November 2021 Pastor’s Corner – Dancing With The Devil

Tell me something, my friend. You ever dance with the devil in the pale moonlight? — The Joker
 
Don’t… tempt me Frodo! I dare not take it. Not even to keep it safe. Understand, Frodo. I would use this ring from a desire to do good… But through me, it would wield a power too great and terrible to imagine. — Gandalf
 
Something’s been nagging at the back of my mind for the past several months, and I thought I’d work through it with you in this space. Sometimes things happen in our lives and culture and we wonder how to think it through biblically, and that’s what I hope to do here.
 
Have you noticed the incredible surge in advertisements for sports betting apps recently? You can hardly watch anything on TV or stream on the internet without being barraged with advertisements for these apps. This has happened because sports betting became legal in Virginia as a result of two bills that passed through the Virginia General Assembly last year.
 
Now a referendum is coming up for Amherst County on the November ballot. Voting “yes” on this referendum will allow pari-mutuel wagering in the county. If it passes, a Rosie’s Gaming Emporium will open in Seminole Plaza. By this point, this should be old news — the amount of money and effort being spent to promote this referendum and change is pretty amazing (that alone should be cause for concern). It’s being presented as a “win-win,” particularly for Madison Heights and Amherst County. Bringing in Rosie’s, we’re told, will jumpstart a much-needed revitalization and transformation of our community.
 
I suspect this isn’t going to work out as we expect. Every time I see an ad for those betting apps or Rosie’s I keep thinking about the quotes at the top of this article. Take the lottery for example. It was supposed to provide a financial windfall for public education. But how has it worked out? The amount the state spends on education has been significantly reduced, a reduction almost directly related to the amount received from the lottery. So instead of a significant increase to education spending, schools have the same amount of money available.
 
This is what happens when you try and dance with the devil. He lets you think you’re leading and makes all sorts of wonderful promises, but it’s always too good to be true. He offers us shortcuts to the things we want, often even the things we need, but never comes through on delivering. Satan even tried the same thing with Jesus, telling him that if Jesus would serve Satan instead of God, then Jesus could accomplish all he came to do without the pain and suffering of the cross. But Jesus didn’t bite, because he knew it wasn’t true (you can read about this in Matthew 4).
 
We, as a church, have committed to being an active part in “transforming our homes, community and the world.” But there’s a key part of the transformation we want to see happen: the power of God. In fact, our purpose statement says that we are “seeking to experience and share God’s love to transform our homes, community and the world” (emphasis added). We want to see the Kingdom of God come so that Amherst County can experience and be transformed by God’s love and grace. There are no shortcuts in this work, and you can’t use the devil’s tools to accomplish it. Jesus said, “How can Satan cast out Satan? If a kingdom is divided against itself, that kingdom cannot stand.” (Mark 3:23–24)
 
Honestly, I am sure Rosie’s might well provide some good for our community and our county. I’m sure you can win some easy cash using those betting apps. However, when the devil comes promising blessing, you can count (I was going to say bet, but the irony stopped me) on there being a catch. As Paul warned the Corinthians, “For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light. So it is no surprise if his servants, also, disguise themselves as servants of righteousness. Their end will correspond to their deeds.” (2 Cor. 11:13–15) There might be some good… there will certainly be more bad that comes from it. Is it really wise and good to promote anything that will surely increase addiction, poverty and family dysfunction — issues that are already running rampant in our area?
 
As the saying goes, “the house always wins.” At the very least, you can count on Rosie’s getting more out of Amherst County than they put into it. There are better ways to revitalize Madison Heights and Amherst County. It might take longer and more work, but it’ll be better for the people and the community in the long run.
 
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world. — 1 Peter 5:8–9)
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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October 2021 Pastor’s Corner – Taste And See

Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!
Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him! — Psalm 34:8
 
Thursdays are becoming something of a problem for me. That’s the day you’ll find The Wandering Donut 2 in the Town & Country Shopping Center, and I am of the opinion that Wandering Donuts are some of the best donuts you can find in the greater Lynchburg metropolitan area (Mama Crocketts are pretty darned good, too). The only thing working in my favor is that I rarely drive past that shopping center — out of sight, (usually) out of mind. The thing about donuts, though, is that they aren’t something you eat to satisfy your hunger; they provide very little nutritional value. The donut is entirely about the experience, about throwing a party for your taste buds, a little sweet something for your sensory system that brings a smile to your face. Talking about a donut doesn’t come close to explaining what makes a good donut so incredibly fantastic; hearing others share their donut stories (like this article) can’t convey the delight that a donut can deliver.
 
I enjoyed my donut this morning (a maple bacon donut, since you asked, which was invented in heaven and brought down to earth by the angels) along side a steaming cup of coffee as I spent time in Scripture and prayer. As my soul was nourished by the Word and the Spirit, and my taste buds were tickled by sugar and bread, I thought of the Psalm quoted above. The life of faith, the journey of walking with Christ, is one that is meant to be experienced and savored. So often we intellectualize and compartmentalize our faith. We talk about it, we are inspired and encouraged by the stories others share of their relationship with God, we even spend time studying our faith and our Bibles. Those are good things to do…but they can’t compare to the actual experience of “taking refuge in the Lord,” of “tasting and seeing that the LORD is good!”
 
In Revelation 10:8-11, the Apostle John is given a scroll by an angel, who says, “Take and eat it; it will make your stomach bitter, but in your mouth it will be sweet as honey.” (Rev. 10:9) We “taste and see” when we live out what we read in the Bible, when we spend time with the Lord in prayer, when we love our neighbor as ourselves, when we love the Lord with all of our heart, mind, body, and strength. Sometimes, that will taste bitter to us, such as when the Word of God or the Holy Spirit convicts us of our sin. Often, it will be as sweet as honey, like when we are overwhelmed anew with the wonder of God’s great love for us. Unlike a donut, any time spent in God’s Word and in prayer, even if we aren’t fully “tasting and seeing” is good for us. It really is a case of anything is better than nothing. But if infinite joy and delight, if “more and better life than you’ve ever dreamed of” (John 10:10, THE MESSAGE) is being offered to us, why wouldn’t we want to experience as much of that as possible?
 
It’s been almost an hour since I partook of that particularly potent pastry, and my taste buds are still smiling. Tasting the joy of the Lord satisfies our soul in a way that is far more rich, true and deep. What is keeping you from tasting and seeing the goodness of your Lord today? How might you experience His lovingkindness more fully this week? If that’s something you’d like help with, reach out and let us know.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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What Is Sunday Night Live?

For the past several years, we have had a strong and healthy youth ministry (grades 6th-12th) meeting on Sunday nights.  But we got to thinking: Why should the teenagers be the only ones to have all the fun?! On Sunday nights we are looking to provide opportunities for everyone in the church to learn more about who Jesus is, grow as disciples of Jesus Christ, and build strong, healthy relationships with each other.  Sunday Night Live provides age- and developmentally-appropriate programming, games and lessons to meet Christians of all ages wherever they may be in their walk with Jesus Christ.
 

Who is Sunday Night Live for?

Sunday Night Live is for anyone who wants to learn more about who Jesus Christ is and the life He offers each of us, and those who want to grow deeper in their relationship with Christ.  Right now, we are offering two programs at Sunday Night Live.  As more people plug in and express interest, we will expand the opportunities accordingly.  If you’re looking for a Sunday Night Live program, but don’t fit in the groups we’re already offering, just ask!
 
F.A.S.T (Fourth, Fifth And Sixth, Seventh Together)
Our late elementary & early middle school group is called FAST and is for all students in 4th through 7th grades.
 
Youth Group 
The late middle school and high school group is called Youth Group (because we’re just creative like that) and is for all students in 8th through 12th grades.
 

When is Sunday Night Live?

Sunday Night Live is (somewhat obviously) every Sunday night, from 6:30-7:45pm.  We will take some Sundays off for holidays and special events.
 

What Happens at Sunday Night Live?

Over the course of the evening, we’ll play games, study the Bible, build relationships with each other, and share the good news of the Gospel of Jesus Christ.  
 

Not Just Sunday Nights, Though

While our “program time” will be on Sunday evenings, we believe that we grow as followers of Christ throughout the week.  A couple of  key components of Sunday Night Live are devotionals for the students to use throughout the week, and emails for parents to help them connect with and grow alongside their students.  We firmly believe that no one has more impact on the life of a student than his or her parents, and we want to come alongside parents as they grow with their children in their relationship with Jesus Christ!
 
Weekly Student Devotionals
Weekly student devotionals can be found by downloading the YouVersion Bible app (it’s free!) from your phone’s App Store.
 
Parent Cue Emails
Parent Cue emails are sent out at the beginning of each series.  Simply let us know you’d like to receive these emails, and we’ll be sure to add you to the list!
 
If you can’t tell, we’re really excited about Sunday Night Live.  Whether you are a regular worshipper at Northminster or not, you and your student are welcome to join us.  If you have questions that we didn’t answer above, be sure to let us know!

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Upcoming Event Changes at Northminster

Due to the current state of COVID infections in Amherst County, we have made a couple of changes to upcoming events that we wanted to bring to your attention.
 
  • The Community Worship Celebration at Madison Heights Baptist Church on Sunday, September 19 has been cancelled. We look forward to partnering with our sister churches in Madison Heights for other opportunities in the future.
  • The Kickoff for Sunday Night Live, originally scheduled for this Sunday, September 12, will now be next Sunday, September 19 from 6:30-7:45. Look for more information about this via email and mail in the days to come.
  • Sunday Morning Worship will continue to be offered in-person and online.
 
We continue to be grateful for the wise and prudent manner with which you are handling the pandemic and these outbreaks. As we are not seeing many of you on a regular basis, please do not hesitate to reach out to us if there’s anything we can do for you. You are all in our prayers!

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Sunday Night Live Kicks Off September 19!

SUNDAY NIGHT LIVE is finally here!

For All Students in 4th-12th Grades

Mark your calendars and plan to join us on Sunday, September 19 at 6:30pm for the kickoff of Sunday Night Live! This is a brand new opportunity to teach our children and youth about the fulness of life offered by Jesus Christ and how to live as disciples of Christ. With age-appropriate and focused lessons and games, we’re really excited to see how Sunday Night Live encourages our children and youth in their walk with the Lord and their families as well. Want to know more? Plan to join us September 19!

**Note: Feeling left out? Wish there was a Sunday Night Live opportunity for your younger children or perhaps for adults? Talk to Sharon Bryant, chair of CE, or David Garrison. While we’re starting out focused on 4th-12th grades, we’d love to expand beyond that. All you have to do is let us know you’re interested!


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September 2021 Pastor’s Corner – 18 Months

It’s now been just about 18 months since this pandemic really started exploding across our country, and what a rollercoaster of an 18 months its been.  There was the first few months of initial fear when everything shut down in March of 2020.  But as we moved through the summer and the infection numbers in central Virginia stayed relatively low, we began to hope that things would return to normal by the fall, if not Christmas.  With the return of school (although not “normal” school) in the fall, that hope continued to rise.  But then as we moved into December and January, we saw a severe spike in infections in our area, and our hope began to fade.  But then the vaccines became widely available, and numbers began to shrink again through the spring of 2021 – the end seemed to be in sight!  Hope burned more brightly through this summer, as numbers in our area continued to decrease and plans to go back to “normal” school were put in place…but an anxiety lurked under the surface as news of highly contangious variants began to spread.  And then school did begin, just last week (at the time I’m writing this).  Now here we are today, on August 26, after only 6 schooldays, and all secondary schools in Amherst County are closed for a week and the Delta variant is running rampant in our area.  Is this ever going to end?  What do we do?  How are we to hold  on to hope in this midst of this rollercoaster of uncertainty?

Consider the wisdom of Psalm 40:

I waited patiently for the LORD;

he inclined to me and heard my cry.

He drew me up from the pit of destruction,

out of the miry bog,

and set my feet upon a rock,

making my steps secure.

He put a new song in my mouth,

a song of praise to our God.

Many will see and fear,

and put their trust in the LORD. (Psalm 40:1-3)

Whenever I read this Psalm, I always think of the picture of the lighthouse above.  Look closely.  Do you see the man standing in the doorway, completely at ease as these giant waves crash around him?  He is still in the midst of the storm, but God has set him securely on the rock and protected him from harm.  We would all prefer that God bring an end to this pandemic, and one day He surely will.  In the meantime though, He invites us to trust Him even in the midst of the storm.  Whether that storm is a pandemic, the loss of a job, a crisis of health, being persecuted for your faith, or any other number of things, the counsel is still the same.  Trust in the Lord.  He likely won’t remove the storm, but He will hold you safe and secure in the midst of the storm.

As we all become worn out and weary, tempted to lose hope that COVID will ever go away, hold fast to the Lord.  Continue to cry out to Him and trust in Him.  He might not remove the storm, but He will set your feet on the Rock of Jesus Christ and secure you.  As you find His peace in the midst of the storm, may you find yourself singing a new song of praise to Him.

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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August 2021 Pastor’s Corner – Does It Matter?

Jesus then took the loaves, and when he had given thanks, he distributed them to those who were seated. So also the fish, as much as they wanted. And when they had eaten their fill, he told his disciples, “Gather up the leftover fragments, that nothing may be lost.” So they gathered them up and filled twelve baskets with fragments from the five barley loaves left by those who had eaten. When the people saw the sign that he had done, they said, “This is indeed the Prophet who is to come into the world!” — John 6:11–14
 
I heard of a preacher recently who, when talking about the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 in the Gospels, asked if it really mattered if this was an actual miracle where Jesus took 5 loaves and 2 fish and managed to feed 5,000 people with it, or whether he simply inspired the crowd to share what they had with each other. The preacher’s point was that the real miracle wasn’t the method, but the end result. What matters is that Jesus provided for the people; it doesn’t matter if it was supernatural (the multiplication of the loaves and fishes) or inspirational (motivating the people to share what they already have with each other).
 
However, I think the means is equally, if not more, important. Of course the point is that Jesus provided for the people’s needs, and he’ll provide for yours, too. But the question of whether he did so miraculously or inspirationally is crucial. If it’s merely the latter, then Jesus is simply really good at motivational speaking. He pretty much gave the best TED Talk ever on the importance of sharing with others. That’s impressive, but have you watched a TED Talk before? They’re all impressive. The thing is, that isn’t how the Bible talks about Jesus. Do these passages sound like they’re describing a really good motivational speaker?
He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation. For by him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities—all things were created through him and for him. And he is before all things, and in him all things hold together. — Col. 1:15–17
 
But in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. — Heb. 1:2–3
 
And commenting on this event to the disciples, Jesus himself explains, 
“Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.” They said to him, “Sir, give us this bread always.” Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.” — John 6:32–35
 
The divine power and might of Jesus is what makes his provision so wondrous and incredible. And it really isn’t even that Jesus provided bread and fish for the people — it’s that Jesus himself is the provision for the people. Jesus is the bread of life. Jesus is what we need. Whatever it is we’re wanting or needing, Jesus is both the means and the ends of our provision. When we cry out to the Lord in need, He has the power, authority and ability to literally move heaven and earth to meet our needs. Nothing is impossible for him, no matter how unlikely it might seem to us.
 
Does it matter whether the miracles of Jesus are actual supernatural events or just powerful motivational moments? You bet it does. The supernatural aspect of this miracle shows that Jesus not only meets our physical needs, but our spiritual needs as well. I don’t know what you need today, I don’t know what the emptiness or brokenness is in your life or in your heart. But I do know that when you turn and cry out to Jesus, He will meet you in your need with himself. He will provide for you in ways you can not dream or imagine, ways that might very well defy explanation and reason. He will provide for not just what you think you need, but what He knows you need as well. He will care for your person, and for your soul. He truly is “the Bread of Life.”
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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July 2021 Pastor’s Corner – What If It’s Actually True?

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God’s grace that he lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. —Ephesians 1:3–8
 
What if it’s actually true? All the things the Bible says about how much God loves us, particularly as shown in the passage above. What if it’s actually true? Would you accept it, embrace it? I don’t mean do you know God loves you, I mean deep down in your heart, do you believe it? Most likely you’ve been singing “Jesus loves me, this I know” since you were knee-high to a grasshopper and you’ve probably memorized John 3:16 (in case you haven’t, it says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life”), so I know that you know God loves you. But believing it, accepting it, embracing it is a little bit different, and a lot harder.
 
We just aren’t naturally inclined to believe that God’s love for us could be as deep, vast, eternal and passionate as it is. Not us. Others, absolutely. But not me. Not with what’s in my heart. And yet… it is. It is true. It is real. The Bible isn’t joking. God isn’t pulling some sort of eternal, cosmic prank. Notice the words used above (I underlined them for you): God has blessed us, God chose us, God predestined us in love, he’s freely given to us… he has lavished the riches of his grace on us. I love that last one. How often do we think about God lavishing his love and grace on us?
 
Truly accepting God’s love for us is so hard that a few chapters later, Paul prays that we would have the power and strength necessary to embrace the fulness of God’s love for us. It’s a lifelong journey, and one the end of which we’ll never come this side of Glory and maybe even not on the other side. But I can’t imagine a better journey to take. God’s love for you isn’t based on anything you have or haven’t done, it’s because He has chosen to love you. He knows what’s in your heart and mind, far better than you do. What is keeping you from accepting and embracing His love for you today?
 
For this reason I kneel before the Father, from whom his whole family in heaven and on earth derives its name. I pray that out of his glorious riches he may strengthen you with power through his Spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith. And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. — Ephesians 3:14–19
 
Here’s the thing: It really is true, regardless of whether you believe it is or not. May the truth of his lavish love warm your heart more than the summer sun this month.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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June 2021 Pastor’s Corner – The Air We Breathe

Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching. — Hebrews 10:23–25
 
I’ve been thinking about breathing lately. If you cease to breathe, do you cease to be human? Certainly you cease to be alive, but you are still a human being… just not a living human being. Air is necessary for life, but it does not define us as human beings. When we have problems with our breathing due to illness, allergies or something else, it affects how well our bodies function, but still does not change what we are. Breathing is essential for living, but not for making us human.
 
This directly relates to the importance of gathering with other believers for worship, what we commonly call “going to church” (that’s an important distinction – bear with me). For a long time, many thought that if they simply “went to church” regularly, that would make them a Christian. But that isn’t true. Just “going to church,” no matter how active or “good” you are, isn’t going to save your soul. Only placing our faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior can do that. “Going to church” doesn’t make you a Christian, just like breathing doesn’t make you a human being.
 
However, just like breathing is essential for living, gathering together with other believers for worship, fellowship, encouragement and mutual discipleship is essential for our faith. That’s what happens when we “go to church” each Sunday, and, honestly, I don’t know a better time during the week when that happens. Does it only happen when we go to church? No, it happens whenever and wherever believers gather for worship, fellowship, etc., but it most commonly happens at church. And it is essential for the health of our faith and our souls that we are intentional in doing so. As a friend of mine said, “We were MADE to worship together, collectively. We were made to practice the liturgy; to pray, to sing, to confess, to rejoice in our pardon, to hear the word preached, and to engage with one another. Literally, we were made for this. And not participating can really disrupt the Lord’s desire to fine-tune our hearts.”
 
Breathing doesn’t make us human, but it’s really hard to keep living without breathing. Worshipping together with other believers regularly (ideally weekly) is the air we breathe as Christians. Breathe deeply the breath of God this week, whether you do so by joining us at Northminster or another church. Your soul needs its air, just as your body needs to breathe.
Let everything that has breath praise the LORD! Praise the LORD! —Psalm 150:6
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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May 2021 Pastor’s Corner – Conviction

I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you. And when he comes, he will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment: concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; concerning righteousness, because I go to the Father, and you will see me no longer; concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world is judged.” (John 16:7–11)

I received some news this afternoon that absolutely threw me for a loop.  The news itself wasn’t particularly bad or good, and really wasn’t even directly for or about me.  And yet, it absolutely threw me off balance and left me in a place of profound introspection and self-examination.  For whatever reason, it “laid bare my soul” and I found myself questioning much  of what I thought I knew, believed and took for granted even just a few hours ago.  What was it that caused me to react in such a way?

Conviction.  Specifically the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

One of the reasons Jesus sent us the Holy Spirit is to convict us of our sin.  Not in a “you’re a horrible, miserable person and I want you to feel guilt and shame” way, but rather a “sin keeps you from the fulness of life I bought for you on the cross, so let’s get rid of as much of it as we can” kind of way.  We have an amazing ability to get comfortable with our misaligned priorities and values.  Those priorities and values are probably not necessarily bad in and of themselves, but if they are more important to us than God and His Kingdom, then they are sinful and not righteous — it’s a subtle form of idolatry.  It’s not necessarily that we have to get rid of those values and priorities, just that we need to put God’s values and priorities first.  In the Sermon the Mount, Jesus said, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.” (Matt. 6:33)  I need to put God’s kingdom first, and trust Him to provide the rest.

The Holy Spirit used the news I received to shine a light on a couple of areas in my life where the kingdom of David was more important than the Kingdom of God.  I’ll be honest, it wasn’t fun, and I spent quite a while doing some phenomenal self-rationalization and self-justification with God.  And, honestly, I’m still working through it.  I don’t like being told I’m wrong or in error, and I’m sure you don’t either.  But I also know that God is shining the light in these areas of my heart because He loves me and wants His best for me.  The same is true for you.  

One of the key aspects of growing in holiness and faithfulness is keeping a soft heart that is sensitive to when the Holy Spirit is at work in us, convicting us of the areas in our lives that aren’t aligned with God’s heart and vision.  As we celebrate the coming of the Holy Spirit on Pentecost this month, I pray that each of us would have tender hearts, shaped and formed by the Spirit of God in the image of the Son of God.

…he disciplines us for our good, that we may share his holiness. For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but later it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” (Heb. 12:10–11)

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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