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Archive | From the Pulpit

Speaking the Truth In Love

Rev. Kim DeLong

Courtland Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake Ave NE • Rockford, MI 49341

 

Our worship series for the month of August at Courtland Oakfield United Methodist Church is titled “…In Love.”  Given the public and political discourse lately, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and praying about what it means to “speak the truth in love.” In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians he tells us that speaking the truth in love means building each other up, and growing up ourselves into becoming the Body of Christ.

It reminds me of a wonderful woman of the church in which I grew up. Betsy was not outspoken, but when she did speak everyone listened. Her words were always wise and kind. When she offered critique, it was constructive; never tearing a person down, but offered in such a way that the person knew they were loved.

I’m grateful for Betsy’s example for how to speak the truth in love. I’m grateful for the wise words and helpful suggestions she offered. Her words and the manner in which she spoke let me and others know that she was cheering us on. What she said helped us grow, to become more mature in our actions and our own words.

People like Betsy give me hope that we really can be kind to one another, that there is a way to offer helpful comments or a differing opinion that doesn’t tear another person down even if those in the public and political arena continue to descend into harmful and hurtful speech. Mature persons who can speak the truth—and do it with care—offer us an example of how we might disagree without being disagreeable.  

Who has built you up either with their words or their actions? How can we use our words so that they contribute toward understanding each other rather than creating distance between us? We cannot control other people’s behavior but we can control our own. Let us begin by speaking with kindness and generosity even when we disagree, especially when we disagree. In doing so, we offer others the hope of a world that can build each other up, not tear each other down. 

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Forgiveness

Pastor David Vander Meer

Rockford Springs Community Church 

5815 Fourteen Mile Rd NE, Rockford, MI 49341

 

When the Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples how to pray, in Matthew 6: 9-15, he guided them through what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer. Every phrase is rich in meaning, every sentence is personal and relative to our lives, and every sentence is God centered and Christ exalting.  

Note the prayer again:

Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name.
10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us this day our daily bread,
12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (ESV)

But the sentence that shocks us like jumping through a frozen Michigan pond is the sentence: 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Oh, we want forgiveness, and desperately need it… but we do not want our forgiveness compared to how we forgive others. And, as if that is not enough, the Lord immediately follows up the prayer with a comment directed specifically at this petition for forgiveness by adding this comment: 14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (ESV)

We are like a boxer reeling on the ropes after being hit by not just one punch, but by a volley of punches. We reel on the ropes, not just theologically, but also experientially.

Theologically we know that we are forgiven on the basis of the righteous life and death of Jesus Christ. His work is acceptable to God, and not mine. So clearly the action of forgiveness on our part towards others is proof of salvation, not the achievement of salvation. But that being said, how vital is this proof for without it we may indeed stand condemned, and not saved.

Forgiving each other is not an option.

The requirement of forgiveness towards each other is not removed due to any excuses I may draft up.

But we might as well as admit it. We cannot forgive without God’s help. Our hurts, too often, run too deep. Our tendency to carry a grudge is so strong. Our memory of what was said calls up the damaging event over and over through the night. Releasing the offender is not in our nature.

And so the Lord teaches us in this text to pray. We pray, and plead, and petition our God to help us. And when the joy of forgiveness comes through the resurrecting power of Christ, we worship him for the release it brings us of evil. To not forgive is evil. We know that. And Christ has the power to break the grip of evil in our lives. How wonderful it is to come to our Lord and ask of Him to do that which He has done for us. As Jesus said, pray then like this.

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No fear

Pastor Bill Dixon

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma Ave NE

Cedar Springs, MI 49319

 

Fear is something that we all experience and struggle with at times. For some it may be fear of the unknown. For others, it may be fear of not having enough. Fear of the future. Fear of change. Fear of failure. Fear of disease. Fear of death. Fear of rejection. Fear of not being good enough. Fear of not being strong enough. Fear of not being worthy enough. Fear of not being loved. Fear of being alone. The list could go on. The point is, fear is a powerful emotion that we all struggle with at times. Fear is so powerful that it has the power to immobilize us, to take control of our lives, to rob us of the joy and peace that is ours in Christ. But listen, here is good news. Fear doesn’t have to control our lives. Fear doesn’t have to have any power in our lives unless we allow it to. 

So, the question is, what do we do when fear comes knocking on the doors our hearts? The way I see it, we have two options. Option one is to do nothing and allow fear to wreak havoc in our lives. Option two is to do something about it. One of the last sermon series I preached in Indiana before moving back to Michigan was called, No Fear. In this series, I challenged everyone to make a stand against fear. One of the best ways to stand against fear is to stand on the Word of God. 

One of my favorite Psalms is Psalm 23. I forgot who said it, but I remember someone saying that this was a Psalm that “calmed the soul.” I would agree. Verses 4-5 say, “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.” 

Here it is, King David knew that no matter what challenge or difficulty came his way, his God was right there by his side. David knew that his God was not a God who left His children hanging. David knew that there was nothing too great or too difficult for his God to overcome. 

Here’s good news, we too serve the same God as David. We too have a God who is right by our side no matter what comes our way. We too have a God who will not leave us hanging. 

I encourage you today to not allow fear to gain one inch of ground in your life. Make a stand against fear by standing on the Word of God. Commit to memorizing Psalm 23 and other passages that deal with fear and every time fear pops its ugly head up in your life, squash it with the truth. 

My family and I are excited to be part of this community. We are honored to lead Solon Center Wesleyan Church. We are looking forward to partnering with other local churches in our community to help change one life at a time. Be encouraged today and fear not. 

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Unnoticed latticework

Rev. Bill Johnson

Cedar Springs United Methodist

140 S. Main St.

Cedar Springs, MI  49319

 

There is a passage of scripture that seldom makes its way into the pulpit, as far as I know. Perhaps this is because it includes intricate details that some would find tedious–a description of work done by a bronze artisan whom Solomon contracted to help complete the Temple. Solomon is given credit for being the construction engineer and the builder of much of the Temple, but he recognized that Hiram from Tyre had special skills and knowledge in bronze that Solomon needed in order to cap off his building project. 

1 Kings 7 tells the story, and in between the lines there is something of real importance. Hiram’s work was magnificent and beautiful, yet much of his best work was on the tops of pillars, eighteen cubits (thirty feet) off the ground. Without aerial photography, no one would see the splendid contribution of this artist to this architectural masterpiece of its day; that is, no one but God.

In his devotional book, 200 Pomegranates and an Audience of One, Shawn Wood uses this story to remind readers that we can make a difference in the world sometimes for the lasting enjoyment of others, but also sometimes for God’s eyes only. It is a message of hope, that even if our contribution seems to go unnoticed by others, God sees and values our work.

There is power in unnoticed contributions…the small acts of kindness like caring notes written to homebound members, phone calls or emails to speak a word of encouragement or thanks, or even to hold someone accountable to a promise. Atop the visible pillars of life rest many generous acts of faith that will never be known. Like sparkling bronze latticework seen only from above, God values this work.

Recognition is wonderful; human reward has its place. Just ask anyone who has ever earned an award or medal in competition. But never doubt the value of less notable acts done with love; they are not wasted. God, who knows our hearts, our acts, is finally the one whose recognition matters most. 

In a culture that celebrates the glitter and flash of show-stopping worship and ministries drawing headlines and praise, it is not what we receive from them that matters as much as what is given without fanfare. I’m betting that Hiram knew this as he crafted his pomegranates of bronze. On the tops of shiny pillars that earn our respect and honor, are hidden some of the most splendid gifts. Know that God sees them. 

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Jesus is praying for you

Pastor Mike Shiery

Pilgrim bible church

West Pine Street • Cedar Springs

 

“And the Lord said, ‘Simon, Simon! Indeed, Satan has asked for you, that he may sift you as wheat. 

But I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail; and when you have returned to Me, strengthen your brethren.’” (Luke 22:31-32) (NKJV)

It was a somber moment. Jesus and His disciples had been celebrating the Jewish Passover with a meal that we now commonly call “The Last Supper.” Most of the men gathered there that night did not fully comprehend the momentous events which were soon to follow. Jesus would be betrayed, arrested, tortured, and executed. Those dark moments of seeming disaster would be followed by one of the most glorious days in all of human history, the resurrection of Jesus from the dead. 

Against that background, Jesus took the time to specifically speak into the life of one of His best and most flawed followers. He knew that in the next few hours, Peter would deny and forsake Him, cursing and turning His back on the Man he had traveled with and worked with for the last three years. 

Peter was bold, braggadocious, zealous, hardworking, loving, impetuous, and inherently flawed. At the core of his nature was a shameful hidden secret. Beneath all his bragging and bluster, Peter had a cowardly streak. The man who once vowed to die for Jesus would in reality deny his best friend in order to save his own skin.

Knowing all of this, it is heartening to see that Jesus did not lash out in anger and revenge. Instead He spoke words of encouragement and love to Peter. Jesus knew that after the passion of the moment passed, Peter would be eaten alive with remorse and sorrow. So Jesus basically told Peter that when he was feeling most alone and worthless (as a result of his own stupid decisions), to remember that Jesus had prayed for him and would be willing to restore him.

It would do us well to remember that when we have failed and see only a trail of disaster behind us, that Jesus still loves us and is praying for us. He is the God of mercy and desires to bring restoration to your life. When the world looks at you and says, “It’s over,” God looks at you and says, “I’m not done with you!” No matter how dark your circumstances, remember that with God working in your life, there is always hope! Never resist His love.

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Love is all we need

Pastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson Church

9024 18 Mile Rd, Cedar Springs

 

“What the world needs now… is love sweet love. That’s the only thing that there’s just too little of.” I bet the tune came to you! Dionne Warwick sang the song back in 1968 and it was really needed in that turbulent year when Martin Luther King and Bobby Kennedy were killed. The Vietnam War was raging, and protests and riots filled the streets. This song about love pierced through the cacophony of anger and anxiety of those days.  

The funny thing is that someone recently sang that song at an event I attended and the words rang true again. The song is needed in these turbulent times of discord and division. It seems as though this is a time when no one knows what to believe anymore. No one knows whom to trust.

But love transcends time and is something to hold onto. It is in a simple answer that Jesus gave to an inquiring expert wanting to know which law was the most important. He answered, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind; and, love your neighbor as yourself» (Luke 10:27 NIV).

He simplified all the rules and laws into these two things. Love God. Love people. He didn’t qualify it in any way. It was and is a wide open entreaty to everyone and is as relevant today as ever.  

Love for God and neighbor is like two sides of one coin. They are two different things yet they are one. Still, we all know that love is complicated. It is a lot of different emotions and actions. Here are just a few ways to look at this complicated thing called love.  

Love is a function of surrender. Loving God is surrendering our will and our hearts and our trust to God. Surrendering to God means we set aside our own plans and look for God’s plan for us. The good news is that God wants the best for us! When we love God, it means we place our humble trust in Him and show others that God can be trusted with everything in our lives. The more we surrender to God, the more our human nature is replaced by a nature that looks more and more like Jesus.

Love is a function of commitment. We might feel warmed with gratitude when we consider all that God has done for us but love is more than being thankful. It is a stubborn, unwavering commitment to God and others. To love our neighbor is to imitate God by taking their needs seriously just as God takes our needs seriously.

Love is a function of compassion. Compassion for others is the reflection of God’s loving compassion for us. It is having an interest and concern in the welfare of our neighbor. It is the generosity of giving of ourselves; not just money but concern, interest, time and involvement. 

We humans search for love because we are made in the image of God and God is love. When we read deeply into the scriptures, when we don’t simply take a thin slice at them we discover that every action that God has taken toward humanity is because He loves us. So let us surrender to God, commit our lives, and be compassionate to others as we work to live the way of Jesus Christ in all we do. Love is all you need.   

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So no one can boast

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

 

“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” Ephesians 2:8,9.

I have read those two verses hundreds of times. They are go-to verses when it comes to describing how someone is saved. They tell us that our rescue comes by grace and is applied through our faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. This is usually my understanding of these verses, but recently I read them and was struck by the last phrase of verse 9, “so that no one can boast.” The process that God chose to use to save us was used for a reason, and that reason is so that no one can boast. In other words, the gospel and the process by which we are saved is such as it is because it is designed to eradicate something from our life, and that something is boasting. 

Boasting is defined as “to speak with exaggeration and excessive pride, especially about oneself.” I believe this is one of the greatest temptations that we face as Christians today. We want others to think well of us. We want others to know about our greatest accomplishments. We want others to take notice of all the great things in our life. If we are not careful we can easily find our lips filled with conversation about ourselves, and not the One who made our lips to speak of His greatness. The gospel at its core reminds us that we have nothing to boast about except to boast about the Lord. We have not been saved by anything other than an act of scandalous love called grace; it’s not something we deserve and our only contribution was a simple act of faith, therefore we have no reason to boast, except to boast in the Lord (1 Cor. 1:28-31).  

The world we live in doesn’t need to see or hear more about our gifting or our accomplishments, they need to see and hear more about the One who came to rescue them. As redeemed children of the Most High, our conversation should be filled with less about us and more about Him. And when we do happen to get recognized by the world for something we have done, we should be quick to not boast in ourselves, but instead use the opportunity as a chance to boast about our Savior!  After all, He alone holds the power to save!  

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“Live by the Spirit” (Gal. 5:16)

Father Lam T. Le, Pastor

St. John Paul II Parish

3110 17 Mile Rd

Cedar Springs, Michigan 49319

616-696-3904

 

June is the time that we celebrate commencement exercises of our high schoolers. This is a time of joy and excitement for all! 

To the families, especially moms and dads, you probably watched your son/daughter graduate with joy and amazement. It probably seemed like it was just yesterday that you held this newborn child in your arms and now he/she is about to enter the world as an adult. As an uncle of five nieces and nephews, I now begin to share this joy and amazement with my brothers and sisters as my oldest nephew just graduated from high school. Thank you to all parents for accepting the gift of life and being a good steward of such a gift.

To the graduates, some of you will continue your education in colleges/universities; some will enter the work force; and some will take time off to explore the world and discern God’s plan for your life. What an exciting time! Many of you will be on your own for the first time. Not living under your parents’ roof will provide a certain sense of freedom. You are still their son/daughter, but now you will be making your own decisions. With this freedom comes with great responsibility. I encourage you to make wise choices for all the actions in your life. 

How does one make good choices in our life? “Live by the Spirit” (Gal 5:16) is the advice of the Apostle Paul to the Galatians. This is good advice. When we live according to the guidance of God’s spirit, our lives will bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit as well. The apostle continues:  “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control” (5:22-23).  

Ask yourself these questions when making decisions: Is this choice motivated by love for God and others? Will it increase joy for those involved? Will it preserve a sense of peace in the environment? Will it be an act of kindness and an expression of generosity? Will it be a faithful response to God’s love and relations with others? Is it an act of gentleness and shows my maturity in overcoming selfishness? If the action does not lead to these fruits, then it is not living by the Spirit and therefore, not a good choice.

Congratulations to all the graduates! May you live by the spirit so as to find true happiness in the exciting journey ahead of you! May you bear the fruits of the Holy Spirit and transform the world, which is filled with the “fruits of the flesh” (Gal 5:19-20). Graduates of 2018, you are called to be salt of the earth and light of the world (Mt 5: 13;14).   Amen.

In addition to being the priest of St. John Paul II Parish, Cedar Springs, Father Lam also proudly serves as Pastor of Mary Queen of Apostles Parish, 1 W Maple Street, Sand Lake, MI. 49343. Phone 616-636-5671.

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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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