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Archive | From the Pulpit

Running the race—with a goal 

Cedar-Christian-ChurchPastor Ryan Black

Cedar Springs Christian Church

340 West Pine Street, Cedar Springs

The Bible compares our walk with God to that of a race (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). It tells us to chase after or set our goal on the prize. This prize is an imperishable crown or the heavenly kingdom of God. This means everyone in the race should have that goal in sight. Without this goal, we can find ourselves running the race in circles without meaning or purpose. It sounds very similar to the story of in the Old Testament of the Israelites wandering the wilderness. They had lost track of their goal, which was the Promised Land, and ended up wandering around in the wilderness.  Finally, after 40years, Joshua and Caleb helped them refocus their goal.

While this race in life may seem easy, it is far from it. In fact, Paul says that this race is a fight and we must discipline ourselves so that we do not become disqualified from the race. When you enter this race, Satan is looking to set snares and traps in your life hoping eventually you’ll give up.  He wants to throw you off course and to see you fail from receiving your prize or achieving your goal. This is why the Bible says the gate to destruction is wide and the narrow gate leads to life. It can be tough. To hear those words actually comforts me. To know that God told us this life was not going to be a cakewalk assures me that it’s not unusual to find myself in a struggle from time to time.  The good news is you are not in this race alone. God wants to help you. He would love to see each and every one of us achieve success. He wants each and every one of us to enter the race and to look to Him for guidance.

Remember, when you are in the race you need to remain focused on the prize. Do not spend your life wandering around in circles with no goal in mind. Don’t run this race alone. Lean on God, trust Him to direct you. We are all in this race together and as Paul tells us in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, we must finish the race. As a Church, we need to encourage each other and pick each other up when we see a brother or sister struggling in their race. We need to understand that this race shows us that we all have purpose and meaning in this life to do God’s will.

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Overcoming your fear of risk

The-Springs-blurred-webPastor Barry Briggs

The Springs Church

135 N. Grant, Cedar Springs

 

Everybody can identify with fears. We all have them. Fear is universal. Some of us have fear of the dark, fear of falling, fear of lobsters, fear of falling on lobsters in the dark. Fear of the words “Some assembly required.” But the fear I want to talk about is a specific fear: the fear of risk. This fear keeps you from the opportunities that God wants to do in your life and through your life. The truth is we don’t seize many of the opportunities God lays before us because we’re afraid to take the risk.

For me, I fear talking to people that I’ve never met before. Strangers. I don’t know, maybe it’s the root word—strange. Here’s the thing, not talking to strangers is keeping me from opportunities to meet new people. The reason I know these are missed opportunities is because I have friends who talk to strangers and they always have these great God-stories. “I talked to this one guy. I’d never met him. We were at the mall. I invited him to church. I ministered to his family. We went on a cruise together. Now I’m in his will.” That kind of stuff! I never have those. Why? Because I’m afraid to talk to strangers that I don’t know.

Let’s turn the mirror on you. Let’s talk about your fears. What step are you afraid to take that would result in depth or closeness to God? The one that you know in your heart if you were to take that step things would change. Maybe, if you are honest, you’re afraid to be pushed out of your comfort zone. Or maybe you’re afraid to forgive someone who’s hurt you. Or maybe you’re afraid to ask for help for one of your relationships.

Peter is a great example of someone in the Bible who saw an opportunity, took a risk, and seized the opportunity. One day, as Peter was heading into the Temple to pray, he saw an opportunity to heal a man who was lame from birth. Peter healed him in Jesus’ name, which, as you can imagine, drew a large crowd and created yet another opportunity for Peter to share the Good News. In Acts 3:12 it says, “Peter saw his opportunity and addressed the crowd” (NLT).

Like Peter, God wants us to see the opportunities He lays before us, take a risk, and seize those opportunities. Here’s how: You need to first identify your personal fear. If you determine what that fear really is for you then it shrinks. It doesn’t mean you’re over it.  It just means it’s exposed and manageable.

Once you identify it, the second thing I’d encourage you to do is then confess your fear of risk to someone. Admitting that you are fearful of risks is hard to do, but once you get it out in the open others can support you.

So first, you admit your fear. Second, you confess it to someone else. Then third, take one risk—just one—that will challenge your fear. Then soon after, take another. What is that? That is facing your fear. This week let me encourage you to face your fear of risk head on by looking for a God-sized opportunity, taking a risk, and seizing the opportunity. And watch as God begins to work in you and through you.

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Learning to love grackles

Courtland-OakfieldUMCPastor Robert Eckert

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist

10295 Myers Lake Avenue

Rockford, MI 49341

Since moving to this area in 2011, I’ve gradually been adding to the number of bird feeders in the backyard of the parsonage. It’s been a thrill for this city boy to be an eyewitness to seasonal changes and corresponding changes in who comes to eat at different times of year. This past winter was the first time I saw juncos, and seeing the tufted titmice that have stopped by these first few weeks of spring has been a new experience for me, too.

As winter fades, however, I’ve been seeing more and more grackles. Grackles. It almost makes one’s skin crawl just to say the word out loud. And what is it about grackles that makes them look so sleazy? That purplish sheen they have when sunlight hits them makes them look like they’ve slunk out of an oil slick. I look out the window at them and I think, “Who invited you? What makes you think I put seed out for you to suck down your gullets?”

Yet how can I begrudge their presence among the chickadees, finches, and cardinals? I am a Christian, and Jesus, whom I attempt to follow, had something to say about how the birds of the air are fed by God’s own self. “Birds of the air,” he said, not, “the birds you want to see, Robert.”

Jesus had a thing about inclusiveness. He kept company with society’s rejects and pariahs. He touched the untouchable and spoke words of grace to the unmentionable. Jesus’ response to those who criticized him because he “welcomes sinners and eats with them,” is commonly known as The Parable of the Lost Sheep. It’s the story of a shepherd who leaves ninety-nine sheep of his flock safe in the fold to search for one who is lost until he finds it. (Luke 15:1-7).

At least one church I know of has been building its ministry since 1996 on this prayer, “God, send us the people nobody else wants or sees!”

There are at least two lessons for me in this. First, I’m grateful that God does not look at me as I look at grackles. I’m glad God isn’t looking for ways to shoo me off in favor of someone more desirable. Second, I need to learn to love all the grackles out there just as God loves this one. In God’s ecology, it’s not about competing for survival and it’s certainly not about loveliest.

Jesus’ full statement in what I’ve referenced above speaks to each one of us: “Look at the birds in the sky. They don’t sow seed or harvest grain or gather crops into barns. Yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Aren’t you worth much more than they are?” (Matthew 6:26, Common English Bible).

Can I, can our churches, can all of us learn to welcome each child of God as God welcomes each of us?

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Living like He’s living

Pastor Jim Alblas

Pioneer Christian Reformed Church
Cedarfield Community Center

3592 17 Mile Rd., Cedar Springs

Cedarfield Community room

 

In life, often times things happen that we don’t expect. I was recently playing “Words with Friends” (Online Scrabble) and found myself down by a ton of points and considered the game unwinnable. However, as the game progressed, I slowly cut away at the lead and ended up claiming the victory! I certainly didn’t expect that. In the same way, when the women went to the tomb in the early morning of Easter, they did not expect Jesus to be alive. Even though Jesus had told them He would die and rise again, they did not recall His words. Perhaps the burden of their sadness was all they could think about. As a result they and others experienced a terrible feeling of sadness, disappointment and fear. He was alive, but sadly, they were living as though He was not.

Christians today can live the same kind of way. We may know that Jesus is alive, but we don’t always show it by our actions. We see this by how we react to some of the difficult things we face in life. When we see violence, injustice and tragedy, how do we respond? Sometimes we feel like giving up and believing there’s no hope for this world. When there are times of uncertainty, how do we respond? Sometimes we worry and are filled with anxiety. When there are challenging assignments that God hands to us, how do we respond? Sometimes we doubt whether or not they can get done. If those are our responses to the difficulties of life, it sure doesn’t seem as though we are living as though He’s living. Secondly, how do we sometimes interact with the risen Lord? Sometimes we neglect our prayer lives, fail to study His words and refuse to obey how He calls us to live. Again, we may know He’s alive, but when we avoid Him in these ways, we sure don’t show it by our actions.

But I write to you today to remind you that He has risen, He has risen indeed! And if you haven’t been, I invite you to live as though He’s living!

Rather than giving up on this world, remember that Jesus is alive and at work in the world today. He can still convict the heart of even the vilest person and offers comfort to those who are the victims of awful tragedies.

Rather than being a worry wart, remember that Jesus is alive and thus will guide us through all of our times of uncertainty. Rather than doubting whether or not we can accomplish an assignment given from God, remember that Jesus is alive and will help us to complete all that we are given to do. And rather than neglecting our relationship with Jesus, remember that He is alive and strive to get to know Him and be obedient to Him more and more.

Jesus is alive—let’s live as though He’s living.

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Thanks for the Crud

Pastor Darryl Miller  

Sand Lake UMC

65 W. Maple, Sand Lake

South Ensley UMC, 

13600 Cypress, Ensley Township

 

1 Thessalonians 5:16-18: Rejoice always, pray continually, and give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus (NIV).

I recently gave a message based on this passage. God often reveals himself in the words he gives me but not in such an amazing way as when we looked at this passage. It is not an easy concept. Giving thanks in all things is easy when things are going well, but when the world seems to be crashing in around us things can seem different. Thankfulness comes much slower and with more effort. Not long after we looked at this passage at our church, a couple came to me and told of how they had begun to pray and give thanks for the cancer that the woman has been struggling with. Not surprisingly, they struggled with the idea of thanking a loving Savior for something as devastating as cancer, but they immediately noticed a difference. The anger, the resentment, (why did this happen to me?) and the anxiousness began to subside. Others came forward and told similar stories. Sure it goes against the normal way of thinking, but then again, God has often done just that. He is good at turning what we think is normal on its head; that’s why I love Him so!

C. S. Lewis once said: “How can we possibly learn to rely on God if the need never arises?” I have had several challenges on my life journey, not the least of which is being blind, but God’s presence has been there all the way. I have been able to connect with people who are leery of those who cannot understand what they are going through. And I have been able to steer some to a pastor friend who has different struggles and can relate to them because he has had experiences that I have not. And connecting with and building relationships with others who have had similar struggles brings us blessings as well. Winston Churchill once said: “If you are going through hell, keep going!” Soon we will celebrate Jesus victory over death. The victory came after struggle and pain. After His suffering on our behalf, He arose, victorious and enthroned. The struggle is part of the journey. Relying on God really does make us stronger. If you are struggling with challenges, let them bring you closer to God. Let Him reveal Himself in your life in ways you have never expected. Learn to lean on God and you will find a strong tower, a firm foundation, and a Savior who loves you.

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A March to Madness

Solon-Center-Wesleyan-webPastor Tom Holloway

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma, Cedar Springs 

(just north of 19 Mile)

 

 

As I sit writing this article (which is late), I am wearing my Michigan State sweats and State Gymnastics t-shirt. I love March Madness, especially when my Spartans are playing as well as they are this year. But I don’t like madness in my life. I’m what you might describe as a control freak. I prefer to over-achieve, and I don’t like to fail.

I really don’t like to miss deadlines, and I stress out about letting other people down. Why is this article late? The first reason is the busyness of the Easter season. Throw in an auction for En Gedi on Friday, two weddings on Saturday, and my life is crazy busy. The second is an unforeseen tragedy.

The first is a matter of planning and stress control. For pastors the Easter season is one of both tremendous joy, and tremendous stress. Easter is the highlight of the Christian calendar, and the pinnacle of the church year. Some might call it Super Bowl Sunday for the church. When you plan ahead, it’s manageable. But tragedy strikes when you least expect it, and there is really no way to prepare yourself for it.

As we prepare for Easter, we are walking with Jesus as he approaches the cross. He tries to prepare His disciples for the tragedy that is about to befall them. I like to call it a March to Madness. Something is going to happen to them and it’s going to be devastating for a while (3 days to be exact). It’s going to test their resolve at the very core of their being. Though Jesus tried to prepare them for what was to come, they really didn’t get it. How could they?

This Sunday we will be celebrating “Palm Sunday,” where Jesus comes into Jerusalem triumphantly on a donkey and the people cheer and they love Him. They throw palm branches on the ground, and they shout, “Hosanna, Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord.” But soon those triumphant shouts of joy will turn to jeers and calling for the authorities to release the criminal Barabbas, instead of the Son of God, Jesus. The disciples must have been dumbfounded. How could this be? Why is this happening? What is God doing? How could He let this happen?

Then Jesus does something in the garden of Gethsemane that I think is key to this whole thing. He’s praying to His Father, and asks Him, is there another way? Can you take this situation from me? Then Jesus says, “Not my will, but Yours be done.”

I’ve found that in situations that I find myself in, especially the difficult ones, that there is something bigger in play. God is always trying to teach me something bigger than myself. We cannot avoid tragedy no matter what we do. Jesus says in John 16:33, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” You are guaranteed trouble, but I think despite these tragedies God wants to teach you something, as he did Michigan State basketball player Travis Trice, when he became ill in 2012 with a virus that no doctor could diagnose. He was sick for 8 weeks and lost 20 lbs. Travis said that while he was sick, he got a newfound outlook on life, and every day had new meaning. He saw God’s hand on his life, and his healing. In his illness there was a greater thing at work.

I believe that God wants to work in your life and my life in the same way, though we don’t always understand it. You can take comfort in 1 Corinthians 13:12, which says: “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.”

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Into the light – John 3:1-19

cs-united-methodistPastor Steve Lindeman

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

140 S. Main St.

Cedar Springs, MI  49319

 

In the movie Shrek, when Donkey thinks that Shrek has been mortally wounded, he says, “If you see a long tunnel, stay away from the light.” Of course, Shrek was fine, but why would he say that? Why would his friend say, “Don’t go towards the light?” Historically, light has been associated with the presence of God, and darkness with his absence. In many documented near-death experiences, people have described a bright, warm, comforting light. We see this theme of light and dark also played out in the Gospel of John. The Christ, the Word, is greeted in the opening verses of the Gospel, The Word gave life to everything that was created, and his life brought light to everyone.

During this season of Lent, we often hear the story of Nicodemus—a story that is very similar to that of many Christians in our world today. It is a story of growth, and a story of hope. We first encounter Nicodemus just before we hear the classic words of John 3:16. We are told that he approaches Jesus at night. Just like many people today who are walking in darkness, Nicodemus comes to Jesus looking for guidance and direction.

The author of John tells us that Jesus responds to Nicodemus’ questions by teaching him that he must be born again—born of the Spirit. We aren’t told how Nicodemus responded, but I picture him scratching his head, not completely understanding, as he walks back into the night.

But there is hope. Nicodemus appears again later in the Gospel of John. This time he is with his fellow Pharisees as they mock the temple guard for failing to arrest Jesus. Nicodemus, in his own, still incomplete way, stood up for Jesus. He asked his colleagues to give Jesus a fair hearing and questioned the legality of their actions. I can see the signs of a growing faith here—of the Spirit within him. He is willing to speak up for Jesus, in the light of day.

Our final experience with Nicodemus is at the very end of the Gospel of John, right after the crucifixion of Jesus. Nicodemus was there, with Joseph of Arimathea, to collect and care for the body of our Savior.  This man who had first gone to Jesus in the dark, went to the cross to take the lifeless body, wrapped it with spices and linen and helped to lay him in the tomb. Those words that Jesus spoke to him must have been ringing in his ears: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” John 3:16.

Approaching the light of Christ can be a powerful theme during this season of Lent, as we journey with Jesus to the cross. How do we stand up for Jesus, even in very little ways? Do we take these actions in the light of day? The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness can never extinguish it. May we embrace the light of Christ as we prepare to celebrate his resurrection on Easter.

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Real Men – Part 3

First-Baptist-church-currenPastor Jim Howard

First Baptist Church

233 S. Main, Cedar Springs

 

“What is a real man? By the standards of today, a real man is someone who doesn’t exist except in the imaginations of those in Hollywood and the marketing industry. Today, we deal with Becoming Men of God (1 Timothy 4:6-8; 2 Peter 1:5-7). You will discover that by embracing this final step, the first two will follow.

Paul’s words to Timothy are very appropriate for what we need in our lives today. The first thing to note is that we should be men who are given to a life of instruction. “In pointing out these things to the brethren, you will be a good servant of Christ Jesus, constantly nourished on the words of the faith and of the sound doctrine which you have been following”  (1 Tim. 4:6, NAS). Paul says we ought to teach (“pointing out”) the Word, be “nourished” by the Word and be obedient (“follow”) to the Word. Teaching a subject demands that one know the subject. Try teaching a subject, you will find yourself studying to stay ahead of the students. The word “nourished” would be better translated “trained” which requires little explanation.

Becoming men of God also means that we should be given to a life of exercise. “Have nothing to do with irreverent, silly myths. Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come” (1 Timothy 4:7-8, ESV). First Paul tells us where NOT to spend our time. There is much in this world on which we waste time. Not the least of which are the fanciful tales that some people spin! I stand in absolute amazement at what people will believe today without checking the facts. We are being programmed to accept at face value what we are told. Never mind that it’s not true. There is one thing about the Word of God that you can hang your hat on, it can stand the test of scrutiny. Truth will be truth no matter what the circumstances. Truth doesn’t change!

Finally, men of God are given to a life of Godliness! “But also for this very reason, giving all diligence, add to your faith virtue, to virtue knowledge, to knowledge self-control, to self-control perseverance, to perseverance godliness, to godliness brotherly kindness, and to brotherly kindness love” (2 Peter 1:5-7, NKJV). This is an interesting verb here in that it reflects a command with the idea that we are to aggressively, passionately pursue the virtues listed.

Becoming a real man essentially boils down to three things: having a clean heart (a relationship with Jesus Christ); having clean hands (keeping short accounts with God); and having a clean mind (aggressively pursuing a passion for godliness). Remember Paul’s words to Timothy, “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine (that which is right), for reproof (that which isn’t right), for correction (how to get right), for instruction in righteousness (how to stay right), that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17, NKJV).

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Living with hope and joy

Pilgrim-BibleRev. Mike Shiery

Pilgrim Bible Church

West Pine St. • Cedar Springs

“And I heard a loud voice from Heaven saying, ‘Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes;  there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4) (NKJV)

These words of promise are especially poignant to me as I write this article. Just last week, a former college classmate and friend of mine, found his world suddenly ripped in two. His wife was leaving a store near their hometown when their two-year-old son broke loose from her grasp, dashed into the parking lot and was struck and killed by an oncoming vehicle. Obviously the family is devastated over this tragedy.

However, in the midst of overwhelming sorrow, what gripped my attention was how the family has responded during this difficult time. Although their hearts are broken, they have reached out to the driver of the vehicle with love and compassion. They have met with her, prayed with her, and assured her that there is no bitterness in their hearts toward her. Their words and conduct have resonated with quiet hope and certain joy, and their testimony in the midst of personal tragedy is impacting their community in a powerful way.

My friends long ago placed their trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior, and now through tear-stained eyes of faith they rest confidently in the promise of our text. They realize that tomb that holds their son’s body is only temporary, that his spirit is with the Heavenly Father, and that this separation will come to an end! There is coming (as the old songs says) “A great, getting up morning.” Eternal reunion is assured through the victory which Christ won over death on Easter morning.

Perhaps someone reading these words is also grieving. Perhaps your world is upside down. Tragic events have shattered a tranquil existence. Let me remind you that as a Christian, through God’s grace, you can live with hope and joy.

When we say we have the hope of Heaven, we do not mean that in the way we usually use the word “hope.” Some of you right now are hoping that warm weather will arrive in a few weeks. In our beloved state of Michigan, you can hope that, but there is no certainty or guarantee it will happen that quickly.

However, when we talk of the “hope” of Heaven, we are talking from a standpoint of confidence. The Bible tells us that it is impossible for God to lie. That same Bible holds multiple promises from God that Heaven is a reality and that the separation of death for God’s children will end in an eternal reunion of joy.

Paul Helm wrote: “Though the life of Heaven is for our future, its certain occurrence imparts a confidence and joy during the present.”

C.S. Lewis said: “Joy is the serious business of Heaven.”

And maybe T.W. Hunt summed it up best when he wrote:

“In this life, pleasure ends itself. When the meal is past,  the enjoyment of taste and smell ceases. When the symphony ends, no audible harmonic vibrations remain. When the ride finishes, we ‘want to do it again.’

In eternity future, joy will be a continuum that never ceases. That joy will include within itself peace, expectation, beauty, sublimity. Our present understanding of pleasure only hints at the dimensions of enjoyment in the sheer outer joys of Heaven.” 

If you are hurting, allow me to encourage you. Joy is coming in the morning. Weeping only last for the night. And for the children of God, the best is yet to come!

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Responding to “50 Shades” 

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

There has been a lot of commotion around the release of the movie “50 Shades of Grey,” which follows the very popular book by the same title. There are a wide variety of opinions as to whether or not Christians should watch this movie or read the book, and, as you can imagine, there are Christians on both sides of the argument. But the issue we face isn’t the release of this movie; rather, the problem facing Christians is with combatting the culture of sex that we live in.

Arguing with people or bashing/petitioning the release of the movie will not solve the problem. As Christians, we can’t expect the world to have our standard of morality, because they don’t know our God who has defined our standard.  If we want to combat our culture, which seems to glorify rampant sexual immorality, we must first start with ourselves. Instead of pointing the finger at the world’s immorality problem, we need to get ours in check. Listen to these words:

“It is God’s will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality, that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honorable, not in passionate lust like the pagans, who do not know God” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 (NIV).

So, as Christians, how do we combat the culture of sex that we live in? We live pure lives! Christians need to stop looking at porn. Christians need to stop having sexually dysfunctional marriages. Christians need to stop committing adultery. Christians need to stop having sex before, outside of, and in addition to marriage. Christians need to exalt and glorify Jesus in their sex lives. Only then will we begin to combat our culture that worships sex.

So, the next time you find yourself getting into a heated conversation with someone who doesn’t have God’s standard of morality, remember this: they need to meet Jesus, not have your moral standard self-righteously imposed on them. I am not saying we should remain silent; maybe just change what’s on the channel before we turn the volume up.

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