July 21st, 2017
“My Trip To Africa.”
I went to Kenya with an organization called Empowering Lives International. The ministry was started 20 years ago by an APU alumni, and has been thriving ever since. This ministry does a fantastic job at empowering the lives of individuals in two different villages in Kenya, Kipkaren and Illula, by housing and providing schooling for 75 children, helping women overcome brewing alcohol, and training young men and women who failed school (or simply couldn’t afford it) to be functioning members of society. Overall, the ministry truly is changing the lives of many Kenyans.
Since being back from Kenya, I’ve really struggled with answering the question, “So how was Africa?” I know that they’re expecting an answer such as, “It was amazing! I can’t wait to go back!” and while that answer isn’t necessarily false, it also isn’t necessarily true. I don’t believe anyone can travel to Africa and come back with it’s just “amazing.” Not if they saw the poverty of 2,000 people living on less than $1 a day in the rural slums; not if they spoke to that single mother of 7 who is brewing illegal alcohol; not if they held a fragile and malnourished child in their arms. None of those things are “amazing” in my book– in fact, they are the deeply painful and honest wounds on my heart that I have brought back from Kenya. But was this trip amazing? Yes, but not because of what I saw. It was my experiences with the kindest and most genuine people I have ever met on the planet. It was hearing God’s plan for my life being affirmed. It was holding the hand of an orphaned child and telling her that she is loved by the Creator of the world. God met me in Kenya and reminded me that He is the same God in the States as He is in Africa. And he is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
A moment that really defined my trip happened on the last Sunday before we left. There was this little girl who would never leave my side and followed me everywhere. We were waiting for the church service to begin, when I asked her what her favorite verse was. She grabbed my Bible and began flipping through the Psalms. She finally turned to Psalm 37. My heart began to race as she pointed to the verse I have prayed over my life for the last two years–a verse that quite literally I had clung to believing that God would send me to Africa. The verse says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” Sitting in this tiny church building, I was watching my dreams unfold before me. God had brought me all the way to Kenya, a huge desire of my heart, and suddenly I had peace in leaving this little 9-year-old girl behind. I knew her dreams to become a teacher would be fulfilled, for she herself delighted in the Lord every day. It was amazing how through Scripture I now had something more in common with a 9-year-old girl living in rural Kenya. It was a moment like this that reminded me that our God is amazing, that our God is sovereign, and that God is a God who cares for His people.
While I most certainly don’t believe that everyone must pack their bags and travel to Africa to experience God in this newness, I do believe that God is a God who calls and equips us wherever we are. And through the experiences we are having now, even down to the verses that comfort us, He is preparing us for a moment to share His holiness.
I am so thankful for the support of Cedar Grove financially and spiritually in getting me to Kenya. It is here where I was first equipped to spread the Gospel. And it is here where I learned to love the Lord without limits.
So yes, Africa was amazing, and I can’t wait to go back.
July 14th, 2017
“Who gets the Glory?”
On Sunday, July 2, one of our pastors preached from the Sermon on the Mount. In Matthew 5:13-16, Jesus spoke about believers being salt and light of the earth. I was thankful that our pastor paused a moment to recognize a possible point of confusion between Jesus’ words to “Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” and what He would say later in Matthew 6:1. “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” So, which is it? If I want to please God, do I put my good works on display, or do I keep them hidden? How do I put myself in the first camp and not the second?
I saw something on the internet a while back that I found helpful.
It has become popular in the last few years on YouTube and other internet sites to publish videos of oneself doing something nice for other people. You’ve probably seen them: the guy that filmed himself paying for the food of the person behind him in the McDonald’s drive-thru: the guy that left flowers on a stranger’s car; people adding minutes to all the parking meters on a street. These videos kind of offend me because the people in them arranged to have themselves filmed, so they could be seen to be generous. Would they have done this if the cameras were turned off? To me it’s the modern version of “sounding a trumpet” as in Matthew 6:2. (I acknowledge that there are also YouTube videos of people being unwittingly filmed doing kind and sacrificial things for others. I think those are wonderful.)
One internet video especially bothered me when I saw it. A young man gave a losing lottery ticket to a homeless man, claiming it was a winner, and invited him to go into a nearby convenience store to see how much he had won. The homeless man agreed and thanked him. They went into the convenience store together, and the homeless man gave the ticket to the cashier, who was a fellow conspirator with the first man who had given the cashier the money earlier for the “winnings.” The cashier made some motions like he was checking the lottery numbers, and he announced that this ticket was a $1000 winner. The homeless man was confused. He took the thousand dollars and held it in his hands in disbelief. The first man seemed satisfied with himself. But then the homeless man insisted that the first man take half of his winnings. Through tears he begged him to take $500, thanking him again and again for what he had done.
The contrast between these two men tells you everything that you need to know about the difference between Matthew 5:16 and Matthew 6:1. The first man could have quietly given the homeless man $1000. The only difference would have been that just the two of them would have ever known. But it seems he needed to be seen to be generous. Through the power of the internet he made sure the world would be watching. The homeless man didn’t know anyone would ever see what was happening. His gratitude and generosity were genuine. In his poverty, with tears, he quietly begged someone to please take half of all that he had.
I have no idea if anyone in this video was a Christian, but the lesson still works. The first man has received his reward. Even CNN got hold of the story and called him a hero. On the other hand, the second man sought no audience, but his light shines brilliantly. Whether he is a Christian or not, I personally have been schooled by him on what it means to be generous.
If you care to see the video, here is the link. It may insert a commercial before showing the actual video. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4Lki_IeM6bQ
July 7th, 2017
“The Three Key Parts of Jr. High Camp 2017”
Garrett Davis, Summer Intern
This year at Jr. High Camp, we had 10 leaders and 22 students join us for a great week of fun activities, worship, and learning more about God. With regards to activities, we did a high ropes obstacle course, rock climbing, paintball, rode a giant swing, and walked a wonderful night hike under the stars. We also had many field games including blindfolded and regular kickball, steal the bacon on a slip-n-slide, and Ultimate Octopus (it’s like Ultimate Frisbee, but with a real dead octopus). We spent plenty of time soaking up the sun in the pool where we would play organized games and have time for free swimming. We also had events/skits before every night session that were very entertaining to the students and leaders. This list doesn’t even include the super fun indoor games we played, such as Shuffle Your Buns, Balloon Stomp, and Silent Football, which were hilarious and an absolute blast for the kids.
- Time with God
All games aside, we would have a morning and evening session every day of camp. After breakfast, we would gather together at the amphitheater for worship, teaching from our own Pastor Dan, and end with some more worship. During Dan’s lessons, the students could follow along in their camp notebooks and take notes/fill in the blanks for each day. For the night time sessions, we would start by asking the kids about their day and then go into a skit for endless laughs. After that, we’d have some worship and then break off for private time with God. Private time consisted of going through your camp booklet to answer questions, reading your Bible, praying, or simply taking in God’s creation at Camp Oakhurst. The students were actually quiet and tuned in during times with God!
- Spiritual Growth
We would have cabin discussions after our morning sessions to dive deeper into the Word and learn more about each student’s walk with Jesus. It’s amazing how amidst all of the activities and the excitement of the students, they could always get serious whenever God was brought to the conversation. Because most of our Jr. High students, if not all, claim to have already been saved, this camp was a time for much spiritual growth and maturity. Every single student said they had a good time despite the bug bites and hot weather. More importantly, I saw wisdom spreading within their hearts and minds about God and what He is doing in their lives. So yes, camp was a very fun time for all of the students; but more importantly, it was a time where they could get away from their day-to-day lives and have their faith and values restored in Christ.
June 30th, 2017
“Never Underestimate the Impact of a Child”
Tom Kirkendall, Lead Pastor
Remember that moment when the crowd sought out Jesus to bless their children? The disciple-entourage were in full bodyguard mode rebuking these families. They must have thought that Jesus needed protecting – like he would catch a cold or he had more important work to do than hang with a bunch of kids. Jesus said, “the Kingdom of God belongs to them.”
This week parents brought their kids to VBS (Vacation Bible School) so they would see, hear and know the truth about the Kingdom of God. The kids played games, made crafts, sang songs, and listened to stories all with the Gospel in mind. They were taught that from small seeds planted God’s kingdom grows –
His love increases as His presence increases.
“And they were bringing children to Him that He might touch them, and the disciples rebuked them. But when Jesus saw it, He was indignant and said to them, “Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the Kingdom of God. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. And He took them in His arms and blessed them, laying His hands on them.” (Mark 10:13-15)
As I was reflecting on both VBS and this teaching of Jesus, two things jumped out:
- Jesus was indignant. He wasn’t just saying, “Guys, it is okay. I am good. I have time. Allow them in.” He was offended. Why? Because the Kingdom of God is for them. In fact, as adults, we can learn from children about faith, trust, & grace. That leads to my second reflection……
- Never underestimate the impact of a child. VBS was a time of teaching children but we learn just as much from them. Bold, energetic, eager and loving – these kids were excited about participating in the Kingdom of God. Here is a practical and tangible example: these children together raised $1,745.08 in just 5 days. They call it a Penny March and those pennies will purchase 218 soccer balls. The balls will go with Mike Silva International when they head to Cartagena, Columbia next February to share the Gospel, inviting more children and adults into the Kingdom of God.
I am so thankful for our church family and how they continue to come together for things like VBS because we have the same love for children that Jesus does – The Kingdom of God belongs to such as these!
June 23rd, 2017
“Just so you know, God”
Sam Herscu ,Worship Pastor
Wait a minute, God. This makes no sense. How can I live my life this way? Just so you know, God, I’m so unhappy with my situation, I’ll do anything to make sure I’m not the one who looks like I don’t have it all together. Just so you know, God, this is not how my life was supposed to turn out. This is not at all what I was envisioning when I dreamed of who I would become.
How often do we approach life with a sense of entitlement? We are told we should have the American dream, whatever the cost. Is it possible that we are constantly trying to apply a worldly bandage to a problem that is purely spiritual? Too often have I given God every explanation of why things are going wrong instead of simply accepting that it wasn’t up to me in the first place.
The world has told me all my life that anything I want can be mine if I work hard enough. Isn’t that completely opposite of what Jesus said? Jesus says, in Luke 9:23, that I must deny myself, take up my cross and follow Him.
In Mark chapter 10, we read about a rich young ruler whom Jesus asked to sell all his possessions and follow him. He had made up his mind that his earthly belongings were too important to leave behind. Imagine the great miracles he would have seen first-hand and the experiences he would have had at Jesus’ side! These are treasures that far outweigh any net-worth he could ever accumulate in this life.
May we all live the adventure of following Jesus at any cost. Let’s take in the thrill of knowing that we are part of His wonderful plan. I’m giving up my own way for Yours. I’m giving up my life not for the treasures I might receive in heaven, not for the chance to look Holy in front of people.
Just so you know, God, I’m giving up my life simply because You first loved me.
June 16th, 2017
“3 ways dads can bring discipleship home”
Daniel Chapin, Student Ministry Pastor
My dad is my greatest hero (other than Jesus, of course). He was never perfect, but he didn’t need to be. He wasn’t the most knowledgeable person I knew, but he didn’t need to be. One of the things my dad did well was bring discipleship home. I learned a lot from my youth pastor in high school and from my professors at school, but God used my dad to transform me the most, and it was often in ways more subtle than you may think:
- Model discipleship. The same rocking chair that my dad used to rock me to sleep at night when I was three was the same rocking chair that I would find him doing his devotionals in when I was thirteen. In his book Family Driven Faith, Voddie Bauchman makes the point that multigenerational faithfulness to following God is an all day, every week process. A daily faithfulness to the discipleship process starts with the convicting question: Are you actually pursuing Christ’s leadership in your life in this moment? A disciple of Christ cannot be manufactured, and it does not happen by accident. Discipleship must be intentionally modeled. Fertile ground for a child’s discipleship is laid when a father models a genuine relationship with God.
- Pray together in moments of triumph and defeat. Acknowledging God in the triumphs helps your family trust God in times of defeat. Some people have bachelor and bachelorette parties the night before a wedding; our family has a prayer gathering. When some dads lose their jobs unexpectedly they go into fix-it mode and immediately go out and find a job; my family had a prayer gathering. When you pray in the triumphs and defeats of life, you acknowledge where the blessings come from and where the provision for an uncertain future rests.
- Turn everything off for one hour a day, once a week. Go off the grid together for at least one hour a week. When I was growing up we didn’t have a computer in the house. Even back then, it was behind the times. Today we live in the omnipresence of technology. Our technology now makes it possible to work while waiting in line at Starbucks or in-between pitches at our kids’ baseball games. In a recent Barna Group study the question was asked, “What do you most wish was different in your relationship with your parents?” The number one answer given was, “I wish my parents would get off their screens and talk to me.” Even without the distraction of smartphones to tempt us, my dad still made it a priority every Sunday lunch to experience discipleship together. He would often use the questions provided by the preacher to guide a natural discussion of what God taught us through that Sunday’s sermon. Even though there was a temptation to watch football, or to say yes to lunch with another family, my dad still made this a priority. Ultimately, It was through my dad’s words and those lunches that I received my call from God into ministry. An hour a week will have a lifelong impact on your kid’s life.
Discipleship is not just the process of the institutional church but of every church that exists within a family. Discipleship must be modeled. Discipleship must go to God in triumph and defeat. Discipleship must remove distractions and create space for relationships and God.
June 7th, 2017
“Life In Christ”
Keith Cromie, Teaching Pastor
C.S. Lewis wrote some thoughtful words in the conclusion to his book, Mere Christianity. I’m often blessed by reading Lewis, not because I always agree with him, but because his thoughtful, articulate, and thus profound writings have given me encouragement to think again more precisely about what I believe and why.
The more we get what we now call “ourselves” out of the way and let Him take us over, the more truly ourselves we become. There is so much of Him that millions and millions of “little Christs,” all different, will still be too few to express Him fully. He made them all. He invented—as an author invents characters in a novel—all the different men that you and I were intended to be. In that sense our real selves are all waiting for us in Him. It is no good trying to “be myself” without Him. The more I resist Him and try to live on my own, the more I become dominated by my own heredity and upbringing and surroundings and natural desires. In fact what I so proudly call “Myself” becomes merely the meeting place for trains of events which I never started and which I cannot stop. What I call “My wishes” become merely the desires thrown up by my physical organism or pumped into me by other men’s thoughts or even suggested to me by devils…
Until you have given up your self to Him you will not have a real self. Sameness is to be found most among the most “natural” men, not among those who surrender to Christ. How monotonously alike all the great tyrants and conquerors have been; how gloriously different are the saints.
But there must be a real giving up of the self. You must throw it away “blindly” so to speak. Christ will indeed give you a real personality, but you must not go to Him for the sake of that. As long as your own personality is what you are bothering about, you are not going to Him at all. The very first step is to try to forget about the self altogether. Your real, new self (which is Christ’s and also yours, and yours just because it is His) will not come as long as you are looking for it. It will come when you are looking at Him. Does that sound strange? The same principle holds, you know, for more everyday matters. Even in social life, you will never make a good impression on other people until you stop thinking about what sort of impression you are making. Even in literature and art, no man who bothers about originality will ever be original; whereas if you simply try to tell the truth (without caring twopence how often it has been told before) you will, nine times out of ten, become original without ever having noticed it. The principle runs through all life from top to bottom. Give up your self, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end; submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will ever be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.
“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace…” declares the Apostle Paul in Galatians 5:22. How does that translate into each of our lives? What does Jesus’ life look like when it is expressed through you and me?
Clothing ourselves with the character of Jesus (Col. 3:12-14) describes our part to experience the eternal life of Jesus. This is the Christian’s journey that takes her from glory to glory (2Cor. 3:18). While the possession of eternal life comes to us through faith in the crucified and risen Jesus, our Lord, so the experience of that life is also embraced through faith.
What a joy to experience in ever-increasing measure the glory of Jesus’ life in us!
June 6th, 2017
-Tom Kirkendall, Lead Pastor
“Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you, casting all your anxieties on him, because he cares for you.” 1 Peter 5:6-7
How crazy is it that Peter called the elders of the church to humility? Peter–who tried to keep Jesus from washing his feet and declared that he would never deny Jesus. Peter writes this as a man who needed to learn humility. This came through humbling situations: the rooster crowing, the ear being reattached, Jesus keeping him from drowning.
Lessons in humility are, well, humbling.
Can you relate? I know I can.
Peter calls out as a matured, humbled man, “Humble yourselves under God’s mighty hand.”
John Dickson defines it well: “Humility is the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.” (Humilitas, pg. 24)
Humility is not about having low self-esteem; it’s quite the opposite – it is having an accurate view of yourself and God.
- In humility, we submit to God as the ultimate authority.
- In humility, we recognize the gifts and talents of others.
- In humility, we seek for God to use our own gifts and talents to build His Church.
How amazing it is to have Jesus as our example who “did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of the death, even death on a cross.” (Phil 2:6-8)
Paul writes, “…in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” (Phil 2:3)
These men, like us, have learned humility through being humbled. They cooperated with God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit to have their character shaped and to place themselves in a position of caring for others so much that they serve rather than be served.
In humility, we align our lives with Jesus and seek to lift up another–not pushing or demanding our way, but trusting that God is the ultimate authority and that we are better with each other. And in His timing, in His caring, God lifts us up.
May 5th, 2017
“Through Heaven’s Eyes”
Sam Herscu, Worship Pastor
Infant eyes that sparkle blue. A gentle breeze caressing. A deep green vineyard contrasting against clear skies above. Blackbirds swoop from all directions while a brown squirrel keeps a safe distance, basking in the sun.
It was nearing the end of a busy day and my 9-month-old son was getting restless staying indoors all day. Despite his inability to use words, he was making it loud and clear: “Take me outside!” When I carried him outside, his whole demeanor changed. I must admit that I was caught off-guard when I witnessed his amazement of the beautiful day surrounding him. All fussiness ceased and a quiet contentment ensued.
Once again, my son was teaching me everything I was doing wrong! I was confronted with the fact that I had grown too busy to stand in awe of the beauty and majesty of God. The busyness of handling work responsibilities, responding to emails, and worries about what we would have for dinner seemed small and insignificant in that moment. All I could think of was that I don’t want to forget anymore. I don’t want to let another day go by without seeing God’s beauty through a child’s eyes.
“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of his hands. Day after day they pour forth speech; night after night they reveal knowledge.” ~ Psalm 19:1-2 NIV
God’s creation points to one thing – the glorious majesty of the One who is greater than anything we can experience this side of heaven. We can experience a mighty snow-capped mountain, a glorious sunset, or the ocean surf pounding upon the shore, but everything pales in comparison to the Creator, God Himself.
What comes naturally to a child takes discipline for us. In the midst of the craziness of life, it takes effort to pause, to breathe deep and take in the beauty of my Creator. My prayer has become, “Lord, increase my awe of you. Surprise me again by your beauty. Draw me into the glory of your presence and love.”
Let’s steal a moment this day to consider our God.
May 17th, 2017
“His Love Endures Forever”
My father sat across from me at our small kitchen table. I was just a young boy, but I remember the scene vividly—the Formica top, the chrome trim, the matching chairs with red plastic seats. His smiling face watched as, between sobs, I prayed for forgiveness and asked Christ to come into my life. With my prayer completed, I looked into his tear-filled eyes, and he reached over with his large hand, tenderly grasping my shoulder. After a moment, he said, “Remember, His love endures forever.”
A few years later, I stood at the altar beside my bride, trying to listen to the pastor through a multitude of emotions and thoughts. I was so young, so much in love, and so poorly prepared for what lay ahead, The love chapter from 1 Corinthians was a major topic of the wedding ceremony. The pastor, of course, did his best to fully explain love, but I recall little of what he said, except, “Remember, His love endures forever.”
I stood beside my wife in the hospital delivery room, encouraging her as she gave birth to our first-born. The doctor cradled in her arms a little, pink, squirming mass of humanity. “A boy,” she said and we laughed and cried simultaneously, rejoicing that God had entrusted us with our very own son, but not then thinking of the awesome responsibility we had assumed. It was, I thought, a confirmation of the promise, “Remember, His love endures forever.”
Six weeks later, we sat together in a hospital waiting room, holding hands, anxiety knotting the pits of our stomaches. Our newborn son had just been taken, screaming and sobbing, into surgery to correct a major abdominal problem. We prayed a lot, silently and together, while waiting for the surgeon to come give his post-operative report, and told each other, “Remember, His love endures forever.”
Life seemed dark and dismal. Discouragement ruled my emotions. My job was barely endurable. My church responsibilities became an agonizing chore. I desperately wanted to drop out, run away, hide from any demands made of me. Tensions strained my marriage close to the breaking point. Life seemed nearly worthless, until whispering in my mind again and again came the phrase, “Remember, His love endures forever.’”
My father lay in the hospital bed with labored, irregular breathing, losing the fight with cancer. A few hours before he had hugged me with surprising strength for the last time, murmuring “I love you.” His ragged breathing suddenly stopped, and with tears streaming down my face, his voice echoed in my mind, “Remember, His love endures forever.”
My life is drawing shorter as I approach the veiled entrance to eternity. The outcome of tomorrow, next week, next year is a mystery. How can I find happiness and be joyful when I know with certainty that death awaits me? I know my salvation is from the Lord, but the details of what lies beyond the veil are hidden—except that with confidence I can proclaim, “Remember, His love endures forever.”
May 5th, 2017
“4 Ways to help a troubled teen”
Daniel Chapin, Student Ministries Pastor
I love working with teens. It is my life’s joy and passion to see students be in a fully devoted relationship with Jesus. I love sitting down to a cup of coffee with a student and talking about the awesome things that God is doing in their life. Most of the time however, working with teens is not as much about what’s going right, but what’s going wrong. Many times, I find myself in the role of crisis management: a student got suspended from school, a student admitted to cutting themselves, drugs were found in a student’s locker. The list goes on.
Whenever a troubled teen needs help, I know the role that God wants me to play in their life. I know that other parents or adults who work with teens are not as sure about the role they can play in helping troubled teens. Here are four steps everyone can take to help a troubled teen.
- Pray God’s will be done. It can be easy for parents and leaders to miss this step because they are trying actively seek a solution to a teen’s troubles. Prayer is just as much about asking for wisdom as it is asking God to move in someone’s life. The scariest prayer that I ever heard a parent admit to making over their troubled teen was, “Lord, rescue my child and if rescuing them is not in your will, take them home.” That’s a scary prayer that was not said without serious consideration. Sometimes the scariest prayers are the ones that extend our hands openly and say, “not my will Lord, but yours.”
- Own your problems. When dealing with teens, it’s vital to not just know your problems but to own them. Teens are fault detectors. You better believe that if a teen is being confronted with their problems by an adult, the teen knows three or four issues of yours going through their head. When you own your problems, you model to teens that you are imperfect and working on it. Let humility and caring lead you.
- Listen three times more than you speak. Teens know when they have made a mistake. The last thing they need is a lecture. Teens want to be understood and you can’t understand a teen if you are lecturing them. The most valuable thing to do is ask good questions starting with the phrase “why do you think?” This allows them to open up about their motives for doing what they did. Listening gives you currency to be heard. The more you listen, the more willing they are to listen to you.
- Seek professional help when needed. No one person has all the answers for a troubled teen. Deciding when to go to professionals can be one of the hardest decisions a parent can make. You may need to contact a pastor, a counselor, teachers or even the police. If you’re ever uncertain about which you should contact first, start with either a pastor or a trusted teacher. Both have received training to discern when to go to professionals. Both have helped enough troubled teens in their lifetime that they know who needs to be contacted first.
Ultimately, troubled teens need people who will love them despite the struggles they are going through. If a teen only feels judgment and disappointment from those people closest to them, they are going to experience despair and hopelessness. Teens in troubled situations need to know most of all that they are loved and accepted, and that nothing will ever separate them from the love of God.
Pastor Tom Beasley
One of the clearest memories I have of growing up during the late ’80s is centered around a series of books called Choose Your Own Adventure. My generation grew up with these ingenious books that put you in control of the story. You’d start with the premise, context, and characters, and right from the get-go it was clear that YOU were one of the characters!
Then, you’d read up to the end of the first chapter, where you’d be confronted with a choice. Each choice would lead you to a different page, where you’d have to make another choice to turn to another page, and another, until the story ended in either triumph or defeat. The goal was to solve the mystery, or defeat the enemy, or some other sort of success.
The authors helpfully put a disclaimer at the beginning of each book, saying: “You and YOU ALONE are in charge of what happens in this story. There are dangers, choices, adventures, and consequences…” It was a unique experience that drew me into the story. It also said, “Remember, you cannot go back! Think carefully before you make a move!” Did I always listen to that instruction when I was reading these as a kid? Well, let’s just say, sometimes.
These books were so remarkable to my generation because they had a very clear relationship to our real lives. It was not that we were actually adventuring through The Cave of Time or Skull Island. It was the recognition that our lives don’t simply have one specific outcome. We have control of our story in many ways.
God’s word makes this point clear.
In Joshua 24, God uses Joshua to remind the entire leadership of the nation of Israel of His faithfulness through the years. He highlights the Exodus and how the nation was rescued and cared for over and over again. It’s a quick but potent summary of God’s love and care for Israel.
Why is He telling the elders all of this? In this case, the whole story is told for a purpose: God, through Joshua, wants Israel to make a choice. They must choose between two alternatives: serving themselves, or serving God. These are really the only two options that God is giving His people: it’s either God or yourself. There are no other choices to make.
I have found this passage to be a window into our lives as Christians today. We have the revealed Word of God, and we have seen God do incredible things. And yet we daily face the same choice that the nation of Israel faced. God says to us, “I have demonstrated my love for you in many ways, including sending Jesus to take on your sin. Follow me! But, if that seems undesirable to you, then choose yourself.” Which page will we turn to?
Hundreds of years later, the Apostle Paul presents us with the same basic choice. In Romans 6:15-23, he tells us that we no longer have to be slaves to sin, but that we can now be slaves to righteousness as we pursue our relationship with God. We are empowered to choose holiness and “become obedient from the heart to the standard of teaching to which you were committed.” This is the choice we are able to make only because of the redemption we’ve received from God. Like Israel, it’s time to choose.
In Joshua 24, at the conclusion of the story of God’s faithfulness, Joshua models the choice that he wants Israel to make: “As for me and my household, we will serve the Lord.” God stands ready, through the blood of Jesus shed for your sin, and the power of the Holy Spirit, to help you daily choose to serve the Lord. Which choice will you make today?
April 25th, 2017
Jodi Ghere, Women at the Well coordinator
Psalm 23 starts off with David telling us about God.
“The LORD is my Shepherd. I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside quiet streams.
He restores my soul.”
But in verse 4, it changes. David writes:
“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil because you are with me.
Your rod and staff comfort me.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil.”
It seems like David was content to tell us all about what is true and good about God right up until he starts walking through the valley. Then he stops talking to us and starts talking directly to the Lord.
There wasn’t anything wrong with what David was telling us – his focus just changed when his circumstances got worse. I’ve seen this in my own life. When life is going along like I want, it’s easy to not think too hard about talking to God. I think, “I can do this. I can handle it. I don’t need any help.”
But when God leads me through a difficult time – a time when I am face to face with my inability “to handle it,” a time when I cannot deny that I am out of resources, ideas, and energy – this is when my attention shifts and I start talking directly to the Lord. A lot. This is also when I think, “Why haven’t I been doing this all along?”
Suffering, tragedy, and desperation are often the catalysts that get us to start praying or to pray more heartily. The tricky part can be to keep up the praying and the total reliance on God after the rough part has passed and we are tempted once again to think, “we can handle it.”
Whatever your prayer times look like now, let this be an encouragement or a catalyst for you. You have hope in any situation because you are dearly loved by the Lord of Lords, and He longs to hear from you. Don’t wait for the next rough season. Start the conversation. The Lord is with you. And he wants to talk!
April 20th, 2017
Pastor Tom Kirkendall
It rained on Easter.
I wasn’t expecting it. I was focused on all that had to do: Good Friday preparations, my granddaughter visiting, taxes to finish, and my wife’s birthday. So, I never bothered to watch the weather report or open the weather app on my phone.
It rained on Easter.
I wasn’t expecting it – even when I got up early on Easter Sunday and noticed the sky was overcast. I wore a short sleeved “spring” shirt and left my jacket in the car. We had three services and I wanted to get to church early to make sure everything was ready.
It rained on Easter.
I wasn’t expecting it. Just before the first service started, when people were starting to arrive, I looked out the window. This was no little spring shower…it was a deluge. I think I even saw animals pairing up.
It rained on Easter.
I expected a spring-like day. I wasn’t paying attention. How easy it is to miss things–for my mind to dwell on other things and to be taken by surprise. That happened on the first Easter too. Jesus had given the forecast. He did not hide what was going to happen. Yet there were those not paying attention – even those closest.
Jesus kept his promise. “The Lord has risen indeed…” Luke 24:34a.
It is after Easter. A beautiful spring day. Not a cloud in sight. “Lord, help me to pay attention and to live in the light of your resurrection.”
April 14th, 2017
“God’s Splendor On Display”
Luwanna Dice, Director of Children’s Ministries
My husband John and I had several days in the desert last week. Our journey began as we left the pavement and headed into the Sonoran Desert on Friday at 7:00 in the morning. Our willingness to bump and bounce along on jeep trails was immediately rewarded with the most amazing desert bloom I have seen in years. The area we entered has had an abundance of rain and is green and alive!
Have you have ever wondered what the song means by “purple mountain majesties” and how that can be possible? Well, this area of the desert is a great place to experience beautiful mountains, and yes, they are purple. This year they have a lot of vegetation on them, as well. When we took a minute to look closely at the desert floor, we saw the tiniest of flowers covering the ground. We experienced dozens of blooming plants and trees. The bloom was so bright and massive that you absolutely needed your sunglasses!
We spent one night in a tent and listened to the silence of the isolation. We left the top off of the tent so we could see the stars. We were awakened in the middle of the night by the sound of coyotes howling. During the day, the buzz of bees and insects was loud and signaled the spreading of pollen and seeds so that future plants would grow.
Our journey ended at 4:00 in the afternoon on Saturday with us having spent 33 hours surrounded by God’s glorious creation. We were blessed by not encountering a single other person in all that time. The sounds and sites of God’s creation are overwhelming to me; they feed my soul and encourage me so much. God created this beautiful world and everything in it, and the things He created are beautiful and thrive even in the harshest of conditions.
The journey last week gives me hope and perseverance to serve my Creator in a world that is often not open to what we believe as Christians. Through the strength God gives me, I can thrive even in the harshness of the world in which I live.
April 6th, 2017
“Know Your Why”
Sam Herscu, Worship Pastor
This week I had the opportunity to talk with one of our amazing CGCC kids. I did my best to explain a particular music theory concept, and I was presented with the question “why?” Then, like a good grown-up, I proceeded to explain exactly what I meant in more detail. Again, I was confronted with the question “why?” It was then that I realized that I had been duped by an 9-year-old who was being a stinker.
It wasn’t until days after that I thought about this silly little conversation we had. I found that this little one had spoken truth into my life, even in the midst of being ornery!
Philippians 4:6 says, “Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God.”
Webster’s Dictionary defines the word “supplication” as to make a humble appeal; especially : to pray to God; to ask earnestly and humbly”.
God is never bothered or annoyed that we come to him over and over with the same “why” questions. In fact, God’s word asks us to come to him and “let our requests be made known to God”! He is eager for us to come humbly before Him with our requests.
In the midst of each circumstance we face in this life, let us continue to come to you with our requests with humble and thankful hearts. We know You are faithful to answer.
March 15h, 2017
“Encouragement is needed!”
Keith Cromie, Teaching Pastor
Encouragement is needed. I’m not sure anyone gets too much.
However, as soon as I write these words, caution fills my heart. No doubt encouragement is needed and is, in fact, powerful. For that reason, encouragement requires wisdom and discernment. Encouragement is like a “vector”; it needs magnitude and direction.
The fact is that encouragement can take the form of peer pressure, enticement, and solicitation to try things that are not beneficial at best, and completely destructive at worst.
Old Testament King David wanted a messenger to encourage his commander, Joab, while in battle. Sounds good on the surface. Except that David had just ordered Joab to arrange for the death of another commander, Uriah, as part of a cover up plan to hide an illicit affair. Joab carried out the plan. (2Sam. 11:25)
God used the prophet Ezekiel to ream out some false prophets who left the reservation and were doing their own version of false religion. The indictment was… Because you have disheartened the righteous falsely, although I have not grieved him, and you have encouraged the wicked, that he should not turn from his evil way to save his life… (Ezekiel 13:22). Ouch, what a commentary on bad spiritual leadership.
First Corinthians 8:10 adds to the negative side of encouragement. For if anyone sees you who have knowledge eating in an idol’s temple, will he not be encouraged, if his conscience is weak, to eat food offered to idols? The apostle Paul is confronting a careless attitude toward the freedom we have in Christ, noting that others can be encouraged to do the wrong thing simply by observing our behavior and choices.
Encouragement is a wonderful privilege and an awesome responsibility.
When we think of encouragement in the best light, we know that what we are talking about is the ability to infuse others with courage to do what is right, no matter the cost. Encouragement is how we help others take God at His word and trust Him enough to obey Him.
The priority God places on encouraging one another is hard to ignore with even a casual survey of Scripture. The context of each of the following verses is instructive, but my point is that encouragement is our responsibility and privilege.
1Th. 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1Th. 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1Th. 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
Heb. 10:24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Let’s check our encouragement vector for both magnitude and direction. Are we pointing people to the trustworthiness of our heavenly Father? Are we growing and maturing in our ability to do so? Are we encouraging faith and obedience in those around us?
Encouragement is needed. All the people around you need it. If you are wondering whether the people closest to you need encouragement, the answer is yes.
Who can you encourage today?
March 9th, 2017
“Speed Ahead in Prayer”
Tom Kirkendall, Lead Pastor
I am thankful that the Apostle Paul asked for prayer. I so easily forget that Paul was just a man – a great man, a great leader, an example to follow – but he was a man, nonetheless. Check out his (and Timothy’s) request for prayer:
Finally, brothers, pray for us, that the Word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored, as happened among you, and that we may be delivered from wicked and evil men. For not all have faith. But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one. And we have confidence in the Lord about you, that you are doing and will do the things that we command. May the Lord direct your hearts to the love of God and to the steadfastness of Christ. (2 Thess 3:1-5)
Are these not great things to add to our prayer pattern? So often, my first prayer step is to present my plan or my solution. Paul, starts by praying “that the Word of the Lord may speed ahead and be honored.” It is a prayer for the power of God to go before us, smoothing out the path and preparing the hearts we will encounter.
As God’s Word is received and honored, it paves the way for a right spirit. We know that not everyone honors God, yet let’s not forget that He is the one with the power to deliver from those with wicked and evil intentions.
Finally, Paul mentions his confidence in the Thessalonian church. It is a prayer of encouragement and empowerment – confidence in the Body of Christ working together, with Christ as the head working for God’s glory.
We can be so hard on those within our own family. We place our expectations on what should be done and how they should do it. Paul says we are praying and trusting that the Lord is directing each one of us – building hearts of love and the steadfastness of Christ.
Let us not neglect to pray for those who are with us, those in opposition to us, and those in leadership over us.
Lord, may your Word speed ahead and be honored
Let your Word lay out my path
Not all have faith in you, but you are faithful
Establish me in you, guard me against the evil one
Strengthen my confidence in your Church
– my brothers and sisters in faith –
Bind us in unity to carry out your commands, Lord
That we may continue to Glorify your name
Direct our hearts to your love, O God
Steadfast we pray in Christ Jesus
March 1st, 2017
Luwanna Dice, Director of Children’s Ministries
Retreat! What do you think of when you see or hear that word?
Maybe you are a history buff and your mind goes to all the great battles written about in the Bible, or about times of war since–the act of withdrawing from enemy forces due to their superior power; to draw back, pull back, fall back; “the army retreated”.
Are you a mom with toddlers who automatically thinks about rest and solitude? Do you desire a place of privacy and refuge? I recently saw an interview with a mom of quads who hid in her pantry just to have one single moment of quiet time.
As a history buff and the mother of six, I can identify with both of these views on retreat. My first thought, however, usually goes toward leaving one’s everyday life to connect on a deeper level with God. I look forward to these precious times of solitude–reading God’s word and reflecting on His awesome and abundant love.
Over one hundred women from Cedar Grove are attending our annual Women’s Retreat this weekend. I know they will draw closer to God and to each other. I know they will be blessed for setting aside the time for Retreat.
My final thoughts are these:
Jesus retreated to be in closer relationship with God when he withdrew from his disciples at the Garden of Gethsemane.
Jesus did not retreat from his mission to go to the cross. Jesus went willingly to the cross, not listening to the lies of his enemies to retreat and fight another day. Jesus went to the cross in the strength and power of His Father and the Spirit to save us.
February 22nd, 2017
“Daddy to the Rescue!”
-Sam Herscu, Worship Pastor
This week I had one of those ‘aha’ moments where God was speaking loud and clear. My son, Christian, is six months old and bathes in a small tub which we place in the kitchen sink. I find it very amusing when he kicks with all his might to see how much water he can splash outside of the tub. This is father-son time at it’s finest. However, the last time I bathed him, I chuckled a little as he kicked but I instantly realized that this was not a playful kick anymore. He was beginning to thrash out of fear that he was going to sink. At this point, keeping a dry shirt was not even an option. Daddy was to the rescue! I scooped him up out of the water and held him tight and let him know that everything was ok. My sweet son was never far enough away that I couldn’t take hold of him at a moment’s notice but for one split second, his surroundings filled him with fear.
Matthew chapter 14 says, ‘”And Peter answered him, “Lord, if it is you, command me to come to you on the water.” He said, “Come.” So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid, and beginning to sink he cried out, “Lord, save me.” Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him, saying to him, “O you of little faith, why did you doubt?” And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased. And those in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”’
We read that “Jesus immediately reached out his hand and took hold of him”. Jesus reached out to hold Peter without a moment to spare. Jesus didn’t wait around to see if Peter would regain his composure or come to his senses. Jesus came to Peter in an instant. With the deep compassionate love of a father there was no storm big enough to stop Jesus from rescuing his beloved.
What is your storm that you face today? Maybe your company is downsizing and you’re afraid that your position is next in line to be removed. Perhaps a terminal illness is threatening a loved one and you don’t know if the next surgery or treatment is going to fix the problem. At times our faith brings us to these walking on water moments and all we see is Jesus’ face. But when the next squall comes, we find ourselves thrashing for a breath of air. Fixing our eyes on Jesus through the good and the bad is not going to be easy. In fact, it will take determination and tenacity to grow our faith in the good times so that we can remember that He is holding us tightly in the bad too.
What if Peter were to get another crack at the ‘water walking’ thing? Knowing how quickly Jesus came to his rescue, he probably would have passed the test with flying colors the second time! We need to invest deeply in our personal relationship with the father, knowing His character better and better each day we come to Him. May we keep trusting Him in every moment.
February 15th, 2017
“Did you survive Valentine’s Day?”
Daniel Chapin, Student Ministries Pastor
We have just completed another Valentine’s Day. The question is: did you survive it? I had a friend once tell me that he doesn’t celebrate Valentine’s Day, because to do so would diminish all the other days of the year where he loves his wife just as much. He would say, “Why should I pick just one day to show love to my wife, when all year I need to show love to her?” He was frequently a casualty of Valentine’s Day. Others aren’t so lucky.
Another friend that I know does a scavenger hunt with his wife every year. That’s right–every year. He sets up elaborate clues all around his community. His wife discovers the clues and finds treasures along the way. The scavenger hunt eventually ends with my friend sitting down at a restaurant with romantic candlelight. He was often a survivor of Valentine’s Day. Whether you’re a casualty or a survivor one thing’s for sure–the roses wilt, the chocolate disappears, and the beauty fades, but what can last forever is the love two people share with one another.
1 Corinthians 13:13 So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
February 8th, 2017
“Practice Makes… a Disciple”
– Tom Beasley, Adult Discipleship Pastor
Now that the Super Bowl is over (what a game!), I have to admit that I’m excited that baseball season is almost here.
I played baseball from the age of 6 all the way through high school. Now, I have the pleasure of coaching my sons’ Little League teams. It’s a joy to watch them work on mastering basic skills like throwing, catching, and hitting, just like I did when I was their age. It’s a great sport to teach kids, because there’s only one way to get really good at baseball: practice.
Every spring, baseball players all over the world come back together to get ready for baseball season. They start from scratch each spring by working on the basics until they become second nature: practice throwing, practice catching ground balls and pop flies, practice swinging the bat, practice running the bases. Day after day, over and over again, coaches run players through drills until they have mastered all of the important skills. They do this because they know that the more they practice, the better they will perform when it really counts. Practice makes permanent.
The Apostle Paul was a great coach. One of the primary goals he had throughout his life of ministry was to train up disciples of Jesus. Many of those disciples would come to be leaders of the church. His coaching style was both direct and encouraging, and I particularly appreciate what he wrote to a young pastor named Timothy:
Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity. Until I come, devote yourself to the public reading of Scripture, to exhortation, to teaching. Do not neglect the gift you have, which was given you by prophecy when the council of elders laid their hands on you. Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all may see your progress. (1 Timothy 4:12-15)
Setting an example, devotion, practice, persistence, immersion: all of these are the hallmarks of a disciple of Jesus. Paul here calls Timothy to commit to a lifestyle that will best enable him to become an effective voice for the Gospel in his community. Although these are instructions for a young pastor, I think they represent a worthwhile attitude for every believer to embrace.
Our call is to practice what we know. We dive deep into the truth of God’s word. We align our habits around spiritual growth and development, including a consistent prayer life and connecting with authentic community. We practice saying “no” to ourselves and “yes” to those in need around us. And then we do it again, and again, and again. This is the life we are called to practice as disciples of Jesus.
What we practice proves who we are and determines who we become.
Let me encourage you to consider what you’re practicing today. How is what you are doing helping you to become an effective disciple of Jesus?
January 31st, 2017
“The real surprise.”
Keith Cromie, Teaching Pastor
There are some surprises in the Bible.
Talk about stating the obvious!
Today I’m not thinking of the hard sayings of Jesus, or the miracles, or the question of why bad things happen to good people. No, today I’m thinking of some language use that surprises me.
Before I tell you what it is that surprises me, I will mention that both the Apostle John and the Apostle Paul surprised me.
Additionally, I will also tell you that once I thought about it awhile, my surprise was replaced by understanding, a conviction that “of course it had to be this way.”
Here are two passages of Scripture to consider. Both contain the surprise. The first passage is part of the Apostle Paul’s sermon on Mars Hill in Athens, Greece. The second came from the quill of the Apostle John in his first letter, chapter 3 and verse 23.
Acts 17:29-31 Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.”
1John 3:23 And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us.
Frankly, I was surprised with the “command” terminology that accompanied the preaching and teaching of the apostles. God commands all people everywhere to repent… And this is his commandment that we believe in the name of his Son…
Commanding faith? Can that be done? So often we hear the call to faith in terms that persuade, encourage and, in some ways, plead for people to believe. And there is a context for such encouragement. Does it make sense to command someone to believe?
The more I think about the offer of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ, the more “command” terminology makes sense. The Creator of the universe, the God against whom we have rebelled, the God who is the One to whom we are ultimately accountable, the only God has made a way for us to be forgiven and to be reconciled to Him. There is no alternative plan, no back door into the mainframe of salvation. There is only one way. Therefore God commands us all to change our minds about our standing before God, our sin, and about the Savior. God established the terms of salvation. He commands that we accept his terms.
Failure to repent and trust Jesus as Lord and Savior is rebellion against God. This is the sin of throwing off God’s authority and declaring our independence from Him.
A command does not force anyone to do anything. A command simply lays down the facts and conditions about being in relationship with the Commander. One must choose for oneself — reconciliation and relationship… or continued alienation and condemnation.
C.S. Lewis wrote about this in The Great Divorce. “There are two kinds of people: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, ‘All right, then, have it your way.’”
The command to believe is a call to experience the grace and mercy of Almighty God. God graciously offers salvation through faith in Jesus, independent of our own personal efforts of righteousness. That is the real surprise.
January 25th, 2017
“What is in a name?”
As Juliet expressed to Romeo, “that which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.”
A name is just a name. It’s a word. An identifier. A clarifying mark.
What matters in a name isn’t the word itself but the person behind it. Say a name and that person who comes to mind brings either sweetness or bitterness.
Behind the name of Jesus stands the power of Almighty God.
You were the Word at the beginning
One With God the Lord Most High
Your hidden glory in creation
Now revealed in Your our Christ
Behind the name of Jesus Stands to power of what He did.
You didn’t want heaven without us
So Jesus, Your broth heaven down
My sin was great, Your love was greater
What could separate us now.
Why does Jesus name hold so much power?
“And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” ~ Philippians 2:8-11
It boils down to the cross, where Jesus took the consequences of our sin. “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23. Salvation comes in the name of Jesus providing us freedom.
What a beautiful Name it is
What a wonderful Name it is
What a powerful Name it is
The Name of Jesus Christ my King
Tomorrow night (Jan 26) is another Women at the Well worship night (6:45-8:15). One of the songs we will share is What a Beautiful Name by Hillsong Worship. It is a song that has drawn me to consider the beauty, wonder, and power of Jesus and his works.
Check out this video: What a Beautiful Name by Hillsong Worship
January 19th, 2017
Luwanna Dice-Director of Children’s Ministries
At our house, Wednesday nights have been declared “Family Night”. Our adult children that live in Livermore come for dinner and to hang out together. They bring their significant others and they bring their dogs! So, on Wednesdays we have ten people and six dogs in the house. It is loud, rowdy, and fun.
When we started these get-togethers a few years ago I thought they might keep going for a few months and then fade away. Well I was so totally wrong! These “Family Nights” have become a big deal to all participants. Very few times over the years has anyone missed coming. I am told that even the dogs get super excited as they turn onto our court. The corgi-mix hound comes running into the house, turns the corner into the kitchen and leaps into my arms. I’d better be ready to catch her, and I’m sure her enthusiasm has a lot to do with the treats I always have ready for her.
I know how special these times are for my husband John and me, but I did not realize how much they mean to all the kids until John and I went out of town for two weeks at the beginning of December. On the Wednesday before we left, I reminded the kids that we would be gone and there would not be Wednesday Family Nights for two weeks. One of them said, “Oh, we’ll all still come over and hang out if you’re okay with us using the house.” I told them it would be fine with me, but thought to myself that they wouldn’t show up while we were gone.
Imagine my surprise on our first Wednesday away when I received a text with a photo attached of all the kids sitting around our kitchen table! They had fast food bags scattered around and were obviously having a great time! The second week, they got together at our house again and made tacos! It brought me great joy to see them having their time together even when we were gone.
At our house, Wednesdays are about sharing food, fellowship, joys and concerns. Wednesdays are about family. I am thankful that four of our six children live here in town. I am blessed!
“Children are a heritage from the Lord, offspring a reward from him. Like arrows in the hands of a warrior children born in one’s youth. Blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them”. Psalm 127:3-5
Try something new this year to increase your time with your family and let me know how it turns out!
January 12th, 2017
“One With the Force.”
-Sam Herscu, Worship Pastor
John Stapp, an Air Force physician, “eager to know what pilots ejecting at high speed could endure… decided to pull out all the stops. Firing nine solid-fuel rockets, his sled accelerated to 632 miles per hour in five seconds, slamming him into two tons of wind pressure, then came to a stop in just over one second. A witness said it was “absolutely inconceivable anybody could go that fast, then just stop, and survive.” But Stapp did…and he experienced a record-breaking 46.2 G’s. For an instant, his 168-pound body had weighed over 7,700 pounds.” *
Sometimes it seems as though I wake up in the morning and strap myself into the cockpit of life. The pressure, the responsibilities and fear of failure are enough to weigh me down to the point where I feel the heavy burden of the world upon my shoulders. Perhaps this is how many of us feel as we strive to accomplish our daily tasks. Maybe you’re working toward a particular career or advanced degree that weighs heavily on your heart, wondering how the Lord will get you through. Maybe the combination of work obligations and family responsibilities is leaving you feeling frayed at the edges. When we consider the multitude of forces that can come at us from every angle in this life, Jesus gives us some very specific words of encouragement.
Luke 10:38-42 says “Now as they went on their way, Jesus entered a village. And a woman named Martha welcomed him into her house. And she had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet and listened to his teaching. But Martha was distracted with much serving. And she went up to him and said, “Lord, do you not care that my sister has left me to serve alone? Tell her then to help me.” But the Lord answered her, “Martha, Martha, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Mary has chosen the good portion, which will not be taken away from her.”
For this one moment, before you dive into the next item on your to-do list or start thinking about the next thing on your calendar, sit quietly and listen to His voice. Hear Him say, “Insert your name here, you are anxious and troubled about many things, but one thing is necessary. Sit at my feet.” Choose the “good portion, which will not be taken away”. When we consider the Man of Sorrows, He was no stranger to the pressures of this life and beckons us to simply sit at His feet as Mary did in Luke 10. Let’s begin to realize that He wants nothing more than to “quiet you with his love”, Zephaniah 3:17. The responsibilities you have are all important, but where does Jesus, who loves you above all else, fall in your list of priorities? Are you making time to rest at his feet?
The forces and pressure placed upon us in this life may not always diminish, but we can always rest assured that Jesus is present with us and offers us true contentment and peace in Him.
* Peter Tyson, editor in chief of NOVA Online – Retrieved from http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/nova/space/gravity-forces.html
January 6th, 2017
Daniel Chapin, Student Ministry’s Pastor
The Bible is one of the coolest books ever written. It is a large book made up of 66 smaller books, compiled over the course of 2500 years, written down by 40-plus authors (many of whom never met each other), yet it all leads to the same message: God saves humanity through Jesus. However, does its message change you? Max Lucado has said, “Christians today are educated beyond their own obedience.” We can come to scripture day in and day out and be unchanged. This isn’t because of a defect in God’s word; this is a brokenness in our own hearts. It’s excellent to hear what God’s word says, but if it doesn’t change you, was there any real point in hearing it in the first place? When we gather in church on Sunday, or attend a small group during the week, or read the Bible on our own time, does we change? II Timothy
3:16 says, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
God breathed out scripture not just so that you would learn some interesting facts about people who lived thousands of years ago; God breathed out scripture so that you would be corrected and trained in righteousness. God didn’t give us scripture so we would have some useful information, but so that we would experience life transformation. Is God’s word transforming you? Are you preparing your heart before coming to His word and genuinely asking the God of the universe to bring life transformation when you open it up?
December 28th, 2016
“Pushing the reset button.”
Tom Beasley, Adult Discipleship Pastor
When I was a kid, video games were just becoming popular. Back then the best gaming system you could get was the Atari 2600. After I got one for Christmas one year, I invited my friends over to play. I remember playing against several of my friends, some of whom may have been better than me at gaming. I desperately wanted to win, but sometimes as the game was coming to an end, it became clear that I wasn’t going to win. When I realized that I wasn’t going to, I did what any responsible, respectful kid would do.
I pushed the reset button.
There has never been a button more helpful than the reset button. It ensured that all evidence of the game that I was about to lose disappeared completely. It was like the game never happened, and I could start fresh–provided, of course, that I could escape the wrath of my friend who had been about to win.
Many people I’ve talked to recently have commented about how glad they are that 2016 is over. They look at New Year’s Eve as an opportunity to push the reset button on many areas of life and start fresh in 2017. While there may not be a reset button in every area of life that’s as easy to push as the one on my Atari 2600, there are some steps to take that could have a similar impact. Here are a few spiritually crucial areas that may need resetting:
Reset your prayer life – Prayer is such a foundational piece of our connection with God, but if we’re not careful, it can get pushed aside or relegated to mealtimes and crisis moments. Praying through the Psalms can be a very helpful tool for revitalizing your prayer times. Take the statements made by the Psalmists and place yourself right in the text as you pray. You might be surprised at the new levels of depth and meaning you find there.
Reset your Bible study habits – God’s Word is living and active, able to reveal the thoughts and intentions of our hearts (Heb. 4:12). Living the Christian life without a steady intake of scripture is like playing video games without the joystick; you can’t get very far. Check out audio Bible options here that can turn commute times into growth opportunities, and think about joining a Bible study group (we have some great ones at CGCC!) that will help provide structure for your study time.
Reset your connection to the body of Christ – Believers are called to be united with each other (Heb. 10:25). Through the gifts God gives in the context of the church, we can grow in maturity as followers of Christ (Eph. 4:11-16). Being a committed part of a body of believers is crucial to developing a strong faith. Whether at CGCC or another Bible-believing church, consider strengthening your commitment to being a part of God’s church, so that we all can benefit and grow.
Friends, Jesus pushed the reset button for us when He paid the penalty for our sins on the cross. We’ve been given a graceful and merciful fresh start with God. What shall our response to that amazing gift be? May we all heed Paul’s exhortation to the Philippians to let “our manner of life be worthy of the Gospel of Christ” in 2017 (Phil 1:27).
December 22nd, 2016
“That’s what Christmas is all about!” -Charlie Brown
Keith Cromie, Teaching Pastor
I just love those words from Linus van Pelt. These words followed the reading from Luke chapter 2 concerning the announcement of Jesus’ birth to the Shepherds.
I love the simplicity of Linus’ speech. I love the heart represented in his animated character. I love the truth of what he spoke.
May I suggest that you take time to read with child-like wonder the account of the first Christmas? Here is the account of Jesus’ birth from the quill of Dr. Luke:
In those days a decree went out from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be registered. This was the first registration when Quirinius was governor of Syria. And all went to be registered, each to his own town. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, from the town of Nazareth, to Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem, because he was of the house and lineage of David, to be registered with Mary, his betrothed, who was with child. And while they were there, the time came for her to give birth. And she gave birth to her firstborn son and wrapped him in swaddling cloths and laid him in a manger, because there was no place for them in the inn.
And in the same region there were shepherds out in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night. And an angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were filled with great fear. 10 And the angel said to them, “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.” And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!”
When the angels went away from them into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, “Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has made known to us.” And they went with haste and found Mary and Joseph, and the baby lying in a manger. And when they saw it, they made known the saying that had been told them concerning this child. And all who heard it wondered at what the shepherds told them. But Mary treasured up all these things, pondering them in her heart. And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all they had heard and seen, as it had been told them.
Well there you have it. “That’s what Christmas is all about!” May the truth of Christ’s birth be at the center of your joy this season.
December 14th, 2016
“Be the Light”
Tom Kirkendall, Lead Pastor
The weather was clear and the family was eager as my parents packed us in the green station wagon. Just one stop at the gas station before we left town to make sure the gas tank was full, the oil was okay, and to top off the radiator. Dad closed the hood, and we were on our way to seek the perfect Christmas tree.
Leaving the town behind us, we began to ascend the mountainous freeway. Singing and laughing, we were on the perfect little family outing. Then…wham! The trip was interrupted less than a mile later with a sudden jolt as the hood of the car stood on end and fully blocked the windshield. It was as if our 1970-something, big green station wagon was saluting its superior.
Mom screamed, sister cried, but brother and I watched with hero-admiration, as my dad cool and calm stayed in control. Without donning a cape, he quickly rolled down the window, leaned out as far as he could, and worked his way to the shoulder.
No lives were claimed that day. The only injuries sustained were to our ears from the screams and to the back corners of the hood, which were now curved upward. Dad claimed it would increase fuel economy – and we believed him.
Perfect Christmas moments exist only in Norman Rockwell paintings. The turkey might burn, a present can bring disappointment, families have conflict and car hoods fly in your face. The one perfect Christmas was only perfect because of the One who was born. His circumstances were not perfect, yet He remained the light of the world.
There are so many lights that go up at Christmastime – let’s be one of them.
“This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with Him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. BUT if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, cleanses us from all sin.” 1John 1:5-7
December 7th, 2016
“Where the Grass is Greener”
-Sam Herscu, Worship Pastor
I had an opportunity to attend a conference that challenged me to take my faith to a deeper level. It’s amazing when God says: To you this is just another gathering of believers, but I’m going to reveal myself in new and glorious ways you never thought possible; just stop hurrying around and listen to my voice. You don’t want to miss this.
During the conference we were given time for personal reflection. Through this uninterrupted one-on-one time with God, I found myself literally walking down the streets of Livermore. I was listening, uttering my doubts, frustrations and shortcomings to God and thanking Him for all He’s done in my life recently. I didn’t have a structure or a well thought-out prayer, only a deep desire for the divine to move me. Walking with Jesus made me feel my longing to know more about Him, and reminded me that I am not much different than the disciples who stood amazed, moved to action at times by His words, and even dumbfounded by this awesome God-man, Jesus. Like the disciples, I too walked with my Creator.
Walking the neighborhoods of Livermore helped me to get an accurate picture of what success means in this world. Houses, cars, financial security, a good retirement account, healthcare, a healthy family and a well manicured lawn– just to name a few–are things that are considered pillars of success in our country. We find ourselves locked into this rat race of pursuing bigger, better and more success. We find ourselves striving day in and day out to meet the “status quo”. If I could just get around this hurdle in my life to the other side where pastures are greener, then I’d finally have my life together. Buying a house is an expected right of passage. Getting the dream job will finally set me up to live comfortably and stop living from paycheck to paycheck. Maybe, for some, it’s the waiting that is almost unbearable. When are you going to move, God? When will my life take the next turn that I deserve?
Psalm 23 says,
The Lord is my shepherd, I lack nothing.
He makes me lie down in green pastures,
he leads me beside quiet waters,
he refreshes my soul.
He guides me along the right paths
for his name’s sake.
Even though I walk
through the darkest valley,
I will fear no evil,
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff,
they comfort me.
You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me
all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord
God’s word says that He has given us all we need in Himself as the Father, His Son and the Holy Spirit. Are we complicating things unnecessarily when it could be as simple as The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing? When we are dissatisfied with life and looking toward greener pastures, could it be that the green pastures we’ve been hunting for are right here in the promises of God’s word? Could it be that the quiet waters that we wish would flood into our lives are actually right here in the presence of Jesus himself? There is peace in the storms of this life and they are written promises that we can bank on. There is a place where the grass is always greener – at the feet of Jesus.
November 30th, 2016
“The Greatest Journey.”
Cortnie Johnson, CGCC High School Student
Two weeks ago was national collection week for Operation Christmas Child. I was so excited to see the stacks of shoeboxes our church helped pack this year. These simple gifts are often the first gifts some children ever receive. Even the adults in these poor communities are unfamiliar with receiving gifts. The shoeboxes offer a tangible expression of God’s love, and the children realize that someone loves them. This presents the perfect opportunity for sharing the Gospel. After the children have received their shoeboxes, they are invited to come back for “The Greatest Journey”, a twelve-week Bible study and discipleship program where the children receive lesson books and hear Bible stories in their own language. When they graduate from the program, they also receive an illustrated New Testament. Over the past years, “The Greatest Journey” has impacted over 3 million children.
“The Greatest Journey” is my favorite part of the Operation Christmas Child ministry, because what we put inside the shoeboxes is temporary. The toys will get worn, the hygiene items will get used up, and the school supplies eventually won’t be needed. But the message that is presented through the boxes and “The Greatest Journey” is eternal. God’s love for His precious children won’t fade, won’t get used up, and will always be needed. These children go through “The Greatest Journey” program to grow in their faith, and to learn how to share the Gospel with their families and friends. Equipped with the word of God and strengthened by Jesus Christ, the kids can change their communities just by sharing the love and joy that they have received through the shoeboxes. Whole churches have been formed from these children’s willingness to share their joy.
My family and I have packed Operation Christmas Child shoeboxes for several years, but I never knew about “The Greatest Journey” until a few years ago. When I heard about it, God gave me an idea. It takes $6 per child for the materials needed for the program, and all those $6’s add up. For the last two years, we have been collecting aluminum cans and plastic bottles, which we take to a refund recycle center. The money from the recyclables goes to support “The Greatest Journey.” I am so thankful for Cedar Grove’s participation the last two years in helping collect cans and bottles. With your empty cans and bottles we have been able to give over a hundred children the opportunity to participate in “The Greatest Journey”.
I would like to invite you to bring in as many aluminum soda cans, glass bottles, and plastic water bottles as you can, and put them in the collection bins in the alcove where the bike racks are, outside the lobby. We will be collecting for the following weeks:
- December 4th
- December 11th
- December 18th
I can’t wait to see how many children we can give “The Greatest Journey” to!
November 23rd, 2016
“Obedience and Love”
Daniel Chapin, Youth Pastor
Love has a powerful way of getting people’s attention. Romantic movies grip moviegoers when two seemingly opposing people from opposing backgrounds find love for each other. Stories of forgiveness, as well can shock people because a great brokenness has been mended. These stories give us hope and help us dream for those moments to come to our lives. The story of following Christ is no different. It is a gripping love story of Jesus for his children despite the opposing backgrounds. It is also a story of great forgiveness where the God of the universe becomes man to be the means of forgiveness for humanity. This is not because of anything humanity has done but because of who God is. Christ is the central piece to this story of love and forgiveness. What is your response to his love? Might I suggest that this response can be twofold. A disciple must love Christ in return and obey him with without reservation. Which means that the degree to which a disciple loves Christ is the degree to which he will obey Christ.
John 14:15, ESV
15 “If you love me, you will keep my commandments.”
How is your love for God doing this thanksgiving? Are you fighting the battles to defeat sin because you must or because you love God? Are you facing those pieces of yourself that you are ashamed of because you don’t want to be judged or because you love God? Are you finding it hard to increase in holiness because that’s what Christians do or because you love God? The obedient life is not found in bearing through the pain of saying no to your sin but saying yes to the savior’s love.
November 16th, 2016
Tom Beasley, Adult Discipleship Pastor
For the last two decades, I’ve been leading mission trips to various points around the globe. Anyone who has been with me on a trip knows that I use a very important word to describe the best attitude to have while serving on a trip.
Squishy is a more visceral way of describing the need to be flexible, to go with the flow of the trip. No matter how much preparation goes into making a trip happen, there are almost always unexpected developments that can make a mess of the best laid plans.
As I write this, I’m sitting in the Los Angeles airport with 18 of my closest friends, waiting for a plane to Lima, Peru, that has been delayed for several hours. If the flight is delayed further, we may miss our connection to Trujillo, and there are only two flights to Trujillo per day.
It’s time to be squishy.
Our response when circumstances change on a mission trip can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of the trip. Our response when circumstances change in our daily lives can have a huge impact on the effectiveness of our discipleship, our relationships, and our witness for Jesus. Our squishiness can make all the difference in letting the love and grace of Jesus shine through.
The Apostle Paul was squishy. In His letter to the Philippians, he writes,
“… I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:11-13)
In the context, Paul is talking about the offering that the Philippian church took up to support his ministry. He is grateful for their support, but his relationship with Jesus has changed his perspective. With resources or without, Paul has learned how to face each day with a Christ-centered strength that enabled his squishy attitude towards the many challenges he faced.
Can we do the same thing? Do we have the same Christ-centered power available to us today?
You don’t have to be on a mission trip to experience unexpected challenges. They happen all the time. When you face them next, what will you do? Be encouraged today to hold onto the same strength that Paul received from Jesus. He is bigger than your circumstances, and he cares very deeply how you respond to them.
Choose to be squishy, and watch what God does in your heart.
November 9th, 2016
“But for this purpose.”
Keith Cromie, Teaching Pastor
It is the eve of the 2016 election. It is no secret that this is a contentious election on the national front. I’m writing my thoughts before we know the outcomes.
If I were going to give a message to the winner of the presidential election, I would offer these words that God spoke to a powerful leader:
But for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth.
I would want the next president, or any elected official for that matter, to know that they are in power because God raised them up and He will display His power to them. God’s intent is to see His name honored in all the earth.
If you wonder whether God can do all this regardless of the person who wins the election, wonder no more. The answer is yes! In point of fact, those words from God mentioned above were spoken to an Egyptian pharaoh (see Exodus 9:16) who was having difficulty getting on board with God’s agenda.
The future president needs to understand that God cares how they serve in office. The decisions they make, the people they recruit, and the behavior they model all matter to God.
Come to think of it, God cares about how His people respond to the outcome of the election. A Christ-like attitude is the best way to proclaim God’s name in our world.
Let us pray… Let us proclaim the excellent name of our God in all the world!
November 1st, 2016
“Move into the Light.”
Tom Kirkendall, Lead Pastor
Fear gripped him as he contemplated the path ahead. Knowing the abundant treasure that awaited him at the end conflicted with the known and unknown dangers that lurked in the darkness. The others that had gone before assured him that the journey was worth it, but still the darkness, the howling, the lurking shadows left him frozen in place.
Then his daddy grabbed the toddler’s hand, bent low and whispered, “I will be with you the whole time.”
Halloween is a strange celebration. All year we work to get rid of spiders, rats, and cobwebs and then purchase replicas to adorn our yards. When did Halloween lights become a thing? Blood, bats, witches, and graveyards – Halloween celebrates death. It traces its roots back to Day of the Dead, believing that the fabric that separates the living and the dead is thinner one evening a year. We have come to celebrate darkness.
1 John 1:5-6 “This is the message we have heard from Him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in Him is no darkness at all. If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.”
I look back at that experience with my son and remember his turmoil. My son grabbed my hand and together we faced the darkness.
Let’s move into the light: holding tight to God’s hand, trusting the One who is Light.
October 26th, 2016
The Body of Christ
-Sam Herscu, Worship Pastor
Have you ever doubted your importance? Have you ever wondered if your contribution to God’s kingdom will ever be noticed or even appreciated?
Every time I encounter a new construction project, I expect that there will be challenges or hoops I need to jump through to get the job done quickly and accurately. A recent building project of mine had challenge written all over it! I would liken this project to setting up an IKEA cabinet–only 100 times the size. My “challenge” was a massive children’s playhouse made of clear, beautifully fragrant cedar wood. This monstrosity was dropped off in multiple boxes on a forklift, toting a 113-page instruction manual which appeared to be written by a preschool graduate. There were hundreds of pieces of wood of every shape and size, all individually numbered. Every type of screw had its own identification number and had to be used in the proper sequence. The estimated time to build this mega-playhouse–sporting two towers, a kitchen, 3 slides, 2 climbing walls, a swing set and living quarters–was a minimum of 18 hours. I’m sure the group of “toddlers” who designed this gargantuan mega-playhouse were secretly chuckling at our confused faces as we attempted to interpret the instructions.
At one point in the construction process, we came to a screeching halt because the walls were not lined up correctly. What? This forced the structural beams to be too short, forcing the flooring not to fit right, which could potentially make the roof not fit right. Phew!! I knew what the “knowledgeable builder” was supposed to do: ignore the instructions, buy more wood and build it the way it should have looked in the first place! Not such a bright idea, Sam. We were forced to go back to the previous step and make things right or risk building a structure that was unusable.
As the building continued, I began to notice that certain pieces were essential for boosting child safety. Some pieces were ornamental for making the structure look more beautiful, while others were designed specifically for structural integrity to keep everything held together for years to come.
In 1 Corinthians 12:14-20 we read:
“For the body does not consist of one member but of many. If the foot should say, “Because I am not a hand, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. And if the ear should say, “Because I am not an eye, I do not belong to the body,” that would not make it any less a part of the body. If the whole body were an eye, where would be the sense of hearing? If the whole body were an ear, where would be the sense of smell? But as it is, God arranged the members in the body, each one of them, as he chose. If all were a single member, where would the body be? As it is, there are many parts, yet one body.”
Maybe you’re waking up early just to face the daily grind at work. Perhaps you have done a particular task a thousand times before and no one seems to notice or even care. Could it be that your seemingly insignificant efforts are adding up to something that is magnificent? Will we continue to let the world dictate our importance? Could it be that your role in the Kingdom of God is so much bigger than you could ever fathom or imagine? Something as basic as putting together a play structure taught me that every part is important, every piece is vital. Let’s live in the truth of our identity in Christ; each of us is that special piece that was destined for God’s purpose.
October 19th, 2016
The last year or so I have been in a season of chaos. I worked all the time, so I didn’t have a lot of space for myself or for my friends and family and I was exhausted. But everything I was doing was GOOD and fulfilling, so I told myself I should keep going.
What I didn’t realize was that I had become a slave to my work, to my calendar, to my to-do list. And the worst part is I had no idea.
I started researching and digging to find an answer to a question I didn’t know how to ask, and at the end of all this searching, I found a book by Shauna Niequist called Present over Perfect.
In this book, she writes:
Do you know what it’s like to be rested? Truly rested? I didn’t, for about two decades.
Do you know what it’s like to feel connected, in deep and lovely ways, to the people you love most?
Do you know the sweetness of working hard and then stopping the working hard, realizing that your body and your spirit have carried you far enough and now they need to be tended to? I feel like a newborn in all this, blissful and delighted each time I take care of myself, like a new skill or a present.
What I am leaving behind doesn’t leave me empty: it leaves me full, and powerful, purposed and stronger than I’ve ever been.
I’m not building a castle or a monument; I’m building a soul and a family.
I love this passage. It paints a beautiful reminder for me that when I rest, it’s not being lazy with myself and my time. It’s empowering and strengthening me for God’s glory.
It’s an interesting time of year to have a worship night focused on rest and soul care. Often we look at our calendars from October through the end of December and take a deep breath as we gear up for a fast-paced and jam-packed season. So I want to invite any woman in 9th grade or older to come and take a deep breath to rest and worship together Monday, October 24th from 6:45pm-8:15pm in the Auditorium. Hope to see you there!
October 11th, 2016
“Responding to Failure.”
Tom Beasley, Adult Discipleship Pastor
I recently re-watched one of my favorite movies, Apollo 13. If you haven’t seen it, the movie tells the true story of the flight crew of the 13th Apollo moon landing mission, which took place in April 1970. There was a major explosion in the spacecraft during the flight which forced the astronauts to abandon their plan to land on the moon. It was an incredible 6-day struggle to get back to Earth. The movie shows how hundreds of technicians overcame enormous odds to figure out a way to salvage enough equipment on the spacecraft to get the astronauts home. At one point, when there seemed to be no answers on how to solve the many problems the mission was facing, flight director Gene Kranz famously declared, “Failure is not an option!”
In this case, he was right. They succeeded, and everyone survived.
Oh, how I wish that were always true.
We fail. Often. What happens when we fail? How do we respond? And most importantly, how does God respond?
We find a helpful example of God’s response to failure in the book of Ezekiel, which was written by the prophet Ezekiel during the years when Israel was taken captive in Babylon. God told Ezekiel to tell the people of Israel that they had failed miserably by forsaking the Lord. God says, “… they defiled [their land] by their ways and their deeds… they profaned my holy name among the nations…” (Ez. 36:17, 21).
What happens next teaches us two important lessons about God’s character:
God is holy, and He will protect that holiness in the world – God decides to act in response to Israel’s failure by restoring them to their land, but is careful to make clear why He will act:
“Thus says the Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came. And I will vindicate the holiness of my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them. And the nations will know that I am the Lord, declares the Lord God, when through you I vindicate my holiness before their eyes.” (Ez. 36:22-23)
Because God’s people carry God’s name throughout the world, God cares deeply about how the words and actions of His people impact the world. Though He could easily destroy those who have profaned His name, God instead chooses to enable His followers to live holy lives not only because it’s a better way to live, but because showing His power through broken people is a powerful witness to the world. So…
God doesn’t give up on failures; He transforms them – God’s people are redeemed from their failure by the transforming power of God at work in their lives:
“I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleanness, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ez. 36:25-27)
Israel had replaced their commitment to God with a pursuit of meaningless idols, and they suffered the consequences of that choice. But God doesn’t leave them there forever. God promises that He will cleanse the people from their desire for these things. He promises that He will replace hardened hearts with hearts of flesh that are softened and ready to receive the guidance of the Spirit of God. All this will result in a return to obedience to the life that God desires. He will restore them to their land, but the much bigger miracle is the restoration of their hearts.
Ezekiel here foreshadows what God accomplishes by sending Jesus to earth. Jesus’ ministry was full of taking failures and redeeming them. When we place our faith and trust in His transforming power, our failures can be overcome. Why? Because God cares deeply for His own name as it is reflected in our lives. How? By the transforming power of the Holy Spirit working in us through what Christ accomplished on the cross.
For us, failure is still an option. What we do with our failure matters to God. But the Good News of the Gospel is that those who place their faith and trust in God can be changed, so that failure doesn’t have to be permanent.
If you’re living through the consequences of your failure today, can I encourage you to focus on what happens next instead of reliving the past? Be encouraged today that your failure can be redeemed.
October 5th, 2016
Keith Cromie, Teaching Pastor
What do you hold on to? Why? What do you hold on to too tightly? How do we know if we need a vice-grip or a light grip?
Considering these questions may have prompted your mind to travel to… tools (don’t want that hammer to slip out of your hand) …or some boxes in the garage (where did all this stuff come from?) Maybe you thought of a relationship, or your favorite kitchen utensil, a tradition or the stuff in your closets. What about your kids? What about your golf game… golf game? Seriously?
OK, that last one is on my mind. Probably the recent passing of Arnold Palmer, and the just completed Ryder Cup competition have pushed golf to the front of my consciousness. And, in the context of holding on, I’ve had enough time on the links in my lifetime to know that one of the classic mistakes a hacker like me can make is to grip the club too tightly. You know there is a problem with the grip when you notice the result of the swing isn’t what you were hoping for. (There are at least a million ways to mess up a golf swing; that one happens to be one of my favorites… but I digress).
I wonder how many times we hold on too tightly to a goal, or to a car, to an expectation, to cares and anxieties, or to anything that ends up becoming more important to us than is spiritually healthy?
What is it that keeps us continuing to put a death grip on something or someone? It sure isn’t faith that is causing the strain. In fact, we hold on too tight when we forget that God’s promises are still in force. We hold on to our anxiety because we forget that God cares for us (1Peter 5:7). We hold on to our personal strategies and plans when God is simply asking us to trust in him (Prov. 3:5-6). We hold on too long to the stuff of this world instead of loving God more than the stuff (1John 2:15-17).
Are you holding on to something too tightly?
However, there is one occasion for holding on tight, and that is when we are holding on to truth:
John 8:31 Jesus said, “If you hold to my teaching, you are really my disciples.
1Cor. 11:2 I [The Apostle Paul] praise you … for holding to the teachings, just as I passed them on to you.
1Tim. 3:9 Leaders are to: …hold the mystery of the faith with a clear conscience.
James 2:1 My brothers, show no partiality as you hold the faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Lord of glory.
I think it is time for us to assess our grip. What are we holding on to? Why? Are we holding on too tightly to things that we should be holding loosely–or too loosely to the truth that demands our tight grip?
September 28th, 2016
Luwanna Dice, Director of Children’s Ministries
Quality Time (QT) is defined as “an informal reference to time spent with family or friends, that is in some way important, special, and productive; time devoted exclusively to nurturing a cherished person. It is time set aside for paying full and undivided attention to the person or matter at hand.”
I have had the opportunity to spend quite a bit of QT with my own family and my church family the past few weeks. My daughter and granddaughter stayed with us last week and all the sibs came piling over for dinner on several nights. This week we get back to our routine of “Family Night Wednesdays.” All the family that lives in the area comes over for dinner every Wednesday night, and it is great fun.
Two weeks ago, I enjoyed a weekend at Del Valle camping with our CGCC sixth graders and their families. This is a great ministry for spending QT with some wonderful folks. It was a weekend of great food, fun games, campfire talks and experiencing God’s great creation.
For the next few weeks, my husband John and I are teaching a class here at CGCC based on The Five Love Languages, a book by Gary Chapman. It may come as no surprise to those of you who know me that I score high in the area of Quality Time on my love languages profile. I enjoy family and friends and spending time with them. If I spend an hour or two with a great friend and a great cup of coffee, I’m in my happy place!
How are we doing when it comes to Quality Time with God? Do we carve out chunks of our days to spend time in prayer and in His Word? Do we spend alone-time with God? Do we set aside time for paying full and undivided attention to Him? If QT with family and friends means so much to us, how much more important should our Quality Time with God be.
My favorite Quality Time spent with God is when I am outside and filled with awe at His marvelous creation–when it is quiet and I am alone and can hear His awesome power through the wind in the trees, or when I’m on a river and hear the gentle flow of the calm stream or the raging power of a mighty waterfall. I love times at the beach and marveling at the awesome power of the waves.
What are your favorite Quality Time moments with God? When I see you on Sunday, tell me about them. I look forward to hearing from you!
September 28th ,2016
Tom Kirkendall, Lead Pastor
Recently I had the privilege of officiating a wedding for our dear friends’ middle child. They asked that I include specific verses in the message. As I meditated on these verses, I was both amazed and overwhelmed; the words were sneaking up on me like only God’s Word can.
I pictured the bride and groom approaching the altar in all their glory, dressed in their best of course. Oh, the beauty of the bride in her gown; how handsome the groom in his tux; parents, grandparents and guests carefully crafting their finest garments; fragrant flowers complementing the beauty of the decorations. No baseball caps or sweatshirts on this day. We put on our best for a wedding.
Paul instructs us to do the same for our relationships:
“Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you must also forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. Let the world of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Colossians 3:12-14
We are God’s chosen ones, made holy by Jesus, the object of His love. Paul reminds us that we are beloved by the God of the universe. Let’s dress the part–not wrinkled, grubby, and dirty. Put on the glorious clothing of reflecting that relationship: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and forgiveness.
How would my relationships change if I remained dressed like Jesus? What if I never took off thankfulness? What if the shoes I wore were that of love, striving for peace and unity? How would my relationships with my wife and kids, friends and strangers change if I always wore the shirt of forgiveness, forgiving before it was asked for, regardless if it was deserved?
We are invited to a wedding feast. The time to get dressed is now–ready to arrive fully dressed in godly character. This is us dressed in our best: Jesus ruling our hearts and His Word richly indwelling, teaching, admonishing and launching all that we do, thankful for His presence. It is a glorious celebration indeed!
September 15th, 2016
Got Spiritual Milk?
-Sam Herscu, Worship Pastor
For some reason I find it difficult to even know how to describe the last 9 months of our lives. Stephanie and I have received one of the greatest gifts that we believed was not going to happen in our lifetime. After desiring to have a child of our own for nearly 10 years, we believed that it wasn’t God’s plan for us to have a biological child of our own. But then God provided a miracle. We found out on Christmas Day last year that we were going to have a baby. Our son, Christian Samuel, was born August 20th. How is it even possible that this little baby who is directly from the mind of God would come to live with us? The elation of seeing His face for the first time can only be described as a little piece of Heaven.
The general consensus from my veteran parent friends is “Sam, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet!” How is it that a little baby who can’t even speak yet can teach me so much about God, our humanity, our place in God’s heart and how frail and helpless we are compared to God Almighty. I’ve just experienced God in a way I didn’t think I could. Now what?! How do I respond to all of this?
1 Peter 2:2 says “Like newborn infants, long for the pure spiritual milk, that by it you may grow up into salvation.” Caution: I’m throwing away everything I thought I ever knew about this verse!! What surprised me about our newborn is that he will stop at nothing to receive his next meal! There is no comfort I can provide or convincible argument that says he doesn’t need milk right now. Give me milk this minute or no one sleeps! It’s ingrained in his little mind to desire nourishment above anything else. The second part of this verse is just as powerful as the first and can easily go unnoticed. If we are to “grow up into salvation” then we must assume that salvation is a journey we are taking with Jesus Christ.
In just 3 weeks of life, my son has taught me that there is no substitute for “pure spiritual milk” that the Lord provides. Am I longing for it with an unquenchable desire? Let’s stop at nothing to receive His beautiful and nourishing word in our lives each day.
Septemeber 7th, 2016
Love the Process
-Daniel Chapin, Youth Pastor
Football season is just around the corner! I was watching an interview one time with Peyton Manning, who is known widely for his feats on the field, just as much as for his meticulous study before each game. The interviewer asked one of the greatest QBs of all time what got him up every morning to meticulously study and go hard every practice. I can’t remember the exact wording but Manning said something like, “I love the feeling of winning games, but I love the process of preparing for games just as much.”
In the Christian life we can struggle severely with the process of becoming like Christ. After all, we have a sin nature that wreaks havoc on our lives with addictions, anger, betrayal, sexual sin and gossip, to name a few. There are so many challenges that get in the way of our process of becoming like Christ. However, we can have a confidence in knowing that no matter the challenges in becoming like Christ, and no matter the deficiencies we have as human beings, if we have put our faith in Christ, then Christ will transform us.
And we all, with unveiled faces, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit. 2 Corinthians 3:18.
We are all in a process of being transformed into the image of God to increasing degrees. Sometimes that process can feel victorious, and other times that process can feel defeating. Sometimes we overcome a struggle and raise our hands victoriously! Other times circumstances hit us so hard that it feels like defeat and we slouch in our chairs wondering how a loving God could allow this pain into our lives. My greatest challenge to you if you are in a season of victory or a season of defeat: learn to love the process. Learn to love the process that God is making you more into His image. We tend to recoil at pain. God says, “Don’t recoil.” He says, “Rejoice!”
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. James 1:2-3
If we don’t love the process of becoming like Christ in the times where we feel defeated just as much as in the times that we feel victorious, then we miss out on the purpose God has for transforming us. We need to love the process of becoming like Christ just as much as the product. After all we are seeing God do what he does best: He takes the broken and remasters it.
August 31st, 2016
Being Busy Wisely
– Tom Beasley, Adult Discipleship Pastor
Summer is coming to an end. Vacations are fond memories, school bells are ringing, and life is about to get crazy. The race you and I are running is picking up steam. Are you ready for it?
In the past, I haven’t always handled these seasonal shifts very well. This year, as the post-summer routine kicks in, here are some questions that I’ll be asking myself regularly. You might find them helpful as well.
How is God going to be glorified during this season of life? There’s a lot going on right now: places to go, people to see, problems to solve, family to love. When I consider my capacity to do all that’s in front of me, it can be pretty daunting. My goal is to hang on to the same power that the apostle Paul knew well:
But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong. (2 Cor. 12:9-10)
Paul knew that in order to accomplish the God-given purpose of his life, he needed strength that he didn’t have and couldn’t create. So do I. God will be glorified during the hectic seasons of life if, and only if, His will reigns supreme and His power sustains me.
What are my priorities? In these busy seasons of life, it can be difficult to distinguish the important from the urgent. The loudest voice might not always be the most crucial voice to listen to. The Holy Spirit enables believers to make decisions that are in line with God’s will and purpose, but that enablement only works when it is heard. I think this is what Paul had in mind when he told the Roman church:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect. (Rom 12:1-2)
The priorities we set determine the product we make. It could be that part of our busy-ness is the result of conforming, rather than transforming. It’s worth taking a hard look at the calendar to know for sure.
Am I joyful? This one can be difficult for me. I sometimes allow the weight of whatever it is that I have to do rob me of feeling any joy while I’m doing it. One of the busiest guys in the Old Testament, David, ended one of his songs with this:
But I have trusted in your steadfast love;
my heart shall rejoice in your salvation.
I will sing to the Lord,
because he has dealt bountifully with me. (Psalm 13:5-6)
Before, during, and after the busy seasons of life, David encourages us here to simply acknowledge that because of His steadfast love, God “deals bountifully” with those who love and trust Him. The reality of how our great God cares for us is the root of deep and lasting joy.
My prayer is that these three questions might help establish some significant changes in our approach to the busy seasons of life.
August 24th, 2016
-Keith Cromie Teaching Pastor
A friend recently reminded me how one can know if a person needs encouragement.
They pointed to one question that can tell you the answer.
“Is the person breathing?”
If the answer is “yes,” then they need encouragement.
I can honestly and heartily agree. If I’m breathing, I need encouragement. And I am; so I do. If you are reading this blog, then you need encouragement as well.
What does it mean to encourage someone? I went to the online dictionary for an answer. Encourage is a verb meaning to…give support, confidence, or hope to (someone).
One of the most encouraging letters in the New Testament is Paul’s first letter to Christians in Thessalonica. They were doing well as they learned this new kind of living as Christ followers. Note four quick references to encouragement:
1Th. 2:12 …we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.
1Th. 4:18 Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1Th. 5:11 Therefore encourage one another and build one another up, just as you are doing.
1Th. 5:14 And we urge you, brothers, admonish the idle, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with them all.
Two different Greek words underlie our English New Testament translations. But the basic idea is to offer strength, support, confidence, and hope to those who need it.
Now, the opposite of encourage is discourage. It is possible to drain hope from others, to cause more misery than comfort, and to weaken the hearts of others. Certainly there is too much discouragement going on in our world. The cure is to develop homes (and churches) on the range, where seldom is heard a discouraging word…
God’s Word is full of truth, including promises from God that build strength and hope in our hearts. Occasionally–okay, all the time–we need to be reminded of God’s truth to increase our strength. Blessings upon she who takes time to focus the power of God’s Word upon our lives! Blessings upon he who shares from his own experience the sufficiency of God’s grace and the power of His Word! Blessed are the ones who take the initiative to encourage our hearts!
Is there a friend or neighbor, a parent or grandparent, a spouse or a child, a partner or a customer that needs encouragement? Well, are they breathing?
“The Small things in Life.”
– Tom Kirkendall Lead Pastor
So often the small stuff in life can get me down: a splinter in the finger, a pebble in the shoe, a wandering eyelash. The small stuff irritates and nags and causes grating frustration. The small stuff builds and builds and weighs me down.
The big stuff can displace the small stuff: a visit to the ER, the loss of a job, the death of a loved one. When tragedy strikes, the big stuff takes over and the small stuff remains…small. That is just it; the small stuff still remains.
Both big stuff and small stuff can cause damage. Wounding, depression, and loneliness attack our spirits, our minds and our bodies no matter the size of the hardship. As both James and Peter wrote, we each experience “trials of various kinds.” This is the stuff that can splinter our focus, weaken our faith, and divert our eyes off of God.
Both James and Peter say that in the midst of trials we should find joy.
That is crazy, right? This is only possible if we keep our eyes (focus, attention) on God. The trials (stuff) that happens can actually strengthen our faith, clarify our view of God, and increase our hope because big or small stuff is not bigger than our God.
Peter says, “In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith – more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire – may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1Peter 1:6-7)
God is not done. In the midst of bad news, good news, little stuff and big stuff, God has not changed. He is still moving and working out His plan.
Peter continues: “Though you have not seen Him, you love Him. Though you do not now see Him, you believe in Him and rejoice with joy that is inexpressible and filled with glory, obtaining the outcome of your faith, the salvation of your souls.” (1 Peter 1:8-9)
August 10th, 2016
Running the Race
Luwanna Dice Director of Children’s Ministries
Hebrews 12:1-2 “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God.”
My first thoughts about “the race set before us” are about the season of ministry we just finished up: our May Program, Vacation Bible School, Junior Camp, Middle School Camp and High School Camp. Children and teens accepted Christ and/or grew stronger in their faith. Adults were stretched and grew in their faith. Whew, what a race! We finished the race of this season strong.
But wait, this verse isn’t about just a season of ministry; it is about how we live our whole lives. We have a strong foundation laid out by those who came before, many biblical examples of how to live godly lives, resist sinful things and serve with joy, looking to our Heavenly Father for our strength and endurance.
What do our races look like? Have you had some sprints and some marathons? For me, some days speed by like a 100 meter run and others drag on like a long, arduous uphill trail run.
Are you tempted to let someone else set the pace for you and then become frustrated? Do you always run in someone else’s draft or shadow and then feel lonely or insignificant? No two races are ever the same. Pray for strength to run your own race. Find a racing partner! Run the race together.
Let’s all run the race set before us with joy. Let’s take every opportunity to point people to the saving knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Race into His arms!
August 3rd, 2016
-Sam Hersuc Worship Pastor
Seeing God in Everything
Okay, it’s official. I’d like to announce that I have a bad case of “Dad syndrome”. If you look up this phrase, you’ll see a picture of me. I’ve developed an unrivaled ability for puns that seem to just roll off my tongue and my general sense of excitement when I’ve found just the right baby toy is slightly frightening. I am getting ready for one of the most monumental stages of my life and I can’t wait for my firstborn son to arrive. What an amazing gift from the Lord!
In our struggle to clean, organize and baby-proof the whole house our entire focus has changed to become the best parents that we can be. Suddenly this little one who isn’t even here yet is demanding all our attention and we are looking at the world through baby blue glasses.
As I count down the days until I become a father, I am reminded of my heavenly father whom I long to spend time with. I want to clean all the crevices of my heart to prepare room for Him. I want to alter my life in ways that would make room for God to occupy all of me. Almighty God who made heaven and earth has called us His beloved. This is a reality that fills me with excitement and anticipation of His presence in my life.
I long to trust God more with each passing day and keep my fire burning for Him. I want Him to consume my thoughts so that I begin to see him in everything and everywhere I go. May our devotion to prayer never die out, may our hunger for God’s word never be extinguished and may our love for Him grow ever brighter. Just as a child can enter your life and change your outlook on everything, let us rewrite our love story with the One who died for us.
July 27th, 2016
-Daniel Chapin Youth Pastor
Better Than The Mountain Top
Summer camp has a way of bringing people back into focus. It brings them back into focus in that they are able to remove distractions from their lives and focus on what God’s Word says. Oftentimes, we miss the intricate beauty of what God’s Word has to say because life distracts us from it. When you are at camp, it’s a mountaintop experience. You feel convicted about your sinfulness and convinced that, this time, life is going to be different. However, the sad reality is that many of the mountaintop decisions made at camp fall short and aren’t long lasting. As a pastor and ministry leader, I can’t but help ask the question, WHY?
Why do some people walk away from camp totally changed, never looking back, and others leave camp staying the same? I believe one reason may be that we oftentimes overestimate the impact of a choice at camp over the disciplines which the choice requires.
James 1:22-23 “But be doers of the Word, and not hearers only, deceiving yourselves. For if anyone is a hearer of the word and not a doer, he is like a man who looks intently at his natural face in a mirror. For he looks at himself and goes away and at once forgets what he was like. But the who looks into the perfect law, the law of liberty and perseveres, being no hearer who forgets but a doer who acts, he will be blessed in his doing.”
We decide to ignore the choices made at a mountaintop experience because we like the sinful lives we have chosen in the valley. We can often hear the same truth over and over again, but it doesn’t change our behavior. Why? I believe it is because we overestimate the mountaintop experience and underestimate the longstanding obedience that comes with hearing the Word of God followed by obeying the Word of God.
If you’re struggling with some kind of sin, or a pain that doesn’t seem to go away, don’t beg God for a mountaintop experience to change you. Instead, beg God for daily faithfulness to hear the Word and courageously do what it says. That’s how you live out a faith which lasts longer than the mountaintop decisions.
July 20th, 2016
-Jensen Kirkendall Re-Stored High School Student
My View From Camp
I’ve missed this. 3 years have passed since we’ve come to Shasta. And I sorely missed it. It is difficult to describe the experience of sitting on this hill overlooking the promontory we have claimed for the week: before me gentle water laps against the shore; to my right 100 empty camp chairs form an amphitheater amongst the dirt and rock; to my left a grove of wimpy trees look tired and thirsty; behind me seven interconnected houseboats form our home – swimsuits and towels draped over railings drying n the sun. Teenagers scattered about contemplate Hebrews 11, “Now faith is…”
As I write singing begins, “Savior, He can move the mountains. My God is mighty to save. He is mighty to save.”
I feel deeply the need for our God to be mighty to save. Since getting here, God has tugged at my heart. Two years ago I struggled believing God’s existence. I have worked through those doubts and now find myself struggling with actively following Him, seeking Him, and exploring my role in God’s Kingdom. Reflecting on this last year, the days are few and far between that I have spent even 10 minutes with my savior. I wish I could say that I’m all in with the pursuit of Christ but as I honestly analyze my heart, I find hardness. I lack the willingness to “step over the line” (as our speaker, Gary, put it). I don’t want to leave the cozy comforts I have found, the worldly pleasures I adore, the secret shames I hide – all of which reek of absent-fulfillment. I don’t want to take the risk of stepping out in faith. It is the honest truth, but I don’t want it to be the truth.
It is an issue of trust. I must trust to step over that line and leave the bondage behind. I must trust in the God who calls me higher. I must trust that His promises are true. I must trust that the contentment I seek is found in Him. Worldly vices that feel so comforting will fail me and abandon my heart to empty bitterness. Lack of trust or wishy-washy trust leads me to half-hearted faith. “Lord awaken my faith, trusting you as I take the first step – second step – and each one after that – further up and further into your presence.”
Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts;
The whole earth is full of His glory!”
The view of camp is beautiful. I sorely missed it.
July 13th, 2016
– Keith Cromie Teaching Pastor
What if you could be friends with God? Would that be amazing?
“Impossible!” you declare. Really? Are you thinking that God isn’t interested in you being his friend?
God spoke to Moses as a friend (Ex. 33:11). Abraham was called the friend of God (James 2:23). The apostles were friends of Jesus (John 15). Lazarus was a friend of Jesus (John 11:11).
Does friendship with God still seem too far of a reach? Do you find it difficult to see your self as someone who Jesus would want as a friend? Understandable.
But consider this: Who were the people that Jesus befriended here on planet earth? Among those he worked to befriend were religious aristocrats, foreigners, the marginalized, both men and women, fishermen, tax collectors, and political activists. Jesus even had a reputation for being a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” (Matt. 11:19)
The truth that we need is simply this. Jesus made it possible to be a friend of God. Consider his words to the disciples:
John 15:13 Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command you. 15 No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. 16 You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. 17 These things I command you, so that you will love one another.
What does it take to be a friend of God, a friend of Jesus? Faith and obedience. We believe that Jesus’ death and resurrection are sufficient for our salvation; then we obey by taking on his agenda, his values, and his character by faith. According to Jesus, friendship with him is open to folks who will trust and obey. And the command to obey? Love one another.
Friendships don’t just happen. It involves sharing life together, communicating with one another, and constantly adjusting our understanding of Jesus’ purpose and priorities.
No one has too many friends. Let’s explore friendship with Jesus, our Lord.
– Tom Kirkendall Lead Pastor
When was the last time someone said that to you? What happened? Poof. Did all your anxiety suddenly disappear? “Oh, okay, since you told me not to worry, I won’t. Thanks I am not worried anymore.”
There is no shortage of items that burden us. Real or imagined (often a mixture of both), it can be hard to shake thoughts of “what might happen.” Our minds are great at conjuring up and dwelling on worst-case scenarios. Mix together tragic experiences, less than encouraging news reports, and just a dash of our greatest nightmare. We have a powerful dose of worry.
Jesus is a voice saying, “don’t worry.”
“Therefore, do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about its own things. Sufficient for the day is its own trouble.” Matthew 6:34 NKJ
Fortunately Jesus’ voice is different than the others. He starts here with “Therefore.”
“Therefore” is a powerful word in Scripture. It reminds us that this verse does not stand by itself. There is a context to understand. “Therefore” connects “don’t worry” to what has just been said. Jesus never gives a stand-alone platitude.
Read through Matthew 6:25-34 a few times. They are likely familiar verses. Take more than a glance at them–meditate on them, dwell on them, pray them. In essence Jesus is saying, “Don’t worry; God’s got this.” Allowing the anxiety to dwell in your heart and mind is creating so much more trouble. Remember who God is—the One who adds all these things to you! “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
When worry creeps in (and it will) Jesus says, “Don’t worry; seek God’s Kingdom.” Seek to do the work of the King and let the other things fall into place.
God’s got it.
-Luwanna Dice Director of Children’s Ministries
A Walk Among the Homeless
I recently spent some time in a large city known for their very large homeless population. I spent one day walking among them. There were a few of the homeless that really got to me; a very obviously pregnant women, a handicapped elderly lady, a man with no legs and a women with two small children.
I was sitting, eating my sandwich when a young man approached me. He was high on drugs, street dirty, and he asked if I had any spare change. I told him no, but he was welcome to half my sandwich and some conversation. I invited him to sit. He declined the conversation, but accepted the sandwich. This young man sat down at a table nearby and ate the sandwich. When I was finished eating I went to his table and asked if he was ready for some conversation. He declined my offer, but thanked me for the food.
Sometimes it’s hard to leave an encounter like this without saying what I wanted to about Christ. I have to trust that caring for a person’s physical needs when I have the opportunity can open a door for someone else to have the spiritual conversation. I have continued to pray for this young man.
“Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Matthew 25:40
June 22nd, 2016
-Sam Herscu Worship Pastor
My sheep listen to My voice.
I feel fortunate to be living in the 21st century. There are so many fun technologies to explore, however, I’m still waiting for an actual hover board to be invented! But the thing that really amazes me was getting to see an ultrasound of my unborn son in 3D!!! Gathering with family around a big screen TV and spying into our baby’s temporary home was beyond exciting. Our ultrasound technician was a serious veteran and she knew exactly what she was doing. There was no question she couldn’t answer, except for one. How do we get this baby to stop covering his mouth with his arm, so we can take his picture? She tried having my wife lay on her side and move around, she tried tapping on her belly and even asking mommy to drink cold water! It was all to no avail, this baby was not moving his arm for anyone! When frustration had almost fully set in, my wife asked Dad(me) to talk to him. I said “Baby, this is Daddy, we’re trying to take your picture. Please move your arm.” Within seconds he did exactly what I asked him to do! Victory! It was only moments before he covered his face again. Daddy talked to him a second time and he did exactly what he was told again!! Proudest moment of my life!! My sweet baby boy was responding to me!
When I finished picking myself up off the floor, I thought of the words Jesus spoke in John10:27: “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.” This verse does not say “the sheep who have not messed up too many times hear my voice” or “only the holiest sheep hear my voice.” It says “My sheep”. Why did my son, still inside the womb, listen to me? Because he knew my voice. When we belong to The Lord, there’s no question that we are His children and we have priceless value in His eyes. We don’t have to work for a title or say all the right prayers to hear what God is saying to us. We only have to listen to our Father. Let’s come to the Lord, with a hunger and a thirst for His voice, waiting expectantly for His life-giving words.
Will you simply sit at His feet and listen today?
June 15th, 2016
-Daniel Chapin Youth Pastor
Is God good and powerful
Tragedy has a way of showing us the fallen-ness of humanity and it also makes some fear the worst about God. It shows us the worst in humanity as we watch the unveiling of the horrors we thought were only possible in fictitious Hollywood movies. It makes some fear the worst about God because how could a good God allow such tragedy to happen on his watch? Is he really even a good God? Is he really even a powerful God? A God out of control and tainted with evil is one to be feared not loved.
It can be easy to forget God’s goodness in times of tragedy. In the media or in the work place the conversations might look a little like this: “If God is who he says he is then he can’t be good. If God is good then he must not really be powerful enough to be God. You can’t have a God who is all good and all powerful; they contradict each other.”
However the flaw in this argument is underestimating God. Wouldn’t an ultimately good and powerful God be able to turn the worst evil into good? Wouldn’t, too, an ultimately powerful God be able to turn the worst tragedy into an opportunity for good to flourish?
John 3:16 “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
God’s motivation for putting Jesus on the cross was love. It was his love for us who live in a fallen world full of sin. I would imagine that the disciples, when they realized that Jesus was dead and buried, had thoughts of uncertainty to the goodness of God. They were lost in their pain. One of the most violent acts of execution known to man was the source of man’s greatest salvation. This violent act of execution was also at the same time an act of great love by God.
A good and powerful God knows how to take the worst tragedy and turn it into good. That’s a hard reality to face in the midst of tragedy. Whenever I struggle with what God is going to do I am reminded to look back at what he has done. In this case I look back to the cross for which there is no greater good.
June 8th, 2016
-Tom Beasley Adult Discipleship Pastor
Choose to Move
At the beginning of my career in ministry, I served on staff at a Christian camp. Part of our orientation week was spent in teams working through a low-ropes course, trying to conquer various challenges while developing teamwork and leadership skills
One of the scariest exercises of that course was the “Trust Fall.” One person from the team would climb up a massive tree stump that was probably about 4-5 feet tall. The rest of the team would stand on the ground next to the stump in two parallel lines facing each other. They would form a makeshift stretcher with their arms. The person on top of the stump would face away from the rest of the team, cross their arms across their chest, and fall backwards off the edge of the stump into the waiting arms of the team.
Now, it was one thing for me to believe that these people were able to catch me, and I might even have believed that they wanted to catch me. However, that belief was merely an intellectual assent based on the data available. In a situation like this, faith takes the form of trust at the precise moment when I transfer my weight backwards and fall off that tree stump.
When it was my turn to fall, I stood on the stump and thought of Peter, in my mind’s eye holding on tightly to a rope while saying, “If it’s you Lord, tell me to come out on the water.” (Matt. 14:28) What kind of trust did Peter have to even consider uttering that request?
Of course, we all know what happens: he gets out on the water, takes a few steps, realizes how ridiculous it all is, and starts to sink. Jesus is right there, pulling Peter up. Jesus wonders why Peter doubted. Then, there’s this little phrase that I don’t ever want to forget: “And when they got into the boat, the wind ceased.” (Matt. 14:32).
They got in the boat. Together. Peter stepped out in faith, and Jesus didn’t let Peter sink. Peter’s faith was built up in way that wouldn’t have been possible if he never stepped out on the water.
As I fell off the stump that day into the waiting arms of my friends, I realized why the “trust fall” exercise is so effective at developing trust. I bonded with those people in a unique way that wouldn’t have been possible if I stayed on the stump.
Maybe you are on the edge of that stump in your life right now, wondering whether God is really who He says He is. Maybe you’re wondering, “If I truly give my life to Him and walk in His ways, will He be there to hold me up?” You’ll never know until you move.
May we all discover the tangible, personal faithfulness of God by choosing to move as He leads.
June 1st, 2016
-Keith Cromie Teaching Pastor
“Please Shred! Thanks.”
It was a polite request… simple… direct… easy to accomplish, and nearly impossible to misunderstand.
Frankly, I didn’t know what was in the folder. This was simply a favor for a ministry partner. As the pages disappeared into the teeth of the machine, a quick glance suggested that these were copies of records that 1) were no longer needed and 2) would be inappropriate to keep.
If God were to hand to us our own personal “shred” file, what would we find inside? What records are no longer needed and would be inappropriate to keep?
Past failures? Sins long past confessed? Successes from years gone by? Last week’s heroics on the job? All genuinely a part of our life experience helping shape us into the people we are today.
Problem… at some point those memories are taking up space on our mental hard drives. Worse, those memories continue to run in the background limiting our ability to live life to the fullest.
There is certainly no need to keep a record of confessed sins. God willingly forgives and removes our unrighteousness from those who trust Him. (1John 1:9).
There is no need to keep a record of past successes. We are certainly wise to remember that God has been faithful in the past, but our own performance needs to be shredded. A wise man once told his friends to forget the past and press on to new levels of intimacy with God (Phil. 3:13,14). Besides, anything that needs to be remembered is secure in the mind of God (Heb. 6:10).
There is no need to keep a record of other’s offenses against us. Love doesn’t keep a record of wrongs (1Cor. 13:4-8). Besides, Jesus told us to forgive others as we humbly approach God with our own sins (Matt. 6:12).
There is a folder in your possession that has clear instructions from God written boldly on the front of it. “Please Shred! Thanks.”
Why put off the clear and simple task that God asks of us?
May 25th, 2016
Day by Day
– Tom Kirkendall Lead Pastor
Vic died about 10 years ago. His death did not create headlines. You won’t find him in any history book nor a Wikipedia entry. But when Vic prayed, he entered the presence of God.
I was privileged to join his prayer group that met faithfully each week to pray for the church. This prayer reminded me of Vic.
“Day by day, day by day,
O, dear Lord, three things I pray:
To see thee more clearly;
Love thee more dearly;
Follow thee more nearly,
Day by day.”
~ Richard, Bishop of Chichester
Oh how I need the reminder. Prayer is not just asking God to do what I want; it is about walking with Him day by day in friendship. Prayer is about sensing his smile, hearing His voice, and noticing His touch each day. Prayer is about friendship that changes how I love and follow.
As Vic aged, his eyesight continued to fade. He told me the hardest thing was that he could not read God’s Word. His precious wife would read it to him. His eyesight may have been bad, yet his vision was quite clear, you could hear it when he prayed – he entered the presence of God.
Oh to have the vision of Vic and to walk day-by-day in friendship with Jesus.
Day by day.
May 18th, 2016
A Hope and a Future
Luwanna Dice –Director of Children’s Ministries
I recently spent the better part of a week with a young couple. They were married five years ago and, after some time, decided to start a family. After several years of trying to conceive, they were told they would probably never have children.
Nine months ago they conceived a child and were told there was great risk of miscarriage due to health issues being experienced by the young mother. She was told she might not be able to carry her baby to term.
At 39 weeks, the young mother went into labor and their child was born. Both mother and child came through the pregnancy, labor and delivery safely. The young mother told me that “in these last few years, throughout my illness and then my pregnancy, whenever man and science said something was impossible, God said ‘trust in Me, I’ve got this; with Me all things are possible!’”
It was my great honor to be present at the birth of their beautiful baby girl. What an amazing experience, and as I watched my sweet granddaughter being born, I was reminded that:
Life is a precious gift from God. Children are an amazing gift from the Lord. We are fearfully and wonderfully made. God formed our inward parts and knitted us together in our mother’s womb. God’s plan is to give us a future and a hope.
May 11th, 2016
This is the Day that the Lord has Made
Sam Herscu – Worship Pastor
“This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
I grew up in the church. My parents were very involved in ministry and from car seat to driver’s license I found community in our church. In Sunday school, I had the opportunity to learn Bible stories and songs, and I took them at face value. From the colorful, felt Bible characters pinned on display boards to the episodes of McGee and Me (My favorite Christ centered cartoon growing up), I was taught the basics of the Christian faith. These were formative years that I wouldn’t trade for anything.
Not until today, as an adult, do I realize the spiritual impact of each story and each song that I learned as a child. “This is the day that the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” This is a song I had sung so many times. I knew every word. In fact, I may have even used it to annoy my parents. Studying Psalm 118:19-24 in further depth, I am convicted of the incredible context that surrounds this familiar children’s song.
Here’s my attempt at paraphrasing this passage:I long to pursue His righteousness, I am beyond thankful that God has answered my cry and He has given me salvation through Jesus. Our Savior, Jesus, was rejected by man, and now He has become our cornerstone. He is my solid rock and refuge! What an incredible day that the Lord has made, because of what He has done!
A familiar little song from so many years ago convicts me to look deeply into God’s word and wait in expectation for the Holy Spirit. Ask the Lord to open your heart to His truths, which can be found in a place where you least expect it–such as the simplest of Sunday school songs!
“Open to me the gates of righteousness,
that I may enter through them
and give thanks to the LORD.
This is the gate of the LORD;
the righteous shall enter through it.
I thank you that you have answered me
and have become my salvation.
The stone that the builders rejected
has become the cornerstone.
This is the LORD’s doing;
it is marvelous in our eyes.
This is the day that the LORD has made;
let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
May 4th, 2016
Humility and Motherhood
Daniel Chapin -Youth Pastor
Motherhood is not for the weak. Motherhood is tough work that requires all of your heart, soul, mind and strength. This year I have been given a gift of seeing motherhood from a different angle as my wife and I had our first child in September. In the hardships of raising a child, I have seen a new side of motherhood: it not only requires lots of toughness but it also requires lots and lots of humility.
Think about it. Do you know many people who would take time away from a successful career—one for which they have studied hard and paid lots of money to obtain—in order to wipe human poop with a thin baby wipe? Do you know anyone who would get all dressed up in their favorite outfit for a nice night out, all to have it washed with someone else’s puke minutes before departure? Being a mother requires lots and lots of humility.
In his book Humilitas: A lost key to life, love and leadership, John Dickson defines humility as “the noble choice to forgo your status, deploy your resources or use your influence for the good of others before yourself.”
Perhaps no one in the history of the world has ever exemplified humility more than Jesus who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:6-8) Humility is others-centered, not self-centered. Humility is driven by seeking the best for others. Humility is demonstrated by putting others’ needs before your own. Humility is stepping out of your highly fulfilling position to serve those who would be lost without you. Humility is what Christ did, and humility is who mothers are.
Daniel Chapin -Youth Pastor
What is the most precious resource on the planet? Some say “gold.” It’s the basis for our economy and helps determine the value of our money. Some say “oil”. If the supply of crude oil was cut off to our country for even a short time the economy would suffer greatly. Others say that the Christmas present their five-year-old wants is the most precious resource on the planet. “If I don’t get that Elsa doll from Frozen my precious little girl is going to have a meltdown Christmas morning!”
While all of those resources are highly valuable for me, the most precious resource is time. Everyone has a set amount of time. There is no way to get more time. Once time is used it can never be regained.
Psalms 39:4-5 says “Show me, Lord, my life’s end and number of my days; let me know how fleeting my life is. You have made my days a mere handbreadth; the span of my years is as nothing before you. Everyone is but a breath even those who seem secure.”
David knows the importance of time. He knows the importance of timing when it comes to the battle field. He knows the importance of waiting for God to remove Saul from power and to wait for his time as king of Israel. David knows the importance of time. He wants God to reveal to him how truly precious his time is and how easily it can be escape us.
The current Christmas season which we are deep in is a reminder of how quickly our time escapes us. We can become so overwhelmed by activity that we are underwhelmed by our awesome God. We can be so overwhelmed with activity that we miss how God is using our families to communicate to us. We can be so overwhelmed by activity that we miss the activity of God in our families. We can be so busy that we miss the blessing God designed our families to be.
How we use our time around our families this Christmas season will show if we are captivated by God’s work in their lives. Our families aren’t just to be an agenda on our yearly calendars. We can be surrounded by our families and yet never have a meaningful conversation about what God is doing in their hearts. Even though we see these people a few times a year and have a blood relation they can still feel like strangers to us. Perhaps this is because we would rather spend our time in the kitchen making our prized apple pie. We would rather spend our time stuck in front of the TV watching the game that isn’t that interesting anyway. Even worse yet we would rather be spending our time scrolling through Facebook to see if our friends are having better Christmas’s then us.
As David did years ago ask the Lord to show you the value of your time. Ask Him to especially show you the value of your time with your family. Is this the last Christmas you’re going to have with your parents? Ask God to show you the value of your time with the brother who thinks that a risen Savior is ridiculous. Ask God to show you how this Christmas will be one where the precious resource of time is used well.
Dear Cedar Grove Church Family,
A tree without roots is hardly a tree; roots are crucial for life. The Apostle Paul wrote about our rootedness in Christ: “Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving” (Col 2:6-7).
In 2014 our focus has been “rooted in Christ” – setting our faith deeply in Jesus. On Celebration Sunday we abounded in thanksgiving as we shared stories of “walking in him” through both bitter and sweet times. The cards of thankfulness were even added to our Christmas decorations in the lobby – ornaments of praise and prayer to our God who meets us and loves us as we are.
This has been a year of saying goodbye to some, sending others off, and welcoming new friends into our midst. The weather changes, but our roots continue to hold onto Christ.
- Pastor Dan Chapin was hired to work with our students.
- Pastor Tom Beasley has taken on the role of Missional Pastor.
- We sent Missions Teams to Arizona, Dominican Republic and Guatemala.
- We hosted Simply the Story training.
- We shared Christ and disicpled lives through retreats and camps for women, men, high schoolers, middle schoolers and children.
- We blessed our neighbors through the Fall Festival and Faith in Action.
- VBS and the May children’s program reached many families who have now become part of our Cedar Grove family.
- We served and supported local agencies: Open Heart Kitchen, Shepherd’s Gate, and pregnancy centers.
- We sent out Ben McClure (YWAM), Marissa Brogden (Young Life Military) and 2 MSI Serve Teams.
- So many continue to teach God’s word through small groups and classes.
Our commitment continues to be reaching, teaching, and releasing disciples of Jesus Christ to expand God’s Kingdom. I am so thankful for this church family. Being “rooted in Christ” is not just something we say; it is lived out. We are a church committed to the Gospel and to being faithful stewards to what God has entrusted to our care.
With united hearts, rooted in Christ we continue to strive to expand His Kingdom of grace and look forward with anticipation to what God will do in and through us in 2015.
With a grateful heart,
Pastor Tom Kirkendall