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Archive | From the Pulpit

About those 10 commandments

Courtland-OakfieldUMCRobert Eckert, Pastor

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake NE, Rockford


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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A recipe for a healthy marriage

Pastor Jim Alblas

Pioneer Christian Reformed Church

3592 17 Mile RD NE, Cedar Springs

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

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

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

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True Freedom

Pastor Darryl Miller  

Sand Lake UMC, 

65 W. Maple, Sand Lake

South Ensley UMC, 

13600 Cypress, Ensley Township



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

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

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

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Farewell to Red Flannel Town

Solon-Center-Wesleyan-webPastor Tom Holloway

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

With Love, 

Pastor Tom Holloway

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Safer among the Christian savages

By Ronnie McBrayer

By Ronnie McBrayer

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fire Scarred

First-Baptist-church-currenPastor Jim Howard

First Baptist Church

233 S. Main, Cedar Springs


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

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

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

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

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

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

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C-East-NelsonPastor Herb VanderBilt 

East Nelson United Methodist Church

9024 18 Mile Rd. 

Cedar Springs MI 49319


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

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

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

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

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What’s on your mind?

Grace-ChurchPastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd, Rockford


Jesus. Jesus is on my mind. Do you ever sit back and wonder how he did it? How did He live day in and day out, completely surrendered in obedience to the will of His Father, and never sin? He loved people perfectly. He walked around literally with the weight of the world on His shoulders, yet He never threw in the towel. He never exploded at someone because of stress. He never said an unkind word or, for that matter, thought an unkind thought about anyone. He never got His priorities all mixed up. He wasn’t distracted or discouraged by the things of this world because He was focused on a mission that was bigger than this world. And in the midst of being this amazing Superman, he promised that if we would just come to Him, He would give us the rest and peace that we desperately need, along with the wonderful promise that He would then carry our burden for us. Does that make any sense? Why would He do that for us? Why would He do that for me?

As I sit and ponder Matthew 11:28-30 and try to apply it to my life, the words of this old Hymn keep running through my mind, and I suddenly realize, that it truly is this simple. It goes like this…”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.” The key to what I need isn’t a solution for all of my problems, and it isn’t a better way to manage all my stress. The key to what I need is so simple that it is contained in one beautiful name…JESUS! And the only thing he requires of me is to “come.” I don’t need to bring anything, I don’t need to do any work, I don’t even need to get everything in order, I simply need to “come.” He’s saying, “come to me and I’ll give you the rest you need,” “come to me and I’ll take care of that heavy burden you’re struggling to carry,” “come to me and I’ll exchange all that struggle and stress for peace and joy,” “come to me and you’ll find everything that you need!” The invitation is simple. “Come!”

So, what’s on my mind? Jesus. And suddenly everything else that seemed so big and so important and so needy, grew strangely dim. Thank you Jesus!

Matthew 11:28-30 – “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”

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The Rev. David Meyers

Holy Spirit Episcopal Church

1200 Post Dr., Belmont, MI  49306


This article is written at the beginning of the season of Pentecost. Pentecost begins on the 50th day after Easter. The season occupies most of the remainder of the calendar year and celebrates the birth, action, and mission of the church. We know Pentecost primarily as the time in which the Holy Spirit visited the disciples in the form of tongues of fire. The Spirit’s presence gave them understanding and power to do the mission of Christ. They emerged from a state of disorganization to a position of knowledge and power. A group of ragtag followers received an identity out of which the gospel took root and made an impact on the world.

There is, however, another form of Pentecost that is less well known.  A much older celebration occurred among the Hebrew people as the feast of Shavuot or the Feast of Weeks. In the Jewish tradition, Pentecost or Shavuot celebrates the giving of the Law to Moses on Mt. Sinai.  Subsequently, the Hebrews developed the awareness that they were the people of God. As Easter and Passover are celebrated at the same time, so are the two Pentecosts.

The two feasts of Pentecost follow a pattern. In both, the people were lost. They were waiting and wandering. In both, God gave the gift of himself, in the word and in flame. The presence of God in the lives of the followers resulted in a new identity in both cases. The people understood that God had chosen them and, in return, they dedicated themselves to God.

These two major Pentecosts might be prototypes to an ongoing cycle of Pentecosts. These major events are, at some level, enacted in the life of each individual.  We all have our personal Pentecosts. For wanderers seeking God, there will be events in which God visits with a gift. That gift might be miraculous or might be seen in kindness, goodness, relationship, or sacrament. When people receive that gift and are aware of the presence of God, then new things happen. Dedication, faithfulness, change, and even rebirth all can be the result.

Friends, we are all wanderers. Even those with a strong belief system, find themselves occasionally groping in the dark. The task is to be attentive to God. Look for those gifts through which God visits and invites his people. When awareness of the gift occurs, then life is transformed and new identity awakens.

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Your attitude determines your altitude!

Pastor Craig Carter

North Kent Community Church

1480 Indian Lakes Rd.

Sparta, MI 49345

“If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth” (Colossians 3:1-).

Last week, I was in a meeting with a couple good friends. We were mentoring a group of 7th and 8th grade boys together. One of my friends was sharing this principle, “your attitude determines your altitude!” He encouraged all of us to check our attitude about others and life in general. He pointed out how our attitude truly does influence how far we will actually go in life.

Since that meeting, I have not been able to get that thought out of my mind and heart. Recently, life has brought a number of difficult circumstances and situations in my life that have certainly affected my attitude. I have realized again, that it’s my choice about how I decide to react. The above verse found in Colossians 3:1-2 came to mind. I was reminded how important it is to “set” my mind and my heart on the “things above.” This means to be heavenly minded, or to think on what the Word of God say’s, not on the things of earth, or the circumstances around me. So how have I found this verse helpful to me? First, I noticed Paul said, “If you have been risen with Christ…” That means “if” you are a Christian, or you have been born again, you are a new creature and you have a new nature! Your old nature and self, no longer control your life or thoughts. You have to power of Christ living in you and can “rise above” above a negative attitude. These circumstances do not have to get me down!

Secondly, Paul said to “Set” our mind and heart on things above. The word “set” means to determine or purpose to do it. It is a decision of our will. We can, as Nike says, “Just do it!” No excuses, purpose to set our mind or thoughts on godly things. Purpose to focus on truth, scripture that encourages and build us up, not on the negative thoughts of the world or our circumstances. Philippians 4:8 reads, “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.” Paul says change what your thinking! Change your sights, aim higher!  Increase your altitude by changing your attitude!

The other day I heard a story about a military pilot who was testing a new plane. The inside of the plane was not finished out, and one of the face panels was off. While in flight, he noticed a big fat rat gnawing at the wires. He knew he had a problem. So he radioed down to the control center, “Hey guys, we have a problem.” One of the commanders replied, “This plane is designed to fly at high altitudes, so immediately drive the plane high in the atmosphere, the rat will not be able to stand the pressure and will pass out or die.” So, that’s exactly what the pilot did and the rat immediately stopped chewing on the wires. The pilot saved both his life and the plane. The moral of the story is, drive the plane of your life higher! Set your mind and heart on godly principles and God’s Word. You want to rise above the negative circumstances? You want to “kill the rats” gnawing at your life? You want to avoid an emotional crash? Drive your plane higher! Instead of staying mad and angry about life and its circumstances, forgive and trust God.  Instead of being selfish because things are not going your way, be generous and bless someone else who is worst off than you! Instead of being stubborn, admit you were wrong and seek forgiveness and restoration in your relationships. Instead of complaining about the government and politicians, pray for them. In essence, stop stooping down to the behavior of others, choose to rise above it. Take the high road, be godly and set your mind and heart on things above.

In close, I leave you with this thought from my former pastor and mentor. He often asked,“Why do choose to walk with turkeys, when you can soar with the eagles?” Remember, your attitude will determine your altitude!

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