March 2022 Pastor’s Corner – Trust & Hope

 1Yahweh, my heart is not haughty, I do not set my sights too high. I have taken no part in great affairs, in wonders beyond my scope. 2 No, I hold myself in quiet and silence, like a little child in its mother’s arms, like a little child, so I keep myself. 3 Let Israel hope in Yahweh henceforth and for ever. (Psalm 131, New Jerusalem Bible)

Every once in a while you happen across a passage of scripture that catches you off guard.  At first, you think, “that’s a nice Psalm.”  But then you keep thinking about it.  A few hours later, it becomes, “man, I can’t get that Psalm out of my mind.”  As the hours turn to days, you start to think, “Yeah, there’s something going on here.  Why is this Psalm continuing to rattle around in my head?”  If you haven’t already, this is the point when our thinking should turn into praying.  We ask the Holy Spirit to open our eyes and soften our hearts in order to hear what He is trying to tell us.

That’s what happened to me just a few weeks ago.  I came across this Psalm in preparation for last month’s Session meeting.  It made a very nice opening devotion for our meeting.  But then I couldn’t stop thinking about the Psalm.  I love the imagery it uses — the idea of resting contentedly in God’s arms the way a little child rests in his mother’s arms speaks to the deep longing of my soul.  But that’s not the part that stuck with me.  It was the first verse that wouldn’t leave me alone.  The hard truth of the matter that I’d prefer not to admit is that my heart is inclined toward haughtiness.  I do tend to set my sights too high.  I am prone to thinking that I’m the one who has to solve all of life’s problems, in great affairs and wonders beyond my scope.  It’s not that I’m terribly arrogant or boastful, rather more that I often think it’s my responsibility to figure everything out and know what the right course or solution should be.  I am often discontent with my lot, and think it’s up to me to change it.

But that isn’t what God wants from me, or from us.  Rather, we’re invited and encouraged to be still and quiet, to rest contentedly in His arms.  That’s the image of verse 2.  A child, whose every need has been met and trusts fully in her mother, peacefully at sleep, without a fear or worry.  That is the kind of relationship God yearns to have with us.  God yearns to provide for our every need, to keep us safe and secure, to hold us warmly and tenderly so we can rest in Him without fear or worry.  What keeps us from experiencing that kind of love is our discontent, our constant striving for more… in other words, the haughtiness of our hearts and the setting of our sights too high.

The Holy Spirit is still convicting me through this Psalm.  My soul yearns for this peace and rest, but my heart resists.  I find myself praying through this Psalm and also Paul’s words in Romans 7: “I do not understand my own behaviour; I do not act as I mean to, but I do things that I hate.” (Rom. 7:15)  Maybe that’s something you find happening in your heart and soul as well.  That’s ok, it’s part of the journey.  As soon as we learn to trust God a little bit, He invites us to take the next step and trust Him even more deeply.  To steadily and steadfastly rest in Him more and more; to become progressively more content with His provision.  It’s easier said than done, but the rewards are well worth it.

Not that I am speaking of being in need, for I have learned in whatever situation I am to be content. I know how to be brought low, and I know how to abound. In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Phil. 4:11–13)

Blessings,

Rev. David Garrison


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February 2022 Pastor’s Corner – The Light Shines

“The true light, which gives light to everyone, was coming into the world. He was in the world, and the world was made through him, yet the world did not know him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God, who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God.” (John 1:9–13)
 
We are about halfway through the Christian season of Epiphany. Epiphany begins on January 6 and runs up to Ash Wednesday (March 2 this year). I’ve long been fascinated with the wisdom the early church showed in the development of the Christian calendar, particularly in regard to this season — putting it in the middle of the darkest time of the year. Philip Reinders explains, “We know the word: a moment of piercing awareness, the sudden jolt of understanding. Imagine, then, that moment stretched out over a period of time. This is the season of Epiphany, a season celebrating the revelation of the Savior, the light of the world.”
 
This year seems particularly dark, doesn’t it? We’re almost two years into this pandemic, and we’re seeing numbers of infections that are higher than we’ve ever seen. Vaccinated or not, masked or not, it seems everyone is catching it. Thanks to the weather and the pandemic, our children have been home more than they’ve been in school. Our economy seems to be a mess. The political tensions on the local, state and national levels are stretched tighter than ever before. Internationally, we are sitting on the brink of war with Russia, a statement that frankly my mind struggles to wrap itself around. After a childhood growing up in the Cold War and worrying about nuclear war with the USSR, I thought we put that to rest in the early 90s?
 
These things are bad, and they are worrying. Put together with the long nights of this time of year and the darkness almost takes on a more visceral sense. That’s where the brilliance of the season of Epiphany comes in. As Paul writes in Ephesians 6, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places.” (Eph. 6:12) The real battle, the real threat, isn’t physical; it isn’t anything listed in the above paragraph at all. The real threat, the real darkness, is the spiritual darkness that envelops this world. The only thing that can stop or defeat that darkness is the Light of the World, Jesus Christ. He has already done so, the darkness just doesn’t know it yet. As John proclaims at the beginning of his Gospel, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (John 1:4–5)
 
The wonder of Epiphany isn’t just that the Light of the World has come and that the darkness cannot overcome Him, but that when we receive Him, we become children of God. When we become children of God, we also become the light of the world. As Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt. 5:14–16) The closer we draw to Jesus Christ, the Light of the World, the more brightly our light shines, and the more the darkness is diminished in and around us. This season of Epiphany is a reminder for us to focus on the Light, to draw closer to the Light, to be warmed by the Light, knowing and trusting that as we do so, the Light of God’s love and truth will shine through us into the world around us. Over the course of the rest of this month, be intentional in seeking the Light of Christ and letting your light shine to others.
“For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus’ sake. For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” (2 Cor. 4:5–6)
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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January 2022 Pastor’s Corner – What Are The Essentials?

“Everyone then who hears these words of mine and does them will be like a wise man who built his house on the rock. And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat on that house, but it did not fall, because it had been founded on the rock.” (Matt. 7:24–25)
 
If someone were to ask you what the essential beliefs of Christianity are, would you be able to answer? My guess is that most of us would probably struggle to answer that question. In fact, most likely if you were to ask 5 different people that question, you’d get 6 different answers. And yet, it’s a pretty important question. There are some beliefs that are quite essential to being Christian, regardless of denomination or preference. There are also a lot of things that we believe as Presbyterians that our Baptist or Methodist brothers and sisters don’t — and yet we recognize each other as Christians despite those differences. These are areas we see as non-essential, areas we can agree to disagree and still be friends. While it’s important to know what makes us unique as Presbyterians, sometimes we need to be reminded about what we hold in common as Christians and why those beliefs matter.
 
Our denomination, the Evangelical Presbyterian Church, has listed the essentials of the Christian faith in a document unsurprisingly called “The Essentials of our Faith” (you can read the whole list for yourself here). This list includes what we believe about Scripture, God, Jesus, the Holy Spirit, sin & salvation, the Church, Christ’s return, and our mission & ministry. It’s not everything we believe about those topics, but the most important things we believe about them. These essentials comprise the bedrock, the foundation, of our faith as Christians. They’re what makes Christianity unique from every other religious or belief system.
 
Over the course of the season of Epiphany (which runs from January 6 until Ash Wednesday, March 2), we’re going to take a look at each one of these Essentials to gain a better understanding of why they matter and what they mean for our faith and our lives. We hope you’ll join us as we together explore the Essentials of our Faith.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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December 2021 Pastor’s Corner – Heavy Holidays

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. — Fleming Rutledge, Advent (pp. 7-8).
 
I don’t think this is the holiday season most of us were expecting this year. After the challenges and difficulties we faced together over the past year and a half, most of us were looking forward to a holiday season flavored particularly with joy, gratitude and delight. After all, we anticipated, the pandemic would be mostly behind us and life would have returned to normal. For some, that is indeed the case, and that is a wonderful thing.
 
But I don’t think that’s the case for most. Rather than coming out of the darkness feeling relief, delight, joy, gratitude and whatnot, many are finding that the darkness has dimmed the radiance of the light. I’m hearing and seeing more stories this year than most in recent memory that speak of pain, hurt, and loss. I hear stories of much loved family members leaving this mortal coil and entering the Kingdom triumphant during this holiday season. Stories of families reaching their breaking point and falling apart. Stories of bodies and minds breaking down in unexpected ways. In the midst of all of this, how are we to find the hope and joy that this season is meant to bring?
 
That is the plaintive cry of O Come, O Come, Emmanuel. “Emmanuel” means “God with us.” We know, of course, that God is with us all the time, right? Well, we at least know it in our minds. But do our hearts not doubt and wonder? Is God really with me when my spouse is dying? Is God really with me when my marriage is falling apart? Is God really with me when my health is failing? Is God really with me when I lost my job? With the psalmists and the prophets of old, we do cry, with all of our might, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” Come, be with us, ‘God with us,’ for how else can we bear it?
 
Which brings us to the unique hope of the Advent season. God is, in fact, with us. When God came the first time, He was born into the midst of the noise, chaos and mess of life — in a stable behind an inn, surrounded by animals and shepherds and outsiders. God doesn’t call us out of the mess of life, He comes into the mess with us. God “with us” more deeply and profoundly than we ever could have imagined or expected. But more than that. Because Advent doesn’t look back so much as it looks forward. Forward to when Christ will return in glory, might and power. When everything broken will be made whole. When everything sad will come untrue. Advent reminds us that God is with us in the midst of the present messiness of life and our lives, but that one day, God will be with us in fullness and in truth and the mess will be no more.
 
If you are finding this Advent and holiday season to be particularly heavy and difficult, you are not alone. Instead of trying to ignore or drown out the heaviness and hardness of the season, cry out to Emmanuel to come and find you in the mess. It’s what He does best. Cry out for Emmanuel to fix the pain, the hurt, the brokenness of this world once and for all, because this is not the way it is supposed to be. Let Emmanuel be your hope for the present, and for the future.
 
“Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.’” (Rev. 21:1–4)
 
Blessings,
Rev.David Garrison

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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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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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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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