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Archive | From the Pulpit

Help, my anxiety switch is stuck ON!

by Jon Huizenga

Meeting Virtually Sundays at 10 am facebook.com/riseupchurch

I had a conversation with a nurse who is under the stress of caring for patients, her family and herself in this heightened COVID-19 moment. After we talked, I thought, “Her anxiety switch is stuck on ON.” I recognized that because it happens to me. Does it to you? You get so caught up in the noises in your head and in the world that it is hard to concentrate on anything. Your mind is flitting around, not landing anywhere. In her case, she has good reasons for anxiety. There are many things for her to think through and handle carefully. And there are dangers.

What she said was, “I need to get some exercise and talk to God about it.” Yep. That sounds about perfect.

I do not know if I can help you with exercise. But I can help you talk to God about it! Try this if your anxiety switch is stuck on ON: 

Stop flitting around. Take three to five deep breaths. Then, read these words from the Bible, maybe out loud:

1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?

2 My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

3 He will not let your foot slip—
    he who watches over you will not slumber;

4 indeed, he who watches over Israel
    will neither slumber nor sleep.

5 The Lord watches over you—
    the Lord is your shade at your right hand;

6 the sun will not harm you by day,
    nor the moon by night.

7 The Lord will keep you from all harm—
    he will watch over your life;

8 the Lord will watch over your coming and going
    both now and forevermore.

( Psalm 121, New International Version)

Jesus, also known as God’s Son, often called “Immanuel,” which means “God-with-us,” said the same thing in short form:

27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. (John 14:27 NIV)

After you read, here is a prayer you could pray:

God, I turn down the noise and the flitting around and I pause to listen to you. Where does peace come from? It comes from you, God the Father, maker of the heavens and the earth. It comes from you, Lord Jesus, forgiver, healer, and king. It comes from you, Holy Spirit, the helper Jesus promised to send. You are offering peace. I receive it right now. Help me embrace it and lean into it. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

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The Ingredients of prayer

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

Rev. Thomas K. Schmidt 

My granddaughter, Lucy, loves to help me bake. First, we decide on the recipe, place all the ingredients on the kitchen counter and then begin putting them together. Having all the ingredients is essential to having good results. 

What might be some ingredients to prayer? 

The Apostle Paul writes to the Christ followers of Ephesus in Ephesians 3:14-22 NIV: “14 For this reason I kneel before the Father, 15 from whom every family in heaven and on earth derives its name. 16 I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, 17 so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, 18 may have power, together with all the Lord’s holy people, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, 19 and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.

 20 Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen.”

Ingredients to prayer might be different than these listed. You might have less or more.  

Sincerity of heart is the first ingredient necessary to begin our personal talk and walk with God.  It is having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  Sincerity opens the doors to listening to God. 

Add in humility of attitude that recognizes our dependency upon God. A haughty spirit promotes self-dependency and will only sour our ability to communicate with God.

Impacting prayer recognizes an awe of God. Awe is not a word that we use much but provides recognition that honors the Almighty God.  O, that we would in our spirit stand in “Awe of God!”

Having a spirit of surrender identifies us with Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane when he prayed a prayer of surrender. “Not my will, but your will be done!” Surrender evidences listening to God.

Now add in obedience and persistence as ingredients of our prayer life.  Obedience that hears what God is saying to us and a willingness to follow Him.  Persistence is needed as we offer our deepest concerns and continually confess our faults while presenting requests.

Prayer would not be complete without us expressing love to the one who created us, who provides life for us, who watches over us and who forgives us our sins.  Love to God Almighty who desires to be engaged in every part of our life.

This is a good time to think about your prayer ingredients.  What are the necessary components of your walk and talk with God?  

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Introducing Pastor Larry French – New to the Neighborhood

Pastor Larry French

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church

140 N. Main St., Cedar Springs

Matthew 22: 37-39 (NRSV) He said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ 38 This is the greatest and first commandment. 39 And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’’’

Larry French

Greetings. My name is Larry French and I get to be pastor of Cedar Springs United Methodist Church. Me and my family moved to the area in July of this year, and we are extremely excited to learn all we can about the Cedar Springs neighborhood. What a lovely town you all have!  We at Cedar Springs United Methodist Church are proud to neighbors to the local community, and we are working hard to support local folks in this time of COVID-19. We support the Cedar Springs Community Food Pantry in its efforts to supply healthy food to residents in need. To help keep our clientele safe and healthy, the Food Pantry is operating as a drive-thru pantry three days a week. In addition, the food pantry is increasing its offerings of fresh and frozen fruits and vegetables, meat, and personal care items. The Food Pantry has also recently started a new ministry targeted at delivering food to homebound seniors in our community. If you are interested in learning more about the Cedar Springs Community Food Pantry please visit their Website at www.csfoodpantry.org. 

These are just a couple of the many active ministries at Cedar Springs UMC, and we hope you will find something that speaks to your heart here.

Cedar Springs United Methodist Church is offering in-person and online worship opportunities for the whole family every Sunday. In-person worship is offered to all our neighbors at 9:30 a.m.; come prepared to wear your mask and remain socially distant from other folks. We are checking temperatures at the door in addition to various other safety precautions to keep our members and visitors safe and healthy. To check out our online worship, visit our Facebook page or our website at www.cedarspringsumc.org.  

On behalf of Cedar Springs United Methodist Church, me, and my family, thank you for being a community of neighbors that cares!  We are so glad to be a part of your Cedar Springs family, and we all look forward to what the future has in store for this city.

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The Key to being a disciple: abiding

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd NE, Rockford
www.gracerockford.com

A disciple is someone who believes in and follows Jesus.  Jesus said, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23 NIV).  The decision to follow Jesus is a decision that requires more than just a one time a decision to believe in Him. It is accompanied with a daily decision to strive to live our lives the way Jesus did and the way he calls us to be like Him. This decision to follow Jesus is impossible in our own strength but “with God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26 NIV).  That’s where “abiding” comes in.  

Jesus said in John 15 “I am the vine; you are the branches.  If you remain (abide) in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing…This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.” (John 15:5,8 NIV). Abiding in Jesus is the key to bearing fruit and proving ourselves to be His disciples. Jesus actually goes as far to say that if we don’t abide in him then all we will ever accomplish is a whole bunch of nothing!  Abiding is the process by which we learn to run too, and rely on, Jesus for everything we need.  Is it learning to live in him as he lives in and through us. Abiding is a daily decision to place our dependence for living on Jesus. It is the key to walking in relationship with Jesus in a way that leads to us bearing the fruit that brings glory to The Father.  

A crucial aspect of abiding is to develop the daily discipline of spending time in the presence of God where we talk to him and learn to hear from him. The main ways we accomplish this is through our time in the Word of God and Prayer. This is extremely important if we are to experience the abundant life (John 10:10) that Jesus came to give us. While our times together with other believers on Sunday mornings are important and life-giving, they are not enough to enable us to navigate through this world as followers of Jesus. We need to learn to daily abide in the presence of God as he promises to lead us and guide us and teach us. Jesus didn’t just die to forgive us of our sins so that one day we could be with him in Heaven. He died and rose again to invite us into a relationship where we don’t just believe in Him but we actually find our life in him because after all, apart from him we can do nothing. Let that sink in. The God of the universe who took on flesh to save us wants to have a personal, intimate relationship with us each and every day! Why would we not accept that invitation?  

Consider setting aside some time today to “abide” in Christ. Practice the discipline of silence and solitude and find your strength in Him. Open up God’s Word and find nourishment for the soul. Have a loving conversation with God where you can pour out your praises along with your worries and concerns. Make the effort today to slow down from the frantic pace of life and BE WITH Jesus.  After all, if you don’t, the best you can hope to accomplish is nothing. His words, not mine.

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The Gospel of Life

Father Lam T. Le, Pastor

St. John Paul II Parish

3110 17 Mile Rd, Cedar Springs, Michigan • 616 696 3904

“What was from the beginning, what we have heard, what we have seen with our eyes, what we looked upon and touched with our hands concerns the Word of life” (1 John 1:1).

The first Sunday of October is referred to by many people as Respect Life Sunday.  This year, Respect Life Sunday greatly highlights because it is the 25th anniversary of Pope and now Saint John Paul II’s prophetic encyclical The Gospel of Life –Evangelium vitae (EV). It should be noted that this year is also the 100th birthday of this said author of a document which has become a magna carta for the pro-life movement.

In fact, The Gospel of Life was published on the Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord on March 25, 1995.  It is at the very heart of Jesus’ saving message to the world. Through the Incarnation and birth of Christ, God reveals to us the dignity of all human life, which, as a gift of God, is sacred and inviolable. The Son of God has united himself with every human being and desires for us to share in eternal life with him. For this reason, direct attacks on human life, such as abortion and euthanasia, are always unacceptable. Yet, sadly we see new and expanding threats to human life emerging on an alarming scale. These new threats to life are often justified, protected, and even promoted by our laws and culture. 

Not only must human life not be taken, but it must be protected with loving concern. Each of us is made in the image and likeness of God. We bear an indelible imprint of God and reflect his glory in the world as the pinnacle of all creation. God made the human person with the capacity to love, reason, and share in a relationship with the Creator. Each of us has received our dignity from him and it must be protected and care for.

On the 25th anniversary of this prophetic letter, we as the people who profess our faith in Jesus as the “Word of Life” (1Jn 1:1) are challenged by Saint John Paul II: “With great openness and courage, we need to question how widespread is the culture of life today among individual Christians, families, groups and communities. . . With equal clarity and determination, we must identify the steps we are called to take, in order to serve life in all its truth” (EV 95).  As we enter Respect Life Sunday, let us ask ourselves what are the steps that we are willing to make to show reverence to the gift of life.  Amen.

(Father Lam also is the Pastor of Mary Queen of Apostles Parish, 1 West Maple St, Sand Lake, Michigan 49343 phone: 616-636-5671)

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The Beauty of scars

Pastor Bobby Gray
Solid Rock Worship Center
11862 Shaner Avenue NE, Cedar Springs, MI 49319

When we think of scars, we think of unpleasant marks usually made by unpleasant experiences. We also think of emotional scars which often hurt far worse than physical scars. 

I have come to understand that there is great benefit to scars—benefit we seldom consider. 

For instance, have you ever thought that every scar has a story to tell? Or that scars speak of experience? 

Paul thought his scars alone were sufficient evidence to establish that he was an experienced warrior for Christ. He said, “From henceforth let no man trouble me: for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus” (Galatians 6:17). Paul was saying, “Don’t argue with me. I am a warrior for Christ and I have scars to prove it.” It should come as no surprise that Paul was scarred in the Christian battle because he was a real warrior. Real warriors have scars. 

All the apostles bore scars for the cause of Christ. Jesus also bore the scars of battle. Twice in the 20th chapter of the Gospel of John, the scars of Christ are mentioned: “And when He had so said, He showed 

unto them His hands and His side. Then were the disciples glad, when they saw the Lord” (John 20:20). He repeated Himself for the benefit of Thomas: “Then saith He to Thomas, ‘Reach hither thy finger, and behold my hands…be not faithless, but believing’” (John 20:27). 

In both cases Christ’s scars proved that He was the risen Christ. 

The scars of Jesus were not only for the benefit of the people of that generation. They were also for generations yet to come. 

“And one shall say unto Him, What are these wounds in Thine hands? Then He shall answer, Those with which I was wounded in the house of my friends… and they shall look upon Me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for Him as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for Him” (Zechariah 13:6, 10). 

Like Jesus and the apostles, we are wounded and scarred. Some of our scars are physical, and some are emotional. Some came before we came to Christ, and some we received afterwards. But we should be encouraged by every scar we bear in our bodies and emotions, because they are hallmarks of experience. And they speak of battles we have faced and survived. 

The beauty of scars is that they demonstrate we are warriors and survivors. Scars also prove that we have the experience to help others who are going through the same battles we have fought and survived. Our scars show the world that we know what it is like to fight and survive, even if we lose a few battles. 

“Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.” (2 Corinthians 1:3,4). 

Paul simply meant that after we have been helped, we are able to help others. 

It is right that we should have some scars because they prove that we have been doing battle for Christ. 

Remember, our scars were at one time open and festering wounds that were covered and cleansed and healed by the precious blood of Jesus Christ. Battle scars-badges of experience and honor-now replace those wounds. 

This is the beauty of scars!

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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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