"equipping local congregations
to extend the Kingdom of God"
September 11, 2023
Vital Family Connections
During my recent vacation, I had two great opportunities to connect with people that I dearly love, many of which I hadn't seen in quite some time. The first was a Memorial Service for my Aunt, Bernice Richardson, the last of my Mother's siblings. She passed away during the pandemic, and this was the first and best chance her daughter had to have the service. It was a truly blessed time as we honored the nearly 99 years of loving, servant living of a great woman of God. I saw family members that I hadn't seen in years, and in some cases decades. It was more of a family reunion than a funeral type event. It was fun for me and two of my siblings to reconnect with them and share stories of how our families have changed and grown over the years. It was also great to relive some of the funny and cherished memories we had, and snap some pictures to commemorate our time together. Sadly, we also lamented the fact that we need to be more intentional about getting together outside of a funeral or a memorial service.
The second opportunity was the very next day at my home church, the Arlington Church of God in Akron, Ohio. They had a Homecoming Service and Picnic, in which they invited back people from over the years and across the country to come together and celebrate that great ministry. Several hundred people came together, dozens who are living in other places or perhaps at other churches, joined with the current membership to worship, fellowship, and remember. We spent a great afternoon at a park sharing food, games, stories, and cherishing people and ministries over the 106 years of that congregation's history. I was able to reconnect with friends, ministers, and family members who attend that congregation, and it was truly wonderful. Again, we lamented that we need to be more intentional about getting together more often.
The reality of both of those wonderful events is that they are rich with family connections that are truly vital to our core. But life impacts us all geographically and in other ways, such that we are just not able as much as we would like to get together. The thought hit me about this wonderful Church of God in Michigan family. We are indeed family, even though miles, ministries, diversities, and other things are between us. We have the ability to be intentional about making vital family connections. They happen for us in the wonderful connection events we have throughout the year. When we have connected, it has truly been a blessing to see how we can interact with each other and grow together. The 360 Ministry Leadership Conference, the Youth Winter Retreat, the Michigan Student Leadership Institute (MSLI), Warner Camp, Charlevoix Camp, St. Louis Camp, and other events like ordinations and installations have been rich. The Ministry Wives Retreat is this coming weekend.
There are some wonderful connection events coming our way the rest of the year. We want to re-invite you to make the time to press into these vital family connections. Our Academy of Servant Leaders will be September 30, at New Creation Church of God in Flint. Our State Youth Convention will be November 3-5 at First Church of God in St. Joseph. Our General Assembly Meeting will be November 10-11 at the Crowne Plaza Lansing West in Lansing. In our regions, we will have Christmas Dinner gatherings. All of these events present wonderful and vital opportunities for family connections. We are family, and we need to be intentional about connecting when we have the opportunities. I hope you will take the time to see what is happening at these events and register to join us. I am convinced that you will be glad you did.
Blessings to you all,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
September 4, 2023
Do You Remember Your First Birthday?
If that's not a rhetorical question, it's definitely a ridiculous one! You may have some recollection of early childhood events as early as 2 or 3 years of age, but certainly not at 1 year. The cognitive development isn't there, yet, to process life experiences. So, don't feel bad if you can't remember your first birthday cake, any of the gifts, or friends, and family that attended the "royal" occasion.
Some parents go all out and spend a bundle on this milestone. Spoiler alert...this whole party for a 1 year old thing, it's really for the mom's and dad's who thought they weren't going to make it with all the sleep deprivation and new worries! Did I forget to mention the dirty diapers and spit up? Like it was just yesterday...our oldest turns 33 this week, on Wednesday, September 6th. Happy birthday, Taylor Ray Lyon!
A church plant is somewhat like birthing a child and raising it with all the love you have, pushing through the exhaustion and frustrations. That first year is quite the accomplishment! All the nurturing of broken people and the learning of new things like budgets, fiscal responsibility and accountability, administrative issues, and just taking care of it 24/7. The hopes of seeing it get strong enough to actually begin walking upright, can be just as thrilling and reason enough to celebrate all the firsts! You can't wait to see that baby crawl, sit up on its own, pull up to standing at the edge of the couch, and then taking those first steps-thrilling! Wait a minute, sounds like I'm talking about a real baby here. The comparisons to church planting are uncanny.
Well, I'm very excited to make this announcement! NO, we're not having another baby at the Lyon house, or planting another congregation, although, another church plant would be amazing! What I want to bring to your attention is this... CONNECT CHURCH, Big Rapids, is about to reach that first milestone! 1 year of its existence happens this month! If you're available to come and see what God is doing in Big Rapids, Michigan, join CONNECT CHURCH on Saturday, September 16th @ 6pm. Worship will be at the Hemlock Park Bandshell, 226 N. Michigan Ave, Big Rapids, MI 49307. Pastor Mark and Heather Robb have been so diligent and attentive to their new church (child), it's beginning to flourish! Salvations and baptisms are on the rise!
I'd like to put out a request to you and your own church board. Would you be willing to find a space in your 2024 budget to support this soon to be toddler of a church? At present, there are only three sister MICOG congregations and a couple of individuals, outside of CONNECT CHURCH, giving to this new work. As you know, new believers take time to disciple and raise up as tithing members. As your leaders seek to build next year's ministry and missions budgets, would you consider a monthly gift to CONNECT CHURCH? Every offering matters and makes a difference. While one may be able to give $500 a month, another, $250, or just $50, it all adds up and helps CONNECT CHURCH in reaching the lost of their community. They are, "boots on the ground," living, loving, serving, and connecting with the people of Big Rapids.
The following scripture has always amazed me, how even the least of the Macedonian churches were able to give to the church in Jerusalem. They were made able because they gave themselves to the Lord first - don't just say we can't, ask the Lord to help you help another new and vital work of God.
"Now I want you to know what God in his kindness has done through the churches in Macedonia. They are being tested by many troubles, and they are very poor. But they are also filled with abundant joy, which has overflowed in rich generosity. I can testify that they gave not only what they could afford, but far more. And they did it of their own free will. They begged us again and again for the privilege of sharing in the gift for the believers in Jerusalem. They even did more than we had hoped, for their first action was to give themselves to the Lord and to us, just as God wanted them to do. So we have urged Titus, who encouraged your giving in the first place, to return to you and encourage you to finish this ministry of giving. Since you excel in so many ways - in your faith, your gifted speakers, your knowledge, your enthusiasm, and your love from us - I want you to excel also in this gracious act of giving."
2 Corinthians 8:1-7 NLT
It would be absolutely exciting to see MICOG pastors coming to this September 16th celebration of our 1 year old congregation. Let's come together to encourage and support the people of CONNECT CHURCH as they grow into maturity and make a big mark in Big Rapids for the Kingdom of God!
By Rev. Jerry Lyon, Pastor at New Horizons Community Church, Jackson, Michigan and Church Health Minister, Church of God in Michigan
August 28, 2023
I Just Can't See It!
Last spring, we had our first Academy of Servant Leaders (ASL) gathering in Flint, at New Creation Church. We were wonderfully hosted and enjoyed our guest speaker, Karl Vaters. (www.KarlVaters.com). He assisted us in learning new and balanced perspectives on church life and leadership.
His presentation's context came up against the experience so many of us have had, the compelling desire to lead a local congregation to greater growth via Church Growth Movement practices; big churches marketing how they grew from small to BIG! My own experience has certainly been steeped in moments of "purpose driven" church-ness and other forms, principles, and practices. Most of the ideas have merit, but not always a fit for where I was, am, or will be, any time soon.
"You can't have a great church without a great vision. And, you can't have a great vision unless the pastor (always the pastor) casts a singular vision for the church, then sells that vision to the leadership and the congregation."
Let me share with you some helpful insights and maybe a little encouragement that I received from Vaters.
Vaters' own confession:
"So, I did - or tried to do - what I was told. For years, I prayed, worked, searched the scriptures, and listened to God in every way I know. I begged him for a vision that would carry our church to vast, new expanses of glorious ministry. But it never quite worked out that way."
Sound familiar to anybody else? A few times Vaters thought he had nailed it, but nobody seemed to care. They weren't vision-killers or wet blankets; they were much the opposite and he pastored them for 25 years.
He wondered why they hadn't jumped on board with the vision God had given to him. His discovery, in all honesty, "it wasn't from the Lord." Vaters had made it up out of desperation to cast a compelling vision just the way he'd been taught. His journey led him to discover much more about the church and how God wants to fulfill His plans. He contends, "not every pastor is called to cast a grand, singular vision for their congregation, in fact, most aren't."
Have you ever struggled with this model? Having to be the one who comes down from the mountain with, "the tablets of vision?" And, while up on the mountain...silence? If you've not experienced this anxious and awkward reality...good. Maybe you are one of the few who get to hear the Lord and deliver those tablets! For the rest of us, its probably best if we do what we know to do...equip the saints to do the work of the ministry (Eph. 4:11-12).
Vaters suggests pastors can and should focus on this, "Preach, teach, and live as though the priesthood of believers is a real thing. Because it is." I think he's telling us that it doesn't all depend on me and you, especially if others are being brought into the mix of discerning and deploying ministry.
He queries, "without vision, won't people perish?" "NO!"
An improper exegesis leads to a faulty interpretation of Proverbs 29:18. All the while, the church already has a great vision that comes from a great commission, and a great commandment. It didn't have to be brought down the mountain, discerned by hours of meditation, because it's right there in the New Testament.
I'll tell you exactly what Vaters is telling me. It's okay if the only vision my/your church has is to fulfill the two GREATS! They've been working for 2,000 years and counting. Just keep finding fresh ways to disciple people and grow in your love for God. (It's also okay if God gives some huge, audacious, project-oriented, world-shaking narrative to you as a pastor. But it's not necessary to be a faithful pastor.) So simple and flexible: Love God. Love others. Make Disciples by sharing the amazing story of Jesus' love for them and bringing salvation to their lives.
"Jesus didn't call us to be unique, he called us to be faithful."
Maybe we do the best service to the church body when we more fully embrace our calling to equip, and leave the pressure and anxiety behind to become a great vision-casting pastor? Maybe giving focus to being a "Hero-maker" and seeing others fulfilling their vision is what you are called to? Maybe, when all those seemingly disconnected visions come together, they create exactly what God inspired beyond what they or you could have imagined? Vaters says, "That's when you know God is in charge, not me."
If you have a great plan and vision for this fall and already know what you're going to do to reach out to people during advent because you received a wonderful vision from the Lord, POWER TO YOU! For the rest of us, please know this... Jesus just wants you available, faithful, and open to the people He leads you to guide, disciple, and set free to pursue greater things than you could ever do on your own! Here it is: It's okay to "do church" this way, and it's okay to
help others fulfill their callings. You have permission to be what He has called you to be!
By Rev. Jerry Lyon, Pastor at New Horizons Community Church, Jackson, Michigan and Church Health Minister, Church of God in Michigan
August 21, 2023
I'm Declaring It!
Hebrews 13:7,17b (NLT)
7 Remember your leaders who taught you the word of God. Think of all the good that has come from their lives, and follow the example of their faith....Their work is to watch over your souls, and they are accountable to God. Give them reason to do this with joy and not with sorrow. That would certainly not be for your benefit.
Just about every day in our country is National something day, from donuts, to pizza, to whatever. I know we as clergy have Clergy Appreciation Day on October 12, and my hope is that your congregations express their appreciation to you in various ways. It impacted me, however, that the work you do as Ministers and Pastors deserves a special recognition more than just in October. I am unofficially declaring today as Thank You Michigan Pastors and Ministers Day.
Thank you for the calling you are faithfully answering to represent Jesus Christ in your congregations and communities.
Thank you for the time and sacrifices you make from family and other things to prepare sermons, Bible studies, and other ways of communicating the Word of God to your congregations. Thank you for your families that pray for you and encourage you in this.
Thank you for the visitations you make to the sick, the hurting, the struggling, and to so many others that need the ministry that you can bring to them.
Thank you for the way you persevere through insults, hurt, pain, and attacks from those within that you know and love and those from without who don't know you but think it is just fine to express their opinions of you and your ministry.
Thank you for enduring the financial challenges that often come the way of God's servants who are committed to ministry and not money.
Thank you for your commitments to developing and discipling people in your ministries who have a real burden to serve the Lord.
Thank you for your prayers that go out for so many with an earnest desire to see the Lord move and minister in the lives of people.
Thank you for investing in your lives to be better equipped, learned, and developed so that you can continue to pour into your people's lives.
Thank you for connecting with the Church of God in Michigan, Church of God Ministries, the National Association of the Church of God, Pastors Fellowship, Children of Promise, Missionaries, CWC, and other Church of God ministries to encourage and support us.
Thank you, thank you, thank you for these and so many other things that you do. You are loved and appreciated, more than perhaps you know or experience as you endeavor to serve the Lord. I thank and praise God for you this Michigan Pastors and Ministers Day.
Blessings to you all,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
August 14, 2023
Don't Throw Out the Baby With the Bath Water!
This idiom has its origins in 17th Century Germany. It refers to the encouragement not to discard things of value in the desire to get rid of things which seem to no longer have value. The back story of this idiom seems to come from the bathing habits of the time. For many reasons, including the difficulty of hauling water to a house, many people bathed once per week or less frequently. They used one large tub of water that everyone used. The father of the family was first, followed by the mother and then all the children from the oldest down. By the time it got to the baby, the water would be dark and dirty from all those that bathed in it, yuk! The thought was that it would get so bad that you might actually throw out the baby with the dirty water because it couldn't be seen. Obviously, this wouldn't happen (I hope!), but the idiom makes a key point about the church in our time.
Over the past several years, camp meetings, revivals, hymn singing, Sunday School, and other "traditional methods of worship," etc. have been de-emphasized or eliminated from many of our congregations. They are considered old-school by many, and not conducive to reaching younger generations. Well, while that may be partly true (although I could argue it!), there are still a lot of people in our congregations that grew up with those things, still love them, and feel devalued through the process of "modernizing." Many of these people helped build their congregations with their hands, their money, and their hearts. We ought to consider how we can encourage them and still reach out to younger generations. It is possible, and many congregations are doing so with success.
I spent time this summer at several connection events in the Church of God. Sharon and I went to the North American Convention of the Church of God in Tampa, Charlevoix, Warner, and St. Louis Camp Meetings in Michigan. I'm sorry I wasn't able to attend West Middlesex Camp Meeting this year. All of them were wonderful times of faith and fellowship. Yet, with each of these great connection events, it is interesting to see what happens when an old Church of God hymn is played. The crowd perks up and sings with vigor like they are reconnecting with long-lost and cherished loved ones. Praise songs and new models of ministry are great as well, but there is something that touches the hearts of the baby boomers, and greatest generation people when they are able to connect with those cherished people and traditions that have been such a part of their lives. Reconnecting with old friends at camp meetings and events, and reliving heartfelt memories of those places where many met, fell in love, and got married does something uplifting for their spirits.
In our congregations, things like revivals, Bible study, and many other things which some feel have lost value in this modern time, still indeed have great value for teaching, encouraging, enriching, and generational connections to many. For those who have truly modernized and are successful with it, praise God for you. My hope and prayer is that the Lord will continue to really bless you to prosper greatly. With that, however, I also hope and pray that the doctrinal foundations and the great heritage of the Church of God will not be lost. To abandon them completely without considering their value to many is indeed like throwing out the baby with the bathwater.
By chogministries Posted June 28, 2023 In All Church of God, CHOG, Great Lakes, Loving and Serving
by Mykaela Alvey
Community Church of God in Clio, Michigan, has been taking church beyond the building in practical ways through their community garden that was established in 2020 amid the pandemic. Pastor Rhyan Glezman says the idea "was established in 2020 after seeing the needs of our community during a pandemic." The poverty rate in Clio is 29.22 percent, which made the effects of inflation and the pandemic much more severe. The congregation was heavily involved in food distribution during that time, and they saw firsthand the lack of "fresh produce and healthy food options for families." They wanted to start the garden as a way of providing better alternatives for families going through hard times.
The community garden is located at the church, and they rely on volunteers to keep it going by planting, watering, and pulling weeds. When produce is ready to be picked, it is made public to the community. "There are numerous ways to get the produce," says Pastor Glezman. "Individuals can stop by the garden and pick up any fruits or vegetables they may desire. There is a table with available produce on it. We ask that they only take what their family will eat, so there is enough for everyone. The fruits and vegetables are also available inside the church on Sunday mornings and Wednesday evenings." Some of the produce is also dropped off at the local food pantry to be made available for other local families.
Not only was the community garden started, but the church also established a nonprofit called Community Unites, Inc. This nonprofit has been able to support the community well beyond just the garden. "Along with tending to the garden, and providing food through the Community Food Network, they also pack backpacks with food for the local schools. They also supply all the school supplies for students and teachers in the school district. The nonprofit also provides Christmas for local families and seniors. The families get to personally pick out new gifts for their children. We create an entire toy-store-shopping experience, which includes gifts, stocking-stuffers, family experiences, board games, books, and wrapping." (To find out more about their nonprofit, visit https://www.cliocommunity.org/unites).
Though the garden and nonprofit were established to bless the community, the congregation has also been blessed through this. Many are able to serve community members who don't even attend the church. The children have engaged, as well, as they enjoy being out in the garden and picking the produce. The desire to bless also extends beyond the garden at the church. "Others who have gardens at home bring in extra produce to share which also includes eggs. There is always fresh food around that members get to take home and enjoy, and there is no need amongst us in regard to produce."
Community Church of God is living out their faith in action, and the congregation is growing stronger and closer. The establishment of the garden has created a spark of desire to meet people's needs, both physically and spiritually. They recognize that reaching out in their community and loving people through word, deed, and prayer is not just the responsibility of the pastor. "There are so many testimonies of healing, baptism, deliverance, reconciliation, unity, and love. There is a presence of family and oneness when you walk through the doors of the church. God is adding to our numbers, as we grow more like Christ."
Through the establishment of a simple community garden, Community Church of God has created a ripple effect and is helping and loving their community with Christ's love, while growing and maturing as a body of believers. Their simple actions are pointing people to Jesus.
Anderson University alumna Mykaela Alvey is a funding US missionary based in Greenwood, Indiana. A freelance writer for three years, she loves crafting stories of hope and healing.
July 31, 2023
The Family of God
It's 7 pm and I noticed something missing. It wasn't obvious at first and I am amazed that something can become so familiar in such a short time. The bell rings at 7 to call all to evening worship. It has rung every night for the last 7 nights, but not tonight. Most of the campers have gone, they pull out on Friday morning or afternoon. There are a few left, including me and my youngest daughter Sophie. It has become our tradition to stay that last night, just her and I. We linger just a little longer and that one night gives me some much coveted daddy/daughter time, something that becomes more of a rarity with each age that she eclipses. And she, well she earns brownie points with dad and I like to believe that even at the independent age of 12 years and 10 months, a part of her still enjoys these times together.
I always lean to my reflective side when Camp Meeting nears its end for another year. And, as Warner Camp Meeting 2023 nears conclusion, it seems extra bittersweet this year. The obvious distraction of any annual event is that it reminds us that we are a year older and a year slower. That became obvious to me as I attempted to navigate the high ropes this year.
I have been here now for almost eight days and in all honesty, like most years, a part of me will not want to leave. I find it hard to think about deflating after this week. I do not know the exact numbers, but I was here early enough to watch many people come in. I watched them play, eat, sit by campfires, and worship individually and corporately. And now I have stayed long enough that the dirt roadways are no longer crowded with bicycles and golf carts. The joyful sounds of children making memories on the playground a few yards from my campsite, are missing. The campfires tonight will be sparse and as I wrote earlier, the 7 o'clock bell did not chime.
I leave Warner Camp Meeting every year, feeling closer to God, feeling more inspired to continue in ministry, and not only continue, but to become a better pastor and servant of God. But this year, my 9th consecutive, I have had somewhat of an epiphany.
I see families here every year, many of the same families. I watch children that I don't know personally grow taller and older. I smile each time I see a set of training wheels removed from a small bicycle. I remember my daughter mastering her two wheeler on the grounds at Warner Camp. As I observe these families, some bringing together four generations in a single campsite, I wonder how they feel when they leave but more curiously, what brings them back each July. It occurred to me that these families could choose to enjoy their summer holiday in any and many theme parks, attractions of natural wonder, coasts, beaches, peninsulas, or resorts that would cater to their every desire or even whim. But, they come here and I know why.
Warner Camp doesn't have any roller coasters or giant water slides. There is a rock climbing wall, high ropes course, and a zipline. It is here that I have watched many kids, and a few adults, conquer fear and give encouragement to others. There are no dolphin or whale shows, but I did see an 18 inch largemouth bass that was caught in Lester Lake. There are not miles of sand dunes, only one small beach, but this week I witnessed a group of kids floating on a pontoon raft and they looked like they had never had a better time in their young lives. Camp Meeting does not have any gift shops that sell hats with mouse ears attached, but I will tell you, when the camp store opens, you will witness a shopping frenzy.
However, these things in all their splendor and the wonderful memories that they make, are not the essence of Camp Meeting. The essence of Camp Meeting is one body of Jesus followers coming together to immerse themselves, for a full week, in the overpowering presence of The Lord our God. I know that many who attend Warner Camp Meeting do not even attend a Church of God and yet they come together to be surrounded by the presence of God and those that love Him. The word of God instructs us, "And let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage one another, especially now that the day of his return is drawing near." (Heb. 10:25, NLT)
I know that there are some that do not do camping. Personally, I love living in a little house that I can tow behind my truck. But, it is not for everyone and the point is not to promote the camping lifestyle. The point is to encourage others to take time to surround ourselves with God and His family.
As the church we focus heavily upon fulfilling our commission. We preach outreach, service and sharing of the Gospel, keeping in focus our mission of making disciples of all the world, as we should. This was a directive of Jesus. But sometimes we need to be reminded that it is okay and necessary to take time to gather together as believers and be submerged in the pool of God's loving presence. Jesus said, "For where two or three gather together as my followers, I am there among them." (Matt. 18:20, NLT)
As pastors I believe that it is important to encourage our flocks to spend time together in the presence of The Lord. That may be Camp Meeting, a convention, retreat, or even General Assembly. What matters is that we are gathering in His name to worship, encourage one another, honor our Heavenly Father, and be refreshed and renewed. It is a long race that we run. We will get weary, we will get hungry, and sometimes we might fall. Thankfully we are part of a great big family of runners who will encourage us to continue running when we are weary, feed us when we are hungry, and lift us up when we fall. What a special privilege it is to be a part of, and spend time with, the family of God.
Rev. Rob Tramel, Pastor at Crossroads Church of God, Howell, Michigan
July 24, 2023
Handling Well Our Sacred Trust
1 Corinthians 1:21 (NASB) For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.
I am greatly blessed to have been called of God to preach His holy Word for many years. My first sermon was preached in April 1984, so next year it will be 40 years of this great blessing and privilege. Over those years, I have spent the last 27 as a Pastor and now State Pastor, and the blessing and privilege of sharing His holy Word has continued to be the trust from God. Many of you have preached over several decades as I have, some more - some less. Yet from us all it is a sacred trust from God that we are to soberly handle well.
I firmly believe in the power and presence of the Holy Spirit in the preparation and preaching of the Word of God. As such, I have a prayer that has developed over the years which I pray before I preach God's Word. I pray it, not by rote or ritual, but in earnestly seeking His moving and ministry as His Word goes forth. I want to make sure that I am His holy conduit and not an impediment to what He wants to say to His people. I am confident that you as Preachers of His Word have prayers that you pray for the sermons you share. I hope this is an encouragement to you, and please feel free to use it if it can be of help to you. More importantly, I hope you have a prayer that encourages you to allow the Holy Spirit to bless you and those to whom you share, to love, cherish, and honor this sacred trust.
Precious Heavenly Father, Lord, please cleanse me afresh today, body, mind, and spirit. Please fill me with a fresh anointing of Your Holy Spirit, so that I may be your holy conduit through which Your Holy Word may flow unhindered, unaltered, and unadulterated. Lord, please anoint me for the preparation and the preaching of Your Word so that it will be clear, plain, simple, and powerful, through the Holy Spirit so that those who hear it may be impacted by it to live according to Your desires. Lord, please let everyone, even the youngest ones here, be able to clearly understand and be convicted by Your Word, so that they can respond to it as You lead. Let it grow roots which are deep, strong, and nourishing. Let it then grow fruit that is rich, sweet, and lifegiving to them and to others. It is in the precious name of Jesus Christ I pray, Amen!
I would love to hear from you and the prayers you pray before preaching. it is such a wonderful sacred trust we have. We have the privilege to share God's message with His people and any who will hear from Him. May the Lord bless and keep you, empowering you consistently to impact the lives of those whom He has entrusted to you.
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
July 10, 2023
Do We Need a State Ministry?
I received the following article from a dear friend and a strong supporter and encourager of the Church of God in Michigan, Rev. Kirk Bookout. He has served in many capacities in the Church of God, Senior Pastor in several states (including in Michigan), Development Specialist at Church of God Ministries, Children of Promise Development Director, and Interim Pastor (including three of our congregations in Michigan in the last three years). He knows and loves the Church of God in Michigan. He sent this article as a way of encouraging us to grow stronger together and forge into the future of great ministry here in the great state of Michigan. I hope it encourages you as it did me. In the last part of this article, Kirk lists several of the wonderful things that happen through the Church of God in Michigan, largely through the efforts and giving of so many of you. Thank you for your love, generosity, and servant hearts. I am also including words of encouragement written by Dr. Bill Jones on why State Ministry is important. They are on our website, and they ring just as true today as when they were penned.
Over the next two years our National Ministry will be restructuring. Some have questioned whether a State Ministry like the Church of God in Michigan is necessary. Some of the services provided to our Ministers, Spouses, Families, and Churches. I confess after serving our State for 17 years, I am unabashedly biased about what we do. Leaders across the state at some point will have to decide whether or not to agree with me. These services are available because our congregations across the state give to the State Ministry to support their fellow congregations and ministers across the State of Michigan. So here we go. What are those ministries the Church of God in Michigan provides?
We provide Credentialing Services for all Church of God Ministers in Michigan
We, through our relationship with Church of God Ministries, provide 501c3 coverage for all our congregations in Michigan
We provide Leadership Training using Pastors' Institute yearly in January, We provide first and second level leadership training through the Institute for Servant Leadership. Our 360 Leadership Conference provides practical training for leaders in all realm of Church Service. About 500 persons attend this conference yearly.
We provide support Service to Ministers and their families through Ministry to Ministers; providing professional Christian counseling for all family members under the minister's roof.
We encourage education. Lifelong Learning Matching Funds provides help to our Pastors and Associates continuing their educational training. We have Endowment Support which enables Pastors to finish their Bachelors, Masters, or Doctorate.
We provide an array of coaching for Pastors and Churches who are not sure what to do next.
We assist Congregations when they are in search for a new Pastor.
We assist Pastors searching for their next ministry station.
We provide professional support to Churches that need help developing youth and children's ministry.
We provide written information, counsel, and coaching through digital newsletters like eAction and Weekly Pastoral Call.
We provide hundreds of years of experience through our Regional Pastors, Children and Youth Ministry to support pastors and congregations across Michigan.
We support Church Multiplications with our various partnerships with Healthy Growing Churches and other like entities.
We have a proven plans to help churches that need to Turn Around and begin new life-cycles.
We provide support for Ministry Wives through an annual Retreat.
We provide counsel and direction for Church Governance. We cover Bylaws, Policies, Financial and Legal direction.
We Celebrate. Every November leaders from congregations across Michigan come to rejoice in what God has done working though cooperative efforts.
We provide pastors and lay leaders opportunities to serve beyond their local call to serve the Church both Regionally and Nationally.
We are a catalyst for our congregations to work together. The tip of the spear is the local church. Our calling is to support and equip the local congregation to great things for God.
Why I Encourage You to Support The Church of God in Michigan
By Rev. Kirk Bookout
"I hope you support the Church of God in Michigan," I said to a pastor. When I served in national ministries, I also encouraged support for state ministries. "Why?" he said, "What's in it for our church?" I had yet to learn the gift of diplomatic answers. I replied by asking the pastor a question. I asked him, "Is that what you teach the people of your church about giving? Do you teach them there is no need to support ministry if you don't get anything out of it?" I asked him, "What if they don't like the music, or want a new ministry, or if they say they are not being fed by the preaching?" (Note the confession above about lack of diplomacy.) Do you tell them not to give? That sounds more like teaching consumerism and not the joy of stewardship. I could have told him the reasons he should give. (I worked on being diplomatic.) Here are some reasons to support the Church of God in Michigan.
HELPING YOUR AREA FAMILY OF CHURCHES MAKES A DIFFERENCE
Perhaps you think your church is strong and does not need Michigan Ministries... For now. I would paraphrase Paul, "We who are strong (as people and a church) ought to bear with the failings of the weak and not to please ourselves. Each of us should please our neighbors for their good, to build them up." (Rom 15:1-2) The very nature of the church in helping others is not dependent on what we get out of it. Your gifts to the Church of God in Michigan gives churches hope for recovery, a future, and health in their community. These are Kingdom gifts.
Your church likely supports a wide variety of ministries outside the walls of your church. You may support worldwide missions. (I like that!) You help them when they are in crisis and when they have issues. That helps fulfill the great commission. But we are also called to reach out locally and regionally.... "You will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria (Ohio would be Samaria) and to the ends of the earth." (Acts 1:8)
Since I retired from Children of Promise, I have served in four churches as an interim pastor. All four were directly helped by state ministries. Three faced crisis issues. I personally saw the encouragement and support the Church of God state organization gave. These four churches now know there is a larger church family they can count on. You help make that possible if you support state ministries. In the four churches I know of, six pastors were helped, counseled, and encouraged by state ministries, including the new pastor and past pastor.
LASTING RELATIONSHIPS MAKE A DIFFERENCE
My latest spiritual gift inventory shows that I am especially gifted at breakfast and lunch. I felt blessed to meet many pastors. Many going through dark times shared their story. I have listened to stories of grief, attack, family crisis, health issues, questioning their call, abuse, lost hope, and more. We need relationships at times like this. Often sharing our vulnerability with those in the church is not safe. I often grieved that I left many knowing they were isolated in many ways. Once I was asked to do the funeral of the wife of a nearby Church of God minister. I hardly knew him. He told me he was alone. He said that he did not fellowship with ministers because his time was for the church. At the time when he needed friends, he had no one to call on. I consider this tragic.
As a pastor, I wanted the best for the church, and knew I must spend time with others in ministry. State meetings were a natural connecting place. Conferences were good, and the relationships were vital. Beyond and outside of meetings relationships grew. It equipped me on many levels.
I am acquainted with devastation and pain. I am thankful that I have a core group of friends who have been there. Without those friends, I suspect one tragedy could have grown into more in my own life. Many of those friendships started at state general assemblies and other state and regional meetings. Sometimes friends had no answer. They listened and allowed me to talk and sometimes vent. I will not pretend to know all the dynamics of how this works; I just know they made a difference. Perhaps tragedy is not about you. You might be that right friend at the right time for someone who needs you in our own Church of God family. It doesn't happen if we do not connect. I will confess often I went to state meetings without knowing or caring much about the program. (When it was great, it was serendipity and a bonus.) I went to see and have friends who knew the life of a church--the hope, blessings, and challenges of ministry.
MICHIGAN MINISTRIES HAS A FOCUS ON HELPING PASTORS AND CHURCHES
How? My list would include the General Assembly. It is a major event in Lansing. It has speakers that are worth hearing, conferences, and once again fellowship. Much of what I learned about ministry happened in spending time with other ministers at these meetings. It is a great weekend of friends coming together and having fun (and business and speakers that most often are great.) Don't diminish the importance of seeing friends and having fun.
Attendance testifies that you are part of the family. It gives the opportunity to check in with each other with mutual accountability. I see it as so important that I ask every pulpit committee to make state GA attendance part of the expectation of the call. It is a blessing to the church for a pastor to not go it alone. A 'Lone Ranger' approach ultimately leaves us hiding behind a mask. We need a place where we can take the masks off.
The Michigan 360 Event with speakers and conferences is a wonderful event with a plethora (a prideful word of mine which means a lot) of conferences for lay and clergy. It is unrivaled. (Former state minister Demetrius Booker has created a similar event as Associate Pastor for Church Health in Ohio. I consider him a missionary to Ohio.) There is Clergy Wives retreat. (Again, relationships count!), State Youth Convention, Winter Youth Retreat, MSLI, and other special state and regional seminars.
CRISIS, COUNSELING AND LEGAL *groans* ISSUES
The Church of God in Michigan is uniquely in the position to know what is happening in Michigan and to be available to help. Churches have fights. (Yep, they happened in the New Testament too.) Churches and pastors need guidance. More than ever the greater church must be there to help in hard times. You do that through the Church of God in Michigan.
I cherish the freedom and independence we have in our ministries and local churches. Just as important, I cherish the accountability we are called to have in this Church of God family. (Yes, that is in the New Testament too.) Several years ago, when I was chair of the credentials committee, we had seven ordained ministers on our approved list that no one knew. We did not know where they were and what they were doing. If they used their credentials in an inappropriate way, did we not bear some responsibility? Could we with clear conscience say to the world, "We ordain, but we have no idea what they do, what they now believe, or where they are?" We need to be together for our own accountability. We need to be together to know each other, to better support local churches, and to protect society and the standards we live by.
Supporting the state with resources, with your time, and with your presence is a ministry of care. The Church of God in Michigan is not the state office. There are people who serve there. The Church of God in Michigan is you - churches, lay leaders, and ministers who believe in this family of churches called The Church of God. In a unique, powerful, and God honoring way, we come together to encourage, support, heal, and build. I encourage you, please support this good work.
It's a reality. For many across the Church of God in Michigan, they have experienced a decreasing income at the local church level. So many economic factors at play, (i.e. inflation, career insecurity, taxes, health insurance, political unrest, and the like.) But what if the decline in giving is about more than the things we can't control? What if there has been an erosion of obedience to steward financial resources within our church families' lives? Its quite clear, priorities have changed for not a few, but many. The commitments that used to be the cement that held the important in place have weakened, if not crumbled.
As pastors, it's our responsibility to teach, to disciple, to promote obedience to the Word and living out the Faith in its fulness. This includes lessons, sermons, and coffee conversations, about money. It is a powerful indicator of how mature people are in Christ. The fear of how they may take those lessons seems to have paralyzed many a pastor from broaching the topic. The role money plays in developing people to become strong missionally minded followers of Jesus is enormous. They will either be called to a deeper, wider, and greater world view, or they will be left to stay in the smallness of an immature faith.
The article, "Why the Great Commission Should Compel Pastors to Preach on Money," is an excellent reminder to include this important piece in our discipleship. Those among our flocks that are new to faith, as well as those who have known, but have shrunk back from the, "test me and see," of Malachi 3, need the challenge to fund the mission and work of the Church, of the body of Christ which they are to be functioning members.
Jerry A. Lyon, Lead Pastor
New Horizons Community Church
Church Health Minister, MICOG
4300 Lansing Ave., Jackson, MI 49201
According to a 2022 study from Lifeway Research, a majority of those who regularly attend church believe tithing is biblical. Although statistics show a decline in the past five years (77% in 2022 compared to 83% in 2018), an overwhelming number of men and women sitting in our churches each week know the Bible teaches generosity. However, this research includes an interesting reality check. While more than 3 in 4 believe the Bible teaches tithing, only about half (51%) give 10% or more.
As we reflect on these statistics, two points of application jump out.
1. An open door for discipleship and Christian growth
These statistics show church people believe the Bible but struggle to apply it to their daily lives. This is a key point for ongoing discipleship.
Generosity, or the lack thereof, can serve as a spiritual microscope highlighting priorities and faith. When Jesus highlighted money as a competitor to worshiping God saying, You cannot serve both God and money (Matthew 6:24, CSB), He was bringing this fact to light.
Over the years, I have heard pastors say they dont preach about money or giving. There is a concern these sermons come across as self-serving. Or worse, we dont want to be put in the same category of money-grubbing television preachers.
Even though these reasons make sense on the surface, they fail to appreciate the importance of generosity for spiritual development. When someone knowingly fails to implement biblical standards into their life, they implement bad habits that influence other areas of life. By avoiding teaching about generosity and stewardship, pastors may be missing a prime element of discipleship. Obedience in this area can have a significant impact in other areas of life.
2. Promising potential for Great Commission advancement
Not only do these statistics provide some guidance for ongoing discipleship, they also give church leaders a path for promoting missions and a Great Commission vision.
I remember hearing older preachers say: When we get to heaven, the streets will be paved with gold, but down here, we have to pay for every brick we use. We all know ministry costs money, and Christian ministry ought to be supported by Christian generosity.
The research cited above is good news. People realize the Bible teaches generosity. If pastors can connect this teaching with a vision for global missions, the potential for Great Commission advancement is unlimited. When pastors teach people how to obey the biblical commands about money, they are not self-serving, they are mission-serving. So how can pastors connect generosity to discipleship and missions?
1. Use the offering moment in a service to reinforce the missionary impact of giving
We cannot assume our people make this connection. Some may be convinced the only thing their offering does is pay for lights, HVAC, and salaries.
2. Remind people God is not poor, but He includes us all in His mission to take the gospel to the nations
Generosity on the part of Christians is not intended to make up for what God cant provide. Instead, the Great Commission calls us all to spend our lives making disciples of all nations. Giving to this cause is an honor and worth celebrating.
3. Connect generosity to Christian growth
Each step of Christian maturity requires faith that Gods way is the best. I trust Gods plan for family is best when I love my wife and kids in a way that is different from other men. I trust Gods plan for sexuality is best when I live pure in a perverted society. And I trust Gods plan for money is best when I live generously, when my vision for investing in Gods kingdom is more important than investing in my own kingdom. Each of these decisions (and dozens more like them) is a step of discipleship.
Pastor, dont forget that when the Great Commission commands us to make disciples of all nations, this includes making disciples of the people in your congregation. Generosity is a Great Commission reality. People are open to receiving teaching on how to more fully obey in this area of life, and thats good news.
Genesis 2:7 (KJV)7And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
John 20:21-22 (NASB) 21So Jesus said to them again, "Peace be to you; just as the Father has sent Me, I also send you." 22And when He had said this, He breathed on them and said to them, "Receive the Holy Spirit."
Acts 2:1-4 (NLT) 1On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. 2Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. 3Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. 4And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability.
Some of you may have had the experience as a child, or worse yet as a parent traveling a long way with young children, where car weariness set in and someone would say, "He's breathing on me!" In my day this was even worse because air conditioning (a standard in nearly every car today) was an expensive, and often passed up, option in most cars. We usually had 4-50 air conditioning, with four windows down going 50 miles per hour! With three of us crammed into the backseat on our long trips to my dad's birthplace of Christiansburg, Virginia, at some point in time my parents would hear that spine curdling refrain, "He's breathing on me." This was usually following the equally irritating, "Are we there yet?"
As I was traveling into the office today, I was listening to an acapella version of the old hymn, Breathe on Me Breath of God, penned in 1878 by English Minister Edwin Hatch. It has been in our Church of God Hymnals for decades. It impacted me powerfully this morning as I navigated the overly patched and potholed streets of our state capital. The words, penned so simply and clearly, were based on the scriptures above, and they draw us to a powerful truth. We get life through the Breath of God, the Holy Spirit. He breathes on and in us to bring life to us, and God's glorious presence into the life of the believers in Jesus Christ. We live this out daily in our lives, our families, our churches, and our communities as we submit ourselves completely to the Holy Spirit. The words of this song, as you can see below, suggest a quest for more of the Breath of God in our lives. I hope it blesses you as you reflect on them. As we minister to God's people, understand that the Spirit of the Living God desires to breathe on us powerfully and completely.
Breathe on Me, Breath of God by Edwin Hatch
Breathe on me, Breath of God. Fill me with life anew.
That I may love what Thou dost love and do what Thou wouldst do.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, until my heart is pure.
Until with Thee I will one will, to do and to endure.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, Till I am wholly Thine.
Till all this earthly part of me glows with Thy fire divine.
Breathe on me, Breath of God, so shall I never die.
But live with Thee the perfect life of Thine eternity.
I pray that the Lord will breathe on us all the awesome Breath of God for more and more impactful service in His wonderful Kingdom, in the precious name of Jesus Christ, our Lord!
In the love of Jesus Christ,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
May 29, 2023
The Greatest Army in the Greatest War Ever
2 Timothy 2:1-13 (NLT) 1Timothy, my dear son, be strong through the grace that God gives you in Christ Jesus. 2You have heard me teach things that have been confirmed by many reliable witnesses. Now teach these truths to other trustworthy people who will be able to pass them on to others. 3Endure suffering along with me, as a good soldier of Christ Jesus. 4Soldiers don't get tied up in the affairs of civilian life, for then they cannot please the officer who enlisted them. 5And athletes cannot win the prize unless they follow the rules. 6And hardworking farmers should be the first to enjoy the fruit of their labor. 7Think about what I am saying. The Lord will help you understand all these things. 8Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. 9And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. 10So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen. 11This is a trustworthy saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. 12If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. 13If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.
Some wise person once wrote:
It is the VETERAN, not the preacher, who has given us freedom of religion.
It is the VETERAN, not the reporter, who has given us freedom of the press.
It is the VETERAN, not the poet, who has given us freedom of speech.
It is the VETERAN, not the campus organizer, who has given us freedom to assemble.
It is the VETERAN, not the lawyer, who has given us the right to a fair trial.
It is the VETERAN, not the politician, who has given us the right to vote.
It is the VETERAN, who salutes the Flag, who serves under the Flag.
Today, Memorial Day, we honor all our armed service veterans and our active duty military who will be, Lord willing, the veterans of tomorrow. To you we owe a debt of gratitude because you were willing to answer the call, to volunteer, to serve, to fight, to suffer, to struggle, to endure, and to give on behalf of the United States of America!
Your willingness to face challenging places and tough circumstances to fulfill your duties, is one of the key reasons for our liberty. I am very proud to salute you, because for much of our history, and certainly today, ours is a volunteer military where our soldiers understand the significance of standing for what is right and noble and entering into the fray on behalf of liberty and justice. You represent the greatest military force on earth, and you stand on the shoulders of those who blazed great trails of courage and success. The brave men and women who fight today stand on your shoulders and can stand taller because of you. Thank you, and God bless you! You deserve our applause and our undying gratitude!!!
As great as our military is, however, Jesus has the greatest army ever and is fighting and winning the greatest war ever. We, the Church of the living God, are the greatest army ever, and the Lord has us fighting the fight of faith that will result in resounding victory at His return. We are the army of the Lord! As the Lord's army, there are three directives that we should carry out in fulfilling the mission we have been given.
First of all, we must be obedient to our Divine Commander's orders. Our ultimate Commander-in-Chief is the Lord Jesus Christ! Ephesians 1:22 NIV says, "And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church." Christ is the head of the body, the church. WE NEED TO LISTEN TO HIM! And we need to do everything He tells us to, when He tells us to, how He tells us to, and for as long as He tells us to. Remember Who He is, What He knows, the power He has, and what He will bring to pass. The Apostle Paul reminds Timothy, and it's just as true for us, "Endure hardship with us like a good soldier of Christ Jesus. No one serving as a soldier gets involved in civilian affairs - he wants to please his commanding officer."
Secondly, we need not be afraid to take the fight to our enemy. 8"Always remember that Jesus Christ, a descendant of King David, was raised from the dead. This is the Good News I preach. 9And because I preach this Good News, I am suffering and have been chained like a criminal. But the word of God cannot be chained. 10So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen." We need to surely know that the enemy of our souls is the devil, and he has many fallen angels (demons) with him. Hopefully this is not a news bulletin to us. This is the enemy that we fight.
An eighteen-year-old apparently took a Seattle police car for a joyride. The theft was reported on law-enforcement broadcasts, and a bicycle patrol officer in downtown Seattle spotted it. A police car immediately gave chase but lost sight of the stolen vehicle after pausing to check for oncoming traffic at an intersection. It was then that a second police car pulled up and thinking the stopped car was the stolen vehicle rammed it from behind. Two policemen in the car that had been hit thought they were under attack. So they pulled out their guns and started shooting. A police spokesperson said the officers involved - two in the rammed car and one in the other - exchanged more than twenty rounds before they discovered their mistake! THEY WERE SHOOTING AT ONE ANOTHER!
Brothers and sisters, this is not much different than some churches. Some church members do more shooting at one another than they do the real enemy. We Christians are at war, but we are not to be at war with one another! When we fight with one another we are only helping the enemy. The devil loves church fights! We need to fight against such things by fighting against him! Ephesians 6:12 NIV says, "For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms." I Peter 5:8 NASB "Stay alert! Watch out for your great enemy, the devil. He prowls around like a roaring lion, looking for someone to devour."
Thirdly, we need to keep fighting until the victory is declared. The Apostle Paul put it well in his words to Timothy, 10So I am willing to endure anything if it will bring salvation and eternal glory in Christ Jesus to those God has chosen. 11This is a trustworthy saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. 12If we endure hardship, we will reign with him. If we deny him, he will deny us. 13If we are unfaithful, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny who he is.
Brothers and sisters, we are called to fight in a war, not sit around and gripe about what we don't like in life or in the church. The following is attributed to "Gentleman Jim" Corbett, who held the heavyweight boxing title for five years at the end of the nineteenth century:
"Fight one more round. When your feet are so tired that you have to shuffle back to the center of the ring, fight one more round. When your arms are so tired that you can hardly lift your hands to guard yourself, fight one more round. When your nose is bleeding and your eyes are black and you are so tired that you wish your opponent would crack you on the jaw and put you to sleep, fight one more round remembering that the man who fights one more round is never whipped. Fight one more round. After that round, we fight another. We must keep on fighting to the end if we expect to experience victory."
John Stuart Mill, a philosopher from London, England who died in 1873, once said, "War is an ugly thing, but not the ugliest of things. The decayed and degraded state of moral and patriotic feeling is much worse. The person who has nothing for which he is willing to fight is a miserable creature..." There are some things which are worth fighting for: our freedom in America and our freedom in Christ! God bless the USA! God bless our US veterans! And God bless the veterans of the Christian faith! Memorial Day is a remembrance for our veterans, but it is also a remembrance for the veterans of the Christian life of faith, our parents, grandparents and ancestors, our current loved ones on the battlefield of faith. We honor you today, and we pray that our future loved ones will be able to pay tribute to us for fighting the good fight of faith in this greatest of all wars. We are the greatest army ever, the soldiers of the Lord! Let us fight on like we really know and believe it!
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
May 15, 2023
Thanking God for a Great Saturday!
This past Saturday at New Creation Church of God in Flint Township, we experienced God's favor as we launched our Academy of Servant Leaders. Just under 90 people gathered to share together in learning, fellowship, great food, and great sharing by Rev. Karl Vaters. Overwhelmingly, the reviews were very positive for the event and for Karl Vaters sharing with us. The four sessions were clearly shared with great illustrations and personal stories of his ministry experiences in small churches for over 40 years.
Understanding the somewhat short notice (just seven weeks), and the busyness of May, several of you may have wanted to attend with your key leaders, but were unable. Thankfully, Karl Vaters gave us permission to film the sessions and make them available to our assembly. The links to the videos and his slides are provided for you as well as on our website under the Academy of Servant Leaders. I hope that you will take the time to watch the videos and take in the presentation materials. They are excellent. This was a great first session of what will hopefully be a growing and transforming ministry of The Church of God in Michigan for several years.
I also want to take the time to thank Pastor Mark Staton, his wife Jessica, and the wonderful ministers, staff, and servant leaders of New Creation Church of God. Their hospitality and service were excellent. They are such a blessing to us and the Body of Christ.
2 Chronicles 20:5-12 (NASB) Then Jehoshaphat stood in the assembly of Judah and Jerusalem, in the house of the LORD before the new court, and he said, "O LORD, the God of our fathers, are You not God in the heavens? And are You not ruler over all the kingdoms of the nations? Power and might are in Your hand so that no one can stand against You. "Did You not, O our God, drive out the inhabitants of this land before Your people Israel and give it to the descendants of Abraham Your friend forever? "They have lived in it, and have built You a sanctuary there for Your name, saying, 'Should evil come upon us, the sword, or judgment, or pestilence, or famine, we will stand before this house and before You (for Your name is in this house) and cry to You in our distress, and You will hear and deliver us.' "Now behold, the sons of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir, whom You did not let Israel invade when they came out of the land of Egypt (they turned aside from them and did not destroy them), see how they are rewarding us by coming to drive us out from Your possession which You have given us as an inheritance. "O our God, will You not judge them? For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You."
Years ago I ran across an illustration from an anonymous source about Sir Edmund Hillary. He was the first person of record to successfully climb Mount Everest. In an early and failed attempt to scale Mount Everest, he lost one of the members of his team. He returned to a hero's welcome in London, England, where a banquet held in his honor was attended by the lords and ladies and powerful people of the British Empire. Behind the speaker's platform were huge blown-up photographs of Mount Everest. When Hillary arose to receive the acclaim of the distinguished audience, he turned around and faced the mountain and said, "Mount Everest, you have defeated me. But I will return. And I will defeat you. Because you can't get any bigger and I can."
We have many challenges that face us daily, and they can seem huge and very difficult to overcome. Sometimes they can bring great fear, or at a minimum, anxiety into our lives. The question is, how do you respond when the natural reaction of fear hits us?
Judah had a king named Jehoshaphat. He was a good king who followed in his father, Asa's footsteps, at least the early days of his reign when he had the favor of the Lord. He did some wonderful things when he assumed the throne. He restored the worship of the Lord throughout the land. He sent teachers throughout the land to teach the people of Judah the Word of God. Jehoshaphat appointed judges with strict orders to give judgments that honored the Lord. He prayed earnestly and consistently. God honored him and showed him great favor.
Yet, fear inducing attack was at the door. The people of God were under attack by the people of Moab and Ammon. These were distant relatives of the Israelites through Abraham's nephew, Lot. They were joined by the people from Engedi, who were at one time temple servants of Israel who were captured in war. It was a huge army of people coming against Judah. Jehoshaphat and the people of Judah were afraid. They didn't allow their fear to overwhelm them, but had a strong response to the threats because of their right vision. They turned their vision squarely upon the Lord God, and they found strength because of it. In their response, some powerful truths emerge that can help us be strong when the natural emotions of fear and anxiety hit us.
First of all, let God Be Bigger Than Your Fears, because He is! Even though Jehoshaphat was afraid, he turned his attention to seek the Lord. He proclaimed a fast throughout all Judah, and they came together to seek His help. When fear comes, don't allow it to overwhelm you. Press into the Lord and consecrate yourself fully before Him. Secondly, let God be the solution to your situation, because He can solve any problem that we face! Jehoshaphat's prayer was very clear in this way. "For we are powerless before this great multitude who are coming against us; nor do we know what to do, but our eyes are on You." Finally, Let God reward your vision with victory, because He will! God answered Jehoshaphat's faithful prayer. I love the courageous stance they took at the encouraging prophesy of Jahaziel in verses 14-19. "Do not fear or be dismayed because of this great multitude, for the battle is not yours but God's. 'Tomorrow go down against them. Behold, they will come up by the ascent of Ziz, and you will find them at the end of the valley in front of the wilderness of Jeruel. 'You need not fight in this battle; station yourselves, stand and see the salvation of the LORD on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem.' Do not fear or be dismayed; tomorrow go out to face them, for the LORD is with you. Jehoshaphat bowed his head with his face to the ground, and all Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem fell down before the LORD, worshiping the LORD.
King Jehoshaphat was greatly inspired and led the people forth in worship as evidenced in verses 20-22. 20 They rose early in the morning and went out to the wilderness of Tekoa; and when they went out, Jehoshaphat stood and said, "Listen to me, Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem: Put your trust in the Lord your God and you will endure. Put your trust in His prophets, and succeed." 21 When he had consulted with the people, he appointed those who sang to the Lord and those who praised Him in holy attire, as they went out before the army and said, "Give thanks to the Lord, for His faithfulness is everlasting." 22 When they began singing and praising, the Lord set ambushes against the sons of Ammon, Moab, and Mount Seir, who had come against Judah; so they were struck down.
Friends, even though we live in a crazy age where too many people discount the glory and power of God, we need to be steadfast in our trust and worship of the Lord. What is getting under your skin and causing you fear? Are you willing to make God bigger than your fears? What is your posture when you decide to make God bigger? Are you willing to have faith to stand and see the salvation of the Lord? What will be your response when He does what you envision? How will you rejoice? Trust me, your Mount Everest, whatever it is, cannot get bigger than your God! Keep Him in your vision, for He is the right vision. And in His grace, glory, and power, He can make you bigger than your Everest.
In the love of Jesus Christ,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
May 8, 2023
Get Used to Different
I do not watch much television. I don't have anything against TV, but normally I would rather read than watch. Other than a Red Wings or Tigers game, there does not seem to be much on television that has held my interest for very long, until recently.
Not long ago, one of the ministry groups at our church completed a study based upon season 1 of the television series, "The Chosen." In preparation for this, I decided that I should probably actually watch it. I stocked up on snacks and binge watched season 1 in a couple days.
What I write here is not really about the show. I know that many people like the series, and some do not like it as much, or maybe not at all. I do not wish to promote it or detract from it. I will say that it caught my attention, some scenes more than others and one in particular, became stuck in my thoughts and has remained there.
In episode 7 of season 1 there is a scene in which Jesus calls Levi the Tax Collector, (later to be known as Matthew) to follow Him, to be one of His disciples. In this scene, the calling of Matthew disturbs Peter greatly and creates a not-so-subtle moment of tension between him and Jesus. Jesus responds to Peters objection by saying, "You didn't get it when I called you either." Peter replies, "This is different. I am not a tax collector." And then Jesus' character spoke the words that remain lodged in my consciousness many months later. He said, "Get used to different."
To clarify, I do understand that this is dramatization based on writers' ideas of how this conversation may have gone. And, nowhere in any Bible translation that I am aware of, does Jesus ever actually use the phrase, "Get used to different." But He really did say it, so many times.
He said it to the Pharisees, Sadducees, and religious leaders every time He told them to get over themselves. To a woman at a well - get used to never being thirsty because I bring living water. To another woman who had been caught in sin - get used to a different kind of grace.
He said to get used to different every time He touched a leper, ate dinner with tax collectors and prostitutes, or healed someone on a day that He was not supposed to work. He said it to Nicodemus, John recorded His words. "Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again." (John 3:3, NIV.) Jesus modeled different as He hung on the cross of His death, and prayed for forgiveness for those that crucified Him.
The longer I thought about those four words, get used to different, the more I began to wonder if those who are followers of Jesus are getting used to different. Are we even preparing for different?
Different will be, well, different. It will not look the same for every pastor or every congregation. Different may mean that we are sitting next to someone that does not look like we do, dress like we do, or maybe does not even smell as good as we are used to.
We may need to get used to loving those people that trigger us, instead of holding up signs and marching in protest of their way of life, beliefs, or something they did that offended us.
Different may mean that some days we need to get up out of the pews and venture out to invite our neighbors to church. Perhaps we will skip another potluck dinner and prepare a meal for the local homeless shelter. Maybe it means that instead of building a new fellowship hall, we build laundromats.
I am not sure what different will look like tomorrow. I know what it looks like today, but it will be...different tomorrow, next week and next year. It is difficult not to get stuck in the "good old days." I am as nostalgic as anyone, but good memories are just that. Most Christians will say that they believe followers of Jesus should be working to change our world, to make it different, but sometimes it looks like that only applies if it is comfortable. We do not always embrace different.
There is a popular social media challenge in which users try to convey a thought without using a direct quote. For instance, tell me that you are on vacation without telling me that you are on vacation. I know, it sounds nonsensical but most 10-year-olds understand it, so...
Jesus never used the phrase, "get used to different," but He told us without telling us. He taught different. He lived different, and He loved different. He was even a different kind of Messiah than Israel expected.
How wonderful it is that He is still making everything different. I am getting used to it. Thank you, Jesus, for being different and changing our world!
"Healthy people don't need a doctor-sick people do. I have come to call not those who think they are righteous, but those who know they are sinners and need to repent." - Jesus Christ
Rev. Rob Tramel, Pastor at Crossroads Church of God, Howell, Michigan
May 1, 2023
Praying With Jesus to Reach the Culture
Acts 2:1-12 (NLT) On the day of Pentecost all the believers were meeting together in one place. Suddenly, there was a sound from heaven like the roaring of a mighty windstorm, and it filled the house where they were sitting. Then, what looked like flames or tongues of fire appeared and settled on each of them. And everyone present was filled with the Holy Spirit and began speaking in other languages, as the Holy Spirit gave them this ability. At that time there were devout Jews from every nation living in Jerusalem. When they heard the loud noise, everyone came running, and they were bewildered to hear their own languages being spoken by the believers. They were completely amazed. "How can this be?" they exclaimed. "These people are all from Galilee, and yet we hear them speaking in our own native languages! Here we are - Parthians, Medes, Elamites, people from Mesopotamia, Judea, Cappadocia, Pontus, the province of Asia, Phrygia, Pamphylia, Egypt, and the areas of Libya around Cyrene, visitors from Rome (both Jews and converts to Judaism), Cretans, and Arabs. And we all hear these people speaking in our own languages about the wonderful things God has done!" They stood there amazed and perplexed. "What can this mean?" they asked each other.
On April 15, 1912, one of the most tragic events to happen in history took place when the Titanic, considered unsinkable, sank after crashing into an iceberg in the Northern Atlantic. It was devastating as 1496 people died that day. There were 712 people that were fortunately rescued. Yet 472 more could have been saved if all the available seats in the lifeboats had been used. Sadly, they were not all made available as some were occupied by pets, and some just left empty because of social class standing. Truly a sad story on top of the tragedy.
Just prior to His ascension into Heaven, Jesus sent His disciples to Jerusalem to wait for the Holy Spirit to come upon them (Acts1:6-8 NASB), empowering them to be His witnesses. 6 So, when they had come together, they began asking Him, saying, "Lord, is it at this time that You are restoring the kingdom to Israel?" 7 But He said to them, "It is not for you to know periods of time or appointed times which the Father has set by His own authority; 8 but you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be My witnesses both in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and Samaria, and as far as the remotest part of the earth."
This was a clarion call, indeed a mandate to witness of Jesus Christ to the culture, with no exceptions. Their culture was ironically much like ours, hostile to the message they carried to the culture. Certainly history bears out how difficult that was, as many of them, and millions more over the centuries were martyred for sharing His witness. Yet, the word about some of them shared in Macedonia was powerful concerning their witness (Acts 17:6 NASB). "These who have turned the world upside down have come here too."
They went to Jerusalem to an upper room and waiting for the promised Holy Spirit. Indeed on the Day of Pentecost the Holy Spirit came with great power and filled them all. They were empowered to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and the uttermost parts of the world. Much of that is chronicled in the Book of Acts. This same Holy Spirit is still filling Christians today, and His power is still the same to reach the culture for Jesus Christ. There is a tough question for us in the Church of God today, indeed the whole Church. Are people saying that we are turning the world upside down with our witness, like in Macedonia?
On the Day of Pentecost, some wonderful dynamics happened which reverberated for centuries. In fact, their response to what happened is still impacting the culture today. It challenges us to look at what we do today, and pray about how we can reach our culture like they did in their day.
We still have, through the Holy Spirit, the power of His presence. He infills us, indwells us, empowers us, and enables us just as He did in the Book of Acts. He is the same God! Also, as we share our witness of Jesus Christ, through the power of the Holy Spirit, He brings a sense of wonder in our witness, just like in Acts 2. It may not be in speaking languages that we didn't learn, but it might be in many other ways that He determines are needed for that time and place.
The wonderful thing about the clarion call of Jesus is that He seeks to connect across all demographics. He can speak all languages. His witness can impact anyone in any condition they find themselves, and His ways bring a sense of awe and wonder to those who truly encounter Him. I know in this age of cancel culture, on both sides of the aisle by the way, we don't get to choose who qualifies to be witnessed to about Jesus Christ. Woe unto us if we exclude people from the life transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ because they don't fit into the mold that we think they should.
As we consider the implications of His witness, we need to be assured of some key facts.
Jesus knows what needs to happen in the culture around us (Look at the directions he gave them before ascending to heaven).
Jesus knows where we need to go and how to witness (or fish for people) when we go.
Jesus wants us to be totally dependent upon Him for our orders. We need to pray and then plan not plan and then pray. It makes a huge difference in our witness.
Jesus wants us to understand that in Him we have no limitations, and there is no one that is too lost for His glorious salvation. There is nothing that can hinder His impact but our unwillingness.
Our culture screams for truth, authenticity, what is real. We have the only truth, Jesus Christ. We have the calling to bring Christ to a world that is starving for Him and His glorious, loving, healing presence. What we need is His presence, witness, and impact. It can only be found in a burden for lost souls and impacted through sold out prayer for His direction and equipping. Who will die and miss heaven in our circles of influence because we aren't praying with Jesus to reach them for Christ? Jesus is praying that we will get it, and be impassioned with the burden to bring Him to a culture that is literally dying around us because they don't know that He is life to them. It is up to us.
He is praying, and He wants us to join Him in praying to reach the culture with and for Him. Perhaps this short prayer starter can be of help to us as we seek to reach the culture around us.
Lord Jesus, please impress upon us a powerful burden for the lost. Please bless us to pray with You, to hear from You, and to respond to what You reveal to us, no matter what you challenge us to do. It is in Your holy name, Lord Jesus, that we pray, amen.
In the love of Jesus Christ,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
April 24, 2023
Praying For Jesus For His Love's Impact
1 Corinthians 13 (NIV) 1 If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. 2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. 3 If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. 8 Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away. 9 For we know in part and we prophesy in part, 10 but when completeness comes, what is in part disappears. 11 When I was a child, I talked like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child. When I became a man, I put the ways of childhood behind me. 12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known. 13 And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
James W. Moore, in his book, "When All Else Fails... Read the Instruction Book," shared an illustration attributed to a man named King Duncan entitled, "Love God, Love People.":
George was a peacemaker with a big heart and wonderful sense of humor. Everyone loved George at church, and he was respected at the hospital where he worked. The reason why so many people loved George was because he was always kind and respectful to everyone he met. George's children clearly remember the days George spent in the hospital before his death. The administrator of the hospital paid him a visit. They spoke as though they were old friends. A few minutes later one of the janitors came to visit George. They too had a nice visit. When the janitor left, one of George's children said to him, "Dad, did you realize that you treated the president of the hospital and the janitor just alike?" George smiled, chuckled and then said, "Let me ask you something: If the administrator left for two weeks and the janitor left for two weeks, which one do you think would be missed the most?" Then George called his children around his bed. "Let me show you something I carry in my pocket all the time," he told them, "even when I mow the lawn." George pulled out a pocket-sized cross and a marble with the golden rule on it. George said, "On the cross are written these words, 'God Loves You,' and on the marble are these words, 'Do unto Others as You Would Have Them Do unto You.' The cross reminds me of how deeply God loves me. And the marble reminds me of how deeply God wants me to love others."
In 1 Corinthians 12 - 14, the Apostle Paul shared significantly on Spiritual gifts. In Chapter 13 he clearly spoke of the crucial aspect of fruit giving power to the gifts given by Holy Spirit. He wanted the church to understand that it is Holy Spirit and God's true love that is far more important than the spiritual gifts given. The gifts point to and enable the love of God to be poured out. If the love isn't there, then the gifts fall far short of what God requires. After all, the scripture is clear that God is love. If we want the love of Jesus Christ to have impact in our lives, families, churches, and the culture around us, we need to understand the crucial true nature of love.
First of all, God's love brings real value to our Spiritual gifts. Paul makes it clear that the exercising of spiritual gifts without the heart fruit of love amounts to three things: just making noise, amounting to nothing, and getting nowhere. If you add them up, gifts without love amount to absolute zero! If you read John 15, you just cant get around the fact that Jesus demands we bear fruit. Yet, it is not as hard as we make it, as Jesus, through Holy Spirit, supplies the fruit and ensures the conditions for the seeds of His fruit to grow continually in and through us. If love, the greatest of these fruits, isnt rich, sweet, and nurturing in and through our lives, it isn't God's fault!
Secondly, the Apostle Paul shows us the character qualities of love. Every time I see this list in verses 4-8, and I have seen it in several versions, translations, and paraphrases, it sobers me to check myself before I wreck myself and injure others in the process. Not that I always get it right! Thank God that He is loving and forgiving!
What love is and isn't:
Love is patient... Love never gives up!
Love is kind... Love cares more for others than for itself
Love does not envy... Love doesn't want what others have
Love does not boast... Love doesn't strut
Love is not proud... Love doesn't have a swelled head
Love is not rude... Love doesn't force itself on others
Love is not self-seeking... Love isn't me first
Love is not easily angered... Love doesn't fly off the handle at every little thing
Love keeps no record of wrongs... Love doesn't keep score of the sins of others
Love does not delight in evil... Love doesn't revel when others grovel
Love rejoices with the truth... Love takes pleasure in the flowering of truth
Love always protects... Love provides an atmosphere of preservation
Love always trusts... Love trusts God always
Love always hopes... Love always looks for the best
Love always perseveres... Love keeps going to the end
Love never fails... Love never dies
He further indicated that gifts will pass away with the people that have them from the Holy Spirit, things like tongues, prophecy, understanding, knowledge, healing, giving, etc. Love, however, will keep on forever, as it never fails! I once heard a Salvation Army Officer encourage people to substitute God for the word love in 1 Corinthians 13:4-8. God is love (1 John). I need to daily ask myself the Dr. Phil question about how I live out God's love, "How's that working for you?"
Finally, there is power through love's demonstration. The Apostle Paul concluded this chapter with a clear clarion call to live out love. He wrote that there are three things that we need to focus on that will prepare us for the upward call of God in Christ Jesus, faith, hope, and love. They are all important, but he clearly stated that the greatest of these is love. Love is the very nature and character of God. He is love. His demonstration of love is shown through Jesus Christ coming into this world to reveal God's love to us in atonement and redemption. It is unconditional, sacrificial, transformational, forgiving, redeeming, eternal, and transitional (we can share it with others).
Sometimes sharing the love of God may seem impossible to you, or certainly very, very difficult. Let's face it; some folks just dont make it easy. Some folks are just plain ordinary unloving or seemingly unlovable, and some are just down right mean and nasty. Notice, however, that God didn't place any qualifiers on it. We are to love like God loves us. Think about how bad our lives can get. Think about how awful some people are in this world, and some of the atrocities that people have committed against others and against whole cultures. Yet, it is in the face of these horrible things and more that the Extravagant Love of God was poured out. God loves us so much that He gave us Jesus to overcome it all.
So if God loves us so extravagantly that He gave us His very best, is there any good reason that we can't love those who are in the same boat as we were and or maybe as we are? Is there any reason that we can't or won't commit ourselves to loving others extravagantly? It's not as hard as we think if we are willing to live out the characteristics of what love is and isn't. I implore you to reset your prayer life to pray with Jesus for the impact of His love to be poured out all around you. He will empower that prayer. Perhaps you can use this prayer starter in your prayers for love's impact:
Dear Lord Jesus, I join you in this prayer for the impact of your love to be poured out in this world. Lord, please overwhelm me with your love from the inside out, so that it pours out of my life and the ministry of our church like a nonstop tidal wave. It is in your Precious Name, Lord Jesus, I pray, amen.
In the love of Jesus Christ,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
April 17, 2023
Praying For Jesus to Tame My Tongue
Many years ago when my son, Josh, was about 5, we went to one of his favorite places, McDonald's. He and my daughter always loved their vanilla milkshakes. Josh had a bad habit of taking the top off the cup and drinking the milkshake without a straw. Since we were in the car, I told him not to take off the top, but to use the straw instead. He didn't listen, pulled off the top, and covered himself and the back seat of the car with vanilla milkshake. In my irritation I responded, "That was stupid!" He immediately and sadly responded, "I'm stupid!" I had to really work hard to apologize and convince him that he was not stupid. Obviously as you can see through this story we can say things that hurt and damage others, which in most cases wasn't what we planned. Although, if we are honest, there are times when we did mean to hit very hard with what we say.
What we say, and in this age of social media, what we post that is really the same thing, have the ability to impact us and those around us in powerful ways. In fact, the tongue is so dangerous because something can be said or posted in Michigan that might affect someone around the world. And the effects of it may last for generations. When we are communicating with people in person, we need to understand that only 7% of what we say is communicated by the words we use. 93% is communicated by how we say what we say, our tone and volume of voice (35%) and our non-verbal things like facial expressions, posture, position of our arms, etc. (58%). And yet with that 7 percent, we can do devastating damage or life affirming blessings. When we post something, all the words have powerful effects because the non-verbal things can't be discerned.
Our tongue is so powerful that many scriptures warn of the destructive or constructive power of the tongue. Here are a few upon which to meditate.
James 1:26 If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless.
Colossians 4:6 Let your speech always be gracious, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how you ought to answer everyone.
Proverbs 12:17-19 Whoever speaks the truth gives honest evidence, but a false witness speaks deceitfully. Rash words are like sword thrusts, but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue lasts only a moment...
Proverbs 15:1-2, 4 A soft answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger. The tongue of the wise dispenses knowledge, but the mouths of fools pour out folly... A gentle tongue is a tree of life, but perverseness in it breaks the spirit.
Proverbs 26:20-21 For lack of wood the fire goes out, and where there is no whisperer, quarreling ceases. As charcoal is to hot embers and wood to fire, so is a quarrelsome person for kindling strife. The words of a whisperer are like delicious morsels; they go down into the inner parts of the body. Like the glaze covering an earthen vessel are smooth lips with an evil heart.
Proverbs 18:21 Death and life are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruits.
Matthew 12:36-37 36"I tell you, on the day of judgment you will have to give an account for every careless word you utter; 37 for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned."
The last two really impact me the greatest. There are many more scriptures that talk about our tongues, how deadly they can be, and how important it is that we allow the Lord to help us bridle them. The Apostle James shared with a church that was having big problems with what people were saying to one another and the harm it was causing. In James 3:1-12, he began by speaking to teachers, of which there were many in the early church, especially false ones. He focuses some powerful statements about what people say. The gist of it is that the tongue has incredible power, as we can see through the scriptures above. Most of us have probably experienced very painful things said or posted about us in our lifetime. In looking at this passage from James 3 out of Eugene Peterson's Message Paraphrase, three powers of the tongue can be seen.
The Power to Mentor or Murder
V: 1-5a "Don't be in any rush to become a teacher, my friends. Teaching is highly responsible work. Teachers are held to the strictest standards. And none of us is perfectly qualified. We get it wrong nearly every time we open our mouths. If you could find someone whose speech was perfectly true, you'd have a perfect person, in perfect control of life. A bit in the mouth of a horse controls the whole horse. A small rudder on a huge ship in the hands of a skilled captain sets a course in the face of the strongest winds. A word out of your mouth may seem of no account, but it can accomplish nearly anything - or destroy it!"
The Power to Ignite or Incinerate
V: 5b-8 "It only takes a spark, remember, to set off a forest fire. A careless or wrongly placed word out of your mouth can do that. By our speech we can ruin the world, turn harmony to chaos, throw mud on a reputation, send the whole world up in smoke and go up in smoke with it, smoke right from the pit of hell. This is scary: You can tame a tiger, but you can't tame a tongue - it's never been done. The tongue runs wild, a wanton killer."
The Power to Honor or Horrify
V: 9-12 "With our tongues we bless God our Father; with the same tongues we curse the very men and women he made in his image. Curses and blessings out of the same mouth! My friends, this can't go on. A spring doesn't gush fresh water one day and brackish the next, does it? Apple trees don't bear strawberries, do they? Raspberry bushes don't bear apples, do they? You're not going to dip into a polluted mud hole and get a cup of clear, cool water, are you?"
I try to consistently reset my prayers, asking Lord Jesus to tame my tongue. I want to encourage each of us to do the same. We can't tame our own tongue without His help, but Jesus can and will if we will truly allow Him. As a part of that let me offer three takeaways which you can use to help in this effort. You can use them every day.
A litmus test: Would I say what I am going to say and how I say it, or would I post it if Jesus were the recipient of it? With that, would I want someone else to say to me what I am going to say to them in the way that I am going to say it? If the answer is no to either or both of these questions, then don't say it or post it until you have really prayed and gotten wisdom from God in how to mentor, ignite, and honor with what you say rather than murder, incinerate, or horrify by what you say. And if you find that your relationship has been harmed by what you said or posted, then you'll know you need to humble yourself and try to make it right.
Use Magic Words, Sincerely: Please and thank you; I'm sorry, will you forgive me and I forgive you; I'm praying for you (and mean it for God's glory not your desires); Can I help you; I love you.
A Prayer that will work: It is based on a prayer I heard from a Church of God Pastor named Rev. Susan Brown many years ago. She referenced a book that she read, but I apologize that I don't have the reference for it. Lord, please break me of anything that doesn't look like You in my life. Lord, please crush anything in me that hinders your power and presence in my life. Lord, please cast me in the fire of your refining so that my life comes forth as purified gold before You. Please let the words of my mouth bring glory to You, encouragement to others, and resolve for me to continue to live holy before You, in Jesus' name, Amen!
May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you richly.
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
April 10, 2023
Praying to See People as Jesus Does
A man named Arnold was cleaning out the attic with his wife when he came across a claim ticket from the local shoe repair shop. The date stamped on the ticket showed it was over eleven years old. He asked his wife, "Do you think the shoes will still be in the shop?" "Not likely," his wife said. "But it's worth a try." Arnold drove to the shoe repair shop and, with a straight face, handed the ticket to the man behind the counter. The man looked at the ticket and said, "Just a minute. I'll have to go look for these." He disappeared to the back of the shop. Two minutes later, the man called out, "Here they are!" "No kidding?" Arnold called back. "That's terrific! Who would have thought they'd still be here after all this time." The man came back to the counter and said, "They'll be ready on Thursday."
This humorous story makes a point about perspective. Life has a way of challenging us to go back to the starting point to get things right. Our Christian walk can be like that. We can find ourselves chasing after all sorts of things, thinking that we are doing the Lord's work, but missing what He really wants from us. Jesus wants a people who will follow Him and impact people with the love and compassion that He has. He did this throughout His earthly ministry. Indeed, His whole reason for coming in the first place was to pour out his love and compassion on us through His work on the cross. If our efforts don't demonstrate the love and compassion of Jesus, we are missing it, and we need to reset ourselves.
We especially need to reset our prayer lives; specifically, we need to reset our prayer lives to see people as Jesus sees them. In three significant passages from Matthew's Gospel the same thing is said about Jesus; He had compassion on those He encountered. Matthew 9:36 (NRSV), When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 14:14 (NRSV), When he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them and cured their sick. Matthew 15:32 (NRSV), Then Jesus called his disciples to him and said, "I have compassion for the crowd, because they have been with me now for three days and have nothing to eat." From these great Gospel stories, we can see how Jesus sees the people He was confronted with, and what He did through how He saw them. I want to encourage us all, as individuals, and the church, to reset our prayer lives so that the Lord can use us to pour out His love and compassion on people as He would. It must start with our prayers to focus our vision to see people as He does.
Jesus has eyes of compassion for the helpless, and He wants His people to see that way. In the Matthew 9 passage, Jesus had been on a tremendous stretch of healing sick people, including a woman with an issue of blood for 12 years, Jairus' daughter who had died, a blind man, and several others. The crowds kept coming, and He had compassion on them because they were harassed and helpless, like a sheep without a shepherd. Jesus would continue to heal, but His heart burden of compassion extended to what would they do when He wasn't around. They still would need help and hope. Jesus, through what He saw, also saw that there is a great need for workers to bring in the already ripe harvest, and instructed His disciples, and us, to pray to the Lord of the Harvest to send out more workers into the harvest. This requires a reset in our prayers and focus to see people as Jesus sees them so we can be used by Him to reach them as He wants to.
Jesus has eyes of compassion for the hurting, and He wants us to see people that way as well. In the Matthew 14 passage, Jesus had been on a whirlwind of great ministry, but right after hearing the news that John the Baptist had been killed by Herod, He went off with his disciples to rest. Jesus and His disciples were exhausted. They went away on a boat to a deserted place to rest and deal with the news He had just heard. The crowds heard about where He might be heading, and they followed Him on foot to the other side of the Sea of Galilee. When He saw them coming with all their afflictions, but expending the energy to walk to where He was going, He felt compassion on them. He healed all who were sick. Jesus wants us to see the afflicted among us as He does, people in need of a healing touch, and allow that to fuel prayers for God's power to bring the healing and deliverance that they desperately need. This requires a refocus, perhaps a reset in our prayer lives.
Jesus has eyes of compassion for the hungry, and He wants us to see people that suffer this way as well. In the Matthew 15 passage, after healing the people who walked long distances to meet Him, Jesus taught them for three days. He then felt compassion on them because they were hungry and had nothing or no way to get something to eat. He had compassion on them, feeling that they might not make it. He challenged His disciples with the task to feed them, greatly stretching their faith, as they saw Him take seven loaves and a few small fish and feed over 4,000 people. Jesus wants us to reach out our hands to the hungry and feed them, not just physically, but spiritually. But it takes seeing them as He does. His disciples wanted to send them away to deal with it themselves, but the Lord knew that they just didn't have the strength to do so.
We have to reset our prayer lives to see the hungry among us, and it might not just be people hungry for physical food, but so much more (like love, help, hope, belonging, strength, encouragement, etc.). The key is seeing people as Jesus sees them.
The interesting thing about the way Jesus sees people, His eyes of compassion, is that it leaves no room for judgement of how they got into their current state of being, and whether or not they deserved it. It left no room for selfishness, thinking that they did it to themselves, and they ought to be able to do what we did...pull themselves up by their own bootstraps.
His compassion left no room for apathy, or inadequacy, thinking that the problem is just too big for us to handle, after all we can't do it all or help everybody. His compassion only left room for the effort to unleash God's power and glory to meet and match His love and compassion. When that happened, sick people who were harassed and helpless like sheep without a shepherd found their help and hope in Him. When that happened, people who desperately needed healing to the point that they were willing to walk in their afflictions to Him found their healing. When His compassion was stirred by the people He saw, He healed them, He taught them, He fed them, providing the nourishment of body, mind, and soul that they desperately craved.
The Church that Jesus loves needs to see people as Jesus does, or we will not be able to extend the help, the healing, and the hope to the hungry that He wants us to. We must reset our prayer lives to see people as He does. And when we do, He can really use us in ways that will amaze us and others. Our lives, our families, our churches, and our communities will be greatly impacted by Him.
May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you richly.
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
April 3, 2023
Men's Retreat 2023: Nicodemus and Big Questions
Our recent men's retreat was a really positive experience, in my opinion. I mean, what's not to like about a dozen different homemade pies, lots of homemade cookies, and limitless soft drinks? (Okay, maybe our physicians have some words of warning...)
For me, the highlight of the weekend wasn't the food, although it was very good. It wasn't the fellowship, although that was great as well. It wasn't the worship services, although the music was fantastic and the singing was rich and full. For me, the highlights were the group conversations we had during each of the three main sessions.
We had eighty guys in the same room, with probably eighty different perspectives on the world. We spent close to three hours demonstrating and modeling how a mixed group of eighty people can have legitimate conversations, even when they don't always agree with each other.
We explored the three biblical stories where Nicodemus appears, and then we pondered and discussed big questions of faith:
In response to John 3 and the story of Nicodemus and Jesus talking about being born again, we asked: Why does our culture make it hard for us to express doubts? How would you react if you heard a religious leader like Nicodemus expressing serious doubts? What is one big question or doubt you have about Christian faith? How can we make space for people and their doubts and questions, without kicking them out of the club?
In response to the end of John 7 where Nicodemus tries to stand up for Jesus among the mob of his own people, we asked: When have you been tempted to go along with the mob? Who do you have trouble listening to? How can we learn to respond to insults with something other than more insults or violence?
(Pop quiz: what's the third and final time Nicodemus is mentioned in scripture?)
On Saturday night, we discussed questions that had been submitted anonymously over the previous day. Why has the church split over so many different issues? Does God really send young children to eternal hell if they haven't had a chance to accept Jesus? Why don't we practice footwashing more regularly? How can I know for sure that I've been saved, or that I have been given the Holy Spirit?
We need more of these kinds of conversations, where people can come together in unity - and in good faith - despite their differences and strong opinions.
Rev. Dr. David Aukerman, Pastor at Mt. Haley Church of God, Midland, Michigan
March 27, 2023
It is amazing to me how fast 2023 is going. One week ago today was the beginning of spring, although no one seems to have convinced the weather of that. Yet, we are on the precipice of Holy Week, working our way to the commemoration of our Lord's great atoning sacrifice for us and His resurrection from the dead on Easter Sunday. There are some wonderful events and activities that our congregations engage in, many of which are built upon lifelong memories and celebrations. The first of these celebratory events is next Sunday, Palm Sunday.
Churches around the world will celebrate the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem on the back of a donkey, a symbol of peace. What a powerful celebration that not everyone understood as the celebration took place. Many were waving palm branches, some were lining the road he traveled with their garments and palm branches. The shouts of praise were in the air, "Hosanna to the Son of David!" "Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!" "Hosanna in the highest heaven!" Matthew 21:9b (NIV) While some celebrated, others in the crowd were critical, while yet others were totally bewildered as to what was happening.
The reality is that the celebration was in honor of Jesus Christ, the Savior of the World, coming to make the ultimate sacrifice of atonement so that all who call on His name can be redeemed. It is all about Jesus Christ, and not the palms or the cloaks on the road, even the crowds. It is all about Jesus Christ and what He had done for us all. Many years ago, I heard a profound statement by Rev. Dr. Erwin Lutzer, former Senior Pastor of the Moody Church in Chicago, and well known author and speaker. He was recounting the events of Palm Sunday, and in emphasizing what was happening, stated that the people in the crowd needed to have donkey sense. The donkey was wise enough to know that the palms, the cloaks, the celebration wasn't for him, but for who was riding on him. He was doing his appointed job of carrying the Savior of the world to Jerusalem for the greatest transforming event in history. But it was Jesus Christ and not the donkey that was the focus.
He is our focus today. We celebrate Palm Sunday, waving palms and maybe keeping some in our homes throughout the year to remind us of the Lord's triumphal entry into Jerusalem to go to the cross. I keep a palm branch twisted into the form of a cross on the dashboard of my vehicle as a continual reminder that it is all about Jesus Christ. I hope you, your families, and your congregations have a great celebration of our Lord's Triumphal Entry, leading into a powerfully enriching Holy Week. For me, I will do what I do all the time; I will try my best to have donkey sense and celebrate our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ and what He has done for us.
May the Lord Jesus Christ bless you richly.
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
March 20, 2023
A Great Day for The Church of God in Michigan
This past Saturday, I was thrilled to be a part of 350+ people gathered at South Church in Lansing for our 360 Ministry Leadership Conference. The theme: Seek and Save the Lost was a great focus for evangelism, as we worshipped, fellowshipped, and learned together. The morning began with a rousing time of worship, led by our Church Health Pastor, Rev. Jerry Lyon. His inspiring words were augmented with some powerful worship songs and a rousing video from the Exponential event which concluded two weeks ago in Orlando, FL. From that great time of worship, the attendees gathered in several areas of the facility for the first of three sessions across several tracks.
By the time the day was over, hundreds of people from dozens of our congregations, attended three sessions across the tracks, spent wonderful time in fellowship with a great meal from Chick-Fil-A, and gathered together again for an incredibly inspiring closing worship. During that closing session, many people came forward to be anointed and prayed for to be commissioned to passionately pursue evangelism. The Spirit of God was evident throughout the day, and people were excited with what God is doing in The Church of God in Michigan.
To put on this event, there is a lot of work that goes into it. Much of this was done with the direction and leadership of Rev. Jerry Lyon and the 360 Ministry Leadership Task Force. I am grateful for the efforts of this team, Rev. Jerry and Deb Lyon, Rev. April Crump, Rev. Rhyan Glezman, and Sharon Richardson. Several others helped to set up, tear down, handle registration, and facilitate the flow of people throughout the day, like Erin Glezman and son Kalin, Phil and Laurie Tripp, and Doug Bilby. We are very thankful for all who served and all who attended. Thank you to the facilitators of the sessions throughout the day. We also extend thanks to Becky Adams for her assistance in pulling together many items for the event, and we are continually grateful to South Church for extending their heart of hospitality to us each year for our 360 Ministry Leadership Conference. Their staff was very friendly, professional, and encouraging. It was truly great to connect with many people from many of our congregations across the state, as well as partners in some of the ministries that we work with like Dick Forsman from Michigan Singers, Scot Bale from Warner Camp, and Rich Fields from one of our Ministries to Haiti.
Our hope and prayer is that we will carry from 360 the knowledge gained, and match that with the fuel of the Holy Spirt in seeking and saving the lost for Jesus Christ. It was truly a great day. The only thing missing was you, if you weren't able to make this years event. Trust me, it will be well worth your time in the future. We hope you will join us as we gather again next March to grow together.
Blessings to you all,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor
March 13, 2023
Speaking the Truth in Love
"We are not meant to remain as children at the mercy of every chance wind of teaching and the jockeying of men who are expert in the craft presentation of lies. But we are meant to hold firmly to the truth in love..."
~ Ephesians 4:15 - J.B. Phillips translation
I have a one panel cartoon I cut out of a newspaper more than 40 years ago that still makes me laugh:
It is of Dennis the Menace and his friend Joey holding up a puppy high over their heads, looking intently. Dennis says, "My Dad can tell by looking at the bottom of their feet."
40 years later and now we can't tell anymore...or we might be in trouble.
Our Governor's new anti-discrimination laws just this week will threaten religious groups in their long held beliefs of what is male and female, and what is right and what is wrong. Our daughters and granddaughters are now competing in sports with biological males, which is an unfair advantage on the field of competition. And then they have to share locker rooms with these males!
We have a Supreme Court Justice who could not or would not answer the question, "What is a woman?" Our Assistant Secretary of Health for the United States is Admiral Rachel Levin, born a man, divorced with two kids, and in 2011 became a "woman!"
Our First Lady, Dr. Jill Biden, on March 8, 2023, International Women's Day, gave the "Woman of Courage Award" to a man pretending to be a woman, Argentinian Alba Rueda.
The insidious message of all this is, "The best woman is a biological male." That is the epitome of patriarchy and misogyny! What an insult to our daughters and granddaughters!
What should the CHOG response be? Three suggestions...
Like Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego in Daniel 3:18 = "We will not worship your gods or bow to your idol of gold..." What used to be considered a mental illness is now celebrated.
We must not play this dangerous game of untruths and lies. Even if we are criticized, condemned, and persecuted, we must stand up for the Truth.
This is the Way = Ephesians 4:15 ="hold firmly to the truth in love." Speak with kindness, not cruelty. Speak with honesty but not harshness. Our goal is to convert, not condemn.
Hold our leaders to the Biblical standards: encourage and support our pastors and ministry leaders in our youth programs, State ministry, Camps, and Colleges - to hold their ground Biblically and not give into the world's standards.
Church, what say you?
By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan
March 6, 2023
Climate Change and the Church
"The earth is the Lord's, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it..."
What is "Climate Change?" It is the theory that man-made activities are a threat to Planet Earth. A more accurate term would be "Climate Crisis," since proponents predict gloom and doom for the Earth if we don't change. The blame for the Climate Crisis is use of fossil fuels (oil, gas, propane, etc.) and farming (livestock in particular) and the internal combustion engines (cars and jets). The remedy for the Climate Crisis is for a radical change of life for the masses, guided by more control by governments and elite leaders (environmental groups), more taxes for regular folks, and by eliminating and/or severely limiting the use of cars and jet travel and more reliance of the use of "green energy" (wind power, electric vehicles, and solar energy).
Couple of questions one must ask a "Climate Crisis" believer, and then a theological concern:
What is Normal for the Climate? I remember in the mid 1970's going to a conference at Calvin College to hear an expert predict we were about to enter into a new Ice Age, we are all going to freeze to death...and then in the 1980's we are all going to burn up, and then lately we all are going to drown cause the oceans will cover us all - even though one politician who preaches "the oceans will flood us unless" crisis message, has the audacity to own mansions on two different ocean beaches, that your and my tax dollars support!?!
With every new drought, flood, blizzard, ...it is all Climate Crisis? Or maybe, it is just life?
It begs the question: "What is the normal climate, the norm, for planet Earth?"
Is it when the Earth was the hothouse jungle of dinosaur times? Back during the Ice Age when Michigan was covered with glaciers and the Great Lakes were carved out? Back when the Sarahi Desert was a grassy plain? The Romans conquered the British Isles and the Scandinavian countries of Northern Europe almost 2000 years ago and planted vineyards and wheat, because the climate was warm then. The Vikings several hundred years later settled Greenland and farmed it...it was warmer then. It is very icy now. The Earth has gone through many cycles of hot/cold, dry/wet.
The Climate has been changing a lot since the beginning and it will until the End.
Is more government/experts controlling things going to cure the Earth? Will more taxes lower or raise temperatures or clean the water and the air? How much more, can they quantify that?
Amazing how rich experts who own multiple mansions, travel in large SUV's and fly on private jets, telling others they need to give up their internal combustion car, eat bugs rather than beef and do with less electricity because they say it will save the planet. If they really believed that message, why are they not living it?
The theological concern I have is this: it is heresy to say we humans control the Earth.
Read Psalm 24, it speaks plain and powerful who the real Controller of Planet Earth is! The Bible is clear: God created and rules over planet Earth. And God, and God alone, will bring it to an End, when He chooses. We are only temporary tenants in this world.
The Greek word from which heresy comes from is haíresis, literally, "act of choosing," derivative of haireîn "to choose." When we choose the "Climate Crisis" mindset of fear and doom and look to human sources for our world's salvation, we are supplanting the Sovereignty of God with the idol of a lesser god - "Climate Crisis."
The real climate change we need is for Christ to be proclaimed and followed as Lord of all. Real salvation if found in faith in Jesus Christ! That should be the focus of the Church...not climate disputes.
By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan
February 27, 2023
In my current eAction article, I encourage us to pray for Revival in our lives, our churches, our communities, and beyond. God is moving in some very amazing ways in our time. Revival seems to be spreading from the Asbury college campus to campuses, churches, and other places in amazing ways over the past couple of weeks. One very exciting example of this is the current release of the movie, Jesus Revolution. It is based on the true story of the Jesus Revolution of the late 1960's and early 1970's. It recounts how the message of Jesus Christ radically impacted the Hippie Movement. It is a powerful movie that clearly demonstrates the Lord Jesus Christ and His power to bring revival into the lives of people who are in some of their darkest and toughest places. I encourage you to see it while it is still in the theaters, and I hope you will be impacted by the number of people (especially young people) who are watching it. Revival is real, and I crave it for us. My hope and prayer for what is happening is that people's lives will be so transformed that they will be all in for Jesus Christ in how they live, love, pray, and serve. Many years ago I came across the following affirmation called, A Covenant of Faithfulness. As you can see, it was adopted from an anonymous African Pastor, but it is a powerful covenant he developed with God. I would rejoice to see us step into a covenant this powerful.
A Covenant of Fruitfulness
(Adopted from an African Pastor, name unknown)
I am part of the fellowship of the fruitful. I have the Holy Spirit power. The die has been cast, I have stepped over the line. The decision has been made. I am a disciple of His. I won't look back. Let up, slow down, back away, or be still.
My past is redeemed, my present makes sense, and my future is secure. I am finished and done with low living, sight walking, small planning, smooth knees, colorless dreams, tamed vision, mundane talking, cheap giving, and dwarfed goals.
I no longer need preeminence, prosperity, position, promotions, plaudits or popularity. I don't have to be right, first, tops, recognized, praised, regarded or rewarded. I now live by faith, lean on His presence, walk by patience, lifted by prayer, and labor by power.
My call is set, my gait is fast, my goal is Heaven, my road is narrow, my way is rough, my companions are few, my Guide is reliable, my mission is clear. I cannot be bought, compromised, detoured, lured away, turned back, deluded, or delayed. I will not flinch in the face of sacrifice, hesitate in the presence of adversity, negotiate at the table of the enemy, ponder at the pool of popularity, or meander in the maze of mediocrity.
I won't give up, shut up, let up, until I have stayed up, stored up, prayed up, paid up, and preached up for the cause of Christ. I am a disciple of Jesus. I must go 'til He comes, give 'til I drop, preach 'til all know and work 'til He stops me. And when He comes for His own, He will have no problem recognizing me. I have been called by God. He knows my name--my banner of identification with Jesus will be clear.
By Rev. Mark Richardson, State Pastor
February 20, 2023
A 4-H Club Recommendation for Pastors
In the early part of the 20th Century, the Department of Agriculture sponsored a youth organization offering instruction in agriculture, home economics, and other fields. 4-H Clubs sprang up across the land, mostly in rural communities. The 4 Hs stood for Head, Heart, Hands, and Health. The pledge of the 4-H Club members is as follows:
My Head to clearer thinking
My Heart to greater loyalty
My Hands to larger service
My Health to better living
For my club, my community, my country and my world.
These clubs are still in operation in many places today, more than 110 years later. In fact, Michigan State University Extension has put together a breakdown of the pledge of the 4-H Club, and ways to sign up for a 4-H Club. If you are interested, the link to this is: What does "4-H" stand for? - MSU Extension
Several years ago I created a devotional for the ministers in Western PA during our camp meeting. It was based on the concept of 4-H, using Head, Heart, Hands, Hope. With some updates and using some selected passages from 2 Timothy, chapters 3 and 4, I want to encourage you to minister with an eye, ear, and heart to what the Apostle Paul shares with his son in the faith, Timothy. Here are some suggestions to think about and pray about. Mostly, they are to encourage you to press toward the mark of the upward call of Christ Jesus regardless of what is going on around us.
But realize this, that in the last days difficult times will come. For men will be lovers of self, lovers of money, boastful, arrogant, revilers, disobedient to parents, ungrateful, unholy, unloving, irreconcilable, malicious gossips, without self-control, brutal, haters of good, treacherous, reckless, conceited, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God, holding to a form of godliness, although they have denied its power; Avoid such men as these. (2 Tim 3:1-5 NASB)
Get your head around the fact that we are living out prophecy.
Keep your head about you when others are losing their minds.
Detox yourself from mind drainers (people who are negative about everything, and things, especially social media, political news, etc.)
Pray fervently for God to impart large measures of these on you, your family, your congregation, and your community: (wisdom, understanding, knowledge, insight, guidance, direction, discernment, peace, and strength to obey all that the Lord reveals to you).
But evil men and impostors will proceed from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived. You, however, continue in the things you have learned and become convinced of, knowing from whom you have learned them, and that from childhood you have known the sacred writings which are able to give you the wisdom that leads to salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, for training in righteousness; so that the man of God may be adequate, equipped for every good work. (2 Tim 3:13-17 NASB)
Expect things to get worse not better.
Keep your heart fixed in the Lord, because He is still King of Kings and Lord of Lords.
Settle your heart in the Word of God, it will empower you to press through the challenges that we face daily.
Pray a positive confession prayer to trust in the Word of God no matter the situation, trusting that it will be suitable and profitable for every circumstance and situation, to equip Gods people for every good work of service. This is a matter of heart determination.
I solemnly charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by His appearing and His kingdom: preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, exhort, with great patience and instruction. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires, and will turn away their ears from the truth and will turn aside to myths. But you, be sober in all things, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry.
(2 Tim 4:1-5 NASB)
Trust is putting running shoes on your faith. Faith is active as we step out on the call, promises, and revelation of God.
Dont allow circumstances or people to deter your focus.
Deal with the rough stuff that comes your way, and fulfill your calling and make your ministry shine.
Pray a prayer of strength and determination to preach the Word unhindered, unaltered, unadulterated, simply, and boldly, through the empowering of the Holy Spirit. Pray for your people to see what God is showing you, and pray that they will join you in fulfilling God's desires.
For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Tim 4:6-8 NASB)
Remember you are polishing your testimonies (Fighting the good fight, finishing the course, and keeping the faith).
Always stay focused on Christ, He Who began the work in you and is perfecting it.
He is coming again, and He will bring about everything the Word of God promises that He will.
Pray a positive prayer of confession that you will fight, finish, and be faithful, to receive your crown of righteousness. Pray also that you will be sold out in ministry top your congregation that each one will also live to receive that crown of righteousness.
Love and blessings to you all,
By Rev. Mark Richardson, State Pastor
February 13, 2023
Principles and Practices
4 "Haven't you read," Jesus replied, "that at the beginning the Creator 'made them male and female,'[a] 5 and said, 'For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh[b]? 6 So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate." ~ Matthew 19:4-6
a. Matthew 19:4 Gen. 1:27
b. Matthew 19:5 Gen. 2:24
"A principle is an understanding about how to do things; a fundamental truth about the way things ought to be. A practice, of course, is what you actually do - and ideally, as a result of a guiding principle." ~ Dr. James Emery White
If we were to go back in time more than 100 years ago in our Church of God congregations, our practices were different than today;
Men would not wear ties or buttons, too worldly - I once said to an older minister, "When I get to Heaven, I want to talk to the guy who invented ties!" - To which my older pastor friend said, "what makes you think he'll be in Heaven?"
Women would not wear jewelry or makeup - too worldly - there was a family in Cassopolis that in the 1950's when the husband contracted polio, the CHOG pastor said it was because his wife wore a plain wedding band!
And our church dinners would not have coffee, tea, mustard, or hot sauces - "stimulates the flesh, which is bad!!!!"Anyone remember drinking "Postum?"
We have changed our practices from what they were because we looked at biblical principles and we had reasoned discussion about our practices, much like they did in the Early Church in Acts 15.
It is one thing to change from a practice of anti-coffee to now coffee drinking is common practice in virtually every congregation of ours.
It is a whole other thing to change principles on issues today from what we held in the past.
Some among us in the Church would like to change our principles on acceptable human sexual behavior to include trans-sexuality and homosexual marriage as 'okay' practices for the Church.
It reminds me of the old Flip Wilson story of a neighbor who came over to Flip and said, "Your funny looking yellow dog just bit my dog in half! What kind of dog is that?"
Flip responded, "Well, before I cut his tail off and painted him yellow, he was an alligator!"
Moral of the story: A dog is a dog and an alligator is not a dog!
Friends, we cannot change our principles on human sexuality without throwing out the Bible and ignoring the wisdom and practice of the Church since it's beginning. We could talk about this and debate it until Jesus returns but it won't change the Biblical teachings or the historic position of the Church.
My prayer for the Church is that we would affirm this:
We believe, as Jesus declared, we are created male and female. We believe that God's ideal for marriage is that it is between a man and a woman.
That is the biblical principle and may that continue to be the practice of the Church.
By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan
February 6, 2023
A Devotional for a Snowy Sunday Morning
Psalm 51:7b, "Wash me and I shall be whiter than snow."
Matthew 5:6, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled."
Wisdom called for us to close services this morning. The timing and severity of the snowstorm meant that getting to church would be difficult, if not dangerous. But when the Lord disrupts our schedules almost always there is a blessing. This is no different.
When I let Wilson out this morning the beautiful white landscape muffled any noise. It was so quiet and peaceful. I found my spirit gulping in the peace of God that passes all understanding.
Life is like that. We face storms in our lives, but when the storm is over there is beauty and, most importantly, peace.
We have been reflecting on holiness in our Sunday morning worship services. As I looked out across our yard with the deep, white, unmolested snow I was reminded of Psalm 51:7, one of the great penitential psalms. David had sinned grievously by committing adultery with Bathsheba and having her husband murdered. After being confronted by the prophet Nathan, David repented deeply. As part of his penitential prayer, he begs God, "wash me and I will be whiter than snow."
Isn't that the desire of all who are Christ followers? We want to be pure and holy whiter than the snow that is in the lot behind my backyard. Pure, clean, peaceful, beautiful.
Thinking about being whiter than snow reminded me of the beatitude,
"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled."
The good news is that Christ died so that we can be whiter than snow! Not just a relative change - being forgiven of our sins, but a real change - born again, transformed, cleansed, and freed from sin. Our hearts truly can be whiter than snow.
Have a blessed day,
By Rev. Dr. John Miller, Pastor at Oakley Community Church, Oakley, Michigan
January 30, 2023
Why I Remain Church Of God
Full disclosure, I have never known any other faith experience outside of the Church of God. To say my family history runs deep is a slight understatement. My great, great grandmother Anna Ketchum Tyler, was saved under D.S. Warner and was present at his funeral. My family has been at the Church of God in Kalamazoo, currently Grace Harbor, since it was founded in 1886. I am the first ordained minister in my family, and I love serving my church as a senior pastor.
Being Church of God was not a choice for me growing up, it was just who my family was. When friends at school asked my denomination, I would declare my church is non-denominational (which meant something different in the 90's and early 2000's than it does now). Now I refer to the Church of God as my faith tradition, rather than denomination. It was also challenging to describe this faith tradition to my husband who is Presbyterian. He didn't understand my non-liturgical church, Holy-Spirit led worship.
I am proud of the heritage to which I belong and the faith that raised me. A church that accepted I was called to ministry at age 15 and who supported that call by providing me with opportunities to live out that call - a church that has loved me so well.
It is also a church where I don't always agree with its theology. When I was interviewed at my current congregation, one of the questions I was asked was, "What do you disagree with in Church of God theology?" I answered honestly with a bit of fear that my response would be the end to the interview but I was met with the affirmation "us too."
There have been many times when I have wondered if I remain Church of God. I have wondered if there is a place for me, my understanding of the Gospel, and the power of God in the world. I have wondered if my understanding of God's expansive grace would be received by fellow pastors if they knew how expansive I believed it to extend. I have wondered if my understanding of love will be received. I have wondered if I have grown too liberal or progressive in my faith for others in our assembly to continue to welcome me.
I have also thought many times who would take me if I left. Where would I go to find another faith tradition that doesn't have membership or believes in the priesthood of all believers or who supports women in ministry or who honors holiness and unity?
I had lunch recently with a young woman who found my church online. She said she was drawn to the beliefs on the website that spoke of the unity and oneness of believers in Christ, the fact we don't have membership because we all belong to the church, and that we support women in ministry. She said our church was the first place she and her husband felt at home in worship.
After our lunch I was reminded why I remain Church of God. I don't remain Church of God because of my heritage or even my employment. I remain Church of God because of the space it creates for people who don't feel like they can find a faith home in other places. I remain Church of God because I have the privilege as a pastor to create space for people to belong in the church.
The Church of God is my home, and it is the place God has called me to help create a home of faith for others. I can't imagine doing this anywhere else. You might disagree with me and how I interpret some parts of scripture. You might disagree with some Church of God theology. What holds us together is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the grace extended to all of us. What holds us together is the unity of believers and the holy life through love we are all called to live.
I'll remain Church of God as long as I can, and I will pastor a Church of God as long as I am able to help create space for others to connect to God.
Why do you remain Church of God?
By Rev. Emily Sparks, Pastor at Faith United Church of God, Grand Rapids, Michigan
Friends...THERE IS NO FREE LUNCH! (unless Pastor Mark is buying). Some might even say something is, "Too good to be true, then it must be, too good to be true!" Very often we download that complimentary ebook, just to find out that we've been led into an abyss of an inbox circus of junk mail, ... "just enter your email," they said.
Well, I'm here to assure you that the offer of going through the Pastors' Financial Peace University at NO COST to you is absolutely true. My wife, Debb, and I took advantage of this same 6 online session offer last spring. We were given access to all of FPU's tools to calculate and track our debt reduction and to see the results we wanted for gaining our financial freedom. By the end of February, or mid-March, of this year, we'll be free of all the credit debt we've been carrying. Both vehicles will be paid in full, all credit cards are currently "zero" balance and shredded, and emergency savings is consistently available for the unexpected expenses of repairs and/or replacements. Just our home mortgage will be left--but it's in the works for early payoff, too.
With such economic instability in our world today, it only makes sense to get your household in the best financial posture for whatever circumstances might arise. Often there's much financial pressure on the Pastor's home becuase there's pressure within the local church. Why not take the pressure off what you have control over? Your own household! Let me encourage you to check it out, get registered, work the system, and see what it can do for your ability to gain financial freedom, to gain peace of mind financially!
Jerry A. Lyon, Lead Pastor, New Horizons Community Church
Church Health Minister, MICOG
P.S. If you have a pastor friend, share this gift with them too! We want every pastor to have access to this opportunity.
January 16, 2023
Riding the Cycle of Change in the Pastorate
"In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage-with great patience and careful instruction."
~ 2 Timothy 4:1-2
2023 is upon us, and for me, this year will mark the 15th year of pastoral service to Edgewood Church. In fact, this is the second congregation in my career where I have served 15 or more years. A few fellow pastors have asked, "How did you do this?" I have two answers:
My poor pronunciation - when discouraged, I would write out my "Resume" but when I would read it the next day, it sounded to me like "Re-Zoom," and so I would stay put and do my best.
I learned to "ride the cycle" of pastoral changes in the same congregation.
The congregation I started with 15 years ago is not the same as it is today. The congregation five years ago is not the same today.
Every 3-5 years, congregations change. It is inevitable. People change; they leave, they come, they experience life changes. The Leadership changes. The focus and programs and money...everything is part of a cycle of change. I have served in primarily mall town/rural pastorates which are fairly stable and resist change, but change trumps even their cultural values of "nothing should change."
The Cycle of Negative changes: People die. People take new jobs and move away. People leave for a variety of reasons, good and bad. Old programs die. Staff changes. Community changes: jobs leave, neighborhoods change, etc.
The Cycle of Positive changes: People get saved or experience spiritual renewal. New people come. New staff. New programs take off. New mission, new focus, expansion happens.
You can't stop change or fight change. It is like Michigan weather: if you don't like it, wait a couple days, it will be different soon. Learn to focus on your mission and let God worry about who is coming and who is going. Ride the Cycle, don't fight it!
"Those who follow Jesus embody fluidity, adaption, and collaboration. It's what we call the third-culture way. Adaptable to changing circumstances. To challenging cultures. To complex crises and problems. If there's one quality that matters most in the fate of the church in the twenty-first century, it is adaptability." ~ Dave Gibbons - from the book, "The Monkey and the Fish."
Look at your ministry in 3-5 year segments: what can you teach and lead this group of folks God has entrusted to you to pastor for this segment? Focus on that. Ride this cycle the best you can!
Two quotes from John Newton, author of "Amazing Grace" and a pastor from more than 200 years ago:
"God works powerfully, but for the most part gently and gradually."
"The Christian ministry is the worst of all trades, but the best of all professions."
Keep pedaling, pastor, good times are up ahead in this cycle!
By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan
January 9, 2023
Learn To Love Where He Set You
"Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper."
~ Jeremiah 29:7
The prophet Jeremiah is speaking to exiles who have been carried off from their beautiful mountain homeland of Israel to the flat desert of the Babylonians. Read and reflect on Jeremiah 29 - it still speaks today to those of us who pastor in places different from our own homelands and/or preferences.
Years and years ago I pastored in a small community and I had a friend who was a fellow pastor in that community, serving a church from a different tradition than mine. We will call him Pastor "Charlie."
Pastor Charlie grew up in a large city, a university town. He loved the arts and the theatre, he loved the museums and cultural experiences offered by that hometown. Charlie was known in that small community in which he served for never missing a chance to compare this small town to that large city. It went something like this:
"Hey, Charlie, want to go eat at the local café?" His response - I will never eat at these droll local places.
"Hey Charlie, want to go to the high school musical?" His response - I won't waste my time to patronize them.
"Hey Charlie, did you read in our local newspaper..." His response - never, not worth what they charge... You get the picture.
So you may not be surprised when Pastor Charlie left to go to another congregation far away, there was no tearful goodbyes or "we are going to miss you..." from his small town congregation. It was more of - "Na na na na, na na na na, hey hey, goodbye!"
As a side note, the pastors who followed Charlie did very well; the congregation grew and expanded. Those pastors, however, loved the community and that made a huge difference.
Paul in 1 Corinthians 9 observes that we must adjust to the people we are serving, so we might win a hearing and gain their trust, so that souls might be saved.
"I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings." ~ 1 Corinthians 9:23
I will close with one of my favorite poets:
Is your place a small place?
Tend it with care!
He set you there.
Is your place a large place?
Guard it with care!
He set you there.
Whatever your place, it is
Not yours alone, but His,
Who set you there. ~ John Oxenham
By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan
January 2, 2023
Lessons From The Past For Our Future
"Sovereign Lord, as you have promised,
you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations: a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."
~ Luke 2:29-32
Simeon was an old man, whose name can be translated - "He has heard;" his story is found in Luke 2:25-35. Simeon was promised he would not die until he had met the Christ the Messiah, the hope of Israel. God fulfilled His promise to Simeon in the meeting of the baby Jesus at the Temple in Jerusalem.
Some folks would say, "Well that is a nice story from long ago - hope and fulfillment, that happened then but that doesn't happen anymore!"
Hey friends, our God still gives folks hope and He still fulfills His promise today. I know, because I have seen it first-hand.
About 25 years ago, my good friend Pastor Carl was the Chaplin for Montcalm County Jail. Carl would organize "Angel Trees" with local congregations, in which he would get names and sizes and ages of children of county jail inmates. Folks would buy and wrap presents in that child's name, which were given with a card, "From your Christian friends of Montcalm County," along with a Bible and a copy of the "The Jesus Film" for the family. We also made sure Mom's received a good present too. I was privileged to help Carl do the delivery of these presents. It was a very rewarding ministry.
Carl and I had two large vans packed to the brim with presents and we had a long list of homes and names to go to. At the last minute, my father in law, retired pastor Jim Taylor, came with the donation of a nice used bicycle. I protested, "Jim, we are already loaded up and we don't have a name for this..." But Pastor Carl said, "Throw it in, maybe God has a place for it."
We came up to an old house, and Carl asked me to dig the bike out. As I was doing that, a young boy came up, saying, "He heard me! I can't believe it!" He rode off in joy.
This kid had prayed for a bike but was told that it was "impossible request, get this out of your mind, it wasn't going to happen," but God had other plans.
Friends, we serve a God who gives us hope and who is more than able to fulfill all that we long for and all that we truly need. Jesus is our hope and He truly fulfills all we seek.
20 "Now to him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to his power that is at work within us, 21 to him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever! Amen."~ Ephesians 3:20-21
Keep hope alive and have a Merry Christmas!
By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan