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Archive | From the Pulpit

What’s on your mind?

Grace-ChurchPastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

 

Jesus. Jesus is on my mind. Do you ever sit back and wonder how he did it? How did He live day in and day out, completely surrendered in obedience to the will of His Father, and never sin? He loved people perfectly. He walked around literally with the weight of the world on His shoulders, yet He never threw in the towel. He never exploded at someone because of stress. He never said an unkind word or, for that matter, thought an unkind thought about anyone. He never got His priorities all mixed up. He wasn’t distracted or discouraged by the things of this world because He was focused on a mission that was bigger than this world. And in the midst of being this amazing Superman, he promised that if we would just come to Him, He would give us the rest and peace that we desperately need, along with the wonderful promise that He would then carry our burden for us. Does that make any sense? Why would He do that for us? Why would He do that for me?

As I sit and ponder Matthew 11:28-30 and try to apply it to my life, the words of this old Hymn keep running through my mind, and I suddenly realize, that it truly is this simple. It goes like this…”Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in his wonderful face, and the things of earth will grow strangely dim, in the light of His glory and grace.” The key to what I need isn’t a solution for all of my problems, and it isn’t a better way to manage all my stress. The key to what I need is so simple that it is contained in one beautiful name…JESUS! And the only thing he requires of me is to “come.” I don’t need to bring anything, I don’t need to do any work, I don’t even need to get everything in order, I simply need to “come.” He’s saying, “come to me and I’ll give you the rest you need,” “come to me and I’ll take care of that heavy burden you’re struggling to carry,” “come to me and I’ll exchange all that struggle and stress for peace and joy,” “come to me and you’ll find everything that you need!” The invitation is simple. “Come!”

So, what’s on my mind? Jesus. And suddenly everything else that seemed so big and so important and so needy, grew strangely dim. Thank you Jesus!

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.”

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Pentecost

The Rev. David Meyers

Holy Spirit Episcopal Church

1200 Post Dr., Belmont, MI  49306

 

This article is written at the beginning of the season of Pentecost. Pentecost begins on the 50th day after Easter. The season occupies most of the remainder of the calendar year and celebrates the birth, action, and mission of the church. We know Pentecost primarily as the time in which the Holy Spirit visited the disciples in the form of tongues of fire. The Spirit’s presence gave them understanding and power to do the mission of Christ. They emerged from a state of disorganization to a position of knowledge and power. A group of ragtag followers received an identity out of which the gospel took root and made an impact on the world.

There is, however, another form of Pentecost that is less well known.  A much older celebration occurred among the Hebrew people as the feast of Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks. In the Jewish tradition, Pentecost or Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  Subsequently, the Hebrews developed the awareness that they were the people of God. As Easter and Passover are celebrated at the same time, so are the two Pentecosts.

The two feasts of Pentecost follow a pattern. In both, the people were lost. They were waiting and wandering. In both, God gave the gift of himself, in the word and in flame. The presence of God in the lives of the followers resulted in a new identity in both cases. The people understood that God had chosen them and, in return, they dedicated themselves to God.

These two major Pentecosts might be prototypes to an ongoing cycle of Pentecosts. These major events are, at some level, enacted in the life of each individual.  We all have our personal Pentecosts. For wanderers seeking God, there will be events in which God visits with a gift. That gift might be miraculous or might be seen in kindness, goodness, relationship, or sacrament. When people receive that gift and are aware of the presence of God, then new things happen. Dedication, faithfulness, change, and even rebirth all can be the result.

Friends, we are all wanderers. Even those with a strong belief system, find themselves occasionally groping in the dark. The task is to be attentive to God. Look for those gifts through which God visits and invites his people. When awareness of the gift occurs, then life is transformed and new identity awakens.

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Your attitude determines your altitude!

Pastor Craig Carter

North Kent Community Church

1480 Indian Lakes Rd.

Sparta, MI 49345

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-).

Last week, I was in a meeting with a couple good friends. We were mentoring a group of 7th and 8th grade boys together. One of my friends was sharing this principle, “your attitude determines your altitude!” He encouraged all of us to check our attitude about others and life in general. He pointed out how our attitude truly does influence how far we will actually go in life.

Since that meeting, I have not been able to get that thought out of my mind and heart. Recently, life has brought a number of difficult circumstances and situations in my life that have certainly affected my attitude. I have realized again, that it’s my choice about how I decide to react. The above verse found in Colossians 3:1-2 came to mind. I was reminded how important it is to “set” my mind and my heart on the “things above.” This means to be heavenly minded, or to think on what the Word of God say’s, not on the things of earth, or the circumstances around me. So how have I found this verse helpful to me? First, I noticed Paul said, “If you have been risen with Christ…” That means “if” you are a Christian, or you have been born again, you are a new creature and you have a new nature! Your old nature and self, no longer control your life or thoughts. You have to power of Christ living in you and can “rise above” above a negative attitude. These circumstances do not have to get me down!

Secondly, Paul said to “Set” our mind and heart on things above. The word “set” means to determine or purpose to do it. It is a decision of our will. We can, as Nike says, “Just do it!” No excuses, purpose to set our mind or thoughts on godly things. Purpose to focus on truth, scripture that encourages and build us up, not on the negative thoughts of the world or our circumstances. Philippians 4:8 reads, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Paul says change what your thinking! Change your sights, aim higher!  Increase your altitude by changing your attitude!

The other day I heard a story about a military pilot who was testing a new plane. The inside of the plane was not finished out, and one of the face panels was off. While in flight, he noticed a big fat rat gnawing at the wires. He knew he had a problem. So he radioed down to the control center, “Hey guys, we have a problem.” One of the commanders replied, “This plane is designed to fly at high altitudes, so immediately drive the plane high in the atmosphere, the rat will not be able to stand the pressure and will pass out or die.” So, that’s exactly what the pilot did and the rat immediately stopped chewing on the wires. The pilot saved both his life and the plane. The moral of the story is, drive the plane of your life higher! Set your mind and heart on godly principles and God’s Word. You want to rise above the negative circumstances? You want to “kill the rats” gnawing at your life? You want to avoid an emotional crash? Drive your plane higher! Instead of staying mad and angry about life and its circumstances, forgive and trust God.  Instead of being selfish because things are not going your way, be generous and bless someone else who is worst off than you! Instead of being stubborn, admit you were wrong and seek forgiveness and restoration in your relationships. Instead of complaining about the government and politicians, pray for them. In essence, stop stooping down to the behavior of others, choose to rise above it. Take the high road, be godly and set your mind and heart on things above.

In close, I leave you with this thought from my former pastor and mentor. He often asked,“Why do choose to walk with turkeys, when you can soar with the eagles?” Remember, your attitude will determine your altitude!

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Weathering the storm

Hillcrest-Church-picPastor Kristi J. Rhodes  

Hillcrest Community Church

5994 18 Mile Rd. Cedar Springs, MI 49319

 

Greetings Cedar Springs! As I write this article, we are driving straight toward the storms raging through the Midwest states. The destruction ranges from Texas—Oklahoma—Kansas—and Nebraska, with multiple tornados touching down. There have even been sightings of tornados with multiple vortexes! Wild, I know! Then there was 8 inches of golf ball size hail in Colorado Springs, which is just a hop, skip and a jump from our destination. The freeway was even shut down temporarily. Then the clouds lifted and the sun came out shining bigger and brighter than I’ve seen it in a long time. It was beautiful!

Doesn’t it sometimes feel like that with the storms of life? Just when you think you made it through a terrible storm, another one springs up that’s even worse than the one you just survived!

God has given you a mission in life and never intended for you to accomplish it without Him.

You have to keep going even when you want to quit. Holocaust survivor Corrie Ten Boom said, “If you look at the world, you’ll be distressed. If you look within, you’ll be depressed. But if you look at Christ, you’ll be at rest.” It all depends on where your focus is. We need to focus on what God is doing for us instead of what Satan is doing against us.

There will be tough days on this journey called life. You have to believe that God has your best in mind even when you can’t see what He’s doing. And you have to trust God even when you don’t get what you want!

Rick Warren said, “We all know from personal experience that faith doesn’t exempt us from problems. It’s easy to trust God when life is going well and we feel strong. But faith develops in the valleys. When our dreams shatter and we feel helpless, that’s when we have to believe in God’s power and presence.”

Jesus said, “According to your faith let it be done to you” (Matt.9:29). If you want God’s help, you must trust Him and believe He has the power to accomplish more than we can ever ask or imagine.

We must also realize that God’s ways are higher than our ways and He doesn’t always answer the way we want Him to. Still we must trust His plan. He loves us more than we can even imagine. God is still good, and that will never change. Jeremiah 29:11-12 says, “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.  Without faith it is impossible to please God.

Let’s come to God with a dump truck full of faith. God’s power and ability far outweighs the amount of our imagination!

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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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