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Archive | From the Pulpit

Your reaction shows your Christianity

Reverend Lee Zabrocki

Resurrection Lutheran Church

180 Northland Dr., Sand Lake

Jesus said in Matthew 5:43-44, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor, and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you.”

Jesus not only taught this message, He lived it. Jesus experienced misunderstanding, ingratitude, and rejection. But he was never bitter, discouraged, or overcome. To Him, every obstacle was an opportunity.  

Brokenheartedness? An opportunity to comfort. Disease? An opportunity to heal. Hatred? An opportunity to love. Temptation? An opportunity to overcome. Sin? An opportunity to forgive.  His uncommon response to the everyday problems caused those around Him to ask, “What manner of man is this?”  

Long ago I learned that the truth of a man is known not by how he acts when he is in control, but how he reacts when things are beyond his control.

How do we react when criticized? There is always someone in the crowd who will criticize. The way some people find fault you would think they get paid for it. Many people have been hurt under the banner of constructive criticism. Someone once defined such criticism in this way:  constructive criticism is when I criticize you; destructive criticism is when you criticize me.  

Whether criticism is unjust or just, a person shows his true colors by how he responds. The best way to lose an enemy is to treat him like a friend. It would help each of us to realize that there are times we make errors and display shortcomings. In our relationship with our Heavenly Father we do not need justice; we need mercy. In our relationships with others we should be quick to give mercy and slow to demand justice.

When tempted to react in an unchristian manner, we should remember the following statements:

Realize that everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. Their life is no easier than yours. Perhaps today they are lonely, misunderstood, and hurt. A sure indication that a person hurts inside is what he says on the outside. Others may hurt you by what they say or do because they are hurting.

Reacting in a positive, reassuring manner will product better results. Some time ago, while driving on a city street in California, another car hit me. The lady who hit me was frightened and apologetic. I assured her that I had excellent insurance coverage and I encouraged the policeman not to give her a ticket, which he agreed to. I made a friend out of the lady who hit my car. How? By a positive reaction to a negative situation.

There is no better way to witness for Christ than by your Christian reactions. The fruit of the Spirit, as listed in the Bible, is not to be displayed only during the easy times. These attributes are given so that they will become a part of our daily life and be in evidence even when things go wrong. If someone is hungry and becomes irritable toward you, give him a piece of bread and butter. That is showing kindness. But while you are giving your friend a Christlike reaction, why not spread a little jam on it? That would be loving-kindness. That is the right reaction. That is also genuine Christianity. 

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Be anxious for nothing. What? Me worry?

Pastor Richard Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta

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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Working on our stuff

Pastor Dallas Burgeson

The Springs Church

135 N. Grant St, Cedar Springs

Since the middle of September a group of seven or eight of us at The Springs Church have been trying out an idea I’ve had for several years but never pulled the trigger on. We’re doing this specific experiment called “How-To,” as part of a Follow Group, which is what we call our small groups at the church. 

Follow Groups can focus on any number of things, but are designed to make space for those in the group to put into practice some aspect of their faith. The point of these groups is to come back each week talking about how it went when each person tried doing something we talked about the week before. Sometimes actually trying things goes well, sometimes it doesn’t, but either way we talk about it and encourage one another in our efforts.

So here’s how our “How-To” group works. Each week, somebody shows the rest of the group how to do something that that person already knows how to do. It could be almost anything. One week, a couple showed us how they prepare meals with oils and vinaigrettes, which is good to learn as a new skill for the foodies among us. But it’s also an alternative for those who have a tough time finding foods that fit their dietary restrictions. Or as a way of making food that inspires enough confidence to finally have someone over for supper and offer Christian hospitality to them.

Another week, one of our guys showed everybody some basics of car maintenance and repair–how to access the jack and spare tire on several vehicles, and then how to fix a flat or blow-out. There were other fixes demonstrated, too, but the goal was that a few more people would learn how to help someone who gets stranded on the road. Because once you know how, then you canhelp.

But here’s another reason we’re doing this: God placed Adam and Eve in a very real garden, and He asked them to tend it and have dominion over it all. He called the Israelites to take responsibility for a clearly marked out land where His Kingdom could be rooted in the particulars of this world. At their best, God’s People shape and interact with their stuff.

There is value in learning manual skills that take a job from start to finish. They help us develop endurance in other areas of life, including faith. Hebrews 6:10-12 tells us, “God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realized. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.” 

God has made us capable of working on our stuff. So give it a shot!

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A season for everything

Pastor Darryl Miller  | Sand Lake & South Ensley United Methodist Churches

There’s a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens. (Ecclesiastes 3:1 Common English Bible) 

I know it’s strange but I live in Michigan because I like it. That includes the weather. Well, most of the time. Now, if you tell someone from Michigan that you like the weather, he or she may try to move away from you discreetly. I spent a winter in Arizona with relatives one year and to be honest, Christmas just didn’t feel right. I noticed that some people there didn’t seem to notice that it was a different time of year. It was rather strange. 

I guess I just like the change in seasons. The blooms of spring, the warmth and fun of summer, the beauty of fall, and even the clear and beautiful skies above the snowy landscape of winter. I also think that it is a good reminder for us all. Things change. Humans can far too easily get stuck in ruts. We get comfortable and don’t want things to change. But if you like the spring, the flowers, and the budding trees, remember that without winter this would not happen.

One of my favorite hymns is “Hymn of Promise” written by Natalie Sleeth in 1986 after the death of a close friend. It is a good reminder that there are seasons in our lives as well as in nature. We have ups and downs, celebrations and sadness. But the good news is that through it all God is with us. His presence is always there to guide us and the Holy Spirit is there to comfort us. Sure, as I get older I wish that winter would last only a few weeks now, but I still love the first warm day in spring and without the cold would I appreciate the warmth as much? And without trials would I ever learn to lean on God? 

Stop by a church near you, enjoy the fellowship, and get your questions answered.

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We need the life of Christ as much as we need the death of Christ

Pastor David Vander Meer 

Rockford Springs Community Church

5815 Fourteen Mile Rd NE, Rockford, MI 49341

II Corinthians 5: 21: For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Now there is a statement for Christians to get their arms around!

Easy now, don’t charge me with heresy too fast. Not for a minute am I saying that we do not need the death of Christ, for it was through the death of Jesus Christ on the cross that the believer’s sins were paid for. The perfect, just, wrath of God demanded and required sin to be atoned for. We understand this. Justice had to be served. But we could not withstand the wrath of God. We could not pay the penalty from our rebellious acts of sin against our creator’s laws. But Jesus could, and did. As a sacrificial lamb He took my sin and shame. And so, He died.

The death of Christ won for the believer forgiveness. Standing now before God, the Christian can know that he is forgiven. Just as far is the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us. What a great gift God gives His people. Forgiveness.

But I said that not only do we need the death of Christ, we also need the life of Christ.

Let’s go back in time to when there was just Adam and Eve in the garden, the physical parents of us all. Everything was just great. They walked with God and they talked with God in open fellowship. But then, as we all know, they chose to rebel against God and chose to take what they were told not to take. They became unrighteous, unholy, and unacceptable before the holiness of God. But not only did their sin affect their own hearts, it affected all of humanity that was born as their descendants. So now, all humanity is born unrighteous. From this corruption of unrighteousness, we then act out our fallen nature and sin. Something has to change, there has to be a change in my unrighteousness. Someone has to change my nature and make me righteous. The righteousness we need is the very righteousness of God.

Here again, Jesus saves us. Adam brought us unrighteousness. But Jesus brings us righteousness. Adam chose sin. Jesus chose obedience. Adam rebelled. Jesus submitted.

For those that believe in Christ, they enter into the spiritual family of God by faith. Their sin is transferred to Jesus and the righteousness of Jesus is transferred to them. They are righteous, and forgiven, because of the life and the death of Jesus Christ. What a joy to be right with God, what a relief to be forgiven, all from our savior, Jesus Christ. This is the central theme of the Gospel, the Good News of the Bible. I trust that this righteousness of God is yours through your personal faith in Jesus Christ. He lived, and He died, to save. AMEN

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Pastor Bill Dixon 

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

 15671 Algoma Ave, NE, Cedar Springs 

Most families have traditions that they have learned from their parents or they developed as adults. My family has several traditions but one that stands out was started about four years ago. It’s called “hero week.” Each of our four kids are given a week out of each month where they are the one who gets to pray for each meal, get to stay up a little longer than the other kids at the end of the week (extra hang out time with mom and dad), get to choose what we eat for one meal during the week, and they get to pick the movie on family night. 

This past week, it was my oldest daughter’s hero week, and she picked one of her favorite meals, noodles with alfredo sauce and shrimp. The girl loves shrimp. For her movie, she chose to watch one of the Spy Kids movies. We have seen this movie multiple times but this time something stood out to me. The bad guy in this movie was known as the “Time Keeper.” As I paid attention to the movie this time around, it stuck out to me that everything this bad guy did was for a reason. What this bad guy wanted most of all was to get back to the time that he had lost with his dad growing up. So, he builds a time machine to take him back to the past to spend more time with his dad, but things didn’t end up the way he thought.

Watching this movie, I realized how important it is for us to use wisely the time we have been given. We have to realize that our time on earth is relatively short (Psalm 144:3-4) and if we are not careful, time will fly by and we will miss out on a lot of things that we will regret when we reach the end of our lives.

Up until three months ago, I had not used my time wisely, especially with my children. Instead of spending time with them, I spent more time working, hunting, or consumed with whatever was going on in my own world. My son is almost 13 years old and I finally taught him this past summer how to mow a yard, shoot a basketball (properly), and how to hunt. If you were to ask me six months ago, I probably would have given you several reasons as to why this was, how busy I was, etc. After I put aside all of the excuses, I realized that I was not using wisely the precious time that God has given me. After I realized this, I began to make some changes. Here are my new priorities. 

• My relationship with the Lord. This is my first priority because it is the most important (Matthew 22:37). 

• My family. Above work and hobbies is my family. Instead of making excuses, I am actually being intentional about spending time with my kids. Likewise, I’m intentional about my time with my wife and immediate family, making the most of the time that I have with them. 

• Work. My third priority is my work. I love what I do but what I have had to learn is that at the end of the day, what I do is only a job and should never take priority over my relationship with the Lord or my family. I encourage you to have the same attitude. 

Like the bad guy in the movie that we watched this past week, I had to learn a hard lesson. I had to rethink how I’m using my time here on earth. Three months ago, I was not using my time wisely but now I’ve made the decision to make the most of my time, especially with my family. I would like to tell you that it’s been an easy process but that would be a lie. I’ve had to ask for forgiveness from my family and the Lord and have had to reprogram the way I think and do things. In other words, I had to get my priorities in order. The good news is that because I have started to use my time wisely and have kept my priorities in check, I’ve experienced more joy than I have in a long time. You can too. 

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Family Promise: Ending homelessness one family at a time

Rev. Bill Johnson

Cedar Springs United Methodist

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

Do you have a roof over your head? Do you have food in your cupboards and refrigerator? Do you go to school with enough money to buy your lunch? Does your child have a backpack that is equipped with everything she needs to complete her schoolwork? 

If you can answer yes to most if not all these questions, you are among the blessed. My guess is that you probably know that, and you no doubt give thanks each day for your good fortune. You may even believe your good fortune is God’s doing. 

Yet, sometimes all the faith in the world isn’t enough to prevent homelessness. It may be a medical crisis, sudden job loss, or just one setback after another causing families to lose their homes. Unfortunately, this can often mean that the only solution is to split up a family to find shelter in different locations for the family members. Ironically, 80 percent of these homeless families have employment; some are college educated and some have worked their whole adult life. Even so, their income is inadequate to cover rental costs, let alone a mortgage. 

In 1997 a ray of hope appeared: Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN), now called Family Promise was born. But did you know there are still 3000 homeless children in Kent County, and that family homelessness is the fastest growing homeless population? 

This fall, after much prayer, recruitment, planning, organizing, and no small amount of fundraising, Family Promise is coming to Northern Kent County. Area churches are bonding together across denominational lines, to provide host sites—churches that will provide temporary shelter, one week at a time, year-round, for families who are caught in crisis. 

You can help. In addition to financial gifts, volunteers are needed to make a meal, sleep overnight in a host site, play with kids, read books to children, host family activities, and help a family move. You can donate hygiene products: Soap, shampoo, deodorant, toothbrushes, toothpaste, etc. Baby products: formula, bottles, pacifiers, diapers, wipes, etc. Clothing: Socks, undergarments, t-shirts, bus tickets or gas cards, Gift cards for Walmart, Meijer, Family Dollar; new or gently used furniture and household products. 

Perhaps you know the story of a poor family that once needed temporary shelter. They were taken-in by an innkeeper who housed them in a stable (Luke 2:4-7). People of faith have been doing that ever since. Now it has a name.  

If you or your church wish to join get in on this phenomenal mission called Family Promise: Interfaith Hospitality Network, contact North Kent Connect, 616-866-3478 or visit www.FamilyPromiseGR.org/donate. 

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Playing in tune

Pastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson UMC

9024 18 Mile Road

Cedar Springs MI. 49319

Psalm 100 (NIV): 1 Shout for joy to the Lord, all the earth. 2 Worship the Lord with gladness; come before him with joyful songs. 3 Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. 4 Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name. 5 For the Lord is good and his love endures forever; his faithfulness continues through all generations.

One of the interesting things about going to an orchestra concert is that the musical instruments can’t automatically play well together. They need to be tuned first. To do so, the first chair oboe player stands up and sounds out an “A” note pitched to 440 MHz  and all of the instrumentalists hear it and tune to that note. 

At first when the orchestra is tuning it sounds really sour. It’s chaos and cacophony and then, as they get closer and closer together the noise becomes coherent. Then the conductor comes out, raps his stand with the baton, raises his hand, all the musicians come to attention and with a downbeat they are off playing in beautiful, exquisite harmony. The chaos is gone and the musical flows. 

The job of the church has always been for people to hear and tune to the same note, which is the message of Jesus Christ. We each need to tune our hearts. We don’t actually play the exact same notes, because we are all different, but what happens is we make beautiful harmony together for the Lord. We are all different but the orchestral arrangement of all of us makes beautiful music for God. Being tuned to Jesus makes it happen!

One of my favorite hymns is a beautiful piece of music composed for God. “Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing” was written in 1757 by Robert Robinson, who was only 22 when he wrote it.

Come, Thou Fount of every blessing

Tune my heart to sing Thy grace

Streams of mercy, never ceasing

Call for songs of loudest praise.

Indeed it is our joy to praise God, even in the face of any storm that may blow into our lives. I love that the Psalmist showed us just how to do it and why! Even our shouts of praise are music to God’s ears.

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Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

As I think about writing this article, multiple thoughts are going through my mind. I want to make sure I write about something interesting, something captivating, something that will spur people on towards a closer, more intimate walk following Jesus. I have to make sure I word it just right so that it catches people’s attention, and I need to thoughtfully think through every word so as to not intentionally offend or put a stumbling block in anyone’s path. I want it to be encouraging and uplifting while at the same time challenging and convicting. It was in this moment that these words came to mind.

 “I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” ~ Jesus (John 15:1-8).

These are the words of Jesus, encouraging and uplifting.

If we abide in Him we will bear much fruit and God will work in our life to produce more fruit. 

As we abide in Him our prayers will be answered.

The fruit that we bear will result in our lives bringing much glory to God, and be a testimony to a watching world of our following Jesus.  

These are the words of Jesus, challenging and convicting.

Branches that don’t bear fruit (imposter branches) are cut off and good for nothing.

We can’t bear fruit apart from Jesus. Abiding in Him is the source of fruit in our lives.

Apart from him, we can do nothing. (Let that sink in…nothing.)

I will close with a few more words from Jesus: “Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” (Mark 4:9).

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Faith comes from what is heard (Rm 10: 17)

Father Lam T. Le, Pastor

St. John Paul II Parish

3110 17 Mile Rd, Cedar Springs

October 11, 1992 was an important day in the Catholic Church. Pope John Paul II, in his apostolic constitution The Deposit of Faith, promulgated the Catechism of the Catholic Church. He chose the publication date to mark the 30th anniversary of the opening of the Second Vatican Council. He envisioned the Catechism as a sure and authentic reference text for teaching Catholic doctrine and particularly for helping in faith formation of the local communities.

In order to further appreciate this effort, one must note the term catechism. It comes from the Greek word that means “to echo.” Before the invention of the printing press in 1450, learning was mainly an oral experience. Information would be recited, and the listener would be instructed to “echo” it, or repeat it, until it was learned. Ancient Jewish teachers taught the Scriptures asking the learner to repeat verses until they were memorized. The invention of the printing press made it possible to adapt the echoing method into fixed print. It is especially evident in the influential catechisms of St. Peter Canisius (1521-1597) and St. Robert Bellarmine (1542-1621), and now in the1992 Catechism of the Catholic Church.

St. Paul helps us to understand this method in his letter to the Romans. 

“But how can they call on him in whom they have not believed? And how can they believe in him of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone to preach?And how can people preach unless they are sent? As it is written,‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring [the] good news!’ But not everyone has heeded the good news; for Isaiah says, ‘Lord, who has believed what was heard from us?’ Thus faith comes from what is heard, and what is heard comes through the word of Christ” (Rom 10:14-17).

In a very secular world today, let us pray that the preachers echo God’s word with faith. May all people open their hearts to the words of “eternal life” and thus become catechists themselves by echoing the faith in Christ with love and devotion to all.  

May our lives echo words of St. Paul, “I no longer live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal 2:20). Amen.

(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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