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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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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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 – January 2019

Rather train yourself for godliness; for while bodily training is of some value, godliness is of value in every way, as it holds promise for the present life and also for the life to come. (1 Tim. 4:7–8 ESV)
 

What’s Your Resolution?

 
This is the time of year that gyms and diet programs love, because we all seek to take advantage of the new year and the “fresh start” it provides. Year after year, at the top of the list sits resolutions to get healthier and lose weight. We know we need to take care of our bodies, that we just spent a month (or more) overeating and indulging, and that summer is just a few months away. Taking care of our physical health is important, and I applaud you if you’ve made such a resolution. But as Paul says in the passage above, are we as equally resolved regarding our spiritual health and well-being?
 

Lord, Teach Us To Pray

 
Just as with physical health, our spiritual health takes intentionality and commitment, and it begins with prayer. Prayer is a funny thing — most everyone has prayed at some point in time since they were a little child, and yet it’s also the one thing I hear that people struggle with more than most anything else. In fact, at one point even the disciples had to ask Jesus to teach them to pray: Now Jesus was praying in a certain place, and when he finished, one of his disciples said to him, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1 ESV)
 

Praying Like Jesus

We’re going to be intentional in learning to pray like Jesus prayed. On Sunday mornings through the course of the season of Epiphany, we’ll dig deeply into The Lord’s Prayer – a prayer we all say every Sunday, but many of us don’t fully understand what we’re saying about or asking of God. Then, through Lent and leading up to Easter, we’ll explore the prayer book of the Hebrews, the Psalms, and find guidance for some of the problem areas of prayer.
 
If you, like the disciples (and most of us if we’re honest), are looking for someone to teach you to pray, or maybe you could use some encouragement in your prayer life, I hope you’ll join us. May God bless you in this new year!
Blessings, Rev. David Garrison

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Pastor’s Corner – December 2018

Consumed by Consuming

I received my first email announcing Black Friday, the annual celebration of greed and gluttony that defines the day after Thanksgiving (a day of gratitude for all God has provided for us), on November 2. Not only that, but the email announced that the Black Friday deals were available NOW! Of course, for years the stores have been opening on Thanksgiving to offer Black Friday “doorbuster” sales (full confession: I went shopping on Thanksgiving to get one of those deals). The mentality that comes from shopping for the best deal leads to two consequences. First, we live in a state of perpetual dissatisfaction and discontent. Second, we apply the consumer mindset to other areas of life – we just keep looking for the best “deal” that will better meet our “needs.” We are a consumer-based culture. And we are being consumed by it. One might say we are literally selling our souls to satisfy our consuming.
 

A Prescription for A Better Way

There are times when something happens to our bodies, maybe a deep-set illness is discovered, and the doctor issues us a prescription for medicine to help return us to physical health. It often doesn’t happen overnight, but through faithfully following the prescription, over time we begin to notice a difference and feel better. Eventually, we are restored to full health. The prescription to our rampant consumerism is the Christian season of Advent. Advent comes from a Latin word that means “coming.” It is a 4-week season that leads up to Christmas and is meant to be a time of intentional reflection and preparation for the coming of the Messiah – both celebrating his first Advent 2,000 years ago, and hopefully anticipating his second coming. The giving of gifts (started by the Magi that first Christmas) is a good tradition, but this one aspect has taken over the entire season.
 
There are rituals and traditions surrounding our celebrations of Advent and Christmas. Some of those are particular to our families, others are more broadly practiced by churches or communities. Many of them have their roots in centuries past, or maybe they are new traditions only a few years old. The rituals of putting up and decorating the Christmas tree, of lighting the Advent candles (both in worship and at home as a family), of going caroling are all great ways to slow down this holiday (holy-day) season. Consider other activities and start new traditions that your family (both nuclear and extended) can practice and celebrate each year to move us deeper in our understanding of what this season is supposed to be about and find ourselves moving away from consuming and toward joy and contentment in Christ.
“I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do all this through him who gives me strength.” (Phil. 4:11–13)
 
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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