2020

JANUARY FROM OUR PASTORS

Dedicating Ourselves to God

As we think of firsts and new things, a Bible story comes to mind — the presentation of the baby Jesus at the temple (Luke 2:22-24). Before Mary and Joseph get too far along into rearing Jesus as their son, they do something first. In this Scripture, Mary and Joesph bring their infant son to the temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the law which said that after a time of purification for the mother following childbirth, the parents and child were to go to the temple to offer a sacrifice to the Lord (Leviticus 12). A reason for this is that although the birth of a child signals blessing and joy, it also reminds us of the curse associated with pain in childbirth and the sin passed on from parents to child ever since the fall (Genesis 3:16). 

Mary and Joseph obeyed God’s command to offer a sacrifice that day, but they also obeyed another command of the Lord — that every firstborn male was to be dedicated to Him. Jesus represented Mary and Joseph’s firstborn son (Luke 2:7). In requiring that the firstborn be dedicated to Him, God was calling to the people’s memory the great act of deliverance He performed for them. When God struck down the firstborn of Egypt, God preserved the firstborn of Israel, not because of their own merit (Deut. 9:6), but by the blood of the lamb that they placed over the doorposts. Henceforth, God asked Israel to set aside all the firstborn males, human and animal, to the Lord as “a sign on your hand and a symbol on your forehead that the Lord brought us out of Egypt with His mighty hand” (Exodus 13:16). Dedicating the firsts of their dear possessions to the Lord reminded the people of what God had done for them. 

In this act of dedication, the parents relinquished ownership of their child. The child belonged to the Lord for His service. But even here, God was gracious. He appointed the descendants of the tribe of Levi to serve as His servants in the temple in place of the firstborn sons. After symbolically dedicating their child to the Lord, parents could redeem their child — in other words reclaim them — into their household again by paying a redemption price of five shekels to the priests (Numbers 18:16). In the new covenant established through the death and resurrection of Jesus, God doesn’t require us to perform these rituals any longer. They remain in Scripture, however, as a continual reminder of what God has done. 

As we start the new year, many of our resolutions center around us. They deal with self improvement, which isn’t a bad thing altogether — eating healthier, getting more sleep, watching less TV are good things for us. But if that is where our resolutions stop, then we are forgetting the greater things to which God has called us. God says that we are a “chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness and into His wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9). God redeemed us with His sacred blood not so that we could serve ourselves but so that we could serve Him. He has saved us from any empty way of life and given us a life-giving relationship with Him. How can we share that with others? How can we be Christ’s representative in someone else’s life? How can we give more of ourselves to God and less to the things of the world? This would truly be a new year’s resolution for us. 

Just as Mary and Joseph dedicated this new life in their arms to God, this new year let us resolve to dedicate ourselves to God’s service, to the God who has done so much for us and has loved us with an everlasting love. He deserves our best. 

Amen

Thanks be to God. 

Revs. Garritt and Sanette Fleming

2019

DECEMBER FROM OUR PASTORS

ADVENT

The advent of something means that it is finally here. For instance, you might be waiting for the advent of the flying car, though I wouldn’t hold my breath for that one. Besides, we think we are still some years away from living like the Jetsons. While flying cars would be lovely, the noun advent is used for the introduction of something important. And, I must confess that flying cars pale in comparison to the importance of the Advent of Christ’s first coming and second coming. 

While Christmas is one of our favorite times of the year and we go all out in our decor and table settings and we decorate well in advance, Advent is sacred to us. Advent is what sets the atmosphere for what we celebrate as the Christmas season or the “Christmas spirit.” Think about it this way: The wisemen didn’t find baby Jesus overnight and neither did the shepherds. From the moment the star and angel appeared, the wisemen and shepherds used the scriptures, specifically the Old Testament prophesies, to authenticate the events and the miracles that were happening around them. Advent began— the time of the Messiah was finally here. Days and weeks passed before the wisemen and the shepherds were able to visit Jesus, but they were excited and began celebrating, rejoicing that the Messiah was finally here; the Messiah’s time had come. Hence also the reason why the Christian year begins anew on the first day of advent and not on January 1. 

In addition to our decor we have adopted a family tradition, an advent calendar. We are not talking about the advent calendar that has been commercialized with candy in the pockets. We chose to make our own Advent calendar. In each pocket for every day in advent, we have scriptures to read together as a family, prayer requests, and of course a little sweet treat. It’s important to prepare for and celebrate the Time of our Messiah. 

How will you prepare to celebrate what God has already done in sending the Messiah? How will you prepare for the second advent using the first as an example that God is a God of His word? 

2019

SEPTEMBER FROM OUR PASTORS

Getting Back on Track With God

By the time you read this, you will have without a doubt dropped off your child at the bus stop four or five times already, picked him or her up from soccer, football, cheerleading, or band practice several times, and packed a few lunches. If you aren’t a parent of a child in school, maybe you help with some of the running around, or maybe you’ve noticed how traffic has gotten a little busier on your way to work. Maybe you’ve heard the sound of whistles or snare drums from your back yard. Whether you are in school or not, back-to-school affects all of us. We’re entering — indeed have entered — the season of busyness once again. 

Just as January marks the start of the new year, the end of August into September marks a change in the seasons of our life. It is the start of something new. We’re turning the page onto the next chapter, and as we turn that page and embark into the new, God grants us the opportunity to start on the right foot and get back on the right path. Perhaps you’ve wandered away a little bit. Well, today is the day you can get right with God again. Today is the day you can ask God to realign you with the purpose for which He has redeemed you — to serve Him and give Him glory. Today is the day in which you can ask God where the good way is so you may walk in it find rest for your soul.

We can do a few things to help us get back on track with God. First is giving thanks. When we give God thanks, we remind our souls that God is the giver and that everything we have is thanks to the Him. As Jesus says, “apart from Me, you can do nothing.” (John 15:5) One of the first acts of humankind recorded in the Bible is the giving of an offering (Genesis 4). In particular, Abel gave to God the fat portions of the firstborn of his flock. This was good meat from the very first animals to be born in his flock. Abel drew near in his heart to God to give Him thanks. As we turn that page to the start of the new season of life, we too can draw near to God as we give Him a piece of our time, our energy, and our resources as a thank you. In our offering, we move closer to our Father and we embrace Him with a hug and thank Him for all He has done for us. 

At the start of something new, there are usually tasks to be done, forms to be filled out, questions to be answered, and problems to be addressed. It can feel like we have no time to do anything but to get to work. To stop to do anything, especially to spend time with God, can seem crazy in the moment. But this is the model that God gives us. Before He embarked on His mission to preach the Gospel, Jesus turned to God in prayer (Mark 1:35-39). Likewise, at the start of his reign, King Solomon, did not forget God but turned to the Lord to make sacrifices to Him. It was as Solomon drew near to God by giving sacrifices that God drew near to Solomon. In a dream, God said to Solomon, “Ask for whatever you want me to give you.” (1 Kings 3:5). Surprisingly, Solomon did not ask for wealth or the defeat of his enemies, but he asked for wisdom to rule in the right way. He said to God, “But I am only a little child and do not know how to carry out my duties … So give your servant a discerning heart to govern your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of yours?” (1 Kings 3:7,9). Solomon called himself a little child, but he was probably about 20 years old at this time. By calling himself a little child, he acknowledged how little he knew and how much he needed God to complete the tasks ahead of him. This sincere humility and desire for God’s help pleased the Lord, and God gave Solomon the wisdom he needed. Won’t God do the same for us if we ask Him? As we turn the page to the start of this new season, things can seem overwhelming, but if we turn it over to the Lord and ask for His help, He promises to be there for us. 

One last way we can get back on track with God this season is to remind ourselves of our purpose. There are a lot of things that may demand our attention as mentioned above and a lot of things to which we might want to give our attention. But in the midst of it all, God wants us to remember why we are here:  “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). As believers born again into the family of God, the Lord has equipped us with gifts of the Holy Spirit to help, to serve, to teach, to give, to encourage, to lead, to show mercy, and more (Romans 12:6-7). Jesus has rescued us with His blood from an empty way of life so that we may live for Him and make His name known to all. Along with our prayer for wisdom each day should be the prayer, “Lord Jesus, how can I serve you today?” 

As we begin this fall, let us take time to thank God each day, to pray for His help and direction, and to pray for Him to renew in us our purpose as His servants. Let us get back on track with Jesus and His plan for our lives. To Him be the glory, both now and forever. Amen!

In His Service, 

Pastors Garritt and Sanette 

2019

AUGUST FROM OUR PASTORS

Giving Thanks for Hardship

“For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads; we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.” (Psalm 66:10-12)

Psalm 66 begins as prayer of praise. “Say to God, ‘How awesome are your deeds!’” (verse 3). “Come and see what God has done, His awesome deeds for mankind!” (verse 5). What are these deeds? Verse 6:  “He turned the sea into dry land, they passed through the waters on foot…He has preserved our lives and kept our feet from slipping.” (verses 6,9). But interspersed with an expression of thanks and praise to God for His wonderworking and deliverance, we find these verses “For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs.” These hardly seem like pleasant experiences and reasons for giving God thanks. Do I wake up and give God thanks for the pain in my back? Do I thank God for the disappointment I feel when the thing I hoped for doesn’t happen? 

Hardship, trials, pain are not fun things to go through, and no, they are not always caused by God. In the book of Genesis, Joseph finds himself bruised and abandoned in a well not because God desired him to go through suffering, but because Joseph’s brothers, filled with jealousy, wanted to get rid of him (Genesis 37:19). 

But sometimes the burdens on our backs are from God. Not only are they sometimes from God, but we might also consider them a gift of God. They are God’s method for preserving us, protecting us, and making us more like Him. The Bible refers to these kinds of hardships employed by God as discipline:  “God disciplines us for our good, in order that we may share in His holiness. No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it.” (Hebrews 12:10b-11). As the verses say, no discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. A broken foot, a sickness, a separation from family or friends — none of these things seem good at the time. But when the wound begins to heal, when relationships begin to be restored and we begin to see how God has shaped and sculpted our character, as we reflect on the lessons we’ve learned, we can see that God was loving us all the way through that trial. In fact, He was loving us more than if had He done nothing, more than if He had not stepped in to do His work. His discipline in itself was an act of love. 

In the face of trials, let us not give up hope, but let us turn to God in obedience and faith. And let us be encouraged by God’s words:  “Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, and faithful in prayer.” (Romans 12:12)

In Jesus’ Love,

Pastors Garritt and Sanette 

2019

JULY FROM OUR PASTORS

STRENGTH THROUGH PRAYER

Where does his strength come from? We might wonder this about Jesus as we study His encounters with the Pharisees in chapters five and six of the Gospel of Luke. In these chapters, the Pharisees try to pin down Jesus with argument after argument. First they challenge Jesus for eating with sinners and tax collectors (Luke 5:30). Then they question Him about what they perceive to be His and His disciples’ lack of spiritual discipline (5:33). Next they criticize Him for working on the Sabbath, first by plucking grains (6:2) and then by healing a sick man (6:11). It’s one battle after another. Even though Jesus wins these battles, we are left wondering, “What is He going to do the next time? How long can He keep going?”

How long can He keep it up? Just as Jesus was fully God, He was “fully human in every way” (Hebrews 2:17). Jesus “suffered when He was tempted” (Hebrews 2:18). And so if Jesus suffered in the experience of temptation, as He was tempted by the devil on the mountaintop (Luke 4:1-13), then He also must have felt beaten down and fatigued at times by the relentless opposition He received from the Pharisees and others who opposed God’s message. “You unbelieving and perverse generation. How long shall I stay with you?” (Matthew 17:17). Jesus spoke these words as yet again someone didn’t believe in the power of God. Jesus did get tired and weary in His labor for God. 

How did He do it? How did He keep going? Where did His strength come from? After the repeated jabs and punches from the Pharisees as outlined above, we read this:  “And it came to pass, in those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray and spent the night praying to God” (Luke 6:12). Yes, He may have been weary, but Jesus did not give up hope. To get the strength He needed — to be replenished — He turned to His Father in prayer. It had been several rounds in the ring with the Pharisees, and so to get His strength back, Jesus spent several rounds in prayer with the Lord. After His time in prayer, Jesus came back refreshed and refilled to serve God. He started by naming the twelve disciples (6:12-16) and then by preaching a sermon in which, among other things, He encouraged the disciples to take heart when they are being persecuted, because great is their reward in heaven (6:23). 

We see how not just here but in other instances, prayer is Jesus’ go-to for a recharge. He spends an evening healing a village of people; the next morning where is He? — in prayer (Mark 1:35). After feeding the five thousand, Jesus dismisses the crowd, and what happens next? He goes “on a mountainside by Himself to pray” (Matt. 14:23). Just before He goes to the cross, where does He go? He goes out “as usual to the Mount of Olives.” To do what? To pray (Luke 22:39). 

It’s at the Mount of Olives that Jesus reveals a secret about prayer. He says to the disciples:  “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation” (Matt. 26:41). There are very real pressures of fatigue and weariness that will come and that will tempt us to give-in and give-up. But those things are a signal to us that we need prayer more than ever. Prayer is the antidote. 

It is during Jesus’ prayer that an angel comes to give Him strength (Luke 22:43). God ministers to us through the time we spend with Him in prayer, giving us answers, strength, direction, help, and deliverance. 

Sometimes we get to the end of the day or the end of the week and say, “I just need to decompress.” “I need to lie down.” “I need to watch some TV.” All of that is OK. We need to stop sometimes and separate from our stress. But to really make it through, to really keep on going, to truly be restored, we need something more:  we need time with God. We need time in prayer. 

This month, do not forsake Jesus’ invitation to you come away with Him and pray. In prayer, He will restore you, help you, and give you the strength you need. Amen.