General Assembly
of the Church of God
in Michigan

"equipping local congregations
to extend the Kingdom of God"

Weekly Pastoral Call
December 5, 2022

As Advent progresses towards Christmas, and we celebrate in many places and ways the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, it is important to continue to pray for God's blessings of transformation to flow into our lives, our families, our congregations, our communities, and this dark and dying world. During the month of December, I am sharing some prayer starters that hopefully will be a blessing to your devotional time. Also, I will add in the words of some Christmas songs that will hopefully help you to plug into the joy, peace, hope, and love of the season.

Prayer Starters for the Week
(Excerpts from Doubleday Prayer Collection)

Sunday:
In this hour of this day, fill us, O Lord, with your mercy, that rejoicing throughout the whole day, we may take delight in your praise; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Monday:
Thank you, living God, for your undying love, ever at work for us and the whole world, made known in every age; for its triumphant victory in the cross and resurrection of Jesus Christ, and for its continuing presence with us, to be proclaimed to the ends of the earth through your Holy Spirit. Amen.

Tuesday:
Let us give thanks to the God and Father of or Lord Jesus Christ, the merciful Father, the God from whom all help comes! Amen.

Wednesday:
I will proclaim your greatness, my God and king; I will thank you forever and ever. Every day I will thank you; I will praise you forever and ever. The Lord is great and is to be highly praised; his greatness is beyond understanding. Amen.

Thursday:
We thank you, O Father, for your readiness to hear and to forgive; for your great love to us, in spite of our unworthiness; for the many blessings we enjoy above our deserving, hoping, or asking. You have been so good to us in our ingratitude, thoughtlessness, and forgetfulness of you. For your pity, long-suffering, gentleness and tenderness, we bow our heads in humble thankfulness of heart. Accept our praise and gratitude; through Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Friday:
Praise the Lord, my soul! All my being praise His holy name! Praise the Lord, my soul, and do not forget how kind He is. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He keeps me from the grave and blesses me with love and mercy. He fills my life with good things. Amen.

Saturday:
Thank you, Lord, for making all things beautiful in their time, and for putting eternity into our heart. Amen.

O Come, O Come, Emmanuel - full lyrics

O come, O come, Emmanuel, And ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here, Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Rod of Jesse, free Thine own from Satan's tyranny;
From depths of hell Thy people save, and give them victory o'er the grave.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Dayspring, from on high, and cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night, and death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Thou Key of David, come, and open wide our heav'nly home;
Make safe the way that leads on high, and close the path to misery.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

O come, Adonai, Lord of might, Who to Thy tribes, on Sinai's height,
In ancient times didst give the law in cloud and majesty and awe.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel.

Blessings to you all as you celebrate the Lord Jesus Christ,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor

November 28, 2022

Dear Friends;

As you are planning for your Christmas Eve services, I want to share a free planning resource from Rev. Dr. Dave Bartels for your utilization if desired.

Blessings to you,

Pastor Mark

I know that we're not even to Thanksgiving yet...but you and I both know how quickly the pace is going to pick up very soon (if not already). And, if you’ve been using your 53 wk Planner, you may already be thinking you're a little behind planning for Christmas.

Well, let me offer you a possibility for your Christmas/Christmas Eve service. This is a really moving way to link multiple messages/proofs together...that can/will reach both auditory and visual learners. And it can be, and has been, a very moving and memorable service.

This is a candlelight service. How you design the first half is obviously up to you. But a great time to allow your people to sing the songs of anticipation and celebration of the coming of Christ.

As a note, and you may already think/plan/structure this way...you'll want to design the service so that you can move people...their focus and their energy. Remember, as you plan, you're always asking:

  • What do I want them to FEEL
  • What do I want them to KNOW
  • What do I want them to DO

As you design the service think about the options you have for the flow and tempo of the music. I like to think of it this way:

You can start with excitement/energy and slowly ease down...to the message heard in a calmer, focused, way...aiding contemplation...

Or you can start calmly/slowly, and build to a crescendo...with your message being exciting and being a spring board.

In this instance I try to start HIGH, and work our way to the sharing of the light...and (traditionally) ending with Silent Night.

You could do just the reverse...and end with Joy to the World!!!!

But, think it through and be intentional.

Okay, enough of that...

This portion of the service can be spread throughout the service, and coordinated with the hymns/carols you sing. But you will arrange for Scripture readings tell the Christmas story. You can have families/couples/individuals do this - but you might have one person reading the Scripture and one person lighting the candle(s). ...then you sing again...then read & light...until the table is full of light.

As the service goes on you can handle your interior lighting in different ways. You might start with full/bright lights...and slowly dim/shut those as more candles are lit. You will want to get to a place where the visual of soooo many candles (lights of the Story) are lit, representing the enormity of proof is evident.

You could start with a darker room (Isaiah...people living in darkness)...and you bring the lighted candles to illustrate how the Father lit His plan...

In any case - Scriptures are read and candles are lit. When the full array is lit it's time for the message. And a core of the message is this - each of these "lights" were provisions of God, purposeful. BUT...you will address each in order...but each "voice" ended. The prophets died, the angels disappeared, the Magi went home...and even Mary and Joseph died. And as you deal with each, you extinguish the corresponding candle(s). (I've used a glass communion cup or brass snuffer, held in my palm) to accentuate the snuffing of that candle/voice.

But after you've spoken about Mary & Joseph dying...you're left with the very small, seemingly insignificant/plain votive...which represents Jesus. Here you get to share the hope of Jesus...though in a fairly darkened room. Maybe lit, only by this tiny candle.

But then you begin to speak about the hope...about God's plan...about the spreading/coming of His Kingdom...

And you may use a white taper to signify Holy Spirit...but, at this point, you'll have leaders/elders come forward with their candles...and you will light the Holy Spirit candle from the Jesus votive...and you'll light the elders' candles and that light will spread throughout the auditorium...until the place is lit with a growing light.

And you get to talk about how the light of Jesus, foretold and provided by prophets, angels and seers...and seen by disciples and seekers alike. Has now been entrusted to, and through us. WE are the ones who carry the LIGHT OF THE WORLD to the world.

At this point I've often concluded with a song - Silent Night, Joy to the World...or, your choice. And the commendation that He has come to His own...

Here are the suggested candles...

On the table there will be groupings of candles:

  • The Prophets candles - 4 thick/old-used candles in chunky/plain holders
  • The Wisemen candles - 3 tall purple or red candles in ornate holders (gold)
  • The Shepherds candles - 8-12 tall green candles in wooden holders
  • The angels' candles - 12-15 tall yellow candles in tall brass holders
  • Mary & Joseph candles - 2 blue candles in glass holders
  • The Jesus candle - a small white votive in a small clear glass holder
  • (laying aside - white taper/Holy Spirit...unlit, waiting for the lighting from the Jesus candle)

The candles are lit by the respective readers (one person reads while the another lights at the appropriate time(s)).

To extinguish them I will use a glass communion cup cupped in my hand, so I can extinguish each as I walk around the table and talk...leaving the Jesus candle lit.

My mediation is fairly short (people can't sit in darkness too long) and deals with the power of the light of Jesus, and eternal light, that dispels darkness...in the world, in our lives, etc. and we have that light in Jesus...that as each of those represented was a powerful voice/sign in their day, each of them died...except for Jesus...and it is His light that is eternal.

One of the neat things is that the room starts dark...and grows in light as all these candles are lit... then they are slowly extinguished...until only the small Jesus votive remains...from this the light begins to grow again as everyone's candle is lit.

Download letter and article (PDF file)

By Rev. Dr. David Bartels, The River Foundation, Edmonds, Washington.

November 21, 2022

Hierarchal Power Vs Foundational Service

11 So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, 12 to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up 13 until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.

~ Ephesians 4:11-13

About 30 years ago or so a couple of pastors here in the CHOG of Michigan were into what is known as "Five Fold Ministry." By the way, these folks and their congregations are no longer with us.

I remember asking them to explain Five Fold to me and here is how they presented it:

Based on Eph. 4:11 - God gave some to be Apostles, Prophets, Evangelists and then pastors and teachers. They saw this as a hierarchy of power; that those at the top were endued with more power and more of the Holy Spirit than those at the bottom of the steps. The top gifts should rule and should be in charge of those below, was their reasoning.

My one friend even found a way to "quantify" and to "monetize" the Holy Spirit gifting for this. For a price, I could buy a "spiritual covering" from this Apostle over my ministry. For a higher price, I could get more "covering" and more power...sort of like an Amway or Shaklee program.

A couple of observations about this:

  • What about the Apostle Paul's list of spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12:28 and in Romans 12:3-8 - the order is different than that of the gifts in Ephesians 4 - which order is right?
  • The way you define the gifts differs; i.e. the Five Fold definition of "apostle" is about position and power over others, but others would define "apostle" as the function of a cross cultural church planter/missionary, like the apostle Paul himself was.
  • Jesus seemed to be more concerned about service than about hierarchy of power.

11 The greatest among you will be your servant. 12 For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted. ~ Matthew 23:11-12

Funny how the more things change, the more the same the same. Look at Matthew 20:20-28 = the disciples arguing over titles and position in the Kingdom, and then Jesus says this in Matthew 20:28 =

"...just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many."

Fancy titles and arguments about power do not work out well for the life of the Church. Look at the track record of some of these Five Fold folks and their congregations. Nice theory but not a good track record.

My high school football coach used to say, "The game is won and lost in the trenches of the line play. Give me a great group of lineman and I can make an average back look good."

My heroes are the pastors and teachers of classes and small groups who shepherd the flocks that God gave them, who faithfully disciple and make new disciples. These unsung servants are the foundation of a great Church!

May we faithfully serve where God has placed us and carefully make new disciples of Jesus, amen!

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

November 14, 2022

A Focus On A Few Or On The "All?"

28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

~ Galatians 3:28

A definition of a concept many are focusing on nowadays = Identity Politics.

"Identity politics, in which groups of people having a particular racial, religious, ethnic, social, or cultural identity tend to promote their own specific interests or concerns without regard to the interests or concerns of any larger political group." ~ Merriam Webster

This focus on a particular identity group leads to a "culture of victimhood" and an attitude that "we are owed something" by some other group, usually known as the "oppressors." When we make Identity Politics a big focus, it does not lead to unity or peace. Identity Politics leads to hard divisions and resentful envy.

So, how does this square with the glorious gospel of Jesus Christ? Look at these verses:

26 So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, 27 for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. 28 There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. 29 If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham's seed, and heirs according to the promise. ~ Galatians 3:26-29

11 Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all. ~ Colossians 3:11

32 And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. = Jesus, in John 12:32

16 For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. ~ Jesus, in John 3:16

Friends, please notice the Gospel use of the word "all." The Gospel is for all, not just some. The Gospel unites us at the foot of the Cross. The Gospel really changes people, families, villages, and countries.

I am proud of my ethnic heritage, proud of the country of my birth, and I am glad that I am a man...but those things will not save me! Nor do they make me better than anyone else, nor lesser, for that matter. Nay, nay!

Only faith in Jesus will save you and me, amen! And if you are of a different race, cultural, young or old, liberal or conservative, or are a woman but you are in Christ, then you and I are one in Christ! We need to lift that message up loud and proud!

In Christ, we all can work together to change this old world. Join me as we cue up the hit song from 1979 (with apologies to the great R&B group from Philly, "Sister Sledge").

"WE are family, one in Christ makes us a big family!"

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

November 7, 2022

The More They Get Together: Unity Grows Among Detroit-Area Churches

By chogministries Posted November 1, 2022 In All Church of God, CHOG, Great Lakes
By Carl Stagner

MALU

"There is absolutely no way to legislate what is going on in our society today. The one thing that we can all do is join our voices together in prayer, and God has promised he will heal our land." The sentiment of Albert Grant, pastor of the Church of God of Detroit, is one shared by all whose vital ministries in the Motor City metro area have endured the ups and downs of evangelism and discipleship in the ever-fluctuating cultural and societal dynamic. Grant, among the pastors of the roughly twenty Church of God congregations in surrounding area, has felt a tremendous burden for the brokenness of his community and, at the same time, consistently recognized how essential unity in the body of Christ is to realize that healing envisioned. In recent months, Ministers and Laity United have come together at least a couple times in service and worship to strengthen the bonds of perfectness that "prove the union heaven gave us."

On September 11, Church of God pastors and laypeople gathered in a park setting for what was promoted as the "If My People" Rally. Based on 2 Chronicles 7:14, the event inspired strong attendance and agreement in prayer for transformation within the church, in the community, and in the halls of government. The successful gathering garnered attention from locals and those who commuted moderate distance to join what proved to be a moment of connection and encouragement for ministers entrenched in the daily battle.

MALU

Mark Richardson (Michigan state pastor) with his wife
Sharon (left) and Albert Grant (right).

Mark Coffman, pastor of Evanswood Community Church of God in nearby Troy, Michigan, had this to say about the experience: "[It] was such an amazing day and a blessing to so many who came, visited, and gathered in the name of Jesus, which was accomplished! The sun was shining brightly, and it was just amazing how the Lord, being so faithful to us, provided exactly what we needed. Now to watch him bring healing to many!"

Another event, this one in late October, offered revival services for the area pastors and community.

According to Pastor Grant, Ministers and Laity United began as the Greater Detroit Metropolitan Area Ministerial Fellowship with the late Dr. Robert Dulin Jr. at the helm. In July 2018, at Lake St. Clair Metropark in Harrison Township, Michigan, near Detroit, the inaugural gathering was attended by nearly three hundred supporters and marked a historic moment for the metro Detroit-area Churches of God.

Pastor Grant has said that "the people of Detroit and Flint, like so many cities, have needs that could overwhelm the local church. By supporting these parachurch organizations, it added an opportunity to learn about some unique ministry and service organizations in the community. These organizations provide valuable services for people we encounter and gives our members opportunities for involvement."

While much of contemporary society seems to be looking for more reasons to divide, local Church of God pastors and laypeople of several Michigan congregations are actively seeking ways to unite. They already have reason to unite, and his name is Jesus. Of course, Jesus is the subject for these congregations, and they're demonstrating once again this summer the power of uniting under the Name above all names.

October 31, 2022

Hurricane Deployment Story

Sheryl Thompson, age 59 from Flint, Michigan was recently deployed to Ft. Myers as a Disaster Responder for the American Red Cross. She is the wife of Pastor Wendell Thompson who leads the First Church of God in Romeo, Michigan.

On Saturday October 8, 2022, I received a phone call that I had anxiously been awaiting after completing 12 plus hours of training as a Volunteer Disaster Responder with the East Central Bay Michigan Region of the American Red Cross. I was to deploy the next day for a commitment of 14 days to serve alongside others across the United States in assisting the survivors of Hurricane Ian in Fort Myers, FL. I had an idea of what to expect but nothing can prepare you for seeing and hearing firsthand of the devastation and loss suffered by the residents as well as the collaboration of other organizations to meet the needs.

My GAP (training)- is in Mass Sheltering- I was assigned to a large shelter in the Ft. Myers area, the Red Cross provided them with a cot, 3 meals and snacks daily along with medical care and medications if needed. My job was to sign the residents staying there in and out, and make sure they had on their wristbands to gain entry back into the shelter (nonresidents were not allowed in) and to take down a list of items they may need. Many of the residents only had the clothes on their backs, no shoes, no socks, no basic needs such as hygiene products, underwear or needed medication, or medical equipment, etc. A local church in the area “Stepping Out Ministries” along with other organizations would then make every effort to fulfill the needs. Being the first face, they see when they come in and the last face, they saw leaving, I got to know many families by name and heard their stories of survival. While we were required to wear masks due to covid, occasionally I pulled my mask down so that they could see a friendly smile. The children would wave at me, and the residents would introduce me to their dogs or cats (yes residents were able to bring their animals to the shelter). As I filled out their request for items, they also shared their stories.

I will share a few- One gentleman shared that as the storm came in, he climbed to the second story of his home and grabbed his drivers license, social security card and other papers in case he died so they would be able to identify him. As the water rose to his chin, he knew he was going to die until the emergency rescuers busted through his door to rescue him- just in time, as an hour later he saw his home collapse and a neighbor face down floating in the water- who unfortunately did not make it out alive. Another couple- she was pregnant with twins were asleep in their bedroom when the storm hit, the whole house collapsed around them except for the bedroom they were in, they told me how they knew that God had a hedge of protection around them. While they lost everything, they praised God that they still had their lives and those precious babies they were carrying. Another senior told me how she and her husband were hanging onto a tree to ride out the storm when she watched her husband of 46 years get swept away. She kept holding on for hours until she was rescued but so distraught. As a social worker for 33.5 years (20 years in Protective services/foster care) with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, I am trained to listen and that prepared me for this new journey. In the Red Cross training it emphasizes to Ask, listen, and learn, never assume what survivors may need.

I also had the privilege of doing mobile feeding to the survivors on Sanibel Island who had no electricity, water, or sewage as well as in Ft Myers. The damage was so horrific that in many areas you could barely see the homes that were left, many cars were overturned, sides of houses or the whole house and businesses were demolished. It is estimated that tens of thousands of homes were destroyed or affected by Ian. While removing debris unfortunately, they were also discovering bodies and warned us as we came through.

As we rode through the area announcing that the Red Cross was in the area serving free hot meals, the response was heartbreaking- many cried as we handed them food, saying thank you and God bless you and the Red Cross. "Thank you so much as we did not know what we were going to do for food."

My typical day started at 5:30 am as I woke up to have breakfast, and drive to another shelter to begin my day from 7:00 am-7:00 pm. Everyone works 12-hour shifts either from 7am-7pm or 7pm-7am. After 7 days you get one day off. I then came back to the shelter at about 8:00 pm, ate and showered and back in my cot by 9:00 pm. All volunteers stayed in a large shelter with about 100 cots in each tent (no privacy), lights out at 10:00 pm. Showers and bathrooms were in outdoor trailers.

I have been volunteering with the Red Cross since I was 14 as a Candy Striper giving snacks in the hospital, I gave blood for the first time in high school at Flint Southwestern when I was 18 and continue to do so, and now I also give platelets to help those with sickle cell and cancer. I began officially serving on the board of the American Red Cross in 2017 and was elected Board Chair in July 2022. I chose to deploy to also fulfill the commitment of the Red Cross- to prevent and alleviate human suffering in the face of emergencies by mobilizing the power of volunteers and the generosity of donors. I wanted to give my time, talent, and treasures to the efforts. Volunteers make up 90% of the Red Cross staff and are needed to fulfill the mission. After I retired, I knew God still had a purpose for me, and I wanted to give back while I still had the health and energy to do so. I now have a new volunteer career that I am proud, humbled, and honored to serve in. There is a time and a season for everything.

My husband Wendell Thompson is the Pastor of the First Church of God in Romeo, and he too is trained as a volunteer disaster responder and a Spiritual Care advisor for the Red Cross. As you can imagine many survivors need mental health counseling and Spiritual Care. While he has not deployed yet we look forward to serving together whether the disaster is locally in Flint where we live or in the Michigan Region to Nationally for the next flood, fire, or tornado we stand ready to serve. We have been married for 36 years and look forward to our next service. Together we have gone on about 8 mission trips to Trinidad, (we also took our son when he was 12 on one), Barbados and Paraguay. I was asked the difference in doing mission work and serving as a disaster responder- the difference for me is on a mission trip we are building churches abroad, as a disaster volunteer, we are assisting in rebuilding lives in the United States.

I encourage anyone, no matter your age, to consider volunteering or donating to your local Red Cross. We always need blood donors, a venue to hold blood drives, or volunteers to deploy locally or to disasters of floods, fire, or tornados or just answer the phone to take messages. Because if there is a disaster the American Red Cross will be there to provide comfort and care, and you never know when you, your family, or loved ones will need the Red Cross. For more information go to www.RedCross.org to volunteer or donate at American National Red Cross! 
(American Red Cross East Central Bay Michigan Disaster Relief.)

If people want to help displaced Floridians, call 1-800-RED-CROSS or text IAN to 90999 to make a $10 donation.

October 24, 2022

Measure Not By What You Do Or Say
Or Have But By Whose You Are

And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying,

"This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." ~ Matthew 3:17 NKJV

This is adapted from a presentation by Rev. Lee Rhodes, of the Countryside United Brethren Church. Pastor Lee is a good friend and a great pastor. Lee shared this with our ministerial group from notes from a presentation by Henri Nouwen, a Dutch Catholic priest and writer.

Henri says Life is a Chronology - he draws a horizontal line.

Birth ____________________________________________________Death

And we measure the meaning of our life by:

  • What we Do
  • By what others Say about us
  • By what we Have.

So our feelings and our happiness go up and down based on those criteria.

Jesus would say that is all a lie...we ought to measure our life by God, and what God calls us:

Matthew 3:17 - "You are my beloved, my delight, my cherished and chosen one."
And then Jesus heads into the Wilderness to be tempted by the Devil, see Matthew chapter 4.

The Devil says Do this, Say this, Have this.

Jesus said "No, I don't need this. I am God's Beloved, I don't need you or this temptation. Go away."

And in the days ahead, when people praised Him and then cursed Him, cried "Hosanna to you!" and then cried "Crucify him!"...thru it all Jesus kept His head and found His worth in what God had said about Him from the beginning.

My fellow pastors and church leaders, there is much we can learn from this. Your worth is more than what you do or say or have. More than numbers. More than others praise or criticism. Your ultimate worth is based in God and what He says about you. "You are my beloved, my delight, my cherished and chosen one."

May this give you strength and hope and balance for the days ahead in your service for Him.

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

October 10, 2022

A Story Worth Telling

Dear Friends,

Much has happened in the world and across the Christian landscape over the past three years. Too often the news is dominated with bad news of pandemics, moral failures of key leaders in the church, and far too many other negative things. Well, not all that happens in the church is bad. In fact, every week ministry is happening in some good and positive ways across the church. Every week, faithful men and women continue to preach, teach, worship, pray, and lead God's people in finding and following Jesus Christ. We need to celebrate what the Lord is doing in a crazy time. One such story of celebration is happening at our North Avenue Church of God, where Rev. Jeff Eckman is the Senior Pastor. They recently had a special Sunday as a part of their "Fulfilling Vision Campaign." Their goal for the campaign is to pay off their indebtedness on their facilities to free up resources to do greater ministry in the Battle Creek community in which they are located. The text of Pastor Jeff's testimony letter of thanks to the North Avenue Church of God congregation is included below. We celebrate the goodness of the Lord and the faithfulness of God's people in Battle Creek.

It is difficult to put into words all the emotions, thoughts, plans, and dreams that are running through my brain today, after hearing yesterday the results of our Fulfilling the Vision campaign. Here are the Details: Our pay-off amount on the mortgage was $423,714.90 as of September 30th. Our goal, set at the beginning of the campaign, was $400,000 since we have money in reserve, that we set aside years ago to pay the mortgage payments in the case of an emergency. Our plan was to use those funds to pay off the rest of the mortgage. The amount received to date...wait for it... is $415,559.95. Our total, including pledges that have not yet been received is $469,429.90, meaning that we exceeded our goal by $69,429.90, and exceeded the payoff of our loan by $45,715. What an incredible Miracle of God, made possible by those who saw this vision over a year ago, those who jumped on board (some a bit reluctantly at first) and supported the vision, and finally those who prayed, listened, and gave to the campaign as God led them. We were united in this endeavor, and I believe that this is a testimony of what God can do through us, as a congregation, when our hearts are united toward a common goal! Thank you for giving to the vision and mission of OUR church! As we look to the future we will be "living the vision" as Pastor Pat mentioned during his sermon, and praying hard about how to best use the freed up funds to impact this community with the Gospel of Jesus Christ. "All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ." -Ephesians 1:3 (NLT)

Pastor Jeff

Blessings to you,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor

October 3, 2022

Suggested Cure for Pastors with Post Pandemic Blues

42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.

~ Acts 2:42

In the 1967 musical "Camelot" - starring Richard Harris as King Arthur and the lovely Vanessa Redgrave as Guinevere - the plot is about the arranged marriage of King Arthur Guinevere and about Sir Lancelot and the Knights of the Round Table. King Arthur sings about his kingdom of Camelot...

I know it sounds a bit bizarre,
But in Camelot, Camelot
That's how conditions are.
The rain may never fall till after sundown.
By eight, the morning fog must disappear.
In short, there's simply not
A more congenial spot
For happily-ever-aftering than here
In Camelot.

King Arthur brags about a mythical ideal of Camelot being good and perfect...except it ain't.

Spoiler alert: Sir Lancelot and Guinevere fall in love, breaking Arthur's heart and Camelot ends up in civil war.

For some of my pastor friends, you have been hearing from others remembering a time about your congregation before the Pandemic in much the same terms as King Arthur sings about Camelot -

A time of perfection and plenty.

But now Post Pandemic, you have problems and little as compared to the "Camelot" of before, and you are feeling beaten up by this.

Two thoughts:

  1. Camelot is a mythical past...we have to live in the real present.
  2. In times of frustration and loss, go back to fundamentals.

In more than 40 years of pastoral ministry, I have experienced loss of people (and man, that hurts!), comparisons to prior pastors ('and you are not as good as they were'), setbacks of finances and momentum because of staff changes, conflicts, etc.

Each time, I went back to basics: teaching, worship, prayer and building fellowship thru small groups.

The Church is really about these fundamentals. God is not going to measure you on the past "Camelot" but on your present reality and how you handled that. These fundamentals will lead to new growth, new people and new ministry. It will work, with time, regardless what anyone else says about the Post Pandemic world.

Let's switch musicals to "Oklahoma" 1955 and start to sing:

Oh, what a beautiful mornin', Oh, what a beautiful day.
I got a beautiful feelin'
Ev'erything's goin' my way.

Look up, pastor, and start a new day with the Lord's help! You are loved and blessed!

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

September 19, 2022

The Glory Of Being Created For A Reason And A Purpose

"Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth! You have set your glory in the heavens."

~ Psalm 8:1

Jeannie and I traveled with two good friends, Chas and Jodi, on an Alaska cruise up the Inland Passage to Glacier Bay, with several stops along the way. Friends, I would encourage you to go - the views of the ocean, the mountains, huge forests of fir trees, enormous glaciers, and the wildlife: otters, seals, crabs, porpoise, eagles, and humpback whales. For a magical hour and a half, we were surrounded by migrating whales, dozens of them spouting and tails flipping as they dove down into the depths of the Pacific.

Humpback whales are big, 45-50 foot long and weigh in at 55,000 to 60,000 lbs. They feed on krill and small fish like herring in the Alaskan waters. They eat up to a ton or more per day. Humpbacks migrate from their summer stay in Alaska to their winter breeding and birthing areas in Hawaii 2700 miles away and to Central America 4400 miles away, with no maps or GPS. There they give birth to 10-16 foot calves that weighs about 1000 lbs.!!! Mom nurses her baby for 3-4 months with 60% milk fat, feeding them 150 gallons per day. All after a gestation (pregnancy) period of 11 months.

Modern science tells us that all things evolved by random chance and accidents. Evolutionists tells us that whales arose out a of land mammal from millions of years ago...that they adapted to life in the ocean by losing their hind limbs, growing a flat tail, moving the nostrils to the top of their head, developing flippers and many more special adaptions, so on and so forth, until we have,
Ta Da! The modern whale, a perfectly adapted mammal living in the great oceans.

What are the five characteristics of mammals?

1. Air breathing 2. Warm blooded 3. Hair 4. Live births 5. Mammary glands.

So an Evolutionist would have us believe that for thousands or millions of years whales gave birth in the ocean to calves that drowned nursing until they evolved and adapted their nursing capabilities to their water environment. See, all cetaceans (the order of mammals whales are) have special muscles that allow them to pump their milk at high speed to their calves -

Ta Da! Underwater Dairy Super-Soakers!

And all of this came about by chance, or by accident?

Nay nay! It is by design, my friends.

The Bible says that the earth is the Lord's and everything in it. The Bible say that God created whales and everything else, and that God has a special place and purpose for each thing created, especially you and me.

You are not here by chance or by accident, my friend. God made you and thru faith in Him you can find your purpose for life. Jesus can show you why you were put here on planet Earth!

"For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do."
~ Ephesians 2:10

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

September 5, 2022

Why Should We Be Kind?

"Be kind and compassionate to one another,
forgiving each other, just as in
Christ God forgave you."

~ Ephesians 4:32 NIV

There is violence in our streets, bullying in our schools, meanness in our conversations and rage is consuming us as a people. The temptation is for the followers of Jesus to conform to this behavior and to become angry, mean people as those around us.

The call of God for us here in Ephesians 4:32 is clear:

  • Be Kind - treating people better than they deserve
  • Be Compassionate - being able to see from another's point of view
  • Forgive others - letting go of our desire for revenge and the impulse to hurt others.

Why? Because we who were forgiven much, can afford to show the same to others. And, kindness is one of the most effective means of evangelism we have. Allow me to share a family story:

My father in law, Jim, was a wonderful Christian, husband, father, and pastor. Forty-one years ago, my brother-in-law Jerry came into our family. I didn't like Jerry at first - he was close to Jim's age, failed marriages, drinking problem, and a lot of baggage. I felt it was my 'Christian' duty to be mean to Jerry but Jim took another track.

Jim told me, "I am going to become Jerry's friend." Jim met Jerry for lunches often, taught Jerry how to golf, they went camping together. Jim officiated the wedding of Joyce and Jerry. Jim bought Jerry a Bible and took him to Christian conferences. Jerry gave his heart to Jesus, and Jerry became a new man. Jim baptized him and eventually, after the Lord convicting me of my Pharisaical judgmental heart, and me apologizing to Jerry, Jerry and I became good friends.

Jerry and I cried when we had to bury Jim in 2010. I cried as we said goodbye to Jerry in 2021. My hope is in the promise of 1 Thess. 4:13-18 - we will be together with the Lord forever, amen!

What won Jerry to the Lord? Jerry had been raised in an alcoholic abusive home where they were drunk most of the week but then they went to a "fire and brimstone" church on Sundays.

Jerry had heard the Gospel many times before but had never felt the love of Gospel until Jim showed him the kindness of Jesus.

In this dark world of hate, anger, and snarkiness - how about we commit ourselves to being kind people, reflecting the love of Jesus to people we like and even ones we don't like?

There are more Jerry's out there dying for some of Jesus' love and kindness - your kindness is the way they can experience that!

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

August 29, 2022

Essential and Excelling: Good Church Continues Good Works




By chogministries Posted August 20, 2022 In All Church of God, Change the Story, CHOG, Great Lakes

By Mykaela Alvey

Every time we hear from Good Church in Flint, Michigan, we're encouraged by all they're doing. In the eighteen months since Good Church opened its doors, they have seen tremendous growth and community impact. A check-in with them this summer shows what God is accomplishing through them and some insight behind their success.

Pastor Leo Robinson II said, "The community is responding to our down-to-earth approach to the gospel. We have had so many young families join, that we actually had to knock out a wall in the children's area to make room for all the kids who are showing up on Sunday morning."

Good Church stresses the need to belong in the congregation. It is wonderful to gather together on a Sunday morning, but there are six other days in the week. Being together doesn't stop on Sundays, and as Pastor Leo put it, "We need each other to live day to day."

Good Church has what you might call four small congregations spread out in different areas of the city. These church fellowships do life together throughout the week. They've committed to "walk through life together." These small churches focus more on weekly community, not the traditional Sunday morning gathering. For that, they still attend Good Church. However, even if they don't come to Good Church on Sunday mornings, they are still a part of the family. Growth has been so rapid that they are needing to establish more small churches like these. Robinson said, "We have a waiting list of individuals ready to join."

Baptism

One of Good Church's laundry ministry promotions.

Established as Essential

Good Church has established trust in their community. Robinson explains that it isn't uncommon for people of the community to stop by the church just to say, "Thank you." "Some of them have not stepped foot in the building but they will make comments like, 'This is my church,'" Pastor Leo said. "God is preparing their hearts and we are privileged to walk with them step by step."

The church has seen success in the community because they come with no agenda. They simply seek to show the community the love of Christ.

"This is growth that others may not take the time to measure," he said. "But when the residents of the neighborhood drug house wave to us every time our car rides down the street; or the neighborhood hoarder agrees to only let the Good Church people throw away years of trash he has accumulated, we can't help but think, here we grow again," continued Robinson.

Robinson says that one of his favorite things to do is to look out at the congregation and watch them interact. Their congregation is full of different "races, backgrounds, and walks of life." He loves watching them become a family that cares simply about reaching the lost for Christ.

He said, "I will never forget looking out and seeing a member who is a Caucasian female, employed as a lawyer, sitting with a young man who just got out of prison and had a tether on his leg."

Baptism

Good Church volunteers ready to put love in action.

Robinson continued, "Watching them interact brings tears to my eyes. We are all broken, and together, we seek the King no matter what we look like or where we come from, it is a beautiful display of the kingdom of God."

The future looks bright for Good Church, and Robinson is particularly excited about the Good Laundry project. He explains that what the community truly needs is a low-cost Laundromat, as there aren't any within a four-mile radius of the community.

"They don't need another food pantry," Robinson explains, "they need a place that is close and affordable to meet a very basic need."

Robinson is excited to say they hope to open Good Laundry by the end of the year, which will be another great way to reach the community. "We hear them, we feel their burden, so we have decided to do something about it," says Robinson.

Inspiration and Insight

Robinson was also excited to explain that he and his wife just finished the final cohort of the Chapter 4 institute. The Chapter 4 institute is a year-long fellowship that focuses on how to best engage communities. Robinson said, "It was an amazing opportunity, and it allowed us both to grow tremendously. It provided tools and insight that we had never thought of in regard to leadership; and project management." Robinson said they were most impressed by the approach they had to budgeting. It helped them approach the subject of budgeting with much less fear.

God is doing something through Good Church, and Robinson is just excited he and his congregation get to be a part of it. They continue daily to reach their community with the love of Christ. "We want to see the kingdom grow, not just fill our seats with more people."

Learn more about Chapter 4 at https://www.jesusisthesubject.org/chapter4/.

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.

August 22, 2022

Rev. Kristi Rhodes Benefit Dinner

Bake sale + Auction

Saturday August 27th @4:00pm

Kristi Rhodes

Join us for a night to honor and bless Kristi Rhodes, (Cedar Springs Pastor) as she continues her battle with breast cancer. There will be a dinner by donation, a bake sale, and silent auction. If you would like to help in any way, please contact, Robin Rhodes: 989-424-1198

Location: Frost Creek Church, 15671 Algoma Ave. NE, Cedar Springs, MI 49319

Download PDF Flyer

Fundraiser T-Shirt









Pastor Perseveres in the Face of Cancer Diagnosis, Battle

By Kim Ousley

Cancer doesn't care who you are. Regardless of status, vocation, or calling, cancer can take on a life of its own. However, cancer didn't know the strength of Kristi Rhodes, pastor of Hillcrest Community Church of God in Cedar Springs, Michigan, when faced with her own Stage-3 breast cancer diagnosis earlier this year.

At the time of this writing, Kristi Rhodes is half-way through her cancer treatments and awaits surgery, radiation, and reconstruction in the fall.

Her own mother and son had cancer. Her son survived, but her mother didn't. Rhodes took care of both of them while working bivocationally as a nurse and a pastor. For twenty-five years, she served as a nurse, but also pastored the last fifteen years until she retired. Now it is her turn to receive the love and care of her family and friends, as well as her congregation.

Three verses came to her that helped her through the diagnosis.

  • "I shall not die, but I shall live, and recount the deeds of the LORD." Psalm 118:17
  • "Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, 'Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.' And instantly the woman was made well." Matthew 9:22
  • "...so that even handkerchiefs or aprons that had touched his skin were carried away to the sick, and their diseases left them..." Acts 19:12 (each Scripture ESV)

Baptism

Pastor Kristi celebrating a baptism in 2020.

"That pierced my soul that day when I read those verses," she remembers. After the initial shock of the diagnosis, the endless testing and meeting with teams of doctors, Kristi announced this news to her congregation and family. "They have all been truly amazing," she says.

But her congregation and staff wouldn't hear of her retiring. They spoke with the state pastor, who asked what she needed to help her get though the cancer journey. Kristi had no idea how this treatment would affect her physically, so she was willing to step down and let them choose another pastor.

Lately, a guest speaker or visiting pastor fills the pulpit every Sunday as necessary, without any additional cost to the church. This was a huge burden lifted financially for Hillcrest Community Church of God.

Kristi's daughter-in-law, Robin Rhodes, speaks highly of her mother-in-law. "Kristi carries a spirit that's nearly impossible to touch; she touches everyone and everywhere she goes. It's a crazy divine connection."

Robin has put together a special fundraiser, benefit, online silent auction and bake sale for August 27, 2022. Dinner starts at 4:00 in the afternoon, and is by donation. The auction will have a link, so others may access it from anywhere. The bake sale will be after the dinner. If interested in learning more, contact Robin Rhodes at rhodes.robin@hotmail.com or 989-424-1198.

Hillcrest

Hillcrest Community Church of God exterior.

Others have organized different types of fundraisers to raise money for medical expenses via a Facebook group, "Fundraisers for Kristi Rhodes."

Kristi's hope was given a boost following a vision she saw from God recently. "I saw the tumor in a hand, and it melted and turned to water. There was only a tiny bit left in the hand." Still, Kristi knows no matter what the outcome, she will be in heaven with Jesus-or get to spend more time with family and friends until that time.

"Jesus is with me," Kristi states. "I worry about my family and friends. I'm happy to encourage them even if they're a little heartbroken at this time."

God loves her family through this amazing and wonderful time through other loving people. "In sickness I will praise Him-in health I will praise Him," she concludes.

Kim Ousley is a freelance writer from Anderson, Indiana.

August 8, 2022

Dear Friends,

Rev. Dr. David Bartels, MDiv., a Consultant and Pastors Coach from The River Foundation, made the article below available to us concerning returning from COVID-19. While most of our congregations have returned, and have been doing ministry for a while, some are still working towards returning, yet all have probably noticed an impact from the pandemic to attendance, finances, functioning, and leadership. Dr. Bartels shares some observations and recommendations for our churches that may be of help to you in your congregation. He is also a very strong coach for pastors, including several in our state. His contact information is on the letter if you are interested in solid pastoral coaching.

Blessings to you,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor


Organic Responses to the Covid-19 Quarantine

This continues to be a difficult chapter for all of our churches. We have worked harder than before to meet the "needs" of our church and community. But this challenge has also raised some deeper questions for us, as leaders.

Don't let the lessons and revelations of this time get lost, either in busyness or through our very human desire to "return to normal." This time has served to expose both our strengths and our weaknesses. Mountain climbers and bicycle racers know what it is to evaluate everything they're carrying...as to weight and utility. They look for the best tools that are available at the time...and don't hold on to old technology or techniques.

What follows is a broad outline and process of the questions that we need to be working through BEFORE we get to the end of this chapter in the life of our church. While we are experiencing the actual processes, we need to look for insights, hard truths and spiritual affirmations about who we are, what we're doing, and what we need to do to fulfill our call to minister in the Swamp, now and into the future.

As mentioned above, this is a broad outline. It is a template that may need to be customized and personalized for each church. When you customize it, just don't exclude the hard questions. In organic leadership there are often difficult times of pruning. And these "in-between" times can be boundaries between what was and what needs to be.

There is a new chapter ahead. And this crisis is providing a pressure test to reveal some very important things to us. As we've talked about in the past: we still need a rear-view mirror...but it doesn't compare to the importance of the windshield.

The following process should reveal where there are weeds, where there's a need for water and fertilizer, and maybe even the plants and branches that need pruning.

Like all processes, this is not a static, mechanical, tool. But this is an organic tool that requires you to be a leader. How you go through this process is vitally important...to your leadership and to the maturing of your leaders and church. This is also a process that should take place at numerous levels including Elders/Board, staff and tribal leaders. It will take work, but this is vitally important.

Please notice, I haven't sent you a "tickler." This is a full outline of a full process. Free! I also have this in a workbook format and would be happy to send that along if you request it. It is formatted and edited to use with your leadership.

If you would like more information, or guidance through this process, remember, we are always partners in this mission. No one was meant to do this alone.


Questions to be asking before we come out of quarantine

  1. Policies
    1. What were some limitations that we found with our present policies?
    2. What policies did we wish we had in place before this hit?
    3. What policies do we need to add/create from this point moving ahead?
    4. Why do we need to change or create new policies?
    5. What do we need to:
      1. Stop
      2. Start
      3. Improve/change
    6. Did our policies help or hinder or mission? In what way(s)?
    7. Share how our mission stood out during this time...and how it gave guidance, fuel and direction to the church and our people as they sought to BE the church.
  2. Programs
    1. Programming
      1. Which of our programming was vital during this time?
        Give specific examples
      2. Which of our programming was not vital?
        What makes you say that?
      3. Which of our programming actually got in the way of what we need(ed) to do?
        In what ways did it hinder...and who/what did it affect?
    2. Looking ahead (now that we know...)
      1. What programs/ministries do we wish we had in place?
        1. Why?
        2. How will they focus (or change, appropriately) our mission?
      2. What hints have we gotten to show us what we will need moving ahead?
      3. What areas/avenues of opportunity have we seen (or, are we seeing)?
  3. People
    1. Our staff
      1. Who appeared to be out front leading during this void?
        1. In what ways?
        2. How was that perceived/received?
      2. Who seemed to be slowed by this void?
        1. What may have been the cause of this?
      3. Where was more freedom/authority needed during this time?
        1. Think of timely decisions that needed to be made and might have been delayed...or opportunities missed
      4. Where did you see communication...:
        1. Break down?
        2. Slow the needed flow?
        3. Move in the wrong direction?
        4. See if you can identify some ideas for solutions
      5. What tools were needed/missing?
    2. Our church
      1. Which "tribal leaders" appeared and stepped up?
      2. How could the church have been challenged to serve, either inside or outside the walls of the church?
      3. Who didn't wait for someone else to initiate before they jumped in?
      4. How were tribal leaders encouraged and empowered?
    3. Our community
      1. What needs did we see that we hadn't anticipated?
      2. Where could the mission of the church been applied?
      3. Was the church seen, by community leaders, to be vital to the welfare of the community?
      4. Were our leaders consulted or approached/included by community (non-church) leadership?
        1. What did they want/need?
        2. What does that tell us?
      5. What lasting ministry could we have as we're building off of what has just happened?
  4. Vision
    1. What insights are we discovering about our vision for our ministry inside and outside our walls?
    2. Did our actions reflect an activated projection of our mission and vision?
      1. ...Or did the "game plan" and our training simply revert to "what we've always done?"
    3. Did action discussions appear to flow naturally and dynamically out of our mission?
  5. Process
    1. Were our processes mechanical or organic?
    2. Did our initiated actions have any effect on the way our programs went on functioning?
    3. Did our process reveal centralized control and leadership or shared and empowered leadership?
    4. Do we have a sense that all of our leaders understand the goals and boundaries of how to lead in times like these?
    5. How did we see silos either being retained or destroyed?
      1. Was there "cross-pollination" between our teams?
      2. Why was there a need, or move, to collaborate?
      3. What were the positives?
      4. What were the negatives?
  6. Conclusions
    1. Leaders
      1. What types of leaders do we have?
      2. What types of leaders do we need?
      3. What do our leaders need?
      4. How will we:
        1. find them?
        2. equip them?
        3. release them?
        4. support them?
    2. Programs
      1. What do we need to change as we move forward, with our new understanding?
    3. Essentials
      1. What did we discover to be essential to our mission?
      2. What did we discover to be limiting to our mission?
    4. Mission
      1. Is our mission clear? Realistic? Practical?
      2. Are our resources and energies focused?...and focused in the right direction, as we move ahead?
    5. Investment
      1. Where do we need to invest our time, gifts and resources as we move ahead?
        1. People
        2. Resources
        3. Missions
      2. Do we have the right people on the bus?...sitting in the right seats? And do they have the freedom/authority/means to see/find and tell us where the bus should be going?
    6. Action list to begin now
      1. Begin making your action list(s) and be sure to delineate:
        1. What the action is
        2. Why the action is important
        3. How the action serves our mission (that may be under re-construction)
        4. Is this action actual or aspirational?
        5. What is the timeline for starting?
        6. Who will take leadership/responsibility?
      2. Determine how you will build this...who will be included in the process (remembering the organic nature of leadership...it's not as much about the end product as it is about the journey)
        1. So, ask: who needs to be included as a seasoned leader and who needs to be added as a growing leader?

    ... no one was meant to do this alone!

    Download letter and article (PDF file)

    By Rev. Dr. David Bartels, The River Foundation, Edmonds, Washington.

July 25, 2022

The Basic Cost and
the dreaded Add-on's

8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God- 9 not by works, so that no one can boast.

~ Ephesians 2:8-9

I was not the best of students in high school. I excelled in lunch and study hall but classes that required studying and testing...not so good. My senior year, the school counselor had me take a test and then he said, "I would make a good salesman." But then God intervened and I eventually made it into pastoral ministry. Ministry is sales but of a different nature, I would argue.

I didn't want to be a salesman because of the 'dreaded add-on's' that seem to be in the sales pitch of every salesman I have ever run into. An example of a "add-on:"

"Well, yes, the basic price of this unit is $4,990.00, which is on sale and I am taking a beating giving this to you for this price, practically giving it away, for Pete's sake... but with the add on of federal tax, state tax, and thumb tacks, and then the handling charge, the freight cost, the prep-work, the sound-proofing, the extra muffler bearings and the mink lined trunk - all standard with this model...your total will be $20,643 dollars and 18 cents...and here is a free key chain with my number for when you need to get a new one."

When we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus to others, I pray that we are careful to share the free gift of Jesus that saves us. I pray we will be very careful about the "add-ons" we are so prone to put on others in converting them in following Jesus.

In 40 plus years of ministry, I have watched others say, "To be saved, you need Jesus and you have to..."

"... only sing out of hymn book, cut your hair, don't wear jeans or shorts or T-Shirts to worship, got to wear button shirt and tie or a dress for ladies, don't smoke, drink, dance or chew, don't drink coffee or go to movies, only read this version of the Bible, sit in this Mercy Seat for special deliverance prayer, get in this tub of water to be re-baptized, stand for three hour pep rallies with loud repetitive rock music, etc. and etc."

Every generation, every culture has a tendency to do "add-ons" to accepting Jesus as Savior. I know that even I, in times past, did the "add-ons." But not anymore...Jesus is enough all by Himself!

We are saved by the grace of Jesus...there is no work or "add-on" that seals the deal. To try to do this de-means the work of the Cross and creates a different gospel than the one that Jesus saves! (Galatians chapter 1-3).

Hear me, friends, - I believe in following Jesus thru baptism, in discipleship, in growing in faith and holy living. But make no mistake - we are saved by grace of Jesus, not by those good things that follow. On this, we must be clear as we proclaim the Gospel of Jesus.

I love the brief video of Pastor Alistair Begg - "The man on the middle cross said I could come.": https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sPqDkRjQHms

Jesus is enough, all by Himself, and we don't need to "add on" to make Him any better.

Jesus is enough to save us, transform us and to lead us. Let us present Him as He is, Lord of all. Blessings to you all, my brothers and sisters.

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

July 18, 2022

Standing for Truth

After 68 million dead and 49 years of believers praying, Roe V Wade has been overturned!! Let us come together as believers in the God who created each and every person in His image and celebrate with heaven.

Support of this decision is not complicated: "Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, before you were born I set you apart; I appointed you as a prophet to the nations." Jer. 1:5

I find it interesting how the Pharisees, in an attempt to justify their rebellion against Jesus, tried every effort to nuance God's truth in order to fit their own narrative: examples:

  • And, behold, there was a man which had his hand withered. And they asked him, saying, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath days?" that they might accuse him. Matt. 12:10
  • Some Pharisees came to Jesus, testing Him and asking, "Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any reason at all?" Matt 19:3
  • Then the Pharisees went and plotted together how they might trap Him in what He said..."Teacher, we know that You are truthful and teach the way of God in truth, and defer to no one; for You are not partial to any. Tell us then, what do You think? Is it lawful to give a poll-tax to Caesar, or not?" Matt 22:15-22
  • The scribes and the Pharisees *brought a woman caught in adultery, and having set her in the center of the court, they *said to Him, "Teacher, this woman has been caught in adultery, in the very act. Now in the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women; what then do You say?" John 8:3-11
  • When He left there, the scribes and the Pharisees began to be very hostile and to question Him closely on many subjects, plotting against Him to catch Him in something He might say. Luke 11:53

These represent the more than 70 encounters Jesus had with those who tried to take God's simple truth: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind... and love your neighbor as yourself," and nuance it to fit the false narrative of 613 commands in the Talmud.

"You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free."

Jesus is the truth. Does God want to set us free or keep us guessing about the value of life?

Abortion is not about a scientific mystery of when life begins or a governmental permission to extinguish tissue. Opposing abortion is a spiritual decision that life is valuable because God said so.

Some point to the abortion policies espoused by many today and question Christians' pro-life convictions. "But politics is NOT a single-issue enterprise." Correct, politics is not a single-issue enterprise - but Christianity is. And that is why their argument disintegrates under scrutiny.

You can't support abortion with the Word of God as your authority. No Christian is blameless if they are not trying to stop the heinous celebration of the deaths of 68 MILLION babies, making it the greatest mass butchery ever to see the light of day.

This is not a social issue! This is a major biblical and moral issue and we cannot stay silent any longer. We are on the brink of a national spiritual awakening and the curse that has hovered over this nation since 1974 has been broken. Our willingness as the people of God to humble ourselves, and pray, and seek God's face, and turn from our wicked ways; will allow God to hear from heaven, and forgive our sins, and heal our land!!!

By Rev. Tim McKenzie, Pastor at Living Word Church of God, Flint, Michigan

July 11, 2022

Lessons From The Past For Our Future

"These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us,
on whom the culmination of the ages has come. So, if you think you are standing firm,
be careful that you don't fall!"

~ 1 Corinthians 10:11-12

Paul is writing to the Corinthian church about the value of the Old Testament stories; they are examples that we can learn from for today's living. Real human stories of triumph and failure of the people of God. Hopefully, we can learn from them in order to avoid mistakes for us in our faith journey.

I see there is a parallel in looking at Church history, too. Looking at group similar to ours and learning from their story. One group in particular is the United Methodist Church and their recent split.

250 years ago, the Wesley brothers started outdoor worship meetings and bible studies in an attempt to bring revival to the Anglican Church. Rejected by the Anglicans, their movement soon spread like wildfire throughout Europe and the American continents. Against the Wesley's personal wishes, their group became another denomination. The early Methodists were evangelistic, sent missionaries around the globe and planted congregations in places small and large. In their wake, schools, colleges, hospitals and charities sprang up.

The name "Methodists" stuck because of their emphasis on personal devotion / conversion experience and for their methodical system of class meetings. They became the "United Methodist" in 1968 when several branches of Methodism came together to be united.

In May of 2022 they have split into two groups; the United Methodist Church and the Global Methodist Church. The split arises from years of debate on the issue of same-sex marriage and acceptance of LGBT clergy. The United Methodist will accept same sex marriage and LGBT clergy, and the Global Methodist will not.

The issue is how the two groups interpret the Scripture. The United group bends the scripture to fit the modern cultural sexual narrative that LGBT marriage and clergy are okay, even good. The Global group hold to a traditional view of sexuality based on scripture and on historical Church tradition shared across the denominational board.

It is interesting for us CHOG folk to look at the Methodists for several reasons:

  1. We have within the CHOG pastors and thinkers who would like us to adopt a position like the United group. They have slowly but consistently brought this issue up in the last 30 years with the CHOG. If this continues, we might well face a split just like the Methodist have done in 2022.
  2. Look at the denominations who have adopted this narrative on LGBT marriage and clergy. How are they doing? Growing or shrinking?

We can learn from looking both at the Scripture and at the examples of other church groups' stories. We have options to choose now the way in which we would like to go.

The question for us now is... Which way are we in the CHOG going to go?

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

July 5, 2022

On the Overturning of Roe v. Wade

Much has been said in the past few weeks about the Supreme Court's decision (now finalized) to overturn its 1973 decision in Roe v. Wade, which established a woman's right to have an abortion, especially in the first trimester, as well as later in a pregnancy if the mother's life or health were at risk. The original decision was controversial at the time, and its being overturned is just as controversial today.

I'd like to talk about nuance for a moment, because I think we generally have lost the ability to appreciate it. Our opinions are often "black and white," "cut and dried," "right and wrong." In the case of abortion, we classify ourselves as either "pro-life" or "pro-choice." However, it is not productive to create these dichotomies and mutually exclusive categories. Just look at the world around you: we have devolved into shouting matches in which no one is able to hear anyone else but themselves. We all believe we are right, and we are unwilling (or unable) to appreciate any sense of nuance in the discussion.

I am not advocating for a posture that says "there is truth on both sides of the issue." That posture tends to avoid the complexities of moral and ethical topics, such as abortion. Truth is complicated. Truth is subtle. Truth is not something we can control or dominate. I am advocating instead for a posture of humility. This posture causes me to admit that I may not have all the right answers. It causes me to admit that problems may be more complicated than a "cut and dried" solution.

Abortion is a complex religious issue because it revolves around one of the great mysteries of life. There has never been universal consensus among Christians (or any major group of Christians: Roman Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, even the Church of God itself) about when life begins. We know a lot about the physiology of life, how a sperm cell fertilizes an egg cell. But when exactly does that fertilized egg become a human being, or become conscious, or take on a soul? Life is a mystery, despite our best attempts to know and control everything. Life is full of nuance. So too are moral and ethical conversations around life, including conversations around abortion.

With an appropriate posture of humility, let's discuss how the Church of God has addressed abortion in the past. In the Church of God, the General Assembly consists of all ordained ministers and representatives from all congregations and other organizations. The General Assembly is the only mechanism we have for the Church of God to take official positions on important social topics. The way the General Assembly speaks is through passing formal resolutions.

To my knowledge, we have only directly addressed the topic of abortion in one General Assembly resolution, which was passed forty-one years ago, in 1981. This was less than a decade after the Roe v. Wade decision of 1973. The resolution emphasizes the rights of unborn children as well as God's knowledge of each person prior to birth. Read carefully the two "therefore" clauses of this resolution - the things that the General Assembly said we should do:

RESOLVED, that the General Assembly of the Church of God go on record as opposing abortion on demand, recognizing that the unborn fetus is a living human being and thus should be protected by the laws and Constitution of the United States of America; and be it further

RESOLVED, that the General Assembly of the Church of God urges all congregations to express compassion and concern not only to protect life before birth but to work to assure that the lives that are preserved may receive the care, attention, and help that God wants for all persons; to provide family life and marriage education that will foster such a reverence for God-given life that both the causes and consequences of unwanted pregnancies may be diminished; and that this resolution be publicized.

Notice the nuance here. We did not simply claim a "pro-life" position. We did not say we are universally anti-abortion. Instead, we proclaimed that we are opposed to "abortion on demand," which leaves room for abortions in cases of rape or incest, or when the health of the mother is at risk. We said that we want to reduce "the causes and consequences of unwanted pregnancies." We said that we want to provide all children with "the care, attention, and help that God wants for all persons." Our resolution pointed toward holistic solutions, which are more complicated than a simple cut-and-dried ban on abortions.

What might holistic solutions look like in practice? One of my friends, a pastor named Thomas Horrocks, wrote a book in 2019 entitled "Beyond the Binaries: The Complexity of Abortion and What to Do About It." (You can buy the book for $0.99 on Amazon, or download it for free at his website: thomaslhorrocks.com/book) I highly encourage you to read this book. It explores how abortion intersects with scripture, Jewish history, Christian history, science, the law, and politics. It's an outstanding project.

In the last chapter of his book, Thomas describes a way forward. He says we should not criminalize abortion, we should refuse "single-issue" politics, and - importantly - we should support evidence-based policies and practices which reduce unwanted pregnancies and promote the well-being of all children. This includes comprehensive sex education and readily accessible contraceptives, both of which are proven to reduce unwanted pregnancies and, therefore, to reduce abortions. Thomas also says we should advocate for policies and programs which provide for healthcare, parental leave, housing, food, childcare, and opportunities for education and employment of new parents. These are a few ways that we can work together as a society to bless others with "the care, attention, and help that God wants for all persons."

Abortion is a complicated issue. Now that Roe v. Wade has been overturned, the path forward will be complicated, as well. I encourage you to lean into the nuance, to adopt a posture of humility, and to advocate for holistic solutions that treat people with the respect and compassion they deserve.

Rev. Dr. David Aukerman
Mt. Haley Church of God


A Message from Jeannette Flynn to the Leadership Focus Coaches and Candidates

These are fragile days but also great opportunities for the light of Christ to shine in the darkness. Please read carefully and consider how then we should live as Christians.

  • I believe in the sacredness of life.
  • I believe that life begins at conception and that God is the author of all life.
  • I do not believe in or support abortion.
  • I believe Scripture supports these statements as foundational truths.

However, I also believe that Scripture is written for those who believe in the one true God or who are seeking the one true God. And today, Scripture is for Christians and those seeking to understand what it means to be a Christian. It's why day after day and year after year your Leadership Focus Staff works diligently to train and equip you in the truths and ways of God and His word.

This nation is no more favored by God than any other nation. America is NOT the new Israel. The people of God are His nation - people from every nation, every tribe, every tongue. He dwells in us - not in Washington, DC or your state capital or Anderson, Indiana! America is not "the nation of God." He dwells in His people, wherever they live.

Please know that for those of us who call ourselves Christians - regardless of the laws that govern our land -

  • whether it is the speed limit on I-70
  • or texting while driving
  • or the taxes we all have to pay on a candy bar or a new car
  • or laws regulating guns
  • or abortion laws
  • or same-sex marriage laws

we are also governed by a higher set of laws! That does not mean I don't have to obey the laws of the land. It means that as I obey the laws of this land I do so first and foremost as an ambassador of Christ. We must be ruled by the Laws of the Kingdom of God to which we swore allegiance when we asked Christ to be our Savior and to which we resubmit every time we take communion or call ourselves Christ-followers. Read the sermon on the mount. That was the point Jesus was trying to make!

So, how do we respond to the recent rulings of the Supreme Court of our nation? I suggest that you better consult the rulings of the HIGH COURT of heaven, or you may find yourself celebrating a decision on earth in a fashion and manner that is condemned by heaven.

I am not the Facebook policeman or social media judge and jury - I am not the conscience of any person! I leave that to the Holy Spirit. I am, however, bound by the covenant I have made with God through the Holy Spirit to call us to a right response - a Kingdom response - a holy response.

So, what should our response be? Consider carefully Romans 14.

  1. Spend focused, specific time in prayer for our leaders. (1 Peter 2:17; 1 Timothy 2:1-2)
  2. Spend focused, specific time in prayer for ALL people in our community, regardless of where they stand on various matters. (Philippians 4:6)
  3. Ask God to search YOUR heart for any ways that do not please Him in your life, thoughts, or actions. This nation will stand in judgment for the decisions made and the governing that happens. HOWEVER, you and I will stand in judgment for the decisions we individually make and for the way we allow the word of God to govern our daily lives!
    • In other words, step back and humble yourself before God and ensure that your responses are the responses Christ would make if He had a social media account or a platform from which to speak! (Luke 6:41; 2 Chronicles 7:14)
  4. Love those who disagree with you. Pray for God's work in both your lives. Offer grace. Respond with gentleness. Your greatest focus is not to prove YOU are right - it is to reveal that God loves them! It is the work of the Holy Spirit to reveal truth. (Luke 6:27 -28. 5:43-44)
  5. If you have posted statements that are unkind, unloving, prideful, hurtful, or reflect negatively on the love and mission of God - to win all people to himself - then pull it down today! Before you eat lunch! Replace your posts with words of peace, hope, and healing. (2 Peter 3:9; Luke 19:5.; Luke 8:9-11)
  6. Am I suggesting that you don't stand up for what is right and godly in this country? Not at all! But acting in an unChristlike manner is NOT how you do that. (John 3:16; Luke 15)
    • Get involved in your community, loving children, unwed mothers, and single parents, and offer help in every way you can. You cannot celebrate the overturning of Roe-vs-Wade but do nothing to care for babies, children, unwed mothers, and parents who are struggling with life on a daily basis.
    • Get involved with local ministries and services.
    • Intentionally become informed of the issues from all angles. Know what people are struggling with and how they think.
    • Share the love of Christ at every opportunity. The battle we wage is NOT against flesh and blood - not against people who are not Christ-followers - we wage war against the enemy of souls! And we do that with Spiritual weapons! (Ephesians 6:12)

The Scriptures teach us to seek God's wisdom in all things. Here is how to know you have found Godly wisdom in any matter.

But the wisdom that comes from heaven is first of all pure; then peace-loving, considerate, submissive, full of mercy and good fruit, impartial and sincere. Peacemakers who sow in peace reap a harvest of righteousness. - James 3:17-18

In these difficult and fragile days, my friends, SEEK WISDOM! Your actions and words must be guided by the wisdom of God.

You may want to discuss these matters and scriptures in your clusters and with your coaches. Do that. You are God's instruments of grace in your communities and circles of influence.

On behalf of your Leadership Focus Team,

Jeannette Flynn, Director of Leadership Focus

June 20, 2022

Reinvigorating Our Roots to Grow Richer Fruit

This title is actually the theme of this year's General Assembly Meeting scheduled for Friday and Saturday, November 4 & 5 at the Crowne Plaza West in Lansing. You will see information on the event as well as the registration information coming your way very soon. In that GA Meeting we will be talking about the things that are key to our roots, like Unity and Holiness. Too often we talk about those things but don't really practice them as we should. I recently became aware of a new book available by Rev. Dr. Gary Agee that provides practical ways that we can indeed live out the Unity that we proclaim as a movement. A brief description of the book is below, as well as a picture of the front cover. I want to encourage you to get a copy of it and allow it to direct you to some practical steps for you, your family, and your congregation to live out unity. It can be purchased for as little as $4.99 on Kindle or $19.99 in paperback through Amazon or $9.99 epub and $14.99 paperback through Christianbook.

With love,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor


That We May Be One book

In his most recent book, That We May Be One, Practicing Unity in a Divided Church, (Eerdmans, 2022) Rev. Dr. Gary Agee, engagement and recruiting specialist and affiliated faculty for Anderson School of Theology and Christian Ministry, encourages the faithful to take Jesus's prayer for unity seriously. He argues that abundant life can only truly be realized when such a blessed state becomes a reality in the body of Christ. "Unity is not all God's responsibility," Agee points out. Rather, he believes that followers of Jesus are called to lean into the practice of oneness. Agee writes that one way of working toward oneness requires us to take on what he calls a "posture of unity." This makes it possible to navigate divisions across a number of fronts. The key ingredients of this boundary- bursting, border -crossing disposition include true humility, introspection, self-awareness, transparency, a holy curiosity, as well as relational endurance.

In this his latest book Agee writes that he wanted to "move past the obvious- the recognition that the body of Christ is divided." To this end he includes what he calls "Upper Room Exercises" at the end of each chapter. Here he offers a number of reflections, probing questions, and practices that he believes might begin to help his readers address these divisions. For example, in one reflection Agee calls on his readers to honestly take stock of how their consumption of divisive rhetoric coming from cable news outlets, social media, and talk radio might impact their view of others. Moving beyond reflection the author encourages readers to move from "pew to practice." In one of these prescribed activities, the reader is encouraged to identify an exemplar in the practice of unity. They are asked to schedule an interview with that individual in order to better learn how to emulate best practices. "Unity is not easy work; in our humanness we constantly want to bend back toward uniformity," Agee argues. It is his sincere desire that this book might offer insight as to how the church can become a "united church for a divided world."




June 13, 2022

Chasing The Buzz Or Living In The Promise

"But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth."

~ Acts 1:8

When I was in High School, there was a time when I tried to fit in with the crowd, and that crowd drank alcohol. We didn't drink to savor the flavor or to admire the complexity of the brew...we drank to get "buzzed" - drunk, inebriated, smashed - you get the picture. After a couple of driving mishaps, I made a deal with God that I would stop drinking alcohol if He would keep me from hitting trees with an automobile. He has kept His promise, and I have kept mine. Life is so much better sober than "buzzed," let me testify!

Couple of years later, I am studying at college for ministry. A group of friends there were Charismatic Christians - they liked exuberant worship and speaking in unknown tongues. In their own way, they were chasing a "buzz" - for they evaluated worship and other Christians by whether they spoke in tongues or not. To them, the Holy Spirit was seen as providing emotional release and exuberant worship experiences.

I sincerely prayed for the gift of tongues but it did not come. I don't feel less than those who do nor do I feel superior to them either. It is for some but not for all - read 1 Corinthians 14 for some understanding & guidelines on this subject. Tongues and the emotional expressions are the least of the gifts. Like anything in life, if you make the minor things the major thing, it creates confusion and division.

After studying the book of Acts, 1 Corinthians and Galatians, I see that the role of the Holy Spirit in our lives is to help us proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord so that others may be converted. And the second part is to produce in us a Christ-like character, as Paul writes about in Galatians 5:22-23.

Some questions to wrestle with in regard to the Holy Spirit working in your life:

  • What is more important to you;
    • Chasing the buzz of a spiritual experience?
    • Or proclaiming clearly and powerfully the Gospel of Jesus to an unsaved world?
  • Are your emotions more important than your character?
  • Are your practices in the Spirit bringing unity or division within the church family?

Friends, may we receive the Promise of the Holy Spirit and together proclaim Jesus as Lord of all as we grow in a Christ-like character in the world where we live and witness to.

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

June 6, 2022

The Wrong Seems Oft So Strong

Can you sing this hymn along with me?

This is my Father's world, and to my listening ears
all nature sings, and 'round me rings the music of the spheres.
This is my Father's world; I rest me in the thought
of rocks and trees, of skies and seas. His hand the wonders wrought.

This is my Father's world; O let me ne'er forget
that though the wrong seems oft so strong, God is the ruler yet.
This is my Father's world; why should my heart be sad?
The Lord is King, let the heavens ring! God reigns; let the earth be glad.

These words are the first and last verses of the well-known hymn, "This Is My Father's World." They were written by a Presbyterian minister from New York named Maltbie Babcock and were published shortly after his death in 1901. Over twelve decades later, these words still bring us comfort in difficult times.

Even though the wrong often seems so strong, God is still the ruler of the entire universe. Many things cause us trouble today, including international conflicts (like Russia's ongoing war against Ukraine); a multi-year pandemic; inflation of the cost of everyday goods; and recent mass shootings in supermarkets, churches, and schools. That's not even mentioning the personal and family struggles that each of us faces from time to time. Can we really find hope and comfort from God in the midst of all that is wrong in the world?

"Yes," says the hymn. And "yes," says Jesus, too. We can take courage in our identity as children of God, no matter what is going on in the world or in our lives. As Jesus said in John 16:33, "I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world."

Jesus was talking about persecution due to our identity as his followers, not just as people who experience the normal hardships of life. But the principle still holds: because Jesus has overcome the world through his death and resurrection, nothing that occurs in the world has the ultimate power to change or damage our identity as followers of Jesus, as children of God.

Yet we still struggle, don't we?

I was surprised to learn the full story of Maltbie Babcock, author of the well-known hymn I mentioned above. He died by committing suicide at the age of 42 - the very same age I am right now. Ten years earlier, he had been hospitalized for a few weeks due to "nervous prostration," which today we would probably call depression. Then in 1901 he became ill with "Mediterranean fever," or brucellosis, a bacterial infection from eating undercooked meat or unpasteurized milk - an infection which can cause symptoms of fever, pain, and depression. In the midst of this illness, Maltbie Babcock took his own life. Soon afterward, his wife Katherine published several of his writings, including the lyrics to "This Is My Father's World."

How could a person - a Christian minister, no less - at one time be confident that his heart should not be sad, but later turn to suicide to deal with depression? That is a mystery which, unfortunately, has repeated itself many, many times over the years.

Suicide is a major issue in our world and in our society. We are concerned and distraught about mass shootings, such as last month's murder of 19 schoolchildren and two teachers in Uvalde, Texas - and rightly so: we should be concerned and distraught about those events. But firearm suicides have outnumbered firearm homicides in this country for many years.

Let me encourage you: if your heart is sad, if you are wondering where God is, if you are thinking about harming yourself in any way, please reach out to someone you trust for help. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline phone number is 1-800-273-8255. Starting on July 16, you can just call, text, or chat 988 to reach the same lifeline. Remember that for our ministers and their families, our state's Ministry to Ministers program will connect you to a counselor in your area at a greatly discounted rate. Share this information with others as the opportunity arises, too.

Rest assured, friends: God is still reigning over the universe. God is still love. God is still the source of peace, hope, joy, and comfort. And Jesus has, in fact, overcome the world!

Rev. Dr. David Aukerman, Pastor, Mount Haley Church of God, Midland, Michigan

May 30, 2022

Be An Overcomer

Be An Overcomer

As you all should know by now, I love our Heritage Hymns. They wonderfully encourage me, and help to reinforce the great doctrines of our faith. Yet, in turbulent times like ours, this song really is like food for my soul right now! I am just reeling with the report released this past week of the sinful acts of hundreds of pastors and leaders in the Southern Baptist Convention, as women and children have been the victims of sexual crimes and abuse for years. We know of the issues with the Catholic Church over the decades, and this seems to rival that. We should know that we are not immune to this, as we have had, even in Michigan, stories of the same, and some recently.

There are so many other issues along with that which are on the landscape today, and they are very hurtful and distracting. Yet, we should know that this was promised by the Lord Jesus Christ in John 16:33 (ESV). "I have said these things to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart; I have overcome the world."

In Him, we are more than overcomers, as the Apostle Paul told us in Romans 8:31-39 (NASB) 31"What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who is against us? 32 He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him over for us all, how will He not also with Him freely give us all things? 33 Who will bring charges against God's elect? God is the one who justifies; 34 who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is He who died, but rather, was [a]raised, who is at the right hand of God, who also intercedes for us. 35 Who will separate us from the love of [b]Christ? Will tribulation, or trouble, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? 36 Just as it is written: "For Your sake we are killed all day long; We were regarded as sheep to be slaughtered." 37 But in all these things we overwhelmingly conquer through Him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Instead of wringing my hands, and getting discouraged by all the craziness around me, I decided to be encouraged because of Whose I am and Whom I serve. He is more than able. I hope you will go through this old hymn, written by Charles Naylor, whose suffering was well noted due to injuries sustained working after a Church of God tent meeting. If you know it, sing it. If you don't read it anyway. It will encourage you to "Never yield a step in the hottest fight. God will send you help from the realms of light. In Jehovah's might put the foe to flight, and the victor's crown you shall wear at last."

Blessings to you all,

Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor

May 23, 2022

Paint With The Colors I Gave You

"20Now 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

Okay, sing this to the tune of the Brady Bunch theme song:

Here's the story of a Youth pastor named Derby, a great guy and leader, with 19 kids of his own;
Until the one day when he received a call to pastor in Indiana and left us in Edgewood Church all alone.

Heres the story of a church member named Tony, married to a beautiful teacher and raising the last son in high school. When he saw the need for Edgewood Church for a youth leader, he said, "Here am I, I'll do it!"

And that is how they became the "Tony bunch," the "Tony bunch"...

Yeah, now you know why I never made it as a song writer, but you get the picture.

Tony is not hip or trained per say in youth ministry. Tony is a quiet man who loves the Lord and loves young people. Thru his willingness to serve, young people have been saved, have been baptized and have been discipled. God bless you, and thank you, Tony.

Been reading a book by Pastor Lee Eclov, "Pastoral Graces - reflections on the care of souls (Moody 2012)." In chapter 6, "Decorating with Grace," Lee writes:

"God is like an art instructor. Pastors and church leaders are each at our easels in a studio around Jesus, who is our model. 'Paint a church that looks like Jesus,' God says. Then He starts squeezing paint out of tubes onto each of our palettes."

Then Lee describes how he feels his church isn't enough or is lacking compared to other churches and that he really can't paint with what little he has...

"Then God, our art instructor, says, 'I've given you all you need to portray Christ through your church. Just paint with the colors I gave you.'"

Friends, more than a larger budget or more staff or greater talent...we need more folks like 'Tony.' Faithful servants who love Jesus and love others and who are willing to answer the call when God touches them.

"He who calls you is faithful, who also will do it." ~ 1 Thessalonians 5:24

May you find joy and wonder as you paint a church that looks like Christ where you serve!

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

May 16, 2022




Religious leaders struggle with burnout, depression and anxiety — just like the rest of America

Between dealing with the frustrations inherent to the job, the pandemic and political polarization, pastors are suffering from burnout. And some are calling it quits

By Mya Jaradat May 12, 2022, 12:00am EDT

In fall of 2021 - after more than a year of the pandemic and in the wake of a contentious presidential election - former pastor Eric Atcheson was standing in line on a Saturday morning when he realized he had to change his life.

"I was out picking up biscuits for my wife and daughter for breakfast. While I was waiting for our order to be ready, even though it was my day off, I started having a panic attack," said Atcheson who, at the time, was leading a church in Birmingham, Alabama. "That was my body trying to communicate to my soul: This is not sustainable."

That moment marked the "point of no return," he added.

Although Atcheson was already in therapy, he sought out additional help from a spiritual director and began an intense process of discernment. "It took me several months to acknowledge that, for me to be in any way or shape whole, I'd have to give up congregational ministry," he said. "When your position is giving you panic attacks, it's time to give up the job."

So, last month he stepped down, publicizing his move in a Twitter thread that garnered hundreds of likes and responses, including some from other pastors who had also resigned from their positions.

Across the nation, stories like Atcheson's are becoming more common as clergy suffer from the burnout and mental health issues they attribute to the double whammy of the pandemic and increased political polarization.

In March 2022, 42% of pastors considered resigning - up from the 29% who did the same in January 2021, according to data collected by Barna. The three biggest reasons clergy cited were "immense stress," feelings of isolation and loneliness, and "political division," according to Barna.

While some faith leaders are just thinking about leaving, others have quit or retired early. The wave of clergy departures could have a unique impact on American society: As pastors leave congregations, there are questions about who will replace them.

"I haven't lost confidence in the work Jesus does but I've lost confidence in the work that the church does," said Scott Sharman, a former pastor in Burleson, Texas, who entered early retirement in February.

"I think there will be a new model of the church in the next generation or two," he added, pointing to the rise of house churches, or small worship groups in which members share both prayer and their lives.

READ MORE

May 9, 2022

The Many Flavors Of Worship

Back when I was a teenager (when the earth's crust was still cooling and dinosaurs roamed the land), my friends and I would go to a wonderful place called "Baskin & Robbins 31 Flavors" - they sold ice cream.

Now friends, ice cream is basically made of frozen cream, sweeteners and flavors. The variety of flavors are quite a few = vanilla, chocolate, fruit (strawberry, cherry, raspberry, etc.), nut flavors (pecan, peanut, walnut...), candy (M&M's, fudge, caramel...), flavors I cannot identify (Tutti- Frutti, Superman and Blue Moon); And, well we could go on and on. Turn to your neighbor right now and tell them what your favorite flavor is...

Worship is like ice cream: ideally worship is directed to God and should impact participants thru scripture, prayer, preaching, music and song. There are a variety of flavors of worship, too. Here is a sample of worship I have experienced in my journey of faith over the last 45 years:

Musically: Traditional (piano and organ), acapella (no instruments), bluegrass, black gospel - traditional and contempary, Southern Gospel, high church anthems, folk songs, high percussion with jet engine volume, great orchestras with strings, brass, winds and all. I have worshipped with white Americans, black Americans, Latino Americans, Navajo Americans, and with Haitian, Guatemalan, Belizean, and Brazil brothers and sisters in Christ.

Preaching: long sermons and short, emotional ones and reasoned lectures, shouting and spitting ones, fire and brimstone 'scare you ones,' messages on love and grace, conversational messages, funny sermons and boring messages.

So is one worship style the right one for all? For an answer, look at scripture with me:

  • Revelation 7: from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and before the Lamb. ~ Revelation 7 - God will one day have all flavors worshipping Him in Heaven, and it will be beautiful!
  • "I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel that I may share in its blessings." ~ I Cor. 9:22-23

Hear me friends, we are not called to do it "only one way" - we need to think as Paul the Missionary did and think of the audience we are trying to win to Christ. Tom and Jean McCracken were great missionaries for the CHOG in Brazil; once as a Samba band was loudly playing in a street worship outreach, Tom leaned over to me and said, "This is not my music, but look at how it is drawing in the young people of the neighborhood for worship." Their work started in 1990 is now alive with new congregations, a seminary and young leaders because they adapted worship to the culture they were trying to reach.

  • 16 Let the message of Christ dwell among you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom through psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit, singing to God with gratitude in your hearts. ~ Colossians 3:16

Don't throw out the old, or despise the new. Treasure the worship variety that Church has developed over the last 2000 years. Model and practice appreciation for the variety of flavors. Good worship will touch and move one towards Christ, regardless the style.

One more thought: you probably like the style of worship that moved you when you committed to Jesus Christ.

That is cool. Hey, let God move you in new ways and in flavors you may not have tried before. Be willing to change, like Barnabas did.

Be like Barnabas in Acts 11 - new people with new music came to the Church and some were upset by it! Barnabas was sent to investigate...

22 News of this reached the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he arrived and saw what the grace of God had done, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts. 24 He was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and faith, and a great number of people were brought to the Lord.

May our prayer be, "Lord, let the Church worship You in beauty and in truth. Let us lift up Jesus and draw all people to Him! Let all the Church say, "Amen and amen!""

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

May 2, 2022

Be a Christian Bear!

"For this is the message that you heard
from the beginning, that we should
love one another,"

~ I John 3:11

I remember an often repeated prayer by a dear old saint, now with the Lord; Sister Donna used to pray...

"Lord, let my children and my grandchildren love You
and love each other."

That echo's the heart of most Mom's this Mother's Day. Love is often lacking in our families, in our congregations and in our hearts. Love is what we as Christians should be known for - our love for the Lord Jesus Christ and our love for each other. As Jesus said,

35"By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another."

~ John 13:35

How can we fulfill this Mother's prayer and follow our Lord's command today, to love each other? Hey, it is hard sometimes, yes. Pride, fear, jealousy can all gum up our relationships. The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ can heal, restore and build bridges where there have been barriers before. Try living in His grace today!

For help in loving each other, let us turn to one more "inspired text, from a song from the greatest music in the world, the music of the 1970's, my generation. The O'Jays, 1972 - "Love Train"

People all over the world (everybody)
Join hands (join)
Start a love train, love train
People all over the world (all the world, now)
Join hands (love ride)
Start a love train (love ride), love train

Love is an action. Love requires risk. Love is forgiving and starting over again. Love doesn't quit or give up but keeps trying. How about today mending fences, making peace and reconnecting to those you have separated yourself from?

The O'Jays sang it well - reach out your hand in fellowship, join together and start a love train.

It will do you good and it will testify about how you really love - Jesus!

Now excuse me, I'm going to my closet to dig out a polyester Leisure Suit and my platform shoes, and then I'm going to boogie and sing along with the O'Jays. Happy Mother's Day!

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

April 25, 2022

AFTERSHOCK!

AFTERSHOCK! The follow up phenomenon to an earthquake, that may or may not be the same magnitude of the original occurrence. While living a stint in SoCal in 1986, as a youth pastor right out of college, and right into a brand new marriage of one year, I had the pleasure of feeling the rolling of the earth's crust one Tuesday morning just as the sun was rising. If you've never experienced an earthquake, well, it's a strange sensation of not being able to keep your feet or your balance. What's supposed to keep one stable, begins to throw you around like a rag doll.

The quake wasn't epic on the richter scale. The aftershocks weren't very impressive either. Had we stayed in SoCal a few more years, we would've had the jolt of our lives. The San Andreas fault runs north from SoCal and connects to other fault lines, including the one that rocked San Francisco, in 1989. The succession of aftershocks in S.F. did as much damage as the original quake! ($6 billion). The initial shock of 6.9 magnitude opened the door for several more to come. A 5.2 hit 2.5 minutes after the first quake and 20 more followed of 4.0 and better. More than 300 of magnitude 2.5 were recorded in the succeeding days. We watched large sections of double decker freeway come crashing down on the traffic below. It was violent and devastating. By this time, we were living back in Portland, Oregon.

There was such an occurrence of a great shaking when Jesus gave up his spirit on the cross. The earth quaked. It caused the Roman centurion to make a statement, "this man surely was the Son of God." (Matthew 27:54) It was a moment in history that literally divided time!

The original event of an earthquake often overshadows the aftershocks that occur. Not so on this occasion. On that 3rd day, the AFTERSHOCK was epic! Matthew 28:2 says, "There was a violent earthquake, for an angel of the Lord came down from heaven and, going to the tomb, rolled back the stone and sat on it!" It was the second shaking that gives us the hope of a life transformed. THAT WAS AN AFTERSHOCK WORTH HAVING! The violence of that event would be equal to and maybe even greater than the first!

Those who encountered him after that AFTERSHOCK would never be the same. Their whole world was and would continue to be changed. Everything they thought they knew and understood about life and how God worked was rocked! From Mary Magdalane's grief in the garden turned to great joy, to the travelers on the road to Emmaus who were despondent and disillusioned becoming energized enough to run back to Jerusalem after a long day of walking, to Jesus "appearing" to all of His forlorned disciples who were stunned and overwhelmed with sorrow now falling at his feet in worship behind locked doors, to being forgiven for denying Jesus while in His greatest time of need, to getting ready for a power packed extravaganza of Holy Spirit movement, post His ascension back to the Father, those disciples would never be the same.

I think we're seeing more aftershocks in the Church all around the world. The Lord is shaking us. Maybe it's to wake us? Maybe it's to sift us? Maybe it's to show us that He is still in charge! The earthquake of the crucifixion was devastating and powerful. The AFTERSHOCK WAS MEANT TO BE TRANSFORMATIONAL!

Carry on you disciples of Jesus. Keep seeking and encountering His Spirit. Be the bearers of the "earthquake" of the cross and the AFTERSHOCK of his resurrection!

Rev. Jerry Lyon, Church Health Minister and Pastor, New Horizons Community Church, Jackson, Michigan

April 18, 2022

Be a Christian Bear!

"Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you."

~ Colossians 3:13

In January - February of 2022, the Edgewood Church of God did a Bible study of Colossians. To help us in this, we used a great book I would highly recommend:

Enough, by Pastor Crystal Colp and friends - from the St. Joseph First Church of God.

In Colossians 3:13 there is this verse on "bear with each other" - a great concept we need to practice in this day and age of "Cancel Culture" and "blocking people you don't like." The idea of Colossians 3:13 is not to "give up or run out or run away when a relationship gets difficult." The challenge God is giving us in this verse is to "stick with it, work through it and to be patient with each other."

You could translate this word, "bear with" in these ways = "to persist in or endure with or to have patience with the person that you are having trouble with."

I love this verse because it illustrates a great truth of life = people are annoying! Lest you think I am being too critical, I include myself in this, too. I know, I knowsome of you find it hard to believe that I could be annoying???

Call my wife, she will straighten you out on this trait of mine.

Turn to your neighbor and say, "I have, I am and I will annoy you."

Because of this reality that we do annoy each other, we need to follow the Lord and learn to show some grace, some forgiveness and learn to bear with each other.

Think of how much we annoy the Lord Jesus Christ, and yet, yet, still He loves us!

Praise His Holy Name! Thank you, Lord!

Next time someone annoys you, turn to Matthew 18:21-35  the story of the unmerciful servant. And then pray:

"Dear Lord, may I learn to bear with and forgive others with the same grace that You have shown me!"

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

April 11, 2022

"As I have done for you,
do for others..."

~ John 13:14-15

I served for 18 years as the Pastor of the First Church of God in Greenville, Michigan. They were for the most part good years, and like most pastors, I struggled at times with discouragement and with frustrations. Thankfully, the Lord used one of those times in a powerful way in my life.

It was about 30 years ago on a hot summer Tuesday morning. I took Monday off after a busy Sunday. I had groups coming in to use our church building this day. And as I walked in that Tuesday morning, a stench filled my nose. Going into our main floor men's bathroom there was a mess on the floor by the stall. Someone had missed the stool completely. It had dried and was overwhelming. Sorry but you get the picture.

I should add at this time, due to budget constraints, we had volunteer janitorial service from members of the church family. This being a workday and they being volunteers, I didn't feel right to call anyone to leave work and come deal with this mess. I had to deal with this.

My frame of mind was not good as I set about cleaning this up. I was angrily muttering about, "This is stupid, that I, the pastor, is having to do this!" I was angry, was wallowing in self pity and had hung myself up on the cross of being a martyr.

It was there on my knees in that men's stall that the Lord brought to my mind the story of John 13. The words of Jesus seared into my situation that day:

"14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another's feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you."
~ John 13:14-15

That men's bathroom became a place of worship and an altar of surrender that morning.

How could I whine and complain about cleaning up this mess, when I think of how many messes of mine the Lord Jesus has lovingly cleaned up for me?

Pastoral ministry will test you and stretch you. Pastoring will be very frustrating at times. Shepherding people can be messy.

Through it all, if we have the mind of Christ, we will see the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ for others, and especially for us, too.

By Rev. David Perry, Pastor at Edgewood Church of God, Ithaca, Michigan

April 4, 2022

Power of Being Together

The Bond of Perfectness

[adapted from a message presented at our Men's Retreat, March 26, 2022]

D.S. Warner wrote the lyrics to this heritage hymn while attending a gathering of believers at Yellow Lake in northern Indiana in the early 1890s. All these decades later, it still expresses a clear understanding of how holiness and unity are fused together in Christ, and how in Christ we are one.

Verse 1: "How sweet this bond of perfectness, the wondrous love of Jesus! A pure foretaste of heaven's bliss, O fellowship so precious!"

What binds us together? It's not our love for each other, our shared interests, our history, perspectives, or politics. What binds us together is Jesus's love for us. His love originates outside of us, and it has already united us. 1 John 3:1 - "See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God, and that is what we are!"

Verse 2: "O praise the Lord for love divine that binds us all together! A thousand cords our hearts entwine forever and forever."

When two things are tied together with a thousand cords, they become essentially the same thing. They can't be separated. As an experiment, I strapped together a couple of 2x4s with a ball of twine. It ran out after 201 revolutions around the wood, but by then the bond was pretty secure!

Verse 3: "'God over all and in us all,' through sister and through brother; no power of earth or hell, withal, can rend us from each other."

Oh, good old D.S. Warner, I was with you up until this point. Have you seen us? Have you seen humanity and the many ways we Christians have divided ourselves throughout history? In the past, we excommunicated others, burned them at the stake, went to war against them. Today we are more "enlightened," but we continue to split from other believers for all sorts of reasons:

  • because of differences in doctrine, teaching, belief, or practice
  • because others use the wrong translation of the Bible
  • because we want control, power, or money
  • because of current events, politics, or hot-button issues

The challenge to our unity in Christ is that we want to have the power to kick other people out of our club. We want to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, so we (not God) can determine what is right and wrong.

But the truth is that no power of earth or hell can rend us from each other. Read Romans 8:38-39, and keep in mind that God's love in Christ is what unites us!

We should address an elephant in the room. Christians are often divided by the color of our skin, too. This has been a problem in the Church of God for 105 years, ever since our white leaders told our Black leaders in 1917 that it would be better for everybody if they held a separate camp meeting. Separate but equal, so to speak. Ever since then, there has been the "Anderson camp meeting" and the "West Middlesex camp meeting." Two groups. White and Black. To be sure, there is some intermixing between the two. But as a white kid who grew up in Anderson, I often attended the "official" Anderson camp meeting. I don't remember even knowing that West Middlesex existed until I was around 20 years old. And in all honesty, I still need to make my first pilgrimage there.

At our 360 Ministry Leadership Conference in March, various sessions were led by African-American pastors in our movement. I heard three of them speak. First, Rev. Al Grant said, "it is hard to find anyone of significant stature in the Bible who did not have to leave something behind so that they could become or do all that God intended them to become or do."

Second, Rev. David Johnson said, "if I'm not willing to risk my social cred with people who look like me, to maintain gospel truth with people unlike me, then I forfeit my right to lead."

Third, Rev. Suhaliah Talibah said, in reference to church segregation, "it's not good for everyone to look like me; we should all look like Jesus."

All three were talking about unity in the Church of God. All three discussed the racial division among us. But the burden of addressing racial division in the Church of God should not be shouldered by our African-American brothers and sisters alone.

The good news is that Christ is not divided (1 Corinthians 1:13). No human power, no unholy power can break the love of Jesus which binds us together. We need to live out that truth.

Verse 4: "O mystery of heavens peace! O bond of heavens union! Our souls in fellowship embrace, and live in sweet communion."

Can we really have spiritual fellowship as different people? Can we really live in sweet communion if we have different opinions, beliefs, backgrounds, political affiliations, skin colors (and generational socioeconomic and political realities resulting from those skin colors)? Can God really bring peace and unity to us?

The good news is that God already has brought peace and unity to us, through the humble self-sacrifice of Jesus. We must continue to pursue that peace and unity with others. In order to do that, we must learn to imitate Jesus's self-sacrificial love. It requires listening to each other, letting go of power, lifting up the disenfranchised, changing our minds, growing together.

Chorus: "Beloved, how this perfect love unites us all in Jesus! One heart and soul and mind, we prove the union heaven gave us."

So may it be. Amen.

Rev. Dr. David Aukerman, Pastor, Mount Haley Church of God, Midland, Michigan

March 28, 2022

Power of Being Together

The Power of Being Together

I was 15 when I accepted the call to ministry and the first woman pastor, I had Kimberly Majeski who was the campus pastor at Anderson University. When I was a freshman in 2006, she invited me and my best friend to attend the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy Conference with her in San Diego. She was one of the key note speakers and she let two college freshman girls share her hotel room with her.

For the first time in my life, I was surrounded by women who were in full time ministry. Women who were senior pastors, missionaries, worship leaders, professors, denominational leaders, and women who were like me, a student exploring what it meant to be called to ministry. I remember profoundly realizing I wasn't alone.

Flash forward to 2022 and I've been a senior pastor for almost three years and most days I feel profoundly alone in ministry. Covid has brought challenges to pastoring that no one could have predicted. No amount of experience could have prepared you for the last two years of ministry.

In Grapevine, Texas in the middle of March I sat in a hotel conference room at the Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy Conference, a conference I've attended six times. This time was different. This time I saw road weary colleagues. I saw women lifting their hands in praise after an exhausting two years of serving. I saw a room full of women like me and I realized I wasn't alone.

It is such a gift to worship with other women who have shared stories and experiences. We sit around the table and talk about the churches that support us in our call and the churches who rejected us because of our gender. We can joke about the number of times our outfits or hair get commented on by parishioners. We can freely share the stories of heartache that come from walking along people in ministry.

There is power in being together. I think we all know this after the last two years. But there is a unique power that comes from being together with other women in ministry. Often, I'm the only female pastor at the table at ministry events or conferences. I'm used to hearing only men speak at conventions. But at this conference I'm not the only woman, I'm surrounded by women. I get to hear God speak through women who are passionate about ministry. And I realize I'm not alone.

Thank you to Pastor Mark Richardson who empowers and supports women in ministry in Michigan. Through Pastor Mark and the state office, the registration fee was covered for any woman in pastoral leadership who wanted to attend the conference. Because of this generosity, Michigan had the largest number of Church of God women in attendance.

The Wesleyan Holiness Women Clergy Conference will happen again in two years. I know I'll be there. If you are a fellow woman in ministry, I encourage you to attend as well because there is power in being together.

By Rev. Emily Clark, Pastor at Faith United Church of God, Grand Rapids, Michigan

March 21, 2022

Prayer for the Breath of God

Prayer for the Breath of God

If you have been reading the Weekly Pastoral Call articles this month, you are aware that I have been sharing some of the great hymns of the Church about the glorious power and presence of the Holy Spirit. I never cease to thank and praise God for the wonderful presence, power, and purpose of the Holy Spirit in my life and in His Church. Our lives would be without power if the Spirit of the Living God were not dwelling within us.

This beautiful and reflective hymn of seeking is a wonderful prayer to sing unto the Lord. An encouraging quote has been attributed to Augustine of Hippo for centuries; "He who sings prays twice." This song is a powerful prayer unto the Lord that the Spirit of God would breathe on us so that we would experience transformation as only God can do in us. There is no self-help book, course, or strategy we can undertake which will bring true life transformation like the breath of God. The awesome breath of God, the Holy Spirit ("pneuma in the Greek" and "ruach") does so many wonderful things in, through, and for us if we will submit to God. As He breathes on us:

  • New life that empowers us to love what God loves and do what do would do in our lives and our circumstances.
  • Our hearts can be made pure until our will becomes one with God and enables us to do what He desires with the power to endure all the things that come our way.
  • It makes holy His until every part of us glows with His holy fire divine.
  • The breath of God, the Holy Spirit seals us so that we may live with Him the perfect life for all eternity.

I keep these great hymns, and of course many praise songs, near to me and sing them often. They not only help me to pray twice, but they are a wonderful way to press into the powerful and awesome goodness of the Lord God living in me through the Holy Spirit, the Breath of God.

Blessings to you all,

Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor

March 14, 2022

Spirit Holy

The Powerful Indwelling Of The Holy Spirit

As I shared last week with the hymn, "Fire in the Soul." I am a hymn lover. I truly love the hymns that are a great part of our heritage as the Church of God. Spirit Holy is one of those hymns that really inspires me in my walk with the Lord. Charles Naylor, a servant of the church who spent many years as an invalid due to injuries sustained following a tent revival, wrote some really great ones. In conjunction with Andrew Byers, another great hymnwriter in our heritage, wrote this great one in 1918, and it has been sung in many of our churches and mass assemblies for years since. It, like too many of our heritage gems are disappearing, and we would do well to revisit them from time to time.

In this great hymn, we see the truth that the Holy Spirit doesn't just come from time to time to visit. He doesn’t just come upon us, like so many of the Old Testament leaders experienced. He comes to abide within the followers of Jesus Christ, and He resides there to bring transformation into our lives. He dwells, He inhabits, He lives within us as we seek to live for Jesus Christ. He shapes, molds, corrects, inspects, guides, comforts, counsels, and so much more in our lives as we submit to His prompting. This is a song of submission to the transforming work of the Spirit of the Living God in us, as we experience so much through Him.

  • The sweet abiding and tender love of God shed abroad within us
  • His cleansing, His garnishing grace, His soul enriching fullness within us
  • He reveals His glory, He shows us His might, He keeps us from the world’s defilement, sacred for Him as he dwells within us.

Meditate on this, and experience how great it is to be affirmed of God abiding within you. Perhaps you know the hymn. If so, let that refrain feed your soul.

Spirit Holy, Spirit Holy, all my being now possess. Fill me, rule me, work within me. Through my life, Thy will express. Amen!

May the Lord richly bless you all,

Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor

March 7, 2022

Fire in the Soul

Fire in the Soul

One of my great joys in the Church of God is the great heritage of music we have. I confess, I am a hymn lover, and there are some great hymns in our hymnals. The song shown above is one wonderful example of this. What a great song, written by D.S. Warner and Andrew Byers, and it teaches powerful doctrine about walking with the leading and power of the Holy Spirit. It is truly fire in the soul. This particular one is scanned from the 1952 Church of God Hymnal, the burgundy one for some of you who remember. Sadly it is not in the most recent Church of God Hymnal. This powerful song of truth about the Holy Spirit in our lives challenges us with some powerful questions about our indwelling Holy Spirit. Think about what it asks:

  • Is the Spirit glowing in your heart; do you feel the burning love of God in your bosom day by day?
  • Has the merit of the blood divine washed away the sinful stain; and does heavens glory in you shine as a bright and holy flame?
  • Is your hope unclouded by a fear; and in this moment do you know that the love of God is burning clear in your heart as white as snow?
  • The original verse 4 was left out of this printing, but it asks...Do you feel the mighty living power filling all thy mortal frame; and does all thy heart forever pour streams of glory to His name?

The final verse doesn't ask the powerful questions of the first four, but it offers assurance for those who walk in the Spirit. If your all is on the altar laid, guard it from each vain desire. When your soul the perfect price has paid, God will send the holy fire.

It is interesting that the Church World seems to be focused on the Holy Spirit this year, from Exponential to our own 360 Ministry Leadership Conference Event on March 19, at South Church in Lansing, to many of our churches and themes for the year. Well, the Holy Spirit has always been vital to who we are as the children of God. And our submission to His leading, transforming, and empowering presence is the key to our success as Christians and as the Church of God. I encourage you to revisit some of our classic heritage hymns. Refresh your heart by seeking a deeper walk with the Spirit of the Living God.

May the Lord richly bless you all,

Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor

February 28, 2022

Look Up

How many of you have ever taken the time to just Look up at the sky and the moon? I can recall a time when I was young, and I looked through a telescope at the moon and all its features and how astonished I was at the moon's surface. It was such an awesome site to see. Just sitting there looking at the moon, it filled me with a sense of wonder. A wonder of is there something out there that is bigger than me. Now today when I reflect on that feeling of awe and wonder I recall the words of the psalmist David and how he also marveled at God's heavenly light. Psalm 8:3-4 reads "When I consider your heavens, the work of your fingers, the moon and the stars, which you have set in place, what is mankind that you are mindful of them, human beings that you care for them?" See in my mind David's humbling question puts our personal awe in perspective when we learn that, after God creates His new heaven and earth, we'll no longer need the moon or the sun. Instead, just as John teaches us that God's shimmering glory will provide all the necessary light we will ever need. It is written in Revelation 21:23-25... "The city does not need the sun or the moon to shine on it, for the glory of God gives it light, and the Lamb is its lamp. . . . There will be no night there."

Think about that today as we gather... What an amazing thought! Yet we can experience His heavenly light now-simply by seeking Christ first, who is the Light of the world. As brothers and sisters in Christ I think we need to just take the time to look up to the heavens and see the wondrous works of God. In doing so I know that we will be able to see the light that God has for all our paths. As we meet today let us always know that God is and will always be our guiding light.

Rev. Tad Mellish, Pastor, NorthernLight Church of God, Cadillac, Michigan

February 21, 2022

Pastor Search Prayer Guide

Dear Friends,

We currently have several of our congregations that are in various stages of seeking new pastoral staff members, including several Senior Pastors. The search process can be a challenging time for our congregations, and it can sometimes be lengthy and stressful. As they began their Pastoral Search Process at Farmington Hills Church of God, their Council Chair, Rod Gouker, found and tailored a 40 Day Prayer Guide for their church during this time. He made it available for us to share with you all, especially those who are in a search process. Please feel free to tailor it to your congregation and work the dates for your choice. If you arent in a search process, perhaps you will consider joining with us in praying for all of our congregations that are seeking pastoral leadership.

Blessings to you,
Rev. Mark K. Richardson

Day 1 Scripture Reading: Proverbs 3:5-6

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the church to wholeheartedly trust the Lord while searching for a pastor. Pray for the search committee to trust the Holy Spirit's leadership.

Day 2 Scripture Reading: Revelation 2:1-7

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the church to return to her first love, Jesus Christ. Pray for the church and search committee to hear the Spirit clearly throughout the pastor search process.

Day 3 Scripture Reading: Ephesians 4:1-6

Prayer Prompts: Pray for unity and peace in the church while searching for a pastor. Pray for a strong sense of unity among the search committee as they review and discuss potential pastoral candidates.

Day 4 Scripture Reading: John 15:1-8

Prayer Prompts: Pray for church members to continually abide in Christ and produce much fruit that glorifies the Father during the interim period. Pray for members of the search committee to remain close to Christ.

Day 5 Scripture Reading: John 15:9-15

Prayer Prompts: Pray for church members to abide in the love of Christ and love one another with the love of Christ. Pray for God to bond the church and future pastor together in love.

Day 6 Scripture Reading: John 15:16-17

Prayer Prompts: Pray for a season of fruitful ministry as the church prepares for her next pastor. Pray for the search committee to be blessed with answered prayers.

Day 7 Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 29:11-13

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the search committee and the church to hope in God and seek Him wholeheartedly with the realization that He is in control of the church's future.

Day 8 Scripture Reading: Psalm 139:23-24

Prayer Prompts: Pray for members of the search committee to have hearts that are pure as they work through the pastor search process. Pray for your future pastor to maintain a pure life before God.

Day 9 Scripture Reading: Ephesians 6:10-11

Prayer Prompts: Pray with the understanding that searching for a pastor is primarily a spiritual process, so spiritual warfare will be present. Pray for God's protection on the search committee and the church.

Day 10 Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 2:1-2

Prayer Prompts: Pray for your future pastor and his family to be strengthened by the grace of Jesus Christ. Pray that your future pastor will be a faithful disciple-maker.

Day 11 Scripture Reading: James 1:5-8

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the search committee to seek God's wisdom as they review resumes and prepare to contact potential pastoral candidates. Pray for church leaders to seek God's wisdom in the interim period.

Day 12 Scripture Reading: Colossians 1:9-12

Prayer Prompts: Pray for your future pastor and his family to be certain that it is God's will to transition to a new field of ministry. Pray the Father will be glorified in the pastor search process.

Day 13 Scripture Reading: Acts 2:41-42

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the church to reflect the six elements of a healthy church both in the interim period and when the new pastor is called to serve. (worship, discipleship, ministry, fellowship, evangelism, and prayer)

Day 14 Scripture Reading: Revelation 3:1-6

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the church to be filled with life through the Holy Spirit. Pray for the church to be strengthened to carry out the vision God has for her.

Day 15 Scripture Reading: John 13:34-35

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the search committee and the church to be obedient to Christ's command to love one another. Pray the church's Christ-like love will be seen by the world.

Day 16 Scripture Reading: Ephesians 3:20-21

Prayer Prompts: Pray the power of Christ would be known in and through the church and that all glory would be given to Him throughout the pastor search process.

Day 17 Scripture Reading: Psalm 51:10-12

Prayer Prompts: Pray for each member of the search committee to stay close to the Lord through hearts that are continually cleansed by Him. Pray for your next pastor to keep a clean heart before the Lord.

Day 18 Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 4:1-5

Prayer Prompts: Pray for your future pastor to faithfully preach the Word of God. Pray the Lord gives the church a hunger for the Word of God and receptivity to the sermons that are preached by the new pastor.

Day 19 Scripture Reading: Hebrews 13:17

Prayer Prompts: Pray for your future pastor to faithfully shepherd the church and for members of the church to willingly and joyfully place themselves under his servant leadership.

Day 20 Scripture Reading: Joshua 1:9

Prayer Prompts: Pray for each member of the search committee to have an overwhelming sense of God's presence and guidance as they work through the steps of the pastor search process.

Day 21 Scripture Reading: Proverbs 2:2-6

Prayer Prompts: Pray for your future pastor to seek God's wisdom in every area of life and decision making. Pray for the search committee to be attentive to the Lord's wisdom.

Day 22 Scripture Reading: James 4:1-12

Prayer Prompts: Pray for church members to humble themselves before the Lord and seek His cleansing power in order for revival to come. Pray for the search committee to continually submit to God's will.

Day 23 Scripture Reading: John 17:20-23

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the church to be unified so that the world will be impacted with the gospel and the Father will be glorified. Pray for the search committee to be unified in their decision making.

Day 24 Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 2:15

Prayer Prompts: Pray for a pastor who is able to rightly divide the Word of God. Pray for the search committee as they listen to sermons of potential pastoral candidates.

Day 25 Scripture Reading: Jeremiah 33:3

Prayer Prompts: Pray that a burden for deep and urgent prayer permeates the church not only as you seek God's will for a pastor, but also as you seek God's vision for the church.

Day 26 Scripture Reading: 1 Timothy 3:1-7

Prayer Prompts: Pray for your next pastor to be a man who exhibits Christ-like character both publicly and privately. Pray for your future pastor's family as they transition to a new work.

Day 27 Scripture Reading: Colossians 3:12-17

Prayer Prompts: Pray for your church to grow in love toward one another. Pray for unresolved conflict to be worked out and for reconciliation among any broken relationships in the church.

Day 28 Scripture Reading: Ephesians 1:15-23

Prayer Prompts: Pray for your future pastor to grow in the wisdom and knowledge of Christ. Pray for the church to look to Christ as the Head of the body.

Day 29 Scripture Reading: Revelation 3:14-22

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the church to fight against lukewarm spirituality. Pray church members repent of a lukewarm spirituality and become filled with a zeal for Jesus and His Kingdom work.

Day 30 Scripture Reading: Hebrews 10:19-25

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the church to be committed to biblical worship. Pray for the search committee to be confident that they are following God's will as they make decisions regarding your future pastor.

Day 31 Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 5:1-4

Prayer Prompts: Pray that your future pastor shepherds the church in a biblical and Christ-exalting manner. Pray for your future pastor's walk with Christ.

Day 32 Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 5:5-7

Prayer Prompts: Pray for mutual respect and humility between the church and your future pastor. Pray for the church to follow the leadership of your future pastor.

Day 33 Scripture Reading: 1 Peter 5:8-9

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the search committee to remain humble before God and that they will not be anxious, but trust God's leadership. Pray that the church will stand firm against the schemes of the devil.

Day 34 Scripture Reading: Ephesians 5:15-16

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the search committee to make wise use of their time during their meetings. Pray for the Lord to reveal His will to your future pastor.

Day 35 Scripture Reading: Isaiah 55:6-9

Prayer Prompts: Pray that in times of discouragement, the search committee and the church will seek the Lord diligently and have confidence that He is at work bringing the church and future pastor together.

Day 36 Scripture Reading: Colossians 1:24-29

Prayer Prompts: Pray that when the time comes to extend a call to your next pastor, God will make it unmistakably clear to the future pastor and church. Pray for the Lord to work powerfully in the church to make disciples.

Day 37 Scripture Reading: 2 Timothy 2:24-26

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the search committee to discern if potential pastoral candidates possess the biblical qualities of a servant of the Lord. Pray for the church to affirm these qualities in their future pastor.

Day 38 Scripture Reading: Galatians 6:9

Prayer Prompts: Pray for the search committee to not grow weary in their work. Pray that the search committee and the church will be able to see God's hand at work bringing you and your future pastor together.

Day 39 Scripture Reading: Philippians 2:1-11

Prayer Prompts: Pray that Christ's attitude of humility and servanthood permeates both the search committee and the church during the pastor search process.

Day 40 Scripture Reading: Matthew 28:18-20

Prayer Prompts: Pray for your church to be a Great Commission church that makes disciples. Pray that your future pastor will be a Great Commission leader.

February 14, 2022

Spiritual Direction

It was great to see many of you a couple of weeks ago at Gull Lake Retreat Center! Personally, I enjoyed seeing the snow on all the trees and hearing the crunch of it underfoot. I appreciated the conversations I had with a number of you and was honored to see how God is working in your lives.

I wanted to make you aware of an opportunity to participate in Spiritual Direction. What is Spiritual Direction, you might ask? I like to describe the process of spiritual direction using the imagery of the two disciples on the way to Emmaus. As they were talking together, Jesus opened their eyes to see that He was with them. As a spiritual director, I walk with another believer, seeking together the direction and presence of Jesus in our midst. Spiritual direction provides space to reflect, ask thoughtful questions, and pay attention to the presence and activity of God in our lives. It can include times of prayer, discernment, and spiritual practices of all kinds, including slowing down, rest, and retreat.

The Church of God in Michigan's Ministry to Ministers Fund now includes monies for Spiritual Direction, so ministers can meet with a spiritual director up to once/month for 12 months at no cost to them. If you would like to explore this possibility or would like to set up an initial webex visit to see if spiritual direction would be a good fit for you, please contact me at sandykip4@yahoo.com or 605-351-7121. I especially have a heart for pastors and ministers, as I have experienced both the joys and challenges of ministry, and have found that pastors often do not have someone who will ask them, "How is it with your soul?"

I am also available to lead practical workshops and retreat sessions at your church (or with a combined group of churches) on a variety of different spiritual practices and themes such as margin, balance, praying scripture, freedom in Christ, and different ways of connecting with God. Please feel free to reach out to me about resources or to discuss possibilities.

Thank you,
Sandy Kuepfer

February 7, 2022

Healing Our Divisions

This week, I watched a nine-minute monologue by comedian Trevor Noah, host of The Daily Show. In this monologue, he unpacks the recent apology by Joe Rogan related to covid-19 misinformation and the Spotify streaming platform. If you like, you can watch the monologue via this Facebook link, but fair warning: Trevor uses a fair amount of strong language, he makes some crude references, and he addresses controversial topics like vaccines, masks, and the 2020 presidential election from a point of view that may differ from your own. Here's the link: https://fb.watch/aVcuZ0sZ2_/

I would like to highlight five statements Trevor made in this monologue, because these statements contain a lot of wisdom and can be helpful in our ongoing and necessary spiritual work of healing our divisions.

  • In this society we live in these days, who says, "I'm sorry, and I made a mistake, and I don't have all the answers"? People don't say that anymore. Nobody admits to making mistakes anymore.

From politicians to pastors, from celebrities to common people, we all tend to avoid making direct apologies when we have made mistakes. We don't always own up to how we have gotten things wrong in the past. What if we imitated Zacchaeus, who openly confessed how he took advantage of other people and then did something to make it right? (Luke 19:1-10)

  • It's nice to live in a world where we can say, "I don't agree with you, but I still like you."

This is easier said than done these days. It's even harder to say, "I don't agree with you, but I'll sit down and have a meal with you." Or this: "I don't agree with you, but our children can still play together." What if we looked beyond our superficial differences and found deeper commonalities? What if we put time and energy into difficult relationships across lines of division, like Jesus did with Zacchaeus, the Syro-Phoenecian woman, the Samaritan woman, and so many others?

  • I understand the nuance of this point.

Nuance is such an important concept. We live in an age of sound bites, video clips, and short-lived social media posts. These brief interactions with others have heightened our reactiveness and have reduced our thoughtfulness. What if we slowed down and appreciated nuance and subtlety? What if we could imitate Jesus, who looked at the rich young man and loved him, even though the young man was not ready to enter the kingdom of God? (Mark 10:17-31)

  • Based on the Internet age that we live in, we [condemn] people based on the little that we see of them. We don't give them the full context. ... Everything in life needs context. The context is very important.

We know the saying, "Don't judge a book by its cover." But we often practice something very different when it comes to other people. For example, here in Midland County, one of our townships (Lee Township) is coming apart at the seams because of a major disagreement about the closure of the township's transfer station (the dump). Those who are the most angry about this closure seem unable to appreciate the full context of the situation. What if we practiced the first step of Jesus's method of resolving conflicts - talking "just between the two of you" when there's a problem - instead of ignoring context and jumping to conclusions? (Matthew 18:15-20)

  • This [pandemic] has proved everybody wrong in every different way.

We love to be right. We naturally think we have the right opinions and perspectives. We like being in control of our environments. And in the past two years, all of that has been undone by the covid-19 pandemic. If nothing else, the pandemic has reminded us that we are all human, mortal, fragile. It has shown us that we are not always in control. It has opened our eyes - if we will choose to look - to the dangers of hubris and arrogance, to the fragility and inequities of our social and economic and relational systems. We still have a lot to learn as the pandemic continues to spread all over the world. What if we could read Jesus's words about the end of the age (Matthew 24, Mark 13, Luke 21) with an eye toward how those words might apply to our own apocalyptic experiences in the past two years? What if we admitted that "heaven and earth [and our opinions] will pass away, but [Jesus's] words will never pass away"? (Matthew 24:35)

And what if we really believed John 3:17, that "God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him"?

We might just be more interested in healing our divisions, rather than condemning those who disagree with us.

Rev. Dr. David Aukerman, Pastor, Mount Haley Church of God, Midland, Michigan

January 31, 2022

Two at a Time!

Hold to God's Unchanging Hand, by Jennie Bain Wilson

Time is filled with swift transition. Naught of earth unmoved can stand.
Build your hopes on things eternal. Hold to God's unchanging hand.
Trust in Him who will not leave you, whatsoever years may bring.
If by earthly friends forsaken, still more closely to Him cling.
Covet not this world's vain riches that so rapidly decay.
Seek to gain the heavenly treasures. They will never pass away.
When your journey is completed, if to God you have been true,
Fair and bright the home in Glory, your enraptured soul will view.
[Refrain]
Hold to His hand, God's unchanging hand. Hold to His hand, God's unchanging hand.
Build your hopes on things eternal. Hold to God's unchanging hand.

When I was installed in my first senior pastoral assignment, the late Rev. Dr. Diana Swoope, one of my pastors, accused me of knowing all 5 verses of a 4 verse hymn. One thing is true, I dearly love the hymns, and I've discovered that many of the 4 verse hymns as we see them have at least one verse that we almost never see, like Amazing Grace. That aside, I dearly love this hymn, sung more frequently in churches that are primarily African-American in congregational makeup. The author of the hymn was Jennie Bain Wilson, who spent most of her 57 years of life in a wheelchair due to a bacterial infection that damaged her spine. Like Fanny Crosby, the famed hymn-writer, she didn't let that deter her. During her lifetime she penned over 700 hymns, with the hymn above being the most recognized today.

This hymn makes a powerful point that time is moving along very quickly for everyone. To me it seems like my days go by two at a time. It seems amazing that this Weekly Pastoral Call finds us today at the last day of January 2022. One twelfth of the year is over today! It seems like 2022 just started. The reality is that the days go by as they always have, they just seem to go by quicker. We are nearly two years into the pandemic, and it seems like the two years have been compressed into one. That's what happens when your days go by two at a time!

Yet, as time transitions so quickly for us, it presents us with some great challenging questions that this wonderful hymn poses:

  • What are we building our hope on? Are they things eternal?
  • Whose hand are we holding? Is it God's unchanging hand?
  • Whom are we trusting? Is it the Lord?
  • How closely are we clinging to Him when our earthly friends forsake us?
  • Are we coveting what the world has to offer, even the church world? Or are we seeking the heavenly treasures that endure eternally?
  • Where will we be when this life ends? Will it be with the Lord eternally?

I know these are basic, Christianity 101 questions, but it is often in these basics that we fall and fail. There is a whole gospel challenge in this great hymn, but sadly, many of the hymns that sing the powerful doctrine of our great Gospel of Jesus Christ are being left behind in the swift transitions of time. Days go by two at a time, or they seem to. Yet, we need to put a pause in the swiftness of them to challenge ourselves with the sobering issues of this hymn. If not, it is so easy to get swept up in the swiftness of time's transitions, and in the day-to-day workaday church world and ministry. We can easily miss opportunities that are all around us for sharing the Gospel, and helping others to: Hold to His hand, God's unchanging hand. Hold to His hand, God's unchanging hand. Build your hopes on things eternal. Hold to God's unchanging hand. After all, our days are going by two at a time!

Blessings to you,

Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor

January 24, 2022

Steady As She Goes

Habakkuk 3:17-20 (NASB)
17 Even if the fig tree does not blossom,
And there is no fruit on the vines,
If the yield of the olive fails,
And the fields produce no food,
Even if the flock disappears from the fold,
And there are no cattle in the stalls,
18 Yet I will triumph in the Lord,
I will rejoice in the God of my salvation.
19 The Lord God is my strength,
And He has made my feet like deers feet,
And has me walk on my high places.

My first pastoral assignment in Pittsburgh was a very difficult but highly instructive time for me. There were some very challenging days as I was daily learning the hard way what I didnt know about being a pastor. During a particularly challenging time, I must have been wearing the weight of it on my face and all over my countenance. One of the dear members of the church, a man named Sylvester Johnson, lovingly nicknamed "Brother Bus" said something that helped me immensely that day and beyond. He simply said, accented with his never-ending and loving smile, "Pastor, steady as she goes!" This military statement referred to instructions given aboard a submarine that might be going through enemy waters, but it was on mission and it had to continue to go ahead even in the presence of the enemy.

Folks, we are in enemy waters. We are on mission. We are going to face more and more challenges as we go forward. Yet, God is still God; He is still on the throne. We still are on the winning side. God knows how to steady us as we go forwards and face what we have to face as His called and appointed leaders. The Prophet Habakkuk prayed a powerful prayer at the end of his prophecy amid some very difficult times. The end of that prayer is above. I am particularly impacted by verse 19, "The Lord God is my strength, and He has made my feet like deers feet, and he has me walk on my high places." Dear friends, He is the same God for us as He was for Habakkuk. He is our strength, and He will make us to have steady feet to walk even in the high places where the footing is not as good for the faithless.

I want to encourage you to keep walking with the Lord in your ministry. Steady as she goes because the Lord is on your side. He will keep you and bless the ministry into which He has placed you.

May the Lord bless and keep us all,

Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor

January 17, 2022

got faith?

You Want Us to Drink What?!

It may not be an exaggeration to say that you have probably heard the story of Jesus's first miracle a hundred times or more. The wedding at Cana. Water turned into wine. Saving the best for last. This is such a well-known story that it has been turned into a billboard: the question "Got faith?" plays on the "Got milk?" marketing trend from the 1990s, and the billboard pairs those words with the image of a faucet pouring water into a wine glass. As soon as the water reaches the glass, it has turned into wine.

Recently, I read this passage (John 2:1-11) once again with a group of friends. This time, one detail grabbed my attention which I don't think I had noticed before:

The six huge jars, right? John notes that they were "the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing." In other words, the liquid inside them was never intended to be ingested by anyone. The water was for external purposes only: washing hands, arms, perhaps faces and necks.

Can you imagine how dirty that water would have been? But Jesus tells people to drink that stuff. All grossness aside, something remarkable occured to me: Instead of using the water for an external washing, Jesus wants to use the wine for internal transformation. Instead of cleanliness in outward appearances, Jesus wants people to experience internal purification.

I shared that reflection with my friends during our time of discussion. The very next person who spoke commented on the same detail, but in a different way: she noticed that Jesus was repurposing an old Jewish religious ritual. Jesus was inviting people to let go of how those ceremonial jars had always been used. Jesus was asking people to step into the present work of what he was doing right then and there, instead of relying on traditions and rituals of the past.

That idea rang true for me, as well. Remember Jesus saying something about new wine and old wineskins?

It's interesting to me that the "Got faith?" billboard refers to this miracle, even though faith is not mentioned in John 2:1-11. Faith doesn't seem to be important in the story at all, except perhaps in Mary's response to the shortage of wine.

If we reduce a passage of scripture to a simple billboard or bumper sticker slogan, we risk missing the richness of what God is communicating to us through scripture.

Let's keep reading scripture, listening for God's voice, and discussing what we hear with each other!

Rev. Dr. David Aukerman, Pastor, Mount Haley Church of God, Midland, Michigan

January 10, 2022

An Urgent Call to Prayer

Psalm 34:18-19 (NASB)
18The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. 19 The afflictions of the righteous are many, but the Lord rescues him from them all.

Many years ago a dear sister in my home church in Akron, Ohio, Sister Bernice Burke, fell down her basement stairs and broke her neck. For months she rehabbed, but never fully recovered from her injuries. Eventually she made it back to church in a wheelchair, but her faith and her testimony remained passionately strong. Her focus scripture was that listed above. Specifically she used to quote frequently, "Many are the afflictions of the righteous, but the Lord delivers them out of them all." Her deliverance was made perfect when the Lord brought her home to be with Him.

Although we have hung a new calendar on our walls, or have seen it changed on our phones and tablets, we are still dealing with the challenges that 2021 and 2020 brought us with the COVID-19 and all of its variants. Regardless of your political leanings, views on vaccines, masks, booster shots, social distancing, etc., we have been impacted in incredible ways because of it. It has caused many of our congregations to be hit by illness and death. It has caused continued disruptions to services and events. It has really been hard on so many. On top of that, other illnesses have been very difficult for us, leading to several people within our state to deal with the loss of loved ones.

During December, our State Pastor Emeritus, Rev. Dr. Bill Jones, shared a tribute to two great long-term leaders in Michigan and the Church of God, Rev. Dr. Gerald Nevitt and Rev. Bill Miller. In December, we lost two other key leaders within the Church of God in Michigan. On December 22, Rev. Paul Pakizer, the Senior Pastor of the Riverside Park Church of God in Livonia, passed away from COVID-19. His Memorial Service will be on February 13. On December 27, Pamela Lynn Baker, the wife of Rev. Carl Baker, the Associate Pastor of the New Creation Church of God in Flint passed away. Her Spirit-filled Memorial service was this past Friday. These were two very dedicated and beloved servants of the Lord, both of whom made a big difference in their congregations.

I have been deeply saddened to hear today, January 9, that Rev. Jerry Webb, having just retired as the Senior Pastor of Hope Crossing Church in Sterling Heights, passed away. As I write, some of our other pastors are recovering from bouts of COVID-19, and some of the key leaders of other congregations are dealing with sickness. It is so crucial that we be a united people who are determined to cry out to the Lord for His delivering, healing power to sweep over us, on us, through us, and around us. It's well past time that we stop fussing and fighting over political positions, rhetoric, and conspiracy theories. It's time to pray, pray, pray! It's time to seek God for His help because lives depend on it. Please let us know whom we can pray for and how we can pray for you and your congregations. We will share that among us, and in one accord take it to the Lord in prayer.

May the Lord bless and keep us all,

Rev. Mark K. Richardson, State Pastor