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Archive | From the Pulpit

God never changes

Pastor Darryl Miller

Sand Lake/South Ensley United Methodist Churches


Sand Lake United Methodist Church 65 W Maple St, Sand Lake | (616) 636-5673
South Ensley United Methodist Church
13600 Cypress Ave., Sand Lake | (616) 636-5659

Revelation 3:8: “I know your works. Look! I have set in front of you an open door that no one can shut. You have so little power, and yet you have kept my word and haven’t denied my name” (Common English Bible).

It was about a year ago that we first received news of a growing pandemic in our world. Many of us were uncertain what to do in the situation. We churches scrambled to find ways to continue to bring God’s word to our communities and to continue to serve them. Some of our “pivots” were fairly straightforward while others looked like the path of a pinball. The term “distanced” was unfamiliar to us, especially in the context of churches. But changes were made and new forms of outreach and ministry sprung up all around. We learned that things can sometimes change overnight. But we also learned that one thing does not change—God. Over the past year the word has been preached, the hungry have been fed, those struggling have been helped and God has opened paths that we had never thought of before. Many of these paths will remain long after the pandemic has gone. 

I have many pastor friends and our churches are now widely different; some meet in person with masks and social distancing, some only virtually, ours have a drive-in service and the message is posted online—at least when it isn’t too cold for the camera to work! And all around us God is at work through His people. 

We have certainly learned not to depend on what we think of as “normal.” But hopefully we have also learned that the promises of God are faithful. When He opened the door for our ministries, nothing, not even a pandemic, can close it. Only our unwillingness to serve His people can put stumbling blocks in front of it. Trust in God’s promises. He is always with us; even if it sometimes feels like He may not be. 

Check in on a friend or neighbor. A phone call can go a long way when someone is lonely. Wave to someone today; you may be surprised how much it may mean. Share a smile. Yes, you can tell, even under a mask. And when a crazy idea to help or reach out to someone comes along, don’t ignore it. It may be God keeping His promise through you!

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The Man across the hall

Pastor David G. Ward

Pilgrim Bible Church

361 Pine Street, Cedar Springs

Some time ago members of our family gathered for a funeral. The room where we gathered was remarkably full for the passing of a lady of 95 years. The occasion was marked by kind words and fond memories.

Across the hall, nobody was there. Not one person stopped by to pay their last respects until my wife’s cousin recognized the name. She knew him as a resident of the County Home that her mother had managed. His hobby was to buy used mowers at yard sales and fix them up to mow the grounds. When it was time for his memorial service, a few care workers from his most recent nursing facility slipped in. They knew him as the shriveled shell he had become after leaving the County Home as a more robust man. The member of the funeral home staff who officiated this indigent funeral knew him as a man who attended church every Sunday in bib overalls.  No family members and a mere 12 people attended his memorial—a paltry number to commemorate a life of 88 years. Almost no one was there to offer respect to a seeming nobody.

But the table next to his casket told a far different story. It was covered with medals from a life of valor. Forgotten details revealed he had served with distinction in World War II. At least once, he had single-handedly taken out an enemy sniper’s nest. Medals earned included a Purple Heart, and both a Bronze and Silver Star. 

The man across the hall that almost everyone treated as a nobody was really somebody!  He was a forgotten hero, dying alone, without respect. 

It made me wonder. Who is the person across the hall, street, room, or workplace from us? Do we treat them as another nameless, faceless, valueless individual?  Or, do we see them for the person they are?

Lord, open our eyes, our minds, our hearts to truly see the “nobody’s” who surround us.

“This is my commandment: Love each other in the same way I have loved you” John 15:12 (NLT).

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This is living

Pastor Thomas K. Schmidt

Solon Center Wesleyan Church

15671 Algoma Ave, Cedar Springs

I Thessalonians 4:1-2(NIV): “Finally, brothers, we instructed you how to live in order to please God, as in fact you are living. Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more. For you know what instructions we gave you by the authority of the Lord Jesus.”

Some of the most memorable winter times that are imbedded in my mind have some relationship with sledding, tobogganing, or sliding down a huge hill.

It did not matter if the temperature was below zero or hovering around the freezing mark.  It was all about the adventure of going down a hill as fast as we could. The adventure always seemed to have greater excitement when more than one person traveled down the hill with you. Watching on top of the hill was entertaining but being involved in the downhill experience surely brought a thrill that was beyond words.

There were so many times that we would say, “Now, this is really living!” Some of you know just what I am talking about.

“This is living” in the spiritual realm is related to how we are devoted to God.  

This is living when we know Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior. We need to get on the sled to travel down the hill for the adventure and begin the descent to really know what it is like. Until we come to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ we are still watching from the top of the hill.

One time down the hill just didn’t seem like enough. We would experience the thrill of sledding by trying snow boards, toboggan, plastic sleds and even some things like plastic or cardboard.  

Paul, the Apostle said, “Now we ask you and urge you in the Lord Jesus to do this more and more.”  Sometimes it was an urging that was needed to go down the hill for the first time, second time or several times. Often, we just wanted to go down the hill over and over again. 

In our spiritual walk, we can be supportive and encouraging of others by letting them know that we are cheering them on and wanting for them to live victorious day after day after day.  

The best rides are those when someone else is riding along. Then the journey down the hill can be shared and forever imbedded in our mind. And those times that the sled stopped quickly and the end result was rolling over and over until we stopped going down the hill. Laughter, joy and fun filled our lives.

This is what it is today as we live for God as devoted followers of Jesus. We journey through life experiencing tragedies, trials, turbulence and tough experiences. Doing life with others, no matter what is ahead, brings about hope, joy and peace that is beyond words.

This is living—doing life with Jesus and others.

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Trust and unity

By Pastor Larry French

Cedar Springs United Methodist

140 S. Main St, Cedar Springs

Meeting virtually on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/Cedar-Springs-United-Methodist-Church-1922317694647623

Mark, while not the first gospel as the New Testament books are ordered, is the oldest and therefore first to tell the story of Jesus and His ministry. The first words we have from Jesus is him “saying, ‘Now is the time! Here comes God’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives and trust this good news!’” (Mark 1:15 CEB).

“And trust this good news!” is a big ask right from the beginning. But we have four Gospels and the book of Acts filled with the teachings, miracles, and acts of Jesus that lead us into a place of trust in him, so therefore we can trust in his good news.

Mistrust is an epidemic sweeping our country and it is more widespread than even the coronavirus.  Where can we turn to find trustworthy relationships and sources of information? One place we can turn is our local church and the larger body of Christ.   While our national leaders are calling for unity, how can we strengthen the trust we have in each other, which is the foundation upon which unity is built?  How can we expand the trust we enjoy in our local church to others outside the Church as we advance the healing and restorative message of the Gospel?

I recently read an article by Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D., on PsychologyToday.com entitled “How to Trust People Again: 7 ways to rebuild your faith in humanity.” Dr. Hendriksen began the piece with “Fear of trust is so common it’s an official phobia: pistanthrophobia—a big name for an equally big problem. And while not trusting anyone keeps you safe from hurt and betrayal, it also leaves you isolated and suspicious. How does this happen? How does one lose faith in humanity? And how can you find it again?” The article goes on to describe the ways in which we can lose trust in those close to us, or in society in general, and then Dr. Henriksen lists seven ways in which we can work to regain trust.   

I have three suggestions that may help us to strengthen and grow our trust in each other, the local community, and beyond:

Hold multi-congregational events and activities. Even in this time of COVID we can look for ways to connect multiple congregations in interdenominational settings.  Showing commonality and fellowship between local denominations will strengthen the overall sense of community.

Promote each other’s ministries. All of the local churches have ministries focused on strengthening those in the local community that need help. Promoting each other’s ministries can only help to get the word out on what help is available locally and will also let community members know about the good things happening locally.

Communicate with each other regarding our differences. We must begin to have dialogue over our differences. If we don’t talk openly about the differences between us, then overcoming any divide that leads us to perceive barriers to fellowship and community may begin to seem insurmountable. If anyone is interested in partnering with me to hold a series of forums, designed specifically to create a safe space in which to discuss our differences, please contact me at pastorlarryfrench@gmail.org.

Dr. Hendriksen wraps it all up with, “when you start to align yourself with trustworthy people and you see yourself acting like someone who trusts that the world is mostly good and people are mostly trustworthy, you start to believe it. And that is a crucial leap of faith in learning to trust again.”

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Have I done enough for Jesus?

Pastor Mike Wittmer

Cedar Springs Baptist Church

233 S. Main St, Cedar Springs

My father-in-law passed away last October. In one of our final conversations, he wished he had told more people about Jesus and that his life had attracted more people to his Savior. He wanted so badly to hear “Well done, good and faithful servant!” (Matthew 25:21; NIV). But he feared that God would say, “After all I did for you, why didn’t you do more for me?”

I understood his concern. We can always do more, speak more, serve more. But I told him that I couldn’t imagine God telling us that. God is not only our Master. If we have put our faith in his Son, then he is also our Father. The Apostle Paul explains, “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith” (Galatians 3:26).

Slaves may cower before their master, but children know they can trust the kindness of a good father. Paul writes, “The Spirit you received does not make you slaves, so that you live in fear again; rather, the Spirit you received brought about your adoption to sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father” (Romans 8:15).

Every good father loves his children, though they sometimes disappoint him. Their failures in no way affect his love and acceptance. A good dad does not bring up all the ways his kids have let him down. He embraces his children, no matter what. Why would we think any less of our heavenly Father?

So last October, my father-in-law slipped from earth into the presence of his heavenly Father. One moment his heart and breathing stopped; the next moment he awoke in the arms of Jesus. I imagine there was a long hug, and many tears. How to describe the recognition that one doesn’t measure up, yet is fully accepted anyway? For the first time, my father-in-law felt that he was fully known, and fully loved.

He realized then what we must realize now. The most important question is not Have I done enough for God? The only question that matters is What has God done for me? He loves us so much that “he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16). 

There’s only one thing for us to do. Tell Jesus that we have put all our faith in him. Rest entirely in him and what he has done. Then we will hear our Father’s proud affirmation, “Welcome home, child!”

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Fork in the road

Pastor Inge Whittemore

East Nelson Church

9024 18 Mile Rd., Cedar Springs, MI, (616) 696-0661

A giant metal fork was set up at a rural intersection in Franklin, Kentucky back in May of 2018. Made of stainless steel, it was constructed by a shop class at the nearby high school. It’s 21 feet tall, weighs almost 700 pounds and is set into concrete. It truly is a “fork in the road.”

I read somewhere that whatever direction you are headed determines your destination. Set a course for north here in Michigan and we will eventually land up at the Straits of Mackinac and the bridge to the U.P.  Head west and eventually we will find the Pacific Ocean. Our direction sets our destination. Sometimes we come to a fork in the road and we take it. Do we know where we are going and how to get there? Are we heading in the right direction? Using a GPS (global positioning satellite) system will help us find the right roads to take to get where we want to go but it doesn’t work if we don’t follow the directions and just simply take the fork in the road.

Recently I was given an exercise regimen to strengthen some of my back muscles. I have to say that after four days and no immediate results, I already started to slack off and then I started to beat myself up a bit on my failure to stick with it. I had a set of directions and I chose not to follow them and my destination (my goal) of strong back muscles was off course. I had veered off the path and had taken the fork in the road. I neglected to realize that strong muscles are a long-term goal and I had set it up for short term results. It is like thinking I want to go the Pacific Ocean and setting my GPS for Hudsonville!

Are you unsure of how and what to think with all that is going on in the world today? It seems there are so many voices calling out to us to follow them because they know the way but they are all going in different directions—east, west, north and south. I wonder what GPS they are using as their guide? Here is what the Psalmist says: “Make me to know your ways, O Lord; teach me your paths. Lead me in your truth and teach me, for you are the God of my salvation; for you I wait all the day long.” (Psalm 25:4-5 ESV). 

The Psalmist is asking the Lord for a GPS, a “God’s Positioning System” to help him with his directions. Just like him, we all need this kind of GPS to help direct us. We need a moral compass that will guide us in all things. We all need direction to help us navigate through the crooked highways, hairpin turns and forks in the road of life and I say, what better GPS than scripture?

“And your ears shall hear a word behind you, saying, This is the way, walk in it,” when you turn to the right or when you turn to the left.” Isaiah 30:21 (ESV). There is a lot in the Bible that can help guide us. The Book of Proverbs is a really good read for anyone looking to improve their journey through life. There are 31 chapters in it, so give it a month.  Read a new chapter each day for one month and you will find direction and new wisdom for this year. 

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Stay close

Pastor Kevin Reed

Grace Evangelical Free Church

4714 13 Mile Rd NE, Rockford

As I think about writing this article, multiple thoughts are going through my mind.  I want to make sure I write about something interesting, something captivating, something that will spur people on towards a closer, more intimate walk following Jesus. I have to make sure I word it just right so that it catches people’s attention, and I need to thoughtfully think through every word so as to not intentionally offend or put a stumbling block in anyone’s path. I want it to be encouraging and uplifting while at the same time challenging and convicting.  It was in this moment that these words came to mind…

I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener. He cuts off every branch in me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful. You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you. Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” John 15:1-8.

These are the words of Jesus, encouraging and uplifting…

  • If we abide in Him, we will bear much fruit and God will work in our life to produce more fruit. 
  • As we abide in Him our prayers will be answered.
  • The fruit that we bear will result in our lives bringing much glory to God and be a testimony to a watching world of our following Jesus.  

These are the words of Jesus, challenging and convicting…

  • Branches that don’t bear fruit (imposter branches) are cut off and good for nothing.
  • We can’t bear fruit apart from Jesus. Abiding in Him is the source of fruit in our lives.
  • Apart from him, we can do NOTHING.  (let that sink in…NOTHING)

I will close with a few more words from Jesus.

Whoever has ears to hear, let them hear” Mark 4:9.

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So, they went in haste (Luke 2:16)

Father Lam T. Le, Pastor

St. John Paul II Parish

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

The Feast of the Baptism of the Lord concludes Christmas; so, by the time you read this column, the season is either in its final days or already closed.  Leaving Christmas, here is some thought on the shepherds “in the fields and keeping the night watch over their flock” (Lk 2:8) on the night of Christ’s birth. 

In accordance with the evangelist Luke’s theme, the simple people were singled out as the recipient of God’s favors and blessings. These shepherds were chosen by God to hear this from the angels: “Today in the city of David a savior has been born for you who is Messiah and Lord” (Lk 2:11).  What a privilege reserved for the lowly! Then, “when the angels went away from them to heaven, the shepherds said to one another, ‘Let us go, then, to Bethlehem to see this thing that has taken place, which the Lord has made known to us.’ So, they went in haste” (Lk 2:15-16). Let us reflect on the example of these humble people—their “going over” to Bethlehem and doing so “in haste!”

 “Let us go over to Bethlehem.” The shepherds dared to step beyond, to make the transition. We need to follow in their footsteps by going outside our habits of thought and life. We need to cross from the purely material world into the real one; to go across to the God who in His turn has come across to us. Throughout the centuries, the prayers of the Church often refer to the Incarnation as Holy Exchange: God humbled Himself to share our humanity so that we may be partakers in the divine life.  May we overcome the limitations of our world to encounter Him, through whom we have access to the eternal life.

“They went in haste.” The matter of God cannot be pushed to another occasion or procrastinated to whenever it is convenient to the human calendar. In our case, it is probably not very often that we make haste for the things of God. “The things of God can wait” is what we say. And yet He is the one and the most important. Why should we not also be moved by curiosity to see more closely and to know what God has said to us? 

“For the grace of God has appeared, saving all and training us to reject godless ways and worldly desires and to live temperately, justly, and devoutly in this age” (Titus 2: 11-12). Yes, Christ the Lord has entered our world.  May this 2021 be the time for all of us to be like the shepherds to cross over in haste to God’s side.

(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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No room for you here

Rev. Bobby Gray

Solid Rock Worship Center

11862 Shaner Ave, Cedar Springs

I was saddened awhile back as I began to think about the Christmas season. My first thoughts were crowded malls, airports packed with people going home for Christmas, beer parlors bulging with revelers, and post offices overflowing with mail. Then it dawned on me that this is not what Christmas is all about.

We read of the birth of Jesus in Luke 2. The journey had been long; he was tired. It was not his weariness that mattered, he was worried about his wife, who was great with child. Birth pains were already starting. With hope for a bed and some comfort for his wife to give birth, he knocked on the door of the inn. When he told the innkeeper of his need, it was then that the innkeeper made the mistake that men have continued to make throughout many generations. He uttered those fateful words, “There is no room for you here.” If the innkeeper had only known to whom Mary would give birth that day, he would have asked someone to give up a room, or he would have given his own room. His inn would have been immortalized and his whole life would have been different. Men are still making that age-old mistake. For in the hustle and bustle of everyday life, they have found no room for Jesus in their hearts. 

The greatest story ever told was when Gabriel (the angel) shared it with the world the first time. What a joy it must have been for Gabriel to get to share the greatest news the world would ever know. The messiah has come! That is what God is looking for in this season. We live in a world that’s too busy, too full. That’s overfed and overblessed with too many riches. Who has not found a place in their lives and hearts for Jesus Christ? Someone must tell them: “Jesus has come. You must make time for Jesus.” 

If you want to have fulfillment this Christmas, if you want to find the true meaning of Christmas, find someone who has a no vacancy sign hanging on the door of their heart, who has said, “I have no room for Jesus,” and tell them the greatest story ever told. Let them know that the messiah is alive forevermore. 

There was a great desire within the shepherds to see Jesus. The bible says that they made haste. They did not put it off. They did not ignore the message. They did not question whether it was real, but they ran to find Jesus and fell at His feet. This Christmas, why don’t you allow that same desire to grip you heart? 

This is a good year to allow worship to have a place in your heart. The dog worships as he looks into the face of his master. The lover worships his sweetheart. The baby worships his mother. But God’s greatest creation does not find time to lift its heart and praise Him. Let it not be that way this season; let us be a people who will find a way to worship the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

If I were to have a message to you this Christmas, I would tell you three things:

1. Make room for Jesus in your house and in your heart.

2 Take the time to bow down and worship him.

3. Take the time to tell someone else the sweetest story ever told.

An artist can take a cheap piece of canvas and paint a picture, which in the future will be worth of thousands of dollars. But let me tell you what Jesus can do. He can take a sinful life that is worthless and broken and without hope, wash it in his blood, cleanse it from its sins, and make it a valuable blessing!

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We shall overcome

Pastor Kristi Rhodes

Hillcrest Community Church Cedar Springs

This year has been very difficult, to say the least, for most of the entire world. Fear and hatred seem to have taken over common sense in so many people.

Nicky Gumble shared that on March 31, 1968, in the last speech Martin Luther King ever made, he repeated the phrase “we shall overcome” over and over again. He was echoing the words of folksinger Joan Baez, who in 1963 led a crowd of 300,000 people in singing “We shall overcome.” The song speaks of overcoming, of discovering hope and a future amid adversity.

Love is the most powerful force in the world. We will only overcome fear, hate and evil through love. This was the message of Martin Luther King who said, “Darkness cannot drive out darkness, only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate, only love can do that.”

The Bible from Genesis to Revelation tells of the greatest love story ever written. Real life involves many struggles, fears, trials, tests, temptations, difficulties and battles. Jesus said, we should not expect an easy life. He said, “In this world, you will have trouble, but take heart (fear not), I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).   The good news is, that in Christ you can be an overcomer. You can have peace in the midst of chaos.

God is the source of light and love. God is love. God determines what love is, not the other way around. Christmas reminds us of the greatest gift ever given. The gift of Love, Light, Peace, Joy, Hope Forgiveness, Mercy and Grace, all wrapped up in One bundle—the Christ Child, Jesus which is the gift of God.  

Jesus said, “While I am in the world, I am the Light of the world” (John 9:5). As Christ followers, Christ is IN us so in Christ, WE become the light of the world, (Matthew 5:14 NIV). When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the Light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness but will have the light of life.” (John 8:12 NIV).  It is God’s love that overcomes evil.  A.W. Tozer said, “A scared world needs a fearless church.”  

God’s love is not a weak or frail love. It is backed up by his power and might. God’s people will “tell of the glory of your kingdom and speak of your might, so that all people may know of your mighty acts…” This is something you can rely on “through all generations,” for God’s kingdom is an everlasting kingdom…and endures through all generations. The Lord is trustworthy in all he promises and faithful in all he does. (Ps 145:11-13 NIV).  

Will you receive the gift of Jesus this Christmas? Open the door of your heart and let His Light chase away the darkness and fear! What is Christmas without Christ? Without Christ, there is no Christmas. Merry Christmas! Many blessings to you. 

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