What do you need for Easter?

photo by tiaragwin

I was listening to the radio this morning while exercising, and I heard a very strange commercial.  A well-known one-stop-shopping center was advertising “everything you need for Easter”:  candy, eggs, dye kits, baskets, gifts, toys, the plastic fake grass that gets everywhere and can never be completely cleaned up.  That commercial was a bit disheartening to me, because one completely commercialized Christian holiday (Christmas) is more than enough, in my opinion.

But then I got to thinking:  what do we really need for Easter?  Certainly we don’t need candy, hard-boiled eggs, gifts, baskets, chocolate bunnies, and so forth.  (Although I admit that I do enjoy a good chocolate bunny.)  Those are all extras, add-ons, unnecessary ways that people spend money in order to observe a holiday.

My first answer to this question was straightforward:  “We just need an empty tomb.”  Without the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, there would be no Easter, no celebration, no Christian religion at all.  The way Jesus conquered the grave gives us ultimate hope for this life and for the life to come.

But then I settled on a second answer:  “We need the cross and an empty tomb.”  Without the cross, there is no tomb to be made empty on the third day.  Jesus’s victory over death means nothing if he has not conquered sin as well.

Brothers and sisters, as we walk through the upcoming week known as “Holy Week,” the most important week of the year, let us remember what we truly need in order to celebrate this season.  Enjoy all the trappings of the secular Easter season.  But make it a point to remember frequently the true stories that make this such a celebration:

Christ has died.  Christ is risen.  Christ will come again.

–Pastor David

April Youth Update

Spring is going to be a busy time for your Youth as we prepare for the Michigan State Youth Convention for the Church of God.  As of this printing, we have almost twenty planning on attending. Super Early Bird registration occurred through March and students may still register for an additional $10 through April.  The $115 total is a great deal for a youth weekend as it covers lodging, food, speakers, conferences, recreational activities and much more.  We are looking forward to how God is going to work in our lives.

The “Sticky Questions and Jesus” teaching series on Sunday night has concluded and we will be on to new things.  On April 1 we will be looking at Baptism and the Crucifixion then there will be NO YOUTH on Easter Sunday.  The remaining April meetings will be focusing on the 360 Revolution and how we incorporate it into our life.  It’s a fantastic tool for reaching people for Christ.

We have several fundraising opportunities on deck in the next couple of months.  As I am working on this, we are in the process of completing the Raking Project for Olive Deitsch and we appreciate her for providing this opportunity.  On Saturday, April 21st we will be have a Bake Potato Bar (and other menu things) at the Church from 4:45 to 5:45 for donation prior to the Forresters in Concert that evening.   On April 27 & 28 we are having a Youth Garage Sale at our home, 712 Stillmeadow, in town.  We are in the process of collecting donated “treasures” and will collect them through the sale. Sale items may be dropped off initially into the church garage, then will be transferred ASAP to the Grahams. Items can also be dropped off at our home.  Leftover items will be donated the Salvation Army after the sale.  Our last opportunity will be the selling of Hanging Plants from Kutchey’s Greenhouse.   Plants are usually the same price as the greenhouse, however, we receive them at cost, and then the students reap the profit.  The Hanging Plants would arrive at the church the week of May 8-11, just in time for Mother’s Day.   Our goal is for every student to earn their way to State Youth Convention and then even have funds for summer projects.

Speaking of summer, our tentative plans are to have our regular youth meetings on various dates throughout the summer so we can incorporate lessons/devotions/God’s Word into relationship with recreational activities.  For example, we might have our weekly lesson in conjunction with a trip to the TEXAN in Midland to enjoy their gigantic banana splits. Summer without school hours & responsibilities gives us more flexibility and other options.

For those people who follow FACEBOOK, we have a Mt. Haley Youth Ministry group page.  If you would like to be part of the group, just type it in and we will get you approved.  We post weekly with announcements, a summary of the week’s youth lesson and general comments and questions.

Once again, we would like to relay how important and how appreciative we are for our prayer partners.  Your daily prayers really make a difference.  As we enter the Easter week of celebration of the Resurrection of Christ, we encourage you to participate and be involved in Maundy Thursday services, Good Friday services at the Midland Missionary Church and come celebrate that HE is RISEN on Easter morning.  Easter begins at 8:00 with a service, followed by breakfast, an Easter Egg Hunt for children and then morning Worship Service and Baptism.  A day of celebration of His Resurrection and the saving grace of Jesus Christ, our Lord.

Pastor Jerry 

Making a Difference

photo by star_trooper

One of our spiritual disciplines as Christians is to care for those who are in need, both within our circle of acquaintances and among strangers.  Different churches and church groups handle this type of ministry in different ways.  At Mt. Haley, we have a benevolence committee which functions as an advisory group for most of our charitable gifts to people in desperate situations.

Over time, in multiple churches, I have heard several people suggest that poverty is such a rampant problem in our society – rich though we all are, by the world’s standards – that we can never eliminate poverty completely.  People will always come asking for help with rent payments, electric bills, empty gas tanks, hungry children, and so forth.  Perhaps, though, we ourselves have asked (or will ask) for help in similar ways!  By helping those who are in need, we are putting into action Jesus’s so-called Golden Rule: “Do to others as you would have them do to you” (Luke 6:31 NIV).

Sometimes, people will cite Jesus’s words in Matthew 26:11 as suggesting that our devotion to him is more important than our care for the needy:  “The poor you will always have with you, but you will not always have me” (NIV).  But I don’t think that’s the best understanding of what Jesus meant.  He often helped the poor himself, particularly through miraculous feedings and healings.  His teachings are perfectly in line with the Old Testament standard, which I recently rediscovered and would like to share with you here.

Take a few minutes to read Deuteronomy 15:1-11, and notice how many times the words “needy” or “poor” appear.  The final verse of this passage says something startling:  “Since there will never cease to be some in need on the earth, I therefore command you, ‘Open your hand to the poor and needy neighbor in your land'” (NRSV).

Precisely because there will always be people in need around us, we should continue to look for ways to serve others.  Our work will never be complete.  Friends, don’t be discouraged by the poverty that surrounds us; instead, look for ways to be a blessing!  And don’t settle for allowing our benevolence committee to handle all our care for people in need; find ways to be benevolent yourself!  Let us each open our hands to our poor and needy neighbors, and in so doing share with them the love of Jesus Christ, which he has graciously given to us.

–Pastor David

Discipleship Goals

photo by Brian Hathcock

Recently, I spoke briefly about five criteria for church leadership that Pastor Dave Perry (from Edgewood Church of God in Ithaca) shared with several area pastors at our last monthly meeting.  I would like to summarize and explain those points here in writing for you to consider.  Remember that these are not rules that must be followed dogmatically, nor do they form a perfect and complete list of expectations.  But I agree with the other Pastor David that these form a good basis for how Christian church leaders should orient their spiritual lives.

These ideas are, I believe, also applicable to anyone who would choose to follow Jesus, to anyone who calls himself or herself a Christian.  No one is expected to be perfect in the church, but all of us should be expected to grow and mature into full disciples of Christ.

So consider these five criteria as goals for our spiritual lives.  Take a few minutes to do a self-examination:  where do you stand on these five goals?  How can you improve?  What is God asking to change in your life?

  1. A personal testimony:  Having a story of how Christ has transformed your life is crucial.  This has to do with being connected to Christ and, therefore, to other Christians.  First Peter 3:15-16 encourages us to be ready to explain what we believe at all times.  Are you able to tell (or share in any other form) your testimony of how you became a Christian?
  2. A regular worshiper:  Setting Christ first in your life includes making regular worship a top priority.  Hebrews 10:24-25 speaks about our need to meet regularly, and John 15 uses the imagery of a vine (Jesus) and its branches (believers) to illustrate our need to remain connected.  Is regularly attending Sunday morning worship a priority for you?
  3. A positive supporter:  As taught in Philippians 2:1-4, the unity and progress of the church are more important than personal control or personal preferences.  You are not asked to say “yes” to everything that the pastor or other church leaders propose.  However, once a decision is made that is the opposite of what you prefer, are you first in line to support and help in that direction?
  4. A person of growing character:  Desiring to be Christ-like and being willing to grow are incredibly important characteristics.  Colossians 2:6-7 implores us to continue always in our pursuit of growth in Christ.  Are you an example to others of a believer who has not yet arrived but is pressing on toward the goal?
  5. A tither:  Giving to God ten percent of all we earn helps us remember that everything we have belongs to the Lord.  This spiritual discipline helps us keep our material lives in perspective and helps orient our spiritual lives correctly.  Malachi 3:10 challenges us to bring the full tithe into God’s house.  Are you trusting God to provide for all of your physical and spiritual needs?

Let’s all continue to grow on the path of discipleship together!

–Pastor David

The Importance of Meditation

photo by rachel_titiriga

When was the last time you spent fifteen minutes just thinking about God?

You know what I’ll say next:  For many of us, our lives are so busy, so full of things to do and people to see, that we often can’t imagine taking a quarter of an hour to meditate on our Lord.  When can we fit that into an otherwise packed schedule?  That line of thinking affects even how we talk about “spending” time, as if it were money – and everybody knows there’s only so much money to spend before it runs out.  The same is true of time!  Right?

Sometimes you can find interesting factoids about how often specific words are used in the Bible.  When I searched through the NIV for words like “meditation” and “meditate,” I was surprised to find that sixteen of the eighteen times the Bible mentions meditation are in the book of Psalms.  (That may be of interest to those of you who are currently in our new women’s Bible study group, which is focusing on a group of Psalms together.)  The other two times are (a) in Genesis 24:63, when Isaac is waiting to meet his new bride Rebekah, and (b) in Joshua 1:8, when God is calling Joshua to be the new leader of the Israelites after the death of Moses.

All of the other mentions of meditation in the Bible have to do with people meditating on God’s laws, decrees, wonders, works, and so forth.  From early on in the history of God’s people, they knew that life was not complete unless they took time to remember, reflect, and give thanks for all that God is and all that God does.

Friends, is meditation part of your regular spiritual diet?  Do you frequently allow your mind to wander in the vast expanse of God’s love?  Do you use something so valuable – your daily allotment of time – in such a way that keeps you connected to the God who gave that time to you?  Do you pause to remember the great sacrifice and great victory that we have in Jesus’s death and resurrection?

I will sing to the LORD all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live.  May my meditation be pleasing to him, as I rejoice in the LORD.  (Psalm 104:33-34, NIV)

–Pastor David