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Archive | From the Pulpit

God’s Christmas List

Pilgrim-Bible-webBy Rev. Mike Shiery

Pilgrim Bible Church

West Pine Street • Cedar Springs

 

“And she brought forth her firstborn Son, and wrapped Him in swaddling cloths, and laid Him in a manger, because there was no room for them in the inn.” (Luke 2:7) (NKJV)

The Advent and Christmas season is one of the most blessed times of the year. As we celebrate the arrival of Heaven’s Christmas Gift, we exchange gifts with those we love. If we are honest, most of us would admit that there is a list of things we would like to receive. We may not share that information with anyone, but the list does exist.

I believe that God too has a list of desires. If we were to ask Him what He wants for Christmas, I wonder what He would ask for?

Probably the first thing on God’s Christmas list would be the desire for room for His beloved Son. When Jesus came to earth some 2,000 years ago, there was no room for Him in the inn. It sometimes seems that little has changed over the centuries.

Multitudes still have no room for Jesus. He is not welcome in the classrooms of America. He is not welcome in the courtrooms of our land. He is banned from many city squares at Christmas time.

There is room for Santa Claus and his reindeer, room for Frosty the Snowman and Jack Frost, room for all kinds of traditions and legends, but in our increasingly humanistic society there s no room for the sacred Son of God. It seems to me that God would indeed wish that there was room for His Son in Christmas. After all it is His birthday that we are celebrating.

I’m not advocating that we get rid of the fun legends and traditions that accompany the Christmas season. Keep on enjoying them. But in the midst of all the fun things that we add to the celebration, keep the Reason for the celebration front and center.

God is looking for room for His Son in the heart of every human. It is time that we welcomed Christ to our world. At this festive season, open the doors of your mind and heart and let Christ come in and transform you and fill you with His joy. Then you will truly be able to sing the words Isaac Watts:

Joy to the world, the Lord is come!

Let earth receive her King!

Let every heart prepare Him room, 

And Heaven and nature sing.

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Unexpected Gratitude

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

 

1 Thessalonians 5:18: “Give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”

The dictionary defines “thankful” as “feeling or expressing gratitude; being appreciative.” Paul tells the believers in Thessalonica that it is God’s will for us to give thanks in all circumstances. I am not sure about you, but I don’t find it that hard to be thankful when everything in life is going good, but I really struggle when life is hard to find reasons to be thankful. I believe, though, that in these tough seasons of life, that our “unexpected gratitude” is what God is really seeking, because in our thankfulness even when life is hard, God is most glorified. I have been thinking about this a lot lately as the season of Thanksgiving is upon us. My thoughts have been directed to three very distinct realities that all of God’s children can be thankful for regardless of the circumstances we are facing in our lives.

1. Our Salvation Provided through Jesus Christ. God has taken care of our greatest need. At one point we were all separated from God because of our sin and there was nothing we could do to remedy the situation. So, God stepped in and sacrificed His Son in our place so that we could have his life! No matter what is going on in our lives, this reality is secured once and for all for all those who put their faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

2. The Indwelling of God’s Spirit. God didn’t just come to this earth, remedy our situation, and then leave us on our own. He has promised that all those who put their faith in Jesus will receive the Holy Spirit as the seal of our salvation and the power through which we can live the life of a disciple. No matter what circumstances we are facing in life, we are promised to have the very presence of God dwelling in us to comfort us and guide us.

3. The Gift of God’s Word in our Language. There have been many attempts over the years by various enemies of the cross to destroy the Bible, but God has sovereignly overseen the preservation and protection of His Word.  As a result, we are able to have the very words of God in our language that we can run to at any time. In this Holy Book, we find everything we need pertaining to life and godliness, we find everything we need to know about God and His character, and how He lovingly cares for us.  This truly is a gift that no trial on this earth can take away from us!

As we journey through the ups and downs of this holiday season, let us not forget that regardless of what we’re going through, we have so much to be thankful for!  I pray that we will find ourselves being able to express gratitude even when life is hard because after all, it is God’s will for His children.

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Fearfully and wonderfully made

C-East-Nelson-UnitedPastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson United Methodist

9024 18 Mile Rd, Cedar Springs

 

Today as I sit to write this article I am looking out my dining room window at a gloriously blue sky with yellow and red leaves swirling in the breeze. It is a wonderful fall day at the cusp of a new winter on its way. The darkness overtakes the day and we begin to see our breath as we walk outside. Many people bemoan winter. It’s a long season and many of us simply endure it or retreat to warmer climes when winter moves down upon us. Of course there are those of us who really look forward to snow time sports, though I have to admit I don’t enjoy winter driving. But the season’s change is a blessing many in the world don’t get to experience. It’s always warm or temperate where they live and so they read about our experience and can only imagine how it feels. My sister lives in Tampa and in past years I’ve sent her colorful leaves from my yard just so she could enjoy the spirit of the season.

I guess this a lesson for all of us to check out our perspective on things. What one person enjoys, another may not. It’s really another way that we are fearfully and wonderfully made. God gave us each individuality like none other on earth, before us or after us. So you think you are one in a million? If you are, then there are 7,000 people just like you since the population of the world is now over 7 billion (with a “b”)! You are one in 7-plus billion! Rejoice! God thought you up and made you like you are.

Love yourself because God loves you. He is good and cannot make mistakes. And, since he made each of us, we are not mistakes. Sometimes we get down on ourselves, we chastise ourselves and don’t believe in our abilities. I say, look to your Maker and know that you are His and He is yours. You are his beloved child.

Isaiah 43:1-28 ESV: But now thus says the Lord, he who created you, O Jacob, he who formed you, O Israel: “Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name, you are mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and through the rivers, they shall not overwhelm you; when you walk through fire you shall not be burned, and the flame shall not consume you. For I am the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior. I give Egypt as your ransom, Cush and Seba in exchange for you. Because you are precious in my eyes, and honored, and I love you, I give men in return for you, peoples in exchange for your life. Fear not, for I am with you; I will bring your offspring from the east, and from the west I will gather you.”

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Living in gratitude

Father Lam T. Le, Pastor

St. John Paul II Parish

3110 17 Mile Rd. Cedar Springs

 

November reminds us of that the great civil holiday in the United States of America—Thanksgiving. If you attend Church on that Thursday morning with a Catholic community, chances are you will hear Luke 17:11-19:

As he continued his journey to Jerusalem, he traveled through Samaria and Galilee. As he was entering a village, ten lepers met [him]. They stood at a distance from him and raised their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master! Have pity on us!” And when he saw them, he said, “Go show yourselves to the priests.” As they were going they were cleansed. And one of them, realizing he had been healed, returned, glorifying God in a loud voice; and he fell at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. He was a Samaritan. Jesus said in reply, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” Then he said to him, “Stand up and go; your faith has saved you.” 

Let’s reflect upon the importance of the gift of healing for these ten lepers.

Leprosy is a terrible illness for those who lived before and during the time of Jesus:  According to Mosaic law, those who were inflicted with this illness were declared unclean by the priest, and they were prevented from encountering others so as not to make them unclean (Lev. 13:45, 46; Deut 5:2). Jesus, in the Gospel today, not only healed the ten lepers but also instructed them to “Go show yourselves to the priests” (Lk 17: 14). Jesus made this command so that the priests could declare them clean and thus not only would physical healing be complete, but their emotional well-being would also be restored.

Sadly, only one person returned to thank Jesus and that led the Lord to say, “Ten were cleansed, were they not? Where are the other nine? Has none but this foreigner returned to give thanks to God?” (Lk 17: 17-18). Jesus called the Samaritan leper who returned to give him thanks “this foreigner” as a reminder for us of the mutual animosity between Jews and Samaritans. From the Jews’ point of view, the Samaritans were “the illegitimate” siblings and were unclean. Samaritans, considered to be unclean by Jews, constructed their own place of worship, a temple on Mt. Gerizim, erected in the fourth century B.C. Jesus highlights the thankfulness of the cleansed Samaritan leper as an example to His contemporaries and to all of us as well: the characteristic of being people of God is not whether we are born as a Jew or Samaritan, but it is in living a life of gratitude to God who heals all of our spiritual leprosy, namely sin which damages our relationship with God and with one another.

So, on Thanksgiving, don’t forget to gather in Churches or houses of prayer to show gratitude to the Lord for the many gifts, especially for healing of our spiritual leprosy by the Blood of Christ poured out on the Cross.

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Better Things

Pastor Craig Carter

North Kent Community Church

1480 Indian Lakes Rd. • Sparta, MI 49345

 

Heb 12:24: “And to Jesus the mediator of the new covenant, and to the blood of sprinkling, that better things…” – KJV

In light of the current election and all the other stress we cannot help but feel going on in our country, I am reminded of a simple thing my mother used to share with me when I was a child and struggling with whatever life was bringing me at that moment. She would say, “Everything will be ok, son, and things will get better.” Things usually did get better and it was often a change in my perspective. I will share some Scripture that promises us “better” things. Things may or may not get better, but as Christians, we remain hopeful because a God who loves us always has our best or better interest in mind.

Better Things

We see according the Hebrews 12:24, that the blood of Jesus Christ speaks “better things” than the blood of Abel. You may remember this story about two brothers named Cain and Abel. Unfortunately, Cain allowed his heart to become hardened towards God and his brother, and thought the answer to his rejection was to kill his brother. Ever since, Abel’s blood has “spoken from the ground” it was spilled on. It has cried out for justice. The good news is that Jesus’ blood shed at Calvary speaks of better things. It says there is mercy, forgiveness, and hope. It says, although we deserved justice, He was willing to give us better. If that is not better, I do not know what is!

Better Hope

Hebrews 7:19 says, “For the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did; by the which we draw nigh unto God.” The blood of Jesus Christ provided a better Hope. A Hope not simply founded in the wishes and dreams of our own life, or current circumstances, but on the life of Jesus Christ. It permits us to “draw close to God.” To have a relationship with the one who tells us that nothing we experience or face in life, will ever leave us hopeless. Hope always makes things better.

Better Promises

Heb 8:1-6  says, “But now hath he obtained a more excellent ministry, by how much also he is the mediator of a better covenant, which was established upon better promises.”  The blood of Jesus provided the assurance of “better promises.” We have the blessing of the New Testament, full of wonderful promises to those who believe them. My favorite is found in Hebrews 12:5. This verse promises that God will “never leave you and never forsake you.”

Better and Enduring Substance

Heb 10:34 states,  “For ye had compassion of me in my bonds, and took joyfully the spoiling of your goods, knowing in yourselves that ye have in heaven a better and an enduring substance.” What a blessing to know that the blood of Jesus purchased eternal things.  We live a life so focused on temporal things. Things that never provide the love, joy, peace and assurance we are looking for. Yet, through Christ, we have a better and enduring substance; one full of eternal assurances. That is why we are encouraged as Christians to “store up things” in heaven where moth and rust can not corrupt.

Better Country

Heb 11:16 reads, “But now they desire a better country, that is, an heavenly: wherefore God is not ashamed to be called their God: for he hath prepared for them a city.” This verse speaks of our eternal home called heaven. A place where Jesus said he went to prepare for us; a place where all those who have received salvation through the shed blood of Jesus will go when they die. A place where every tear will be wiped away and joy and peace will be ours for eternity. Now, this place is clearly better than the alternative—a place that we do not often talk about, but is real none-the-less—a place called Hell. A place of eternal separation from God, where no joy or peace will ever be found.  That’s why I desire the “better country.” How about you?  It’s simple to go there. Just thank Jesus for shedding His blood for your sins. Tell Him you are sorry for thinking other things are “better” and receive Him into your life.

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From the Pulpit: Pastor Ryan Black

Cast your cares on the Lord

Are many of your life activities worrisome? I believe the most obvious answer is yes! God recognizes and understands this hardship, which is why He tells us to “Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous fall” (Psalm 55:22). Even many in the medical field would agree that “An anxious heart weighs a man down” (Proverbs 12:25).

If we look at the Bible, Christ speaks to us about letting our fears and uncertainties govern our lives. This is captured through a moment in the Gospel of Luke 10:38-42:

Jesus entered a village where a woman whose name was Martha welcomed him. She had a sister named Mary who sat beside the Lord at his feet listening to him speak. Martha, burdened with much serving, came to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me by myself to do the serving? Tell her to help me.” The Lord said to her in reply, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and worried about many things. There is need of only one thing. Mary has chosen the better part and it will not be taken from her.” 

Don’t you think we can easily sympathize with Martha? At one time or another, we are like Martha overwhelmed by all the activities of our lives. We find ourselves trying to do what everyone else expects. We are going in many directions and then we become irritable, resentful and angry.

Christ’s gentle rebuke was for anxiety and distraction. We have no need to be anxious when we can go to the throne room of heaven and simply ask Him. Worrisome issues can lead to a separation from our spiritual life. God encourages us to balance our activities by adding prayer and Scripture with serving others. Surprisingly, when we add balance to our lives foolish anxiety vanishes. We don’t have to worry because we can simply let God know our needs. God does not want us wringing our hands with worry over things in this life.

Next time you find your day driving you crazy, give yourself a break. Take a deep breath and remember Our Lord’s rebuke and meditate on it.

Pastor Ryan Black

Cedar Springs Christian Church

304 Pine St. Cedar Springs, MI

 

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Fries with that?

Pastor Dick Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta

 

I would like to share a modern parable with you.

A man named James, wanting to do something special with Mark, his five-year-old son, asked if there was anything special the boy would like to do. He responded that he would like some McDonald’s french fries. As they drove to town, Mark told his dad he could almost taste the fries already. They parked and Mark excitedly headed for the door. When it was their turn in line, he told the person at the register, “I want a super-size order of fries.”

The anticipation in his son’s eyes was radiating as Dad took out his wallet and paid for the fries and a drink. Mark could hardly wait to sink his teeth into the fries as his dad said grace over the food, and eagerly started in on the fries at the word “amen.” James was overjoyed to see his little boy so happy over something so simple, and decided to join in the fun. He reached over to get a couple of fries for himself, and to his surprise, Mark quickly put his arms like a fort around the fries to protect them, saying, “No, these are mine.” Shocked, his dad pulled his hand back, not believing what had happened.

It was a disappointment that his son didn’t consider that he was the one who provided them. “I was the one who paid for them,” he thought. “I let him have twice as much as he would normally have gotten. Not only that, but I’m over 6 feet tall and over 200 pounds, I could just take all the fries if I wanted, or I could go back up and get so many fries he couldn’t possibly eat them all.”

As James thought about it, one or two fries really would not have made much of a difference for him that day. What he really wanted was for his son Mark to invite him into the wonderful little world he had made possible for his son. He  wanted his son to be willing to share the very blessing that he had provided.

In Luke’s gospel, we read that Jesus told a parable of a rich man whose land yielded a harvest so large that he could not store all the crops in his barns.  As a result, the man decided to tear down his current barns and build larger barns in their place. With the use of 11 personal pronouns (I, my, mine), he expressed one of the most selfish and self-centered passages in scripture.

Jesus concluded his parable with, “But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Luke 12:20-21- King James Translation).

There is nothing wrong with wealth, as long as God is thanked and glorified, and the wealth is shared. Being rich is not a sin, being selfish is. Everything we have has come from God, and is a blessing. If we consider everything as coming from our own efforts, our possessions will be a curse.

Neither poverty nor wealth renders one immune from selfishness. Some poor people share unselfishly with people in need, while others hoard a piece of bread. The problem is not wealth but selfishness, a character trait of a sinful heart.

But “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9, KJV).

Like that Dad James, God desires to sit down at the table with us for some fellowship. When God reaches over to use some of the blessings that He has given to us, let’s not say, “No God, these are mine. Go get your own.” Instead, let’s gladly share what He has provided.

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What makes us vulnerable to tempation?

The-Springs-blurred-webPastor Barry Briggs

The Springs Church

135 N. Grant St., Cedar Springs

In the Lord’s Prayer, Jesus taught us to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13 NIV). Many times we wait until we get into tempting situations and then we pray, “Lord, lead me out of temptation.” But Jesus taught us to pray in a different way—“Lead me not into temptation.”

How can we avoid being lead into temptation in the first place? Here’s what works for me: I must identify what makes me vulnerable.

Notice I didn’t say identify what tempts you. You already know what tempts you. What you may have never thought through is what makes you vulnerable to that temptation? What makes you weak? What makes you susceptible?

Jesus said in Matthew 26:41, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (NIV).

Notice you can’t just pray; you have to watch. So when Jesus says you are to pray, “Lead us not into temptation,” he’s saying that’s not even enough. Besides praying you also have to do some watching.

You have a pattern of vulnerability. You have certain people, places and things that make you more vulnerable to giving in to temptation, that make you more likely to be led into temptation. To “watch” means to identify what makes you vulnerable. You need to identify your pattern.

Let me give you five questions you need to ask yourself:

First ask yourself, “When am I most tempted?” You’re going to find you’re more tempted on certain days of the week than others. Maybe a certain time of the day. Maybe you’re tempted when everybody else is in bed. You need to figure out when are you most tempted.

Next ask, “Where am I most tempted?” It could be at work, at your neighbor’s house, in the kitchen. Do you get tempted at a convenience store? At a sports bar? At the beach? A lot of you get tempted in front of a computer. You need to know your area of vulnerability.

Three, “Who is with me when I’m most tempted?” Am I most tempted when I’m alone?  Or when I’m with friends who lead me in the wrong direction? Am I most tempted when I’m with my co-workers? Or when I’m with a crowd of strangers and I think nobody would know me? Am I tempted with my family? Identify who makes you vulnerable.

Four, “What temporary benefit do I get if I give in to the temptation?” Let’s just admit it—sin is fun. If it were miserable nobody would do it. The Bible even says there is pleasure in sin for a season. In other words, it doesn’t last. So what is the temporary benefit I get when I give in to temptation? Do I get comfort? Excitement? Joy? Pleasure? A false sense of confidence? You need to know what’s the benefit when I do this.

The fifth thing you need to ask is, “How do I feel right before I’m tempted?” You need to know what your emotional triggers are. Is it frustration? Stress? Is it when you’re bored? Lonely? When you can’t sleep at night? You need to know what feelings make you vulnerable.

Figure out what your pattern of vulnerability is. Ask yourself who, what, when and where you get tempted. Then watch out for those situations. Avoid those situations. Don’t allow yourself to be led into those situations and you will find freedom from the traps that so easily ensnare.

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What do you say…

Pastor Robert Eckert

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake Ave NE, Rockford

…when you don’t know what to say? Brainyquote.com gives credit to Abraham Lincoln for the familiar axiom, “Better to remain silent and be thought a fool than to speak out and remove all doubt.” Lincoln has a reputation as a Bible reader so he might have been putting his own spin on Proverbs 17:28a that says, “Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise” (King James Version, no NIVs or NRSVs in Lincoln’s day).

I wonder if the editor of the Post would have indulged me if I had asked to just print my name with a few inches of white space below so that even though a fool, I might be counted wise, or at least avoid removing all doubt.

It’s just one of those seasons that come along from time to time in the lives of those of us whose vocations include public speaking and frequent writing. We might have plenty on our minds, but when it’s a mix of the unresolved and personal, knowing what needs to be said, what has the potential to be useful and productive, isn’t always obvious.

Come to think of it, anyone of us can expect to find ourselves in such uncertain moments. Are you familiar with the guideline that if it’s not true, not kind, or not necessary, it ought not be said? Right now little is coming to mind that fully passes muster.

A couple of contributors to the Bible had interesting perspectives on not knowing what to say, remaining silent, holding one’s peace. The prophet Amos ran off a laundry list of wrongs being committed by certain people of ancient Israel. He named those who “abhor the one who speaks the truth,” “trample on the poor,” “afflict the righteous, take a bribe, and push aside the needy.” Then he drew an ironic conclusion after having just spoken up so loudly and clearly. The “prudent,” he said, “will keep silent in such a time.” Who says there’s no wit along with the wisdom contained in the pages of the Bible? (Amos 5:10-13, New Revised Standard Version.)

To those who find themselves at a loss in one particular form of dialogue, the Apostle Paul writes, “We don’t know what we should pray, but the Spirit himself pleads our case with unexpressed groans.” (Romans 8:26, Common English Bible.)

I hope you weren’t counting on this leading up to a pithy and profound conclusion. I don’t have one, unless it counts simply to pass on that the Bible seems to indicate that it’s ok not to know what to say and sometimes, saying nothing is the only way to get where we want to be. “Stand silent. Know that I am God.” (Psalm 46:10a, The Living Bible.)

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Working together

Pastor Darryl Miller

Sand Lake/South Ensley United Methodist churches 

616.636.5659

 

Philippians 2:2 New International Version: then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind.

I had a rare opportunity this Sunday to visit a church other than the ones that I serve and to be ministered to. I love it when these opportunities come around. Most people don’t think about we pastors needing to be ministered to occasionally. The pastor had a wonderful message about the acceptance of Christ. How he welcomes everyone. This got me thinking about my faith journey. When I just got out of High school I joined a Christian band. There were two members who attended the Catholic church, one who attended a Baptist church, one who attended a Lutheran church, and one who attended a non-denominational church. We ministered to young people as a family of believers. I wondered why we couldn’t do that as “mature” Christians. When I first began pasturing, I actually had some pastors refuse to take my call because I was a “competitor.” I never understood this. Yes, I am a United Methodist pastor but I still worship the same God as the church next door.

There was a time when I was searching for a church that would be my home when I ran across a church who had cards that read: “If you do not feel at home here, let us help you find a church where you do.” This is one of the things that made me feel comfortable at this church. That was 25 years ago and now I pastor that very church!

The above scripture is a key part of Christian life. We need to work together. One church can do a lot of ministry, but several churches working together can do amazing things through God. As time has gone on we have begun to understand this idea more and more. In the community where the churches are that I serve, we regularly work together with all the other churches. And God has done amazing things through us. I love to see the different pastors supporting various ministries in our communities together because that is what God wants. We are a family. And together we are one.

If you want to be a part of this family, visit a church near you. Everyone is welcome in God’s house!

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