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Archive | From the Pulpit

In His rising, the life of all have risen

Father Lam T. Le, Pastor

St. John Paul II Parish

3110 17 Mile Rd. 

Cedar Springs, Michigan 49319

 

Finally, spring is here! Having many friends and relatives who live in warm parts of the country, whenever I visit them, they always ask, “When will you move here with us and stay in the sun-shining states instead of Michigan?”

My response to them is always the same. “Only in Michigan will you experience four distinct seasons and, after a long winter season, you will appreciate spring time. What happens during spring is a wonderful analogy to Easter, the celebration of Christ’s resurrection.”

It is truly right and just, our duty and our salvation, at all times to acclaim you, O Lord, but in this time above all to laud you yet more gloriously, when Christ our Passover has been sacrificed.  Through him the children of light rise to eternal life and the halls of the heavenly Kingdom are thrown open to the faithful; for his death is our ransom from death, and in his rising the life of all have risen. Therefore, overcome with paschal joy, every land, every people exults in your praise and even the heavenly Powers, with the angelic hosts, sing together the unending hymn of your glory, as they acclaim: Holy Holy, holy, holy, Lord of hosts. . .  (Preface II of Easter, Roman Missal-Third Edition).

I would like to call your attention to what is highlighted in the prayer: the resurrection of the Lord has an impact on not just human beings, but on all. That is the faith of the Church! Christ’s resurrection changes all things for the good! Alleluia.

This is when spring in Michigan can help us explain the mystery of Easter. After a long winter, grass, flowers, and tree leaves appear again. It is refreshing! When you walk into your house, it seems like a new one! What spring does for the environment, the Resurrection of the Lord does even more so for the world. The Lord, the Creator of all, has entered the world and by his death and resurrection has redeemed the world. Nothing has been untouched in this earthly field by the resurrection of Christ.

The challenges us now is to listen to the teaching of the Apostle Paul: “If then you were raised with Christ, seek what is above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God. Think of what is above, not of what is on earth. For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. When Christ your life appears, then you too will appear with him in glory” (Col 3: 1-4).

Our entire world has been changed by Christ’s resurrection. Let’s us focus on “what is above.”  Amen.

 

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From the pulpit: As Christians, should we obey bad rulers?

By Pastor Kristi J. Rhodes

Should we obey bad rulers?

Greetings Cedar Springs Community! I was asked a question recently that I will ask you now.

You can hardly get through a single day without hearing discussion about the upcoming presidential election. I have to say, in all my years (which are many), I have never witnessed such a bazaar journey to the Whitehouse, regardless of who gets in there! There are not many topics more polarizing than politics or religion. So why in the world would anyone open that can of worms? It’s really pretty simple. God has something to say about that.

As Christians, that’s where we get our instruction—from God’s Word—which is the Bible. “What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun,” Ecclesiastics 1:9 (NIV). There have been many bad rulers and God’s basic instructions before leaving earth gives us wisdom to live by.

The apostle Paul in speaking to Titus said, “Remind the people to be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good, to slander no one, to be peaceable and considerate and to show true humility toward all men” Titus 3:1-2 (NIV).

Paul teaches that government’s authority is established by God to keep order on earth. If government lines up with God’s law, then Christians are right to obey it. However, if a human law runs counter to God’s principles, then it is not wrong to disobey. Peter and the other apostles replied: “We must obey God rather than human beings!”(Acts 5:29 NIV). Bottom line is, we must obey the law of the land unless it conflicts with God’s law. Everyone answers to someone, but ultimately, everyone will answer to God. Even while resisting in those areas where government oversteps its bounds, Christians must still recognize the authority of government in its other functions.

The good news is that regardless of who is in the Whitehouse, God is on the throne and always will be! As Christians, we belong to the Kingdom of God, and the Kingdom of God is NEVER in trouble! Hallelujah!

May God richly bless you and yours as you seek to honor Him with your choices.

Pastor Kristi J. Rhodes

Hillcrest Community Church

5994 18 Mile Rd. Cedar Springs, MI 49319

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Confident Grace

By Pastor Craig Carter, North Kent Community Church

Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need” (Heb. 4:16 NIV).

What’s so amazing about grace? If we are honest, the longer we live and serve the Lord, the more we realize that God’s grace is simply amazing. One of the most profound things about God’s grace is that it invites us to God’s throne with confidence. Notice that the throne we are invited to is not one of judgment, but of grace. The writer of Romans gives us this same picture. He writes, “But the gift is not like the trespass. For if the many died by the trespass of the one man, how much more did God’s grace and the gift that came by the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, overflow to the many! Again, the gift of God is not like the result of the one man’s sin: The judgment followed one sin and brought condemnation, but the gift followed many trespasses and brought justification. For if, by the trespass of the one man, death reigned through that one man, how much more will those who receive God’s abundant provision of grace and of the gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (Rom 5:15-17). God provided abundant grace for this life. Now that’s a confidence builder in us all! God says this grace assures us we can reign in life. We can live confidently that if God is for us, who can be against us?

I think it is important to remember that grace is the unmerited favor of God. It is a favor or kindness shown without regard to the worth or merit of the one who receives it and in spite of what that same person deserves. That is why we are invited to come to this throne without hesitation. In the above verse, we are instructed to come to this throne with “confidence.” Another translation says that we may “come boldly” unto the throne of grace. This word “boldly” is the Greek word parrhesia (par-rhay-see’-ah), which literally means to come with an all out-outspokenness, frankness and bluntness. It also implies that we can do so, without fear of some repercussions.

Let me ask you this question. When was the last time you went to God and spoke your mind honestly and openly, without fear of some repercussions? You may be uncomfortable with this, but that’s exactly what God’s grace allows us to do. I find it interesting that people harbor all kinds of thoughts in their heart that they would not even consider speaking with their mouth. Yet, they fail to realize God already knows their thoughts! They act as if they were to verbalize them to God, he would punish them with some consequence. They think a lightning bolt from heaven is going to strike them because they had the audacity to speak their mind to God. I frequently remind people, God is a big boy, feel free to tell Him how you really feel.

Let me challenge you today. Go confidently or boldly to God’s throne with whatever need you have. Do not be afraid to speak your mind to God, because mercy and grace await you. Grace invites you to its throne because it longs to help you.

North Kent Community Church, 1480 Indian Lakes Rd., Sparta, Church Phone #: 550-6398

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From the Pulpit: Finding Peace

By Pastor Ryan Black

There aren’t enough hours in the day to worry about all that is wrong. Whether it is world events, work, school, family or just life in general, there is always something to cause our fretfulness. Life creates many anxious moments. But when the pressures of life continually increase, you may feel anxious all of the time. The pressure can be so great that you wonder if you will be able to carry the load of anxiety even one step further. Fortunately, we have the anti-worry, anti-anxiety antidote: Jesus!

Anxiety is a mind thing. Jesus understands this issue and is with you when facing it as he can put your mind to rest. Christ himself suffered anxiety to the point of sweating blood. Whether you’re a Christian or non-Christian, stress is something we all face and agonize. For this reason, we need to recognize that Jesus is there for each and every one of us in our times of uneasiness. John 14:1 says, “Do not let your hearts be troubled. You believe in God; believe also in me.” Why do we go through stressful moments and phases in our lives? Scripture tells us it’s to build up our perseverance, endurance and faith (Romans 5:3-5). Typically, when we go through traumatic times, we come out of it stronger and more well-rounded as a person.

We are all afraid of something. And whether our fear is real or irrational, if we let ourselves get caught up in a sea of worry, we run the risk of drowning in it. While we can never be completely free from worry, Jesus gives us a sense of peace and comfort as we deal with it. John 14:27 reads, “Peace I leave with you; My peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Do not let your heart be troubled, nor let it be fearful.”

Cedar Springs Christian Church, 340 West Pine Street, Cedar Springs

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Approaching Easter 2016

By Pastor Dick Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church, 2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta

Almost two thousand years ago, on the Sunday following the crucifixion of our Savior the Friday before, two women approached the sepulcher where Jesus had been laid, to make the necessary preparations for his dead body. We read, “The angel said to the women, “Do not be afraid, for I know that you are looking for Jesus, who was crucified. He is not here; he has risen, just as he said. Come and see the place where he lay” (Matthew 28:5-6 NIV).

For these friends of Jesus who came to the tomb, life and death would never be the same. This Jesus whom they loved and believed to still be in the grave, had risen from the dead, conquering death for us, our last enemy in this life.

Through the story of the resurrection and the promised Spirit of God, alive in us, we too must look at our own lives and answer for ourselves, “How do we approach Easter Sunday 2016?” Our answer has much to say in whether Easter makes a difference in our lives or not. How many Easters have we heard and heard again about the resurrection, and do we come to this day expecting to experience the same-o same-o, old routine? The women came to the borrowed tomb before sunrise on a Sunday, and surprise, the tomb is empty! Oh wow, like we haven’t heard this before!

Maybe we come not expecting anything more than what we’ve known before, after all, we know that God’s word is as Paul has written, “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ. And so through him the ‘Amen’ is spoken by us to the glory of God” (2nd Corinthians 1:20 NIV). It will be exactly as God has said it will be.

Then again, we may not spend much time reading our Bible, or attending worship services, but it’s Easter, and we know just enough to be curious, is there something there for me? Is there anything in the Bible or church that may make my life better? Our experience with Easter has always been good, but, what if we approached Easter 2016 with a heart that is open and expecting, exactly what, we’re not sure, but hoping that God will make the resurrection of Christ more of a reality in our lives?

If we come to Easter Sunday as people who have heard the story before, as people who can no longer be amazed, we will very likely leave the same way we came. We meet God where we are at. If we approach Easter in humility, repentant before God, knowing our absolute need for Jesus, he will never disappoint us. Christ’s resurrection is not just another story in the Bible, it is the central point in our faith as Christians.

How will we approach Easter 2016? Will this Easter be different? Are we willing to approach this day and the rest of the days of our lives, by joyfully allowing God to enter into our hearts, and begin a work within us that allows us to hear this story with spiritual ears, in a way we’ve never heard it before?

Approach God with an open heart, and hear with childlike amazement, God’s eternal truth in Jesus Christ!

He is risen! Indeed!

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What will make America great again?

The-Springs-blurred-webPastor Barry Briggs

The Springs Church

135 N. Grant St., Cedar Springs

With the 2016 presidential election cycle well underway, there are a lot of ideas circulating about what will make America great again. Some suggest we need to build a wall. Others that we need Medicare for all. Or boots on the ground. Or for Wall Street to pay its fair share. Or income equality. Or new pipes. Or… or… or…

But will these ideas cut it? What in fact will make America great again?

I believe the answer is in the Bible. It’s not a new idea. It’s actually about 3,000 years old. And its unlike anything I’ve heard from any of the presidential candidates.

In the Old Testament, in 2 Chronicles 7:14 (NIV), God tells us what will make America great again. He says, “If My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from Heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

God says if you want to make America great again, if you want Me to heal your land, there’s four things you need to do.

First, humble yourselves. Why is that important? Why does God start with humble yourself? Because the source of all of our problems is pride. The root of every single one of our problems is this: I think I know better than God does what will make me happy. That kind of pride disconnects us from God on a personal level, on a corporate level, and on a national level.

Second, we need to pray. Jesus taught us this. Luke 18:1 (CEV) it says, “Jesus told His disciples a story about how they should keep on praying and never give up.”  Notice we’ve got two choices: keep on praying or give up. In life you’re always doing one or the other. You’re either keeping on praying or you’re always giving up. If you don’t keep on praying, then you’re going to give up. And if you give up, you’re not going to keep on praying. It’s your choice. I have to decide, “Am I going to keep on praying or am I going to always give up?” Those are the options.

Third, we need to seek God. The truth is very few of us are seeking God seriously. Most people want only enough of God to bless them but not enough to bug them. They want God to be just a little slice of their life. But seeking God is not something you do in your spare moments. It’s not a casual pastime. “Oh, you know, nothing is on television, so I guess I’ll go seek God.” No. Seeking God is a serious pursuit. It’s a primary focus.  Hebrews 11:6b (NIV) tells us that “…[God] rewards those who earnestly seek Him.”

If we want God to make America great again we need to humble ourselves, pray, seek God, and then there’s one other thing He says to do—we need to turn from our wicked ways.

Acts 3:19 (NIV) encourages us to “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out, that times of refreshing may come from the Lord.”

We desperately need that. We desperately need times of refreshing that come from the Lord in our nation. We need that in our cities. We need them in our schools. We need times of refreshing that come from the Lord in our economy, in our businesses. We need them in our marriages. We need them in our churches.  We need times of refreshing in our personal lives.

So I suggest we humble ourselves, and we pray, and we seek God’s face, and we turn from our wicked ways. If we do, God promises to make America great again. And, unlike politicians, God always keeps His promises.

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Better people

Courtland-OakfieldUMCPastor Robert Eckert

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake Ave NE, Rockford

 

“We do not want you to become lazy, but to be like those who believe and are patient, and so receive what God has promised.” – Hebrews 6:12, Good News Translation

I don’t know if this line from the movie As Good As It Gets is a classic now or merely a cliché, but it still works, as far as I’m concerned, and it still reminds me of what a good feeling it evokes when the cranky, bigoted Melvin Udall, played by Jack Nicholson, says to Helen Hunt’s Carol Connelly, “You make me want to be a better man.”

The moment represents the beginning of a significant life change for Melvin. Until this point, he has been self-absorbed and recalcitrant; the sort of person others dread seeing come their way.

Carol has a full plate of challenges. She is a single mother struggling to make ends meet on a waitress’s income with worries for her son’s poor health. Melvin and Carol navigate and negotiate the development of a relationship that begins with him as a customer at her table until, yada, yada, yada, he delivers his famous line.

I am grateful that there are people to whom I can say, “You make me want to be a better man.” It wasn’t anything like a romantic comedy, but Stuart Ray, the manager of the Burger King where I worked when I was in college, is one who comes to mind. Laurie Haller, a superintendent in the governance system of the United Methodist denomination of which I am a part, is another. And Claire Guisfredi, the current director of North Kent Community Services, on whose board I am privileged to have a seat, is my most recent experience of such motivating leadership.

The verse of the Bible that opens this article describes characteristics that all three of them share. They are clear about their expectations just as the author of Hebrews is. They communicate confidence and trust in the people with whom they’re working; in other words, they believe. And their spiritual and emotional maturity enables them patiently to overcome obstacles and disappointments with grace and creative problem-solving.

There is a temptation now to say, “Let’s all strive to be people who similarly inspire others.” But I don’t know how a person would will him or herself into being that kind of an encouraging role model. It’s not so much a choice as a spark of the divine, struck by God, that is glowing in them.

So I’ll simply say, “Let’s thank God for the people who make us want to be better men and women, and let’s act on that impulse.”

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El Shaddai

Rockford-Springs-Church-webPastor David Vander Meer

Rockford Springs Community 

14 Mile Road NE • Rockford

 

El Shaddai is one of the wonderful names of God. This two-part name is usually translated from the Hebrew into English as “God Almighty.” The first time God shares this name is with an old man who is no longer the strong man of his youth. His name is Abram. He is about to be given a new name from the one who is now to be understood as the “God Almighty.”

In Genesis 17, God comes to Abram to renew a promise He had made with him years prior. In Genesis 12, God had promised Abram, who had no children, that He would make him into a great nation, that He would bless Him, and make his name great. He promised to protect him and ultimately use him to bring a blessing to all nations. But as the years went on waiting for this promise to unfold, there were times that Abram and his wife failed to fully trust the Word of God. In Genesis 17, he is a 99-year-old man. His strength is no longer sufficient. His stamina is no longer vigorous. He is no longer capable of carrying out this promise on his own. Now comes the El Shaddai to bring His power to an old man.

So Abram (exalted father) becomes Abraham (father of many) because of the El Shaddai. God Almighty is able to take the powerless and bring them power. He is able to bring the barren a family. He is able to make the lame walk, the blind see, and the deaf to hear. He is able to raise the dead and make them live abundantly. The El Shaddai of Genesis 17 will be displayed from this first book of the Bible to the last book of the Bible in such amazing ways that His glory will be unmatched by any.

This almighty power of the “God Almighty” is best revealed in Jesus Christ through His life, death, resurrection, and ascension. In His life, His power stands against all sin so that He is fully righteous. In His death, His power takes upon Himself the sins of His people and satisfies the just wrath of God. In His resurrection, His power is seen with the open empty tomb. And today His power is exhibited as He sits on the right hand of the Father ruling and reigning over His kingdom. Jesus is “God Almighty.”

Remember that this God Almighty used His power to fulfill every promise made to Abraham. Abraham is the father of all those that take up his faith in El Shaddai. He is able to meet all our needs as we come to His power and admit to being powerless without Him. May God Almighty now bring blessing to your life. AMEN.

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Paczki’s and Ashes 

cs-united-methodist

Pastor Steve Lindeman

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

140 S. Main St.

Cedar Springs, MI  49319

 

We’ve been seeing advertisements for the past few weeks—“It’s almost paczki time!” If it seems to you that the pictures of the traditional Polish pastries are showing up early, you’re right—Shrove Tuesday comes early this year. Also known as Fat Tuesday, this is the day that some people celebrate by indulging in rich foods. Making paczki’s is the tradition designed to use up any fat, or other rich foods that are in the home, prior to the fasting that is supposed to take place in the days after.

It is also on Fat Tuesday that the celebration of Mardi Gras culminates in a night of parties and revelry. The reason for these holidays is basically to get out our desires to eat, drink and be merry out of the way prior to the season of Lent.

You may not observe Lent in your faith tradition, but you may have acquaintances or coworkers who give something up for Lent. This is done in observation of the 40 days that Christ spent in the wilderness fasting. We seek to give up something in our lives—something that is not helpful to our spiritual or physical wellbeing. Some might give up chocolate or soda; others might give up fatty foods. We give up to deny a physical desire in our lives, so that we might focus upon the spiritual aspects. We give up in recognition that God has created each of us, not only as creatures that inhabit a physical world but as beings created with a spirit that will continue on into eternity.

This year, Lent will begin on February 10, which is Ash Wednesday. With the placing of the ashes on our foreheads, we are reminded of the words found in Genesis 3:19, “… for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

As we begin our Lenten journey this year, let us give up to help us prepare ourselves for the promise of spring, and the even greater promise held in Easter. Let us remember that, although we are in this world, we are not of this world. During Lent, let us focus upon the spiritual aspects of our lives as we walk this path together. Jesus set aside the temporary physical nature of the world through his time of trials—let us do the same.

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Looking to God in a Crisis

Pilgrim-Bible-webRev. Mike Shiery

Pilgrim Bible Church

West Pine Street • Cedar Springs

 

“Lord, how they have increased who trouble me! Many are they who rise up against me. 

Many are they who say of me, ‘There is no help for him in God.’ Selah. But You, O Lord, are a shield for me, my glory and the One Who lifts up my head.” (Psalm 3:1-3) (NKJV)

When we come face to face with a crisis in our life, many times our instinctive reaction is to feel totally overwhelmed by the immensity, complexity, and seriousness of what we are facing. If we give into that temptation often we find ourselves mired in despair and feeling like the crisis will never end. This, in turn, can lead to even more problems which we must confront.

In Psalm 3, we find David facing an incredible personal crisis that enveloped the nation of Israel in its grip. We are permitted a glimpse into what David was confronting and more importantly, we can see a path to dealing with our own crises.

David was facing a political coup. There was a cleverly organized conspiracy to take away the throne of Israel from him. To add insult to injury, this plot engineered by his beloved son, Absalom. David was facing not only civil rebellion in the kingdom, but far more crushingly he was dealing with betrayal by former close friends and his own son. Of all the painful things we may have to face in life, nothing is more traumatic than when friends turn against us or our own family members stab us in the back.

It is interesting that David begins this Psalm by addressing the Lord directly. He was facing the nightmare of his life. He had been forced to flee from his palace in the capital city of Jerusalem. Now an exile, running for his life, no longer certain who to trust, he shows his desperate dependence by turning immediately to God.

Likewise, it is always appropriate in our crisis moments, as well as the good times, to turn to God first. Ultimately He can help and work out our situations when everything and everyone else has failed, so why wast time. Go to Him first!

David noted in verse 2 that there were many who observed his situation and boldly declared, “There is no help for him in God.” They felt that either God had abandoned David or that God was powerless to change the situation. They saw the writing on the wall and viewed the outcome as an inevitable disaster for David.

May I remind you that even when everybody says your crisis is hopeless that the last chapter has not necessarily been written. It is not unusual that when the world declares something is over for God to step and announce that He’s just begun to work in that situation.

In verse 3, David begins to enumerate what God is to him and why he has perfect confidence in the Almighty in the midst of this crisis. He says that God is his shield. The word “shield” there means more than a mere frontal protection. It was a protection that completely surrounded David. It was a protection from his trials without and his trials without and his temptations within.

David went on to announce his confidence that God was his glory and his uplifter. Men had cast him down, but the Lord was there to lift him up again. Even though violent plots had been hatched against him, God would sustain him and restore peace to his life again.

Friends, if you have given your heart and life to God you are in His perfect, loving care. You may be reeling in the midst of your crisis, but your Heavenly Father sees exactly where you are and He has the resources to bring stability to your life even in the midst of your storm. Stand confident in your faith in God’s power, and know that God does all things well. Even in the worst of times, you can and must trust the perfect character of God. David found it to be true and so can you!

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