Perfect Power

The other night, Tara and I were flipping channels on the TV, and we came across the show “Ask the Pastor” on TCT.  Have you ever watched that show?  It features a panel of pastors who field questions about the Bible and Christian faith that viewers send in by phone or email.  Sometimes I like watching a few minutes to see what kinds of questions people are asking.

One question really caught my attention.  The show’s host read an email, which asked, “Where is the third heaven located?”  One pastor then spoke up and said that “the third heaven” refers to the place where God lives, the place of God’s full presence.  He went on to explain that the third heaven is higher than the air we breathe and the stratosphere of the earth, which presumably are the first two heavens.

Friends, here is the truth:  Above our planet’s atmosphere is a whole lot of outer space.

The only biblical passage this question could be referencing is 2 Corinthians 12:1-10, in which Paul describes his own spiritual experience of being “caught up to the third heaven” fourteen years before writing this letter.  During that time, he was in the presence of God in paradise – surely an amazing experience!

But why does he even mention that experience?  Take a few moments to read chapter 11 and this first part of chapter 12.  The whole point is not to emphasize the greatness of Paul’s spiritual experience, but to reveal how Paul had to deal with his “thorn in the flesh” in order to keep him humble.  Three times Paul asked the Lord to remove this malady (perhaps poor eyesight, malaria, migraines, insomnia – nobody knows).  And God’s response to Paul?

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness. (2 Corinthians 12:9a, NIV)

Brothers and sisters, God’s glory is amazing, to be sure.  On this side of eternity, though, our lives are sometimes full of hardship and suffering.  No matter what happens, remember that Jesus Christ loves you and that his power is made complete by guiding us through our difficult times so that we might become more like him.  Let us praise God for how he is Lord of our lives in tangible ways; try not to get hung up on questions such as “Where is the third heaven?”

But remember also that I’m always open to discussing any questions you have about life, faith, the Bible, math, or anything else – and remember that I am praying for you!

–Pastor David

September Youth Update

WOW! What a weekend! THANK YOU for the many prayers that covered our Chicago Mission Experience! The presence of the Holy Spirit and the sharing of the kids & adults with the people of Chicago were absolutely INCREDIBLE. We were all IMPACTED with how the Lord used us to His GLORY and the blessings have changed our lives! PRAISE GOD! Your prayers made a difference! That was how our month ended—on a great experience with God and each other.  We are still in the recovery stage of catching up with sleep, but I still have a smile on my face and I must say, we were very proud of our kids.

We started off the experience early on a Friday morning at the Mt. Haley Altar with prayer for us by Pastor David and drove most of the day hitting Chicago in the midst of a traffic jam – the praise was that the kids got a close look at all of the downtown Chicago skyline.  Friday night began with a meal at a Puerto Rican restaurant where the kids gobbled some great ethnic food, while we got acquainted with our CSM host, Taylor.  After a great supper, we spent the next couple of hours on a prayer tour around the city of Chicago, visiting places of need, different neighborhoods and a chance to feel the atmosphere and picture of the people of Chicago.  Many prayers were prayed that night, as we heard the joys and plights of people’s lives.

We were up early Saturday morning and by 7:00 AM at the Canaan Baptist Food Pantry on the south side of Chicago.  We met and worked for a most incredible 70 year old lady named Ms. D that had a limitless heart for God & people as we help package and carry bags for families that lined up for two blocks for four hours to receive food for their families.  We also had the opportunities to talk and share with people, pray for them and offer them a message of peace and hope.  Beginning with this and throughout the day we were able to pray and distribute our green, glow in the dark bracelets that say “Prayed 4 and I am Loved.”  We don’t know who was more blessed, the people we prayed for or ourselves.

From there we proceeded to a place called “Two Lil Fishes.” This is a lunch program that reaches out to the homeless in the Uptown neighborhood. Our group spent time talking & sharing with the patrons and serving the meal.  We also met an incredible person named Isaac who shared his testimony of homelessness and someone we had a direct connection with because he grew up in Saginaw and even worked as an intern at Dow Chemical. He encouraged the kids to invest in people and share the gospel of Christ. After all that work at developing relationships and helping people, we had lunch and some slurpees from 7-Eleven.

We then took a walking prayer tour of the city and were totally fascinated with the needs, people and sights of the city.  Our activity immediately following that tested our faith and courage as we engaged in “Meet a Need.”  Each adult with a couple of kids were given $5 and challenged to meet & greet people on the streets of the city sharing prayers and the gospel of Christ.  The students met the challenge as they bought water, hamburgers, coffee, etc to offer to people, but most important they offered prayer and hope to many of the people they met, as well as bracelets.  We were blessed!

We finished our ministries by going to the Cornerstone Community Outreach’s center to help organize their huge rummage & clothing thrift store.  Located on the sixth floor and very hot –we were happy to conclude our serving for the day.

The evening meal was unbelievable!  We ate at a Thai restaurant called the “Siam Café” where we enjoyed a 7-course meal and lots of conversation about our day.  Praises, debriefing and counting of blessings filled the evening as we thank God for the experience we had.

Sunday morning we attend and worshiped at the Lawndale Community Church – an African-American congregation that works to renew the Lawndale neighborhood community.  Lunch was at a Mediterranean restaurant called “Dawali’s” where Lawrence & Jo blessed us with a rich dessert of Baklava.  Thank you Adams!

We spent the long ride home, sleeping, laughing, counting our blessings and sharing with each other the experiences we had.  The mission ended “At the Altar” of our church thanking God for being able to serve him and giving all the honor & glory to Him.  Ask any kid and they will say they want to go back.  God touched us and the stories will live in our hearts for a long time.  Every one of us was impacted in our relationship with Christ, each other and the people we meet on a daily basis.  We truly learned to “Love God, Love Others.”  Thank you for your prayers and support.

This was a great experience to kick-off our new year.  Youth starts up again on Sunday night, September 9th, hopefully in our newly remodeled Youth Room.  (GREAT BIG THANK YOU)  We will begin with post-lessons on our mission trip and a Church of God Youth ministry called “Spread the Word.”  We will welcome new sixth graders into the youth ministry and hope to invite and bring many friends to share the gospel of Jesus Christ.  New 2012-2013 Medical Release and Permission forms will be coming in the mail.  What an exciting time in our youth ministry!

During class time on Sunday mornings (10:00-10:45) the Middle School students are meeting with Maggie Hyde and the High School Class is with Pastor Jerry & Connie.  The High School students are studying the book of Romans and we are inviting YOU to come.  Each lesson stands on its own; you are not behind or ahead, SO, join on Sunday mornings.  (You just have to GET UP and COME.)  As always, you are invited to church also at 11:00.   One item of information for you, there will be NO youth on Sunday, September 16, 2012 because Connie & I will be attending the Baby Dedication of our granddaughter in Lansing.  Thanks for your understanding.

Praise God for the AWESOME summer we have had!   Your prayers have been felt in everything activity and lesson we had this summer!  Let’s pray for a great beginning to a new year.

Love God, Love People!

Pastor Jerry

The Mystery of the Gospel

John 6 concludes its grand sweep of events and teachings with a real downer:  Jesus loses the crowds that have been following him since the feeding of the five thousand.  Apparently the message Jesus was proclaiming was too difficult for them to understand, approve, or agree with.  Could we be in the same position today?  Click below to hear Pastor David’s message on the path of discipleship from John 6:56-71.

Listen now!

A Chapter of Ascents

photo by henrikj

In the past few weeks, our sermons have been studying John 6, particularly the passages where Jesus refers to himself as the “bread of life.”  Take a few moments to read that chapter straight through.  And now allow me to map out the chapter for you, so we can see how the whole chapter fits together:

  • Jesus feeds the 5000 (verses 1-15):  Jesus has high popularity; he performs a miraculous sign; people suggest he might be “the Prophet”; they try to force him to become king; Jesus retreats to a mountain by himself.
  • Jesus walks on the water (verses 16-24):  the disciples are in mortal danger; Jesus performs a miraculous sign; the crowd searches for Jesus.
  • Jesus as the bread of life (verses 25-59):  the crowd finds Jesus and looks for another miraculous sign; Jesus claims to be from heaven, to have seen God the Father, and to give true food and drink through his flesh and blood.
  • Jesus loses the crowd (verses 60-71):  the crowd/disciples turn away; Jesus has low popularity; Jesus promises to ascend to heaven (after his death and resurrection); Peter suggests he is “the Holy One of God”; Jesus is left alone with his Twelve disciples, one of whom will become a traitor.

In the span of one chapter, Jesus moves from high popularity to low popularity, which is a descent of sorts.  But he constantly ascends:  he goes to a mountain to be alone; he explains how he came from heaven and is going to heaven; he is lifted up and praised by Peter’s declaration of faith.  The crowd wants to accelerate Jesus’s ascent to political power by making him king; instead, Jesus shows that his ascending path (as the King of kings) involves his abandonment and death.  And Jesus’s ascent is not done alone:  the disciples do not recognize him when he comes walking on the water, but by the end of the chapter they have come to know his true identity and remain faithful to him (for now) while everyone else has left him.

Of course, the story of the Bible includes the resurrection and ascension of Jesus, so now we know that he remains in heaven, sitting at the right hand of God the Father (1 Peter 3:21-22).  The story of Jesus’s ascent is complete – except for his ascent into first place in the lives of those who believe in him.

Has Jesus moved into the highest point of your life?  Is your relationship with him of primary importance to you?  Are your actions, decisions, and thoughts guided by the King of kings and Lord of lords?  What needs to happen to move Jesus just a little higher in your life?  How can we as the church help with that growth in discipleship?  Let’s talk.

–Pastor David

The Olympics and Spiritual Life

By now, our fast-paced culture has moved on from the London Olympics and is gearing up for a presidential election that will take months to resolve.  But today I encourage you to think back on the Olympics for a moment.  Did you watch any of the events?  Did you take note of how various athletes responded to winning, losing, succeeding, or failing?

When we put athletes on display at the Olympics, we give ourselves an opportunity to see the most raw of human emotions in these categories.  For some athletes, the sheer joy of winning a gold medal – especially when such a victory was a surprise – brought smiles to our faces.  For many, simply competing in a certain event was enough of an honor to provide us with a positive experience as observers.  And for a few, the cold reality of not qualifying, not finishing, or not placing high enough evoked feelings of frustration and disappointment – at least in the athletes, if not in us.

I was impressed by how many athletes, in their post-competition interviews, gave thanks and praise to God for helping them to compete.  Usually, this acknowledgement of God’s help came in good times (such as medal-winning performances) or at least respectable times (such as simply finishing an event).  However, I rarely saw an athlete mention his or her faith in God when a frustrating or disappointing result came about.

This speaks to something in our human condition:  it’s easy to be faith-filled and thankful to God when the sky is blue and things are going our way.  It’s harder to remember our faith when things are not so good.

Why, then, do we spend most of our prayer time in supplication, asking God to bring about something good (such as healing, restoration, a job, etc.) in someone’s life?  Why do we spend so little time, in our personal devotional lives and in our collective church life, giving God thanks and praise for who he is and what he has done?

I believe that’s because people generally rely on their emotions to gauge their spiritual lives.  When you’ve won a gold medal (in the Olympics or, figuratively speaking, in real life), your emotions point you toward thankfulness.  When a tragic or disappointing result happens in the race, your emotions direct you to ask God for healing or a second chance.

What if our spiritual lives were to be God-centered rather than emotion-centered?  What if our relationship with Christ were so central to our daily lives that the events of each day could be understood in light of that relationship?  The gold medal would still be worth celebrating, and the tragedy or disappointment would still be worth uplifting in prayer.

But the constancy of our relationship with Christ would remind us that the most important thing in our lives is that relationship.  Win or lose, success or failure – the real race still lies ahead of us.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.  Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.  (Hebrews 12:1-2 NIV)

–Pastor David

Bread From Heaven

In John 6:35-51, Jesus makes a bold claim: that he is the living bread that has come down from heaven.  Our Christian faith gives us hope for heaven, but what does that have to do with the real world and our lives today?  And how does Jesus’s claim – that those who eat of this living bread will live forever and not die – tie into our everyday lives?  Click below to hear Pastor David’s sermon on this subject.

Listen now!

August Youth Update

It’s hard to believe that summer is going so fast!  Fall sports are already in preparation for a new season and students will be back in school in a month plus our weekly youth meetings on Sunday nights will begin again on September 9th @ 6:00 PM.  Where has the summer gone?

July was a good month for the youth as we finished up with a great weekend in Mio.  We had great fun camping, canoeing down the AuSable River with the Mio Youth, then a cookout Saturday, plus attending church the next morning and a great meal at the AuSable River Restaurant.   A special thanks goes out to Lawrence & Jo Adams for hosting us at their cabin in the woods.  Great time, great fellowship!  We are already planning for next year if we again have the opportunity.  Unfortunately, the Meridian Church of God had to cancel out with the softball game and we were unable to have enough students for the Scavenger Hunt (this was postponed until sometime in Sept. or Oct.).  However, we all had a great time at the Great Lake Loons game.  Good times!

This is a BIG month and we will NEED your prayers!  14 people will be leaving early in the morning on Friday, August 24 to travel to Chicago for a mission trip with the Center of Student Missions.  We will travel most of the day, arriving in Chicago that evening for an ethnic meal and a prayer tour of the city. All day Saturday we will be participating in planned local missions, enjoying another ethnic meal that evening plus some other spiritual activities.  On Sunday, we will attend a local Chicago place of worship, have another ethnic lunch, and then be on our way home.  This event is truly one of the most spiritual life-changing experiences of the year for our youth.  Please pray for our youth, their counselors, the people and places we serve and the city of Chicago.  We will be having a special meeting about the mission trip on Monday, August 20, 2012 at 7:00 PM at Mt. Haley that we ask all participants to attend.  (Hopefully, this meeting is after all the summer events, fair, vacations, camps, etc.)

Also this month we will offer the opportunity to spend the afternoon at the Midland County Fair with your youth group on Thursday, August 16th.  We will offer rides into town to attend the fair and we know several will already be there.

Our new youth room is getting closer to being FINISHED!  New walls, new ceiling and fresh paint are completed.  The flooring and lights still need to be done then we can move in.  We have been garage sale shopping all summer.  We have new area rugs, several different items of furniture and shelving, plus a mini-refrigerator.  It’s going to be COOL!  Thank you CHURCH for doing this for our youth!  It is GREATLY appreciated!

A new youth year is coming and we will be welcoming in our new 6th graders and any other youth age student in the ministry.  Please let us know WHO these students are, with their phone numbers and addresses.  With a new youth room we want to FILL-IT-UP and share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with them!  Also, September means we will be having all students and parents submitting new 2012-2013 Medical Release and Permission Forms.  Watch for these coming to your home soon.  We are also planning on having a special “Parent Meeting” for new youth in the near future. Watch for times and date.

During class time on Sunday mornings (10:00 -10:45) the Middle School students are meeting with Maggie Hyde and the High School Class is with Pastor Jerry & Connie.  The High School students are studying the book of Romans and we are inviting YOU to come.  Each lesson stands on its own; you are not behind or ahead, SO, join on Sunday mornings.  (You just have to GET UP and COME.)  As always, you are invited to church also at 11:00.   One item of information for you, there will be NO youth on Sunday, September 16, 2012 because Connie & I will be attending the Baby Dedication of our granddaughter in Lansing.  Thanks for your understanding.

Praise God for the AWESOME summer we have had!  Remember to PRAY for our Mission Trip to Chicago!  Know that you are always welcome at the Mt. Haley Church of God.

Love God, Love People!

Pastor Jerry

The Bread of Life

This month, we will be focusing on Jesus’s words in John 6, specifically as they relate to the Lord’s Supper which we will share at the end of the month.  Pastor David’s sermon this week focused on John 6:24-35, where Jesus proclaims, “I am the Bread of Life.”  What does this mean?  And how does Jesus satisfy our every desire?  Click below to hear Pastor David’s message on this subject.

Listen now!