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

Read more...

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

Read more...

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

Read more...

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

Read more...

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


Read more...

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


Read more...

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

Read more...

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

Read more...

Now I See – A Spring 2019 Sermon Series

Throughout his Gospel, John is constantly bringing forward a contrast between light and darkness, belief and unbelief, and sight and blindness. Sometimes John talks about these themes individually (such as John 1:5). Often, these three contrasts are brought together (take, for example, John 3:16-21). In John 9, he weaves these contrasting themes together into one of the most compelling stories in in his Gospel and in Scripture.
 
Over the course of the season of Easter (which runs from Easter Sunday through Pentecost), we’ll be exploring the richness of the story of the man born blind. In this story, John contrasts a man who was born physically blind yet could see better than anyone else with people who could physically see but were actually blind. Along the way, we’ll explore why bad things happen, how to find healing in Jesus, the power of a changed life, the importance of the sabbath, family matters, how to defend your faith, and what it really means to believe and see.
 
The story is only one chapter in John’s Gospel, yet could almost be a book unto itself. We invite you to join us as we discover that, because of Jesus, we once were blind, but now we see. We look forward to seeing you in worship, Sundays at 11am.

Read more...

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

Read more...