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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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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April 2021 Pastor’s Corner – It’s Just Not The Same

“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.” (Heb. 10:25)

One of the most incredible aspects of the past year is how businesses and people adapted to the realities of the pandemic and stay-at-home orders.  Things we used to only be able to do by leaving the house transformed in a few short weeks into things you could do from the comfort of your couch.  Need groceries?  Place the order online and you can pick them up without ever leaving your car.  Want to eat out?  No problem, they’ll bring the food and leave it at your door.  The latest blockbuster movie? Catch it on release day right there in your living  room.  A year ago only the largest and wealthiest churches were live-streaming, but now almost every church is doing so, including ours.  These are amazing and wonderful advances and changes, for which there is much to be thankful.

But can we be honest for a moment?  As great as all of that is, it’s just not the same.  How many times have you purchased the wrong quantity of something because you couldn’t tell how big it was from the teeny picture on your phone?  We’ve almost finished a 25lb bag of flour we accidentally bought last April.  Being able to use Doordash and UberEats is great… but no matter how quick they are, nothing beats the ambiance of the restaurant and eating it fresh from the kitchen.  And Greyhound and Soul were amazing movies… but something gets lost when you’re not seeing it on the big screen.

All of that is even more true when it comes to church and corporate worship.  We’ve learned a lot over the past year about what it truly means to be the church, that in many ways we are able to do more “Kingdom work” outside these walls than within them.  And we are so grateful to be able to provide the ability to worship together when we can’t physically be present at the church.  But, again, can we be honest?  It really isn’t the same.  And it shouldn’t be the same.

Much moreso than eating out, going to the movies or shopping for groceries, worshipping our Lord and Savior is meant to be done by being physically present with other believers.  Yes, the Holy Spirit is still present with us and unites us together even when we’re apart, but there is something crucial and important that happens when we gather together for Sunday worship.  Whether it’s singing our praises to the Lord, praying for one another, celebrating the Sacraments, or hearing the Word of God proclaimed, it’s meant to be experienced in-person, not over a screen.

You’ll see throughout this newsletter how we are moving back to in-person worship, ministry and mission.  We’ll be talking about it more as the weather warms up as well.  Right now, we’re looking at Pentecost Sunday as our “target date” for coming together as the Body of Christ.  You are welcomed and encouraged to join us for in-person worship before that date or on it.  Please know we’re not choosing to ignore the realities of the pandemic or letting our guard down.  We are recognizing that great strides have been taken over the past few months and that we are now at a place where we can, with confidence, say, it’s time to gather back as the Body of Christ and get to work on the mission Christ has given to us in Madison Heights, Amherst County, and around the world.  As our website says,

We are a biblically-based Presbyterian church seeking to experience and share God’s love to transform our homes, community and the world. We hope you will join us.

See you soon!

Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Youth Ministry April 2021 Update

With the latest guidance from the CDC and VDH, guidance that says social distancing for schools is now down to 3ft, the increase in vaccinations, and indoor groups expanded to 50, we have decided to no longer continue the Zoom youth group meetings. We hope all students will join us in person.
 
Note: There will be No Youth Group on Easter Sunday, April 4 or the following Sunday, April 11, for Spring Break.

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Ash Wednesday – Out of Dust

As is obvious by now, we are not having an Ash Wednesday service this year, nor are the Community Lenten Services happening.  The pandemic continues to take its toll.  I know that for many of us, the Ash Wednesday service and the Community Lenten Services play a significant role in helping us mark the season of Lent.  Not having those services makes it hard to feel like it’s really Lent.  It would be like having Advent without Christmas music or decorations.  It’s just not the same.
 
I spent a large chunk of today working on a video about Ash Wednesday, something to tie together the beginning of Lent, the significance of Ash Wednesday, and the struggles we all face dealing with a pandemic that is working through its 11th month.  To be honest, it was a frustrating process that just never quite came together the way I was hoping it would.  So, I took a break and went for a walk.  Sometimes, you just need to clear your head for a bit.
 
While I was walking, one of my favorite songs started playing.  The song is Beautiful Things by Gungor.  As I let the song wash over me, I realized that this song pretty much covers everything I wanted to say, much better than I could have said it.  So, I’m including the video here, for your encouragement, enjoyment and edification.  May it help focus and center you for this season of Lent.
 


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Drive-In Food Drive & Caroling – This Sunday, December 13 @ 1PM

Food Drive Drive-in

Mark your calendars! It’s coming—the first ever Northminster Food Drive Drive-in! We will be collecting for Neighbors Helping Neighbors (NHN). The items most needed are listed below. Please bring your donation to the back parking lot at 1 p.m. on Sunday, December 13, and stay to sing some favorite songs of the season with Gospel on the Grounds.
 
Items requested by NHN:
  • 14oz. yellow mustard
  • 32oz. pancake mix
  • 4 lbs. sugar
  • 24 oz. pancake syrup
  • 15 oz. ketchup
  • 6 pack of fruit cups
  • 15 oz. mayonnaise
 

Drive-in Caroling

We invite you to enjoy the songs of the season on Sunday, December 13, at 1 p.m. Maggie Brockman and her group, Gospel on the Grounds, will be playing some beloved Christmas carols while we listen. You’re welcome to sit in your car with the windows up or down to enjoy the beautiful music. You can even sit outside on your lawn chair if the weather is nice. We hope you’ll join us for this out-of-the-box, drive-in Christmas caroling for 2020.

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December 2020 Pastor’s Corner – The Importance of Advent

“The special note of Advent is its primary focus on the second coming of Christ, who will arrive in glory on the last day to consummate the kingdom of God — its orientation toward the promised future.  Advent…differs from the other seasons in that it looks beyond history altogether and awaits Jesus Christ’s coming again “in glory to judge the living and the dead.” — Fleming Rutledge, Advent: The Once and Future Coming of Jesus Christ

This past Sunday, November 29, was the First Sunday in Advent.  It marks the beginning of the Christian year.  For most of us, Advent is the season preparing us for Christmas, as if it were simply the pre-Christmas season… after all, it does end on Christmas Eve.  But Advent isn’t pointing to Christmas at all, it points far past Christmas.  As the quote from Fleming Rutledge above states, Advent points not to Christ’s first coming, but to his Second.  While we tend to treat Advent as a “countdown to Christmas,” it’s actually far deeper and meaningful.

It seems that, each year, we are in a bigger and bigger rush to get to Christmas.  Stores have been pushing the “unofficial” beginning of the Christmas season earlier and earlier, and this year has pushed it even further — I saw Christmas decorations in stores this year weeks before Halloween!  It is a strange and confusing thing to see Halloween and Christmas decorations side-by-side.  Jack Skellington would be furious!  But I also get it — 2020 has been an amazingly difficult year (although not even close to the worst year ever.  That honor goes to 536 AD.  No, seriously.  Look it up).  After months and months of the pandemic and social distancing, a terribly contentious presidential election cycle, murder hornets, and record-breaking natural disasters, we’re all pretty desperate for a little light and a dash of Christmas cheer.  While I’m personally a staunch “no Christmas music until after Thanksgiving” Scrooge, I won’t judge anyone who has already put up a Christmas tree, some decorations, or gone all-in on Christmas music.

But don’t rush past Advent in order to get to Christmas.  While Advent has a particular emphasis on the Second Coming of Christ, it does so with its feet firmly grounded in the present reality.  As Fleming Rutledge explains, “Advent contains within itself the crucial balance of the now and the not-yet that our faith requires. [T]his book will explore this theme in relation to the yearly frenzy of “holiday” time in which the commercial Christmas music insists that “it’s the most wonderful time of the year” and Starbucks invites everyone to “feel the merry.” The disappointment, brokenness, suffering, and pain that characterize life in this present world is held in dynamic tension with the promise of future glory that is yet to come. In that Advent tension, the church lives its life…The Advent season encourages us to resist denial and face our situation as it really is” (Advent pp. 7-8).  The hope of Christ’s Second Coming, even the joy of celebrating his First coming at Christmas, is all the more bright and joyous because of the dark, brokenness of this present world, not in spite of it.

Advent is not for the faint of heart.  But there is a gift waiting for you, if you are willing to slow down and find it.  They say it’s always darkest just before the dawn…is it not the darkness of the night that causes us to appreciate the light all the more?  Allow yourself to be present in the hardness and pain of 2020 and in Advent’s much-needed reminder that, one day, Jesus Christ will come back and make everything sad untrue and make everything broken whole.  In doing so, we find that Christmas takes a place in our life and our hearts far more true than decorations, songs and presents.

“The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.” (John 1:5)

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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Pastor’s Mid-Week Bible Study Begins This Week!

These are strange and unusual times. Last week, the students of Amherst County went back to school – some are going in person, but only two days a week, some are 4 days a week; and others are returning to school virtually. And the life of the church is beginning to adapt to this “new normal” as well. Other than worship and a few circle meetings, for the past 6 months the ministry and life of Northminster has been on pause. It’s time to start some things back up.
 
One of the primary purposes of the church is discipling its members, helping us all grow in the grace and truth of our Lord Jesus Christ. To that end, we are beginning a mid-week pastor’s bible study, starting Wednesday, September 16 from 10:30-11:30am. This bible study will meet in-person and online, at the same time. If you would like to join us in person, we’ll be appropriately socially distanced in the fellowship hall. If you’d prefer to join us online, you can do so through Zoom.
 
We do ask that you please sign up for one of the two groups – you can change between the two at any time, or just sign up for both if you’re feeling indecisive. Signing up will enable us to set up the Fellowship Hall appropriately, and also let us know how many to expect in-person and online. Click on this link to sign up.
 
If you have any questions, please let me know.
 
I look forward to exploring God’s Word with you, beginning this Wednesday.

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