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Archive | From the Pulpit

Don’t lose your joy

Cedar-Christian-ChurchPastor Ryan Black

Cedar Springs Christian Church
340 West Pine Street, Cedar Springs


Does God want us to be happy? There seems to be some good evidence in scripture that God does want us to be happy and have joy in our lives (Romans 15:13). There are a variety of possibilities that one can appear to find joy and delight in the things of this world. We can seek joy in our families, friends, wealth and even our health. We can find joy in our careers, school, and of course, the countless forms of entertainment. These are all wonderful things we can enjoy and we should give God praise for many of these blessings. However, we must always make sure that the blessings do not become the source of where our joy comes from.

Our joy needs to come directly from God for who He is, and not for what He has blessed us with. If the joy in your life comes from the blessings you have received, then your joy can be taken away from you. You may also find yourself chasing the blessings thinking they will give you your happiness. If God is the source of your joy, your joy will never be removed or taken away from you (John 16:22) despite the blessing or blessings that are removed from your life.  This is why someone can lose a job and still be happy. This is why someone can receive a bad health report and still be at peace. This is why someone can be going through a family crisis and still feel comforted. Not that these things won’t sting or hurt for a moment, but God is our source of joy, not the blessings. While it’s great to enjoy the blessings and we need to thank Him for these blessings, we must not forget that we need to give Him the glory because He’s a loving God not just for the way we have been blessed. Unfortunately, many see it that way and will blame God for their lack of blessings and therefore think that they cannot have happiness.

God loves each and every one of us. Many have been blessed in different forms but as long as God is the foundation of our joy and happiness, it can never be taken away.

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Got Enough?

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

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta


During his ministry, Jesus made many references to the “Kingdom of God,” along with instructions for those who choose to follow him here. Jesus said, “Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth, where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal,” and later, “For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also” (Matthew 6:19, 21, King James Translation).

One of the more earthy stand-up comedians of our time has made a career of poking fun at the quirks of people. One of his favorites is our tendency to accumulate stuff—to the extent that there is a whole new industry of storage units where we pay others to watch over our abundance of stuff.

The obvious question is “What is stuff?” The answer depends on each individual’s preferences. For me, along with other stuff, I have accumulated enough books to read, that if I read 20 hours a day, 365 days a year, I may be able to read through them in another 200 years. There can be no doubt Jesus knows our human nature, especially when we look at this time of consumerism we live in.

So many of us have a desire to acquire, whether for bragging rights or just simply to show it off, even though we know having possessions just to possess them leads to greed. This is a big problem, made even worse by our modern idea that Jesus’ words are merely proverbs—that they are a good moral target, but not something people in the real word can actually do.

We live in a culture that bombards us with the idea that there is always something more; something we need to have in order to be happy. Advertisers are paid big bucks to convince us that we need something better, newer, bigger or faster than whatever they convinced us to acquire just a little while back.

It isn’t only that we live in 2015, and everything was better back in 1973, 1917 or even back in ancient times; let’s not kid ourselves. King David in the Old Testament didn’t have enough in 985 B.C.,  and neither did many others mentioned in the bible as examples for us—let alone what Judas felt he needed, with more silver than he had already stolen. It isn’t that we need more than we have; no, we already have enough and don’t know it. I think it would be accurate to call this time in which we live, “the age of discontent.”

We aren’t forbidden to have any possessions, as some in the past have interpreted scripture; what we are strongly warned about is the inordinate desire for more that affects our relationship with God and others. Jesus continued on in Matthew chapter 6, “But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you” (Matthew 6:33 KJV).

God is deeply concerned with the desires of our heart. If that desire is to please and glorify God, our heart, hands, mouth and feet, will respond to his word and the leading of the Holy Spirit to share love, joy, peace, kindness, goodness, patience and self-control. Generally, if we will stop and consider what we already have in this land of freedom, we will know that we have enough.

Got enough? The writer of Hebrews states, “Let your conversation (living) be without covetousness; and be content with such things as ye have: for he hath said, I will never leave thee, nor forsake thee” (Hebrews 13:5 KJV).  Paul wrote, “But godliness with contentment is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and it is certain we can carry nothing out. And having food and raiment let us be therewith content” (1st Timothy 6:6-8 KJV).

The truth is that the more worldly things we desire and/or worry about, the less attention we will pay to loving God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and advancing the Kingdom of God. May you find the peace that only Jesus can give. That is something neither money nor stuff can buy!

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God has the power to provide

The-Springs-blurred-webPastor Barry Briggs

The Springs Church

135 N. Grant, Cedar Springs


If I were to ask you, “What are you lacking today?” You might say, “I need more energy… I need more money… I need more emotional support… I need a job.” Chances are you have a shortage somewhere in your life right now. All of those things that you’re lacking in your life really happen for a reason. You don’t know that God is all you need until God is all you’ve got.  Sometimes God allows a shortage in your life to show you that He has the power to provide whatever it is you are lacking.

This was true for a prophet in the Old Testament named Elijah. The Bible tells us in 1 Kings chapter 17 that during a 3-½ yearlong drought “the word of the Lord came to Elijah: ‘Leave here, turn eastward and hide in the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan.  You will drink from the brook, and I have ordered the ravens to feed you there.’ So he did what the Lord had told him. He went to the Kerith Ravine, east of the Jordan, and stayed there. The ravens brought him bread and meat in the morning and bread and meat in the evening, and he drank from the brook. Some time later the brook dried up because there had been no rain in the land” 1 Kings 17:2-7 (NIV).

What is a ravine? A ravine is a natural rut. It’s a long, narrow gorge. Ravines are dark, cold, and lonely. In Hebrew, Kerith means “cut off.” And Elijah was cut off from everything—his friends, social interaction, and what was happening in the world. He was all by himself.

You might be in an emotional Kerith right now. You’re going through a time that seems dark and cold and deep and lonely.

During this time, God supernaturally provides for Elijah in an unusual way. He has ravens bring food and drop it down to him. This is not exactly gourmet food. Where do birds get their food? Off other people’s plates. They find a little piece of meat here and a little piece of bread there. For a year, Elijah’s eating leftovers at best. At worst, he may be eating a dead carcass that they picked up somewhere. So this is not exactly a Sandals vacation. He’s in this pit, and his only support is from God. He has food that God has provided from the ravens, and water that God has provided in the brook. Remember: You don’t know that God is all you need until God is all you’ve got.

Then in verse 7 it says “The brook dried up.” Maybe you are in a situation right now where the brook has dried up in your life. The money’s not there. The friend isn’t there.  The support isn’t there. The energy isn’t there. Your health isn’t there. Things have dried up in your life.

What do you need to remember when the brook dries up in your life—relationally, emotionally, financially or whatever? You need to remember that God allows brooks to dry up to keep me from depending on the brook.

Elijah was in this rut for a year. It would have been very easy for him to just forget about God and focus on the birds and the brook, because they are supplying his needs. He doesn’t have to work; it’s all right there. The birds bring the food and the brook gives the water. If you depend on a bird every day to drop food down to you, week after week, month after month, for a full year, pretty soon you’re not thinking about God.  You’re thinking about, “Is the bird on time?” And if the water is coming down the brook each day, you might just start to assume it’s always going to be there.

So God says, “Whatever you’re trusting in, if it’s not Me, I’m going to turn it off. You’ve been trusting in your job for your security; we’ll just turn that off.  You’ve been trusting in your health; we’ll just turn that off.  You’ve been trusting in a friend; we’ll just turn that off.”

God says you must trust in Me and Me alone.

So what are you lacking in your life right now? What do you need that has dried up?  Whatever it is, God has the power to provide it. Trust in Him. The Bible promises in Philippians 4:19 that “God will meet all your needs according to the riches of His glory in Christ Jesus” (NIV). Why don’t you take a moment right now to pause and pray and ask God to meet that need in your life?



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About those 10 commandments

Courtland-OakfieldUMCRobert Eckert, Pastor

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake NE, Rockford


They are found in the 20th chapter of Exodus and the fifth chapter of Deuteronomy. They are posted in courtrooms in the United States and the subject of lawsuits heard within courtrooms in the United States. They represent the pinnacle of what is universal, timeless, and sacred for some. They are historical artifacts to others. And what about commandment number six? Does it prohibit killing? Does it prohibit murder? Is there a difference?

If we were playing a word association game any one of those thoughts might have popped into your head when you saw “10 Commandments” in the title of this piece. By any chance, did “thou shalt not” come to mind? My perception is that the 10 Commandments have a reputation for being restrictive, judgmental, and damning. People read “thou shalt not” but hear “THOU SHALT NOT!!” Both Exodus and Deuteronomy describe the Decalogue as having been written by the finger of God and depending on how they’ve been delivered to us, they just might have come across as divine finger wagging.

With that kind of notoriety, the 10 Commandments could use some good press. I was pleased to encounter what I found to be a refreshingly positive take on these ancient injunctions recently. I was reminded that recitations of the 10 Commandments often omit their introductory sentence, their preamble, if you will: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Exodus 20:2, New Revised Standard Version).

In the context of remembering where they had been and what their circumstances were while there, the 10 Commandments sound less threatening and more entreating. “I just brought you out of slavery; don’t slip back into it by worshiping false gods or by taking me for granted. Don’t go back to trying to solve your problems by means you already know to be ineffective. Don’t lie, don’t steal, don’t kill.”

Contributors to the Bible frequently speak of humankind as God’s children. Sometimes a parent has to say to a child, “Didn’t I just tell you [fill in the blank]?” Maybe the 10 Commandments are God’s way of saying, “C’mon, we’ve been through this. You’re free now. Don’t make yourselves slaves again.”

Human beings are plagued with self-destructive tendencies, bad habits, and addictions. We are trapped in cycles of behavior governed by the rubric that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. But there’s a wonderful little sentence in Galatians 5:1: “For freedom Christ has set us free” (NRSV).

Unlike what the Egyptians were to the Israelites, and unlike what our own insecurities and lusts are to us, God has no interest in being our task master. God desires to bring us out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. If the idea of commandments seems harsh to you, consider them as compassionate, heart-felt reminders that God loves you and truly desires only what is best for you.

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A recipe for a healthy marriage

Pastor Jim Alblas

Pioneer Christian Reformed Church

3592 17 Mile RD NE, Cedar Springs

It’s common knowledge that summer is a very popular time for weddings. In my church, July ranks as the top anniversary month, with August not far behind. This summer, it’s likely that you will either get married, attend someone else’s wedding or at least send an anniversary card. Since the topic of marriage is popular right now, I thought it fitting to see what the Bible teaches us about what makes for a healthy marriage. While there are various places to turn to answer that question, I share with you what we find in the Old Testament book of Song of Songs.

Song of Songs chronicles the romantic journey of a man and woman from their courtship to their wedding day and into their married lives. What I found most profound is the continuous passion between the couple in all three stages. While they are dating, as seen in chapter one, listen to the words of the woman. “Let him kiss me with the kisses of his mouth for your love is more delightful than wine.” And hear the man, “Your cheeks are beautiful with earrings, your neck with strings of jewels.” Then on their wedding day, the passion continues as seen in chapter three. She says, “Come out, you daughters of Zion, and look at King Solomon wearing the crown, the crown with which his mother crowned him on the day of his wedding, the day his heart rejoiced.”  And he replies by saying: “All beautiful you are, my darling; there is no flaw in you.”  But as we follow the story, we see how they keep up their passion, even as they get married. She says to her husband in chapter seven:  “Come, my lover, let us go to the countryside, let us spend the night in the villages. Let us go early to the vineyards to see if the vines have budded.” She wants to go out on a date with her husband and knowing him, he will certainly oblige. Their continued passion and even dating is a powerful lesson married couples can learn from.

Often, when people are dating, they speak passionately to one another, gaze lovingly at each other and enjoy frequent outings together. However, when a couple becomes married, sometimes those things lessen. Why is that? Perhaps during courtship we work hard to win each other over, and now, having been won over, we put in less effort. Maybe the excitement that comes, with something being new, naturally fades as it is no longer new. Whatever the reason may be, I say we learn from the continuous passion of this husband and wife. As married folks, we need to keep writing love letters and keep going out on dates; it’s an ingredient for a healthy marriage. It’s not the only ingredient; you also need love, respect, commitment and to keep God at the center of your relationship. But, when we combine a continued passion for God, with a continued passion for each other, we find a recipe for a healthy marriage.

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True Freedom

Pastor Darryl Miller  

Sand Lake UMC, 

65 W. Maple, Sand Lake

South Ensley UMC, 

13600 Cypress, Ensley Township



We have just celebrated the independence of our country and the freedom that it has afforded us as a result. But what is freedom? What is true freedom? Paul wrote four letters from a Roman prison, in which he suffered much and longed to be with his friends again. Yet, his words seem to be unreasonable. He speaks of joy, of being thankful and of being set free. How can he feel these things while in prison, where he was placed for preaching the gospel?

The simple answer is that God is the source of real freedom—the freedom to be at peace wherever we find ourselves and in whatever situations we face. The Bible says that we have been given a spirit of “carelessness.” Now this does not mean that we can skateboard off the roof and see ourselves on one of those “Bad Idea” TV shows. In this context, the word “carelessness” means to be without care. In other words, to quote our Australian friends—“no worries!” True freedom is when we can face our lives without care, without worry—even in prison. A prison with bars, a prison of illness, a prison of depression, or any other kind of prison. Paul even spoke of how being in chains has helped his ministry to grow and to be heard—a sure sign of the presence of God even in the bleakest times.

True freedom is being able to say “Praise God!” even when we don’t feel like it or when we aren’t sure what the next day may bring. The Bible refers to sin as bonds, chains that restrain us. Our sins keep us from experiencing the freedom and grace offered us by Christ. When we repent of our sins, God breaks those chains of sin and frees us to a life of thanksgiving and joy. And when we accept Christ as our Savior, we welcome the very author of freedom into our hearts. Then and only then will we experience true freedom, finding a peace that goes beyond the world’s understanding, no matter what we may be facing—the peace of Christ Jesus. If you want to learn more, there are many wonderful churches in our community and many wonderful pastors who would love to help you. Check them out!

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Farewell to Red Flannel Town

Solon-Center-Wesleyan-webPastor Tom Holloway

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma, Cedar Springs (just north of 19 Mile)


As I sit here to write my last “From the Pulpit” article, I am trying to find a way to say goodbye to the city I love and try to tie it into some scripture passage, but I can’t.  I think I actually could, because there are many examples like Paul wanting to finish well, and how Joshua had to be courageous when he took the mantle from Moses. But the reality is, I want to express my gratefulness and use every word to say goodbye to the community I love.

My family and I moved here in 2003 from East Lansing, when I left my job at Michigan State University, and took a job in Rockford, as a part-time youth pastor. It was a huge step of faith for my wife and I to go from a career that we loved, in coaching gymnastics, to a career that I knew very little about and had almost no experience in. We left the comfort of a good salary to go to a profession that prides itself on shunning the things of the world, for a life of submission. God has provided through the ups and downs of ministry, and he has allowed us to be in a good place.

In March, things began to change for us. We felt God calling us to explore the option of planting a church in South Carolina.  I don’t have enough space to describe that whole process, but God has put us in a position of leaning and trusting on Him. So, it is with much fear and trepidation (but also great excitement) that we will be taking a small church in South Carolina, on August 1.  My last Sunday at Solon Center Wesleyan Church will be July 26, and I would love to have you in attendance to say goodbye to me, my wife Kim Holloway, and our three children, Taylor, Christian, and Jackson.

When I first came to Cedar Springs I didn’t know much about it. I was pastoring in Rockford, but we liked the feel of Cedar Springs and we really liked our neighborhood. We first fell in love with the community, when my daughter came to school as a first grade student with Mrs. Cook and she explained to us that Taylor was far behind in her reading. We thought she was doing well in East Lansing, but that was not the case. Taylor moved quickly into the GATORS program, (which my wife taught for a few years later,) and she began to accelerate her reading abilities and soon became a great reader. It was then that my wife and I knew that Cedar Springs Public Schools really cared for my daughter, and that would continue for the next 11-1/2 years. Our family has grown to love the schools, sports, and the community.

I have been fortunate to be a part of this great community by starting the En Gedi youth center. It has seen hundreds, if not, thousands of kids have a safe place to be after school or on a Friday night after a ball game. It’s hard to believe that it’s been almost seven years since CJ Maurer and I met together to find a place for students to be refreshed. I have also been a part of our awesome ministerial association that loves our community so much that they sacrifice their own ministries at times to better the community. This will be the first “United” service that I won’t be leading worship at on August 23, and I am going to miss it so much. That kind of unity is rare, and I pray that our community never takes that for granted.

Most recently I have been able to be a part of our Community Building Development Team, here in Cedar Springs. The CBDT wants to work with other entities to build the community—not to just build buildings and amphitheaters, but to build our community by sacrificing and working together. Most people in our community don’t realize the generosity that exists in this community.  Unfortunately, we see a lot of negative things about the ways that we can’t come together instead of the ways that we can work together. We are much better together than we are divided.

I wish I had time to thank all of the people who believed in me and gave me a chance to succeed, but I’m afraid that I don’t. I do look forward to returning to the community and seeing what has been accomplished and you can bet that I will be following all that is going on. We hope to make an impact on our future community, and our next church, but we know that it is going to be nearly impossible to find a community that we will love as much as this one. Know that I will be praying for you as you move ahead, and I hope that you will pray for us as we move to where God has called us. May you go where God is leading you!

With Love, 

Pastor Tom Holloway

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Safer among the Christian savages

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

The Barna Group, a long-tenured research organization, tracks the role of faith within American culture. One of their recent studies sought to determine “Bible-Mindedness” in this country’s largest cities. Their rubric was simple: Participants who strongly asserted the “Bible to be accurate in the principles it teaches” were considered “Bible-Minded.” Those who did not meet this standard were deemed to be “unbiblical.”

Per the study, the most unbiblical city in America is Providence, Rhode Island. This should come as no surprise, given Rhode Island’s history. The state, founded by Roger Williams, began as a haven for those who had been mistreated by strict Biblicists—“Bible-Minded” people—who embraced a hardened interpretation of the Scriptures.

When Williams arrived in Massachusetts more than a century before the American Revolution, he was part of the Puritan effort to build that famed “City on a Hill,” a divinely instituted nation where everyone would be “Bible-Minded.” But, in short order, Williams became the most controversial figure on the continent.

How so? Williams relentlessly preached liberty of conscience and freedom from state-driven religious conformity, espousing a revolutionary idea that there should be a separation between church and state. Vexed to the point of murder, the authorities made plans against Williams. Warned that he would soon be arrested, Williams escaped into the wilderness where he eventually purchased from the Narrangansetts, the land that would become Rhode Island.

And, it was exactly that: an island, a sanctuary for all kinds of religious dissidents in the earliest years of the American colonies. Jews. Quakers. Baptists. Catholics. Atheists. They came in manifold and variegated expressions, and Roger Williams, this nation’s first Founding Father of toleration and liberty, welcomed them all.

It was no wonder, then, when Massachusetts Governor, John Winthrop, asked Roger to recant of his beliefs, leave the natives of the wilderness and come home, Roger responded, “I cannot; for I feel safer among the Christian savages, than I do among savage Christians.”

Ironically, Roger Williams never lost his faith. To the end of his life, he was a “Bible-Minded” man. Maybe, if he were alive today, he would wish that the city he founded was more “biblical,” but he would never force it to be so. He would say, as he said: “Men’s consciences ought never to be violated…for a religion that must be upheld by violence, is a religion that cannot be true.”

Ronnie McBrayer is a syndicated columnist, blogger, pastor, and author of multiple books. Visit his website at www.ronniemcbrayer.net.

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Fire Scarred

First-Baptist-church-currenPastor Jim Howard

First Baptist Church

233 S. Main, Cedar Springs


Some years ago, it was my privilege and joy to vacation in the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming. As we traveled and marveled at God’s handiwork around us, I couldn’t help but notice the ravages of the forest fires that plagued the west.

As we moved through South Dakota and Wyoming, we witnessed firsthand two forest fires, one in each state. As we moved northward, away from one of the fires, and stopped in Casper for the night, we could still see the smoke, from fires hundreds of miles away. And then, while we visited Yellowstone National Park, the burned over ground from some years ago was still evidenced by the charred and fallen trees.

These sights were sobering in terms of what fire can do to the countryside.  The more I thought about it, the more it reminded me of the seared condition of the human heart. God tells us that the human heart is “deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked” (Jer. 17:9). Paul tells us of the “seared conscience” in 1 Timothy 4:2. Sin has a way of disrupting, undermining and destroying relationships, and even ourselves.

God in heaven is very much aware of what sin has done, namely, to separate humanity from Himself. Because of His love for humanity and desire to reconcile man to Himself, God has provided a means of reconciliation. John the Baptist looked up and saw Jesus coming and told those around him, “behold the lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world.”  (Jn. 1:29, NKJ) Paul shared with the Roman church, “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.” (Rom 10:9, ESV)  And Dr. Luke tells us in Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (ESV)

While I once looked with wonder at the Rockies, I now look at a child of God with Awe!  The miracle of creation is beyond description but the miracle of salvation is out of this world!

The burned over areas of Yellowstone are now growing and teaming with life once again. The scarred trunks of trees stand in mute testimony of the fire that once ravaged the land. A born again child of God will often stand in mute testimony of what our God can do. We may be scarred on the outside, but there is most definitely new life on the inside. Do you need this new life? Have you been ravaged by the sin of this world? Are you looking for something or someone who can and will make a difference in your life? Then, give yourself to Jesus Christ today—don’t delay!

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C-East-NelsonPastor Herb VanderBilt 

East Nelson United Methodist Church

9024 18 Mile Rd. 

Cedar Springs MI 49319


 “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance.  Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4  

Based in this passage of scripture from the Book of James, I have had many opportunities for joy this past month. We are remodeling our daughter’s kitchen, putting in base cabinets, a pre-molded countertop and a new sink. Each step has been filled with multiple tests of patience and ability. And although there are a few existing challenges, there is joy in the finished product, and a growing in knowledge of the right and wrong way to plumb a sink.

James, however, is not talking about remodeling projects. He is speaking to the dispersed Jewish Christians who are struggling in the faith and dealing with the challenges of being a Christian. The letter is addressed to those Christians who have been scattered throughout the then known world and are far away from where they started and are learning that in order to live out their faith, there are many trials and temptations that come.

James is telling them and all of us that to have a mature faith, we need to expect trials. In fact, it is through these trials that a strong mature faith can develop. As we share our trials and temptations with each other, we also need to keep encouraging those who are going through a trial to keep trying.

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