Go to Where the Water Is

Today, I took the afternoon (as I often do on Thursdays) to finish up the sermon for Sunday morning.  A good bit of my time in sermon writing is spent in thought, prayer, and meditation, and so I often find myself looking out the windows of my church office while I organize my thoughts.  Today, I saw something I haven’t noticed before, something that interrupted my train of thought, something I’d like to share with you:

The snow on the roof is melting in the sunlight, and water drops are falling off the edge of the roof onto the ground below.  Suddenly, a few birds – cardinals, from the looks of one of them – land on the edge of the roof, bend over, and drink from the water droplets as they trickle off the edge of the building.

photo by ccho

I think what struck me about this scene is just how odd of a drinking position that must be for the birds.  Can you imagine jumping into a stream of running water, facing downstream, bending over, and drinking until your thirst is quenched?  I suppose the birds found this water much more palatable than the running water in nearby Bullock Creek – a stream from which neither birds nor humans would drink willingly!

These birds went to where the water is, and they found satisfaction for their thirst.  Water is fuel for life:  nearly all species of plants and animals depend on water for survival.  So we too, in our daily lives, need spiritual refreshment and nourishment.  Where do we find water for the soul?

“On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, ‘If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” (John 7:37-39 NIV)

Friends, in your everyday walk of faith, go to where the water is:  even Jesus Christ, the one whose birth we celebrate this season, whose glory was revealed on the cross and in the empty tomb, whose Spirit dwells in those who believe, whose return we await with great hope and anticipation.  Drink deeply from this source of life, no matter if it seems like a strange thing to do from the world’s perspective.  There is no better way to live!

–Pastor David

December Youth Update

Snow, 24/7 Christmas songs on the radio, Hanging of the Greens @ church, shopping, bowl game selections, Christmas lights lining the streets, the season has arrived and it’s still November as I am writing this.  What does it all mean?  Despite all of these signs–there is still our “Christ” in Christmas.  May we always remember that!  Jesus Christ is born this day!

Winter Retreat – December 28-30 –pre-registration MUST take place by December 6th. The cost for the retreat is $105 and to register we must account for $50 by the above date.  Many students have the money in their youth accounts; however, a few do not have enough.  We have been having fundraisers, but some will be short, so students will be responsible for the balances.   If you would like to help a student financially to attend Winter Retreat, please see me and we will discuss how you could help.  This year the speaker will be Mark Shaner from the East Side CHOG in Anderson and the worship leader will be John Tibbs and his band from the Madison Park CHOG in Anderson.  It promises to be a GREAT weekend and we already have students from North Euclid CHOG and the St. Johns CHOG attending with us.  Along with going to Winter Retreat, we MUST have the 2012-2013 Medical Release and Permission forms.  Please complete and return these ASAP.  Don’t wait—sign up for WINTER RETREAT this week!

The Michigan Student Leadership Institute (MSLI) was a great success this year and we are proud to announce that Shane Mudd and Isabella Krolikowski successfully completed their 2nd year of a three-year program.  Congrats to them!

Fundraisers have been going well.  Thank you for supporting them.  The Apparel Sale, the Gift Card sale and the Bake Potato Buffet brought in money for the kids. We have a great blessing, we have been having almost 20 students in attendance each week at youth. However, when we divide the profits, they become smaller in spreading it around. Fortunately, we know that God will provide and bless!  Praise God for our growth!

Thank you students for the great participation in the Thanksgiving Basket assembly.  Lots of work, but many blessings for families that needed the food. Seeing God at work is always so exciting!

We will be having a Christmas Party for the Youth on Sunday afternoon, December 9th.  We are planning on going SWIMMING at Four Seasons (cost will be $3) plus a “WHITE ELEPHANT” gift exchange along with fellowship and refreshments at the church afterwards. The Winter Retreat is December 28-30 and there are no concrete plans yet for New Year’s Eve.  We will be finishing up our study of the 10 Commandments with #9 on December 2 and #10 on December 16.  There will be NO Youth meetings on December 23 through January 1.

Your prayers, support and encouragement are greatly appreciated and we look forward every week to sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ with our students through interaction, study, fellowship and relationship.  Thank you for sharing your son or daughter.

Love God, Love People!

Pastor Jerry

Already and Not Yet

As people of faith in Christ Jesus, we celebrate this current season with special fervor and religious anticipation.  The Christmas season, while maddeningly materialistic and terribly self-centered in our American culture, still holds special meaning for Christians.  We want to encourage people in our community to “keep Christ in Christmas” – yet at the same time, we should remember why we celebrate this season and what it means for the faith.

photo by Per Ola Wiberg

We are people who believe in an “already and not yet” kingdom of God.  God’s reign over the universe broke into this world in personal, tangible form through the person of Jesus Christ.  This was the content of Jesus’s preaching (see Mark 1:14-15), and this was the reason that Jesus was born into the world (see John 18:33-38).  He reigns in our hearts in the present tense.  He conquers sin in our lives in the present tense.  His rule is already secure because of his nature, his work on the cross, and his empty tomb.

And yet the kingdom of God is not yet completely fulfilled.  We await Jesus’s return at the end of the age, at which point his kingdom will come in its completeness and perfection (see Revelation 22:6-21).  There will be no more suffering in the future tense.  The presence of God will fill us with heavenly light in the future tense.  We yearn for Christ to return even within our lifetimes so that we might witness his reign being made complete.

We are “already and not yet” Christians.  We believe in an “already and not yet” Lord, one who has already atoned for our sins but has not yet brought about the ultimate fullness of his kingdom.

This ties into our observance of the season of Advent, the season in which we celebrate the “coming” (“advent”) of Jesus Christ:  both his birth into the world and his second coming at the end of the age.  We are “already and not yet” Christians who celebrate an “already and not yet” Lord!

We tend to focus on the past tense story of Christmas, the birth of Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem, during this season.  Let us always remember, though, that our faith points us toward a future tense story of Advent, which is the return of Christ in final victory and triumph.  Even as Jesus came to earth in the form of a tiny, humble baby, so he will return again as ultimate, undisputed, unmistakable King.

Who needs Black Friday sales, Cyber Monday advertisements, nonstop secular Christmas songs, and stereotypical American indebtedness to celebrate this season?  Let’s celebrate Advent, in word and in deed, as people of true faith.

–Pastor David

The End!

In Mark 13:1-13, Jesus says some rather dramatic things: the Temple will be destroyed, wars will come, and his followers will be persecuted.  In doing so, he uses language similar to that used by the Old Testament prophets Daniel and Isaiah (among others).  What in the world was he talking about?  And what does this have to do with Thanksgiving?  Listen to Pastor David’s message on this passage:

Listen now!

Was Jesus Ever Bullied?

This fall, I have the pleasure of working with a handful of fifth- and sixth-grade boys on a Boy Scout course entitled “God and Church.”  The course focuses on who Jesus is, what the church is about, and how we can plug in to the life and ministry of the church through worship and service.  So far, I have really enjoyed the time I’ve been able to spend with these boys and their parents on a weekly basis!

At our last meeting, we were talking about how much like us Jesus is – that is, how he is fully human and experienced things just like we do.  (The next session is about how Jesus is fully divine:  we believe both!)  During the course of our conversation, one of the boys asked me a very insightful question:

“Was Jesus ever bullied?”

photo by Eddie~S

That question made me stop and think for a while.  We often talk about how Jesus was tempted in every way, like we are, but never sinned (Hebrews 4:15).  We remember how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness (Matthew 4:1-11).  We remember how Jesus had real human emotions like anger (John 2:12-22), sorrow (John 11:32-37), love (Mark 10:17-21), and many others.  But was Jesus ever bullied?

We don’t know much about his childhood; just a couple of stories survive about those years, and none of them apply to this particular issue.  So we can’t say for sure that Jesus was bullied as a child.  But certainly there were occasions when Jesus as an adult was ignored, made fun of, or treated unfairly by other people:

  • During his ministry, Jesus’s own family – his very own mother and brothers – thought he was crazy and out of his mind.  (Can you imagine?  At least his mother Mary should have known better!)  They tried to make him keep quiet, stop teaching, and stop performing miracles.  He responded by reminding everyone that obeying God’s will is his highest priority.  (See Mark 3:20-35.)
  • Jesus instructed his followers to expect to be hated by others because of their belief in him.  Being a Christ-follower makes a person subject to the ridicule of other people, just as it did for Jesus himself and all the prophets of God before him.  Jesus responded to the world’s hatred of him by speaking the truth, trusting in God, and remaining faithful to his calling.  (See Luke 6:22-23, Matthew 24:9-10, and John 15:18-27.)
  • When Jesus had been sentenced to die by crucifixion, he was flogged mercilessly and was handed over to the Roman guards.  They stripped his clothes away and began to mock him:  they put a royal robe over his bleeding shoulders, and they made a royal crown – made of thorns, not gold – and forced it on his head.  They made fun of him, spat on him, and hit him on the head over and over again.  He responded by not saying a word through the whole affair.  (See Matthew 27:24-31.)
  • Even while he was hanging on the cross, in his final moments, Jesus was mocked by the soldiers, bystanders, and other criminals.  All were saying that if he really was the King of the Jews, why didn’t he save himself?  Jesus responded by asking God to forgive those who were hurting him and by speaking kindly to a dying man who asked Jesus to remember him.  (See Luke 23:33-43.)

“Was Jesus ever bullied?”  I think the answer is “absolutely, yes” – even if bullying looks slightly different today.  Many young people today are bullied in school and in other places, for many kinds of reasons.  This is an awful truth, and we as people of faith must stand up against bullies on behalf of the children in our community.

Jesus understands that terrible experience, too, on a personal level.  What’s more, he shows us all how we should respond:  by trusting in God, by remembering the truth about who we are as God’s children, and by relying on his strength for every day’s challenges.

–Pastor David

Election Time

You may have noticed that it’s almost election time here in the United States.  Incredible amounts of attention, time, and money have been poured into this election season, and all of this will come to a climax on Tuesday, November 6.  How should we, as followers of Jesus Christ, approach the elections – and their results, whatever those should be?

photo by Mortimer62

I’d like you to look up and read a few different Bible passages today.  First, consider Romans 13:1-7.  Paul is writing to Christians in Rome – the seat of the Roman Empire which persecuted early Christians.  And yet he encourages them to understand the governing authorities as rulers who have been put in place by God; therefore, Christians are to pay taxes, give honor and respect, and submit to those who are in authority – even those who might persecute them for their faith.  How blessed we are to live in a country in which power transfers peacefully and without threat of imprisonment or bloodshed for those who disapprove of those in power!  How much more important it is for us to fulfill the call of Romans 13 as citizens of this country!

Next, look up 1 Peter 2:13-25.  Here, Peter is writing to Christians in various places in southwest Asia, who again were being persecuted for the sake of Jesus Christ.  Like Paul wrote in Romans, Peter encourages his audience to respect, honor, and be subject to all types of human authority – even those that would cause them harm.  Peter’s rationale for this type of behavior is that those who suffer for the sake of Christ are imitating Christ and are becoming more like Christ.  After all, Jesus Christ suffered terribly at the hands of the government; he even died by capital punishment, and yet he never sinned but committed himself to God.  How blessed we are to be free from the threat of bodily harm because of our belief in Jesus!  Pray for those in our world today who do experience such harm!  And put 1 Peter 2 into action in your relationship to those in authority over you!

1 Timothy 2:1-8 calls us to pray consistently – and to be thankful – for our local, regional, and national leaders.  Jeremiah 29:1-7 calls us to work diligently for the good of our society, even if that society is foreign to us and is not our true home, as Babylon was for the Israelites in exile.

Friends, let me encourage you to do three things.  First, make sure you are informed about all of the issues and individuals, local and national, that will be on Tuesday’s ballot (even if you are reading this after Election Day).  Second, make sure you find time to vote, because voting is the legal, peaceful, authorized, and best way for us to make our voices heard.  Third, and most importantly, once the elections have passed, pray for those who are or will be in authority over us.  Respect those who are in authority over us.  And give thanks to God that these decisions and transitions can be made in our society without threat of violence.

And pray for those places in the world where that last sentence is not true.

–Pastor David