Friends, I know the past season in our church life has been very difficult, very stressful.

Since the end of May, we have had three ambulance visits to Mt. Haley, for three different church members. You all remember, of course, that R.H. passed away while working on our church property earlier this summer. Then two Sundays ago, D.S. had a non-epileptic seizure during church, and this past Sunday, D.O. had a small stroke during church. (I’m using their initials rather than their full names because we try to be sensitive when sharing this kind of information online.)

It’s enough to make anyone a little leery of coming back to church next week.

I am reminded of the words of the Old Testament prophet Isaiah, which Jesus himself quoted at the beginning of his ministry:

“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me 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.” (Luke 4:18-19 NIV)

Interestingly, Jesus quoted Isaiah a little differently than Isaiah appears in our English translations today. In particular, one phrase from Isaiah 61:1-2 is missing from Jesus’s words – not because Jesus didn’t believe this or was somehow twisting scripture, but because translations are sometimes complicated and tricky after hundreds and hundreds of years. The noteworthy phrase for us in Isaiah 61 is this:

“He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted.” (Isaiah 61:1 NIV)

We usually think of “brokenhearted” as describing someone who has lost a loved one or who has gone through a painful breakup or divorce. Most often, “brokenhearted” describes something relational, a state of being overcome by grief or despair. The closer the relationship, the deeper the brokenheartedness.

And you know what? If you are feeling a bit brokenhearted by the recent stressful situations at church, that’s a good thing – because it means that your relationships with other people at church are important to you. I would be concerned if you weren’t feeling kind of desperate at this point in time.

I know I am! After this past Sunday’s incident, I was reminded of Rosemary Gifford, who passed away just a year and a half ago. Rosemary always said that bad things always happen in sets of three. If two people close to her died, then she was unsettled until a third person died, and then she could relax a bit. Oddly, that pattern seemed to hold true for a long time.

So now we have had our set of three visits by paramedics to Mt. Haley. That’s it, right? We’re finished with this medical emergency business, right?

I sure hope so.

It’s time for God to bind up the brokenhearted around here. It’s time for us to draw closer to each other, reaffirm our faith in Jesus Christ together, and be strengthened by the power of the Holy Spirit. In reality, God has already begun doing that work, and God will continue doing that work for as long as it takes.

There is no guarantee that we won’t have another medical emergency at church in the near future. We could have another this coming Sunday.

But the good news is that Jesus has entered into this world to preach good news to the poor, to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

One thing is for certain: Jesus is still in our midst. His presence joins us each time we gather together. And in a special way, we will recognize his presence this coming Sunday when we share Communion together.

So come. Don’t be afraid. Rest in the presence of Jesus. Remember to pray for D.S. and D.O. and all the others. Read Ephesians out loud once again. And allow God to begin binding up your broken heart, to ease your grief and despair, by drawing you close to him and close to your brothers and sisters in Christ.

I’ll see you Sunday.

Pastor David

This Sunday is Valentine’s Day. Will our service be all about love? Nope. This is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. We will begin to follow Jesus on his journey to the cross.

The theme this Sunday is “finding our home in God’s presence.” Being rooted in our relationship with God is what helps us make sense of our lives and the world around us. “Home” is a powerful concept, a metaphor for all that is (or should be) right, safe, true, and lasting in our lives. It is in the presence of God that we can find our best and most perfect home. Continue reading

Happy New Year! On this second Sunday of January, we will worship the Lord in song and through scripture:

  • Welcome/Announcements: We take care of the business of the church.
  • Opening Prayer: We invite God to be attentive to our worship of him.
  • “Whom Shall I Fear?”: We sing a song of praise that reminds us that God is always right by our side.
  • Responsive Reading (Psalm 29): We recite an ancient song that celebrates the power of God and the peace that he gives his people.
  • “God of Wonders”We continue in praise by worshiping the Lord of heaven and earth.
  • Offering: We give our tithes and offerings as an act of thanksgiving to our almighty Lord.
  • “Victory in Jesus”: We sing a song of testimony, because the power of God transforms our lives!
  • Scripture Reading (Isaiah 43:1-7): The Old Testament prophet reminds us that God loves us and is always with us.
  • “Wonderful Peace”: This hymn of reflection speaks of the peace we have because God is with us.
  • Scripture Reading (Luke 3:15-17, 21-22): In this gospel reading, John the Baptist points the way to Jesus and then baptizes Jesus.
  • “Open My Eyes That I May See”: As a response to the glory revealed at Jesus’s baptism, we prepare for prayer by asking God to open our eyes to see Jesus, too.
  • Prayer: We lift up our requests before the ever-present, ever-loving Lord.
  • Special MusicOur faithful piano player Deann Smith will present an instrumental offering of worship to the Lord.
  • Message: Our guest preacher for the day will be Pastor Jim Shanks, a good friend of ours from Eagle Ridge Church of God.
  • “Consecration”: We close the service by consecrating ourselves to the Lord’s service.
  • Benediction: We depart in peace, knowing that Christ goes with us everywhere we go.

Come and worship!

This Christmas Eve, Pastor David led us in a reflection on an ancient Christian hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” which has lyrics that date back to at least the 9th Century.  The seven stanzas of this hymn contain a powerful message that you won’t want to miss.  Listen in to this message and celebrate the great truth that Jesus Christ is indeed here with us – and that he will be here again soon!

Listen now!

You can read the Latin and English lyrics by downloading this PDF file, which shows the back side of tonight’s order of worship:  VeniVeni.pdf

The Importance of Seasons

photo by sant.o

“There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under the heavens…” (Ecclesiastes 3:1 NIV)

Our lives are marked by the passage of time.  We celebrate birthdays and anniversaries; we have graduation ceremonies; we throw retirement parties.  Major events and milestones are represented by entire sections of Hallmark greeting cards.  As human beings created by God, we have been given the ability to remember and the ability to sense the passage of time in order to help us make sense of our existence.

This is different than, say, the life of a dog.  Our dogs have no sense of time (beyond when it’s time to eat, sleep, or go outside).  They do not place any emphasis on the day of their birth.  They do not celebrate the anniversary of when they came into our home.  And they certainly don’t send greeting cards to other people at specific times of the year – although I think I’ve seen a few cards for sale that claim to be sent from someone’s pet.

Today marks the beginning of “deer season” – or more appropriately, as I’ve learned in the past year, “firearm season.”  For the next few weeks, many people in our church and community will spend a great deal of time outdoors looking and waiting for just the right shot to take.  The anticipation I’ve seen several men express before this day came reminds me of the anticipation children have in the days leading up to Christmas.  There’s a raw, palpable excitement in the air as we have been preparing for this season.

Thank God for the gift of seasons!  Can you imagine how dull and uninteresting life might be if it were always rifle season, or always winter, or always baseball season?  (I’m serious!  Sometimes a bad baseball season just needs to come to an end.)  As Ecclesiastes 3 reminds us, life is full of seasons, or times when certain actions or feelings are more natural than others.  I believe this is part of God’s design for humanity:  to know seasons, to know change, to recognize that time is passing, to live with an awareness that we have the potential to grow.

Ecclesiastes 3:11 says that God “has made everything beautiful in its time.  He has also set eternity in the human heart; yet no one can fathom what God has done from beginning to end” (NIV).

We are always aware of the change in our seasons.  In this we are a step ahead of our canine friends.  Are we as aware that God is so much more complex and amazing than even we can imagine?  Can we begin to wrap our minds around what God has done throughout all history?

And to think that the fullness of God dwells in the person of Jesus!  (See Colossians 1:15-20.)  What an astounding thought:  that we are invited to know this Jesus personally, intimately, deeply; to worship him, to learn from him, to be forgiven by him, to become more like him on a daily basis.  How amazing!  This is a truth that is worth sharing with others.  It is one that will never go out of season.

–Pastor David

A Testimony of Thankfulness

“We thank You, O God!  We give thanks because You are near.  People everywhere tell of Your wonderful deeds.” (Psalm 75:1 NLT)

Word travels quickly in a small church, and if you’re reading this on paper, then this is probably old news to you:  this week, I was involved in a car crash.  On the way to the Detroit airport, my sister-in-law and I got off the highway for a pit stop, and we were rear-ended by another driver while I was changing lanes.  Both Leah and I were unharmed except for some soreness the next morning, and to the best of my knowledge, the other driver was not seriously hurt.  Leah’s car, which I was driving, is pretty well banged up, though.

Automobile accidents like these are such random occurrences.  Any number of choices, actions, or other incidents could have changed the outcome of this event.  If only we had left home a minute or two earlier or later; if only I had set the cruise control a hair lower when we first got on the highway; if only we had to stop for gas before we left home…

I am reminded of the terrible collision that occurred in 2006, while I was a math teacher at Taylor University in Indiana.  You may have heard of it:  a semi-truck crossed the median and hit a van full of Taylor students and staff going the opposite direction.  Four students and a staff member were killed; the driver, the front passenger, and one other student survived.  Here, the “if only”s involve microseconds:  a split second one direction, and no collision happens; a split second the other direction, and the driver, the front passenger, and the other surviving student may not have been so fortunate.

Does God design these events to happen?  Does God control the variables?  Does God determine who survives car crashes and who doesn’t?

In times like these, it’s helpful for me to count our blessings, with the full awareness that many other people have not been so fortunate.  I am thankful that we were hit squarely in the back of the car and not on either the driver’s or passenger’s sides.  I am thankful that there was no oncoming traffic, so we were able to careen to the other side of the street without causing more destruction.  I am thankful that Leah was able to make her flight on time, thanks to the police officer calling a cab for us.  I am thankful that we all have another day to breathe, to enjoy God’s creation, to tell of his mercies, to rest in him.

Personally, I don’t believe God predestines the outcomes of car crashes and other random human events.  I think he may very well be surprised when these events occur, just as we are.  But I do believe wholeheartedly that God walks with us through times of trial, that God grants peace to his people no matter the circumstance, and that no matter what happens to us, he will care for us.  Thanks be to God!

–Pastor David

Unelectric Church

What an experience we had last Sunday! For those of you who were not in attendance here, we experienced a major windstorm in central Michigan on Saturday evening, and around midnight the power was knocked out at the church and at various homes throughout the neighborhood. Electricity was not restored until later on Sunday afternoon, so our Sunday morning meeting was somewhat … different than normal.

We met in the Fellowship Hall for worship, because its windows let in more natural light than the sanctuary. We sang from the hymnal, and we did well without microphones. The congregation sang with tremendous vigor and energy – the strongest singing I’ve heard since Tara and I arrived last August! Several people commented afterward that the service felt like campmeeting and that this was one of the strongest services we’ve had in recent months. I tend to agree: our worship was inspired and greatly energetic, at least partially due to our “extreme” circumstances.

How accustomed we are to the convenience of electricity! And how wonderful to be reminded that our worship of the Lord depends on us, not on the setting in which we find ourselves.

Just a few weeks ago, we focused on the story from John 4 in which Jesus encounters the Samaritan woman at the well. In that passage, Jesus says that “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:23, NIV). I raised this question then: what does that kind of worship look like? In a fascinating manner, I believe the Lord gave us an opportunity to experience that kind of worship this past Sunday.

Does our worship depend on light bulbs in chandeliers, lyrics projected overhead by a computer, or amplification via microphones? Does our worship depend on radiated heat, flush toilets, or coffee machines?

What do we expect when we come into the house of the Lord? Do we expect to be comfortable, or do we expect to encounter the living God?

If nothing else, I think we can benefit from this lesson: The value of our corporate worship has more to do with the attitudes of our hearts rather than with the amenities of our facility. Perhaps we should shut off the electricity once a year to remind ourselves of this truth!

–Pastor David

Darkness Before Light

This is one of the most powerful weeks in Christian faith – the week known as “Holy Week,” the set of days that commemorate the final days of Jesus’s life, those that led up to his crucifixion and burial. Within a week of being ushered into Jerusalem with shouts of “Hosanna!”, Jesus was condemned to die via public execution as an example to those who would disrupt the status quo. Of course, we understand that his death had tremendous significance: he was the sacrificial lamb, perfect and unblemished, wholly divine, whose death satisfied the demands of a just God who requires sacrifice to accompany our repentance of sin.

Yes, we always live as Easter people. That is, we live as people who believe in the resurrection of Jesus from the dead, an event the Christian world will celebrate on Sunday. Christ proved his power over sin and death by rising to newness of life; therefore, we too have hope that this life is not the end of the story for those who believe in him.

Yes, we always live as Christmas people. That is, we live as people who celebrate the fact that God chose to become one of us, to live and dwell among us in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. We have the comfort of knowing that God understands our human predicament, and he continues to dwell in and among us in the person of the Holy Spirit.

However, at least for this week, we must live as Good Friday people. We must remember the betrayal, trial, and torturous death experienced by our Lord. We must experience the spiritual darkness of Good Friday before celebrating the marvelous joy of Easter Sunday. Why?

I believe that if we do not fully experience the magnitude of this week’s events, then our message of the gospel becomes truncated. If our message to the world is only hope and peace and joy and victory, then that message will bounce right off of the pain-hardened shells in which people live. Yes, we have a message of hope – for ourselves as well as the world – but this is no mere feel-good message. This is a gospel which has tasted the bitterness of death, which has walked through the darkest valley, which has known the worst that the world has to offer.

Friends, allow the joy of this Sunday to come when it will come. In the meantime, contemplate the magnitude of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. Walk with him through the Garden of Gethsemane, into the courts of Caiaphas and Pilate, and along the long road to the Hill of the Skull. And remember that these dark events have tremendous meaning for God’s relationship with you and with those around you.

–Pastor David