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Archive | From the Pulpit

Learning to pray

Pastor Barry Briggs

The Springs Church

135 N. Grant, Cedar Springs

 

 

Prayer may be the least understood, yet the most powerful action in a Christian’s life. It’s not just reciting a few trite religious words; it’s communicating with the God of the universe who wants to have a relationship with you.

I was thinking this week, why prayer is so difficult for people? Here’s what I think: We’ve had limited exposure to authentic prayer. The bottom line is this—a lot of us just don’t know how to pray. We haven’t been taught how to pray. Maybe the only time we’ve even heard prayer was around the Thanksgiving table or something like that. And because of that we don’t know how to pray or what to say. The reality is prayer is just telling God what’s on your heart.

Why else is it difficult? We think I’m not important enough for God to listen to me. I mean, after all, I can’t even get the cable guy to listen to me.  I call and he puts me on hold. And I wait. And I wait. Then, when I finally talk to the cable guy, what happens? He can’t even pinpoint a time when he’ll be here. “Sometime between sun up and sun down,” he says. So you stay home all day waiting for him to show up, you leave for five minutes for lunch, and he jumps out from behind the bushes where he was hiding and puts a note on your door that reads, “Sorry I missed you. I’ll be back… maybe.” We have those experiences all the time and we think, “If people don’t even want to talk to me or listen to me why would God?” But God isn’t like the cable guy. What you have to say is important to God. If you were important enough for Jesus to die for, you’re important enough to be heard.

We also believe that prayer doesn’t work because, when we’ve asked God for things in the past, He didn’t answer. Or He didn’t answer them quick enough. We are so into instant answers. We think God is like a vending machine; we put in our prayer request, push a button, and out drops an answer. And, because God doesn’t answer prayer that way, we think prayer doesn’t work.

The truth is God does answer prayers. What I’ve found in my own spiritual journey is that a lot of times God answers prayers based on what I need, not on what I want. I want a lot of things that maybe aren’t in God’s big picture and best plans for me.

The Bible tells us in Psalm 66:20 (NLT), “Praise God, who did not ignore my prayer or withdraw His unfailing love from me.”

Prayer can be learned, so let’s get practical. Here’s a couple suggestions:

Call on God first. What does that mean? It means that tomorrow morning, when you wake up, have these words be the first words that come out of your mouth, “Good morning, God.” Just try it. Start out your day tomorrow in prayer.

Get alone. Have a place where you talk to God. Maybe it’s in your car, maybe it’s in the shower, or maybe it’s in your bedroom. Find a place where you can get alone with God and just talk to Him.

Prayer doesn’t have to be awkward or confusing or uncomfortable. In fact, it’s not supposed to be. You can learn how to pray. Maybe learning to pray is the next step you need to take.

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Why we need children

Courtland-OakfieldUMCPastor Robert Eckert

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake Ave., Rockford

 

Among the first stories you’ll come across if you read a Bible from the beginning concerns a man named Abraham and his wife, Sarah. Part of their story is a promise God makes to them that they will be the matriarch and patriarch of an entire nation. “I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore,” God says in the story.

However, at age 100 and 90, respectively, Abraham and Sarah are skeptical; in fact, they fall down laughing. But in this tale what is impossible for mortals turns out to be possible for God who does just as God promised. Sarah conceives and bears a son and celebrates his birth with a different kind of laughter: “Sarah said, ‘God has given me laughter. Everyone who hears about it will laugh with me.’”

We all know how an infant’s coo or a child’s smile can soften the hardest heart. But children mean more to our world than sentimental warm fuzzies. Children are the counterbalance to disappointment, cynicism, and regret. Unfortunately, the scales tip disproportionately toward pessimism when the seniors outweigh the juniors, a trend we have seen in this country, as the baby boom, following World War II, with its average of 25 births per 1,000 population between 1945 and 1959, tapered off to 16 or fewer births per 1,000 population since 1972 (http://www.infoplease.com/ipa/A0005067.html).

I’m not maligning folks at the upper end of the age continuum, I just turned 60 myself, but when a person can reasonably conclude that he/she is somewhere in the final 25 percent of his/her life, impending loss produces grief; grief breeds anger and depression; and the anger and depression of unmet expectations and unfulfilled goals is frequently expressed in variations of the lament that everything is worse than it ever was and the country is going to hell.

When one of my now adult sons was a child, there was a day he went to great lengths to turn his bedroom into a mini-theater, created and gave tickets to his parents and brothers, and put on a one-boy show. It was delightful. God gave me the gift of laughter and with it reasons to be optimistic and joyful. Recently his young son, with sword in hand, announced, “I’m a pirate; I’m here to steal your golden balloons!” It was another gift of laughter; another reason to hold on to hope.

Children give all of us a reason for living, a reason for being productive, honorable, charitable, and faithful. But, please don’t read anything into this from your own perspective on the several issues that fall under that nebulous heading of “family values.” I’m not making a political statement here. And please don’t take offense; it is not my intent to disrespect anyone who is uninterested in having children nor to be insensitive to anyone unable to have children.

It’s just that I was listening to the news on my car radio today, wondering whether everything is worse than it ever was, when I caught the smile on the face of the girl in the car next to me as she waved and giggled with the child in the seat beside her and found myself thinking, “along with fresh air and clean water, we desperately need children.”

 

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Seeing vs. hearing

Pastor Jim Alblas

Pioneer Christian Reformed Church

Cedarfield Community Center

3592 17 Mile Rd., Cedar Springs

Cedarfield Community room

 

 

Jesus once said, “a prophet has no honor in his home town”  (John 4:44). He was referring to prophets of long ago as well as Himself who experienced persecution in their hometowns. However, one day when Jesus was in his home region of Galilee, the people welcomed Him. It seemed as though a prophet was finally being honored in His own country until we learn why they had welcomed Him.

In John 4:45 it says: They had seen all he had done in Jerusalem. (Jesus had performed many miracles in Jerusalem.) They welcomed Him because He had performed flashy miracles and they wanted to see more. They were excited about what Jesus was doing, but weren’t very interested in listening to what He was saying. Jesus expressed his frustration over this when a man came to Him seeking a miracle; he wanted Jesus to heal his sick son. Jesus responded by saying, “Unless you people see miraculous signs and wonders you will never believe” (John 4:48).

Sometimes in the church today, we too, can place too much of an emphasis on what we see from God rather than what we hear from Him. We have a tendency to get excited and place our confidence in The Lord when we see Him performing mighty acts. Don’t you find yourself excited when you see God bring a new couple to the church, or when He fills the offering baskets or when He repairs a broken relationship? There’s nothing wrong with getting excited about seeing those things, but will we still be excited and confident in Him when we don’t see those things happening? If all we have is the Word of God, but no affirming visuals to go with it, is that enough for us to still honor Him with our excitement and trust?

It can be difficult to do this, but it’s important that we do because God doesn’t always perform miracles. Sometimes the bank account is low, a rift remains between friends and we haven’t seen a new face in church for awhile. The good news, however, is that if we turn to His word (The Bible) and listen to what He says to us, we will find everything we need to remain excited and confident in Him despite the lack of visuals. The man with the sick son came to understand this.
After Jesus had expressed his frustration, he said to the man, “You may go, your son will live” John 4:50a). Notice how there was no visual yet, no proof that the son would live, all the man had was the word of Jesus. But it says, “He took Jesus at His Word and departed” (John 4:50b). You can imagine the sense of excitement and comfort he would have experienced as he placed his trust not in what he saw, but in what he heard. We can experience the same thing. Until God decides to move in a powerful visual way, be excited even now, by focusing upon and trusting in what God says.

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Celebrating family

Pastor Darryl Miller  

Sand Lake UMC, 65 W. Maple, Sand Lake

South Ensley UMC, 13600 Cypress, Ensley Township

 

As I am writing this, we are preparing for our upcoming camp. Each year our two churches go camping together at what we call “Family Camp.” This is a wonderful time of fellowship and celebration of God’s wondrous creation. It is called family camp because all our church family comes together. The great thing is that many of those there have long since left the area for jobs or other reasons. Some came as children but as adults no longer attend our churches. Others are friends of former campers who continue to come even though their friends have passed on. In other words, it is a true family; people from all over who come together and love each other.

There is a good lesson in this. I love to work with people from other denominations, remembering that we are all brothers and sisters in Christ. Who better to share the wonders of God’s handiwork with than your family? All walks of people, all different views, all children of the living God sharing time and fun together. What kind of world would we have if we could do this every day! Recognizing each other not as “those people who go to that other church” but as fellow heirs to God’s kingdom—a true family.

Hey, let’s face it. In my family, we don’t all get along all the time, but we do love each other. Yes, sometimes we have different opinions and ideas but we are still family. And that is how God made us. We love to sit on the dunes and share communion as the sun sets over Lake Michigan. This is something that we, the children of God, have in common. And this brings all of us together. Mike Warnke once said, “we will all be on the same side eventually, so why not start now?” He was talking about the divisions in the churches. But when God’s people come together, amazing things happen! Share a meal with your family (not just at Christmas, Easter, or Thanksgiving) and remember that your neighbors are family, too!

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“Could that Happen Here?”

Solon-Center-WesPastor Tom Holloway
Solon Center Wesleyan Church
15671 Algoma, Cedar Springs
(just north of 19 Mile)

As I look at the events that are taking place in Ferguson, Missouri, it makes me ask the question, “Could that happen in Cedar Springs?” Have you thought about that? Or do you just assume that something like that could never happen here? I think it would be foolish of us to think that something like that couldn’t happen here; but at the same time, I believe that the things our community is doing is building in safeguards so that those kinds of things won’t happen here.
What are the safeguards in our community? The first is that we are truly a community. We are a group of people that values a greater sense of purpose. The idea is that there is something larger than our own personal interests. The fact that 8 or 9 churches can come together on a Sunday morning and forego their own offerings and take one large offering and give it to the Cedar Springs Ministerial Association to help the hurt, and needy in our community is proof.  Think about that for a second–that’s like taking your family’s paychecks for the week and giving it away to someone or something other than your own needs.  Yet, the cell phone bill still comes, the groceries need to be bought, the lights need to stay on, the mortgage payment still needs to be paid, and for the churches the staff still needs to be paid.
That is enough to make church people and leaders squirm and to not get involved in something bigger. But after six years of doing “United,” the churches continue to close their doors to meet in the community. If you’ve never been a part of a church then you might not see that as a big deal, but it shows that there is a common unity and a trust in this community that isn’t prevalent in a lot of other communities.
The second safeguard that we have in our community is a sense of leaving Cedar Springs better than we found it. I don’t know about you, but I want to leave our community better off than it is now. I want to know that when I’m dead and gone that I helped make our little corner of the world better than I found it. Do you know that we have a Community Building Development Team? What is their goal? To make the community better by working together with the current resources, and to remember the past by honoring it, and also building community buildings that will be the highlight of the community.
Why are they doing that? Is it to put their name on a building, or to get a pat on the back? Not at all. They are doing it because they know that an investment in the community that builds community will enhance living in Cedar Springs, which will lead to more families choosing Cedar Springs over other communities.  Which also means more of a tax base, more resources to spend at the local stores, more students to help build more and better schools, and more and better athletes that will enhance our already great sports teams.
When many people are in a time in their life where they can just sit back and relax, those people are seeking to develop the place where we live. When we see that others truly care about a larger purpose, it builds trust when others would seek to divide us.
The final safeguard that I believe is in place is simply the Lord. In a time in the world when it’s not popular to claim the name of Jesus, I believe that our community is proud to claim His hand on us. I have seen so many times that God has had His hand on our community it blows my mind.
Jesus was asked what the most important law was and He told them that it was twofold. The first was to love God, and the second was equally important. Love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. In other words, we need each other in order to be right with God. It’s more than just living your own life, and doing all of the right things. It’s much bigger than that. There is a larger purpose in mind.
The original question was, “Could what happened in Ferguson happen to us?”  I believe if we in Cedar Springs continue to love and serve our God, who has been so generous to us, and to put others ahead of ourselves, it can’t happen here.

But it’s up to us individually, and also collectively. So the next time you are tempted to think bad about someone or their actions, trust that they have your best interest at heart. It’s up to you!

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Rules

cs-united-methodistSteve Lindeman

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

140 S. Main St.

Cedar Springs, MI  49319

 

Romans 12:3-6: “For by the grace given me I say to every one of you: Do not think of yourself more highly than you ought, but rather think of yourself with sober judgment, in accordance with the faith God has distributed to each of you. For just as each of us has one body with many members, and these members do not all have the same function, so in Christ we, though many form one body, and each member belongs to all the others. We have different gifts, according to the grace given to each of us…”

Many may think that Christians have more rules to follow than other members of our society. Yes, we have a call to live a different kind of life, but we should not consider the guidelines presented in scripture to be a burden, but instead, a blessing.

Picture, a train on Main Street right here in Cedar Springs. You notice that it is sitting on the street as it prepares to start moving. The city street is paved with asphalt with concrete curbs. The conductor yells, “all aboard,” and the train begins to move. The smoke billows out of the stack and we can hear the noise of this great machine. But, as the wheels begin to turn, what do you think happens? Those great steel wheels, which are designed to sit on rails, begin to tear into the asphalt. It may be able to make some progress up the street, but it is not very efficient.

A train is designed to travel on rails. Without the steel tracks to guide it, the train cannot operate, and will likely damage itself and the road. And the tracks, with no train to ride on them, are only useful as scrap iron.

Isn’t that how it is with us today? God designed us for a special purpose. We are meant to live our lives within “the tracks” that the Master has laid out for us, to guide us. Humanity was meant to be in community with God and to live within God’s plan as explained in the scriptures. When we live within the plan, we can be what we are meant to be. Like a train that travels on railroad tracks, we can reach our full potential, and be most like what God designed us to be, when we live within His plan for our lives.

Continuing with our train analogy, the engine would not have much of a purpose without cars for passengers or freight. They all are connected and work together to meet a common goal. And so it is with us. Paul tells us in his letter to the Romans that we are all part of that same body—the body of Christ. When we are connected to him, and conform ourselves and our community according to the standards that we were designed to live in, we can reach our full potential. We were designed to be in community—in perfect community—with God and with each other.  Our relationship with God was disrupted by the fall and so were our relationships with each other. But now, through Christ, we can find ourselves placed back on those train tracks.

I encourage you to allow the Spirit to act upon your life. It is my hope and prayer that you seek to be the train that God designed you to be, living up to your full potential by living within the rails and following where the tracks lead you.

 

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Real men

First-Baptist-church-currenPastor Jim Howard

First Baptist Church

233 S. Main, Cedar Springs

 

 

What is a real man? By the standards of today, a real man is someone who doesn’t exist except in the imaginations of those in Hollywood and the marketing industry. Supposedly, a real man looks like an Adonis, acts macho, and always wins. In reality, a real man is defined not by what he looks like, but who he is! Real men, for the most part, do not look like the latest “hunk” of a movie star or sports legend. He may not have rippling muscles, or stand over six feet tall, he may not even have a full head of hair. Real men are comfortable in their skin and have made their share of mistakes, and will make more.

Today I will start a three part series on what Real Men Are, from the Word of God. Note what God says in 1 Cor. 1:27-28 (ESV), “But God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are.”

History records for us the stories of men and women who would not stand out in a crowd, yet turned their world on its ear. For example: John Adams, Nathan Hale, Mary Draper, Abraham Lincoln, Franklin Roosevelt, etc. Are we prepared to make a difference in our generation?

This initial devotional will deal with becoming Men of Courage. I will make note of five points that make for men of courage. First, real men recognize their disobedience and rebellion. Our culture has created a mindset that says that I’m not a bad person and that a loving God will overlook my sin. We have become a self-indulgent generation and choose to disobey God’s instructions. We must come to grips with this and acknowledge the fact that I, and I alone, am responsible for my actions and the sin that is a part of my life (unlike King Saul of old 1 Sam. 15).

Second, real men accept the consequences of disobeying God. God will chasten those whom He loves (Heb. 12:5-14). Our disobedience has consequences (Jms. 4:9; 2 Cor. 7:9-10; Ps. 32) that are often found in our emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual lives. Symptoms that we try to explain away, but yet are very real, such as bitterness, discouragement, anger, jealousy, exhaustion, substance abuse, impatience, critical spirit, etc.

Third, real men understand that there is a time factor!  The longer we choose to ignore the Lord, the more bad decisions we are going to make. As long as we continue to listen to ungodly advice and follow the wrong compass in our decision-making, the deeper into the quicksand we sink.  There is a real danger of waiting too long. Paul told Timothy there was danger that our conscience would become seared, which means burned or insensitive to stimulus (1 Tim. 4:2). There is also the danger of settling for the good when you can have the best (Eph. 4:17-24).

Fourth, real men defeat the Arthur Fonzarelli syndrome. The Fonz couldn’t or wouldn’t say the words, “I was wrong.” We need to own up! Don’t make excuses or try to pass the buck. We need to fess up! This isn’t a pride issue (1 Jn. 2:15-16). We need to catch up!  Don’t let things accumulate, keep short accounts. We need to give up!  Surrender control of your life to the One Who holds all your days. We need to check up! Take a look at your daily habits and routines that may be setting you up for failure. We need to grow up! Start moving down the path to spiritual maturity in your relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to look up! Remember the principle of Mt. 25:21 and being faithful in the little things. God’s forgiveness is immediate. And we need to make up! Here we need to ignore Hollywood again and the words of Leroy Jethro Gibbs, “never apologize, it’s a sign of weakness.” A sincere apology may be in order; make it sincere and a reality.

Finally, real men are men who are after God’s own heart! Remember King David? He lived for 18 months thumbing his nose at God. What about his sin? After he repented, he was forgiven (2 Sam. 12:13). There were consequences, but God forgave him, and his life was turned around and counted for something once again. He was indeed, a man after God’s Own heart!

You can spend your life any way you like but you can only spend it once. Listen to the words of Joshua who led the people of Israel into the promised land. Joshua 24:15: (ESV) “And if it seems evil to you to serve the LORD, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the LORD.”

 

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What it Takes to be content

Rev. Mike Shiery

Pilgrim bible Church

West Pine St. • Cedar Springs

“Not that I speak in regard to need, for I have learned in whatever state I am, to be content: 

I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need. 

I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” (Philippians 4:11-13 NKJV)

Thomas Watson once said, “Discontent keeps a man from enjoying what he does possess. A drop or two of vinegar will sour a whole glass of wine.” Charles Spurgeon painted the other side of the picture, “A little sprig of the herb called content put into the poorest soup will make it taste as rich as the Lord Mayor’s turtle.”

It isn’t what we have, but what we enjoy that makes for a rich life, and the wise person understands that contentment is not having everything we want, but enjoying everything we have. It is ironic that Americans enjoy the highest standard of living, but concurrently have such an astronomical level of discontent.

Real contentment is a jewel to be treasured. Contentment is possible to possess despite circumstances which may not be what we would choose. As is always the case, real contentment is only truly possible if we base it on the foundation of a relationship with Jesus Christ.

Once we have that relationship, we must fervently maintain a freshness in that relationship. If we do not maintain a vibrant relationship with Christ then dissatisfaction, discouragement and division will spring up and discontentment results. If we keep a fresh relationship with our Savior contentment results because we are confident in the sovereignty of God to work our good in our lives.

So how do we keep a fresh spiritual walk with God and thereby stay content in a world gone mad. I believe some answers to that question are found in Psalm 1. In this passage of Scripture we are given a picture of trees growing on riverbanks, bearing fruit and exhibiting strength.

Psalm 1:1 teaches us that we are to separate from the mindset of the world. To do that we must have our minds renewed and think on things that are good and pleasing to a clear conscience.

Psalm 1:2 characterizes the contented Christian as one whose mind is saturated by the Word of God. A contented Christian has a view of life which springs from the Bible. Such saturation with the Scriptures is the secret to satisfaction in the soul.

Psalm 1:3 says that we are to be situated by the water, which is a beautiful picture of the ministry of the Holy Spirit. God’s supply of grace is inexhaustible and when we are living according to the tenets of the Bible it makes us contented.

Personal contentment in one’s soul results in proper perspectives, priorities and progress. Even in today’s chaotic events, we can still prove the truth that Godliness with contentment is great gain.

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Get out there

C-East-Nelson-UnitedPastor Herb VanderBilt 

East Nelson United Methodist Church

9024 18 Mile Rd. • Cedar Springs MI 49319

Psalm 104:1-5: “Praise the LORD, O my soul. O LORD my God, you are very great; you are clothed with splendor and majesty. He wraps himself in light as with a garment; he stretches out the heavens like a tent and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters. He makes the clouds his chariot and rides on the wings of the wind. He makes winds his messengers, flames of fire his servants. He set the earth on its foundations; it can never be moved.”

I know that the marketing campaigns have already reached the supermarkets and retail outlets with the plaintiff cry that it is time to go back to school. Well some of us are not ready for summer to be over just yet. In the words of one of the cruise line commercials, August is a time to “Get out there!”

This afternoon we got on the bikes and hit the trail. With all that is going on in our lives it just seemed right. We live in an artificial environment inside a dome of television, Internet, Facebook, and email.  While any one of these by themselves is not bad, one thing that they all have in common is that they are never ending.

When I grew up and we watched late night television, there came a point in the programming where they would show the flag, play the national anthem and then the screen went fuzzy. It was over for the day.

Now we live in a world that is seemingly non-ending. The television will play all night, email keeps coming in, people are constantly posting on Facebook, and you can shop at Meijer 24 hours a day. For some of us that means that we have lost our Circadian rhythm, or the internal clock that tells us when to be active and when to fall asleep.

One way to reset the internal clock is to get out into nature and allow God’s creation to anchor us once again to the foundation of the earth. August, with its long days and mild weather, is the perfect time to reset our body and soul, before all the business of the school year begins again.

Get out there!

 

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Something worth writing on our hearts

HolySpiritEpiscopalThe Rev. David Meyers

Holy Spirit 

Episcopal Church

1200 Post Dr., Belmont, MI  49306

 

 

 

Stephanie Paulsell wrote  in the Christian Century, “We need places to pray as if someone were listening, to study as if we might learn something worth writing on our hearts, to join with others in service as if the world might be transformed.  Churches are places to learn to practice, with others, a continual conversion of life, a permanent openness to change.” I love this quote for all the powerful verbs Ms. Paulsell includes:  pray, listen, study, join, practice, converse, change, and transform. As a result, of those actions, there should be something life-changing in our faith communities, something worth writing on our hearts.

If that is not being experienced, those of us who have been given some kind of responsibility in the church need to assess what is happening. The Northern Kent County/Montcalm Yellow Pages lists over 175 churches. But those listings are only places—places needed to stage the real action of the Christian life. That action is ministry. In the Bible lessons for the first weeks after Pentecost, Jesus is continually giving his disciples his last minute instructions. He told them to do what he had told them to do, go into the world, teach as he had taught them, invite all people into the Kingdom of God, be one with the Father as He was with the Father. He did not tell them to go and erect buildings.

That concept came much later when groups needed more space to gather for their ministries. Recognition of that fact is a very important revelation. The church is not a place; it is a bunch of people doing what Jesus told them to do. Some people get confused on this point. They see their ministry to other people as a means of growing and supporting their individual church buildings. That type of effort leaves people hollow and spiritually starving. In reality, the buildings we call churches are only refueling stations. Their purpose is to support the workers for ministry.

The Communion of Believers must maintain its purpose as a mission and not a place. When that occurs, all sorts of good things happen. People understand the authenticity of faith, they are attracted to the God who wants all good things for them, and lives are transformed.

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