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Archive | From the Pulpit

Living water

Father Lam T. Le, Pastor

St. John Paul II Parish

3110 17 Mile Rd • Cedar Springs

616 696 3904

Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water” (John 4:10).

On Easter Sunday, the faithful walk into a Catholic Church and are sprinkled with holy water. One might ask: Why is there the custom of blessing with holy water and why is it on Easter?  

Why the use of holy water? Being an age-old custom, water is one of the things that the Church often uses in blessing the faithful and things that are important to us in this earthly life. This reminds us of the conversation between Jesus and the Samaritan woman: “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again; but whoever drinks the water I shall give will never thirst; the water I shall give will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (Jn 4:13-14). So, the holy water reminds us that Christ, who called Himself the living water (Jn 4:10), and who has given to us the supreme divine blessings, in water established baptism for our sake as the sacramental sign that brings salvation. 

One of the prayers of blessing of water explains succinctly: “Blessed are you, Lord, all-powerful God, who in Christ, the living water of salvation, blessed and transformed us.  Grant that, when we are sprinkled with this water or make use of it, we will be refreshed inwardly by the power of the Holy Spirit and continue to walk in the new life we received at baptism. We ask this through Christ our Lord. Amen” (see Book of Blessings, no. 1396).

This leads us to why sprinkle holy water on Easter Sunday? At the Easter Vigil, the most solemn liturgy of the Church, the water from the baptismal font of the Church is solemnly blessed. And from this font, we baptize our brothers and sisters. On Easter Sunday, for those who cannot attend the Easter Vigil, “let this water call to mind our baptism into Christ, who has redeemed us by His death and resurrection” (see Book of Blessings, no. 1396). Being sprinkled with holy water is thanking the Lord who renews all in Christ through His death and resurrection. Alleluia! Alleluia, Alleluia.

May these 50 days of Easter be a joyful time for all of you because Christ is our living water.

(Father Lam also is the Pastor of Mary Queen of Apostles Parish, 1 West Maple St, Sand Lake, Michigan 49343 phone: 616 636 5671.)

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Love when all seems lost

Pastor Mike Wittmer

Cedar Springs Baptist Church

233 S Main, Cedar Springs

Joseph of Arimathea performed a necessary though often overlooked role in the Easter story. And next to the suffering of our Lord, his task may have been the most difficult.

Joseph was a wealthy, prominent member of the Jewish council that voted to crucify Jesus (Mark 15:43). He disagreed with their verdict but kept his decision to himself (Luke 23:50-51). He “was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders” (John 19:38 NIV). 

There was nothing Joseph could do to stop the council’s trumped-up charges and false witnesses. Their mind was made up. Joseph cringed as his colleagues mocked Jesus’ claims to be the Messiah, spit in his face, struck him with their fists, and shouted that he must die (Matthew 26:65-67). He watched helplessly as they handed Jesus over to the Romans, who promptly crucified his Lord. The kingdom of God had been defeated again (Luke 23:51).

There was nothing left to do. Nothing that would make a difference. But Jesus’ death had freed Joseph from fear. The dream had died. He had nothing left to lose. Joseph’s hopes had been crucified, but he still had love. It was far too late to help Jesus now, but he might do something to express his devotion. Joseph took a deep breath and paid a visit to Pontius Pilate, the Roman governor who had condemned his Lord. He asked Pilate for Jesus’ body. Pilate said yes.

Joseph took along Nicodemus, another secret disciple. They gingerly pulled the nails out of Jesus’ wrists and ankles and lowered his body to the ground. They wrapped his corpse in spices and strips of linen and laid him in Joseph’s personal tomb (Matthew 27:57-60; John 19:38-42). 

Joseph’s brave action is particularly praiseworthy because he had nothing left to gain. His heart had fallen to the floor, yet he picked himself up and did what he could for his Lord. Tomorrow would be a disaster, but today he would put one foot in front of the other and pay his respects. 

What if he hadn’t? What if Jesus’ body had been left on the cross, exposed to birds and jackals? Jesus’ body may have been eaten and God’s “holy one” may have “seen decay” (Acts 2:27). There may have been nothing left to rise from the dead. Joseph’s hopeless act turned out to be essential for our salvation.

Are you stuck in a hopeless situation? I’ve got a few. Joseph’s actions inspire me to take the first step, to do what is right, even when I can’t imagine an immediate reward. The empty tomb means it’s never hopeless. Believe in the One who rose from the dead, who promises to return and reward even a glass of water given in His name (Matthew 10:42). It’s never too late to love.

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Keep digging

Rev. Bobby Gray

Solid Rock Worship Center

11862 Shaner Ave NE, Cedar Springs


Years ago, I heard a pastor rehearse a unique story about an acquaintance. The man had been country-born, country-bred, and, as he said, “When I die, I will be country-dead.” The gentleman had a unique spin on life. He left the farm and pursued higher education and went on to become a very wealthy entrepreneur. Late in life he decided to go back and purchase the old home place. The house his father built many years before was now in disrepair. Weeds and debris covered the yard as well as the entire acreage that had once been the family farm. He hired the finest architects to design the restoration.

While they were busy with the renovation and restoration of the home place, he secured some local well-diggers to re-dig the old shallow well on the property. The man remembered when he was just a small boy that his father had dug this well himself. Through the years of his growing up, it had served the family. Yet, now, it had long since been filled with all kinds of rubbish and rubble. Many years had passed since it had been functional.

After several days away from the work himself, the gentleman revisited the site. The men informed him the well had successfully been re-dug. He went over and looked at the pile of debris tdhey had excavated. He turned to the foreman on the job and said, “Sir, I regret to inform you that the task is not yet completed. You have not actually dug to the bottom yet. Please keep digging.”

He went back to the city for several days and upon his return was again told the well had been re-dug, additional refuse had been removed from the old well. Again, he passed the foreman and said, “Keep digging. You still have not reached the bottom.”

On his third visit back to the home place, the foreman told him, “Sir, we have completely re-dug this well. We simply cannot dig any deeper.” Upon inspection of the dregs last hauled out with this last excavation, the owner nodded his head in agreement.

The foreman, almost in jest, said, “You never looked in the well. You only looked at the trash heap. How do you know we really completed the job this time?”

The old gentleman walked over to the top of the most recent pile of debris and picked up the old rusty and dilapidated remains of a teakettle. He said, “You see this teakettle? I was just a little boy the day my father completed this well and told us it was filling with water. For some mysterious and mischievous reason, I slipped out and threw this teakettle into the well to hear it splash at the bottom. Needless to say, I was in trouble with my mother when she discovered her teakettle was gone. When the digging began, I knew this simple fact: since that teapot was the first thing that fell into the well, it would be the last thing that came out.”

I wonder what the teapot is in our well that needs to be extracted.

Ephesians 4:31-32: “Get rid of all bitterness, rage, and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.”

Maybe we have dug several times trying to get “to the bottom of things.” Life has a way of sometimes stepping on you. It has its own rhythm of “catch and release.” Things can get in our spirits. God’s kids sometimes have a way of getting under our skin. If they stay there, they will fester, and then there is trouble. How do we clean out our well? There is nothing to do but keep digging until we get to the teapot. If it does not get in our spirit, it cannot control our destiny.

 The point of the story and verse: Keep digging!

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But everyone’s doing it

Pastor Kristi Rhodes

Hillcrest Community Church 

Cedar Springs

Have you ever struggled with your environment? I mean, when corruption and every conceivable sin seems to surround you, have you felt pressured to adapt by just joining in? Are you having a hard time giving up old, sinful ways? Sometimes the struggle is real! 

Often, we’re tempted to believe that things have never been as bad as they are right now. But, that’s not true. If you don’t believe me, then believe what God said in Ecclesiastes 1:9: “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun.”

Many of the things we face today were issues in the first century church, too. The Corinthian church was being undermined by corruption, legalism, immorality, and spiritual immaturity.  Believers were being tested amid their immoral environment, and some were failing the test. The letter Paul wrote them to address their struggles is still relevant to us today.

Paul received a report of uncorrected sexual sin among the Christians. The people had grown indifferent to immorality. Others had misconceptions about marriage. Paul told the Christians that we are to live morally, keeping our bodies for God’s service at all times. We must never compromise with sinful ideas and practices and should not blend in with people around us.  God has called us out of the darkness and into His marvelous light, (1 Peter 2:9). We must live up to God’s standard of morality and not condone immoral behavior among the Christians, even when society accepts it.

In a permissive society, Christians will be especially tempted to overlook or tolerate many immoral behaviors while remaining outraged at others. We must not participate in sin or condone it in any way, nor should we be selective about what we condemn or excuse. We may find it difficult to avoid the more “acceptable” forms of sin, but the Corinthians had the same struggle. God expects his followers in any age, (past, present and future) to have His high standards.

I’ve heard it said that opportunity comes knocking at the door, but temptation leans on the doorbell. However, believers can disconnect the doorbell and send the devil running!

As believers, when we humble ourselves before God, we have the power through the Holy Spirit to resist the devil and he will flee from us (James 4:7). We are no longer slaves to sin, (Romans 6:6).  Sin shall no longer be your master, (Romans 6:14). So, you are no longer a slave to sin, but God’s child; (Gal. 4:7). But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life (Rom. 6:22). Do not conform to the pattern of this world but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—His good, pleasing and perfect will.  In Christ, you do have the power to resist! Be blessed!

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Be anxious for nothing. What? Me worry?

Pastor Richard Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta

(Not currently meeting in person)

There are times when certain passages or words in scripture can throw us for a loop because of the current common use of the word(s) in our reading and conversation.  One that I found early on was Paul’s writing, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.” (Philippians 4:6 NIV).  

Many years ago, my understanding of being anxious was in the sense of wanting something very much; similar to a child as they anticipate Christmas getting closer each day.  It stands to reason that telling a child not to be anxious for the arrival of something they want so badly resembles the effort of herding cats. Children are going to continue being anxious for that morning, but hopefully not anxious as the primary dictionary definition: “experiencing worry, unease, or nervousness, typically about imminent events or something with an uncertain outcome.” 

This certainly helps us understand what Paul is telling us in scripture, that when we read this precept, we’re inclined to understand that we are not to have anxiety or worry about anything. Christians try to live by what God has ordained for us. Do not worry! This is a clear exhortation, especially in the time that we live in, and the rest of this verse, “but in every situation by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your request to God.”  

This does not mean a simple formula, “if you’re anxious, try prayer; it works.” God, through the pen of Paul, is telling us here, in the 21st century, that to have anxiety or worry about anything is a sin. Mainly, our worries are about things in this life that we have very little control over anyway. Putting such importance on such things to the point that we’re distracted from more important things is evidence that our treasure isn’t in heaven, but really on earthly things.

Another way of phrasing this scripture text is to not be troubled with cares. When we are born into God’s kingdom, we have the assurance that God cares for our needs and God has a plan for us. The Bible says that God fashioned the days for me before I was born. When I surrender to Christ, that surrender includes giving God the controls of my life and letting Him lead me into the life He has fashioned for me. 

For assurance, the very next verse reads; “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7 NIV).

The only way to be free from our anxieties is to rest confidently in his plan and submit to his will. Anxieties will not just disappear when we commit to trusting God. We must know and apply his word to our lives. To be anxious for nothing, we must see God’s goodness, present our cares before the throne of grace and leave our cares in God’s hands.

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Brief thoughts about everyday praying

Pastor Jon Huizenga 

Rise Up Church

Meeting in person Sundays at 10:00am 

Pine Ridge Bible Camp
8415 17 Mile Rd. Cedar Spring, MI
Live-stream: Facebook.com/riseupchurch

Rise Up Church has been learning about prayer using a small book titled, Love to Pray by Alvin VanderGriend. I like it especially because it sees prayer as the talking part of an important love relationship—one’s relationship with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. In other parts of our lives, we talk using plain language in comfortable, uninhibited ways with persons we love. You can talk to God like that, too, and call that prayer.

In a conversation with the author about praying “on all occasions with all kinds of prayers,”* he shared with me a helpful picture. He thinks about praying upward, inward, and outward prayers. Upward ones are about God (like praise or thanks). Inward ones are about ourselves (like confessing or asking or committing). Outward ones are about the people and world around us. Here is a picture I drew after he described it to me:

The idea is not to fixate on covering all these bases. Rather, while you go about your day, the events of the day can prompt your conversation with God. A beautiful sunrise prompts telling God “nice work!” Behavior you regret prompts confessing and asking forgiveness. Seeing family, friends, coworkers, acquaintances or neighbors prompts a prayer for them. The language can be plain and the vibe can be comfortable.

While the idea is simple, you need help to do it. It is best to ask the Spirit of God to help you. Then, as you enter your day, you may sense God’s promptings and talk!

*Ephesians 6:18, “And pray in the spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayer and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.”

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God never changes

Pastor Darryl Miller

Sand Lake/South Ensley United Methodist Churches

616-636-5659

Sand Lake United Methodist Church 65 W Maple St, Sand Lake | (616) 636-5673
South Ensley United Methodist Church
13600 Cypress Ave., Sand Lake | (616) 636-5659

Revelation 3:8: “I know your works. Look! I have set in front of you an open door that no one can shut. You have so little power, and yet you have kept my word and haven’t denied my name” (Common English Bible).

It was about a year ago that we first received news of a growing pandemic in our world. Many of us were uncertain what to do in the situation. We churches scrambled to find ways to continue to bring God’s word to our communities and to continue to serve them. Some of our “pivots” were fairly straightforward while others looked like the path of a pinball. The term “distanced” was unfamiliar to us, especially in the context of churches. But changes were made and new forms of outreach and ministry sprung up all around. We learned that things can sometimes change overnight. But we also learned that one thing does not change—God. Over the past year the word has been preached, the hungry have been fed, those struggling have been helped and God has opened paths that we had never thought of before. Many of these paths will remain long after the pandemic has gone. 

I have many pastor friends and our churches are now widely different; some meet in person with masks and social distancing, some only virtually, ours have a drive-in service and the message is posted online—at least when it isn’t too cold for the camera to work! And all around us God is at work through His people. 

We have certainly learned not to depend on what we think of as “normal.” But hopefully we have also learned that the promises of God are faithful. When He opened the door for our ministries, nothing, not even a pandemic, can close it. Only our unwillingness to serve His people can put stumbling blocks in front of it. Trust in God’s promises. He is always with us; even if it sometimes feels like He may not be. 

Check in on a friend or neighbor. A phone call can go a long way when someone is lonely. Wave to someone today; you may be surprised how much it may mean. Share a smile. Yes, you can tell, even under a mask. And when a crazy idea to help or reach out to someone comes along, don’t ignore it. It may be God keeping His promise through you!

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The Man across the hall

Pastor David G. Ward

Pilgrim Bible Church

361 Pine Street, Cedar Springs

Some time ago members of our family gathered for a funeral. The room where we gathered was remarkably full for the passing of a lady of 95 years. The occasion was marked by kind words and fond memories.

Across the hall, nobody was there. Not one person stopped by to pay their last respects until my wife’s cousin recognized the name. She knew him as a resident of the County Home that her mother had managed. His hobby was to buy used mowers at yard sales and fix them up to mow the grounds. When it was time for his memorial service, a few care workers from his most recent nursing facility slipped in. They knew him as the shriveled shell he had become after leaving the County Home as a more robust man. The member of the funeral home staff who officiated this indigent funeral knew him as a man who attended church every Sunday in bib overalls.  No family members and a mere 12 people attended his memorial—a paltry number to commemorate a life of 88 years. Almost no one was there to offer respect to a seeming nobody.

But the table next to his casket told a far different story. It was covered with medals from a life of valor. Forgotten details revealed he had served with distinction in World War II. At least once, he had single-handedly taken out an enemy sniper’s nest. Medals earned included a Purple Heart, and both a Bronze and Silver Star. 

The man across the hall that almost everyone treated as a nobody was really somebody!  He was a forgotten hero, dying alone, without respect. 

It made me wonder. Who is the person across the hall, street, room, or workplace from us? Do we treat them as another nameless, faceless, valueless individual?  Or, do we see them for the person they are?

Lord, open our eyes, our minds, our hearts to truly see the “nobody’s” who surround us.

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you” John 15:12 (NLT).

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This is living

Pastor Thomas K. Schmidt

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma Ave, Cedar Springs

I Thessalonians 4:1-2(NIV): “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”

Some of the most memorable winter times that are imbedded in my mind have some relationship with sledding, tobogganing, or sliding down a huge hill.

It did not matter if the temperature was below zero or hovering around the freezing mark.  It was all about the adventure of going down a hill as fast as we could. The adventure always seemed to have greater excitement when more than one person traveled down the hill with you. Watching on top of the hill was entertaining but being involved in the downhill experience surely brought a thrill that was beyond words.

There were so many times that we would say, “Now, this is really living!” Some of you know just what I am talking about.

“This is living” in the spiritual realm is related to how we are devoted to God.  

This is living when we know Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. We need to get on the sled to travel down the hill for the adventure and begin the descent to really know what it is like. Until we come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we are still watching from the top of the hill.

One time down the hill just didn’t seem like enough. We would experience the thrill of sledding by trying snow boards, toboggan, plastic sleds and even some things like plastic or cardboard.  

Paul, the Apostle said, “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”  Sometimes it was an urging that was needed to go down the hill for the first time, second time or several times. Often, we just wanted to go down the hill over and over again. 

In our spiritual walk, we can be supportive and encouraging of others by letting them know that we are cheering them on and wanting for them to live victorious day after day after day.  

The best rides are those when someone else is riding along. Then the journey down the hill can be shared and forever imbedded in our mind. And those times that the sled stopped quickly and the end result was rolling over and over until we stopped going down the hill. Laughter, joy and fun filled our lives.

This is what it is today as we live for God as devoted followers of Jesus. We journey through life experiencing tragedies, trials, turbulence and tough experiences. Doing life with others, no matter what is ahead, brings about hope, joy and peace that is beyond words.

This is living—doing life with Jesus and others.

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Trust and unity

By Pastor Larry French

Cedar Springs United Methodist

140 S. Main St, Cedar Springs

Meeting virtually on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Cedar-Springs-United-Methodist-Church-1922317694647623

Mark, while not the first gospel as the New Testament books are ordered, is the oldest and therefore first to tell the story of Jesus and His ministry. The first words we have from Jesus is him “saying, ‘Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives and trust this good news!’” (Mark 1:15 CEB).

“And trust this good news!” is a big ask right from the beginning. But we have four Gospels and the book of Acts filled with the teachings, miracles, and acts of Jesus that lead us into a place of trust in him, so therefore we can trust in his good news.

Mistrust is an epidemic sweeping our country and it is more widespread than even the coronavirus.  Where can we turn to find trustworthy relationships and sources of information? One place we can turn is our local church and the larger body of Christ.   While our national leaders are calling for unity, how can we strengthen the trust we have in each other, which is the foundation upon which unity is built?  How can we expand the trust we enjoy in our local church to others outside the Church as we advance the healing and restorative message of the Gospel?

I recently read an article by Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D., on PsychologyToday.com entitled “How to Trust People Again: 7 ways to rebuild your faith in humanity.” Dr. Hendriksen began the piece with “Fear of trust is so common it’s an official phobia: pistanthrophobia—a big name for an equally big problem. And while not trusting anyone keeps you safe from hurt and betrayal, it also leaves you isolated and suspicious. How does this happen? How does one lose faith in humanity? And how can you find it again?” The article goes on to describe the ways in which we can lose trust in those close to us, or in society in general, and then Dr. Henriksen lists seven ways in which we can work to regain trust.   

I have three suggestions that may help us to strengthen and grow our trust in each other, the local community, and beyond:

Hold multi-congregational events and activities. Even in this time of COVID we can look for ways to connect multiple congregations in interdenominational settings.  Showing commonality and fellowship between local denominations will strengthen the overall sense of community.

Promote each other’s ministries. All of the local churches have ministries focused on strengthening those in the local community that need help. Promoting each other’s ministries can only help to get the word out on what help is available locally and will also let community members know about the good things happening locally.

Communicate with each other regarding our differences. We must begin to have dialogue over our differences. If we don’t talk openly about the differences between us, then overcoming any divide that leads us to perceive barriers to fellowship and community may begin to seem insurmountable. If anyone is interested in partnering with me to hold a series of forums, designed specifically to create a safe space in which to discuss our differences, please contact me at pastorlarryfrench@gmail.org.

Dr. Hendriksen wraps it all up with, “when you start to align yourself with trustworthy people and you see yourself acting like someone who trusts that the world is mostly good and people are mostly trustworthy, you start to believe it. And that is a crucial leap of faith in learning to trust again.”

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