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Archive | From the Pulpit

A perfect storm

Pastor Robert P. Smith

First Baptist Church

233 Main St, Cedar Springs

 

One of my favorite gospel songs is “Turn Your Eyes upon Jesus.” I remember singing this song as a small child in church services. As a young person growing up in church, I remember hearing over and over again the Bible story of a man who took his eyes off Jesus and nearly drowned. 

Do you know this song? Is it one of your favorites? Do you remember the words to the chorus?

“Turn your eyes upon Jesus,

Look full in His wonderful face,

And the things of earth will grow strangely dim,

In the light of His glory and grace.”

According to these words, it isn’t until we “look full” into Jesus’ face that we will look away from earthly things. I believe to “look full” is to give our complete attention to Jesus. It is to see Him and only Him alone through the Bible. The earthly things that appear to offer us so much satisfaction or security will be seen as shallow and superficial compared to the eternal reward of seeing Jesus.

One of my favorite stories of Jesus is when he directed his disciples to cross over to the town of Bethsaida while he went up on the mountain to pray. It was there, alone on the mountain, that Jesus noticed the disciples’ struggle out on the water. The Bible says, “the wind was against them.” 

The human tendency during difficulty is to imagine the face of God with blind eyes, but the Bible teaches the opposite. God sees. God knows. God cares. God acts. True followers of Christ are special objects of His sovereign care and compassion. We’ll know his care when we cast our concerns on him.

The very waves that the disciples feared became the way he entered into their struggle. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid.” And when he got into their boat, the wind ceased. When “the wind is against you” do you know that he is with you? If we are not going to be beaten down by the storm we must believe in the One who can calm it. Remember his promise, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.”

Storms will come. Who do you see in them?

“Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus,” Helen H. Lemmel, Singspiration

 

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The one important truth

Pastor Darryl Miller

Sand Lake/South Ensley United Methodist churches 

616-636-5659

 

Proverbs 1:7: The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge: but fools despise wisdom and instruction (NIV).

April 29 was a “fifth Sunday.” Four times a year we have five Sundays in a month. Several years ago, a woman came to me after services and asked if I would answer some questions for her. I said that I would be glad to and she proceeded to ask about the symbols around the church, the reason for the colors of the cloths and many more questions. It was at this time I realized that I had been neglecting one of my responsibilities as a pastor. I had not been explaining the symbols and the meaning of the various articles and traditions around the church. From that began “Question Sunday.” When there is a fifth Sunday, the people that I serve submit any questions that they have and I do my best to answer them. The questions have ranged from simple curiosity to scriptural thoughts. I have been told by many of the congregations that they really look forward to these days and that they get a lot from them. The truth is that I enjoy them as well. I love to learn and the bible challenges us to study the word, not just to read it. And often I am asked a question that opens up a new line of thought for me.

But as much fun as these days are I always end the day with a reminder. The one truth that we all need to understand is that, as stated in John 3:16, “God loves us so much that He sent His one and only Son that whoever believes in Him will not die but have eternal life” (paraphrased).

Understanding the sacrifice of Jesus for us, and understanding that it was an act of unconditional love, is the most important knowledge that we can have. And the best thing to do with knowledge is to share it. God loves you. Jesus loves you. This is the truth. Share it with the world!

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God’s Good Earth

Rev. Kim DeLong

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake Ave N.E.

Rockford, MI  49341

 

I love the seasons in Michigan. Spring makes my heart sing. Watching brown grass turn green. Flowers poking green leaves up through snow, then suddenly blooming in a cacophony of color. Goldfinch feathers turning to bright yellow and robins pecking in the grass for worms. Chipmunks emerging from their long winter sleep to shinny up the poles of the birdfeeders and compete for the sunflower seeds. All of it is a wonder. 

So often we are in such a hurry. When it’s spring, we’re impatient for summer. When it’s summer, we’re anxious for cooler fall temperatures. Bare trees of autumn can make us eager for the pristine white of the first snowfall.

I encourage you to slow down and simply enjoy the good creation God continues to bring forth. Savor the sunshine. Listen to the rainfall. Watch the birds build their nests.  Be fully present in every moment of this amazing season.

Best of all, share the wonder of it all with a child if you have opportunity.  

Children are naturally curious. Cultivating wonder at a young age can create a lifetime attitude of care for God’s good earth. Consider helping a child grow a tomato or bush green bean plant in a container. Let them water it. Watch wide-eyed with them as flowers appear and tiny beans and tomatoes begin to grow.

God has created an amazing world. Let’s not rush past it or through the days that we have. Especially when life is tough, taking a few moments to gaze at the stars or watch the clouds float by can bring us to experiencing the presence of the God who loves all of the universe, including us. 

  

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The Torn Veil 

Pastor David Vander Meer

Rockford Springs Community Church 

5815 Fourteen Mile Rd NE, Rockford, MI 49341

 

Imagine with me a curtain, 60 feet high, by 30 feet wide. That is the height of a six-story building. It was reported that the curtain was as thick as a man’s hand breath, and so heavy that 300 priests would be employed to move and care for it. The historian Josephus writes (Wars 5,5,4) “It was a Babylonian curtain, embroidered with blue, and fine linen, and scarlet, and purple, and of a contexture that was truly wonderful.” 

This impressive curtain was in the Jewish temple at the time of the death of Jesus Christ. It separated the Holy of Holies from the Holy Place. Only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, did the High Priest move the veil, and enter the Holy of Holies, and not without blood from the sacrifice that occurred in the court yard. And so the Israelite people learned from God how He was to be approached in worship. He was holy. There had to be a mediator with blood to enter His presence. 

But at the moment Jesus died, God tore the veil from the top to the bottom. Imagine what a noise that made. What did the High Priest think when he looked upon that great curtain, now in two pieces? 

But the crucial question is: “What did all this mean?” Why did God tear the veil—th very veil that God instructed the Israelites to construct, to separate His holiness from them, he suddenly destroys. Why? There are several answer and they are all great! 

In the Bible, Hebrews 9 teaches us that we have a new High Priest, Jesus the Christ. He is better than the old High Priest because He brings His own blood as our eternal sacrifice, and He does not need to enter, year after year, but only once. And this same High Priest, Jesus Christ, now lives in Heaven to pray for us. He is not in a building made by human hands, but rather in the heavens, seated at the right hand of God. And here is further good news, we can enter into His Holy presence, in the name of Jesus Christ, to speak personally with our Father. 

And, on top of all this, comes another important truth. God no longer resides in a temple, in a particular geographical location, but now He lives in the church. I Cor 3 says: 16 Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (ESV) 

So, two great pictures for us to consider are displayed at the tearing of the veil. God invites us in because He is satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ. And two, God, by the power of His Spirit, has come out to be with us. I am so glad God tore the veil. This is great news. This is the gospel. Come, turn from any, and all sin, and enter into the Holy presence of God, and be prepared for Him to come into you. There is no longer any need to stay out, we are called to come in. AMEN! 

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Bad day

Rev. Chadrick Brown

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma Ave NE

Cedar Springs, MI 49319

 

As you read this, let me ask you a question and then I want you to pause and really think about it. How’s your day going? How has your week been? Good? Bad? Here’s a little way you can tell if it’s going to be a rotten day. 

You know it’s going to be bad when you see a Fox news team in your office. Or, you call Suicide Prevention and they put you on hold. It’s going to be a bad day when you turn on the news and they’re showing emergency routes out of the city. Or, when your twin sister or brother forgot your birthday. It’s going to be a bad day when your car horn goes off accidentally and remains stuck as you follow a group of Hell’s Angels on the freeway. Or when your boss tells you not to bother to take off your coat. It’s going to be a bad day when your income tax check bounces. Or when you put both contact lenses in the same eye. All these scenarios will create one bad day.  

I hope some of those things put a smile on your face, but here is the reality—we are in for some bad days no matter what we do or don’t do. So, friend, this may be a lame encouragement, but it helps get me through some tough days and brings some perspective. There is always someone who has it worse off than I do. Be thankful you’re not that person, put a smile on your face, walk tall and stay strong. The bad day will end. Another day will come. God is watching over you and He cares and loves you so very much. And just a word of advice… as Spring comes, watch out for those Hell’s Angels that may be coming down 131. 

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Live Backwards

Rev. Bill Johnson

Cedar Springs United Methodist

140 S. Main St. • Cedar Springs, MI  49319

 

“If you want to know how to live your life, think about what you would like people to say about you after you die … and live backwards.”

All who routinely use the Internet have grown accustomed to a barrage of unbidden wisdom filling our inboxes. Urbane or not, it is for the most part harmless. Some of it is forwarded to friends and family, while other pieces find their way into the recycle bin. The above anonymous quote surfaced recently, and survived below the radar of “junk mail.” 

A long-ago seminary course comes to mind, called “The Minister and Contemporary Human Life Crises.” We studied a range of common events faced by humans from birth to death. In the section on death and dying we were asked to write our own obituary. I remember how difficult that was, because as a young adult I had not yet dealt with “numbering my days” as the psalmist wisely advised. 

Does the suggestion to think about death bring some discomfort? I know it wouldn’t be on my top ten list of waking thoughts each day. Yet as people with an interest in the religious side of life, who among us doesn’t consider the end of our days, once in a while?  

Christians around the world have recently observed the season of Lent, the season when we especially do the things we say we should do all year. Namely, we practice the spiritual disciplines. Protestants and Roman Catholics consider the rich traditions like prayer and fasting, and we often enter the season of Easter with new religious habits, rituals that help form and reform us. We have learned to say goodbye to some old ways, and have created new or renewed paths toward deeper faith. Some would use the words death and Resurrection to describe this experience. 

In the northern hemisphere the earth emerges from its cold tomb in April (hope springs eternal!) so perhaps this is a good time to consider how we’d like to begin reordering our lives, renewing them to live as we would like people to speak of us when we’re gone? Can we take some moments amid the pounding pace of life? Or, if your pace doesn’t pound quite as much as it used to, carve out some space each day for creating and recreating a connection with God? For some that could mean a new prayer life. Others might practice tithing for a season. Others may find a need in the community that draws attention. Others may atone for some wrong doing, and others may rejoice in a new vision of God’s grace at work. 

The whole point is to die to some old way of being that holds you back from God’s desire for you. Imagine how life can be better! Think about what you would like people to say about you after you die…and live backwards.

It could be the most forward thing you have ever done.

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After Easter

Pastor Rev. Mike Shiery

Pilgrim Bible Church

West Pine street, Cedar Springs

 

In Luke 24: 13-35 we find an interesting story. The Crucifixion of Jesus is finally over. The pain and suffering of the Savior have ended. His disciples and friends are reeling over this turn of events, still trying to wrap their mind and emotions around what has transpired, when yet another astonishing event grabs their attention.

Some of the women arranged to go to His burial spot to work to try to help preserve Jesus’ body and dignify His grave as best they could. However, they returned from this errand in a high state of excitement, telling everyone who would listen of an encounter with angels who announced that Jesus had risen from the dead. And to back up the story, the stone covering the tomb was rolled away and there was no sign of Jesus. 

Later on that day, two other followers of Jesus, were walking to the village of Emmaus, when Jesus joined them on the journey. For quite some time they were unaware of His identity as they told Him of their sorrow, disillusionment, and confusion. Jesus responded by pointing out Scriptures that spoke of His death and resurrection, and finally at the end of the conversation, they recognized Him.

There are a couple of thoughts that encourage us as we look at this story. First, Jesus will meet you even if you are going the wrong way. These followers of Jesus were in the midst of trying to sort out everything that had happened. For whatever reason, in the process of doing so, they were leaving Jerusalem and heading toward the village of Emmaus. They were heading away from the other disciples, from their support system, and from the events of Jesus’ death and resurrection. Yet, in the midst of their confusion, even as they were leaving behind their network of friends, Jesus came to meet them.

Sometimes we experience life circumstances that cause us to want to walk away from all the things we know and the people who could help us. It is easy to allow ourselves, as a result of disappointment and sorrow, to isolate ourselves from family, friends, church, and God at a time when we need them the most. Thankfully, God moves to meet us even when we are trying to run away. 

Secondly, when God does meet us it is not with anger and condemnation, but rather with hope and grace. Yes, Jesus did gently chide His friends for their lack of faith, but then He went on to encourage them and strengthen them in their faith.

Friends, remember that we have a friend in Jesus, who understands our emotions, our ups and downs, and comes at our darkest moments to restore hope and joy in to our lives. As the songwriter once said, “Standing somewhere in the shadows you’ll find Jesus.”

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Amazing hope

Pastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson Church

9024 18 Mile Rd, Cedar Springs

 

Easter is coming! I remember looking forward to it as a kid because it meant Easter baskets, candy, those little fluffy yellow chicks with wire legs and feet, and then there were the marshmallow peeps–yum! That’s what Easter meant to me even though I was a life-long church going kid.

That’s because the story of Jesus rising from the dead was way too difficult to wrap my mind around. I didn’t really even understand death since I didn’t know anyone who had died. 

Now, I’m a whole lot older and have lived through many things. I understand the finality of death and the amazing hope found in the resurrection of Jesus. Why? Because I no longer feel condemned by the things (sins) I’ve done. I can live without regrets and guilt because Jesus handled it! Those things are behind me, gone, wiped out, buried and forgotten by God because of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection.  

I know that God will provide. Any doubts I have I can bring to God. I can bring them to God and I don’t need to be afraid because God has shown amazing compassion to even those who really doubted (think Job or Thomas, who even required that Jesus show his hands and feet). If God loved those big doubters, He will surely love me.

I also know that I have a peace that has overcome the fears I’ve had. I know that my redeemer lives and because of that all my fear is replaced with awe, wonder and faith. I know that I can pray and I will be heard by a God who is so loving that he gave his only son for me. When I struggle, Jesus knows what that’s all about because he lived a human life and when I bring those struggles to him he gives me peace through the Holy Spirit.

See, if you are struggling, feeling overwhelmed, worried or fearful please understand that Jesus knows your heart and wants to step into it and conquer those difficult feelings. He creates a new heart and continues to work inside of each of us. We are new creations because of Jesus.  

That’s why Easter is exciting!

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A Timely Word

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford

 

At this moment we are facing a battle that is leaving our community more divided than possibly ever before. It’s not long into a conversation before the question comes up, “Have you heard about what’s going on with the school board and the superintendent?” It is not my calling as a Church leader to comment on either side of this issue, especially here in a neutral public forum, but I do feel very strongly that some perspective may be needed, especially for those on both sides of the issue who call themselves “sons and daughters of God.”  

Conflict in life is inevitable. It’s a reality that we deal with everyday. The issue for God’s children when it comes to conflict is, “how do we navigate through conflict in a manner that is worthy of the gospel?” (Phil. 1:27.)  This is a topic that cannot be exhaustively dealt with here in such a short space, but I offer one verse that should be considered before we respond to others.  “…Love your neighbor as yourself” (Matt. 22:39b).  

God is love and He calls His children to follow suit (1 John 4:7-21).  Loving others comes from a gospel mindset that declares every life has value because it has been created in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-27; Ps. 139). The call for followers of Jesus to love others is rooted in this foundational belief. Regardless of how people are acting, how they are treating me, or whether I believe them to be right or wrong, it is my duty and my privilege to respond in the way of love because when I do this I reveal the image of the Divine in a way that causes others to take notice. As Children of God, our greatest desire must be for others to see through our actions, a God who can change their life, a God who can give life and give life to the fullest (John 10:10). This is the mandate for all “believers,” as we are God’s ambassadors in a world that desperately needs Him. I urge all the believers to consider this as we engage in this conflict or any conflict for that matter. After all, without love, we are nothing! (1 Cor. 13:1-8.)  

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Missing identity

Pastor Ryan Black

Cedar Springs Christian Church

340 West Pine Street, Cedar Springs

 

So many in the world today find themselves lost and desperate in trying to find themselves. Many search far and wide to determine who they are as a person and what their identity is. Who am I? What is my image? While we can look in many places through out the world, the truth of the matter is we will never find our true selves in what the world has to offer. Whatever we think we can find ourselves in is temporary or false hope. Because of this, people can become tired, depressed and frustrated. They often think they’ve found themselves, only to later be extremely disappointed when it falls apart or disappears. 

The world’s hopes are false hopes laid out by Satan to distract us from the truth (1 Timothy 6:17).  That truth being that our true identity is not of this world but of Christ himself. The bible tells us from our creation we were made in His image (Genesis 1:27). This is partly why growth in our faith and relationship with God is so important. Not only do we get to know God, but we also get to know ourselves as we begin to discover our true identity in Him.  

This by no way strips us of our unique personalities, traits and talents that God himself has blessed us with. That is the beauty of it all. We all commonly can share in an identity in Christ, yet at the same time keep our individual uniqueness. Thus, we can have our own individuality shown through our true identity and image in Christ.  

Never feel down and frustrated thinking you can’t find who you are or what your purpose in life is.  Simply look to God and he will help you find yourself in Him, the true image and identity he created you to be.    

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