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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New Sunday School Opportunity – Beginning Sunday, January 27

Let me be up front: If you aren’t already attending a Sunday School class at Northminster, we’re inviting you (and your kids) to come to Sunday school.  I suppose it’s kind of obvious that a pastor would make that request, but there’s more to it than that.. Let me explain.
 
I think most of us would agree that our faith is important to us, but when push comes to shove, we (yep, even me) tend to let the hustle-and-bustle of life crowd out the rhythms and practices of our faith. Before we know it, while still important, our faith has been moved to the back seat.
 
Jesus says in John 10:10 that he came so we might “have more and better life than we’ve ever dreamed of.” Being in the back seat of our life likely isn’t what he had in mind. And I think most of us would agree that while our lives might not be terrible, they probably aren’t exactly “more and better than we’ve ever dreamed” either.
 
Here are some things I know, mostly from what I’ve experienced in my own life:
  • The closer I walk with Jesus, the closer I come to that “more and better life.”
  • The more time I spend in God’s Word, the more grounded I am.
  • The more I connect with other believers, the more hope I have.
 
I also know that, as parents, we want to pass on a faith to our children that is meaningful and valuable to them. Along those lines, I also know (again, from my own experience, but also from 20+ years of youth ministry) that there are three key components to passing the faith to our children effectively. They are:
  • Teaching the full gospel of Jesus Christ (more than just “sin management” or whatnot),
  • Parents being the primary ministers to their own children (don’t let this scare you), and
  • Building as many intergenerational connections into kids lives as possible.
 
All of the above is why I’m inviting you to come to Sunday school. Beginning January 6, from 9:45-10:30, I’ll be teaching a new class that will meet in the Tatman Room. But actually, I would think of this as more of a “small group” type thing than “Sunday school.” There will be more discussion than lecture, more questions than dissertation. It’s an opportunity for us to dig into God’s Word together, to understand what it meant back then so we can better understand what it means right now, and to apply it to the nitty-gritty of our lives right now. The better we know God’s Word, the more we will know and live the Gospel, the easier it’ll be to share our faith with our kids through our lives.  We’ll be starting out studying Paul’s letter to the Romans.
 
And that intergenerational part? Well, we happen to have a whole lot of folks in this church who would love the opportunity to love your kids in Jesus’ name. While we’re growing as disciples together, your kids will be being taught the Gospel as well and building those intergenerational relationships I mentioned a moment ago.
 
I know for many of you, Sunday morning is one of the few, precious opportunities you have to sleep in. I also know that getting the kids out the door to be at church by 9:45 can be a hassle. My intent is to make this class, as well as your children’s classes, worth the effort to be here.
 
I hope you’ll join us Sundays at 9:45 in the Tatman Room.

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Pastor’s Corner – October 2017

“As Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, the disciples came to him privately. “Tell us,” they said, “when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
 
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Christ,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” (Matt 24:3–8)

 

 
There’s been a lot of talk lately about the “End Times” and when Jesus is coming back. Christians have been trying to figure that out since Jesus first ascended into heaven. This always happens when we have an abnormal pattern of highly destructive natural disasters, or when unusual events occur in the heavens (such as eclipses, or comets, etc.), or when wars break out around our planet. Most recently, a report made the news that the “End Times” would begin on Saturday, September 23. Saturday came and went, and all is well – if not a little bit hotter than we usually expect for late September.
 
I’ll be honest, there’s a lot about the “End Times” that I don’t know or understand. In fact, Jesus himself said that there’s a lot about this that we’re not going to know or understand: “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.” (Matt 24:36) Here’s what we do know: Jesus is coming back (Revelation 22:20). When he comes back, all that is broken will be made right (Revelation 21:1,5). Until Jesus comes back, we will have suffering and persecution for His name’s sake (John 15:18-25). Outside of those things, Jesus invites us to trust and abide in Him (John 15:1-17).
 
The Thessalonians were swept up in waiting for Jesus’ return. They fully believed his return was so imminent that they stopped doing the work of the Kingdom. We should be diligent in avoiding the same mistake. So what should we do as we wait for Christ’s return? The same thing Paul encouraged the Thessalonians to do:

And we urge you, brothers & sisters, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone. Make sure that nobody pays back wrong for wrong, but always try to be kind to each other and to everyone else.

Be joyful always; pray continually; give thanks in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.

Do not put out the Spirit’s fire; do not treat prophecies with contempt. Test everything. Hold on to the good. Avoid every kind of evil. (1 Thessalonians 5:14-22)

Note particularly verses 23 & 24:

May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.

In other words, be about the work of the Kingdom, and trust in the God who’s name is Faithful. He is true to his promises, and He is true to you. Amen!


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