Pastor’s Corner – April 2019

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” — Matt. 11:28-30 THE MESSAGE

Out of Rhythm

About 5 years ago, my kids and I were swimming at a friend’s house and I found I couldn’t catch my breath.  Even sitting still, I was breathing heavily and my heart was racing.  I had no idea what was going on.  Erring on the side of caution, my wife took me to the ER and we found out my heart was in atrial fibrillation.  The ER staff took great care of me, and a few hours later we were on our way home.  A couple of years later, my family went to Sliding Rock in North Carolina (pictured).  I’ve never experienced water as cold as that.  Hitting that water was such a shock that it not only knocked the wind out of me, it sent my heart into a.fib a second time. Just like the first time, I couldn’t catch my breath even standing still and my heart was racing.  Having experienced it before, I knew immediately what the problem was. This trip to the ER resulted in an overnight stay, and somewhere around 15 hours later, my heart returned to normal rhythm on its own.  Fortunately, other than these two instances, I have a very healthy heart and haven’t had any further issues.  Some folks go into a.fib and aren’t aware of what’s going on for several days.  When your heart gets out of rhythm, it affects everything else.  

Life Arrhythmia

I think many of us spend our lives in a kind of “life arrhythmia.”  Our lives are out of rhythm and we often don’t even realize it.  We live and move and work in something of a semi-frenzy, desperately trying to keep up just enough to catch our breath every now and then.  We yearn for rest, but find that even in the moments of rest (whether a couple of hours or a week of vacation), we still can’t catch our breath.  Our souls weren’t meant to live like this, and when we spend our lives out of rhythm, it affects everything else. Sometimes we know what the problem is; often we don’t. If we continue to try to force ourselves to live according to the rhythm of the world around us, we’ll never get in sync and will be constantly racing to keep up.  We need to look for a different way.

The Unforced Rhythms of Grace

That different way is the way of Jesus and of grace.  This is the natural rhythm in which we were created “to live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28).  It is a rhythm that enables us, as the passage above says, to find true rest.  Following the unforced rhythms of grace isn’t about another burden, or rule, or expectation placed upon us, but rather finding ourselves synchronized with Christ in such a way that we are able to live freely and lightly regardless of the rhythm of the world around us.  A part of our goal in our worship services is to provide an opportunity to get out of the frenetic pace of our lives in order to connect with the unforced rhythms of the grace of Jesus Christ, if only for a few moments.  Initially it feels discordant, even boring.  But as we take the time to settle into the moment, we begin to feel the new rhythm and experience the rest and freedom Christ offers.
 
As we continue to move through this season of Lent and prepare for the joyous celebration of Easter, may you hear the gentle invitation of Jesus to ‘walk with Him and work with Him — watch how He does it.  Learn the unforced rhythms of grace’ and find yourself living freely and lightly.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – March 2019

“Cast your cares on the LORD and he will sustain you;
he will never let the righteous fall.” — Psalm 55:22
 

Teach Us To Pray

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been exploring the Lord’s Prayer, asking Jesus to do the very thing He did for the disciples: “Lord, teach us to pray” (Luke 11:1). We have seen that this somewhat simple and very well-known prayer is loaded with depth and meaning. The Lord’s Prayer is incredibly profound, especially considering how succinct it is, and it certainly provides an excellent template for our prayers, let alone making it part of our daily prayer routine.
 

More Than Knowing How

But knowing “how” doesn’t always get us to the point of actually “doing.” We all know how to eat well, but still eat too many French fries. We all know how to exercise, but we still watch too much TV. Over time, we get stuck in routines and habits that unintentionally create hurdles and obstacles that keep us from doing what we know we ought to do. Or we find ourselves facing a difficult situation (like a large pizza) that keeps us from doing what we know we ought to do (not eat an entire large pizza). There comes a time when we need to hit a “reset” button and start over. Cultivating a habit and lifestyle of prayer is no different. It’s far too easy to allow the busy-ness and stress of our daily lives to fill our schedules, leaving us with the feeling that we’re too busy to pray. Or we run into a situation where we really have no idea how to lift up in prayer.
 

A Spiritual “Reset” Button

That’s one of the reasons why Lent is one of my favorite seasons of the liturgical year. It’s an opportunity to hit that spiritual “reset” button. Lent is an Old English word that means “springtime.” Spring is a season where we clean up the muck of the past year to prepare our yards for new growth and to freshen and straighten our homes. Spiritually, the season of Lent provides the same opportunity. It’s an opportunity to restart some old habits that have been lost or begin new habits out of a desire to clean the spiritual muck out of our hearts and souls to make room for the new spiritual growth the Holy Spirit has in store for us. We take advantage of this season by setting aside some bad habits that are keeping us from praying, or starting new habits to enable us to pray more effectively.
On Sundays during Lent, we’ll use the prayer book of the Hebrews, the Psalms, as our guide to praying through some of the more challenging things that come up in our lives. Over the course of this series, we’ll look at the problem of prayer, how to approach the Inapproachable, how to pray when we’ve done wrong, how to cultivate a trust that never stops, how to pray when there is no hope, and what rejoicing really looks like.
 
May this season of Lent and our time spent in the Psalms nurture and encourage your soul.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Hope Springs Eternal

Tomorrow is March 1st.  Here in Central Virginia, there’s a Winter Weather Advisory for tonight and talk of a couple of possible snowstorms both early and late next week. Next Wednesday is Ash Wednesday, the beginning of the liturgical season of Lent.  This is almost as late as Ash Wednesday can be, so usually by this time we’re a few weeks into Lent and already looking forward to Holy Week and Easter Sunday.  Lent is an Old English word that means “springtime.”  Apparently, spring is taking it’s sweet time coming this year.
 
I’ve found that it doesn’t take much to give me hope. Did the sun come out in February?  Time to break out the shorts and t-shirts, even if the temperature is in the 30s and there’s snow in the forecast.  Did the Redskins score a touchdown?  Pretty sure they’re going to the Super Bowl.  Did the Cardinals win a spring training game?  The World Series is a lock.  I could go on, but I think you get the picture.
 
There’s a great story in the Bible about this kind of ridiculous hope.  Israel has been locked in a nasty drought for about three years.  Elijah has just won an incredible victory over Ahab and the prophets of Ba’al, and then this happens:
And Elijah said to Ahab, “Go, eat and drink, for there is the sound of a heavy rain.” So Ahab went off to eat and drink, but Elijah climbed to the top of Carmel, bent down to the ground and put his face between his knees.
 
“Go and look toward the sea,” he told his servant. And he went up and looked.
 
“There is nothing there,” he said.
 
Seven times Elijah said, “Go back.”
 
The seventh time the servant reported, “A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising from the sea.”
 
So Elijah said, “Go and tell Ahab, ‘Hitch up your chariot and go down before the rain stops you.’” (1 Kings 18:41–44)
 
I wonder how many times over those three years of drought had folks looked and seen a cloud, the size of a man’s fist, on the horizon and wondered if this might be the cloud that brings the rain.  But no rain came.  And I wonder how the servant felt being told to go look seven different times.  But then there is a cloud, and Elijah knows that the rain is coming – torrents of rain, in fact (1 Kings 18:45-46).  I am sure that Ahab, Elijah’s servant and everyone else thought Elijah’s hope was ridiculous.
 
Of course, God had already told Elijah that the rain was coming, so his ridiculous hope was grounded in knowledge and trust (1 Kings 18:1).  But is our hope any less so?  Far from it.  Well, hoping the Redskins will go to the Super Bowl because they score a touchdown…yeah, that’s ridiculous.  But seeing a new crocus plant breaking through the snow and being hopeful for spring?  That’s a hope grounded in knowledge and trust.  As the prophet Jeremiah writes,
Because of the LORD’S great love we are not consumed, for his compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. I say to myself, “The LORD is my portion; therefore I will wait for him.” The LORD is good to those whose hope is in him, to the one who seeks him; it is good to wait quietly for the salvation of the LORD. (Lam. 3:22–26)
 
Much like feeling a warm breath of wind on an otherwise cold winter day, or seeing the tulips beginning to break forth out of the ground, or the leaf buds on the trees, it is right and good to wait and hope for the salvation of the Lord.  This is the way God often works.  Spring has started long before we see any signs of it, even while everything we see is locked in the frozen cold of winter.
 
You may find yourself yearning for spring in your life, but locked in the frozen cold of depression, or the hurts of life, or a mess that maybe you had nothing to do with but swallowed you up anyway.  Right now, trying to hold on to hope might seem ridiculous to you.  But I promise, God is at work in ways you can not yet see and spring is coming.  “See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up; do you not perceive it?” (Isaiah 43:18)  Don’t give up hoping and trusting in the Lord – He hasn’t given up on saving and healing you.
 

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What 21st-Century Christians Can Learn From The Early Church – A Lent 2019 Table Talk Series

Those who study and observe the ebb and flow of culture say that we are no longer a “post-Christian” culture but have actually returned to a “pre-Christian” state.  If that is true, we would do well to take a closer look at the Early Church and see what we can learn in order to more faithfully live and effectively share the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
 
Table Talk meets each Wednesday from 5:30-6:45pm.
 
Here’s what each week of this series will focus on:
 

March 13: “How the Early Church Was Made”

Acts gives us the “formula” for how the early church was made: the ministry of prayer and the power of the Holy Spirit. This first session will look at God’s blueprint for the church as laid out in scripture and illustrated in the first century. In matters as diverse as apostolic authority, church organization and discipline, and the confession of doctrine through creeds and hymns, we’ll explore how the “apostolic” and “sub apostolic” church was established. Whether it’s making a church, growing a church, or running a church, the divine formula is still the same today—prayer and the Holy Spirit.
 

March 20: “Going, Loving, Dying: The Missionary Church in Action”

The early church was a missionary church. It was a church that went to the ends of the earth, just as Jesus had commanded. The early church was also known for its love. In a groundbreaking study in 1996, American sociologist Rodney Stark argued that the early church grew in direct proportion to its love for others. Finally, the church evangelized by dying—that is, through the ultimate witness of martyrdom. Just as Jesus had commanded, the first believers “took up their cross” and followed Him. Christians today have been called to the same missionary task of going, loving, and dying to self.
 

March 27: “Lessons from the Catacombs”

Were you taught that the catacombs were places of refuge in times of persecution? Did you learn that the fish symbol was a secret message? Well, think again! There are many persistent myths about the catacombs. These burial places did, in fact, serve an important purpose in the early church—but it’s not entirely what you think. This session will explore the surprisingly rich world of catacomb art that will model for us a dynamic way of reading and applying scripture as we live for Christ in an ungodly world. The message of the catacombs is the message of Easter: Christ has triumphed over death!
 

April 3: “Contending for the Faith: Heresy and Orthodoxy”

The battle over “sound doctrine” was the defining challenge of the early church. To this day, we recite creeds that were formulated in direct response to false teachings. Docetism, gnosticism, Arianism—these heresies struck at the very heart of the gospel by redefining the person and work of Jesus Christ. In this session, we’ll not only explore these heresies in their historical setting; we’ll also see that these ancient heresies continue to rear their ugly head in the contemporary church in America. Christians today, no less than the earliest believers, have been called to contend earnestly for the faith.
 

April 10: “Constantine: The Church’s Worst Nightmare?”

On the evening of October 27, 312, Constantine was standing near the Milvian Bridge in Rome. As armies positioned themselves for a decisive battle, the emperor saw a vision that forever changed his life, the Christian Church, and the western world. But did he really see a vision? To this day, historians debate the facts and the significance of what happened—but the results were unmistakable. Constantine dramatically “converted” to Christianity and the status of the western church would never be the same. This session will explore what happens when the church makes common cause with politics.
 

April 17: “The Death Throes of Paganism”

By the end of the Roman period, Christianity had triumphed over paganism in Europe. Temples and idols were destroyed. Pagan institutions were shut down. Profane literature was censored and burned. But paganism proved to be remarkably resilient. The goddess Venus was repackaged as the Virgin Mary. Devotion to the pantheon of gods was replaced by prayers to the saints. This session will explore how Christians of every age must be vigilant in defending the purity of the church. This is particularly true for 21st-century Christians, who find themselves living in an increasingly neo-pagan society.

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Pastor’s Corner – February 2019

If you give a man a fish he is hungry again in an hour. If you teach him to catch a fish you do him a good turn. — English proverb
 
But Jesus answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.’” — Matthew 4:4
 
“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” — 2 Timothy 3:16–17
 

Learning to Study the Scriptures

One of the core beliefs we hold as Christians is the authority and importance of the Bible. We believe it is divinely inspired, without error and fully authoritative for us and our lives. We also believe that Christians should regularly study and learn from the Bible. But much of how we do that is through sermons and Sunday school lessons, which usually involve someone (the preacher, for example) reading a passage, telling us (the congregation) what it means, and then how to apply it to our lives. It is, in many respects, a passive learning experience – knowledge and information is given to us to receive and absorb, and hopefully live. But we all learn best by doing ourselves, rather than someone doing the work for us (see the English proverb above).
 

Getting SOAPy

On Sunday evenings, the youth have started studying the books of the Bible. In doing so, we’re seeking to teach them not simply what the Bible says and means, but more importantly how to study the Bible for themselves. I think the technique we’re teaching them might be of benefit to you, particularly if you’ve struggled with how to study the Bible on your own. The method we’re teaching is an acronym called SOAPScripture, Observation, Application and Prayer. Here’s how it works:
 

Scripture

The first step is to identify a Scripture passage for study. It is generally good to Study one or two paragraphs – or about 6-10 verses — at a time. After selecting a passage, it is good to identify what Testament you are in (before or after Christ’s birth), and what kind of literature you are reading (history, law, prophets, poetry, gospel, letters). It is helpful to copy the passage or key verses into a journal, as this increases comprehension and sets the stage for learning. Remember: You can Google any book of the Bible for answers to simple questions about that book.
 

Observation

Observation is taking time to look at the passage and ask questions to learn what it is saying. What are the commands to obey or examples to follow? What are the promises to claim? What does it teach me about God, Jesus, or the Holy Spirit? Take time to identify questions you may have that will lead to additional study. Write your observations and questions in your journal. Consider using a Bible handbook or simple commentary for further study.
 

Application

Do not stop with observations; take time to make applications. Ask: How will this truth change me or my family? Where do I fall short and who can help me? What will I change in my attitudes, relationships, and behaviors? What must I do today as a result of this study? How am I strengthened and encouraged by this passage? Record your applications in your journal.
 

Prayer

Conclude your Bible study with prayer. Ask God to help you apply the passage to life. Where do you need God’s help or forgiveness? What are you thankful for in this passage of Scripture? Write the answers to these questions in your journal.
 
Learning to study the Bible is not difficult, but it takes practice and commitment. Like any good habit, the benefits of practicing regular Bible study, by yourself and in groups, make the effort of cultivating it worthwhile. It is my prayer that using a little SOAP in your study of the Bible will help you know God’s Word and its importance for your life.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – November 2018

The End of the Year Is Upon Us

The end of the year is here! Perhaps you’re wondering if I mixed my months up – a distinct possibility! But no, I’m just looking at a different calendar. While the Gregorian calendar (the one we use on a daily basis) has two months left, the Christian calendar is drawing to a close.
 

The Spiritual Celebration of The King

The seventh angel sounded his trumpet, and there were loud voices in heaven, which said: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and he will reign for ever and ever.” (Revelation 11:15)
Toward the end of this month the longest season of the Christian Calendar (called “Ordinary Time”) comes to a close. Ordinary Time is a season devoted to giving space to consider all the implications of God’s salvation in Jesus Christ for our day by day, week-in, week-out lives. But as the season moves on, and the chaos of the world presses in, we can begin to wonder if God is even at work any more. And so Ordinary Time ends with Christ the King Sunday (this year, November 25), the last Sunday before Advent and a reminder that Jesus is king, that all the world is subject to him, that the Kingdom of God is already at hand, and that one day soon He will come back to consummate His kingdom and His rule. The world may seem to be spiraling into chaos, but Jesus is still sovereign and holds it all in His hands. We may not understand much of what is happening, but we can trust that Jesus does.
 

A Secular Season of Gratitude

But what fascinates me about these calendars is how the Spirit moves in both sacred and secular seasons. I don’t imagine that those who suggested we celebrate Thanksgiving in November did so with any thought for the Christian calendar, but there are few ways better to celebrate the end of the Christian year than by focusing on being grateful for the kingship of Jesus Christ as well as for all that we have and are. Perhaps that’s one of the problems with the rampant anger and angst in our culture today – we focus too much on our discontent and not enough on being grateful for what God has provided for us. As Paul writes to the Colossians:
“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God.” (Colossians 3:16)
 
May God bless each of us as we celebrate not just all we have to be grateful for, but also that ultimately we can be thankful because Jesus is King and we can trust in Him!
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – September 2018

For [the sacraments] are visible signs and seals of an inward and invisible thing, by means whereof God worketh in us by the power of the Holy Ghost.
– Belgic Confession Article 33
 

A New Sign…

Have you noticed there’s a new sign on the front of the church? It’s kind of hard to miss. Read more…

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60th Birthday Celebration!

Join us on Sunday, July 15 as we celebrate 60 years of experiencing and sharing God’s love to transform our homes, communities and world!  We’ll have a covered dish luncheon immediately following worship.  In addition to fantastic food and fellowship, we’ll take some time to look back at how God has worked in and through Northminster over the past 60 years and also look ahead to dream about how we anticipate God continuing to work in the years to come.  We look forward to seeing you there!

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Pastor’s Corner – April 2018

Easter is HERE!

The forty days of spiritual house-cleaning has come to a glorious conclusion! Springtime for our souls, and in our lives, has finally arrived! All that kept us from God – our sinfulness, our insecurities, our doubts and so much more – has been swept away through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The wonder of this is more than can be comprehended in a day, and so with Easter Sunday we also begin the fifty day season of Easter. “The Easter season is a time to let the implications of the resurrection sink in deeper, inviting us to realign our worldview and conform our living to the reality that we have been raised with Christ to new life” (Philip Reinders, Seeking God’s Face pg 329).

The Centrality of the Atonement

But that is the crux of our modern struggle – realigning our worldview and conforming our lives to the reality of new life in Christ through his sacrifice on the cross. In short, we struggle to believe and accept the doctrine of the Atonement – so much so that many Christians have rejected it outright. But as Emil Brunner once wrote, the atonement “is the Christian religion itself; it is the main point; it is not something alongside of the center, it is the substance and kernel, not the husk.” To that end, on Sunday mornings through the season of Easter, we will seek to explore and unpack the wonder and glory of the atonement in order to “realign our worldview and conform our living” to our new life in Christ.

Tiptoeing Through the TULIPs

 
As Presbyterians, we are a part of a “stream” of Christianity known as Reformed Theology, which is itself heavily inspired by the writings and teachings of John Calvin. If you want to kill the mood at a party, just casually mention you’re a “Calvinist.” Most people view Calvin and the theology named after him with something of a stuffy, negative intellectual light. But nothing could be further from the truth. In fact, Calvin and his theology is very passionate and full of life and Spirit, as evidenced by his logo and slogan, pictured at right. We hope you’ll consider joining us for Table Talk on Wednesday evenings beginning at 5:30 on April 11 as we “tiptoe through the TULIPs” and see just what Calvin taught and what it means for us today.
 

 

 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – March 2018

6You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. 7Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 8But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. — Romans 5:6–8
 

Too Good to be True?

On Sunday mornings the past few weeks we’ve been exploring the idea of Lent as an opportunity for us to have “Springtime for our Soul” (you can get caught up on that idea by reading last month’s article and listening to the sermons at www.npcmh.com/teaching). One of the central themes running through this series is that God loves us, delights in us, knows us, and desires for us to abide in Him (John 15). For many of us, this idea sounds good in theory, but in reality we suspect too good to be true. There’s no way God could love me that much. In fact, just the other day someone asked me, “Doesn’t God sometimes just turn His love off?” What a fantastic question! And aren’t there times when we all feel that way? Maybe God loves me in general, but he’s sure turned it off lately!
 

God is Love

Thank goodness for the apostles and the Bible! In 1 John 4:8 and again in 16 it says, “God is love.” God is entirely made up of love, so it would be impossible for God to “turn off” His love. If He were to do that, He would cease to exist. Paul writes in Romans 8, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 8:38–39)
 

Yeah, But You Don’t Know…

No, I don’t know. I don’t know what you’ve done, I don’t know what’s in your heart. I don’t know the hurts and wounds you carry. But I know that God does. And I know this: that God loved you this much even before you were saved (see verse 8 at the beginning of this article). And I know that the verses from Romans 8 say that there’s nothing in heaven or on earth that could separate you from His love. How wonderful that God’s amazing love for us doesn’t depend on our believing or accepting it!
 
As the temperature slowly warms up over this month, may the warmth of God’s love saturate your heart and soul as well.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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