Empowered for Kingdom Service

This Sunday, Pastor David preached on Luke 4:14-21, the story of Jesus’s first sermon in his hometown, Nazareth.  What do Jesus’s choice of sermon text and Luke’s presentation of the story have to do with the walk of discipleship today?  And how does this connect to our church’s Guatemala mission trip which departs this Friday?  Click below to hear this week’s sermon and the accompanying commissioning prayer for our team.

Listen now!

Ash Wednesday Service

What is Ash Wednesday?  Why are we having a church service on that evening?  Isn’t that something that only Catholics do?  Pastor David, do you really expect us to put dirty ashes on our foreheads?

Those are all good questions, so don’t be afraid to ask them.  I’d like to try to answer them now for you so that you have a better idea of what this experience will be like.  To my knowledge, Mt. Haley has not had an Ash Wednesday service in a very long time, if ever, and certainly not in the past few years.

photo by The Cleveland Kid
photo by The Cleveland Kid

Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent, the season preceding Good Friday and Easter.  Typically, Lent is understood as a forty day period, the same length of time that Jesus spent in prayer and fasting in the wilderness before beginning his ministry (Luke 4:1-13).  Therefore many Christians will dedicate the period between Ash Wednesday and Easter to prayer and fasting.  (That is why people often speak of “giving up something for Lent.”)

Ashes are a biblical sign of mourning and repentance (Job 42:3-6).  Also, ashes remind us that we are dust and to dust we will return (Genesis 3:19).  That biblical truth is found in the midst of the story which explains why people die:  death is a direct result of our sinfulness.  So in the period of time that precedes Easter, Christians remember how our sinfulness separates us from God.  Only then does it make sense to celebrate Jesus’s resurrection on Easter Sunday:  he has conquered sin and death, and those who are in Christ experience victory over both.

I challenge you, then, to begin the season of Lent by coming to worship God at 7pm on Ash Wednesday, February 13.  This type of service is practiced by many different Christian groups, including but not limited to Roman Catholics.  We at Mt. Haley will not put ashes on our foreheads, but we will reflect on our need for repentance and forgiveness.  My prayer is that this service will help us enter a reflective state of mind throughout Lent, so that we might remember the beauty of Maundy Thursday, comprehend the magnitude of Good Friday, and celebrate wholeheartedly the victory of Easter Sunday.

–Pastor David

State of the Church

Every year, the President of the United States gives a “State of the Union” address.  This speech is usually designed to look back on the past year and to look ahead toward the opportunities in the future.  Today, I’d like for us to think about the “State of the Church” – specifically, the state of Mt. Haley Church of God.

photo by Brian Hathcock
photo by Brian Hathcock

Looking back on the past year in the life of this church, I see many high points.  We celebrated six baptisms on Easter Sunday.  We remodeled our youth room and have seen it begin to fill up on Sunday evenings with teenagers searching for God.  We have branched out with a weekly meeting for our sixth-grade youth, which has been very profitable and consistent.  We saw two adult discipleship groups spring up, a men’s and a women’s group, which met specific spiritual and relational needs for their members.  We worked with several local ministry organizations, such as the Mid-Michigan Teen Challenge and the Pregnancy Resource Center.  We held monthly men’s breakfasts for consistently strong groups of men from our community.  We learned about our spiritual giftedness and began thinking about how to put those gifts to use in creative ways.

Early in 2012, we asked the Lord for a reprieve from a series of deaths among our elderly members, and he saw fit to give us emotional rest for most of the year.  We channeled our energy toward positive improvements and ministry activities including our sound system upgrade, our upcoming Guatemala mission trip, and our sponsorship of a delegate to attend this June’s Global Gathering in Anderson.

We engaged in a fourteen-week study of the Book of Revelation on Sunday evenings.  A strong, consistent group of disciples came week after week to learn about this most confusing and challenging book of the Bible and about how the Church of God has interpreted it in the past century.  We were unafraid to ask difficult questions about scripture and our identity as people of God.  We found encouragement and challenge as we studied this book together.

All these and more are blessings from the Lord, reasons for us to celebrate his grace and give thanks for his guidance.  What, then, are the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead?  (These, by the way, can serve as areas of prayer for the coming year.)

We have seen new faces in our Sunday morning worship services, and for this we give thanks to God.  Yet our average attendance in 2012 was exactly the same as in 2011.  Real growth (numeric and spiritual) and consistent corporate worship are growing edges for us.

Our church council is in a prolonged state of transition.  Presently, we are searching for leaders to fill two specific leadership roles in the church.  This is an ongoing need for us, because the leadership of the congregation helps to set the tone for the congregation as a whole.

Our children’s ministry has relaxed in the past several months for many good reasons.  As we move ahead, this is one area that will need our collective attention:  how shall we minister to children?  (Hint: an effective way to attract adults to the church is to provide excellent ministries for their children.)

Our community and global outreach is continuing to shift and grow.  How can we become more aware of our neighbors and their needs?  How best can we meet the needs of people in our neighborhood so that the love of Christ shines through in all we do?  How can we make an impact for the kingdom of God in the world at large?

Our personal and corporate walks with the Lord must continue to move ahead.  We are called to grow in Christlikeness so that worship of God becomes something automatic for us:  not just Sunday morning attendance but an everyday kind of Christian faith.

My vision for Mt. Haley in 2013 is that we would become a people actively committed to our twofold mission, which is to grow in discipleship and to reach out to our world in the love of Christ.  Programs and people may come and go, but the goal remains the same:  to glorify God through our partnership together.  May God be blessed by our efforts in this new year!

“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?”

Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’  All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”  (Matthew 22:36-40 NIV)

–Pastor David

Thank you!

This is, perhaps, a bit belated, but I want to express my heartfelt thanks to all of you in the congregation for your kind outpouring of gifts, cards, chocolates (especially those!), and warm wishes during the recent Christmas season.  It is an honor to serve as your pastor, and Tara and I appreciated reading each card, reflecting on each family, and giving thanks for such a group of people with whom we have the privilege of working.  So thank you, one and all, for your many thoughtful gifts in the past month or so.

photo by visualpanic
photo by visualpanic

The letter known as James, written so many years ago, communicates relevant truths about gift-giving that can be useful for all of us in such a time as this.  In the early verses of this short letter, the author encourages Christians to remain faithful to the Lord even in times of testing.  Of course, the earliest Christians – along with some Christians in certain parts of today’s world – faced much more serious persecutions and trials than we experience in contemporary Western culture.  Yet the first gift that James mentions as being worthy of requesting from God is the same gift for which King Solomon yearned in the Old Testament days:  the gift of wisdom.  (See James 1:5.)

Oh, that we might all be wise in our living!  I ask the Lord frequently for wisdom in my service as your pastor; I hope that you ask God for wisdom frequently in your daily vocations, as well.  As generously as Mt. Haley showered Tara and me with Christmas gifts and cards last month, so much more generously will our God shower wisdom on those who ask him for it sincerely and in faith.

For as James teaches us, “All generous giving and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or the slightest hint of change” (James 1:17 NET).  How comforting to know that God’s character never changes:  that he is always generous, giving, and forgiving; that he is steadfast, consistent, and just.  The new life he has planted in us through Jesus Christ (see James 1:18) is perhaps the greatest gift God has given us, although it requires (and inspires) us to strive toward holiness and righteousness on an everyday basis.

God’s gift of life-changing wisdom causes the faithful to desire to live differently in ways that please the Giver.  In the same way, those who receive gifts from fellow human beings strive to honor their relationships so that the gifts do not fall empty and become meaningless.  Have you ever received a gift from someone and then worked diligently to strengthen that relationship because of that gift?  So should it be with our relationship with the Lord, in response to his gift of wisdom.

And so it will be in my relationship with you as Pastor of Mt. Haley Church of God.  In the new year, I pledge to renew my efforts to lead this congregation in ways that please God, the giver of all good and perfect gifts.  To God be the glory in 2013!

–Pastor David


Our Global Journey

What happens when three churches in different locations have pastors who are good friends with each other?  What happens when a call goes out for churches to join forces to support the upcoming Global Gathering this June in Anderson?  And how does our work together spring up from the example found in Philippians 4:10-20?  Click below to hear this joint sermon from Pastor David, Pastor Jonathan, and Pastor Shannon:

Listen now!

The Importance of (Total) Bible Reading

Have you ever read the Bible all the way through?  Have you done that more than once in your life?  Do you make a habit of reading scripture every day?  Or perhaps some days?  Or maybe once in a while?  Maybe you have a Bible that’s good at collecting dust on the shelf at home.  Or maybe you don’t even have a Bible at home at all.

I don’t offer any of those possibilities as an attempt to make you feel guilty or unrighteous – or holy or super-righteous, either.  It’s simply true that everyone has a different level of engagement with God’s written word.  Some people are more inclined to make it part of their everyday reading experience.  Others really have no desire to do anything with the Bible at all.  And there are many options in between.

photo by abcdz2000
photo by abcdz2000

So why read the Bible in the first place?  We believe that this book is God’s complete, inspired revelation of himself in written form:  everything we need to know about the Lord is included in its pages.  The full plan of salvation in Jesus Christ is there; a complete set of expectations for how we live, behave, and make choices is there.  Answers to life’s deepest questions are there; even those questions which have no answers are there.  The history of God’s relationship with his people is there.  It is trustworthy, reliable, verifiable, meaningful, hopeful, encouraging, challenging, comforting, disturbing, intriguing, revealing, and enlightening.  For anyone in a relationship with God, or for anyone wondering who God is, the Bible is indispensable reading material.

So why read the whole Bible, then?  Surely there are parts of it that are less interesting or useful than others.  (All those genealogies in the Old Testament, come on!)  I agree, some parts of the Bible are more appealing than others.  That’s because the Bible is comprised of many different genres of literature:  history, songs, philosophy, poetry, gospel stories, letters, prophecies, and so forth.  And each book of the Bible was written by a unique author (or authors) from a unique perspectives.  There’s a wealth of material to learn simply by reading and studying this book.

Jesus is the most important character in the Bible, of course, but his story becomes richer, fuller, more powerful, more complete when we read all of scripture with him in mind.  The entirety of the Bible – from Genesis through Revelation – is necessary reading material for the disciple of Jesus.

So have you read the Bible all the way through before?  If not, why not begin now?  But I’ll caution you:  if you haven’t read the Bible from start to finish before, don’t read it like a regular novel, starting on page 1 and going to the end.  I guarantee it, by the time you get to Leviticus or Numbers, you’ll run out of steam.  If you want to read the Bible all the way through, there are a bunch of plans and translations available to help keep it interesting.  Come talk with me any time – we’ll work on it together!

–Pastor David

How to be a Levite

It’s 2013, and that means new things are on the horizon!  At Mt. Haley, that is very true in an interesting way.  This year, one of our focuses will be on learning more about the nuts and bolts of how and why we worship God.  Once a month, after our Sunday morning service, we will have an event entitled “How to be a Levite.”  Each of these events will give you the opportunity to learn about the various roles and responsibilities of different people in our worship services.

In Old Testament days, Levites were people of the tribe of Levi – the tribe of Israelites who were in charge of the tabernacle of God.  Moses and his brother Aaron were from the tribe of Levi, and Aaron’s descendants became priests and Levites, people who were designated for leadership in the worship of God at the tabernacle and, later, the temple in Jerusalem.  Levites play a major role in the Old Testament, beginning in the book of Numbers.  Take a look at 1 Chronicles 15 and see how important the Levites were when King David brought the Ark of the Covenant to Jerusalem for the first time.

photo by Xavier68
photo by Xavier68

Have you ever wondered what it’s like to be an usher or a chairperson in our worship services?  Have you thought about reading scripture during the service, or perhaps have you wanted to improve your skills?  How about participating on a newly-forming drama team or singing with the praise team?  Why do we do all these things (and many more)?  And how do we do them well, so that God is praised by all who gather for worship?

Those are the kinds of questions that this series will address.  You are welcome to attend any or all of these sessions, regardless of whether you are interested simply in learning or in future participation.  Just stay after church on the announced Sunday, share in lunch with those who stay, and then enjoy learning about our worship services!

This month, on January 20, we will focus on our audio/visual systems.  How does our sound system work?  How does the projection system work?  Why are these systems vital to our worship experience?  How can we use these systems to help people worship well?  Stay after church on the 20th and we’ll discuss all these questions and more!

–Pastor David

January Youth Update

WOW!!!  What a way to end 2012!  Winter Retreat was AWESOME!  Honest words for our journey as followers of Jesus Christ. God’s word highlighted our identity in Christ, His words brought us into a fresh relationship with Jesus and His challenge was for us to “Sin no more” and spread the news of His love to our world.  Students accepted Christ, rededicated their walks, shared their struggles and looked to the ministry that Christ has for them.  Best of all, we bonded together and enjoyed our time together.  All that and fabulous fun too – tubing, swimming, winning the Dodge ball tournament, basketball, foosball and MORE!   We even brought home the traveling Winter Retreat trophy!  WOW!!!

Renew_2013As we begin the New Year, our youth accounts are “depleted” and we will need to grow them again. Coming in May will be the State Youth Convention with the band, The Afters, Onetime Blind, and our speaker, Raymond McElroy, the chaplain of the Chicago Bears.  ALSO, now is the time, to begin thinking and planning for the 2014 International Youth Convention in Nashville, TN.  Any student entering 9th grade in September of 2013 through one-year post-high school is eligible to participate and attend.  You will be hearing more and more.  In the meantime, no formal fundraising for January other than pop cans & printer cartridges.

On Sunday nights, we are all done with the topic,  “The Ten Commandments.”  We will begin on January 6 with “Getting By After the Spiritual High,” which will lead to a series on “Doing the Disciplines.”   The series will look at Bible Study, Prayer, Quiet time & Devotions, Service and Spreading the Word.  We will be looking into and discussing how to grow in our relationship with Jesus.  Should be FUN and CHALLENGING!  We will NOT have a Youth Meeting on Sunday, February 3rd and Tuesday, February 5th.  The Graham’s, the Adams, and the Aukerman’s will all be on a mission trip in Guatemala.  Pray for us!

We will be having a BOWLING party on Friday, January 25th to celebrate the end of the school semester.  Details will be coming SOON.  Our Winter Lock-In is tentatively set for Friday, February 15th.  These are both days when students do not have school.  We will NOT be having the February 3rd Super Bowl Party this year because of the Guatemala Mission Trip, February 1st – 8th.  Again, we ask for your prayers.

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