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Archive | From the Pulpit

The Real McCoy

Pastor Dick Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta

 

Did you ever wonder where that expression “the real McCoy” comes from? According to the folks at phrases.org, nobody really knows for sure. Whatever the origin of the term, we all know what it means—the genuine article, the real deal!   What does real Christianity look like? What are the tell-tale signs that distinguish “the real McCoy” from a cheap imitator?   

Some might suggest real Christianity means going to church or having perfect attendance. Obviously, I’m in favor of church attendance, but I also know that there is more than that to “the real McCoy.” You can’t tell real Christianity by how big a Bible a person carries, or how a person dresses.

The Christian “real McCoy” always produces three things in a person’s life: controls the tongue, softens the heart, and purifies the soul, and if it doesn’t, something’s wrong!

“If anyone thinks himself to be religious, and yet does not bridle his tongue but deceives his own heart, this man’s religion is worthless (James 1:26, NIV). Now, that is quite a statement. James explains this further in the third chapter; he says the tongue is harder to control than a wild beast. It corrupts like a poison and consumes like a roaring fire. There is not a single one of us that doesn’t know that by experience—either from the effects of our own tongue or from the receiving end of someone else’s razor-sharp words.

“A pure and undefiled religion in the sight of our God and Father is this: to visit orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world,” (James 1:27, NIV). The plight of such people was not a pretty picture in the ancient world. We tend to rebel at what is fake, just as Jesus himself rejected fakes. Others can be fooled, but not God; he will unmask us sooner or later.  

Even sincere people are not perfect. A young man filled out an application for admission to a university, and in response to a request to “List your Personal Strengths,” he wrote, “sometimes I am trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” Where the form said, “List Your Weaknesses,” he wrote: “Sometimes I am not trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean and reverent.” No one is perfect.

One thing that has limited the influence Christians have on the world is that many who claim to follow Christ are not authentic. An inconsistent lifestyle repels people from the church. So how authentic is your walk? Are the people around you drawn to faith by your life? Do people who cross your path recognize that there is a difference in the way you live?

The key is being authentic, being real, not trying to just appear perfect, and if you think you are fooling everybody, then the only person you are fooling is yourself. You can be assured you are not fooling God. What you say and what you do, influences those God puts into your life, and we must be ready and willing to be the good news, before we tell the good news. 

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Is there hope?

Pastor Dallas Burgeson

The Springs Church

135 N. Grant St., Cedar Springs

 

When you pick up the newspaper, are you often struck by the weight of what’s in it? Violence, political unrest, an unending clash of values…the temptation is to believe that these issues have never been seen before in all of history, but this just isn’t true. To read history from all over the world is to realize how commonplace so much of this has been since the earliest times.

Take a look at the biblical book of Judges as an example, written over 3,000 years ago on the other side of the world. You would be hard-pressed to find stories with more bizarre plotlines than these. It starts out describing pretty normal events, but as it progresses, things take a downward spiral as it races to some of the very lowest places humanity has ever been. I challenge you to do a read-through sometime soon, and see if you don’t agree.

So why I am I telling you all this? Well, for one, if Christianity ever seems to you to be hopelessly out of touch with today’s realities, I want to give you at least one good reason to question that common assumption. But beyond that, if you’re already reading today’s headlines, I want to challenge you to look at them from a perspective with the wisdom of hindsight—of “been there, done that.” If life is sometimes just going to be hard, wouldn’t it pay for us to know how to walk through it with insight, direction, and—hopefully—grace? I think so.

If you take the time to read Judges, you will probably notice how things from the story of Abimelech (chapter nine) onward start to snowball with the complexities of the evil that is happening. The questions that become important for us, then, are:

How does a society pull out of a nosedive when this “chain-reaction” of evil starts to take place in our own time?

What values and character traits have to rise up when chaos begins to reign?

These questions are addressed seriously and in deeper detail throughout Scripture. They aren’t questions that should make us wring our hands and worry; there are already plenty of people doing that. No, this is an opportunity to steep ourselves in the words of Jesus, and then… put them into practice: 

You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven” –Matthew 5:14-16 (NIV).

God’s People were built for this. Through Jesus, light and hope for the world can begin in us.

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Two words

Pastor Robert P. Smith

First Baptist Church 

233 Main St, Cedar Springs

 

“Thank you.” “I’m sorry.” “I do.” Words seem so ordinary. “Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose,” is the paraphrase Dr. Paul Tripp gives to Proverbs 18:21 in his book, War of Words. Paul is a counselor, speaker, and a writer, with extensive pastoral experience. It’s true. Words are important. The two most important words for me are “But God.”

“There, but for the grace of God, go I.” This is a familiar phrase, but its author is unknown. However, we open the Bible and discover several characters who received God’s grace. In the first book of the Bible, Genesis 8:1, we read, “But God remembered Noah.” What was the condition of the world at that time? In Genesis 6:5, God said, “The wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” Today is similar to yesterday. There is evil in our world. People of grace aren’t excluded from worldly evil, but it serves a providential purpose. At the end of Genesis, Joseph said, “You meant evil against me, but God meant it for good” (Genesis 50:20 ESV). But God.

When we encounter worldly evil we often wonder, “Why God?” Another Bible character, Asaph, a worship leader in King David’s court, wondered about good and evil. He thought, “Good things only happen to good people.” He thought that God’s people are excluded from worldly evil. Later he confessed, “My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever” (Psalm 73:23 ESV). But God.

Who would I be if it were not for the grace of God? In Ephesians 2:4, the Apostle Paul declares, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us…” The grace of God guarantees that God loves us in His Son, Jesus Christ, who died on the cross. But God. Think about these two words for a moment. But God.

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Tools of the trade

Pastor Darryl Miller

Sand Lake/South Ensley United Methodist churches 

616-636-5659

 

“Our God gives you everything you need, makes you everything you are to be” (2 Thessalonians 1:2, The Message).

“He did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all. Won’t he also freely give us all things with him?” (Romans 8:32, Common English Bible)

Although I am (all too quickly) approaching the age of 60, I am, for the first time, reading the book: The Wonderful Wizard of Oz by L. Frank Baum. Like many, I have seen the movie countless times but the book is immensely different from the movie. What stands out to me almost immediately is the obvious fact that the thing that each character wants, they already have—brains, a heart, and courage. Each demonstrates these attributes repeatedly on their journey. There is a good lesson in this for all of us. 

Sometimes God calls us to a place or a work that we are—to be blunt—afraid of. We doubt if we have the skills needed for the job or if we will be able to make a difference in a place that we are not familiar with. Sometimes, when we turn away from the task without trying, we miss the tremendous blessing that we would receive in return for following God’s direction.

Do not let this happen! God does not ask of us things that we are not able to do. In addition, we will be able to do these things because God is with us. He knows what we need and He provides us with all of this and more. 

Sure, it can be scary going into an unfamiliar place or starting a ministry with unfamiliar people. However, if this is what God has called you to do then the first step is to completely trust in Him. It is not always easy because our emotions, fear and doubt are very powerful. Remember that God is infinitely more powerful than our fears. Most importantly, He will not ask us to do something or go somewhere without honoring His promise to be with us. 

Trust in God no matter where He puts us and the blessing to your life will be far greater than we could have imagined.

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Problems

Rev. Chadrick Brown

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma Ave NE, Cedar Springs, MI 49319

 

It’s hard to believe that we find ourselves in another New Year. Congratulations… you made it! The problems of last year are over and we can look to this New Year with great optimism. Yeah, but wait a second. Is that really true? Do all we need is more optimism and the problems will go away? Well, before we start celebrating again, let me tell you what some old preacher once told me about problems. The old preacher said, “I’ve got problems, you’ve got problems. All God’s children got problems.” Now that is a profound statement. Isn’t that true? It’s called “Welcome to the human race!” And do you know what?  I hate to be the kill joy, but in this New Year, it doesn’t matter how much optimism you may muster up, you’re still going to have problems to face. The issue, then, is not whether we’ll have problems, but how we’ll handle them.

I love what Harriet Beecher Stowe wrote. Listen to what she said: “When you get into a tight place and everything goes against you, until it seems as though you cannot hang on a minute longer, never give up, for that is just the place and time that the tide will turn.” 

Did you hear that? Did you really read that? She said, “…never give up…” Now that is some great advice, isn’t it? I think many of us give up too quickly when the solution to our problem was right there, ready to be discovered and enjoyed. 

God’s Word tells us in Philippians 4:14 this powerful truth. “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” So, let’s break this scripture down a bit. Where do I get the strength? I get the strength from Jesus Christ. What do I get that strength for? To do all things. My friends, it’s not in our own strength that will get us through the difficulties of life. It’s in and through His strength, which is ours for the asking.

Are you struggling today with a problem? Are you tired? Then take a moment right now and ask Jesus to give you the strength to do whatever it takes to overcome that problem. I promise you this, He will answer you as you surrender your life to Him. And my friend… never give up. 

So, in this New Year, let’s not be surprised by the problems, but let’s surprise the problems in how we handle them.

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A New Beginning

By: Rev. Mike Shiery

Pilgrim Bible Church

 

One of the most beautiful promises found in God’s Word comes late in the Bible. In Revelation 21:5 God says, “Behold, I make all things new.” Obviously He is speaking of a coming time in Heaven when the curse of sin is abolished and all the imperfections of time are replaced by the perfections of eternity in God’s Presence. And certainly, to every believer, that is a glorious promise. There will be no more sin, sorrow, or suffering. Pain and problems will be replaced joy and jubilation. 

But in the meantime, we are still ensconced in a world of woe. There are many things which trouble and confound us which are out of our control. Old age and death are an inevitable challenge which lurk in the future mists of our life. Other troubling concepts loom over us which we would like to avoid, but are powerless to change.

However, at this time of the year when many people are taking stock of their lives and finding themselves dissatisfied, there is hope for change in at least one area.

God does not have to wait for Heaven to make a new person out of us. The message of the Gospel is that Christ came to give us abundant life and that starts in the here and now. He came down to our level in order to lift us up to His. Ephesians chapter 2 says that God has raised believers up together in Christ. And all of those believers were one time sinners in need of a Savior. This act of salvation is not achieved in our own strength but rather in Jesus. 

Perhaps someone reading these words is taking inventory of their spiritual life and feeling hopeless. Allow me to point you to Jesus. He can step into your life and fix the things that are broken. This can be the moment when you become a new person in Christ. After all, he specializes in things thought impossible, and that includes fixing the mess we’ve made out of our lives.

As Gloria Gaither wrote years ago: 

Something beautiful, something good —

All my confusion He understood; 

All I had to offer Him

Was brokenness and strife, 

But He made something beautiful of my life.

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Arrival of Jesus

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

The advent season is upon us. Advent by definition means “arrival.” It is the period of time in our Church calendar filled with expectancy as we await the celebration of the arrival of Jesus. It’s a time meant to be filled with reflection and gratitude as we ponder the arrival of the “Word become flesh.”  Unfortunately this time ends up being hijacked by the hustle and bustle of the consumer-driven Christmas season. We spend time preparing for our family celebrations most commonly marked by the giving and receiving of gifts. Far too often I find myself failing to reflect on just exactly what it means to receive the greatest gift ever given. The perfect, eternal, all-powerful Son of God taking on the flesh He created in order to humbly, meekly, and selflessly stand, or, more accurately, be crucified in our place; the giver and sustainer of all life willingly enduring our death so we could freely accept and embrace his life. 

This is a gift for all mankind simply to receive. Let us not get so caught up in the celebrations revolving around the giving and receiving of material and temporal gifts, and risk missing the preciousness of receiving the priceless gift—God giving himself in the greatest act of love this world has ever or will ever witness. 

Let us find ourselves filling this advent season with time spent in worship of the One who gave himself once and for all for the joy, peace and life of all who humbly and simply receive the greatest gift ever given. As we await the celebration of our King’s arrival, may we find ourselves longing for His return where he will once and for all make all things new.  

#advent  #comeLordJesus  #He’scomingback!  #receive

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Let’s keep Advent

Father Lam T. Le, Pastor 

St. John Paul II Parish 

3110 17 Mile Rd., Cedar Springs

(616) 696-3904

 

Sunday, December 3, marks the season of Advent and the beginning of the Church’s new liturgical year. The word Advent comes from the Latin word “ad-venire,” which means “to come to.” 

“Advent has a twofold character, for it is a time of preparation for the Solemnities of Christmas, in which the First Coming of the Son of God to humanity is remembered, and likewise a time when, by remembrance of this, minds and hearts are led to look forward to Christ’s Second Coming at the end of time. For these two reasons, Advent is a period of devout and expectant delight.” (See Universal Norms on the Liturgical Year and Calendar, no. 39). 

In our culture of instant gratification, there seems to be no room for such a period of devout and joyful preparation as the liturgies of the Church suggest. But as people of faith, the Parable of the Ten Virgins reminds us; unless we are prudent (carrying a lamp with enough oil while awaiting the bridegroom) we are not suitable for the Feast (Mt 25:1-13). Unless we prepare our hearts for the coming of the Lord, whether in the celebration of Christmas or at the end of time, we will not be prepared to enter the Wedding Feast of the Lamb. Or, as Matthew 22: 11-13 indicates: we might enter, but not with the proper attire for the Feast. 

“Prepare the way of the Lord” is the exhortation that is properly applied to all of us as we celebrate Advent! Concretely, how should we keep advent? As the voice of one crying out in the desert indicates, “Make straight his paths!” (Mk 1:2). We make our paths straight by removing the obstacles in our hearts that separate us from God. Those obstacles can be sinful acts and unhealthy attachments to the “stuff” we accumulate in this life that consumes our hearts and souls, leaving no room for God. 

Let this Advent be unlike any other! Let us be like the five wise virgins with lamps filled with oil to await our Redeemer, Christ the Lord! Amen. 

(In addition to being the priest of St. John Paul II Parish, Cedar Springs, Father Lam also proudly serves as Pastor of Mary Queen of Apostles Parish, 1 W Maple Street Sand Lake, Michigan 49343. Phone 616 636 5671)

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Gratitude is not a platitude

Pastor Craig Carter

North Kent Community Church

1480 Indian Lakes Rd. NE, Sparta

 

Platitude is a remark or a statement, especially one with a moral content, which has been used too often to be interesting or thoughtful. I find this often to be the case this time of year. With the Thanksgiving holiday having been enjoyed and Christmas around the corner, we certainly have plenty of reasons to be grateful. All too often we say to people struggling this time of year, “Look at all the things you have to be grateful for,” or “You should just be grateful for what you have!” True as these may be, it has become more of a platitude. It’s just a statement used to teach some lesson, but is not found thoughtful or beneficial to those hearing it. Gratitude, or gratefulness, flows from the presence and purpose of God. Gratitude can be difficult to express when one struggles to see purpose or God’s presence at work in their life or circumstances. So, a quick platitude about gratitude does not work. 

I encourage you to do two things. Redefine for yourself what gratitude means. Then help others find this meaning also. First, what does gratitude mean to you? For me, as a Christian, it really is a theology, a belief system. It’s understanding and recognizing God’s presence and purpose in every area of my life. It’s believing that no matter what happens in my life, God is still good! Gratitude is ultimately a way of seeing things, a certain worldview, not defined by our expectations, moods or emotions. I did not always think this way. Truthfully, before I gave my life to Christ as my savior, my life had no real purpose and meaning. All the things I sought to bring purpose and meaning in my life left me empty. I was not convinced there was a God, much less Him being good! It all changed when I realized that God was good. Gratitude is goodness, or kindness that exceeds all your expectations. Romans 5:8 says, “God demonstrates his own love (goodness) for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” He loved me and died for my sins, while I was still a sinner! So, I am convinced, now that I know him, that whatever life brings, God has my best interest in mind. He is good despite what my circumstances, moods, emotions or unmet expectations tell me. Why? Because, he has a plan and purpose in it all, therefore, I am grateful. Settle your theology about God. God is good, all the time!

Now that this is settled in your heart and life, please share it with others! Many do not see God this way. Many are burdened, stressed and discouraged because unmet expectations have defined their understanding, not of gratefulness, but of God. Therefore, a platitude will not work. Refuse to make statements about gratefulness as a platitude. Make time to understand people’s lives and situations, so that you can speak words of encouragement. Help them find a good God in the middle of it all! Help them see that although we do not understand everything, a loving, good God has a purpose that’s best for their lives. The Apostle Paul reminds us, “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. (Romans 8:28 – NIV)

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God’s got this

Pastor Kristi J. Rhodes

Hillcrest Community Church

5994 18 Mile Rd. Cedar Springs, MI 49319

 

Maybe you’ve noticed the tremendous increase of struggles in the lives of people you love. Maybe you’ve seen more and more people struggling with destructive addictions and hurts, habits and hang-ups both from the recent and distant past. Maybe it’s even YOU that have been battling demons with increasing difficulty.

It is easy to believe that there is no way out and that no one really even cares. But I am here today to speak truth to you. Truth is, “If God could close the mouth of lions for Daniel, part the Red Seas for Moses, make the sun stand still for Joshua, open the prison for Peter, put a baby in the arms of Sarah, and raise Lazarus from the dead, then He can certainly take care of you! Nothing you are facing today is too hard for Him to handle!” (Anonymous writer)

Truth is:  Nothing is impossible with God but apart from him, we can do nothing. Our hope is in him. Get connected and stay in close relationship with Jesus. Satan and his dark forces have been around much longer than we have. We are no match for him alone, but with God, we can do all things.  

Jesus is the only one who has gone toe to toe with Satan and defeated him. In Christ, believers have been given authority over the dark forces, which is something Satan wants to keep you from learning. If you don’t know you have authority over Satan and his demons, he will continue to defeat you anytime he wants. Colossians 2:15 reminds us that Jesus defeated and disarmed all the powers and authorities that oppose God and His people. At the very Name of Jesus, the demons tremble! Believers should never have to fear their spiritual enemy.

The church has done a poor job of intentionally teaching believers about their authority over the work of the enemy in their lives. Paul taught about this most aggressively in the book of Ephesians. I have heard it said that when seeking spiritual power, look to “G-E-Power-Company.” G=Galatians, E=Ephesians, P=Philippians, and C=Colossians. These are 4 books (right in a row), which are located in the New Testament of the Bible. God wants people to be delivered from the power of Satan and his forces.

We serve a God who is mightier than the struggles we inherit, and bigger than the battles we face. God is full of the desire to forgive, love, and heal the brokenness that rises up between us and Him. God is present in the places where our fears live.  Jonah 2:2 reminds us that “in my distress I called to the LORD, and he answered me.  From the depths of the grave I called for help, and you listened to my cry.” And Hebrews 7:25 (NIV) says, “therefore, He (Jesus) is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.”  

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