Advent: Celebrating What’s Coming

photo by Per Ola Wiberg ~ Powi

Take a few moments today to read Luke 1:5-25, and pay special attention to the character named Zechariah, a priest belonging to a specific division of priests.  Luke gives him the honor of being the first person in this gospel to receive a visit from God – specifically, from Gabriel, an angel of the Lord.  What a tremendous interruption to an otherwise normal worship service!

Who could blame Zechariah for doubting that he and his wife Elizabeth would have a child in their old age?  After all, his ancestors Abraham and Sarah had just as much trouble believing God’s same promise to them.  Yet in order to emphasize the message and the truth of God’s promise, the angel told Zechariah that he would not be able to speak for the duration of Elizabeth’s pregnancy.

Can you imagine what the next several months might have been like for Zechariah?  This goes against what we normally experience in the season of Advent!  At this time of year, people are usually filled with excitement, expectation, hope, and other positive emotions – whether it’s about opening presents, visiting family, eating a good Christmas dinner, participating in a Christmas Eve candlelight service, or another of the blessings of this season.  But Zechariah had to spend significant time – more than a month! – silently waiting the fulfillment of God’s promise: that his son would soon “make ready a people prepared for the Lord” (vs. 17 NIV).

Can you imagine Zechariah’s growing excitement as he watched Elizabeth grow more and more pregnant in the months that followed?

Culturally speaking (and within the church), we have only one month to celebrate Advent, the coming of our Lord.  We may not be struck silent by an angel of God for this entire season, but our challenge is the same.  We are called to wait eagerly, with anticipation, for the coming of the Christ child.  The greatest event in human history – God himself being born as a human baby – is an event that changed the world.  What better way to celebrate Christmas than to spend the preceding month as Zechariah did his wife’s pregnancy:  with ever increasing joy, hope, excitement, and anticipation of this long-awaited birth of our Savior!

–Pastor David

Stop What You’re Doing!

This Sunday was the first Sunday in Advent: the season in which we prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ.  In the midst of such a busy season, it’s terribly difficult to find time to rest.  What does scripture have to say about that issue?  Read Hebrews 4:1-13 and click below to hear Pastor David’s sermon on the importance of making room for Jesus.

(The audio is rather quiet here, because Pastor David forgot to turn on his wireless microphone!)

Listen now!

Shrinking Church

photo by vernhart

It’s the week of Thanksgiving, and many of us are turning our attention to family matters and turkey feasts.  Before the festivities begin, I’d like to share with you an article I found online recently.  You can read the full article here; its title is “How to Shrink Your Church,” and it was written by a pastor named Tim Suttle.  If you haven’t done so already, please read this brief article; it is well worth your time.

Christians seem always to be interested in growing:  we want pews to be filled, classes to be well-attended, programs to blossom.  I can’t lie – when I heard 150 strong voices fill our sanctuary with musical praise to God at our Community Thanksgiving Service the other day, I was thrilled and wondered what it would be like if we were to have that experience every Sunday.  We are constantly concerned with our future, with the next generation of believers, with the hope for things to turn around.

What does success look like in the eyes of God?  How do we know if we are doing the right things?  Even Jesus told the parable of the talents, in which the two servants who doubled their resources were praised while the one who buried his in the ground was condemned.  And with the bar set high (“go and make disciples of all nations,” Matthew 28:18-20), the ideal path of church success seems straightforward enough:  we are successful if we grow in size, influence, energy, and so forth.

To be fair, we should be concerned with introducing people to Jesus, the one who died to forgive our sins, who gives us new life, and who walks with us through every experience.  Adding people to the kingdom of God is always a priority.

Yet I believe Pastor Suttle’s core idea is also true, and I want to restate it in my own words here.  Growing churches are exciting places to be, but any church – growing or otherwise – can fall under the spell of two false teachings:  (1) “Feel good” Christianity, in which everything that happens makes us feel better about our lives as we have already chosen to live them, and (2) “Church growth” Christianity, in which we follow specific programs and procedures that are designed to grow the congregation, again to help us feel better about our situation.

In order to be effective and successful Christ-followers, we must remain absolutely faithful to the message of Jesus, the kingdom of God, and the scripture which points us to God.  Church growth is not about fancy programs and entertainment.  It is about calling ourselves and others into deep, intimate, life-changing relationship with Christ and into meaningful, sacrificial, humble service in our world.

We must pursue Christ unashamedly, which might not be too popular.  After all, Jesus himself said we’d have to eat his flesh and drink his blood, and that line cost him a lot of followers.  We must spend ourselves for the sake of the kingdom of God.  If we find ourselves completely spent, then we are in the right position:  God is the master of resurrection, and there can be no substitute for the new life he gives his people.

–Pastor David

Feeling Sheepish?

In Christian circles, “sheep” and “goats” have very specific connotations.  You’re expected to want to be a sheep and not a goat, especially after you read Matthew 25:31-46.  But what if we identify with another character in this story instead?  How might this enhance our understanding of how (and why) we reach out?  Click the link below to hear Pastor David’s sermon on this topic.

Listen now!

The Importance of Seasons

photo by sant.o

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV)

Our lives are marked by the passage of time.  We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries; we have graduation ceremonies; we throw retirement parties.  Major events and milestones are represented by entire sections of Hallmark greeting cards.  As human beings created by God, we have been given the ability to remember and the ability to sense the passage of time in order to help us make sense of our existence.

This is different than, say, the life of a dog.  Our dogs have no sense of time (beyond when it’s time to eat, sleep, or go outside).  They do not place any emphasis on the day of their birth.  They do not celebrate the anniversary of when they came into our home.  And they certainly don’t send greeting cards to other people at specific times of the year – although I think I’ve seen a few cards for sale that claim to be sent from someone’s pet.

Today marks the beginning of “deer season” – or more appropriately, as I’ve learned in the past year, “firearm season.”  For the next few weeks, many people in our church and community will spend a great deal of time outdoors looking and waiting for just the right shot to take.  The anticipation I’ve seen several men express before this day came reminds me of the anticipation children have in the days leading up to Christmas.  There’s a raw, palpable excitement in the air as we have been preparing for this season.

Thank God for the gift of seasons!  Can you imagine how dull and uninteresting life might be if it were always rifle season, or always winter, or always baseball season?  (I’m serious!  Sometimes a bad baseball season just needs to come to an end.)  As Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us, life is full of seasons, or times when certain actions or feelings are more natural than others.  I believe this is part of God’s design for humanity:  to know seasons, to know change, to recognize that time is passing, to live with an awareness that we have the potential to grow.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (NIV).

We are always aware of the change in our seasons.  In this we are a step ahead of our canine friends.  Are we as aware that God is so much more complex and amazing than even we can imagine?  Can we begin to wrap our minds around what God has done throughout all history?

And to think that the fullness of God dwells in the person of Jesus!  (See Colossians 1:15-20.)  What an astounding thought:  that we are invited to know this Jesus personally, intimately, deeply; to worship him, to learn from him, to be forgiven by him, to become more like him on a daily basis.  How amazing!  This is a truth that is worth sharing with others.  It is one that will never go out of season.

–Pastor David

Thoughts on Veterans Day

Veteran Flag
photo by Dustin C. Oliver

This Friday is November 11, our national holiday for honoring our veterans, both living and deceased.  We do well as a nation to remember those who have participated in military exercises on our behalf.  We enjoy so many freedoms and privileges that we often take for granted, and our military, over the years, has done much to preserve those freedoms and privileges.  Several veterans are members of our congregation, and nearly all of us know of or are related to veterans of one war or another.  In this season of giving thanks, please do take the time to thank veterans in person for the gift of their time and resources.

Today, I find myself drawn to the reason Veterans Day came to be observed on November 11 each year.  The name “Veterans Day” has been in use since the end of World War II, and the same holiday was observed prior to that war under the label “Armistice Day.”  The first World War officially ended on November 11, 1918 – ninety-three years ago this week – and many nations around the world continue to remember the end of this great conflict on the same day.

Why am I drawn to this?  Well, you know I enjoy history and the stories that shape who we are today.  But my interest here has more to do with the reason for celebrating this holiday.  Culturally, we (as Americans) are in a position in our collective history in which we applaud, support, and give thanks for our military forces on a regular basis.  For instance, at the beginning of every Great Lakes Loons game, a veteran asks the crowd to rise and sing the national anthem.  That is who we are, culturally speaking.

As Christians, however, we should celebrate the historical reasons behind Armistice Day:  we should rejoice when nations lay down arms against each other and come, finally, to peace.  That’s because our identity as disciples of Jesus is modeled after the life of this Prince of Peace.  True, he said that he came not “to bring peace, but a sword” (Matthew 10:34 NIV).  However, he also encouraged us to “be at peace with each other” (Mark 9:50 NIV).  The overwhelming biblical call is for God’s faithful children to live peacefully: see, for example, James 3:17-18; Hebrews 12:10-14; Ephesians 4:3; and Romans 14:17-19.

Peace is related to righteousness; peace is the way of Christ.  True, scripture often speaks of us living peacefully within the church, but it also speaks of living peacefully with everyone.  Scripture often speaks of an angry, vengeful God, but it also speaks of the same God applauding the peaceful way of life.  Christian history has often applied scripture to justify violent actions, but the higher road, whenever it is possible to be traveled, is peaceful.

This Armistice Day, remember to give thanks for the gift of peace.  Then take a few minutes to pray for peace around the world, in war-torn nations (just check the daily news for examples!), in our own nation and cities.  As Jeremiah called the Israelites in Babylonian captivity to do, “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile” (Jeremiah 29:7 NIV).

–Pastor David

Youth Ministry Update: November

October was a good month as we finished the To Save A Life series with watching the movie and having an average of 12-14 students in attendance each week. Thank You to the families furnishing snacks on Sunday nights.  They have been devoured and deeply appreciated.  A new sign up will be coming for December and January.  This month we will be learning how to extend our faith, thanksgiving and participating in preparing Thanksgiving Baskets for the Midland County Food Bank and the Hanging of the Greens here at Mt. Haley.  The Apparel Order of shirts, hoodies, bags and caps should be arriving (hopefully) by Thanksgiving.

The next major goal for the youth is earning and raising the money for the Michigan Church of God Winter Retreat over the New Year’s weekend.  The cost for each student is $99 which includes 2 nights’ lodging, 5 meals, a New Year’s Eve pizza party, the worship band “Sanctified,” and our speaker, Steve Van Fossen (the son of a former Mt. Haley pastor).  This has been an exceptional CHOG weekend where the hearts of many youth have been changed and their lives touched by the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

We have been working hard at raking leaves (between raindrops) and are seeking other ways of earning money.   We will be having a Spaghetti Dinner on Friday, December 9th and be offering Scripts gift cards for Christmas.  The Scripts program is where we offer gift cards for local restaurants, stores, gas stations and other things and the youth group receives a percentage of each gift card sold.  Also another option to help the students is to offer the investment of scholarships for individual students and help them pay their way to camp.  It’s an investment into a student’s life and may be in any amount from 5 to 99 dollars.  If you would like to sponsor a student, please, see Pastor Jerry or Connie.   If you have any ideas or opportunities to help us earn money for camp and other functions let us know.  We would appreciate the help!  Thanks!

As we continue to establish a “regular” group of students attending on Sunday nights, we would like to establish a Prayer Partner ministry with our youth.  I believe there is no greater time than right now where our youth need to have a group of people holding them up in prayer.  Youth culture with its demands, schooling, peer relationships, family issues, and many other issues in a youth’s daily life creates a need for us to hold them up in prayer.  The way it would work would be to match up a student and a church family. (Unrelated to them, because I know parents and grandparents are already praying) and have a prayerful relationship with a particular student.  This would be more of an opportunity on the church family’s perspective than the student.  In addition to prayer, you might want to drop them notes of encouragement, maybe develop a relationship, but generally take the responsibility of holding them up in prayer.  We would match them up, then give you the names, addresses, etc.  Prayer is a powerful gift that God has granted to us and something he calls us to do.  See Pastor Jerry or Connie as you prayerfully consider this personal ministry.

In conclusion, Connie and I would like to give special Thanks to everyone for your prayers and especially for your generous Pastor’s Appreciation month gift.  We are very fortunate people living for Christ and His Kingdom.

–Pastor Jerry