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

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

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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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Pastor’s Corner – February 2020

Almost every Christian would say that they believe in the Bible, but according to a recent Lifeway Research survey, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible. I hear from many folks who have tried to read through the Bible, usually in a year, but haven’t been able to finish. To be honest, it can be a daunting task.
 
One of the other challenges with reading the entire Bible is that many of us only read the Bible in small snippets, a few verses here or there, usually in a Sunday school class or a sermon on Sunday morning. Don’t misunderstand me here, those are important and necessary ways to understand what the Bible is teaching and how to apply it to our lives. But the risk we run is not seeing how each of these isolated passages relate to the grand arc of redemptive history.
 

Binge Reading…

One of my favorite TV shows was LOST. The hardest part of the show, though, was keep track of all of the different threads and plots from week to week. A couple of years ago, my son and I sat down and binged the entire series in a few days. Doing so enabled us to keep track of the various threads much more easily. Sometimes we need to experience the big picture so we can appreciate the details even more. That’s what we’re going to do with the Bible – we’re going to “binge read” it.
 

…The Bible in 90 Days

Beginning on Ash Wednesday, the Session and I invite you to make a commitment to reading through the entire Bible in 90 days. By the time Pentecost rolls around, we’ll have read the whole Bible, from Genesis 1 to Revelation 22. That might sound daunting, but it actually works out to just 12 pages a day. And, you won’t be going through this alone — this is a church-wide endeavor, and we’ll be making several tools available to help you succeed.
 

What Bible Should You Read?

You can read any Bible you like (even an app that reads the Bible to you!) — we’ll provide a reading schedule for those who would like it. However, we recommend purchasing the Bible in 90 Days Bible and participant’s guide (we’ll have these available for $20). You can also find them for your favorite e-reader (Kindle, iBooks, etc). The B90 Bible has a couple of advantages: first, it has the daily readings already broken down in the text, which makes it easier to follow along; second, it has minimal notes and whatnot, which can be very distracting when you’re trying to read on a schedule.
 

Sharing the Journey Together

In addition to the Bible, we’ll be asking everyone to sign up for a discussion group. We’ll have two times during the week — Sunday mornings during the Sunday school hour at 9:45am and Wednesday evening at 5:45pm. This is an essential part of successfully reading through the Bible in 90 days, as it provides accountability and an opportunity to learn and discuss what we’ve just read the previous week. In addition, each Sunday’s sermon throughout the 90 days will follow along with our reading. To help us focus on our readings, we will only be offering the one class during the Sunday school hour for youth and adults.
 

Who Can Participate?

Anyone who can read, frankly! Aside from that, we’re encouraging our late-elementary kids, youth and all adults to participate. Please feel free to invite folks from the community to join us on the journey as well, especially folks you know who might be interested in learning more about what the Bible says – this can be a fantastic evangelism tool.
 

Find Out More on Sunday, February 23

Come to Sunday school on February 23 at 9:45 where we’ll be providing more information about why we believe this is important for our church and how this will work. It’s going to be an exciting journey for all of us, and we look forward to traveling together on The Path of the Phoenix.
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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Reading the Bible as a Single Book – A February 2020 Table Talk Series

Have you ever felt overwhelmed with how long and diverse the Bible is? Do you struggle with seeing it as “one book” with a single message? Join us at Table Talk as we explore the unity of the Bible. We’ll be meeting at 5:45 p.m. on February 5, 12, and 19. This is a practical, hands-on series that will equip you to read through the Bible with greater understanding. You can expect to gain useful tools and resources that will make reading the Bible from cover to cover a more meaningful experience.
 
Join us Wednesdays, 5:45-6:45, beginning February 5.

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January 2020 Pastor’s Corner – Is Anyone Listening?

Is Anyone Listening?

“What is the word that Jesus has for your church?” I looked at my spiritual director a little befuddled, mostly because I wasn’t expecting the question. “Do you believe that Jesus has a word for your church today?” Well, of course I do. “So are you listening for it?” That’s really the question isn’t it? Am I listening for Jesus’ word to Northminster? To me? Just how does Jesus speak to us today? I fully believe that Jesus can speak to us in any form he chooses — directly, through someone else, a nudge of the conscience, the gift of a beautiful sunset, so on and so forth. The primary way He speaks to us is through His Word, the Bible. When we read the Bible, we’re usually pretty aware that we are reading, in some respects, a conversation between God and other people. We easily forget that God’s Word is just as much a conversation between us and God as well. Is anyone listening?
 

Tuning In

Much like tuning our car radio (does anyone even do that anymore?) to get the best reception of our favorite radio station, we will hear that for which we’re listening. When we step outside on a spring or summer day, at first the world sounds quiet. As we listen, as we “tune in,” we begin to hear the birds chirping and the wind rustling the leaves. When we listen more attentively, we begin to pick out different kinds of birds singing to each other. Eventually we can even locate particular birds in the trees and to whom they’re singing. We might not think Jesus is speaking to us, but He is, and we need to make sure we’re tuning in. Are we listening?
I was in the Spirit on the Lord’s day, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet saying, “Write what you see in a book and send it to the seven churches, to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea.” (Rev. 1:10–11)
 
During the season of Epiphany (all of January and February this year), we’re going to focus on “tuning in” to hear what Jesus is saying to us by listening in on what He said to the seven churches in Revelation. In the Bible, the number seven denotes fullness, totality and comprehensiveness. The letters to these seven historical churches represent the church universal. The Word that Jesus had for these seven churches is also the word He has for us individually, for Northminster, and the Church (capital “C” means the universal church, all churches in all times and all places) today. We will use these seven letters to help us tune in to what Jesus is saying to us right now. Once we get tuned in, we can start listening.
 

The Word That Speaks

Jesus isn’t just speaking to us through the seven letters of Revelation, though. We believe that every page of the Bible is the inspired Word of God, but most of us have never read through the entire Bible. How can we say we’re listening to Jesus if we don’t know what His Word says? Beginning on Ash Wednesday, we will embark on a journey to listen to the Word of God itself, the entire counsel of Scripture. In the 90 days from Ash Wednesday through Pentecost, we will read the entire Bible together. I know that sounds kind of daunting, but it works out to just 12 pages a day. Look at it like “binge reading” the entire Bible. Now that many shows and TV series are available to stream, you can watch an entire series in a weekend. “LOST” makes a lot more sense when you binge it (although it’s still really confusing). We’re going to do the same thing with the Bible. The sermons on Sundays will follow along with the weekly readings and we’ll provide tools and other things to help us all stay on track together. We’ll share more details about how this is going to work in next month’s newsletter.
 
The Session and I have been talking and praying about this for many months, and we’re really excited about what God will reveal to us — as individuals and as a church — when we tune in and start listening for His word to us. In 2020, let’s make sure we’re tuned in to Him and listening together.
For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. (Heb. 4:12)
 
Blessings,
Rev. David Garrison

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“It Happened Like This…” – An Advent Sunday School Class

We all know the familiar Christmas story, and each December we are given many opportunities to hear and see the story retold through pageants, nativities and countless other celebrations of the season.  Most of those stories have something in common: they take the accounts of Jesus birth as told primarily through the Gospels of Matthew and Luke, and combine them into one cohesive tale.
 
However, just as each Gospel is unique unto itself, so also are their respective birth narratives.  Of the four gospels, only three have an introduction that refers to the coming of Jesus Christ, and even then only two actually speak of his birth.  In this class, we’ll take a look at what makes the introductions to the Gospels of John, Matthew and Luke unique, how the way they relate the birth of Christ impacts the rest of their Gospel, and what each version means for us, today.
 
Join us Sunday mornings in December.  9:45am in the Tatman room.

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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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