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Archive | From the Pulpit

What do you want from me?

Pastor Kristi Rhodes

Hillcrest Community Church

5994 18 Mile Rd NE, Cedar Springs

Have you ever wondered how faith fits in an increasingly corrupt and violent society? If we only look at the circumstances revealed in today’s media, it may appear as though God is distant and uninvolved.  I’ve been reading the book of Micah, a short book with only seven chapters. Micah is one of the minor prophets who reminds us that no matter what it looks like, God still cares and offers hope for those who choose to remain faithful to Him. He also reminds us that God is still active in this world and will not allow sin to hinder His purposes.

Micah had a poetic way of expressing God’s divine attributes, beautifully balancing justice and mercy.  Many of his figures of speech make his messages vivid and create a profound emotional impact. Take time to read it for yourself.  I know there’s a message in there especially for you if you are truly seeking.  

So, what does it look like to remain faithful to God? What does God require of us? God, what do you want from me?

God wants his people to live lives that measure up to his moral and ethical standards. Through faith in Christ’s death, not good works, God graciously saves us from the penalty of sin and makes peace with us.  But there’s so much more to the story! He saves us so that we might do good deeds that mirror God’s character. He wants us to treat others fairly and with compassion. He wants us to live humble, obedient lives. Most of all, He wants our heart; our whole heart!!

Many of God’s people failed to live up to God’s high standards in Micah’s time. God had delivered the Israelites from Egypt and established them as a nation. He called them to be a model society that would attract other nations to him (Deut. 4:5-6).  Instead they exploited the poor, selfishly pursuing their own interests. They rebelled against God’s authority and rejected his prophets.

Despite their crimes, many Israelites actually thought their lame sacrifices would make God happy!  Micah attacked their faulty thinking. Empty ritual worship means nothing to God. God wants hearts of genuine ethical and moral integrity.

“What can we bring to the Lord? Should we bring him burnt offerings? Should we bow before God Most High with offerings of yearling calves? Should we offer him thousands of rams and ten thousand rivers of olive oil? Should we sacrifice our firstborn children to pay for our sins? NO, O people, the Lord has told you what is good, and THIS is what he requires of you:  to do what is right, (act justly), to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God.” (Micah 6:6-8, NLT; emphasis mine).

If we give God our whole heart—do what is right—love mercy—and walk humbly with our God, then we must trust Him to take care of everything else; no matter what it looks like—God IS working and ultimately wins!  

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Is this the end times?

Pastor Darryl Miller

Sand Lake / South Ensley United Methodist Churches

616-636-5659 and on Facebook

Peter 3:11: You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming (NIV).

As the pandemic has progressed, I have been asked by a few if I think that this is a sign of the end times. As we look back through history, we will discover that this question has been asked many times before—such as during the plague, the World Wars, the Spanish flu pandemic and so on. These have all been called the beginning of the end. 

Many people have spent an enormous amount of time trying to discern the exact time of Christ’s second coming. But the question that I ask is, why? Our faith tells us to trust in God. So shouldn’t we do so? If God could put the universe in the exact place needed at creation so that the sign in the heavens at His Son’s birth was at the exact place at the exact time, shouldn’t we trust that He knows when the exact time for His Son to return is? Instead, shouldn’t we be concerned with what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime? 

In each of these instances, people were hurting, afraid and seeking answers. We, as God’s people, are given those answers and commanded to share them with others. We are to do this in love. We are not supposed to sit back and wait but instead we are to be busy with God’s work right up to the very end. Wouldn’t it be better for the master to return and find us busily doing His work than to have Him find us in the hammock staring at the sky? 

People who are hurting need God’s healing. People who are afraid need God’s peace. People who have lost loved ones need God’s comfort. We may need to find different ways of doing so, but it is our job as followers of Christ to bring these things to the world. The best part is, when we do this we are blessed ourselves beyond measure. 

We show Christ to the world in our actions and our reactions. Show Christ in all that you do so that when He does return, He will find you hard at work in the fields creating a truly full harvest for the kingdom.

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Learning the hard way (there is still hope)

Pastor Dick Nichols

Cedar Creek Community Church

2969 14 Mile Rd NE, Sparta, MI 49345

As we move towards opening schools everywhere, we find ourselves up against opposition from an unusual opponent—a pandemic. Here in America we are blessed with an excellent educational network. I would name them in order of the best on down, but that would be too controversial.   

But there is one school that stands out in basic learning; has had more eligible students than any other school; tuition is the highest, but that doesn’t prevent anyone from attending; school colors are basic black and blue and the motto is ‘ouch!’ It is the school of hard knocks.  

Some of us have spent much time learning things the hard way. “Don’t touch that, you’ll get burned!”  So, what do I do? I touch that. Yup, it hurts. Or as a teenager, our folks tell us to slow down or we will get tickets.  Again, those tickets hurt too.   

In fact, we find events in the bible name people who liked to learn things the hard way, too. There are many we could consider, like Adam and Eve, Jacob, king David etc. from the old testament. Then how about the apostles, Peter, James and John, or the husband and wife Ananias and Sapphira? 

How about the apostle Paul? Paul had what he called a thorn in the flesh, a great mind picture of a painful nagging nuisance. We read in part “… there was given me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure. (8) For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me” (2nd Corinthians 12:7-8 KJV).  

Paul (earlier named Saul) was the Church’s enemy no. 1, as he “…beyond measure persecuted the Church and wasted it” (Galatians 1:13 KJV), chasing down Christians and their families to be brought back to Jerusalem to be forced to recant their faith or die. That is, until he suddenly met Jesus on the road to Damascus, and Paul became a Christian himself. He spent years personally persecuting Christians, thinking he was doing God a favor. This is called destiny. God had a plan for this zealous man to spread the gospel to Gentiles, kings, and Israel. Hear the school of hard knocks bells ringing?

Then there was Moses in the old testament, a Hebrew by birth, but saved from the river and raised in the family of Pharaoh. When he was 40, he went out to his brethren and seeing a taskmaster beating one of them, we read, “And he looked this way and that way, and when he saw that there was no man, he slew the Egyptian and hid him in the sand” (Exodus 2:12 KJV).  Moses did not take the time to look up; he went ahead of God, and spent the next 40 years living in a foreign land. Can you hear the school of hard knocks school bells ringing?

Despite Paul’s prayer (3 times) for deliverance, God said no, that his grace was sufficient to get Paul through what he needed to get through. And God let Moses mature in the wilderness for another 40 years, then called him to go back to Egypt and lead God’s people out of slavery.  

Both Paul and Moses learned to love God’s people the way God loved them. Note that they both were accepted by God; he did not give up on them. There is a whole lot more to these stories, but we too can choose to follow God’s way… or not.  Jesus said, “By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35 KJV).

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Lament

Pastor Dallas Burgeson

The Springs Church

135 N. Grant St., Cedar Springs

I’m a little obsessed with books, and many of my favorites were written by people who have long-since died. So it pains me whenever I think about this incredible library that was once housed in Alexandria, Egypt. At its height in 200-300 B.C., this library supposedly housed anywhere from 40,000 to 400,000 scrolls. Legend has it that at some point it all burned to the ground in a great battle—possibly between the Romans and the Egyptians.

One conflict, now all that history is gone.

On another occasion during the American Civil War, Union general William T. Sherman marched his more than 60,000 soldiers for well over a month from Atlanta to Savannah, Georgia, leaving a trail of utter destruction among Confederate civilians. This was meant, according to Sherman, to “make old and young, rich and poor, feel the hard hand of war” (https://www.history.com/topics/american-civil-war/shermans-march). He employed this “scorched earth” plan in hopes of bringing the war to a speedier end. But again, at what cost?

A number of years ago, the curse we all now feel from the fall of Adam and Eve in Genesis chapter 3 was really weighing on me, and I ended up writing a song of lament. Something similar to the book of Lamentations, only shorter (and not as good). I called it “Alexandria to Atlanta,” and the lyrics go like this:

This march has left us nothing sound

Its scent doth blanket wilderness

Its taste has tinged the cellar’s best

It’s found the springs beneath the ground

The masterpieces share our wounds

Our beauties, they must always lack

Each buttress bears a fatal crack

Our poems smolder ‘neath the ruins

Nothing sacred to the slaughter

All must bow to violence

It’s in our blood, and poisons hence

The lives and work of son and daughter

Writers much better than I don’t have to dream up sad situations to write sad songs. It seems that too often, before we will turn to the hope that can only be found in Jesus Christ, we feel the need to exhaust all our other hopes first. At this stage of 2020… how many of these other hopes are you still trying?

God never meant for sorrow to remain forever. Jesus was a man of sorrows, well-acquainted with grief (Isaiah 53:3). He knows that if we will face up to the sadness of our situation, learning to lament what has been lost can be healing. Even more, it has a way of helping us reorganize the priorities we had before sorrow came along.  

There’s no doubt that many of the marches that humanity has been on have not been sound, and perhaps 2020 was a year that something had to give. Instead of trying to meet every wave of bad news with anger, how about another posture instead? What if we hit our knees in sorrow? Even consider that we might be part of the problem? Lament might do us some good.

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Be ready for change

Pastor Darryl Miller 

Sand Lake / South Ensley United Methodist Churches 

616-636-5659 email: seumc@charter.net or find us on Facebook

“There is a season for everything and a time for every matter under the heavens” (Ecclesiastes 3:1, Common English Bible). 

I have used a dreidel as an object lesson in the past. It is a simple four-sided top that you can spin and then follow the directions of the side that is up when it stops. The game is played at Hanukkah with gelt chocolate coins.

There are a number of interesting stories about this innocuous toy that are fascinating. In the legends, the four letters on the dreidel spell out the miracle of Hanukkah. The Hebrew letters nun, gimmel, hey and shin stand for Nes Gadol Haya Sham (a great miracle happened there). While a “Jerusalem” dreidel changes the last letter and corresponding word to “Here” since that is where the miracle occurred. Even in times of oppression when the people were banned from teaching or practicing their religion, they were able to remind and teach their history in secret with this little toy as well as other means. 

The point is that the scriptures tell us to be ready for change. Things will change in our lives and in our world. Some will be good changes while others will not be. But God’s promise is that He will be with us through it all. And of all of the things in our life, He is the only part of our lives that will not change: “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8 CEB). 

God provided an avenue for the people to teach and remember God’s presence in their history. In addition, today He will provide whatever we need to keep teaching, remembering, reaching out, and evangelizing even during a pandemic. Yes, it looks different and we don’t like change. Yes, it’s hard learning all the new tools that we need to stay in touch and together. But God has provided these tools as well. I have seen many examples of programs for outreach, feeding those in need and the like. There were classes on online communication and ministry, and other things that were started before all this hit. So many things were already in place beforehand that it seemed a miracle–and they were miracles. On the other hand, put another way, God kept His promises. Even though things changed, He gave us the tools, skills, and the means to continue to serve one another.

We are not alone in this; God’s promise to be with us will never change. And neither will His awesome love for you.

Please stay safe, remember that a friendly phone call can mean a lot to someone. 

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God’s law brings blessing

Correction: On last week’s “From the pulpit” article, we had the wrong pastor listed as the author. We are re-running the article with the correct pastor and church this week. The message is the same, and the words are still wise, no matter who wrote them, but we like the original author to get the credit (and I’m sure he does, too)!

Pastor David VanderMeer

Rockford Springs Community Church

Today’s article is based on Deuteronomy 22. Please read it when you get a chance. It is packed with law. Lots and lots of law!

It has laws on what to do when your neighbor’s livestock gets out. It has laws on how men ought to dress and how women ought to dress. It even has laws on what to do with a bird’s nest. And yes, even laws on sexual immorality.

Law is so good, so necessary, and so helpful. I do not always appreciate the law telling me what to do, but in the end, I find that God’s law is just the right thing for me and the people I love.

The other day my wife found a baby’s pacifier on our sidewalk. So, she took a little stick and poked it in the ground so she could hang the pacifier on it alongside the walk. A couple of days went by and I saw a neighbor walk by pushing a stroller. He reached down and took the pacifier and immediately saw it belonged to his child.

Such a small gesture by my wife, and yet it is exactly what we see in Deuteronomy 22. Here we have another list of laws that when followed bring blessing to the community and promotes the holiness of God.

I need to love the law of God more! It is so good.

The law of God says to love others:

If you see your neighbor’s sprinkler head is broken, tell him.

If you see your neighbor’s dog get loose, tell him. And if our neighbor is gone, catch the little pooch and take care of him for the day.

If your neighbor doesn’t have a generator when the power goes out, run a line to his house so he can keep his freezer working.

These are just basic laws we should not even need. But we do.

The Law of God promotes His holiness.

The text before us teaches us that if a woman is raped, she should receive justice

The text before us teaches that if a couple sin they should face the discipline of the church to keep the fellowship holy.

The text tells us that men should act like men. Women should act like women. This is God’s will.

So, the law points out sin. It defines it. The culture of the day may not like it. But God’s

Law does not change.

Finally, the Law of God points us to our need for Christ’s forgiveness.

The grace of God helps us see that when we break the law of God, He is there to forgive us through Christ. I am glad it is grace that helps me see I am a law breaker. Grace calls me with a word of love, peace, and hope.

May the Law of God speak to us today, in our own hearts, in our homes, and in our communities so that we will learn to love and not hate. May it help us forgive. May it help us see our daily need for Christ. Thank you, Lord, for your Law.

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Discernment? Apply now!

Pastor Thomas K. Schmidt 

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma Ave NE, Cedar Springs

Discernment is a necessary principle to apply to our lives in these days. The news has exploded with people taking negative action. Action that is demoralizing and degrading. Protesting is not necessarily a negative action but when protests are acts of disgrace and not honoring to God, they begin a downward spiral of disobedience, destruction and demoralization.

Discernment is an aspect of spiritual growth. All of us should be on the journey of spiritual growth. Spiritual growth can only take place when we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior.

Spiritual growth comes about by Surrender to God.  Surrender is an act of obedience which seeks God’s will for our life. It is saying “yes” to God as the Holy Spirit purposely provides opportunities to follow God’s plan for us individually.

Spiritual growth is application of God’s Word in a personal way.  It is the application of prayer, listening to God to act according to His plan.

Spiritual growth is vision. Vision to be enlightened to the needs of others. Vision to see that a difference can be made. Vision of light penetrating darkness.

Spiritual growth is evidenced by engagement. Engagement of not only seeing the needs of others but taking action so that all people are honored as God’s creation.

The Apostle Paul calls us to a spiritual growth that includes discernment in our daily walk with God. To the people of Philippi Paul declared And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” Philippians 1:9-11 (NIV).

Discernment needs to be pursued.  

My mother lives in another state and when traveling to visit her there are moments while traveling long distances the hunger pangs get my attention and a decision is made to seek out a restaurant to satisfy the desires of my stomach.  

Discernment is stopping to recognize a need or allowing the Holy Spirit to open our minds eye to action that is necessary to follow.

We can actively practice discernment by asking questions: “Does this honor God?” “Will God be pleased with my actions?” “What can I do that will help and not create more conflict?” Discernment will cause a rise of perception much like active yeast activates the ingredients in bread to rise.

Also, discernment that is pursued and practiced will be evidenced in how we perform obediently to the prompting of the Holy Spirit. The desires of evil are to distract us to be self-satisfied, self-centered, and self-gratified. A continual surrender to God will keep a focus on His will and His way which prepares our spiritual soil for growing truth and discerning right from wrong.

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Follow the recipe for reliable results

Pastor David G. Ward

Pilgrim Bible Church

361 W Pine St., Cedar Springs

Have you ever tried to tweak an old family recipe by adding or omitting some ingredient only to end up with a disappointing result? The only way to get reliable results is to follow the recipe.

Israel changed from being a tribe to a nation when God gave the Law to Moses on Mount Sinai. Abraham, Issac, Jacob, Joseph, and Moses all were God’s men; but at the giving of the Law, Israel became a nation. It is specifically to that nation that Psalm 33:12 (KJV) refers: “Blessed is the nation whose God is the Lord; and the people whom he hath chosen for his own inheritance.” 

The closer Israel walked to God and His Law, the more they experienced His blessings. The period of the Judges is marked by cycles where Israel forgot God’s Law and fell into trouble, and then remembered, repented and were restored to blessing.

It is not uncommon for nations, like the United States, to try to appropriate this verse for themselves. A look back at our history and founding documents reveal an attempt to build a nation and society built on principles largely drawn from Scriptural teachings. The closer we lived to those lofty principles, the better we have done as a nation.

This is not to say that our relationship with God is based on how closely we conform to His instructions. Righteousness should flow out of a relationship and not the other way around. But, a person, or a nation, who is truly in a right relationship with God should want to do the things which please Him.

Reliably following God’s Law leads us to a path of blessing. II Chronicles 7:14 (KJV) tells us, “If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land.” 

In times of crisis, this passage instructs us to pray and ask God for healing. With our praying we must give attention to our ways. If we’re not following God’s recipe we probably won’t like the results. It is when we come to God in humility, choosing repentance and obedience, that we are put back on the path to blessing.

This truth is not just for nations but for you as a person. How are you doing in your walk with God? In the busyness and struggles of life, it may be easy to add or omit ingredients. However, we do well to remember that we get the best results when we read the instructions and follow the recipe.

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What weighs you down?

Pastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson Church 

9024 18 Mile Rd – Cedar Springs MI 49319

Drive-In worship this summer, Sundays at 9:30am.

Back in the day when I was a camp counselor for high school teens, we would have a time of teaching each morning. One sunny day as we sat near the lakeshore, a skit was enacted by a few of them.  It depicted them trying to enjoy life while each carried two heavy suitcases and a backpack. They were invited to play baseball but running to first base was quite the challenge! No one wanted to hit a homer because they couldn’t muster the energy to make it all the way around the bases. They carried too much weight.

This was really about how life with burdens can truly cancel joy. The youth immediately caught on and soon they were talking about their burdens, the things that weighed them down. Mostly what they talked about was worries. They worried about grades and friendships, body image issues and trying to please their parents. Their worries were weighing them down.  

One thing I remind myself is, “Worrying doesn’t fix tomorrow; it takes away the joy of today.” It certainly is something to pray about on a daily basis! 

The truth also is that when Jesus died for us, he set us free from from another big burden. He removed our burden of sin. It’s another way to interpret the skit the youth enacted that summer morning. The suitcases and backpacks could also have been filled with the guilt of our sins. We’ve been set free from the burden of sin, yet so often we choose to continue to carry them.

Friends, it is in Christ that you ARE set freed from the burden of your sin!

Jesus did not say “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carrying heavy burdens, and I will add more weight to your backpack.” No way!  Jesus said “come to me and I will give you rest.”

We have been absolutely set freed from the burden of sin. Jesus died and is risen. Jesus conquered death. Jesus paid the price for our sins.

Don’t you think we should then start living like that? We are free!

Paul writes to the Galatians saying, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (Gal 5:1 NIV). He’s saying don’t be enslaved to the law. There were those who were saying that Jesus’ death and resurrection was not enough and that in order to be right with God the old laws were still needed in order to be saved. What? Jesus not enough? I have to say, living with the law and circumcision is certainly no freedom.  

I praise God for my life in Jesus! I thank God for giving his son for us. I love Eugene Peterson’s paraphrase of this most important scripture.This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. God didn’t go to all the trouble of sending his Son merely to point an accusing finger, telling the world how bad it was. He came to help, to put the world right again. Anyone who trusts in him is acquitted; anyone who refuses to trust him has long since been under the death sentence without knowing it. And why? Because of that person’s failure to believe in the one-of-a-kind Son of God when introduced to him (John 3:16-18 MSG).

Stand firm in the knowledge that you are free. Don’t let those old burdens creep back in. Let go of your suitcases and backpacks filled with regret and worry and lift your free hands to heaven and shout to the Lord: “I am free! Thank you, God!”

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Pray-a lot!

Pastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson United Methodist

This Coronavirus (Covid19) is affecting many people in many ways. I’ve been praying for my family, church community, those who have the virus, the caregivers and essential people working hard to help us all. Will you join me in prayer each and every day until this virus is gone?

In the book of Daniel we find a faithful, praying man. Daniel didn’t just occasionally lift his eyes to the heavens and mutter a word or two. No, Daniel prayed a lot! He prayed in his room. He prayed when he was in the lion’s den. He prayed for wisdom and guidance. He prayed for the people of Israel and, towards the end of his life, we find he’s been praying for 21 consecutive days because he’s troubled. He prayed for 21 straight days! Then Daniel heard these words, “Do not be afraid, Daniel. Since the first day that you set your mind to gain understanding and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard, and I have come in response to them” (Daniel 10:12 NIV). Have you ever prayed consistently for something, for like 21 days?

In Luke 18:1-7 (The Message) Jesus told them a story showing that it was necessary for them to pray consistently and never quit. He said, “There was once a judge in some city who never gave God a thought and cared nothing for people. A widow in that city kept after him: ‘My rights are being violated. Protect me!’ He never gave her the time of day. But after this went on and on he said to himself, ‘I care nothing what God thinks, even less what people think. But because this widow won’t quit badgering me, I’d better do something and see that she gets justice—otherwise I’m going to end up beaten black-and-blue by her pounding.’ Then the Master said, ‘Do you hear what that judge, corrupt as he is, is saying? So what makes you think God won’t step in and work justice for his chosen people, who continue to cry out for help.’”

I know that it’s easy to despair right now. But please know that our anxiety can be allayed by relying on and trusting in God’s word and promises found in the scriptures. Keep on keeping on! Keep on praying through this time of crisis.

Look at what God says to Daniel: “Your words were heard.”  God hears our prayers! It’s when we “set our minds to gain understanding and to humble ourselves before our God.” We need to continue seeking God and humbly sit at His feet. Nowhere in the Bible does it say that those who seek Him will ever be turned away.

Please do not let the fear of this deadly virus deceive you. God will never, never fail those who seek Him. God will always be at our side. Stay focused on walking in His way, no matter how this virus obstacle presents itself. No matter how discouraged you may be sometimes, continue your journey with Him.

May the Lord of peace Himself give you peace in this time and in all times.  The Lord be with you.

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