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Archive | From the Pulpit

Pray-a lot!

Pastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson United Methodist

This Coronavirus (Covid19) is affecting many people in many ways. I’ve been praying for my family, church community, those who have the virus, the caregivers and essential people working hard to help us all. Will you join me in prayer each and every day until this virus is gone?

In the book of Daniel we find a faithful, praying man. Daniel didn’t just occasionally lift his eyes to the heavens and mutter a word or two. No, Daniel prayed a lot! He prayed in his room. He prayed when he was in the lion’s den. He prayed for wisdom and guidance. He prayed for the people of Israel and, towards the end of his life, we find he’s been praying for 21 consecutive days because he’s troubled. He prayed for 21 straight days! Then Daniel heard these words, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12 NIV). Have you ever prayed consistently for something, for like 21 days?

In Luke 18:1-7 (The Message) Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’ He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’ Then the Master said, ‘Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help.’”

I know that it’s easy to despair right now. But please know that our anxiety can be allayed by relying on and trusting in God’s word and promises found in the scriptures. Keep on keeping on! Keep on praying through this time of crisis.

Look at what God says to Daniel: “Your words were heard.”  God hears our prayers! It’s when we “set our minds to gain understanding and to humble ourselves before our God.” We need to continue seeking God and humbly sit at His feet. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that those who seek Him will ever be turned away.

Please do not let the fear of this deadly virus deceive you. God will never, never fail those who seek Him. God will always be at our side. Stay focused on walking in His way, no matter how this virus obstacle presents itself. No matter how discouraged you may be sometimes, continue your journey with Him.

May the Lord of peace Himself give you peace in this time and in all times.  The Lord be with you.

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Just watch and see!

Pastor Kristi Rhodes

Hillcrest Community Church

5994 18 Mile Rd, Cedar Springs, MI 49319

616.696.9333

Have you ever wanted to ask God, “If you’re in control, why does evil so often win?” How can a just God ignore injustice?  Why does God allow the wicked to prosper? How can a good God use evil to accomplish his purposes?  

I was reading in the book of Habakkuk, a short book with only 3 chapters. He was one of the minor prophets of the Old Testament. He struggled to understand how God works (you know, in mysterious ways), but in the end he became convinced that he could trust God no matter how bleak or confusing the present circumstances appeared to be. We struggle with the same things still today, almost three thousand years later.  

Evil was on the rise—just as it appears to be in this hour! Corruption was rampant, unbelievable violence in the streets every night somewhere and even now there seems to be no justice or protection even for the law-abiding citizens.

Habakkuk cried out to the Lord, just as we are doing today—and the Lord answered! This is what God said in chapter 1:5: “Look at the nations and WATCH—and be utterly amazed. For I am going to do something in your days that you would not believe, even if you were told!”  (NIV, emphasis mine).  

You will need to read this short book in the Bible to see how the events unfold, but you will discover that God is always at work, even when we don’t see it, He’s working.  God is in control even when it appears He is not. God uses people and nations, often without their knowledge, for His good purposes. At times the events seem evil, but the severity of God’s answer, like a surgeon’s scalpel, is working not to hurt but to heal.  

God does use evil to do good. But the reason He does is that He’s working to transform the tragic circumstances of a fallen world so that good ultimately prevails. It was evil that murdered Jesus on the cross, but it was by God’s set purpose and foreknowledge in order to accomplish His plan to save and reconcile a lost world unto himself. Then God raised Jesus from the dead freeing Him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him (Acts 2:23-24). God always wins! No matter what it looks like—God wins!

Maybe some of you have been praying for years for your circumstances or situation to change.  Know this, God is working even when you don’t see it. Wait for God’s answer. “For the revelation awaits an appointed time; it speaks of the end and will not prove false. Though it linger, WAIT FOR IT; it will certainly come and will not delay” (Habakkuk 2:3 NIV, emphasis mine).  

Lastly, never lose hope. God wins! God ultimately always wins. It is impossible for God to fail!

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Where’s the coach?

Pastor Lee Zabrocki 

Resurrection Lutheran Church

Sand Lake, MI 49343

I was reminiscing about my son, when he was four and learning to play baseball. He was standing there in his little shorts, and he had his wiffle bat and his wiffle ball.  I stood just a few feet away from him and I gently threw the ball underhanded. He would sort of chop at it like an ax, and I didn’t know if he’d ever learn to play. Well, of course, I gave him the Dad’s typical, gentle coaching and said, “Now, don’t chop at it. Swing evenly. Here’s how to follow through. Here’s how to plant your feet.”

Then times changed over the next few years. It got to where I couldn’t pitch it fast enough, and he was hitting it all over the place.  I enjoyed coaching. I hope I’m one of the reasons, at least, that he learned to do it right in the early stages. 

Actually, coaching comes almost naturally to Dads; they’re pretty good coaches.  I want to be sure today, Dad, that you’ve got your Head Coach hat on, and that you’re making the difference.

Coaches, pay attention! Ephesians 6:4 says, “Fathers, do not exasperate your children. Instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord.”  Let me summarize.  It says two things to Dads.   With your children: 

Don’t put them down

and

Do bring them up.

Let’s take the first part. There’s the negative, and it’s addressed particularly to fathers. And I thought, now, why is it said to fathers “do not exasperate your children”?  Of course, mothers shouldn’t do that either, but it’s stated to fathers. 

I think sometimes dads have awfully high expectations of kids. We just tend to exasperate our children, through setting the bar so high, and then they have to clear it higher, and they’ve got to go higher all the time.  Sometimes dads are so hard to please.

Occasionally, our cutting remarks only notice what needs improving, and we don’t tell them what they’ve done right. I know kids who have literally been defeated, and decided not to even try anymore, because they just couldn’t please Dad.

God says in this Call to Coaching, the first thing you do is to make sure that your child is never put down by you. There’s nothing so cutting, so destroying to a self-image, and even your hope for your own achievement than Dad’s perceived rejection. 

But this is a call to spiritual coaching. It doesn’t just say don’t put them down, it says, “Do bring them up.” 

Are you leading spiritually in your family?  Are you the one who gets everybody together to pray, Dad?  Are you the one who gets the sharing time going around the dinner table?  Are you the one who teaches the Bible stories and applies them to everyday life; makes sure everybody gets to church, and who models Christian conduct?  You say, “Well, I’m not real good at that.” 

You know, men tend to avoid what they’re not good at. If we’re not good at a sport, we usually don’t show up for that sport. 

I was good at football and I wasn’t good at baseball. I would play football. I wouldn’t play baseball. 

Listen dads, don’t wait until you’re good at it or you’ll never start. Start spending some time getting your family together spiritually and getting with the Lord together. 

Remember, God has assigned you, as the man of the house, the head coaching job in your family.  Know God will help you!

Do you know what that means?  Yeah, don’t ever put them down, and always bring them up—in a positive relationship with Jesus!

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In times like these

Pastor Dick Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Rd NE, Sparta, MI 49345

(616) 866-4138

So begins the Christian hymn, “In times like these we need a Savior, in times like these we need an anchor.” A thought I have spent much time with over these past few months is the timeliness of God’s word. Specifically, those three great words we find in Paul’s writing, 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1st Corinthians 13:12-13 NIV).

It is this word hope sitting between the bookends of faith and love.  I don’t think we would dispute what Paul has written under divine inspiration, “the greatest of these is love,” yet this doesn’t default that faith and hope become orphans or poorer attributes of the Christian in life’s journey. We need all three great words in the times we’re in today and always.  

The writer of Hebrews has given us these scriptures to establish how big this little word hope is.  And no, that’s not an oxymoron, let’s see how God lays this out for us, 19 We have this hope as an anchor for the soul, firm and secure. It enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain, 20 where our forerunner, Jesus, has entered on our behalf. He has become a high priest forever, in the order of Melchizedek” (Hebrews 6:19-20). Confirmed by God himself with an oath, his purpose is our encouragement in the hope of being in a relationship with Jesus Christ, now and forever.  

This is a well-known truth of scripture, that God cannot lie, his promises are “yes and amen” for us, unchanging and forever unchangeable, which simply means that our hope today is not based on our circumstances or any life event that presents itself as life altering, the Ancient of Days who created heaven and earth has said so. Hope is not lost, it is right where it belongs, held in place for us by God’s gifts of faith and love. How big is this little word?  Well, it’s only four little letters h-o-p-e, while at the same time, this hope is eternal, given to us for encouragement by God himself. That’s quite a big little word isn’t it?

Now, like faith and love, hope is as big in our lives, as we choose to allow; if our faith is in God, and we believe what is written in scripture that “God is love,” (1st John 4:16), that faith is truly “a gift of God,” (Ephesians 2:8), do we exercise our faith and love by accepting God’s hope even when we may not see the end of our circumstances.  God does!  

13 May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit” (Romans 5:13 NIV).  Quite frankly, that’s good enough for me.

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Nature and Love and Nature

Pastor Dallas Burgeson 

The Springs Church 

135 N. Grant St., Cedar Springs

Before the world ground to a halt in March with the onset of the coronavirus pandemic, my wife and I had the chance to fly to California to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. It was during the flight there that the love started to ignite. Joy and I lived for a brief time in Colorado Springs, Colorado, and while we loved it there, it was over Utah that I saw the American West sprawl out before me at 30,000 feet, and I was hooked in a way that felt fresh, overwhelming, and new. 

Once we landed in Sacramento, Joy and I spent the next week on the best road trip I’ve ever been on:

San Francisco–its unique culture and its magnificent bridges, then Highway 1.

Santa Cruz–its unique culture and its gnarled redwoods, then more Highway 1.

A little seaside place called Mt. Carmel, a bed-and-breakfast, and morning coffee by the bay.

Then… along a stretch of Highway 1 that the previous stretches simply couldn’t have prepared us for: sheer, greened cliffs and waters without end. The navigation of curve after curve as rocks jutted one after another out into the Pacific; 360-degree vistas like I’ve never experienced. I felt torn for hours on end, loving getting to drive these amazing roads, and yet aching to spend longer soaking in the landscape at the same time.

We eventually hit our southern-most destination: the mansion of early 20th century newspaper giant William Randolph Hearst. And while the buildings were truly impressive, the hilltop view Hearst chose for his world-famous social gatherings eclipsed his incessant, spare-no-expense construction project in every possible way. We were standing on top of the world.

Nature somehow drags a love out of us we cannot explain. Our awestruck-ness at it all becomes so repetitive it begins to feel almost routine, while Nature itself appears inexhaustible. 

The heartbeat of this Nature that makes our own hearts burn has a Source, and it’s found in its Creator’s nature. The mystery is in recognizing that this nature we all love… and His personal nature revealed in Scripture… are somehow held within the same Being: “Heaven is declaring God’s glory; the sky is proclaiming his handiwork. One day gushes the news to the next, and one night informs another what needs to be known.” (Psalm 19:1-2, CEB)

This summer as you take off and behold this nature God has created, don’t be drawn away from the aspects of His nature revealed only in His Word: His love, mercy, patience and faithfulness. Even if you’re still social distancing, don’t give up the mundane magic that happens when even two or three gather in His name, let alone the vibrancy of a weekly congregation. God’s nature outshines even what we experience in His Creation. Come drink at the wells of who He is by exploring every possible stream of revelation He has given us.

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God is preparing our way

Pastor Darryl Miller

Sand Lake/South Ensley UMC’s 

616-636-5659

John 14:22: “My Father’s house has room to spare. If that weren’t the case, would I have told you that I’m going to prepare a place for you?” Common English Bible

The above scripture is often read at funerals. It is a passage of great comfort and grace. We lean on these words in times of great grief and loss. But I have found that these words are not just for those who have lost a loved one or for someone who is nearing the end of their days. These words have been proven over and over in my life and the life of the churches that I serve. I wrote on this passage once before and asked why we should wait for a funeral to make this passage true; shouldn’t we make sure that our places of worship are prepared for any who may come to worship with us? We have examples to learn from by the grace of God.

I am blind and I used to work on and build computers. But that was a long time ago. Because I use technology so much in my daily life, I was able to learn Zoom, Skype and all the new applications that we have been using so much this past several weeks. Our churches have been providing food trucks for local High school students for a few years now so when United Way approached wanting to bring in trucks to help the community, we already had volunteers who were ready to go. God has been preparing our way for years and He will continue to do so. 

Now, this kind of subject is difficult to express without using my own experiences. But my challenge to you is to look for the ways that God has prepared your way in advance. How has He provided a path that, when you first started, you may not have realized how important it would become? One of the biggest mistakes we make is to overlook the grace of God. We may say: “Isn’t is lucky that I took a class in cooking in school even though I didn’t really want to? Now that we have to stay home I can cook lots of things!” or something similar. We can call it luck or we can call it what it is—God preparing our way as He promised in Isaiah 43:19b: “I’m making a way in the desert, paths in the wilderness.”

It is important that we remember that we are not alone. God is with us. And beyond that He has prepared us, even if it doesn’t feel like it, because He and He alone will be our guide through all that comes our way. Check out an online church and when you can, there are many places to hear more about God’s grace.

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Do not be afraid

By Pastor Jon Huizenga 

Phone: 616 485-6943

website – www.riseupcedar.org

Facebook @riseupchurch

Email – info@riseupcedar.org

Hi neighbors! I am new to this “From the Pulpit” article. So, if we have not met before, it’s nice to meet you.

Our circumstances have been scary lately. You might be afraid of catching the virus. Or you could be afraid of how this is impacting your work or your school. Maybe you are afraid of the politics of it all. Like me, you could be afraid of how much isolation you can handle. (Staying at home and never going out is not my first choice for a good time!)

This general community nervousness has me thinking about the many times Jesus says, “Do not be afraid,” to people. He says it a lot.

One example is in Mark 4:35-41. Jesus herds his disciples into a boat to get away from the crowd after a long day. His disciples are experienced boat handlers (they are fishermen), but a storm comes up that is nearly swamping their boat. They are genuinely afraid, even though they are professionals. Jesus, however, is sleeping on a boat cushion like a baby. When they wake him up, he gets up, rebukes the wind and the waves, and the wind and waves obey him. Their fear of the storm ended, but now they were afraid of the power of Jesus!

In the story, the fear of the disciples seems to come from four things: 1. They failed to take note of the peace of Jesus.  (He was not afraid, was there really a reason for them to fear?) 2. They failed to take note of the presence of Jesus.  (If Jesus is in your boat, do you need to be afraid?) 3. They failed to take note of the power of Jesus (If someone tells the wind to stop and it does, you might be in the presence of God.) 4. They failed to take note of the personality of Jesus. (In their fear they shouted, “Don’t you care?” In fact, Jesus both cares and has power.)

Our current boat of life is a little stormy right now, don’t you think? How might our fear be different if we asked, “Where is Jesus at this moment?” The peace, presence, power and personality of Jesus change things.

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Thanks for everything – even our government

Pastor Dave Vander Meer

Rockford Springs Community Church

Today, as in everyday, we have so much to be thankful for.

“Lord, thank you for our food, our clothes, our homes, our churches, our families, our work, our money, our safety, our health and strength, our doctors, our hospitals, our stores, and our transportation.”  

Whoops, Oh yes, “and for our government, thank you.”

This last petition may be hard for some right now, while for others it is totally embraced.  There is a wide range of opinions and feelings out on the street regarding our government and the various actions it has taken recently with the COVID 19.  For some, the government has taken measures to protect, while for others the government has taken measures that have made things worse. But regardless where we are on the spectrum of views and voiced opinions, we would do well, each and every one of us, to pause and consider what the Bible teaches about government.

1. God is the King.  He is in control of all things.  Psalm 95:3 “For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.”

2. God is the one who created and instituted government. Romans 13: 1 “Let every person be subject to the governing authorities. For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.”

3. Governments, just like churches, families, and businesses, are made up of people, and hence, at times, do not do everything right, or do what they do with the right motives.  

4. Governments need support. There are numerous ways the Bible tells us to support our government.  We need to pay taxes. Romans 13:6 “For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing. 7 Pay to all what is owed to them.”

We need to give respect. Romans 13:7b “respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”  We need to pray for them.  I Tim 2:1 “First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way.” We need to hold them accountable. This is why we speak a “word of conscience” to our government and why we vote.  This is why it was right, for example, for Nathan the prophet to come and point out King David’s sin. 

Two more things to carefully consider:

1. This is a time to trust God.  He is the one who will care for us without fault.  And He is the one who can change the heart of our government to properly care for His people. Prov 21:1 “The king’s heart is in the hand of the LORD; he directs it like a watercourse wherever he pleases.”

2. And finally, Christian, we need to always remember that our citizenship is in heaven. Phil 3: 20 “But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ.”

Since Jesus Christ purchased us on the cross, we are His.  Our first allegiance is to His government, the Kingdom of God. While we wait for His Kingdom to be fully realized, we thank Him for this government and seek its good. May the Lord bless the United States of America.  

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We have this confidence: God walks with us

Pastor Tom Schmidt, interim pastor

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

The days following Jesus death and crucifixion were peculiar. As followers of Jesus, they had seen miracles take place. The lame walked, blind given sight, lepers made whole and Lazarus raised from the dead. But now, they were trying to discover a new normal. What would the future hold?

Those are our questions today! What will the future hold? What will be the new normal?

Luke 24 shares a confidence in knowing that Jesus will walk with us in life.

We have this confidence to talk about exciting events. Luke 24:13-16 states: “Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognizing him.”

At this time, the talk was all about Jesus and the events that surrounded his death and resurrection.

Today, a lot of talk is going on in the public square. Opinions shared. What is right and what is wrong.

Usually in the spring, people would have loved to claim a NCAA Basketball Championship for their team. Who would wear the green jacket at the Master’s Golf Championship? Or maybe just to talk about what vegetables or flowers need to be planted.

We have this confidence that God is aware even when we are not. Luke 24:17-19 says, “He asked them, ‘What are you discussing together as you walk along?’ They stood still, their faces downcast. One of them, named Cleopas, asked him, ‘Are you the only one visiting Jerusalem who does not know the things that have happened there in these days?’ ‘What things?’ he asked.”

God is a God who knows all things. Life brings questions. In the unknown greater faith can take root. Hope can fill our being. God knows! The God of Creation knows how to give hope in the day that we live in.

I can’t imagine having to endure the “stay home, stay safe” mandates without other family members. Some people are very lonely today. Consider ways to connect with people who might be deeply lonely. Reach out to the lonely so that they can have a confidence in God who is aware of their needs.

We have this confidence of assurance when our eyes are truly open to God’s Message. Luke 24:31-32 says, “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’”

God opens our eyes to know him personally. We do not know the future, but we can have confidence that God is with us in the tomorrows because He walks with us today. He desires to walk and talk with us for all of life ahead.

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A Place for God to live

Rev. Bill Johnson

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

140 S. Main St., Cedar Springs ï 616.696.1140

Where is God now? 

King David wanted a house where God could live. If he got his way, Yahweh would no longer have to live in tabernacle-tents, but in a Temple. The Lord deserved the best. David wanted to build a house for God for all good intents, and in gratitude for what God had done for him. But God spoke to the prophet Nathan, “tell David thanks but no thanks.” God preferred a spiritual house. 

For Christians, the text in 2 Samuel 7:8-16 is often understood as an Advent season reading, because encased in it is the mystery of God’s coming to earth to live not in a building, but in human form. Yet with Easter and Passover still vibrating, these words of Nathan take on new light. 

Writing in the Journal for Preachers1 during the recent Holy Week, William Brown commented on the emptiness in our sanctuaries this Easter: “By abandoning our sacred gathering places, we are not abandoning the gospel. Far from it. We are testifying to what the white-robed messenger announced at the tomb, ‘He is not here.’” Brown continues, “Perhaps these are the words we should proudly display on our church marquee signs, ‘He is not here.’”

Church buildings have a significant meaning and function, make no mistake. We convene as faith communities because the Holy Spirit finds communion when pilgrims come together for worship. There is strength found in the sacraments. There is spiritual growth through reflection over the stories from the Old and New Testaments. And even in the time of fellowship over snacks, there is encouragement as bridges are built and barriers fall. It is good and right to have places for holy gathering. There is great grief when the community cannot meet in their familiar sacred space. 

But this year we can’t. We must not. If we want to save lives, we will refrain from gathering for a while. And that leads us back to the prophet Nathan. No church building, however well-intentioned and beautiful, fixes God at this place or that. The Spirit moves as it wills. God shows up when people bear witness when their lives say, “He is here,” And where is he? He is in the sacrifice of those who go to work every day right now; the medical teams, the grocery store employees, the truck drivers, the fast-food servers, the first responders, the generous outpouring of financial help, and in the prayers of those who in their devotion, make a holy space in their lives. 

1Journal for Preachers, Holy Week 2020, An Easter Meditation Amidst Pandemic, The Life-giving Emptiness of This Easter. William P. Brown, Decatur, Georgia.  

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