Going to Town

photo by salvobrick
photo by salvobrick

Over the past few years, I have learned the art of “going to town” – that is, combining errands into one trip so that we don’t drive 40 minutes round-trip simply to get eggs and a gallon of milk.  You see, life in Indianapolis was much different for us:  we could get to a grocery store, the bank, or the post office in only five minutes.  Living here in the country, in the neighborhood of the church, has changed our approach to life, at least in that regard.

“Going to town” is something we plan for, something we do intentionally, with wisdom, and with purpose.  This attitude is heightened when it involves catching a plane in Flint or a show in Toledo.

How much more should we be careful, intentional, and excited about going the city of God!

By “the city of God,” I don’t just mean heaven.  Yes, we should be careful about going there, of course.  But I believe “the city of God” refers to the way God helps us settle in his presence – beginning even in this life, and continuing into eternity.  Read these words, which we read in worship on separate weeks earlier this month:

Give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures forever. Let the redeemed of the Lord say this– those he redeemed from the hand of the foe, those he gathered from the lands, from east and west, from north and south. Some wandered in desert wastelands, finding no way to a city where they could settle. They were hungry and thirsty, and their lives ebbed away. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble, and he delivered them from their distress. He led them by a straight way to a city where they could settle. Let them give thanks to the Lord for his unfailing love and his wonderful deeds for men, for he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.  … Whoever is wise, let him heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord. (Psalm 107:1-9, 43 NIV)

“How can I give you up, Ephraim? How can I hand you over, Israel? … My heart is changed within me; all my compassion is aroused. I will not carry out my fierce anger, nor will I turn and devastate Ephraim. For I am God, and not man– the Holy One among you. I will not come in wrath. They will follow the Lord; he will roar like a lion. When he roars, his children will come trembling from the west. They will come trembling like birds from Egypt, like doves from Assyria. I will settle them in their homes,” declares the Lord. (Hosea 11:8-11 NIV)

Instead, they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared a city for them. (Hebrews 11:16 NIV)

Be intentional about following God on the journey.  Cry out to God when you are lost, and give thanks when the way is made clear for you.  And remember:  God is in the business of expressing his love for us by providing places, physical and spiritual, in which we can settle.

–Pastor David

September Youth Update

What a SUMMER! The Mt. Haley Youth Ministry has had a summer to remember!  We just returned yesterday from a camping trip to Mio for camping, tubing, a cook-out with the Mio Youth, Sunday morning service with the Mio Church of God, fun, food and lots of conversation, teasing and bonding.  It was a great weekend!  Thank you Jo & Lawrence Adams and Darren Allen for helping to host the weekend.  We shared this month in the Midland County Fair, Michigan Adventure, and the St. Louis Camp Meeting while Connie & I even sneaked in a trip to Atlanta, Georgia to visit our son & wife.  As you are reading this, Labor Day Weekend is approaching or you have celebrated it already.  We are excited because our kids are coming home for the weekend.  We hope you have a great weekend!

School & the Mt. Haley Rally Day are coming up quickly.  On Sunday, September 8 after the morning service we will be gathering at the parsonage for food, excitement, games, a softball game, volleyball and lots of fun together.  WE INVITE EVERYONE TO COME!   (It will be in the Fellowship Hall if raining.)

On Sunday, September 15, 2013, the new youth year begins with our first weekly 6:00pm meeting. We will be having youth for 6th & 7th grade boys every Tuesday with the same arrangements as last year. We will begin the year with a four-week study called “The Circle Makers.”  Youth is EVERY Sunday evening unless otherwise noted.  One week we will tentatively NOT have youth will be Sunday, November 10th because Connie & I will be attending the baptism of one of our granddaughters.  We will continue our Bible Study every Sunday morning @ 10:00am with “The Parables of Jesus.”  We always encourage you and our students to attend our Morning Worship Service @ 11:00am on Sundays.  All families should have received the new 2013-2014 Permission Slip in the mail and we hope to have those turned in ASAP.

photo by Bahman Farzad
photo by Bahman Farzad

We are having a MUM sale on Saturday and Sunday, September 7th & 8th from 3:00 – 5:00pm (Saturday) and until 4:00pm on Sunday.  There will be 75 plants of various colors delivered to Mt. Haley and on a first come, first served basis, plants may be purchased for $9 each, or 3 for $25.  Students may take pre-orders for the mums and earn $4 per plant for their youth accounts, or you may designate purchases for individual students.  We thank you in advance for your support of the youth.  There will be other projects coming up such as doing yard work, sponsoring a meal at the church’s business meeting in October, plus working other fundraisers.

On Wednesday, September 25, 2013, the annual “See You At The Pole” event will be held at our local high schools & middle schools.  SYATP is an opportunity for our students to gather around their school flagpole and pray for their school, their friends, their families and anything else that could be a matter of prayer.  Watch for more details as the day becomes closer.  Join in with the students and pray for them that early morning!  Prayer Makes a Difference!

In the last week of September (day to be determined) there will be a parent & student meeting about attending the International Youth Convention in July of next summer in Nashville, TN.   A $115 Early Bonus Bird Registration is due by December 12, 2013.  We will need to discuss purpose, missions, fundraising and other important details.  We hope you will come and hear about this wonderful opportunity for your kids.

We have had an information meeting about Guatemala and the $100 Registration for the mission trip is due by Sunday, September 8th.  This is generally for adults but we have had older youth participate also.  If you have any questions, please feel free to contact me.

As the new school year begins, we know that the students are involved in many activities after school and on weekends.  One of my favorite things to do is attending & providing encouragement and support for your son or daughter as well as joining you in the stands. If your student runs cross country, cheers, plays in the band, acts in a play, whatever it is, PLEASE let me know – I try to follow schedules, but it really helps when I am informed of events.  Thanks for your help.

September brings the third year of serving Mt. Haley as your Youth Pastor and we are extremely excited for the opportunities, the challenges and the privileges of sharing Jesus Christ with the youth, the parents, the church and community.  We have been abundantly blessed with the love, support and encouragement as the ministry has grown spiritually and in numbers. We anticipate further growth as the students spread the word and share with their friends the good news of Christ and the ministry happening at Mt. Haley.  Please encourage your kids to share and bring their friends as we grow each Sunday, PLUS we want you to know you are always welcomed also. Special thanks also go to Lawrence and Jo Adams as they so generously share their lives, gifts and talents to help out with our teens.  May we give all the glory to Christ our King!

Parents and Church, 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!
Blessings, Pastor Jerry

Approach With Caution

How should God’s covenant with us affect our worship of God?  Hebrews 12:18-29 contrasts the covenant scene of the Ten Commandments with our current situation in Christ.  In very dramatic language, scripture calls us to approach the Lord with caution, for “our God is a consuming fire.”  Listen to Pastor David’s message on this passage, which prepared the Mt. Haley congregation for the Lord’s Supper:

Listen now!

Good News

By now, you probably have heard the story of Antoinette Tuff, the Georgia school bookkeeper who this week helped to prevent a tragic school shooting by talking with the 20-year-old man who entered the school armed with an AK-47.  Many people are talking about, writing about, and celebrating the heroic actions and bravery of this woman.  Ms. Tuff kept the potential shooter talking while he decided what to do: whether to attack students and staff, injure himself, or surrender to the police.  For half an hour, she kept calm and spoke wisdom to this young man until, ultimately, he laid down his gun without having injured or killed a single person.

photo by Br3nda
photo by Br3nda

This is a tremendous story of love and compassion in action.  I want to highlight a few principles for us to consider:

  • This threat was met with the love of Christ.  As I listened to the recording of Ms. Tuff’s 911 call, I was amazed by how she spoke kindly to him, treated him with compassion, and even told him that she loved him.  She spoke openly of pain in her past that led her to consider suicide, but she reassured him that this was not the best answer.  She told him that she was proud of him for giving up without hurting anyone.  The love of Christ is powerful, because even in tense and dangerous situations, this love empowers us to treat other people as human beings with real needs.  “So in everything, do to others as you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 7:12 NIV).
  • This threat was met with nonviolence.  This story should be a powerful reminder to us that dangerous situations can be handled appropriately with nonviolence.  Historically, the Church of God is a peace-loving organization.  We believe that the way of Jesus is one of peace, not violence; hope, not fear; love, not anger.  Jesus instructed a disciple to sheathe his sword when the Lord was arrested (Matthew 26:50-52).  Jesus himself, while being beaten and ridiculed, did not fight back against his assailants (Luke 22:63-66).  Even when the end result was his own death, Jesus was never violent – and his disciples carried on that tradition at his instruction.
  • This threat was met with preparation.  School employees undergo regular training on what to do in exactly this scenario.  Ms. Tuff gave witness to that after the fact; the training helped her handle the situation with her instincts.  Put differently, the training formed her into the kind of person that could appropriately handle this potential shooting.  Jesus was tempted by the devil before beginning his ministry (Matthew 4:1-11).  Jesus invested heavily in his disciples so they would know how to behave after his death, resurrection, and ascension.  Later, Paul instructed young Timothy to persist in his spiritual practices so that his life would be transformed, along with the lives of those around him (1 Timothy 4:12-16).

What would our lives look like if we were to live by the love of Christ, an attitude of nonviolence, and daily spiritual preparation?  How would we – and our culture – be transformed?

–Pastor David

All or Nothing

This Sunday was a special day: three of our young people were baptized during the morning service!  In this sermon, which came immediately before the baptisms, Pastor David preached on Hebrews 11:29-12:3, a passage that encourages us to remember that we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses.  Listen in to this message on how God calls us to be faithful to him in all circumstances:

Listen now!

Looking Forward

Hebrews 11:1-3, 8-16 describes the nature of faith and illustrates faith through the example of Abraham.  God promised Abraham both land and descendants, but Abraham never saw the fulfillment of either of those promises.  And yet he looked forward to a heavenly city built by God.  What does this have to do with hope in today’s world?  How should we view heaven – and how should we view earth?  Click here for Pastor David’s message on this passage.

Listen now!


A few weeks ago, our sermon text was Genesis 18:1-11, the story in which Abraham is visited by three mysterious guests.  The text of Genesis is very clear: these were not simply ordinary guests, but in this encounter, God appeared to Abraham.  This is very unusual, because throughout our scriptures, God does not make a habit of appearing to individuals.  When God does show up, it is usually in the Old Testament, and even then the form used in Genesis 18 is unique.  Only here does God reveal himself to someone in the form of three people.

"Abraham and the Three Visitors" by Tissot
“Abraham and the Three Angels” by Tissot

Early Christian theologians jumped on the number “three” and concluded that this was an appearance of the Trinity in the Old Testament.  They suggested that the three men could easily be the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.  The History Channel’s recent miniseries The Bible even portrayed this story with three actors, one of whom – though his face was always hidden from the camera – played role of Jesus later on in the program.  (Remember, our church has a DVD copy of this series which you may borrow any time!)  However, finding the Trinity in Genesis 18 is an example of “reading into the text” – that is, making scripture say something that it doesn’t intend to communicate.

Genesis 18 is ambiguous and vague about the identity of Abraham’s three visitors.  This certainly is God visiting Abraham, but the story is intentionally obscure.  What is important to the story is not who the three men are, but rather what the three men are there to do.  (In this case, they are there to make clear God’s promise that Abraham and Sarah would have a son, Isaac, within a year.)

One of my Bible commentaries contains this quote in reference to the Genesis 18 story:

“Obscurity is story’s way of telling us the truth about this God with whom we daily have to do, by reminding us of God’s hiddenness, of the concreteness of God’s revelation, and of the impossible possibilities that are open to all who believe.” (quoted in Victor P. Hamilton, The Book of Genesis: Chapters 18-50, New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Eerdmans Publishing Co.: Grand Rapids, 1995), p. 8)

God is far beyond our comprehension, and yet he has revealed himself to us in scripture and in Jesus of Nazareth.  God is constantly among us through the Holy Spirit, and yet we sometimes have difficulty in discerning God’s presence in times of difficulty.  God has power to do all things, and yet we can ignore what we consider “impossible possibilities.”

I am not theologically thrilled that The Bible miniseries used the actor who played Jesus to be one of the three guests who visited Abraham in its portrayal of this story.  However, I am thankful that, at the very least, he was obscured from our view during that scene.

Let us always remember that we do not have God figured out.  God is a profound mystery, one who chooses to reveal himself to us in specific ways for specific reasons.  Let us lean into the obscurity of the Bible’s stories, because through obscurity we are reminded of how great and mysterious God is.

–Pastor David

Old-Fashioned Hymn Sing

Last night, I had the privilege of leading a unique kind of experience to open this year’s 120th annual St. Louis Campmeeting:  an “old-fashioned hymn sing.”  Pastor Jim Sirks (from Battle Creek) and I played our guitars to accompany a crowd of over 100 that gathered in the old tabernacle on the St. Louis campgrounds.  This event kicked off the campmeeting in stellar fashion, and I’d like to share a few reflections with you about the evening.

hymnal4In the Church of God, we have a diverse collection of songs.  For this event, I selected sixteen of our “heritage hymns,” songs written by some of the earliest people in our movement.  I grouped these sixteen into four groups of four, each group revolving around a different theme:  Songs of Praise, Songs of Gratitude, Songs of Testimony, and Songs of Commitment.  There may be other types of songs in our heritage, but even these four groups reveal a wide variety of songs in our tradition that can be used for any occasion.  (By the way, we sang all the verses of all sixteen songs, and the whole event lasted only an hour.)

In the Church of God, we have people who can sing four part harmony.  The acoustics of the old tabernacle – a small, open-air, wooden building with lots of hard surfaces – added to the musical experience produced by two acoustic guitars and a hundred voices.  These were songs that people knew and wanted to sing.  And many sang the parts (alto, tenor, bass) they have learned and have known for many years.  Singing in harmony is a gift from God, and it does something spiritually to connect people together in worship.  Worship (including but not limited to singing) is a communal activity, something we do together and not alone.  (Remember that electronic amplification is less than a century old – newer than many of the songs we sang last night!)

In the Church of God, we sing what we believe.  In late 19th Century America, church music was an instructional tool that helped people learn the contours of our faith.  So much of our early heritage music contains a tremendous amount of theology.  While we did not reflect on the theology of all sixteen songs last night, I did highlight one hymn in particular:  “The Bond of Perfectness” by D.S. Warner.  One of my seminary professors, Dr. Gil Stafford (previously pastor of East Ashman Church of God in Midland), once said that this was the epitome of Church of God theology in lyrical form, because it blends together our understandings of holiness and unity so beautifully:

How sweet this bond of perfectness, the wondrous love of Jesus;
A pure foretaste of heaven’s bliss, oh, fellowship so precious!

Oh, brethren, how this perfect love unites us all in Jesus!
One heart, and soul, and mind we prove the union heaven gave us.

Oh, praise the Lord for love divine that binds us all together;
A thousand chords our hearts entwine, forever and forever.

“God over all and in us all,” and through each holy brother;
No pow’r of earth or hell, withal, can rend us from each other.

Oh, mystery of heaven’s peace! Oh, bond of heaven’s union!
Our souls in fellowship embrace, and live in sweet communion.

These reasons, and several more, are why I am committed to having us sing at least one of our heritage hymns in each of our Sunday morning worship services.  Which are your favorites?

–Pastor David