

Can I, can our churches, can all of us learn to welcome each child of God as God welcomes each of us?

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God Smiles

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

For two years, the world has combatted the largest Ebola epidemic in history. The current outbreak, beginning in West Africa in 2013, continues even though it has fallen off the front pages of our newspapers. Health workers have been at the forefront of combatting this disease, unselfishly submitting themselves to incredible risk in the process.

They remind me of Christ, who would walk among the diseased and infected, unafraid to touch, to heal, and to love. I heard one of these workers interviewed via radio late last year when the Ebola hysteria was at its peak. The interviewer asked: “What supplies do you need to improve your work?” The nurse gave a surprising, beautiful answer.

She said, “What we need are new biohazard suits; ones with full, clear screens so the patients can see our faces.” She spoke of how patients were scared, sick with this gruesome disease, afraid of dying, isolated from their family and friends, and were being cared for by foreigners who didn’t necessarily speak their language. She concluded: “With new suits they can see our faces…they can see us smile, and be less afraid.”

This nurse is a skilled caregiver, regardless of her technical proficiency, for she understands that the healing process requires kindness, warmth, and clarity as much as it requires antibiotics and oxygen tanks. “They can see our faces,” is simply good medicine.

Her words reminded me of the great Aaronic blessing from the Hebrew Bible: “May God bless you and protect you. May God smile on you and show you grace; look you full in the face and give you peace.” It’s good medicine for sure: to have a life that flourishes, for God to grant peace and grace, and for Providence to smile in our direction.

I don’t have to work very hard to convince you or anyone that this world is a difficult place to live. Ebola. Disappearing airplanes. Ferguson. Boundless war. The Islamic State. Extremism at every turn. And don’t forget the garden variety troubles we all have. It’s enough to blind, isolate, and paralyze us. Yet, through it all, God is smiling.

He is caring, loving, and healing, showing his face to those who will see it. And when we catch his smile, even for the briefest moment, it lets us know that he is here and that he is working to heal our hearts and our world.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.


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Janet L. Quackenbush

C-OBIT-quackenbush Janet L. Quackenbush, 80 of Sand Lake, died Sunday, April 12, 2015 at Spectrum Health Butterworth Campus. Janet was born October 6, 1934 in Grand Rapids, Michigan, the daughter of Kenneth and Leona (Barret) Swartz. She enjoyed working part time at Sand Lake Foods and socializing with the customers. She was a loving mother and grandmother. Surviving are her children, Timothy (June) Quackenbush, Robin (Bryan) Parlmer, Jill (John) Rempalski; 8 grandchildren, Cody, Janet, Jennifer, Melanie, Amber, Julie, Courtney, Bobbie Jo; 8 great grandchildren; sister, Joyce Peckham. She was preceded in death by her husband, Arnold in 2001; brother, Donald Swartz; sister, Darlene Batchelder. The family greeted friends Wednesday at the Bliss-Witters & Pike Funeral Home where services were held Thursday, April 16. Pastor Steve Lindeman officiating. Interment Sand Lake Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the Sand Lake Fire Department.

Arrangements by Bliss-Witters & Pike Funeral Home

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December 24, 1991 – April 22, 2012

You are and will always be in our Hearts and Memories.

We miss you each and every day.

Until we see you again in Heaven.

Love you forever.

All you Family and Friends

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March 29, 1989 – April 29, 2014

Until We Meet Again

Those special memories of you

will always bring a smile

if only I could have you back

for just a little while

Then we could sit and talk again

just like we used to do

you always meant so very much

and always will do too

The fact that you’re no longer here

will always cause me pain

but you’re forever in my heart

until we meet again



Today is one year since you left us. We miss you every single day.

All our love.

Dad, Mom, Ray and your children, 

Justin Alan and Mya May

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In Loving Memory of Our

Mother, Grandmother & Great Grandmother


November 4, 1938 – April 13, 2012

We thought of you today

but that is not new

We thought of you yesterday

and the day before that too

We think of you in silence

we often speak your name

All we have, our memories and

your picture in a frame

Your memory is a keepsake

from which we’ll never part

God has you in His keeping

we have you in our hearts

Still Loved, Still Miss and Always Held Dear,

Your Daughter’s Family

Cheryl and Greg Fisk

Greg Jr., Pam, Samantha and Courtney Fisk

Roger, Tasha, Adrian and Ryan Fisk

Alicia, David, Corey, Tayla and Gavin Hamilton

Kristina, Sean, April and Miranda Santoni

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Ronny R. Merlington

C-MEM-RonnyMerlington-webRonny R. Merlington

September 1, 1937 to April 13, 2014

Your life was full, good times and good friends,

Many loved ones left behind.

Our hearts still ache with sadness, and tears still flow.

Your leaving us has left a void, we fill it with

Memories of all the love we shared.

We find comfort in knowing you are home with Your Lord.

We miss you and love you so much.

Loving wife Shirley, sons Dominic and Robert and their families

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Dean Richard Chapman Sr.

C-MEM-ChapmanDean Richard Chapman Sr.

October 24, 1966 to April 10, 1986

“Music speaks what cannot be expressed

soothes the mind and gives it rest

heals the heart and makes it whole

flows from heaven to the soul.”

Remembering all the good times and looking forward to making music with you again in God’s Kingdom.

We all miss you!

Love Your Family

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Living like He’s living

Pastor Jim Alblas

Pioneer Christian Reformed Church
Cedarfield Community Center

3592 17 Mile Rd., Cedar Springs

Cedarfield Community room


In life, often times things happen that we don’t expect. I was recently playing “Words with Friends” (Online Scrabble) and found myself down by a ton of points and considered the game unwinnable. However, as the game progressed, I slowly cut away at the lead and ended up claiming the victory! I certainly didn’t expect that. In the same way, when the women went to the tomb in the early morning of Easter, they did not expect Jesus to be alive. Even though Jesus had told them He would die and rise again, they did not recall His words. Perhaps the burden of their sadness was all they could think about. As a result they and others experienced a terrible feeling of sadness, disappointment and fear. He was alive, but sadly, they were living as though He was not.

Christians today can live the same kind of way. We may know that Jesus is alive, but we don’t always show it by our actions. We see this by how we react to some of the difficult things we face in life. When we see violence, injustice and tragedy, how do we respond? Sometimes we feel like giving up and believing there’s no hope for this world. When there are times of uncertainty, how do we respond? Sometimes we worry and are filled with anxiety. When there are challenging assignments that God hands to us, how do we respond? Sometimes we doubt whether or not they can get done. If those are our responses to the difficulties of life, it sure doesn’t seem as though we are living as though He’s living. Secondly, how do we sometimes interact with the risen Lord? Sometimes we neglect our prayer lives, fail to study His words and refuse to obey how He calls us to live. Again, we may know He’s alive, but when we avoid Him in these ways, we sure don’t show it by our actions.

But I write to you today to remind you that He has risen, He has risen indeed! And if you haven’t been, I invite you to live as though He’s living!

Rather than giving up on this world, remember that Jesus is alive and at work in the world today. He can still convict the heart of even the vilest person and offers comfort to those who are the victims of awful tragedies.

Rather than being a worry wart, remember that Jesus is alive and thus will guide us through all of our times of uncertainty. Rather than doubting whether or not we can accomplish an assignment given from God, remember that Jesus is alive and will help us to complete all that we are given to do. And rather than neglecting our relationship with Jesus, remember that He is alive and strive to get to know Him and be obedient to Him more and more.

Jesus is alive—let’s live as though He’s living.

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Now that’s a different story

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

The Hasidic philosopher Martin Buber told the tale of a Jewish grandfather confined to his wheelchair. The grandfather was a master storyteller and, one day, the old man’s grandchildren gathered eagerly around his chair and asked him to tell a story about his life. Happy to oblige, the grandfather began telling a story from his childhood—how his rabbi would leap and dance during his recitation of the Psalms.

The more into it the old man got, the more he seemed to incarnate his rabbi, until unexpectedly the grandfather jumped from his wheelchair! In telling the story and acting it out, it gave new life to the old man, and his grandchildren needed no further explanation. Martin Buber concludes his tale by saying: “Now, that’s the way to tell a story!” And, I would add, that’s how to live a life, particularly a life of faith.

People of faith, and I include myself in this assessment, often fall back on hardened dogma or cascading Scripture references to explain our way of life. But frozen facts and biblical sound bites do very little to inspire life or to invite others to explore faith. These do even less to heal a fractured world.

But if we become so immersed in the story of a gracious God, so connected to his powerful narrative of redemption, so skilled in incarnating Christ that we are animated and enlivened by it, then others just might be attracted to it. It just might do some good in the world. Faith just might become a story worth telling; a story worth believing; and a story worth living.

What does his story look like? It looks like Jesus. He was humble and compassionate; full of grace and truth; the epitome of sacrificial love; forgiving toward all, and welcoming to the most repugnant among us. If our reading and living of the Bible isn’t making us more like that—more like Jesus—then, simply, we are doing something wrong.

If, in reciting our favorite verses, memorizing the text, and proclaiming the truth, we only get more angry; more suspicious; more judgmental and fixed in our self-righteousness; more indifferent and apathetic toward the world; more greedy and egocentric—then we might know some religious quotes, but we haven’t yet learned to tell the story. But when we become what Christ was saying, rather than offer trite, formulaic answers, then that, is another story altogether.

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.


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