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Archive | From the Pulpit

Garden of light

The Rev. David Meyers

Holy Spirit Episcopal Church

1200 Post Dr., Belmont, MI  49306

 

Here, in the darkest, coldest part of the year, our mailbox is filled with names such as Gurney, Burpee, White, and Jung. For non-gardeners, these are popular seed companies. Their catalogues come with vibrant colors, promising great harvests and bouquets that make a florist weep. Sitting indoors, retreating from the weather, these colorful publications present tempting future possibilities. While it is dark and snowy right now, it will not stay that way forever. While we huddle from the cold, the catalogues prompt us to look ahead and plan for the seemingly impossible warmth of summer. Some would say, “Look around—why even think of summer?” Others say, “The cold and dark are only temporary and cannot resist the anticipation of the coming season.”

Isn’t that also true of life? Just when it is darkest, when we shiver from a chilled spirit, when our hearts are broken, a little light peeks through, reminding us that life is not all poverty, despair, and tragedy. There is the horizon of distant hope, whose roots take hold in the darkest times and grow until they again overcome the present and bring the fullness of life. That does not mean the darkness can easily be ignored or that it will depart forever. The worst continues to compete for our attention. Coldness will return. It is a part of life. But keeping focused on that sliver of light, however small, will allow a strengthened spirit to melt the burden of concern and sorrow.

The church is half way through the season of Epiphany; the season of light and good news breaking forth upon the earth. Just when the days were darkest—literally and figuratively—God broke in. A small but indomitable light was born in the form of the Christ child. That light, appearing to a lost world, gave a reason to hope and the relief that all was not dead. The Magi from the East introduced a new idea for the whole world. Other characters in the story carried that light to distant places.  And even in our own time, Epiphany brings the light of grace, shining forth to conquer the darkness in the furthest corners of the globe. The Epiphany vision of redemption introduced the idea that God’s promise was not only for a few but, through the inextinguishable light, the whole earth would enjoy the mercies of reconciliation.

Seed catalogues are the beginning of new life. It is time to dream and imagine what our gardens will look like, having renewed energy to push through the dark. Jesus is like those seeds. He brings the inspiration of a new world. His followers place their order, get the seed of life, and plant it wherever God’s plan can be fulfilled. The purpose of every person is to carry the seed of light to the world until it becomes the redeemed and transformed garden of love.

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Past pain turned into present purpose

 

Pastor Craig Carter

North Kent Community Church

1480 Indian Lakes Rd. | Sparta, MI 49345 

“Now Jabez was more honorable than his brothers, and his mother called his name Jabez, saying, ‘Because I bore him in pain.’ And Jabez called on the God of Israel saying, ‘Oh, that You would bless me indeed, and enlarge my territory, that Your hand would be with me, and that You would keep me from evil, that I may not cause pain!’ So God granted him what he requested” (1 Chronicles 4:9-10, NKJV). 

This verse tells a story about an amazing person. There have been many sermons preached about this man called Jabez, and his prayer to the Lord. Here are a couple thoughts that I think may be helpful to you.

First, Jabez was said to be “more honorable than his brothers.” We read after this that his mother named him Jabez because she bore him in pain. The name Jabez in Hebrew literally means pain. From birth, Jabez was given a “label.” Every time his mother called him for dinner, chores or other things, he was reminded of what she thought about him. When anyone used his name, he was identified with pain. Yet, Jabez was “more honorable than his brothers.” What does this mean? It means that despite the label placed on him, Jabez refused to be defined by this label. He rose above it. He trusted God. He prayed, and he walked in forgiveness. Jabez accepted God’s word, feelings and thoughts above the opinion of others.

How about you? Have you been labeled? Have you lived a life of pain or difficulty? Has it defined who you are, or have you risen above it? The bible tells us that even “though my father and mother forsake me, the Lord will receive me” (Psalms 27:10). Also, God has adopted us “by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace” (Ephesians 1:5-7). Through a personal relationship with Jesus, you are accepted and loved. Do not allow the labels of others or the pain of life define who you are. Know that you can, like Jabez, call out to God and he will hear your prayer and change your life.

Secondly, Jabez was known for his prayer. What he is remembered for is not some outstanding achievement, but a prayer. He did not win a great battle or erect a large building. He prayed a simple prayer and God answered it. When moving from the pain of your past to a purpose in your future, never forget that God hears your prayers. Jabez was praying that he might now be a blessing to others. He wanted his territory enlarged, so he could influence others with the same love and comfort he received from God. He wanted to be kept from evil and live a godly life, so he did not cause undue pain to others. Jabez’s prayer was never just about him. He was living in victory and wanted others to experience it, too. This is our purpose, too. God brings us through our pain, our past, and our troubles, and reminds us that they were never just about us. God wants to use you to bless others.

Are you dealing with your past, experiencing pain, or fighting labels? With Jesus Christ you can rise above it. If God is for you, who can be against you? Through God, “all things are possible.” God has a plan and purpose, and you will use your experiences to bless others.

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Life’s not fair and that’s okay

Hillcrest-Church-picPastor Kristi J. Rhodes  

Hillcrest Community Church

5994 18 Mile Rd. 

Cedar Springs, MI 49319

 

 

 

Life’s not fair. No big surprise right? When children are formed in the womb, a DNA chip appears in their brains. Not many scientists recognize it, but every parent knows it’s there. It’s called the “life should be fair” chip. Every child is born with it—without exception. Every parent has heard their children utter the same phrase, “That’s not fair!” It happens with birthday cake (his is bigger). It happens at bedtime (he gets to stay up later). And so on. And it doesn’t get better as they get older. The life should be fair chip doesn’t disintegrate naturally.

I’ve done it, too. How about the stockings at Christmas? We put the exact same things in each stocking, right down to counting the miniature candy bars trying to be fair. Was that fair? No! It was equal. What about the child that doesn’t like Mounds candy bars?

We want life to be fair. We think life should be fair. When someone else gets called into the doctor’s office first, that’s not fair. When life doesn’t provide us with the abilities, possessions, talents, or opportunities others have, we cry it’s not fair. But no one ever promised life was fair, nor should it be. Herb Shaffer says in his book, “From Where God Sits,” That’s okay! Life’s not fair—never will be, wasn’t created to be, and that’s okay! God’s in charge, we’re His kids, He loves us all the same, but He does not promise that life will be fair. In fact, Jesus promised just the opposite in John 16:33: “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” If we insist on fairness and strive to get it on our own, we often short-circuit God’s better plan. What the enemy plans for evil, God will use for good. Don’t curse the bumps. They are what we climb on.

We need to stop complaining about our trouble. Happiness comes when we stop complaining about the troubles we have and say thanks to God for the troubles we don’t have.

Being thankful is a state of mind. Use what God has blessed you with to be the hands and feet of Jesus. Life’s not fair, and that’s okay. When we accept that truth about life, it gets much easier to handle. We will accept the difficulties we are handed as a normal part of life instead of believing something is wrong when unfairness comes. Sometimes those who don’t deserve it are going to get things we never do. But by tossing out the lie that life should be fair, we give God the opportunity to make us grow from the unfairness into better people instead of bitter people. That’s when the life should be fair chip begins to disintegrate—and we can get on with doing life the way God designed us to do it.

 

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Forgiveness is a wonderful thing

Cedar-Christian-ChurchPastor Ryan Black

Cedar Springs Christian Church

340 West Pine Street, Cedar Springs

 

 

 

Sometimes one of the hardest things to do in life is forgive. When you have felt some one has intentionally offended you or has purposely done something that negatively affects your life, this can lead us to hold grudges, bitterness and even hate against someone for what they’ve done. Some issues are easier to forgive than others. Some people are easier to forgive than others. However, according to scripture, neither the person, number of times they wronged you, nor the severity of the situation matters.  Forgiveness is a must for every Christian’s life, not only for a healthy spiritual life, but a healthy physical life as well.

This is perfectly laid out for us in Matthew 18:21-35. In this passage, one of Jesus’ disciples named Peter, asked Jesus how many times should we forgive someone who sins against us? Peter answered with the question, “up to seven times”? Jesus response is extraordinary. “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven. This is telling us that no matter how many times someone does us wrong; we still need to forgive every time. Release them from their guilt.

The passage continues with Jesus speaking a parable about a king who forgives a servant’s large amount of debt because of compassion. The servant later refuses to forgive a smaller debt of another individual. The king finds out and is furious.  The debts that the king had previously forgiven now were to be paid in full. Jesus explains the point of the parable. “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses.” In other words, if we want forgiveness from God we have to learn to forgive others regardless of what it is. Ephesians 4:32 reminds us of this same thing: Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Forgiveness is needed for a healthy spiritual life. But it also plays a vital role in your physical well-being as well. The mayo clinic claims that refusing to forgive can cause anxiety, depression, loss in relationships and numerous other physical hardships.  We need to release any bitterness, grudges or hate towards someone for what they may have done to wrong us.

Forgiveness can be hard thing to do. But it’s something we need for our own soul as well as our physical bodies. It also helps release any guilt from the person that has hurt you. God loves us all so much and He wants to release us of our debts and our sins. When we release others from their debts then God is more than willing to release ours. Forgiveness is a wonderful thing!

 

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Trusting in God!

Pastor Richard Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Road, Sparta

“Trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths”  (Proverbs 3:5-6 King James translation).

This is a truth that evaded my understanding for too many years of my life. I discovered (admit), it isn’t always easy to understand God’s love and concern for each of us when we are living in the moment of those events that call us to lean on God’s promises. Proverbs 3:5-6 is so meaningful, because it reveals the truth of God’s love for us.

I hope that some of what I have learned in this Christian walk will benefit others. There are times when it takes years to even begin understanding the whys of life, and some things I am convinced that I won’t understand at all in this life. Then too, there are events in life that will still hurt even though I understand better later. An old hymn title assures us “We Will Understand it Better By and By.”  My comfort and peace is in knowing that God is always there, even when I can’t see him through my circumstances.

So why trust God with all our heart as scripture tells us? Well, I’m glad someone asked.

For one thing, God is good! His character is such that he only wills and allows what is ultimately good.

We read in scripture “For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you an expected end.” (Jeremiah 29:11 KJV).

One of my shortcomings is that I sometimes measure God’s goodness more on my emotions of the moment, rather than on the basis of his truth. For instance, there are times when I have thought, “God is not fair,” when in actuality, I was thinking “God is not fair to me.”

Our emotions can change like the weather, but God never changes. What I should be questioning is why I am questioning God. God is righteous (just), and quite frankly, I know that any righteousness or rightness that I may have only comes from him, so listening to his word is always my best option.

Second, God is love! His character is such that his deep love is the motivating factor and controlling influence of his heart toward us. That is why I can trust Him with all of my heart, because I know that his love can never fail.

Third, God is in control! Regardless of what it looks like to me at the moment or what I think, God is in control of everything I go through! If I didn’t believe that, I would be emotionally and spiritually a wreck. Today I can have confidence in this new year that I am always right in the center of his loving hand of mercy, protection and care.  I desire to be more trusting and closer to him every day.

There is so much more I could share of my relationship with God, the blessings along with the trials, my failures and God’s successes but I just wanted to take this opportunity to tell you how much I love the Lord and trust in him. It is my prayer that you, too, may know in your heart the peace of a relationship with our loving God of Truth.

 

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Fresh Start: A New Heart

The-Springs-blurred-web Pastor Cherri’ Kerr, Discipleship Pastor

The Springs Church

135 N. Grant, Cedar Springs

 

 

 

Happy New Year! So how goes the New Year’s Resolution? If you’re like me, you are doing okay, for now. But we know the struggle is coming. We can look ahead and see a bright future but it’s that space in between here and there that we struggle.  God knows more about our struggle than we might realize. Exodus 13:17 (NIV) says, “When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter. For God said, “If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt.”

God knew that the Israelites lacked the faith they would need to get to the Promised Land. The people needed time to prepare for what was ahead of them. And God was protecting His investment. He wasn’t putting a band-aid on their situation. He did not set them free for them to be enslaved again by some other nation. No, He had plans for them and every intention of seeing those plans to completion.

The same is true for us. God has everything we need to get from here to there. Have you ever noticed that the problems that tend to bother us are things like debt, obesity, addictions, anger and worry? These things are symptoms of our real problem. And like the Israelites, God isn’t looking to set us free so that we can become captive again to something else. He isn’t offering a band-aid. He offers a solution. God knows that all that we struggle with in this life starts in our heart.

Ezekiel 36:22-23 (NIV) “Therefore say to the Israelites, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name… Then the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Sovereign Lord, when I am proved holy through you before their eyes.

As you journey from here to there remember that you’re not the only one with skin in the game. God is completely invested in you. It is His Holy Name, His character, His power which is called into question when Christians choose to live enslaved.

Ezekiel 36:25-26 (NIV) says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.  I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.”

Real change comes from a changed heart. God changes people from the inside out. This year allow God to uncover some things that may be hidden in your heart so that you may experience the fullness of God’s blessing in the coming year.

 

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Resolutions for every day of the year

Courtland-OakfieldUMCPastor Robert Eckert

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist

10295 Myers Lake Avenue

Rockford, MI 49341

 

 

One of the privileges of being a pastor in this area is taking my turn when it comes around to contribute to this column in the Post. I have no idea whether anything any of us writes ever has the impact we hope it will when we’re writing it; still, the opportunity to gather, sift, arrange and present one’s thoughts on what it means to be a person of faith in the 21st century, even in a brief format such as this, helps keeps those of us who do so accountable and attentive to the message of God’s grace that each of us, in our own way, hopes to convey.

So you’d think this spot in the rotation, the week when we’re all turning the corner from one year to the next, would be especially attractive. With 2014 getting one last look before we say farewell and forecasts for 2015 being made, this would seem to be the perfect context for insights on tying up loose ends and stepping forward with bold conviction. You know, the whole New Year’s Resolutions thing.

But how tedious and predictable is that? We’re all capable of googling what the most popular resolutions are and the low success rate people have meeting the goals they set in January. Is there anything at all that a pastor could offer that isn’t just another bow to the clichés of pop culture?

Maybe a different take on resolution would be worth something. Traditionally, during days of auld lang syne, the operative definition of the word involves statements of firm determination relative to particular actions, either to be taken or to be avoided. One might resolve to lose weight, for example, or quit smoking.

Another definition of resolution has to do with problem-solving. Resolution is the just and equitable settlement of a dispute or controversy.

There’s nothing wrong with self-improvement. All of us would do well to take better care of our emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual health and we have nothing to lose by declaring our intentions to do so. In fact, “People who explicitly make resolutions are 10 times more likely to attain their goals than people who don’t explicitly make resolutions.” (That comes from one of those google searches, http://www.statisticbrain.com/new-years-resolution-statistics/)

But an article that I, or any of our area pastors, could write no matter what time of year it is would speak to the need for the employment of every resource of grace—forgiveness, compassion, reconciliation, redemption. It would encourage us to “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream” (Amos 5:24, NRSV) and it would remind us that Jesus called peacemakers blessed.

We don’t need to wait until it’s time to flip a page of the calendar to “learn to do good, seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:16b-17, NRSV). New Year’s resolutions? Let’s make New Day’s resolutions, every day, always to be part of the solution, actively and intentionally.

 

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Finding Time for Jesus in a Busy Season

pioneer-christian-cedarfieldPastor Jim Alblas

Pioneer Christian Reformed Church
Cedarfield Community Center

3592 17 Mile Rd., Cedar Springs

Cedarfield Community room

 

 

 

I was recently at a local shopping center hoping to make a quick holiday purchase. I’m sure you can already guess how foolish I was to think I could do anything quick at a shopping center this time of year. With many Christmas shoppers out and lower gas prices available, most stores are jammed pack with people right about now. It may be the most wonderful time of year, but it’s certainly the busiest time of the year tooIt’s not just the Christmas shoppers; this is the time of year when many of us invite people over, which means we have to prepare and clean. This is the time of year when we attend many special events, which means we have to struggle to find a way to get to them all. This is the time of year when we tend to do a lot of baking and create fancier meals. While there is a degree of excitement in all of that, sometimes it can become a little overwhelming and even frustrating. It can even get to a point where a great thing such as Christmas can become a burden to us. This sort of thing happened when Jesus stopped by the home of Martha and Mary, which can be found in Luke 10:38-42.

Martha, realizing how important her guest was attempted to be the best possible host she could be and thus was preparing a meal for Jesus while her sister sat at Jesus feet listening to Him. However, soon the meal preparations became overwhelming to Martha and she became frustrated that her sister was not helping. Things became so hectic for her that at one point she stormed out of the kitchen and demanded that Jesus tell her sister to help. But Jesus’ response to Martha teaches us a very important lesson, especially when things get busy. Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.” What was it that Mary was doing? She was listening to Jesus. Jesus was saying to Martha and to us: Don’t get so busy that you don’t have time for The Lord. Martha was focused on many things, but Jesus was not one of them. That can happen to us too. We can know the reason for the season is Jesus and we can even run around trying to serve Him, but yet in that season never talk or listen to Him. That’s a mistake. Staying connected to helps us to know what His will is, it draws us closer to Him and helps us to stay calm and peaceful when things get busy. If your serving causes you to lose site of Jesus, make adjustments to your service. If your holiday schedule leaves no room for Jesus, adjust your schedule. Only one thing is needed; keeping our eyes focused and ears tuned to Jesus!

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Gift of Peace

Pastor Darryl Miller  

Sand Lake UMC, 65 W. Maple, Sand Lake

South Ensley UMC, 13600 Cypress, Ensley Township 

Too often we end the holiday season completely drained, both emotionally and physically. We then tend to call on God to refresh us, to restore our vigor and our lives to “normal.” But what if we were to ask God for restoration along the way? What if we planned into our busy holiday schedules time to draw closer to the reason for our celebrations? What if we were to decide now to have a spirit of peace despite the overwhelming pressure to live up to expectations to get the right gift, make all the parties, host dinners, send the cards, etc? That is what I would like to suggest.

During this special time, let’s decide not to let the pressures mount up but instead let the Child whose birth we are celebrating bring us the gift of Peace. We prepare our homes for the celebration by decorating so why not prepare our hearts for the celebration of our Lord’s birth, not with hectic lives but with hearts of peace and love. After all, the song says: “Love came down at Christmas” not to challenge us to get the right tree, but to have a spirit of peace and love that shows through the craziness of the world. One of my family’s traditions is to have a Christmas ornament hang in the house all year around. This reminds us not just at Christmas time but all through the year of the wonderful gift of Christmas. Sometimes I think we need this reminder in December most of all!

Another good reason for this approach is that many of our neighbors need something from us this time of year and if we are too wound up in our own schedules, we may miss it. Some have lost loved ones; for some this may be their first Christmas without someone close that they have lost. Others may not have heat, or power, or food. It seems every year our Ministerial association finds out about someone who has no heat or food, but hasn’t told anyone. If we checked up on our neighbors, we might learn about the need and find those who can help. But if we don’t check, we don’t know. If you are in need, don’t be too proud to ask for help, it is limited but it is out there. And if you are feeling lonely this season, check out your local church, we would love to spend some time with you! We will not be waiting at the door with a signup sheet for work that needs to be done and we will not hand you a membership form before you sit down. We will however extend to you the love and grace of Jesus and welcome you in God’s name. My family and our church families wish all of you a truly blessed and merry Christmas!

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Peace on Earth

Solon-Center-Wesleyan-webPastor Tom Holloway

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma, Cedar Springs 

(just north of 19 Mile)

 

The holidays are here and that means families get functions, work parties, Christmas programs, and most of all stress! The holidays can be the “most wonderful time of the year,” and also the most painful for many people. For some people it will be the first Christmas without a loved one, the first Christmas without a significant other, the first Christmas without a warm place to sleep. Yet it is for many the best time of the year.

I love celebrating Christmas with my family and my loved ones, and I love giving gifts. I love seeing my children’s eyes light up when they get that thing that they never thought they would get. Of course we can’t give all of the things we would like to give, and my wife and I have basically given up on giving each other anything significant, though I always spend more than I promise to spend on her. As a pastor of a local church, Christmas is the second busiest season of the year next to Easter. So it is one thing after another, and it is the most stressful time of the year for me personally. Yet I still manage to find some peace at Christmas. The question is why?

Why can some people feel stress and some people feel peace? Why is this time of year the best of times for some, and the worst of times for others? I think the answer is the real reason for the season. The birth of Jesus is the reason we celebrate Christmas, though some in the world would try to disagree. In fact, Jesus’ birth is the reason that we count the years on a calendar.  The term Anno Domini is medieval Latin, translated as In the year of the Lord, or AD on your calendar. He is the reason that we count time. When Jesus came to the earth He came to give us peace. In fact is says this in Isaiah 9:6: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on his shoulders. And he will be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”

I don’t think that peace means a life of solitude and a life free from stress and worry. In fact Jesus came into the world in a time of great unrest for His people the Israelites. They were under Roman rule, and they had lost the great power they once had. It was anything but peaceful for Israel and for Jesus. He was persecuted, beaten, mocked, and eventually crucified on a cross for doing nothing wrong. Doesn’t seem very peaceful to me! But He defeated death by His resurrection, and by showing us how to have peace “despite” our circumstances. He allowed us to believe that this kind of peace is possible.

So when you are out shopping and that person snatches that last Furby, or when that crazy uncle comes to the family gathering and starts that political argument, or when you realize that this will be the first Christmas without that special someone, you can have peace.  Peace in knowing that someone loved you so much that they came from Heaven, from their rightful throne, and gave up all their rights so that they could come and serve you and show us how to love others. Christmas is all about giving to others because you have been given the greatest gift you could ever receive—the gift of Jesus, the gift of love, and the gift of eternal life!

 

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