Pastor’s Corner – September 2019

For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evils. It is through this craving that some have wandered away from the faith and pierced themselves with many pangs. (1 Tim. 6:10)

My parents raised me to believe that there are three things you don’t talk about in polite company: religion, politics and money.  We can’t (and probably shouldn’t) avoid talking about that first one in church, and while this usually hasn’t kept me from talking about the other two, but every time I do, I hesitate…particularly when it comes to talking about money.  Especially when it comes to preaching about money.  Not only do I not like preaching about money, I’ve never met a church member who likes or wants to hear sermons on money.  As someone once told Bob Mills after a sermon, “Now you’ve gone from preaching to meddling.”

However, there are two truths about money that I think ensures it’s worthy of our time and attention on a Sunday morning.  First, the reality is that everyone is always talking or thinking about money.  As Carey Nieuwhof writes, “People talk about it, argue about it, and try to make their plans around it. Almost everyone in your church and community thinks about money daily and talks about it daily. They may even struggle with it daily. It’s just that few people step up to help them with it” (underlined reference links can be found in the online version of this article).  If it gets that much of our mental energy and time, isn’t it something we should seek biblical guidance regarding?

Which leads us to the second truth: Did you know that the Bible talks about money more than any other subject?  As an article at crosswalk.com points out, “It is worth noting that money is such an important topic in the Bible that it is the main subject of nearly half of the parables Jesus told. In addition, one in every seven verses in the New Testament deals with this topic. The Bible offers 500 verses on prayer, fewer than 500 verses on faith, and more than 2,000 verses on money.”  As the article states, “Why such an emphasis on money and possessions? There is a fundamental connection between our spiritual lives and how we think about and handle money.”

So for the next six weeks, beginning September 8, we’re going to be talking about money.  We’ll spend the first three weeks talking about the connection between our spiritual lives and our focus on money and the second three weeks understanding what the Bible says about why and how our giving to the Lord is an important part of our growth as disciples of Jesus Christ.  While certainly a subject no one wants to talk or hear sermons about, I think we’ll find a way to a deeper, richer life in Christ as a result.

But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. (1 Tim. 6:11)

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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Pastor’s Corner – August 2019

“Peacemakers who sow in peace raise a harvest of righteousness.” (James 3:18)

Summer doesn’t officially end for another month and a half, and given that we live in central Virginia, it won’t begin to feel like fall until sometime in October, but with kids going back to school in just a few weeks, it seems like fall is already here.  And with the fall comes the  harvest season.  In our summer sermon series, Do Something, we’ve seen that James uses the image of the harvest a lot throughout his letter.  

I’ve been amazed at the way the flowers and plants in our yard have absolutely blossomed and exploded this year.  As much as we’d like to take credit, this isn’t really because of anything my wife and I have done.  Someone else put these plants in the ground long before we moved in, and last year’s incredible rainfall nourished the soil richly over the winter and into the spring.  We put a lot of effort into weeding and mulching early on, but haven’t done a good job keeping up with it.

What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God made it grow. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The man who plants and the man who waters have one purpose, and each will be rewarded according to his own labor. For we are God’s fellow workers; you are God’s field, God’s building.” (1 Cor. 3:5–9)

Such it is with our spiritual lives.  Often we find that spiritual growth happens, regardless of what we do or don’t do.  But some simple truths are still central.  First, you harvest what you plant.  Second, while the seeds grow naturally, there are things we can do to encourage their growth, such as watering, weeding and fertilizing that create an environment conducive to their flourishing.

Much of what we seek to do here at Northminster is help you with those two aspects of your walk with the Lord – planting seeds of faith and spiritual growth, and cultivating the soil of your heart and soul to nourish those seeds.  As we head into the harvest season, be on the lookout for opportunities to check the health of the soil of your soul as well as opportunities to “do something” with the growth that God has been doing in you.  If there is a particular way you’d like some help in your spiritual growth, be sure to let one of our elders or me know.

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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Pastor’s Corner – July 2019

“What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?” (James 2:14) 

One of the central truths of our faith is that we are saved by grace alone, that there is nothing we can do to earn or merit our salvation.  It is the free gift of God through Jesus Christ.  This is the hallmark of the Reformation and essential to what we believe as Reformed, protestant, Presbyterian Christians.  It is also the doctrine that separates Christianity from all other religions on earth.  Every other religion involves humanity having to earn their salvation.  What they do determines whether they are saved.

“But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.” (Gal. 5:22–23)

But that doesn’t mean we don’t have to do anything with our faith.  In fact, the things we do become even more important.  We don’t seek to do acts of love, mercy, kindness and justice so that we can be saved; rather, because of the salvation we’ve been given, we serve God and others.  Just as the health of a tree is shown in the fruit it bears, our acts of love and service are the fruit of our salvation.

“But someone will say, “You have faith; I have deeds.”   Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that—and shudder.” (James 2:18–19)

Over the first 400 years or so, the Christian faith grew through a radical and counter-cultural love for others and service to “the least of these.”  It wasn’t “radical” in the sense of being offensive, but a kind of loving others that was so profoundly different from what anyone expected.  The early Christians sought out the loveless, the rejected, the despised, the hopeless and offered them love, relationship, presence, identity, hope – in short, they offered them Jesus Christ.  Those acts of love transformed their communities and the world.  Their works, their deeds, proved the real change that salvation by faith through Jesus Christ brought about in their lives.  We might grieve the loss of cultural influence we’re experiencing in our time, but it is also an opportunity to get back to the roots of our faith and do something to love others in Jesus’ name in order to share the hope and life that can only be found through Him.
 
As we head through the ‘dog days of summer,’ look for opportunities to love and serve others.  It doesn’t always have to be something big.  Sometimes the greatest act of love we can do for someone else is to give them a glass of cold water on a hot summer day. 
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – June 2019

Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. — James 1:22
 
“The greatest single cause of atheism in the world today is Christians: who acknowledge Jesus with their lips, walk out the door, and deny Him by their lifestyle. That is what an unbelieving world simply finds unbelievable.” ― Brennan Manning
 
If one thing jumps out at us from the story of the man born blind in John 9, it’s how his life was immediately and powerfully changed after his encounter with Jesus Christ. An inward change (the healing of his eyes) led to an outward witness and confession of Jesus Christ as Messiah and Lord. He might not have known much, but he knew enough: “I once was blind, but now I see.” His life was changed in very real and practical ways forever.
 
That’s the essence of the reality for every Christian as well. To believe in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior isn’t a mere mental exercise, along the lines of, “I believe in the Easter Bunny.” Ok, that’s great, but that belief doesn’t have an impact on your every day life. However, when we confess Jesus Christ as Lord, and place our faith and trust in Him as our Savior we are declaring an entirely different way of being and doing. But, as the quote from Brennan Manning above says, many Christians have forgotten that to be a Christian is not just about what we believe but also about how we live. We’re really good at listening to the Word of God, but struggle with doing what it says.
 
Take heart, though! This isn’t a new problem! James wrote his letter barely 10 years after Jesus was crucified. Hardly a decade had passed, and the new Christians were already struggling with living out their faith. It isn’t easy, and it never has been. Fortunately, James’ letter is loaded with practical advice, encouragement and exhortation to live our faith and do what the Word of God says. Join us this summer as we work through this fascinating letter that pushes us to “Do Something” with our faith.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Good News from Hard Places – A Missions Seminar, Saturday, May 18, 2019

Elon Evangelical and Northminster Evangelical Presbyterian Churches Present


Good News from Hard Places

Saturday, May 18, 2019
9:30 – 11:15 am
 
Northminster Evangelical Presbyterian Church
106 Clearview Drive, Madison Heights VA 24572
Join us at 9:30 am for coffee and pastry – the seminar begins at 9:45 am
Please RSVP to Office@npcmh.com

Come learn why the Church in difficult places has much to teach us about both the cost of discipleship, as well as its fruits!
 
Marilyn Borst shares first-hand experience behind global headlines as she sheds light upon the work and witness of the Presbyterian Church in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq and Egypt (all of which Marilyn has visited in the past 6 months) and invites us to come alongside that work through our prayer and presence.

This is the Church which Paul describes: “we rejoice in our suffering because suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character; and character, hope. And hope does not disappoint us….”
 
Marilyn Borst is Associate Director for Partnership Development of The Outreach Foundation, a Presbyterian mission agency which celebrates its 40th anniversary this year. She works with churches around the United States to help them discern God’s call to global engagement while connecting them to that work alongside the Global Church in Africa, Latin America and the Caribbean, Asia and the Middle East—a particular area of specialty for her. She travels extensively, nurturing relationships with church leaders, assessing ministry initiatives and leading short-term vision teams especially to Cuba, Lebanon, Iraq, Egypt, Syria and Israel/Palestine. Her heart for the Church in difficult places has also brought her to Iran, Pakistan and North Korea. Prior to joining The Outreach Foundation staff, Marilyn served for over 6 years as Director of Global Ministry at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta where she oversaw the international partnerships of this 8,000-member congregation in over 33 countries. Marilyn holds a B.A. in Classical Studies from Calvin College (Grand Rapids, MI), an M.A. in Art History from Michigan State University, and an M.A. in Theology from St. Thomas University (Houston). She has participated in four archeological digs in Jordan and Egypt and taught as adjunct faculty at the University of Houston for 20 years. She is ordained as an elder and has been married to Mark Borst for 40 years. The Borsts reside in Atlanta.

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Now I See – A Spring 2019 Sermon Series

Throughout his Gospel, John is constantly bringing forward a contrast between light and darkness, belief and unbelief, and sight and blindness. Sometimes John talks about these themes individually (such as John 1:5). Often, these three contrasts are brought together (take, for example, John 3:16-21). In John 9, he weaves these contrasting themes together into one of the most compelling stories in in his Gospel and in Scripture.
 
Over the course of the season of Easter (which runs from Easter Sunday through Pentecost), we’ll be exploring the richness of the story of the man born blind. In this story, John contrasts a man who was born physically blind yet could see better than anyone else with people who could physically see but were actually blind. Along the way, we’ll explore why bad things happen, how to find healing in Jesus, the power of a changed life, the importance of the sabbath, family matters, how to defend your faith, and what it really means to believe and see.
 
The story is only one chapter in John’s Gospel, yet could almost be a book unto itself. We invite you to join us as we discover that, because of Jesus, we once were blind, but now we see. We look forward to seeing you in worship, Sundays at 11am.

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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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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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