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Archive | From the Pulpit

THE GREATNESS OF GRACE

Pilgrim-BibleRev. Michael Shiery

Pilgrim Bible Church

West Pine Street • Cedar Springs

 

“Moreover the law entered that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace abounded much more. So that as sin reigned in death, even so grace might reign through righteousness to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (Romans 5:20-21)(NKJV)

Of all the words contained in the dictionary, perhaps non is so beautiful as “grace.” Although it can heave several meanings, in a spiritual context it simply means “the free and unmerited favor of God.”

Grace is gift that Christians are privileged to enjoy and that is freely offered to everyone from the hand of a loving God. There is not a single individual who deserves this grace and yet there has not been nor will there ever be a single person to whom this grace is not offered.

You see, we are all born with a corrupt nature that naturally leads us to the paths of sin. Romans 3:23 says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (NKJV). Sin has tragic consequences. It causes hurt and pain for those who have been sinned against, and it has fateful and fatal spiritual results of the one who has committed the sin.

James 1:15 tells us “…Sin, when it is full-grown, brings forth death” (NJKV). If we refuse to repent of our sin and continue to follow the path of wickedness, we will find at the end of life’s road memories of regret and eternity in Hell separated from Christ. This is what we had to look forward to, a lifetime of rebellion followed be an eternity of ruin.

Enter grace. Perhaps the Apostle Paul summed it up best when he wrote in Romans 6:23: “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (NJKV).

Please understand that sin conquered the human race, but because of Christ’s selfless sacrifice on the Cross the dynamics of the situation are forever changed. The chains of sin have been broken by the power of grace, and you do not have to live a life of shame and regrets. Jesus died on the Cross and then rose from the dead to give us not just life, but abundant life, and all who desire a stainless conscience, a pure heart, and a clean slate can obtain them through His matchless and gracious gift!

Regardless of where you have been or what you have done, regardless of foolish choices and marred memories of regret, life can be different from this point onward, if you will simply accept the gift of God’s grace, repent of your sins, and ask Christ to forgive you. That’s what the good news of the Gospel is all about.

As one songwriter put it:

Grace will always be greater than sin,

Calvary’s proven it time and again.

Whatever you’ve done, wherever you’ve been,

God’s grace will always be greater than sin.

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Dependence on God in Prayer

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

 

Psalm 86:5-7: “You, Lord, are forgiving and good, abounding in love to all who call to you.  Hear my prayer, Lord; listen to my cry for mercy. When I am in distress, I call to you, because you answer me.”

What a blessing to know that we have a God who actually listens to our prayers.  That no matter where we are or what’s going on in our life, we can cry out to God in prayer and He will hear and answer us. But most Christians I know struggle with prayer, especially when it comes to truly depending on God in prayer. The typical sermon on prayer just tells us how to do it better and to do it more often like Jesus did, but that never seems to have much lasting impact in our lives, so we continue believing the lie that we will always struggle with prayer. That’s just the way it’s going to be.

What if being dependent on God in prayer had less to do with what we are praying about, how often we are praying, or even what we are saying in prayer, and more to do with the mindset behind why we approach Him? If we want to be people who are dependent on God in prayer, it begins with an honest evaluation of our condition apart from God (Ps. 86:1,13). We are poor and needy. We are lost, desperate, and in need of deliverance. We can’t remedy anything on our own; that is our condition apart from Him. Combine that with an accurate understanding of who God is and what He is capable of (Ps. 86:5-10) and that will lead us to complete trust in His ability to answer our prayers (Ps. 86:4,7, 11-17).

When we stop coming to God because we are supposed to, and we start coming to Him because we understand that He alone has the power and ability do something about the burdens and struggles on our hearts, everything changes! It is no longer a chore to pray, it becomes the first place we turn because we understand who we are, who God is, and that dependence on God in prayer is absolutely critical to the vibrancy of our spiritual life. Dependency on God then becomes a way of life, and not simply something that we are supposed to do. And when that happens, everything changes!

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Lent

C-East-Nelson-United

Pastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson United Methodist Church

9024 18 Mile Rd, Cedar Springs

 

At East Nelson UMC, the last 24 hours of Jesus Christ is our series of messages for Lent. Lent is the 40 days prior to Jesus’ crucifixion (not counting the Sundays) and it’s a time of reflection. We are reflecting on how so much happened in that last 24 hours. From that last Thursday evening to Friday evening, Jesus washed the feet of his disciples; shared his last supper; prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane; was betrayed; arrested; deserted; tried; convicted; sentenced to death; tortured; crucified; died; and buried. The season of Lent allows us the space to reflect, to meditate, to ponder, to ruminate over each of these profound events.

Mary, the mother of Jesus, treasured and pondered all of the events that led up to the momentous evening when the shepherds barged into the stable to “see this thing that has happened.” I love that Luke (2:19) shares her introspection. I believe it’s a beautiful example of how to hold a story close to our heart.  We have much to ponder also. The story of Jesus’ life on earth begins when Mary said, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” There’s the birth in the lowly stable, parable stories Jesus told, people of all walks of life who were healed. We can meditate on the words of the Sermon on the Mount, or the meals for hundreds made from a few fish and loaves of bread. And now, in Lent ,we can reflect on all that occurred to bring Jesus to the cross for us.

May we each find the space in our daily living over the next few weeks to ponder these things in our hearts.

Psalm118: 5-6, 13-14, 17 (NIV): 5 Out of my distress I called on the Lord; the Lord answered me and set me in a broad place. 6 With the Lord on my side I do not fear. What can mortals do to me?

13 I was pushed hard, so that I was falling, but the Lord helped me. 14 The Lord is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. 

17 I shall not die, but I shall live and recount the deeds of the Lord.

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Practice makes perfect

Courtland-OakfieldUMCRev. Bill Johnson

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake Ave NE, Rockford

Three activities occupied me during the summer I turned 16: I took U.S. History in summer school to get it off the credits check-list; I took driver’s training for obvious reasons; and I fielded ground balls at every available opportunity.

I bought a smooth rubber ball, baseball-sized, just the right weight, and soft enough to bounce well on the grass in our backyard. I threw it at a target drawn in chalk on the back of our garage. Sometimes I tossed it gently and worked on charging slow rollers. Other times I threw hard to stretch my range. Sometimes I worked on technique; other times I worked on accuracy.

I worked on the short hop, the long hop, the pivot and quick release, the line drive, and if I could hit the garage siding just right, I could get pop ups. I loved fielding ground balls, and those hours behind our garage paid off the next spring when competing for the second base job. Even though I struggled to hit my weight at the plate, when I got to college it was fielding ability that kept me on the team.

Those hours behind the garage taught me something I’ve never forgotten: After thousands of repetitions, some things become second nature, automatic. Gracefulness and confidence come, maybe without even thinking.

Spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, service and meditation are like this. When his friends asked him about prayer, Jesus said the most important thing is to keep at it. When the time comes for us to seek or to thank God for direction, or comfort, or courage, or wisdom, thousands of repetitions pay off. The power in prayer comes from practice.

For Christians, the Season of Lent looms ahead. For other faiths, there are other seasons no less vital to growing spiritually. So, if your leanings have a Christian orientation, how’s your spiritual life as Lent arrives March 1? Do you have a “behind-the-garage” place for yourself for practicing spiritual discipline? We don’t have to be athletic to know it is never as easy as it looks. But whether faced with a screaming line drive or a spiritual crisis, gracefulness and confidence can prevail. Practice makes perfect.

If you haven’t already, why not consider thinking ahead to Lent as a chance to spend some time behind the garage, wherever or whatever that may mean to you?  Life is complicated, busy, stressful and at times out of balance, but when life hits one at you, would you want to be the one who responds with grace, or the one who wishes they’d practiced more?

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Precious thoughts

Pastor Craig Carter

North Kent Community Church

1480 Indian Lakes Rd. • Sparta, MI 49345 

 

“How precious to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them! Were I to count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When I awake, I am still with you” (Psalms 139:17-18 NIV).

I am thinking about my sermon series for this month on “Love.” Specifically, God’s love for me! I could not help but contemplate on the verse in Psalms 139:17-18 that tells me what God thinks about me. Did you know that the thoughts God thinks about me are much better than what I think about myself? Let’s look at these verses and the three primary characteristics about God’s thoughts.

First, God’s thoughts are precious. When you reflect on your life and what you think about yourself, do find your personal thoughts precious? The Hebrew word here for “precious” means to be precious, valued and honored. It is also a verb that means God puts actions behind His thoughts. He is always working behind the scenes of our lives to show us our value and to bring us honor. Another root Hebrew word for “precious” means “to be pleased.” Do you know when God thinks about you, He is pleased? Why? Because you do everything, right? No! Most of us spend our whole lives trying to please others and God, too. However, according to His Word, the only thing that pleases Him is faith, and our trust in what Jesus already did. God so loved us that he sent his son, Jesus, to die on the cross for our sins (John 3:16). He put action behind His loving thoughts.

Secondly, His thoughts toward you are numerous; they are vast. He said if we could count them, they would outnumber the grains of sand. When was the last time you accurately counted the number of sand grains at Grand Haven beach? In your human ability, it is not possible. Yet, God says that’s how much he thinks about you! God thinks about you all the time. Psalm 139: 2-4 says, “You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you know it completely, O LORD.”  The Hebrew word for “vast” not only means be to be numerous or great, but to be powerful, mighty and strong. God’s thoughts toward us are strong. They are not “strong” with negativity, but strong in love. They are designed to make us stronger. Understanding and receiving God’s loving thoughts towards you empowers you to be strong. Romans 8:35-37 says, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?…No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.”

Lastly, His thoughts are comforting and reassuring. Notice in verse 18, David says, “when I awake, I am still with you.”  It is as if he is surprised that God is still there. The word “awake” implies it’s a new day. When I wake up today, He is still there. He has not left me. Regardless of my previous day, good or bad, He is still there. Remember, God’s thoughts and actions are strong, filled with the power to convince you of His love towards you. There is no greater statement of love than consistency and faithfulness. All of us have experienced unfaithfulness in some way, shape or form—a lack of follow through, a broken promise, a failed commitment. Whatever the form, we know the insecurity it brings into our lives regarding love. However, God assures us again and again, that He will “never leave us or forsake us” (Hebrews 13:5).

Remember that when you wake up tomorrow, God is still there with you, and He is for you! His thoughts and actions towards you are precious and vast, designed to reveal to you that He loves you. You’re precious and so are God’s thoughts toward you.

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Your mission in life

Hillcrest-Church-picPastor Kristi J. Rhodes  

Hillcrest Community Church

5994 18 Mile Rd. Cedar Springs, MI 49319

Do you know your life mission? Have you given much thought to your mission in life? People sometimes spend their whole life searching for what gives them purpose, hope, value and fulfillment. If you’re looking in the wrong places, you only find disappointment, frustration, bitterness and envy.

Jesus had a mission. He knew what His mission was. He never lost sight of His mission, no matter what was going on around Him and to Him. He always kept the main thing, the main thing. He didn’t allow anything to distract Him from His mission. There are several places in the Bible where we find His mission clearly stated. Do you want to know what it was, and still is? Jesus quoted scripture from Isaiah chapter 61:1-3 among other places, regarding His mission in life. He said, “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, to preach good news to the poor. He sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners…to comfort those who mourn, provide for those who grieve, exchange beauty for ashes, gladness instead of mourning, praise instead of despair” (NIV). Jesus came to seek and save the lost. He was passionate about His mission. The impact of His three years of ministry will reign for all eternity.

Jesus said in John 14:12: “Very truly I tell you, whoever believes in me will do the works I have been doing, and they will do even greater things than these, because I am going to the Father” (NIV).

So then, what are you deeply passionate about? It’s that thing that when you get to talk about it, you begin to speak faster and your voice goes up an octave! You begin to get excited. Where is your greatest impact? What are you best at? The place where all these intersect, is your personal sweet spot. God created everyone for a unique purpose. He has created everyone with unique gifts and talents. No one on earth is exactly like you in every way. Even twins may look alike but are not exactly alike in every way.

When we serve in our sweet spot, our service never feels like work. When you operate in your sweet spot, it energizes you. What do you do that energizes you? What drains you? Knowing what you’re not created for is just as important.  Operating outside of your sweet spot for extended periods of time will suck the life right out of you. You will find peace and fulfillment in your life when you seek and agree with God’s plan and unique purpose for your life. After all, He is the only One who knows why He created you. Apart from Him, it is impossible to discover our purpose. Our mission in life is to fulfill our purpose. Our value is not found in the things of this world. In God’s eyes, we are worth more than anything this world has to offer.

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New year—new beginnings

Pastor Ryan Black

Cedar Springs Christian Church

340 West Pine Street, Cedar Springs

 

The start of a New Year gives us the feeling of a fresh start, a new beginning, and new opportunities. It is a time when people feel that they can begin anew with their lives. Common New Year’s resolutions are to lose weight, exercise more and eat healthier; or to spend more time with family. Still others include managing money better and being more organized.

Although there is nothing in the Bible or notable in Christian tradition about New Year’s resolutions, many good stewards take advantage of this time of year to become closer to the Lord. They may re-commit themselves to pray more, to read the Bible, or to attend Church more regularly. If you are looking for some helps in your New Year’s resolutions, here are a few ideas to get you started:

Practice gratitude. Cultivating a grateful heart is the hallmark of a Christian steward. Every day, express thankfulness to the Lord and to others. Seeing the good in your life will allow you to keep your heart compassionate and loving.

Encounter the Lord each day. Find time to be with the Lord each day, whether it is for an hour or ten minutes. Have a conversation with the Lord. Give your joys and worries to Him as well. Allow God’s love to transform them. Our encounters will keep our eyes and ears open to the presence of Christ in our midst.

Nurture friendships. Our friends are those we choose to be with, those with whom we spend our evenings, with whom we vacation, to whom we go to for advice. Friends are gifts from God who give us a greater appreciation of God’s love for us. Friends need our time and love.

Make a difference in your Church community. Believe it or not, your Church community can use your talents.  Offering your talents to your faith community is one of the most effective ways to feel useful and connected to others.

Consider living more simply. We cannot find fulfillment in possessions. They add nothing to our self-worth. Jesus blessed the “poor in spirit” in his Sermon on the Mount.

Get healthy. Studies show that most people in North America are accelerating their own decline into premature old age, owing to poor diet and lack of physical activity. Be a good steward of your body. Plan a complete overhaul of your diet and exercise habits.

Don’t give up. People give up their New Year’s resolutions because of perfectionism and unrealistic expectations. Remember, take it slow, be kind to yourself and keep trying. Resist the urge to throw your hands up and quit. You succeed through small, manageable changes over time.

Turn to the Lord. Ask the Lord for guidance, strength and perseverance in achieving your resolutions. In his letter to the Philippians, Saint Paul writes: “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). If God is the center of our New Year’s resolutions, they have a better chance for success.

These are a few recommendations that may help get one started in the right direction at the beginning of this new year.

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A Gift too wonderful for words; handle with awe

_C-Cedar-Creek-Community-Church-LandscapePastor Dick Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta

 

If you are reading this brief message, you have survived through the year 2016, including the Christmas-Advent season, and now we all have begun the journey called calendar year 2017 with whatever it holds. In my mind, this is no small accomplishment, and as Christians, we look forward to what God has for us in this new year—new learning, new discoveries, new relationships and more.

The Advent season, the coming of Jesus Christ, God incarnate into the world we live in, is celebrated in many different kinds of ways; one being that we become concerned about choosing just the right gifts to give to some of the special people in our lives. The full meaning of this practice can sometimes get lost in the activities of the season.

We must continually remind ourselves to be thankful for the first gift-giver, as Paul points out to us, “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift” (2nd Corinthians 9:15, King James translation). Have you ever received a gift that was beyond description? Just what kind of gift would it have to be to be called indescribable? Would it be a gift you open and say, “this is beautiful, something I’ve wanted all my life, what is it?” Or how about a gift given to you by someone special, carrying a lot of feelings and emotions with it?

The apostle Peter helps us better understand the importance of yielding our lives here to follow the path taught by Jesus Christ, “Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom, though now ye see him not, believing, ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory” (1st Peter 1:8 KJV). We are all in this year of uncertain times together, and may we all personally find this “unspeakable joy in the Lord.”

Our Lord Jesus Christ is describable and yet he is beyond human description. “Thanks be unto God for his unspeakable gift.” In these eight words, scripture captures our attention, to a word that cannot be expressed in mere words. When we search the scripture diligently, we find thousands of words describing characteristics of Jesus Christ, but the truth is that the more we learn of and about Jesus, we discover that the full knowledge, depth, width and height of Jesus nature, character, eternal existence, etc., always leaves us with more to learn.

When we believe on Jesus as scripture directs us, we quickly learn that this indescribable gift God has given, is God himself; that Jesus is man, Jesus is Savior, Jesus is the good news, and that even if God somehow would give us life for hundreds of years on this planet, we will still have an eternity to continue learning just how unspeakable this gift is.

This Jesus will bring us to God through the sacrifice of himself, and secure for us forgiveness of all our sins; for all eternity. Christmas is past, but it is not too late to open the gift.

 

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Putting your “yes” on the table

Pastor Barry Briggs

The Springs Church

135 N. Grant St., Cedar Springs

 

Do you remember the Meatloaf song from 1993, I Would Do Anything for Love? In his hit power ballad, Meatloaf passionately declared—over and over and over again—“I would do anything for love, but I won’t do that.” Nobody really knows what the “that” is, but that’s beside the point. Maybe, like Meatloaf, you would do anything for love; but I think a more important question is this: If you could do anything for God—and money or time wasn’t a limitation—what would you do? Or to ask it more succinctly, “Would you do anything for God?”

If you’re like many Christians, in your heart you say, “God, I love You, I’ll do anything You want me to.”  But in your mind you’re thinking, “But I won’t do that…”  Fill in the blank; what’s the that for you?

Go ahead and think back to the last 3 things God asked you to do. Did you do them? Maybe you can’t even think of the last 3; what about just that last one? Did you do it? If not, why not? What was holding you back?

So often when God nudges us and asks us to step out in faith we either ignore Him or just flat out say No.  “God, I’ll do anything for You, but I won’t do that.”  What if you were to approach this new year differently? What if you lived each day with your “Yes” on the table? Lived a life that is open and available to God at all times, so that whenever God calls, you are ready and willing and available to say, “Yes, Lord”?

Look at what happened to Abraham when he said “Yes” to God.  “By an act of faith, Abraham said yes to God’s call to travel to an unknown place that would become his home. When he left he had no idea where he was going” (Hebrews 11:8 MSG).

Abraham put his “Yes” on the table and packed up his whole family and set out for a new country not evening knowing where he was going. Imagine what that must have been like. The faith that took. If you ever did that your friends would try to talk you out of it. Your family would think you’ve lost your mind. I’m sure Abraham’s family did too, but if Abraham wouldn’t have said “Yes,” God’s whole redemptive plan through Jesus Christ would have been in jeopardy.

So let me ask you: What new place is God calling you to? Maybe saying “Yes” to God means taking a new job, or going back to school, or adopting a child. Maybe saying “Yes” to God means moving away. Or maybe saying “Yes” to God means staying right where you are. Like Abraham, you may not have all the details.  All the “what ifs” might not be answered yet. But can you step out in faith and trust God to lead you, knowing that where God guides God provides?

The truth is, life is relatively short compared to all of eternity, where you’re going to have trillions and trillions of years there. You only get about 60 or 80 or at the most 100 years on this planet. It’s not very long. Life is pretty brief. You need to make your life count. It starts by saying “Yes” to God.

Putting your “Yes” on the table each and every day will change your life, it will change your home, it will change your family, it will bless this community, it could very well change the world, it might even change the course of history, or change someone’s eternity.  The world is calling out for people who will say “Yes” to God. People who will say, “God, I’m scared to death, but I’m going to say ‘Yes’ to You.”

This year, put your “Yes” on the table.  Say to yourself and to God, “Whenever, wherever, whatever, no matter the cost—Yes, God I’ll do it; wherever You send me—I’ll go; whatever You ask of me—I ’ll give; whenever You need me—I’m available. I’m keeping all the options open. My ‘Yes’ is on the table.”

 

 

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All things new 

First-Baptist-church-currenPastor Robert P. Smith

First Baptist Church

233 Main St, Cedar Springs, MI 

 

New. This is a familiar word. I am the new pastor at First Baptist Church of Cedar Springs. My wife and I moved into a new home five months ago. We are new to western Michigan. We have a new mailing address. We’re meeting new friends in our church and community.

A lot of things were new to us last year. I would imagine the same was true for you even if in different ways. We faced the new experience of saying goodbye to a parent in death. Some events have to happen if other experiences are going to be new. We moved. We left friends. We left family. We left all things familiar to us to begin something new in Cedar Springs. I wonder what new thing the New Year will bring?

I believe that one day all things will be made new. I’m not talking about relocation or replacements or even repairs, but a reality that one day all things will be made new. This idea is not a figment of human imagination, but rather a fact of divine inspiration. “I am making all things new” is the record of the Apostle in The Revelation to John, which is the last book of the Bible. The Apostle John records these words as “trustworthy and true” (Revelation 21:5 ESV).

Why? Why can the Apostle claim these words are a reliable reality? John says, “Because God said so.” One thing known about God is that He tells the truth. He speaks the truth and nothing but the truth so help me—it’s true. One day all things will be made new. I believe this truth about God making all things new because God cannot lie (Titus 1:2 ESV).

New. This word is not only familiar to me; it’s a word familiar to my faith. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come” (2 Corinthians 5:17 ESV). You see, the certainty of my eternal confidence is because of an earthly change. One day God will do what He has done through the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Most of us are expecting something new in 2017. Maybe it’s a new job or a new house or a new friend, but some day those things will no longer be new. However, life in Jesus will always be new.

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