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

Today, I would like you to meet my new neighbor. In the past week, a bird has begun building this year’s nest in the corner of my office window. My desk is no more than three feet away from this new home. He (or she?) knows I exist, but as long as I don’t get too close to the window, I don’t seem to frighten the bird away. I am looking forward to watching eggs hatch and chicks feed from this vantage point in the upcoming season. Already, I am enjoying how my neighbor is carefully constructing the family home, one mouthful of mud and twigs at a time.

The Bible makes a few comments about birds’ nests:

If you come across a bird’s nest beside the road, either in a tree or on the ground, and the mother is sitting on the young or on the eggs, do not take the mother with the young. You may take the young, but be sure to let the mother go, so that it may go well with you and you may have a long life. (Deuteronomy 22:6-7 NIV)

This instruction appears in a strange, seemingly disconnected segment of Old Testament law – take a minute to read the whole chapter! Many of the commands surrounding this passage have to do with respecting life: human, plant, and animal alike. How often do we think about our treatment of animals or our use of natural resources as an issue of stewardship? Is our well-being dependent on our interactions with other species in God’s creation?

How lovely is your dwelling place, O LORD Almighty! My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God. Even the sparrow has found a home, and the swallow a nest for herself, where she may have her young— a place near your altar, O LORD Almighty, my King and my God. Blessed are those who dwell in your house; they are ever praising you. (Psalm 84:1-4 NIV)

My new neighbor’s nest is extremely fragile; in a matter of seconds, I could open the window and destroy all the work that has been done. Yet the fragility of the nest pales in comparison to its setting: a brick building is quite stable and secure. Are we constructing our fragile lives around a solid foundation? Do our souls find their place of safety in the house of the Lord?

Thus Jesus asked, “What is the kingdom of God like? To what should I compare it? It is like a mustard seed that a man took and sowed in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the wild birds nested in its branches.” (Luke 13:18-19 NET)

When we build our lives on the good news of Jesus Christ, we are participating in something much larger than ourselves. Our spiritual family tree has its roots in Jesus; his kingdom is vast and all-encompassing. Are we living as members of the kingdom of God? Are we working diligently to strengthen our own nests? Are we building meaningful relationships with those who are nesting in other branches? Are we inviting wanderers to find their home in this kingdom?

Let us learn from the birds of the air, for whom God cares. And remember, we are much more valuable to God than they are! (Matthew 6:26)

Pastor David


Last year, many Christians – including me – were very excited by a new TV miniseries entitled “The Bible.” That miniseries retold the great stories of our faith through modern eyes. Another retelling of some fantastic stories is taking place in another new TV miniseries entitled “Cosmos.” And I am equally as excited about this series as I was about “The Bible” last year.

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Changing Colors

It’s that time of year again – those few weeks, here in central Michigan, during which millions of leaves change color and fall to the ground.  This could cause a number of reactions within you:  anticipation of the winter months that lie ahead; excitement for the prospect of earning money by raking leaves; or simply amazement at the colorful beauty of the earth.

photo by Knowsphotos

I have been struck by this beauty in the past week or two.  Even on my short walk from home to the church, I can see many shades of red, yellow, orange, and purple – all signs of the changing seasons.  Have you ever wondered about why leaves change color in the fall?  It has been a while since I studied trees in elementary school, so I Googled the subject and found 38.7 million results.  It’s a popular subject!

As you may remember, leaves are green because they contain chlorophyll, a pigment  crucial to the process of photosynthesis.  Chlorophyll helps plants create energy from sunlight; it absorbs light with wavelengths in the red and blue areas of the spectrum.  But chlorophyll reflects green light, which is why living leaves look green.

The trouble is that chlorophyll constantly decays, so it must be constantly replaced by plants.  All spring and summer long, chlorophyll helps plants store up energy so that they can survive the winter.  But when the days grow shorter in the fall and sunlight becomes less readily available, plants stop producing chlorophyll.  At that point, leaves begin to die, slowly lose their greenness, and change into colors that really have been there all along but were covered up by the green pigment.

If you are sensing that I might turn this into an analogy about our spiritual lives, you are figuring me out:  there’s a sermon in everything!  However, I don’t want to compare our lives as believers to the changing colors of leaves for two reasons:

  • Spiritual life is not cyclical.  While trees go through this process year in and year out, we are not guaranteed regular, recurring periods of “spiritual dryness.”  There may be seasons in which we wander in the wilderness, but the light of God does not take a winter-long vacation from us.
  • The sin nature is not always lurking, buried deep within us.  If we think of “green” as “life in Christ” and “red/yellow/etc.” as “sinful living,” then we might reason that our sinfulness is always buried just beneath the surface; if the greenness ever fades away, our “true colors” will show.  But this is not the case.  Salvation is about the gift of a new identity; our sins, red as scarlet, have been washed away by the blood of the Lamb, making us white as snow (Isaiah 1:18).  We may turn from Christ and return to sin, but it is not as if sin were lurking inside us, waiting for the right opportunity to take over.

Take a minute to read John 15:1-17, in which Jesus says he is the vine and we are the branches.  One thing is for sure:  leaves (branches) do not stand a chance of surviving if they are disconnected from the tree (vine).  Let’s stay green (bear fruit); let’s remain connected to Christ and to each other.  Let’s continue to find new ways to love each other during the changing seasons of our lives!

–Pastor David

Green Beans and Scripture

It’s that time of year again:  the time when our garden’s green beans are in full swing.  Those of you who grow (or have grown) green beans know that once they start producing, you are going to be swimming in beans for a little while.  Tara and I are enjoying our second harvest season here at the church parsonage, and believe me, we love green beans.  We love them so much that we planted twice as many as we did last year!  “Swimming” in beans might not be the right term for what we are experiencing right now.  It’s more like a green bean flood.

photo by zoyachubby
photo by zoyachubby

The amazing thing about picking green beans is that it seems there are always more to pick.  Just when you think you have moved every leaf and branch, another few beans catch your eye as they dangle secretly behind another hidden branch.  You can pick all the beans you can see, but if you move a foot away – or look at the plant from the opposite side – you will see many more beans to pick.  And of course if you manage to find all the full-grown beans in one picking, just come back in another day or two and you’ll have that many more to harvest.

In much the same way, there is something to be said for continual Bible study.  If we read a portion of scripture once, we cannot hope to have gleaned all of its meaning.  It takes continual effort, time, and different life perspectives for us to benefit fully from the Word of God speaking into our lives.  In fact, while I work on each week’s sermon, I read and re-read the sermon text several times – many times out loud – so I have many opportunities to see the passage from many different angles.  Just like a cluster of green bean plants, there is always something more to find.

Psalm 119 is the longest psalm in scripture: at 176 verses in length, it is quite the work of poetry!  The theme of this massive psalm is the love we have for scripture, for God’s word, for God’s law.  Each of the psalm’s 22 sections (one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet) repeats the theme:  scripture is worth our love and attention.  Read the next-to-last section, verses 161-168:

Rulers persecute me without cause, but my heart trembles at your word. I rejoice in your promise like one who finds great spoil. I hate and abhor falsehood but I love your law. Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws. Great peace have they who love your law, and nothing can make them stumble. I wait for your salvation, O LORD, and I follow your commands. I obey your statutes, for I love them greatly. I obey your precepts and your statutes, for all my ways are known to you. (Psalm 119:161-168 NIV)

By the way, whatever you love you will spend a great deal of time studying, thinking about, remembering, practicing, and working toward.  We find it easy to do these things for people whom we love.  I find it easy to pick green beans, because I love the harvest.  What is your attitude toward the Word of God?


On Tuesday morning, a gentle spring thunderstorm rolled through Mt. Haley Township.  Another round of earth-nourishing rain fell through a cool air mass that had me wearing a sweatshirt on the last week of May.  Storms of varying degrees of intensity came and went throughout the remainder of the day and into the night.  In the midst of all the rain, thunder, and wind, one thing remained constant:

Our dog Jake was terrified out of his mind.

photo by Qualsiasi
photo by Qualsiasi

We added Jake to our family about seven years ago.  He came from a rescue organization in Ohio, and his age and birthplace were unknown to everyone.  Over the years, we have come to believe that Jake may be a “Katrina dog” – that is, a dog who was born in the New Orleans area and survived the terror of Hurricane Katrina in 2005.  We believe this because he dislikes getting wet in any way and because he shows signs of extreme anxiety at the slightest rumble:  thunder, gunshots, firecrackers, or anything else that might remind him of a terribly frightening storm.

Yesterday’s storms were no exception:  all day long, Jake whined, paced, yelped, and was generally inconsolable.  By the evening, even the sound of falling rain sent him into a panic, as if he could sense that a thunderclap might come in the near future.

Tara and I tried to comfort him in different ways at different times.  But we have realized that nothing we can do – short of giving him sedatives, which we have never done – will help this poor dog survive the emotional trauma of a thunderstorm.  (Opening day of rifle season in November is another fun day for us!)

Have you ever been inconsolable due to a traumatic event in your life?  Or has someone around you experienced such emotional stress that you could not comfort him or her?  Or have you ever been overwhelmingly occupied by a burden to share the love of Christ with someone around you?

In all three of these situations, the message of Jesus Christ reaches out to us and transforms us.  Take a moment to read 2 Corinthians 1:3-11.  In this opening passage of the letter, Paul writes about the comfort of God available to those who identify with Christ.  Two truths are readily apparent:  any comfort in this world comes from God, and the comfort we have received must be shared with others around us.  Yet a third truth – having to do with enduring suffering for the sake of the gospel – captures my attention today.

Are we afflicted with sufferings for the cause of Christ?  Does our faith in Christ find expression in our lives in ways that cost us something?  Are we in need of divine comfort because we are sharing in the sufferings of our Lord?

Or do we have more in common with Jake, who reacts with fear to the world around him, even though he is perfectly safe in the care of his providers?  Do we merely wait for God to comfort us in our everyday distress?

Surely everyday comfort is important, but I believe it is more important to be in need of divine comfort because of our active participation in the work of God.  Let’s get to work!

–Pastor David


The other day, I saw a bug in my office.  Normally, I exterminate such pests without a second thought, but this time was different.  This time, I was already deep in thought working on this week’s sermon, and the bug was on the other side of my desk.  Rather than getting up, walking around the desk, and doing the necessary deed, I decided to take the more passive approach: I just watched the bug for a few minutes.

photo by cyriltw
photo by cyriltw

This bug had it in its little brain that the most important thing in the world was climbing straight up the window.  Hanging onto the window for dear life, it crawled higher and higher until it lost its balance.  Then it fell harmlessly to the windowsill and began its trek upward again.  Over and over again, this cycle repeated itself:  the bug climbed up, fell down, and climbed up again.

One word came to my mind as I watched this bug:  persistence.  No matter how many times it fell down, it got back up and began the upward climb once more.  And then I thought, “There’s a sermon in that.”

Of course, there is a humanistic lesson to be learned:  no matter how many times we fail, we must pick ourselves up and move on, resume the course, carry forward one more time.  The world is good at teaching us this message through all sorts of motivational speakers.

But there’s something deeper here.  While my office bug was able to pick itself up and climb upward on its own power, we have no power to pick ourselves up spiritually.  While the bug naturally showed persistence in achieving its goal, we struggle to move forward in our walks with Christ.  It is natural for us to be sedentary, hopeless, passive.

The goal for us as disciples of Christ is in the same direction as the bug’s goal:  to move upward, to climb higher:  to grow and become more like Jesus, to bring about the kingdom of God on earth.  And yet so often we find ourselves falling back into old habits and unredeemed ways of living.  We look around, startled to find ourselves where we began, having the same spiritual ground yet to cover.

This is the point at which God’s grace steps into our lives.  Grace is what God gives to us that we absolutely do not deserve.  Knowing God, having faith, receiving forgiveness for our sins – these and many others are gifts from God brought by his grace in our lives.  Another gift from God is how he picks us up when we fall and puts us back on the path of growth.  We simply can’t do that by ourselves.

Yet such is our journey:  ever upward, ever toward Christ, no matter what lows we experience.  Carry on, fellow believers, and keep the goal always in mind!

Go to the ant, you sluggard; consider its ways and be wise! It has no commander, no overseer or ruler, yet it stores its provisions in summer and gathers its food at harvest.
How long will you lie there, you sluggard? When will you get up from your sleep? A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest— and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.
(Proverbs 6:6-11 NIV)

–Pastor David

Swimming Upstream

I love to watch Bullock Creek this time of year.  Earlier this week, we had a brief thaw; a good deal of our snow melted away, and we even had a decent rainfall at the same time.  When those weather patterns combine, that means one thing for sure:  Bullock Creek will be very high and will run very quickly.  At this time of year, I get to watch the creek from my office window, since the church property sits right on its edge.

photo by Etrusia UK
photo by Etrusia UK

While I was working on this week’s sermon, I gazed out at the water.  To my surprise I saw two ducks, a male and a female, swimming upstream in search of food.  Near the bank, the female was rustling through the brush.  Just a couple of feet away, the male was holding his position in the water; apparently, he was watching for predators or other threats.  As the female worked her way up the edge of the river, the male kept pace with her, always staying even with her as she progressed upstream.

Then I realized: this was no easy task for these two ducks.  The high water of Bullock Creek was moving very quickly – from my human perspective, let alone from a duck’s perspective!  All the melted snow and collected rainfall was rushing downstream, past a few large chunks of ice that had not yet melted away, and toward the creek’s passage under Homer Road.  To hold their position in such a cold, fast-moving stream must have required a great deal of effort.  Even though his upper body showed no stress, I was sure that the mallard was kicking hard with his legs to keep up with his mate.

One of the passages of scripture that we will read in church this coming Sunday is Philippians 3:4b-14.  This is one of this week’s lectionary readings, meaning many Christians around the world are scheduled to read it this week.  And this passage happens to be one of my favorite texts; it has meant a great deal to me for many years.  The final verse of this passage reads, “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (NIV).

Often, people argue that the Christian faith is just spiritual self-help without much influence on everyday life.  But just like our neighborhood ducks had to work hard to overcome the power of the creek’s current, so we must press on in our walks with Christ to overcome the current of sin, which so easily entangles us (Hebrews 12:1-3).  We may wish that our lives were as calm and serene as the mallard’s upper body, but in truth the walk of faith requires what the mallard was doing underwater:  action, motion, movement, energy, work, and even missteps.  (He did stumble once or twice – on occasion he’d ruffle a wing to keep his balance.)

Friends, let us press on to become more like Jesus Christ.  Curious about what that means? Let’s talk.

–Pastor David