What is the “rapture”? What does scripture actually say about the return of Jesus? Listen to Pastor David’s sermon on 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18.

Also included at the beginning of this message are a few thoughts from Pastor David about last week’s mass shooting at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas, as well as some reflections from this weekend’s General Assembly of the Church of God in Michigan.

When Jesus Returns

Yesterday afternoon, a neighboring church celebrated the baptisms of eight people, each of whom has experienced salvation in Jesus and is dedicating his or her life to following him. Together with seven other people who were baptized in September, the Midland Missionary Church has now seen fifteen people go through the waters of baptism in the past few months. Praise the Lord for how he is moving in that congregation! Continue reading

One of the joys of walking, driving, or riding a motorcycle at this time of year is seeing all the tremendous, vivid colors of the changing leaves. I hope you are taking time in these weeks to enjoy the beauty of God’s creation!

Do you know why leaves change color just before they fall? Let me summarize, to the best of my limited understanding, why this happens. Leaves are green during the spring and summer because they contain chlorophyll. This green chemical allows plants to absorb the sun’s energy, which empowers the plants to grow and thrive and multiply. (Of course, this turns out to be a good thing for us humans, because plants take in carbon dioxide and expel oxygen, which is the reverse of our breathing process.) This chlorophyll must be constantly produced by plants in order to take full advantage of the boundless energy of the sun.

But when it comes time for trees to take a long Midwestern winter’s nap, they stop producing chlorophyll. They have stored up as much energy as they need to survive the winter, and they say farewell to their leaves, which cannot survive cold temperatures.

When the leaves stop receiving chlorophyll from the tree, their greenness disappears. It is then that we can see their true colors. The reds, yellows, and oranges we see in this season are actually the real colors of leaves all through the spring and summer, as well. Only when the leaves are connected to their branches, when they are filled with live-giving chlorophyll, do we see them in their healthy green state.

People are just like these leaves. We come in many different sizes, shapes, colors, and varieties. And it truly is a beautiful thing to observe the diversity and complexity of humankind. (Those of you who have gone to Guatemala on our recent mission trips will understand!) God has done marvelous work in forming us, each a unique creation loved deeply by our Creator.

“I have come so that they may have life, and may have it abundantly.” (John 10:10 NET)

And yet when we are connected to the true Source of Life, namely Jesus Christ, something amazing happens. The life given to us by Jesus Christ changes us in fundamental ways:

  1. Jesus makes us truly healthy. Just like leaves filled with chlorophyll, we are able to take in the life-giving Spirit of God and expel toxic, harmful behaviors and attitudes.
  2. Jesus unites us. Just as red, yellow, and orange leaves share the same greenness during the spring and summer, we all carry our own unique identities, but we are deeply united in our connection to Jesus Christ.
  3. Jesus gives us life. Just like leaves only stand a chance of surviving while connected to the tree, we are designed and built to be connected to the true Source of Life.

May God fill you with his Spirit each day, and may you remain connected to the Lord throughout the changing seasons of life!

Pastor David

In 1 Corinthians 1:10-17, Paul addresses the first major problem in the Corinthian church:  favoritism.  Could it be that modern-day churches face the same basic issues as our ancient predecessors?  What relevance does this passage have for our church life today?  And what does this all have to do with a basketball net?  Listen in to Pastor David’s message on this topic:

Listen now!

The Institution of the Church

What does the title of this article mean to you?  Does it bring to mind any images, people, or customs?  Does it evoke feelings in your heart, either positive or negative?  Or is it a foreign term to you because of the vagueness of the term “institution”?

When I use the phrase “the institution of the church,” I am referring to the necessary structure that develops among Christians of similar theology, history, and practice.  Let me unpack that a little bit:

photo by foje64
photo by foje64
  • “Necessary structure”:  Just as people gather to live in neighborhoods, villages, towns, cities, regions, and nations, so do all human organizations.  Any organization, if it is going to maintain its identity and purpose, must develop some kind of structure to keep itself going into the future.  Over the course of time, the earliest Christians developed a structure to keep themselves afloat in the world; today, we call this structure the Roman Catholic Church.  Even our brand of Christian faith, the Church of God Reformation Movement, has developed structures and systems that support the identity and purpose of this movement.  That development began back in the 1910s and really flourished during the mid-1900s.
  • “Similar theology, history, and practice”:  Christian groups vary widely in these three categories, and perhaps others.  But when believers have these in common, they tend to stick together.  They have campmeetings and conventions; they have unity services and missionaries; they trade pastors and, all too often, church people.  They might even work together on joint projects, like we did in Guatemala with Meridian Church of God earlier this year, and like we did with two other Church of God congregations for the Global Gathering last month.  The structures we develop support and protect our investments (material and spiritual) in our beliefs, our shared history, and our shared experiences.

This is all well and good.  But many people today have been driven away from God because of the problems in the institution of the church – whatever its label.  And this isn’t good.  In our humanness, we create issues that cause people to turn away from God.  We argue among each other; we criticize those who disagree with us on political issues.  We discriminate against those who aren’t like us; we harbor jealousy of those who are successful.  We distrust those in power; we fail to consider the needs of “the least of these.”  And all these things can occur within one particular church group – I know, because I have seen them in the Church of God itself!

Yet I do not run away.  I remain committed to the Church of God (and to the Mt. Haley congregation in particular) because I believe in the Church of God’s theology, history, and practices.  I find the institution frustrating at times, but I also find it incredibly valuable because it connects me to something bigger than myself.  And at the same time, I constantly work to remember that the Church of God is connected to something bigger than itself as well.  We speak openly about salvation, unity, and holiness with Christians in our own fellowship and those in other backgrounds.  We do so because we share “one Lord, one faith, one baptism, one God and Father of all” (Ephesians 4:5-6 NIV) and we take seriously Jesus’s prayer that we might all be one (John 17:22-23).

With all this in mind, I invite you to read two more articles, these written by good friends of mine, Joe Watkins and Jael Tang.  They are two of my “people” – the group I’ve mentioned to you before, my seminary friends who form for me a special community of support, inspiration, and challenge.  Please take a few minutes to read what they have to say; I promise it’s worth your time.

Read Joe’s blog here: http://www.noggingrande.com/2013/07/10/three-reasons-its-cool-to-love-the-institution-of-the-church/

Read Jael’s blog here: http://akandatang-luke5.blogspot.com/2013/07/where-we-come-from-institution-and.html

–Pastor David