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Archive | From the Pulpit

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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Final Greetings

C-East-NelsonPastor Herb VanderBilt 

East Nelson United Methodist Church

9024 18 Mile Rd., Cedar Springs MI 49319

“Finally, brothers, good-by. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, and live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.  Greet one another with a holy kiss. All the saints send their greetings. May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.”

This year I could not wait to see the new Star Wars movie and when I got to see it, it was great. One of greetings that is attributed to the Star Wars series is the phrase “may the force be with you,” although I am not sure that it is ever used exactly that way in the movie. In any case, it is an appropriate greeting even in the church, provided we edit out the secular word force and insert the Holy Spirit. In the movie, this greeting serves to provide hope to people (and aliens) who are struggling against an evil force committed to destroying all the “good” people.  One of the problems is that it is not always easy to tell the good guys from the bad guys. In the movie, the force can be used for good or it can be used for evil; in fact, one of the characters representing the dark force was originally using the force for good. What both the Jedi knights and the apostle Paul knew was that the force for evil is very powerful and that we always need to be on our guard.

The apostle Paul is writing to a church that has struggled with a lot of issues and in his last address to them challenges them to a higher power, to continue the fight, and to stay in fellowship with one another. This may seem to also be an appropriate message as we leave 2015 and go forward into 2016. May God’s force be with us all.

 

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Don’t be afraid 

Grace-ChurchPastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

www.gracerockford.com

 

by Kevin Reed

No matter how many times it happens to me, I am still taken by surprise when it happens. How many times do we open our Bibles to read the word of God that was written years ago, and have a specific verse jump off the page like it was the very word that God was speaking to us today! Isaiah 41:10 is one of those verses for me. “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God.  I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Let’s face it, there is a lot to be scared about.  We live in a world  where violence seems to be the order of the day and common sense seems to no longer be so common.  For the 21st century Christian it is very easy to become bogged down with fear. As a matter of fact many of the ways I see some Believers responding to and interacting with the world today is purely a result of fear. But it should not be this way!

Fear actually has no place in the life of the believer. We may not know the outcome of tomorrow but we know the One who does.  We may not have the strength to make it through the day, but we have a promise from the One who does. For the Christian there is absolutely nothing in this world to fear because we have been promised the presence of the Almighty to be with us through whatever this world throws our way. And the last time I checked, when He speaks all of creation listens!

So, do not fear, the God who holds all things in His hands is with  you, and He has promised to be right by your side giving you everything that you need!

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A Merry Christmas and a Holy Year of Mercy

Merciful-artFather Lam T. Le, Pastor

St. John Paul II Parish

3110 17 Mile Rd., Cedar Springs, Michigan
www.jp2-mqa.org

This Christmas is a unique one for Catholics throughout the world. This is due to the fact that the spiritual leader, Pope Francis, declared an Extraordinary Jubilee for Mercy from December 8, 2015-November 20, 2016. This is a “special time for the Church, a time when the witness of believers might grow stronger and more effective” (Misericordiae Vultus, no. 3). In other words, the Pope calls upon Catholics and men and women of good will to see in Jesus, the Mercy of God made flesh and challenges us to engage in the works of mercy in our everyday lives. “The works of mercy are charitable actions by which we come to the aid of our neighbor in his spiritual and bodily necessities” (Catechism of the Catholic Church no. 2447).

The theme, contemplating Jesus, Mercy of God made flesh, is clearly expressed in the logo of the Jubilee.  The Vatican’s Pontifical Council for the New Evangelization explains:

“The logo . . . presents . . . the theme of mercy. In fact, it represents an image quite important to the early Church: that of the Son having taken upon his shoulders the lost soul demonstrating that it is the love of Christ that brings to completion the mystery of his incarnation culminating in redemption. The logo has been designed in such a way so as to express the profound way in which the Good Shepherd touches the flesh of humanity and does so with a love with the power to change one’s life. One particular feature worthy of note is that while the Good Shepherd, in his great mercy, takes humanity upon himself, his eyes are merged with those of man. Christ sees with the eyes of Adam, and Adam with the eyes of Christ. Every person discovers in Christ, the new Adam, one’s own humanity and the future that lies ahead, contemplating, in his gaze, the love of the Father.”

In this blessed season, indeed we celebrate that God showed us His love in a very special way:  sending His Son “in the likeness of our sinful flesh” (Rm 8:3).  Through this Mercy of God “made flesh and made his dwelling among us” (Jn 1:14), may our entire life be the praise of God’s mercy.

Have a blessed 2016 and may you and your family be transformed in this Jubilee Year by God’s merciful love!  Amen.

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