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Archive | From the Pulpit

What are you being called to do?

Pastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson United Methodist Church

9024 18 Mile Rd, Cedar Springs

 

Hello and happy fall! Well, truth be told, I am sad that summer is drawing to an end because I love the long days and warm evenings. Yet September brings us to many new activities and our ambitions are quickened and we get back into our routines and there is actually some joy in that. I believe many parents of young children especially appreciate it.

The fall brings about a renewed focus on the activities of the church since everyone is returning from summer vacations and the routine sets in. Kid ministries start up, including the KidzClub here at East Nelson Church on Thursday evenings. Mission trip planning gets into full gear. High school youth begin meeting. It’s a lot of fun to watch the joy that comes from community activities.

September is a great time for each of us to recommit once again to what the Spirit might be calling us to do. Might a Bible study group be calling to you? How about a recommitment to daily devotions? Maybe there’s a new sense of calling to attend regular worship? Are you feeling called to begin some new ministry?

We read that Jesus told his disciples that discipleship requires commitment and then we take that and begin to worry that a commitment might be a cross that we could not possibly bear. But, if we try to do this on our own and try to figure out ways to do this all by ourselves, we can get all tangled up! Jesus told his disciples “for mortals it is impossible, but not for God; for God, all things are possible.” Let’s open ourselves to the working of the Holy Spirit and answer the call on our lives.

The terrific news is that the Holy Spirit is at work all the time. The work of the Holy Spirit is in leading and guiding us, counseling and inspiring us. When we feel called yet worry that we can’t do it or we simply don’t have the time, just listen to the words of Jesus and understand that we are not in this all by ourselves. The Holy Spirit will give us the strength to work together and we will be given the ability to support each other. We will be able to do the work of our church communities.

So, should you think you can’t, open yourself to the workings of the Holy Spirit and you will be filled by the amazing action of God in your life.

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Finding rest 

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

 

Matthew 11:28-30: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.  Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (NIV).

All you who are weary and burdened…” I am not sure about you, but that phrase tends to describe me quite often. Weary and burdened, translation = tired and weighed down. It’s in these moments when I begin to become overwhelmed with the burdens and pressures of life that I often think, “I just need a day off.”  Wouldn’t that be nice? A whole day to myself to do whatever I want. No responsibilities of dropping kids off somewhere or picking them up from somewhere else only to transport them to the next thing. No phone calls, e-mails, or texts from work. No honey-do list or chores to take care of.  Just me, a TV, a book and my couch.  I often find myself thinking that if I could just have a day like that, then everything would be better. I wouldn’t be so tired. I wouldn’t be so weighed down. Instead I would be rejuvenated and re-energized. “Yes, if I could just get a day off, then everything would be restored back to order and life wouldn’t be so weary and burdensome.” That is the lie.

The reality is that no matter how much rest or relaxation we may get, it doesn’t take long being back in our normal routine of life where we end up finding ourselves “weary and burdened.” The solution isn’t how much time we can find to rest but rather where we go to find our rest. While our couch, or the TV, or our favorite book may sound like a welcomed destination for relaxation, they will never provide the rest that our souls crave. Jesus knew this and that›s why when He was around the weary and burdened he didn’t tell them to take a day off, or find an afternoon where they could only do what they wanted to do. Instead, he welcomed the weary and burden to the only place where they could find rest for their souls—in His presence.

The invitation is simple; come. In other words, leave behind all that is weighing you down and simply come be with me, come sit with me, come dwell with me, and you WILL find rest for your souls. Are you weary and burdened down by the struggles and trials of life? The invitation is open to all. Come to Jesus. Sit in His presence. Let him carry the load and walk with you side by side . Stop trying to do it on your own, and stop trying to find what only Jesus can give in anything or anyone else. Come to Him, and you WILL find rest for your souls! It’s really that simple, the decision is up to you.

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Blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it

Father Lam T. Le, Pastor

St. John Paul II Parish

3110 17 Mile Rd.

Cedar Springs, Michigan 49319

616-696-3904

 

On August 15, the Catholic Church celebrated the Solemnity of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary. It is the faith of the Roman Catholic Church that Mary was assumed body and soul into heaven when her earthly journey was completed, because God “would not allow her to see the corruption of the tomb, since from her body she marvelously brought forth your incarnate Son, the Author of all life” (Preface: the Glory of Mary Assumed into Heaven, the Roman Missal).

The faithful was surprised to hear the Gospel passage chosen for the Vigil Mass of this great Solemnity, Luke 11: 27-28: “While he was speaking, a woman from the crowd called out and said to him, “Blessed is the womb that carried you and the breasts at which you nursed.” He replied, “Rather, blessed are those who hear the word of God and observe it.”

The true blessedness that Jesus spoke of in Luke 11:27-28 should not be interpreted as a rebuke of the mother of Jesus. Rather, it emphasizes that attentiveness to God’s Word is more important to Jesus than biological relationships. Mary lived her life in attentiveness and obedience to the Word, “Blessed are you who believed that what was spoken to you by the Lord would be fulfilled,” said her cousin Elizabeth (Luke 2:45). The Church honors Mary for her role in salvation and looks to her as a model of discipleship.

The word “Church” as the Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 775 and 777 teaches ecclesia in Latin and ekkalein in Greek means to “call out of” or “convocation.” It designates the assembly as those to whom God’s Word “convokes,” or gathers to form the people of God. Thus, to be the people of God is to be attentive to the Word.

In short, to be Church is follow the example of the mother of Jesus: “Mary kept all these things, reflecting on them in her heart” (Luke 2:19).  To be Church is to hear and to keep the Word in our heart. 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 61- 636-5671.)

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Promoted to friends

Pastor Craig Carter

North Kent Community Church

1480 Indian Lakes Rd. NE

Sparta, MI 49345

 

“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you” John 15:13-16 (NIV).

A few weeks ago, while on vacation, the Lord led me to this passage. In fact, it was on the first day of vacation, during my personal time of reading. I was touched by verse 15 where Jesus said he “no longer called his disciples servants but friends.” I felt like He was saying to me, “Craig, I want you to be my friend, not my servant.” This simple, yet profound truth has done so much in my heart and life in a few short weeks. You see, I have for most of my Christian life, strived to be a very good servant of the Lord. At times, even trying to be the best servant possible. I have preached many sermons on being a good and faithful servant for Jesus. I never recalled a sermon on being Jesus’ friend; after all, He is God. Servanthood is important, and yes biblical, but if not careful, servanthood alone can become your sole source of purpose and identity. It can rob you from your intimate relationship and friendship with Jesus. It steals your joy and your ability to really hear from and follow Jesus. It can leave you empty, tired and worn out. Once rested, we tell ourselves, I have to do a better job of serving him, not be a closer friend of Jesus.

The first thing I noticed is that Jesus says that the disciples were only his friends if they did what He commanded! Then before they could ever fulfill a command as his servants, he says, I NO LONGER call you servants! What? Wow! He promoted them. In one statement, he changed the status of their relationship. They were just invited into His inner-circle. Why? The reason is simple, because servants do not know their master’s business. Servants are limited in their information access. They are limited in their understanding of their master’s heart and decision-making process. Often, they are the last to know anything. You see, masters and bosses do not reveal major decisions and important plans to their servants, but friends do! Think about it, everything important, any valuable or intimate piece of information you ever received from anyone, you received based on your friendship with him or her. So, it is with Jesus.

For example, those of us who are married realize we do not know the personal, intimate and important things about each other based on serving one another, but on our friendship. You open your heart to friends. It’s been said, “people want to know you care, before they care to know.” As a pastor, I do not strive to build a church based off servanthood, but friendship. The Heart of God is the same. Jesus is not building his family, the church, off servanthood, but friendship. If Jesus is your Savior, you are His friend and He is yours! Plain and simple. You have access to the intimate things of His heart before you ever do a thing for him. Jesus holds no secrets from you. Verse 16 states, everything His father shared with him, He shares with you. Learn to be a friend of Jesus. Slow down, even stop your serving long enough to hear what He has to say. How he loves you and cares about every about you. Many people think if no one serves in the church, our families or jobs, nothing will get done! This is simply not true! People are not motivated by servanthood. A servant’s mentality alone will never sustain anything of value or importance. Great example from Luke 10:38-42, is the story of Martha and Mary. Martha was so busy serving, she never heard Jesus’s heart. Her serving distracted her. If Jesus wanted a clean house and a sandwich he would have said so, and Mary would have made him one. Martha, on the other hand, just cleaned the house and made five sandwiches just because. She made them just in case Jesus needed or wanted them. Many Christians are like this. We create unneeded work for ourselves, even doing things that were never asked or desired of us.

In hopes of helping you develop a better friendship with Jesus, I would like to leave you with four things to consider. They contrast the difference between a Servanthood vs. Friendship mentality. One is freeing and empowering, while the other leaves us empty and requiring more.

Friends live from His presence, not his commands.

Friends find value in relationship, not assignments.

Friends work “with” God, not “for” God.

Friends live “from” God’s favor, not “for” God’s favor.

Brothers and sister in Jesus, Friends of God, cultivate your friendship with Jesus. It is the key to knowing His love and heart for you.

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Self love

Pastor Ryan Black

Cedar Springs Christian Church

340 West Pine Street, Cedar Springs

 

While it is a great good to seek self-sacrifice and self-denial in our relationship with God and others, we also want to be weary of demeaning ourselves to the point of self-hatred. While we are called to be lowly in Spirit (Proverb 16:19) and to lay down any self-pride, we must also be careful not to demean our own selves. We must recognize and embrace the value given to us by our Father who made us good.

In the Bible, Paul illustrates the idea of not despising ourselves but the flaws and effects of our brokenness. (Romans 7:14,15, 20, 24, 25).  In this way, Paul shows us how to apply to ourselves the saying, “Hate the sin, not the sinner.” He then goes on to share that even with the guilt of doing what we hate, we still preserve great value as children of God. “Those who are led by the Spirit of God are children of God…and if children, then heirs, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ” (Romans 8:14, 17).

We cannot hate what God loves, whether this refers to others around us or ourselves. We need to hinge on God’s love for us to overcome the temptation of self-hatred. God loves us, and sent his son Jesus on the cross to prove it. The whole gospel message is built on His love for us. This love should remind us of our true value as humans. When we keep in mind our worth, it helps us to love ourselves in the balanced way that we are meant to.

We should not misunderstand this love with the modern day notion of self-esteem, which is simply an artificial “good feeling” about oneself. This balanced love of self is not feeling good about the nice things we can do. This is a love of self in which we seek the true good for ourselves, forgiving ourselves when we fail, and accepting ourselves totally with all of our talents and weaknesses, realizing that we are not perfect, but we are also not hopeless. Remember, God told us to love our neighbors as ourselves. How can we do that if we do not have respect for ourselves? We are created in His image in which we find our identity. That would indicate a whole lot of worth.

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The Spirit of heaviness  

Pastor Dick Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta

 

Foretelling the coming of Jesus Christ, the prophet Isaiah really hits home with these words of promise: “To appoint unto them that mourn in Zion, to give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:3 –King James translation).

There is a comparison being made here between a funeral and a wedding celebration. A funeral is where the Hebrews would have put ashes upon their heads in mourning, and some would have beat their breasts and wailed, while wearing sackcloth. Yet at a wedding, they wore beautiful garments, literally, garments of praise.

The point being that whatever you were feeling in your spirit and soul, whatever your mood was, would be reflected in what you wore. That is still the case today; Jesus taught on this—that Christianity is meant to be a wedding celebration and not a funeral dirge. I believe that what Isaiah is speaking to us today, is a revelation, an important key to get delivered from the spirit of heaviness.

What is the spirit of heaviness? First off, we’re not talking about a weight loss program like Weight-Watchers; the spirit of heaviness is spiritual. It is like a drudgery that comes over you, something generally unexplainable, not necessarily reflecting the circumstances that are around you. Some have described it as a numbness of the soul, more like darkness. The NIV translates it as spirit of despair. If you’ve ever been in desperation you can understand this.

Young’s Literal Translation says a spirit of weakness, which covers a whole lot of things, like how we can be weak in mind, weak in our emotions, weak in our actions, and even weak in our body.

If the real you, your human spirit that God breathed into you, if that is damaged, it will affect your whole being. “A merry heart doeth good like a medicine, but a broken spirit drieth the bones” (Proverbs 17:22 KJV). If there is something wrong with your spirit, it can even affect your body. What Isaiah is talking about is this human condition of the heart that is devastating, that makes us weak, that makes us frail, that makes us despair, that makes us want to give up on life, taking all the color out of life, burning life to the ashes.

Isaiah gives us the solution: the garment of praise. How do you get it? Like every provision of God, you’ve got to go and get it. It is free, given by grace, you don’t have to buy it or earn it, but you do have to come and get it by faith. Jesus has bought it with His own blood, and God, by grace, is handing it to us. But we, in the midst of our despair, have got to come up to the throne of grace and say “I need that garment, Lord!” There is something for us to do; we’ve got to wrap ourselves up in praise, “I had a coffee with a friend,” “somebody blessed me,” or “I had a nice walk today.” Thank you Lord, thank you!

Isaiah said he will give you beauty for ashes. We all know what ashes are; it’s what is left after all the fuel (joy) is burned out. God knew we would be burnt by life’s experiences. But he also knew he could replace that burnt out mess with something beautiful. Rather than anointing our head with ashes, he wants to anoint our head with the oil of joy.

Bill Gaither wrote the song that says: “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.”

This may seem simple, actually it is, but it’s profound. You are wrapping yourself up in the garment of praise and thus, overcoming the spirit of heaviness. If you wait until you feel like praising, you’re not going to break through. You take your God-given will and say, “I will praise God.”  There is power in praise, medicine for a merry heart, take it many times a day.

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Have I got Good News for you

Thomas M. Doherty, Superintendent

North Michigan Conference Free Methodist Church, USA

Writing for The Springs Church

 

Have I got “Good News” for you! As Christians, we are the people of the “Good News,” but I wondered if we understand all that is meant by “Good News.” Yes, Jesus came to earth to become one of us. Yes, He lived a perfect life and died for our sins. And yes, God the Father raised Jesus from the dead.

Many of us believe and have acted on Romans 10:9-10, “…if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved” (ESV).

We have confessed Jesus as Lord and Savior; we have asked for forgiveness of our sins and are saved from the penalty of those sins.

When this happens, the bible tells us that we become a new creation. We become something new and wonderful “in Christ.” Recently, at a bible camp, I tried to teach five lessons about what the bible tells us related to who we are “in Christ.” I only got through two of the lessons because there is so much. Therefore, I can’t say everything that I would like to say in this article.

The bible says that we who have asked Christ to be our Savior are pure, holy, and blameless. It tells us that we are children of God and have been given an inheritance that is reserved for the firstborn. God dearly loves us, and we are to help others experience that same love (Ephesians 1:4, 1:11, Colossians 3:12, 2 Corinthians 5:18-19).

The word grace in the New Testament means more than graciousness. It literally means that the God who lives in us will move on our hearts to express his character. What does that mean to us? It means that we do not need to be controlled by fear, anger, hate and bitterness. We do not need to be controlled by habits, or impulses or additions. As we let God have control in our lives, his character shines through.

We don’t have to let our tempers get the best of us, or addictive behavior rule our lives. In Luke 4:18-19, Jesus quoted a passage from the Old Testament that said that he was anointed to proclaim the good news; to proclaim liberty or freedom to those in captivity; recover sight for those who are blind; and to set at liberty those who are oppressed (ESV).

In Christ, we are a people who can thrive not just survive. Salvation is not just for when we die, it is for life now.

Let me encourage you when you read your bible to look for those phrases, “in Jesus,” or “in Christ.” Embrace all of the blessings God has for you.

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A thin line

Pastor Robert Smith

First Baptist Church

233 Main St., Cedar Springs

 

There is a difference between a Thinline edition of the Bible and a perspective that views the Bible as thin. I view one as helpful in ministry and I view the other as harmful. One makes Truth easy to grasp and the other loses the grip on Truth.

What is meant by the perspective that the Bible is “thin?” First, the use of the word “thin” implies that the Bible lacks substance, fullness, or abundance in meaning or purpose. In other words, the Bible is irrelevant. It doesn’t really address, at least with any substantive meaning, the real issues that touch our lives.

A second matter for us to consider, which is nearly as dangerous as the first, is seeing the Bible as merely a book of rules. Yes. There are commandments in the Bible, but the Bible is not a book of do’s and don’ts. The Bible tells us what has been done for us that we cannot do. It tells us of God’s one and only Son, Jesus, and why He came into the world. It tells us of the kind of life that Jesus called “abundant.”

A third matter, which is as dangerous as the second one, is to think of the Bible as merely a resource that one might turn to in order to find comfort in a time of crisis or to find wisdom in making a decision. Those who hold this view of the Bible genuinely believe it offers some general help, but not enough for the hard issues of life.

The Bible is not thin. It’s thick. It’s substantive. It is full of meaning. It’s rich in wisdom. Its abundance overflows to address every daily matter of meaning and purpose of our lives. If this is true, and it is, then why do people not see its relevance? Or for those who do, why do they see it merely as a resource, as if the Bible is one among many voices?

The Bible is more than rules for a well-ordered life. It’s more than a resource for some of the issues of life. It is relevant in all of life’s areas. It is God’s revelation of Himself. It will awaken and revive a soul to real life!

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God sightings

Pastor Darryl Miller

Sand Lake/South Ensley United Methodist churches 

616-636-5659

 

Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (KJV).

Several years ago, we began to use a certain publisher’s vacation bible school material. One of the things we did every day was to share “God sightings”—times that we experienced the presence of God each day. Since then we have begun to use the term almost constantly. It is a good way to stop and look at how God reveals Himself to us in our lives.

Some people write God off when something good happens and this is a shame. Why should we only give God recognition when something bad happens? A tornado, a flood, a hurricane happens and what does the television reporter and the insurance agent say? It was an “act of God.” However, when there is a nice sunny day, they do not say the same thing, do they? They may not but we certainly should.

I challenge you to take a minute each night and look back on your day. Did God make Himself real to you somehow? That truck that almost hit you but missed? The unexpected check that came in the mail just when it was needed? Or how about a beautiful sunset or sunrise? Or a bird singing outside your window just as you sat down to worry about tomorrow? Or a call from a friend? God reveals Himself in lots of ways; the trick is to not miss them.

We are so wrapped up in our worries and our schedules we miss out on God being the loving God that He is. And that is a great loss. See what ways you can experience God this week and make it a daily habit. I think that you will be surprised how often God is letting you know that He is there and that He loves you. Check out your local church and see how He reveals Himself to your neighbors; you may find that He is much more active in your life than you ever thought!

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Forgiveness

Pastor David Vander Meer

Rockford Springs Community Church 

5815 Fourteen Mile Rd NE, Rockford, MI 49341

 

When the Lord Jesus Christ taught his disciples how to pray, in Matthew 6: 9-15, he guided them through what we have come to call the Lord’s Prayer. Every phrase is rich in meaning, every sentence is personal and relative to our lives, and every sentence is God centered and Christ exalting.

Note the prayer again: Pray then like this: “Our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. 10 Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. 11 Give us this day our daily bread, 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors. 13 And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. (ESV)

But the sentence that shocked us at Rockford Springs Community Church like jumping through a frozen Michigan pond is the sentence: 12 and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.”

Oh, we want forgiveness, and desperately need it… but we do not want our forgiveness compared to how we forgive others. And, as if that is not enough, the Lord immediately follows up the prayer with a comment directed specifically at this petition for forgiveness by adding this comment:14 For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, 15 but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” (ESV)

We are like a boxer reeling on the ropes after being hit by not just one punch, but by a volley of punches. We reel on the ropes, not just theologically, but also experientially.

Theologically we know that we are forgiven on the basis of the righteous life and death of Jesus Christ. His work is acceptable to God, and not mine. So clearly the action of forgiveness on our part towards others is proof of salvation, not the achievement of salvation. But that being said, how vital is this proof for without it we may indeed stand condemned, and not saved.

Forgiving each other is not an option.

The requirement of forgiveness towards each other is not removed due to any excuses I may draft up.

But we might as well as admit it. We cannot forgive without God’s help. Our hurts, too often, run too deep. Our tendency to carry a grudge is so strong. Our memory of what was said calls up the damaging event over and over through the night. Releasing the offender is not in our nature.

And so the Lord teaches us in this text to pray. We pray, and plead, and petition our God to help us. And when the joy of forgiveness comes through the resurrecting power of Christ, we worship him for the release it brings us of evil. To not forgive is evil. We know that. And Christ has the power to break the grip of evil in our lives. How wonderful it is to come to our Lord and ask of Him to do that which He has done for us. As Jesus said, pray then like this.

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