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Tag Archive | "Bill Johnson"

A Place for God to live

Rev. Bill Johnson

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

140 S. Main St., Cedar Springs ï 616.696.1140

Where is God now? 

King David wanted a house where God could live. If he got his way, Yahweh would no longer have to live in tabernacle-tents, but in a Temple. The Lord deserved the best. David wanted to build a house for God for all good intents, and in gratitude for what God had done for him. But God spoke to the prophet Nathan, “tell David thanks but no thanks.” God preferred a spiritual house. 

For Christians, the text in 2 Samuel 7:8-16 is often understood as an Advent season reading, because encased in it is the mystery of God’s coming to earth to live not in a building, but in human form. Yet with Easter and Passover still vibrating, these words of Nathan take on new light. 

Writing in the Journal for Preachers1 during the recent Holy Week, William Brown commented on the emptiness in our sanctuaries this Easter: “By abandoning our sacred gathering places, we are not abandoning the gospel. Far from it. We are testifying to what the white-robed messenger announced at the tomb, ‘He is not here.’” Brown continues, “Perhaps these are the words we should proudly display on our church marquee signs, ‘He is not here.’”

Church buildings have a significant meaning and function, make no mistake. We convene as faith communities because the Holy Spirit finds communion when pilgrims come together for worship. There is strength found in the sacraments. There is spiritual growth through reflection over the stories from the Old and New Testaments. And even in the time of fellowship over snacks, there is encouragement as bridges are built and barriers fall. It is good and right to have places for holy gathering. There is great grief when the community cannot meet in their familiar sacred space. 

But this year we can’t. We must not. If we want to save lives, we will refrain from gathering for a while. And that leads us back to the prophet Nathan. No church building, however well-intentioned and beautiful, fixes God at this place or that. The Spirit moves as it wills. God shows up when people bear witness when their lives say, “He is here,” And where is he? He is in the sacrifice of those who go to work every day right now; the medical teams, the grocery store employees, the truck drivers, the fast-food servers, the first responders, the generous outpouring of financial help, and in the prayers of those who in their devotion, make a holy space in their lives. 

1Journal for Preachers, Holy Week 2020, An Easter Meditation Amidst Pandemic, The Life-giving Emptiness of This Easter. William P. Brown, Decatur, Georgia.  

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Responsible freedom

Rev. Bill Johnson

Cedar Springs United Methodist

140 S. Main St.

Cedar Springs, MI  49319


In the tradition of my church, there is a vital combination between personal faith and social witness. Methodist founder John Wesley was among the leaders of social reform in England during an age when living conditions in neighbor France led to massive revolt among the common people. Historians believe that the leadership of Wesley helped avoid a similar revolution in England because he addressed the conscience of his country’s government and strived for political change. 

With the mid-term election behind us now, this is a good time to pause and reflect on the relationship between faith and politics. Our Judeo-Christian heritage speaks to this. Regardless of political leanings, serious religious people are called to a higher loyalty. We believe that our job is to find God’s word in our culture, and align our words and actions with God’s eternal truths. The Old Testament prophets are our model, as they spoke for God in their day…the shepherd Amos marched from his fields in Tekoa to Jerusalem with a vision of a wall and a plumb line hanging beside it. God’s desire was the straight plumb line, and the wall was crooked. “Seek the Lord and live…you that turn justice to wormwood and bring righteousness to the ground.” Amos didn’t win favor with Kings when he spoke for God with those words, but they were words of truth. 

But here’s the thing: In this super-charged political year, it is tempting to believe that one candidate or another has God on their side. The reality is that God has no “side,” but compassion, truth and justice. God’s bias is with equality for all people, no matter what their political ties. Justice and peace are not the possession of any human; they are signs of God’s reign. Without them, God is grieved. With them, human action has painted a picture of the Kingdom realized.  

We can be grateful that we live in a nation that gives power to the common people. We must believe we can make a difference, or we will not achieve the equality our founders saw in establishing our union. Whether our political leanings draw us toward the right, the left or the middle is not as critical as a commitment to sharing responsibility for preserving the rights of all people. People of every faith are obligated to look for God at work in the world, and then speak and act as those who believe God can actually influence human history. Like Amos our job is to announce our understanding of God’s word, and vote our conscience. When we have done that, we have been faithful to our obligation to practice responsible freedom. If you voted this year, you did your part. 

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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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Practice makes perfect

Courtland-OakfieldUMCRev. Bill Johnson

Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church

10295 Myers Lake Ave NE, Rockford

Three activities occupied me during the summer I turned 16: I took U.S. History in summer school to get it off the credits check-list; I took driver’s training for obvious reasons; and I fielded ground balls at every available opportunity.

I bought a smooth rubber ball, baseball-sized, just the right weight, and soft enough to bounce well on the grass in our backyard. I threw it at a target drawn in chalk on the back of our garage. Sometimes I tossed it gently and worked on charging slow rollers. Other times I threw hard to stretch my range. Sometimes I worked on technique; other times I worked on accuracy.

I worked on the short hop, the long hop, the pivot and quick release, the line drive, and if I could hit the garage siding just right, I could get pop ups. I loved fielding ground balls, and those hours behind our garage paid off the next spring when competing for the second base job. Even though I struggled to hit my weight at the plate, when I got to college it was fielding ability that kept me on the team.

Those hours behind the garage taught me something I’ve never forgotten: After thousands of repetitions, some things become second nature, automatic. Gracefulness and confidence come, maybe without even thinking.

Spiritual disciplines like prayer, fasting, service and meditation are like this. When his friends asked him about prayer, Jesus said the most important thing is to keep at it. When the time comes for us to seek or to thank God for direction, or comfort, or courage, or wisdom, thousands of repetitions pay off. The power in prayer comes from practice.

For Christians, the Season of Lent looms ahead. For other faiths, there are other seasons no less vital to growing spiritually. So, if your leanings have a Christian orientation, how’s your spiritual life as Lent arrives March 1? Do you have a “behind-the-garage” place for yourself for practicing spiritual discipline? We don’t have to be athletic to know it is never as easy as it looks. But whether faced with a screaming line drive or a spiritual crisis, gracefulness and confidence can prevail. Practice makes perfect.

If you haven’t already, why not consider thinking ahead to Lent as a chance to spend some time behind the garage, wherever or whatever that may mean to you?  Life is complicated, busy, stressful and at times out of balance, but when life hits one at you, would you want to be the one who responds with grace, or the one who wishes they’d practiced more?

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Jerry Lynn Avery

c-obit-averyJerry Lynn Avery, 77 of Cedar Springs went into the loving arms of his Savior on Thursday, November 17, 2016 after a courageous battle with pancreatic cancer. He was born March 19, 1939 in Grand Rapids, MI the son of Donald and Caroline (Townes) Avery. Jerry had a thirty four year career as a police officer, serving in the Kent County Sheriff’s Department and before that, the Cedar Springs Police Department.  He enjoyed hunting and fishing, flying, bicycling and time with his grandkids. He was a member of Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church and the Northwest Soaring Club of Frankfort where he served as an instructor.  He was also a member of the Bad Bikers Bicycle Club, where he was known as the “Baddest Biker”. Surviving are his wife, Peggy (Beals) whom he married on November 12, 1957; sons, Mike (Denise) Avery, Tim (Kim) Avery; grandchildren, Sarah (Jordan) Brygal, James (Jessica) Edwards, Andy Avery, Jessica Martin, Jamie Jeffries III, Samantha Avery, Shelby Avery; 12 great grandchildren; brother, Leon (Janet) Avery. He was preceded in death by his parents, brothers, Joe (Jean) Avery, David Avery; sister, Madeline (Stan) Piasecki. The family will greet friends Sunday, Nov. 20 at the Bliss-Witters & Pike Funeral Home, Cedar Springs. The service will be held Monday, Nov. 21 at Courtland-Oakfield United Methodist Church. Pastors Bill Johnson and Chuck Smith officiating. Interment Courtland Township Cemetery. Memorial contributions may be made to the church or Faith Hospice.

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