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Archive | From the Pulpit

Conflict: the great distraction

Pastor Kristi Rhodes

Hillcrest Community Church

5994 18 Mile Rd. Cedar Springs, MI 49319

 

One thing everyone will come face to face with at some point in their life (some more than others), is conflict.  Sadly enough, it has the power to destroy relationships, friendships and even entire families. Just imagine the devastation it causes churches, which only distracts from the very purpose for their existence.

While watching a National Geographic episode on animal communities in the wild, it reminded me of the safari we were on in Africa a couple years ago. There were very large herds of antelope and other various animals. Normally they are very alert to predators. However, as two of the antelope began to fight, others in the herd seemed to become absorbed in the fight and soon they were oblivious to the fact that there was a lion prowling around just watching for an opportunity to attack.

This is the very picture that God paints for us in His Word. He tells us in 1 Peter 5:8 that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour! This spoke to me as a strong warning for the Church. In the church, when we fight one another, we become distracted and vulnerable to attack. The more people that get distracted by getting involved in various disputes, the less effective we become for God’s Kingdom in ministry.  

I see it on a more personal level with individual families. If Satan, the enemy of our soul, can keep God’s children distracted by fighting each other, we won’t be fighting him. He will be able to just prance in and devour our young, weak and vulnerable. Then we wonder, how did this happen?

Life here on earth involves many battles in which God promises you victory through Jesus Christ. There are always going to be challenges, difficulties and problems to solve. Still there are times when they intensify, and we seem to be coming under major attack. Martin Luther King said that the ultimate measure of a person is not where we stand when things are going great, but where we stand in moments of challenge, moments of great crisis and controversy.   

There are many verses in Proverbs as well as throughout the Bible that contrast the “wise and the foolish.” A few things I’ve learned (and I’m still learning) 

  • Avoid unnecessary quarrelling—don’t sweat the small stuff or the disputable matters.  
  • Seek wise counsel; not just anyone who will listen. Don’t involve others in your disagreement. Gossip is another ugly distraction.
  • Trust that God can bring good out of evil. Turn it over to Him and follow His lead.
  • Strengthen one another. Pray for each other.

Let’s be vigilant as God instructs us. Focus on what unites instead of what divides.

We need unity in the family of believers, united in Christ for battle against the real enemy. Less fighting each other and more fighting the real enemy. That’s where we truly belong!

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Dealing with thorns

Pastor Ryan Black

Cedar Springs Christian Church

340 West Pine Street, Cedar Springs

 

Have you ever cried out to God to remove a thorn, a problem from your life? Even Paul, from the Bible, experienced ongoing weakness, which Scripture calls “a thorn.” Though we don’t know the nature of his condition, it may have been depression, anxiety, a relationship, infirmity, etc. Scripture tells us that Paul reportedly prayed to God three  times to remove it, but God’s answer to him was this: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” 2 Corinthians 12:9.

Be strong. Avoid weakness. The world tells us in so many ways that showing human weakness is inappropriate, is not an option, especially to succeed in any area of life. Yet, the Bible has a completely different take on weakness and vulnerability. Sure, we all have times in our lives when we experience various forms of weakness due to medical infirmity, disability, mental health issues, grief, loneliness, relationship issues, financial challenges, or other adverse circumstances. The truth is, we all experience times of weakness, which is just part and parcel of our being human. 

Certainly, we all have thorns at times that annoy us, distract us, even derail us, from our life-mission to serve God with all our being and to live life to the fullest. Thorns can affect our comfort zone and leave us feeling alone and devoid of God’s love—even abandoned. Yet most of the challenges we face can bring us closer to God if we let them. Obstacles can enable us to choose between becoming bitter or better. Make no mistake about it; perspective is a conscious choice. We get to choose what we think about, and it is vitally important to accept our own weaknesses and those of others, as we focus on moving forward in our daily lives. Otherwise our shortcomings could bog us down and overwhelm us, stopping us in our tracks.

Even Jesus—who was fully divine and fully human—experienced weakness. When His crucifixion was imminent, he asked God the Father to “let this cup pass me by, if it be Thy will.” Despite worldly wisdom, there is much to be learned through weakness. Through our weaknesses, we can learn to deal with and accept our own imperfections and those of others. We are able to grow in compassion for others’ shortcomings and weaknesses with empathy, and seek God fervently as we come to recognize there is nowhere else to turn but towards Him.

Learning to live with our weaknesses, our own thorns and imperfections, is so important for growing in faith. It is our great field of labor, as we must strive to conquer our own thorns and fears before we can be of help and service to those around us who are vulnerable. May we learn much from Jesus and Paul and from their thorns, as we embark on the journey to serve God with complete abandon, according to His plan for our lives, rather than our own.

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God moves in a mysterious way

Pastor Richard Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Road NE, Sparta

 

Recently I was in a conversation with someone who asked, “How can a loving God send anyone to hell?” Most of us have heard that question in some form, or we may have even asked it ourselves at some time. There is no single response for everyone, but the one I particularly favor is, “A person must know God themselves in order to understand the answer.” For myself, only when I became a Christian, did I understand that the better question for me is, “Why does a holy God provide a way for sinners like me to enter his heaven?”  

The prophet Isaiah wrote: “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6, NIV).  Isaiah tells us how to seek God: “while he may be found and while he is near;” implying there may be a time when God may not be found or near. So, when is the time he can be found and near? Right now, today.

There is a timeless truth in the first verse of a hymn written by William Cowper in 1774, “God moves in a mysterious way, his wonders to perform; he plants his footsteps in the sea and rides upon the storm.” This is not citing a bible verse, but it is based on what we read in scripture, “God moves in mysterious ways.”                                                                                                                                          

Yes, having said that, you still can know him. He makes himself knowable to those who seek him in their lives. As good as that may sound, the even better news is that the God of the universe knows you personally and the fact that we can talk to God is absolutely amazing.    

This passage from Isaiah has become more dear to me over the years, as there was a time when I was living my life apart from God. Some people can’t find God in the same way a criminal can’t find a policeman, because they aren’t looking for him. Knowing God is just like knowing anyone else, I learned that I had to spend time with him, to be still and listen, to study his word, spend time in prayer and go to church. 

Of course, we need to know that God is so great that we will never fully understand him. Although we can and should know God, we cannot know everything about him. That may seem strange, but for those who are married, you surely know your spouse, but you don’t know everything about them. In our marriage of over 50 years, we are still being surprised from time to time with each other’s thoughts or actions.   

Inside all of us there is a longing to fill our lives with purpose and meaning. We can chase what the world offers, but our own pursuits always fall short.  Isaiah the prophet gives us this wisdom, “Truly you are a God who hides himself, O God and Savior of Israel” (Isaiah 45:15, NIV).  God brings us a kind of Savior we never would have expected, one who sympathizes with us in our weakness, while he works through our triumphs and tragedies.    

The word mysterious means “difficult … to understand, explain, or identify.” Based on this definition, God’s ways become both mysterious and not mysterious to us in some ways, and the Bible clearly explains how. God truly moves in mysterious ways; get to know him more today.

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Start Here

Pastor Dallas Burgeson

The Springs Church 

135 N. Grant, Cedar Springs

 

Jesus said this in John 15:14-16 (NIV): “You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit—fruit that will last—and so that whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you. 

Three verses. A person could find a lot to think about in any of the three: The analogy of servants and masters. The idea that I could actually be God’s friend! The pregnant possibilities in the statement that “…whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.” So many directions you could go. But instead, let’s hold these thoughts all together and see what happens.

Friends of God are people who are already in the process of doing what God has asked them to do. Because of this, they are not only doing but being something very different in comparison to other people. If I’m reading my Bible clearly—both following its threads from the front cover to the back and noticing the details in this book and chapter—I  think that much of the “everything” that Jesus was learning from His Father had to do with both being and doing.

Who was being honored in every moment? Jesus always found His purpose and His identity in His Father. Where was the next leg of His mission going to take place? Jesus was always present with people, and yet was always on His way somewhere. Who was the next person or group of people who needed to hear a fully-dressed Good News? Who was the next person or group of people who needed desperately to experience the presence of the living God? These, I believe, were the preoccupations of Jesus, and so He told those closest to Him “…go, and bear fruit…

But He also made sure they understood that they were supposed to pursue “fruit that will last.” How many of the things you’re doing today will actually last? If you’re not sure many of them will, it seems to me that you need to find a stopping point in your busyness to reorganize your priorities.

Jesus has already done everything necessary to make you a friend of God. Are you prepared to do everything He asks of you? God’s Spirit is very interested, willing, able, and present to guide you in doing things with your life that will have permanent significance. There is a Bible with God’s words recorded in it that will give you structure and insight into how all this works. And there are churches full of God’s friends all around you, trying to do these same things. Are you wondering where to start with God? Start here.

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A perfect storm

Pastor Robert P. Smith

First Baptist Church

233 Main St, Cedar Springs

 

One of my favorite gospel songs is “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus.” I remember singing this song as a small child in church services. As a young person growing up in church, I remember hearing over and over again the Bible story of a man who took his eyes off Jesus and nearly drowned. 

Do you know this song? Is it one of your favorites? Do you remember the words to the chorus?

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.”

According to these words, it isn’t until we “look full” into Jesus’ face that we will look away from earthly things. I believe to “look full” is to give our complete attention to Jesus. It is to see Him and only Him alone through the Bible. The earthly things that appear to offer us so much satisfaction or security will be seen as shallow and superficial compared to the eternal reward of seeing Jesus.

One of my favorite stories of Jesus is when he directed his disciples to cross over to the town of Bethsaida while he went up on the mountain to pray. It was there, alone on the mountain, that Jesus noticed the disciples’ struggle out on the water. The Bible says, “the wind was against them.” 

The human tendency during difficulty is to imagine the face of God with blind eyes, but the Bible teaches the opposite. God sees. God knows. God cares. God acts. True followers of Christ are special objects of His sovereign care and compassion. We’ll know his care when we cast our concerns on him.

The very waves that the disciples feared became the way he entered into their struggle. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.” And when he got into their boat, the wind ceased. When “the wind is against you” do you know that he is with you? If we are not going to be beaten down by the storm we must believe in the One who can calm it. Remember his promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Storms will come. Who do you see in them?

“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” Helen H. Lemmel, Singspiration

 

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The one important truth

Pastor Darryl Miller

Sand Lake/South Ensley United Methodist churches 

616-636-5659

 

Proverbs 1:7: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction (NIV).

April 29 was a “fifth Sunday.” Four times a year we have five Sundays in a month. Several years ago, a woman came to me after services and asked if I would answer some questions for her. I said that I would be glad to and she proceeded to ask about the symbols around the church, the reason for the colors of the cloths and many more questions. It was at this time I realized that I had been neglecting one of my responsibilities as a pastor. I had not been explaining the symbols and the meaning of the various articles and traditions around the church. From that began “Question Sunday.” When there is a fifth Sunday, the people that I serve submit any questions that they have and I do my best to answer them. The questions have ranged from simple curiosity to scriptural thoughts. I have been told by many of the congregations that they really look forward to these days and that they get a lot from them. The truth is that I enjoy them as well. I love to learn and the bible challenges us to study the word, not just to read it. And often I am asked a question that opens up a new line of thought for me.

But as much fun as these days are I always end the day with a reminder. The one truth that we all need to understand is that, as stated in John 3:16, “God loves us so much that He sent His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life” (paraphrased).

Understanding the sacrifice of Jesus for us, and understanding that it was an act of unconditional love, is the most important knowledge that we can have. And the best thing to do with knowledge is to share it. God loves you. Jesus loves you. This is the truth. Share it with the world!

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God’s Good Earth

Rev. Kim DeLong

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake Ave N.E.

Rockford, MI  49341

 

I love the seasons in Michigan. Spring makes my heart sing. Watching brown grass turn green. Flowers poking green leaves up through snow, then suddenly blooming in a cacophony of color. Goldfinch feathers turning to bright yellow and robins pecking in the grass for worms. Chipmunks emerging from their long winter sleep to shinny up the poles of the birdfeeders and compete for the sunflower seeds. All of it is a wonder. 

So often we are in such a hurry. When it’s spring, we’re impatient for summer. When it’s summer, we’re anxious for cooler fall temperatures. Bare trees of autumn can make us eager for the pristine white of the first snowfall.

I encourage you to slow down and simply enjoy the good creation God continues to bring forth. Savor the sunshine. Listen to the rainfall. Watch the birds build their nests.  Be fully present in every moment of this amazing season.

Best of all, share the wonder of it all with a child if you have opportunity.  

Children are naturally curious. Cultivating wonder at a young age can create a lifetime attitude of care for God’s good earth. Consider helping a child grow a tomato or bush green bean plant in a container. Let them water it. Watch wide-eyed with them as flowers appear and tiny beans and tomatoes begin to grow.

God has created an amazing world. Let’s not rush past it or through the days that we have. Especially when life is tough, taking a few moments to gaze at the stars or watch the clouds float by can bring us to experiencing the presence of the God who loves all of the universe, including us. 

  

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The Torn Veil 

Pastor David Vander Meer

Rockford Springs Community Church 

5815 Fourteen Mile Rd NE, Rockford, MI 49341

 

Imagine with me a curtain, 60 feet high, by 30 feet wide. That is the height of a six-story building. It was reported that the curtain was as thick as a man’s hand breath, and so heavy that 300 priests would be employed to move and care for it. The historian Josephus writes (Wars 5,5,4) “It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful.” 

This impressive curtain was in the Jewish temple at the time of the death of Jesus Christ. It separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, did the High Priest move the veil, and enter the Holy of Holies, and not without blood from the sacrifice that occurred in the court yard. And so the Israelite people learned from God how He was to be approached in worship. He was holy. There had to be a mediator with blood to enter His presence. 

But at the moment Jesus died, God tore the veil from the top to the bottom. Imagine what a noise that made. What did the High Priest think when he looked upon that great curtain, now in two pieces? 

But the crucial question is: “What did all this mean?” Why did God tear the veil—th very veil that God instructed the Israelites to construct, to separate His holiness from them, he suddenly destroys. Why? There are several answer and they are all great! 

In the Bible, Hebrews 9 teaches us that we have a new High Priest, Jesus the Christ. He is better than the old High Priest because He brings His own blood as our eternal sacrifice, and He does not need to enter, year after year, but only once. And this same High Priest, Jesus Christ, now lives in Heaven to pray for us. He is not in a building made by human hands, but rather in the heavens, seated at the right hand of God. And here is further good news, we can enter into His Holy presence, in the name of Jesus Christ, to speak personally with our Father. 

And, on top of all this, comes another important truth. God no longer resides in a temple, in a particular geographical location, but now He lives in the church. I Cor 3 says: 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (ESV) 

So, two great pictures for us to consider are displayed at the tearing of the veil. God invites us in because He is satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ. And two, God, by the power of His Spirit, has come out to be with us. I am so glad God tore the veil. This is great news. This is the gospel. Come, turn from any, and all sin, and enter into the Holy presence of God, and be prepared for Him to come into you. There is no longer any need to stay out, we are called to come in. AMEN! 

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Bad day

Rev. Chadrick Brown

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma Ave NE

Cedar Springs, MI 49319

 

As you read this, let me ask you a question and then I want you to pause and really think about it. How’s your day going? How has your week been? Good? Bad? Here’s a little way you can tell if it’s going to be a rotten day. 

You know it’s going to be bad when you see a Fox news team in your office. Or, you call Suicide Prevention and they put you on hold. It’s going to be a bad day when you turn on the news and they’re showing emergency routes out of the city. Or, when your twin sister or brother forgot your birthday. It’s going to be a bad day when your car horn goes off accidentally and remains stuck as you follow a group of Hell’s Angels on the freeway. Or when your boss tells you not to bother to take off your coat. It’s going to be a bad day when your income tax check bounces. Or when you put both contact lenses in the same eye. All these scenarios will create one bad day.  

I hope some of those things put a smile on your face, but here is the reality—we are in for some bad days no matter what we do or don’t do. So, friend, this may be a lame encouragement, but it helps get me through some tough days and brings some perspective. There is always someone who has it worse off than I do. Be thankful you’re not that person, put a smile on your face, walk tall and stay strong. The bad day will end. Another day will come. God is watching over you and He cares and loves you so very much. And just a word of advice… as Spring comes, watch out for those Hell’s Angels that may be coming down 131. 

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Live Backwards

Rev. Bill Johnson

Cedar Springs United Methodist

140 S. Main St. • Cedar Springs, MI  49319

 

“If you want to know how to live your life, think about what you would like people to say about you after you die … and live backwards.”

All who routinely use the Internet have grown accustomed to a barrage of unbidden wisdom filling our inboxes. Urbane or not, it is for the most part harmless. Some of it is forwarded to friends and family, while other pieces find their way into the recycle bin. The above anonymous quote surfaced recently, and survived below the radar of “junk mail.” 

A long-ago seminary course comes to mind, called “The Minister and Contemporary Human Life Crises.” We studied a range of common events faced by humans from birth to death. In the section on death and dying we were asked to write our own obituary. I remember how difficult that was, because as a young adult I had not yet dealt with “numbering my days” as the psalmist wisely advised. 

Does the suggestion to think about death bring some discomfort? I know it wouldn’t be on my top ten list of waking thoughts each day. Yet as people with an interest in the religious side of life, who among us doesn’t consider the end of our days, once in a while?  

Christians around the world have recently observed the season of Lent, the season when we especially do the things we say we should do all year. Namely, we practice the spiritual disciplines. Protestants and Roman Catholics consider the rich traditions like prayer and fasting, and we often enter the season of Easter with new religious habits, rituals that help form and reform us. We have learned to say goodbye to some old ways, and have created new or renewed paths toward deeper faith. Some would use the words death and Resurrection to describe this experience. 

In the northern hemisphere the earth emerges from its cold tomb in April (hope springs eternal!) so perhaps this is a good time to consider how we’d like to begin reordering our lives, renewing them to live as we would like people to speak of us when we’re gone? Can we take some moments amid the pounding pace of life? Or, if your pace doesn’t pound quite as much as it used to, carve out some space each day for creating and recreating a connection with God? For some that could mean a new prayer life. Others might practice tithing for a season. Others may find a need in the community that draws attention. Others may atone for some wrong doing, and others may rejoice in a new vision of God’s grace at work. 

The whole point is to die to some old way of being that holds you back from God’s desire for you. Imagine how life can be better! Think about what you would like people to say about you after you die…and live backwards.

It could be the most forward thing you have ever done.

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