In like a Lion or will we experience the Lamb? Last week’s GRAD lesson was “The Lion and the Lamb” from Revelation so I have been weighing this in my mind for the last several days. February has been brutal with the low temperatures and the calling off of school for so many days. The brisk winter not only effects the schools but takes its toll on church participation as people don’t want to get out, we debate whether it’s safe for us to have youth or is it just too cold. Attendance in February has been down and we know one of the variables is the cold weather, but… I worry when Youth don’t attend two, three weeks and possibly even four weeks and don’t even see their families in church. And I know, once you get out of the habit of participating in church, it’s harder to come back. God’s word is still roaring like a lion and as gentle as a lamb – spreading the Gospel of Jesus Christ to one and everyone. Hopefully, our hard winter is gradually declining and we can come into March like a lamb and renew our commitment to God and His Kingdom.

And speaking of church, our Sunday nights are jumping into the topic “What Is The Church.” After many weeks of exploring who God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit were in our lives, we are now looking how Jesus ordained the church as a way to worship him. Luke 4:18 says: The Spirit of the Lord is on me because he has anointed me (Christ) to preach good news to the poor, He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” This was the fulfilling of prophesy and the preparation for the day of Pentecost, the Holy Spirit paying an extraordinary visit to a small group of Christians, empowering and galvanizing them into a dynamic, world-changing force. Acts very clearly paints a picture of the church as God ordained it. So, with using the scripture in Acts 2:42-47 He created a fellowship of believers which we now call the church:

They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common. They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2:42-47 NIV)

With our study of the church, we celebrate the birthday of the church, we learn how to “Stand Strong,” we take the “Church On The Road” and we understand “The Mission” of our lives and the church. Bible Study on Sunday mornings continues to look at “Purpose, Purity, Power and People” and will throughout the year. The GRADS @ Graham group on Sunday nights is studying “Why Revelation” and will be through March. We are half way through our study and our remaining lessons are: “By the Blood of the Lamb,” “Alas, Babylon,” “The Millennium,” and “We Shall See His Face.” Again, I would emphasize that Youth begins at 6:00 PM SHARP on Sunday nights, not at 6:15, 6:25, 6:40 or whenever and GRADS start at 8:15 PM. Your help in starting on time is appreciated!

Unfortunately, due to a variety of reasons the Lock-IN was postponed. People were out of town, had conflicts and we called it off when we only had 6 people coming on Wednesday before the Friday. The Lock-IN is a huge activity, needs extra adult supervision and has a higher cost than most local activities. Signing up for events is important to us in planning – so help us out! We are hoping to reschedule in April.

The time is coming for registration for the annual Michigan Church of God State Youth Convention held in Kalamazoo on the weekend of May 15-17, 2015. This year’s speaker is Reverend Doctor Todd Faulkner, campus minister of Anderson University, and the worship leaders are Alanna Story, a new and upcoming Christian band. If you register by March 29th, it’s $120 with a $40 deposit. After that, the costs go to $130 in April & $155 in May. We have a special deal for you this year. If you pay the $40 registration in March, the Mt. Haley Youth Ministry will match your $40 for a total of $80. THEN we will provide fundraisers to work on in April & May to complete the $40 balance. To have the match, you must register in March. Our fundraisers work best in April & May because the weather breaks and we can rake, collect pop cans, sell hanging baskets, our annual garage sale, gift cards etc. SO, plan ahead, save yourself $40 with the match and then earn the rest of the way to a great SYC!

On March 7, if you are a regularly attending High School student, we invite you to our annual MSLI (Michigan Servant Leadership Institute) Tune-UP. This is a one-day event in Battle Creek to challenge you in your walk with God. This year’s theme is “A Reason for God.” We will depart from the church around 8:00 AM to travel to Battle Creek, then the day begins at 11:00 AM with Worship, then a session called “When Bad Things Happen to Good People.” After a pizza lunch and some recreation, we go into the second session “The Bible is Not a Myth” followed by a snack, then the session “Why Do I Have to Follow the Rules.” It costs $5 (which Mt. Haley will pay) and wraps up around 4:00 PM. The only money you would need would be for dinner on the way home. It’s a great day, plus lots of fun.

Guatemala was AWESOME! Ask anyone on the mission and they will smile & give you lots of details. Although I spent most of the week sick, God was ever present in our adventures. Everyone had a blessed experience and we were able to truly feel community with the people of the TRACKS. A wall has now been completed preparing for the building of a house, art classes taught, hair cut, lots of clothes, etc. given away and the list goes on with the experiences we had. We were able to visit with my Mom & brother and they are doing well in Guatemala. Exciting experience in worship as several people accepted Christ as their personal Savior. PRAISE GOD! We are already beginning plans for next year which will probably be the first week in February and many other churches and people are interested in being involved. Registration will be in September and the fundraising for next year’s projects begins NOW. Awesome experience for all involved and a wonderful outreach for the church.

As soon as we returned from Guatemala, we immediately went into volunteering with the Housing for the Homeless Coalition up at the Community of Christ Camp in Sanford. What an easy way to spread God’s Kingdom by helping families in need – especially in the cold weather we have had – just by simply helping meet the needs of families who are down on their luck. We encourage others to join us next year in helping out. Also, on Thursday, March 5, from 5:30 -7:30 PM we will be helping to pack diapers for distribution at the Midland County Diaper Alliance. Come join in the fun and make a difference in our community.

The 360 Conference is in April and we hope to have people in attendance. Pastor Jerry will be speaking on “Becoming a Leader” at one of the sessions.

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 and our congregation for holding the youth up in PRAYER.

Love God, Love People, Live It!

Blessings, Pastor Jerry

You know the story of Cinderella, right? A beautiful daughter is mistreated by her stepmother and stepsisters, who force her to do all the dirty work of the house. When the Prince announces a ball so that he can choose a wife, Cinderella is not allowed to attend – that is, not until her fairy godmother appears. The rest, as you know, is history: the dress, the pumpkin carriage, the dancing, the stroke of midnight, the glass slipper, the happily ever after.

It’s a classic story, but really the only thing most of us share with Cinderella is the menial housework which we all must do. Most of us don’t marry royalty or attend fancy events. Designer shoes and limousines are rare luxuries. And “happily ever after”? Well, for many of us, that remains to be seen.

In the meantime, all we have time for is mean, ordinary work. Sometimes the “daily grind” can feel as meaningless as picking lentils out of a pile of ashes.

Do you ever feel like church is that way, too? Do worship services feel repetitive, mundane, and even boring to you? Do you feel obligated or required to come to church? It’s all right if you say “yes” – I won’t tell anyone.

Take a look at Leviticus 6:8-13, a passage we came across last week in the course of our “Chronological Bible” reading. Leviticus is full of regulations, procedures, and rules about how the ancient Israelites were supposed to worship God while wandering in the wilderness. And let’s be honest: some of the chapters in Leviticus are downright boring for us to read. (Just think how the Israelites must have felt as they wandered aimlessly for forty years!)

In this passage, God gives the priests instructions about how to care for the burnt offering that was to be presented continuously before God. Each morning, the priest on duty was to wake up, put on his special priestly clothes, get ready to go to work, and then…

…collect the ashes from last night’s sacrifice.

And then he had to put on his regular clothes. He was then allowed to take the ashes outside the camp to the dump site. The priestly linen clothing was only worn for the menial morning task: Cinderella’s housekeeping work.

What was so special about those ashes? Why was the priest required to wear fine linen clothes for a job that would more than likely get them dirty? And why did the cleaning job require special clothes, but taking out the trash called for a different costume?

I don’t have good answers to these questions. But what I do know is this: these few verses point out the importance of treating God with great respect. The very mundane act of sweeping up yesterday’s sacrificial ashes was worthy of special attire. Being in God’s presence, even for that short amount of time, required priestly clothes – a symbol for the priest’s attitude of humility and holiness.

Every Christian is a priest, in the biblical sense: each of us can offer “spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2:5 NIV). As we do the work of worship, let us pursue humility and holiness before the Lord. Every encounter with God is a unique and meaningful experience, no matter how mundane the activity may seem to us. There is great value in worship, because it is a service that we give to God.

After all, someday the Prince of Peace will come again, and, yes, there will be a “happily ever after” for his Bride. In the meantime, let us express our love for God by worshiping him regularly, joyfully, and intentionally – even in the ordinariness of our worship, and even in the ordinariness of our lives.

February 22 was “Freedom Sunday,” a day in which churches from many different denominations joined forces to learn, pray, study, think, and act about the problem of human trafficking in today’s world. The evils of this industry make us wonder if God is aware or capable of doing anything about it. But Psalm 10 speaks a louder truth: God is King of the universe and will bring about justice for the oppressed. Listen in to Pastor David’s message on this special day!

Listen now!

“In God We Trust” – or do we? Once, Jesus sat in the temple and watched people put money in the offering plate. He praised the poor widow who gave her last two coins, rather than the rich who gave much more money. What good was her gift? Listen in to Pastor David’s message on Mark 12:41-44, the last in our series on tithing and stewardship.

Listen now!

Every year since Eisenhower, the President gives a speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, held on the first Thursday in February. This year’s speech has gotten a lot of press on account of one sentence, in which President Obama mentioned the Crusades in connection with a discussion of religiously motivated violence throughout the world’s history.

I won’t be commenting on that sentence. There is already enough commentary on the comparisons between Islamic extremists and Christian extremists. Your opinion on that subject is probably already made up, and I would just be wasting your time by writing more about it.

So I’ll write about something else: what President Obama actually said. His 20-minute speech was about much more than the Crusades. (In fact, he only mentioned them once, and here I’ve mentioned them twice already!) You can read the transcript of his speech online. Just go to this site:

(As you read, remember that every U.S. President presides over a nation made up of many different religions.)

President Obama highlights three principles “that can guide us, particularly those of us who profess to believe”:

  1. Humility. I believe the President is right on the mark when he says that “the starting point of faith is some doubt.” Faith is not something that can be proven beyond the shadow of a doubt. Instead, faith is “being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Hebrews 11:1 NIV). We are not the owners of truth; we are not the determiners of truth. As the President says, “our job is not to ask that God respond to our notion of truth – our job is to be true to him, his word, and his commandments.”
  2. The distinction between faith and government. Our nation does not sponsor a religion; we are not forced to be of one faith or another. A very real strength of this approach is that those who believe can express their beliefs “from the heart.” President Obama doesn’t use the language of the “experience of salvation” (a Wesleyan phrase), but he could. The separation of church and state gives us room to experience the grace of God freely in our lives, which leads, I believe, to more authentic practices of faith. (Yes, I do realize that Wesley was British and did not have separation of church and state. But that didn’t stop him from experiencing his faith!)
  3. The Golden Rule. Nearly all religions contain a command that we should treat other people the way we want to be treated. “Love your neighbor as yourself.” “Put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony.” And President Obama hits the nail on the head when he says that this love must be expressed in “not just words, but deeds.” This also is a Wesleyan concept: that true faith and belief must be expressed, tangibly, experientially, sacrificially, in service toward those in need. People of faith should indeed be involved in efforts to end injustice, poverty, hunger, homelessness, and “the sin of modern-day slavery and human trafficking.”

You know, this really is a pretty good three-point sermon by the President. These are strong thoughts, worthy of reflection and meditation – and action. I believe he does well to put humility at the top of the list. We all need so much more of that attitude. And he does very well to give such practical applications as a response: if, indeed, #JesusIsTheSubject, then perhaps the #CHOGTraffickLight initiative is an appropriate step of faith. (See for more information.)

All politics aside, I am very impressed by this speech at the National Prayer Breakfast.

Now, what was that about the Crusades?

This Sunday we heard testimonies from the men of Mid-Michigan Teen Challenge – tremendous stories of transformation in Christ! Pastor David then gave a short reflection on the sermon text for the day, Mark 1:29-39, a day in the life of Jesus, in which he answers the question of why he exists. Maybe his answer can help us with the same question!

Listen now!

Everyone loves a storybook ending, right? The good guy is celebrated, the bad guys get what’s coming to them, and everything is right in the world. We leave the novel, the television, or the movie theater with a sense of contentment: things are just how they are supposed to be.

“The LORD blessed the latter part of Job’s life more than the first… he had seven sons and three daughters… After this, Job lived a hundred and forty years; he saw his children and their children to the fourth generation.” (Job 42:12,13,16 NIV)

Check it out: Job received twice as many sheep, camels, oxen, and donkeys as he had lost at the beginning of the story. He was given exactly as many sons and daughters as were lost in the tragedy of chapter 1 (although surely these new children could not replace his first children). Job comes out of his tremendous loss on top of the world once again!

But something isn’t quite right here. Usually in a storybook ending we can identify why the hero is victorious in the end: perhaps he beat the enemy, or he remained true to his principles, or he survived the conflict, or he learned an important lesson. In the case of Job, all four of these things are somewhat true, but they are not the climax of Job’s activity, growth, or development as a character.

Throughout the book, Job has been complaining against God and arguing for his innocence. The pervasive question throughout the book is “Why?” – why have these terrible things happened to an otherwise nice, successful, upright guy?

Finally, of course, God enters the scene and speaks to Job and his friends (chapters 38-41). God is shown to be righteous and all-powerful. And what is Job’s response to God? How does Job change? What does he do to “deserve” the blessings God was about to give him?

Two things: he repented before God, and he prayed for his friends.

In just a few words, Job expresses his newfound humility before God: God is God, and Job is not. And then, silently, without fanfare, Job prays for his friends – the three with whom God was angry for speaking falsely, the three who had tried (unsuccessfully) to convince Job he had sinned and thus had deserved his tragic state.

Job repented before God and prayed for those who had wronged him. And then God blessed him tremendously.

Now, I do not believe Job “forced God’s hand” or somehow manipulated God into blessing him. Job did not earn God’s blessings. But he put himself in a spiritual position to be able to receive what God had in store for him.

Repentance and praying for friends (even enemies). Seeking humility before God and seeking the welfare of others.

What if our lives were marked by such developments in our character? What if we actually have very little to do with bringing about storybook endings to situations in our lives? What if we humbly pursue relationship with God and peace with others? What might our world look like?

Isn’t that just how things are supposed to be?

Two stories in Luke 1819 illustrate how hard – yet how possible – it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God. One character “gets it,” while the other walks away disappointed from Jesus. What does this have to do with our tithes and offerings (and other tangible acts of service)? Listen in to Pastor David’s message:

Listen now!