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This is love


cs-united-methodist

Pastor Mary Ivanov

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

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

“Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love. This is how God showed his love among us: He sent his one and only Son into the world that we might live through him. This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; but if we love one another, God lives in us and his love is made complete in us” I John 4: 7-12 (NIV).

It’s Valentine’s Day, and in our house, that means signing names on cards for classmates, giving treats to friends, and decorating boxes to receive cards at school. This year, it also means sending some cards to family members far away—even my grandmother who is now 91 years old! It was fun to go through these traditions again. We are a part of the billions of dollars spent on candy, flowers, and other Valentine’s Day gifts each year. (The National Retail Federation estimated that Americans spent over $17 billion in 2012!)

But what about going beyond the traditions of gifts and last-minute card-buying? The words from First John challenge us to realize that God’s love is agape love that makes sacrifices for the sake of others because of the sacrifice God makes for you and me in Jesus Christ. It is God’s love in our lives that motivates us to love each other.

So, in the hype of Valentine’s Day itself, how will we show God’s love (agape love) to others? To our spouses? Our children? Our loved ones? Our neighbors? Our friends? The stranger whom we encounter at the store? The person with whom we have trouble getting along? The neighbor who is lonely?

The promise of God’s Word is that when we love as God loves us, then we grow in faith and trust in God and others know the power of God’s love in their lives. Our relationship with Christ is stronger, and we know the blessing of God’s love even more powerfully. We share the witness of God’s grace when we love.

If you don’t have a church home or have been away for a while, consider getting back to church or trying it out for the first time. I invite you to worship with us this Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. We share the love and hope of Jesus Christ!

 

Pastor Mary Ivanov

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

140 S. Main St. Cedar Springs, MI 49319

Posted in Church Connection, From the PulpitComments Off

A tough invitation


Pastor Mary Ivanov

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

140 S. Main St., Cedar Springs

 

Read Mark 8: 27-38

 

Mark 8:34-38: Then he called the crowd to him along with his disciples and said: “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul? If anyone is ashamed of me and my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, the Son of Man will be ashamed of them when he comes in his Father’s glory with the holy angels.”

Have you ever received an invitation that you really wanted to accept, but to do so meant that you had to change your plans, sacrifice your time, or rearrange your schedule?

Jesus’ invitation is for anyone who wants to follow him and be a disciple. Three parts: deny yourselves, take up your cross, and follow me. The hardest words of Jesus. He calls for full commitment, a way of life that goes against worldly success, and taking risks in faith.

Mark Trotter tells the story of a woman who started running to keep in shape. She did well, going farther every day. She entered a 10K race and was nervous about her first race, so she got up early and arrived at the start of the race.

To her surprise there were a lot of people milling around, stretching, getting ready. All of a sudden a voice on the microphone said, “Move to the starting line.” A gun sounded and they were off, like a huge wave, hundreds of runners, sweeping her up. She was in the race.

After about four miles it occurred to her that they ought to be turning around and heading back to the finish line. She wondered why they didn’t turn around. She stopped and asked an official, “How come the course isn’t turning around?” He said, “Ma’am, you are running the Cleveland Marathon.” Twenty-six miles. Her event, the 10K, was supposed to start half an hour after the start of the marathon.

Some of us would have stopped right there and said, “That’s it, I’m going home.” But to her credit, she kept right on going, finished the race. She said, “This is not the race I trained for. This is not the race I entered. But for better or worse, this is the race that I am in.”

Jesus says, “If you are my disciple, then you will take up your cross and follow me, even to Jerusalem, even to the cross.”

In one conversation with a youth group about following Jesus, one of them said that to follow means not to lead.  That may sound simple, but that’s exactly what we have to remember. We’re not in the lead when we accept the invitation that Jesus offers. We follow him.

To follow Jesus, we must remove our “me-first” attitude. To follow Jesus means “It’s not about me.” To follow Jesus is to claim the power of the cross—the cross that bears our sins. We try to avoid the cross and downplay our sin. But picture even a small stone tossed into a pool of water. The ripple effect is real. And our sin effects others,whether we think so or not.

But the cross isn’t just about our personal life. The cross gathers us into a community of love and forgiveness. We’re accountable to each another when we follow Christ. To follow Jesus means that we matter to each other.

Even though Jesus’ invitation is demanding, Jesus offers his help to carry it through. That’s the only way any of us can follow Christ, with God’s grace to guide us and brothers and sisters in Christ to encourage us.

One prayer says it this way: “Lord, do in me what you need to do so you can do through me what you desire to do.” How can you let Jesus lead you this week? Where is God calling you to follow—fully committed and taking risks in faith?

If you don’t have a church home or have been away for a while, consider getting back to church or trying it out for the first time. I invite you to worship with us this Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. or 11:30 a.m. We share the love and hope of Jesus Christ!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Posted in From the PulpitComments Off

Thanks


Pastor Mary Ivanov
Cedar Springs United Methodist Church
140 S. Main St., Cedar Springs

“Thanks!”  I say this word more times than I can count in one day.  I write it on notes and type it many times as I finish an E-mail message.  It’s become a standard “sign-off” for us, but I was struck by some verses from First Thessalonians 5:16 Be joyful always; 17 pray continually; 18 give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (New International Version)
16 Always be joyful. 17Never stop praying. 18 Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus. (New Living Translation)
16-18Be cheerful no matter what; pray all the time; thank God no matter what happens. This is the way God wants you who belong to Christ Jesus to live. (The Message)
These verses come from the end of a letter to the early church, probably one of the earliest writings in the New Testament (50’s AD).  The apostle Paul is writing to a congregation that he formed on his missionary journey to Thessalonica, and these words come at the close of his letter—advice from a church leader to other followers of Jesus Christ.
The call to be joyful, pray, and give thanks is not so surprising.  These are a part of Christian character and practice, but the instructions on how and how often are powerful!  We can’t just be joyful in the Lord when we feel like it—when life is going great for us. Our joy is deeper than our circumstances. We don’t pray just when we “need to,”when there’s a specific situation that drives us to ask God for help. Prayer is a gift of God that keeps us connected to God and to people around us.  And we don’t just give thanks on one particular Thursday in November.  Giving thanks is a way to live “in all circumstances.”
Perhaps you’ve heard verse 18 misquoted before. I’ve heard it read: “give thanks for all circumstances…” but that’s not the right word or the spirit of the Scripture!  That small word makes a big difference! God’s Word doesn’t call us to give thanks for the difficulties we face or the struggles we have, but to give thanks and recognize God’s presence in the midst of all of life.
So whatever you might be doing this Thanksgiving Day—whether sitting around a large table with family or friends, cooking for one or two, recovering from surgery or illness, grieving losses and missing loved ones, feeling overwhelmed with blessings, or not quite in the holiday spirit—know that the call to “give thanks” isn’t limited to one day. It’s a call on our life to show our faith in God who walks with us on every step of the journey. Giving thanks in all circumstances is a powerful witness to God’s presence and power in our lives and in the world!
If you don’t have a church home or have been away for a while, every day is the perfect time to get reconnected! Consider getting back to church or trying it out for the first time during this season of Thanksgiving leading up to Christmas. I invite you to worship with us this Sunday morning at 9:00 a.m. or 11:30 a.m.  We also have a special Bible study beginning this Sunday, November 27 at 10:15 a.m. called “The Journey” where we’ll learn more about the people and places surrounding the birth of Jesus Christ.  We share the love and hope of Jesus Christ!

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