God is in the Seasons

Reach | Devotion #3: God is in the Seasons
Kenny Hovis | Prison Ministry Director

I love living in Michigan. I have been to many other beautiful cities, states, and even countries.  Many of them are known for their beautiful waters or mountains. So, why is it that I am so enamored with this magnificent state? For me, it is the four seasons and what each of them has to offer. First, there is the freshness of the air on a winter morning!  Spring brings the fragrance of newly blooming flowers. Hours spent on any one of a thousand lakes or Great Lakes, swimming, boating, or just enjoying a picturesque sunset is nearby during the summer. Finally, there is the grand majesty of fall with its wildly diverse color, each one separate, but together forming a masterpiece by the original art Master. Yes, God is in the seasons.

Through the years of my life, there have been different seasons. I have served in many capacities in the church.  I sang in the choir, traveled in a singing group, taught Sunday school, was a youth director, served in jail ministry, and led worship. I even felt God was leading me to go to school to become a youth pastor.  All the while I told myself that I was doing it for God, but as I look back now, I realize that I was more interested in the approval and praise of men. I was trying to earn my way to Heaven. I yearned to have people like me think I had it all together.

While I was spending so much time trying to earn my way into God’s graces, I was neglecting my family. My wife grew resentful of my time away, and we grew apart. I convinced myself I was the one being wronged, and I stood defiant to all that the Holy Spirit was convicting me. As a result, my marriage of 20 years ended.

Jeremiah 50:31-32 says, “Behold, I am against you, O proud one, declares the Lord God of Hosts, for your day has come, the time when I will punish you. The proud one shall stumble and fall, with none to raise him up, and I will kindle fire in his cities, and it will devour all that is around him.”

I went into a dark season in my life and spent some time trying to convince myself, family, and friends that I had been wronged. The great deceiver had convinced me that my actions were just, and that all would be fine. My faith waned, and I blamed God. Through this season, I reached my lowest point and realized I could not fix it. I had disqualified myself from being a pastor, but if nothing else, I wanted my faith in God to be more real to me than ever. I still pray that prayer today.

Ephesians 2:8-10 is so clear and powerful, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.”

The season of my life since then has been a constant struggle for me to not feel like damaged goods. I have a nagging voice that chirps in my ear saying, “You are useless to God.” God’s desire through eternity, even to the point of sacrificing His Son, is to have a restored relationship with His creation. I believe God is in the restoration business. He restores us to Himself when we are repentant children, which enables Him to bless us again.

I have been married to a wonderful woman for 13 years now. I see her living out her faith, God revealing Himself to her, and her faith becoming more real to her every day.  Now we still struggle to find the courage to deny ourselves, and live by faith daily, but it is our goal.  We pray that we are an example to our children of how to live by faith.

Now, I tell that voice that I have a purpose. I have been restored by the work of Christ on the cross to a faith, stronger now more than ever. God still has a plan for me.

My Story

Reach | Devotion #2: My Story
Pat Bedell | Special Projects

I am a sinner. I am not perfect. I will never be worthy. However, I am a child of God, and that is the greatest blessing I have never deserved. 

I grew up in a small town in a somewhat sheltered home life. It was not that my parents did not necessarily trust me, but they also did not want to expose me to the negativity of the world. I grew up in a Catholic church going sporadically over the course of my youth. When I started high school, I became a little more interested in God and decided to attend more often. After graduation and heading off to college, I found myself with a small void, but I did not take the initiative to seek out God in my first year of college.

I grew up in a wonderful household. My dad is the hardest worker I know, and he taught me about work ethic, sacrifices, and how to love with everything you have. My mother is the most thoughtful person I know. She taught me to think of others before yourself, and to be the kindest person in the room. They taught me many other positive things while growing up, but the negative things in my head were brewing with every compliment I ever received. Pride was my kryptonite, and it always struck hard. I was great in sports, a phenomenal musician, and was good at just about anything I tried. I was “that guy” that was good at everything. Many thought it was cool, many despised my talents. There were occasions it was hard to get my head through the door. I was always looked up to by my family to set a good example and to be a positive role model for my younger siblings and cousins. After having such a prideful attitude for myself, I somewhat felt pressured by family to keep up with the pride to make sure that my kin would follow suit. I was headed down a path that only would lead to selfishness and boastfulness which is what took over my life in my first year of college.

My second year of college is when a new friend of mine invited me to an on-campus ministry. He told me it was non-denominational which did not mean much to me at the time, but it opened my eyes the moment the gathering had started. My first thought was “there are drums in church?” From then after that, I became more interested in God. It was late October of 2007 when I gave my life to Christ. I felt such a burden lifted off of my shoulders from all of life’s hardships. It was then that I learned that no matter what I was going through, I could let God handle everything in my life. I started to learn more stories in the Bible, and there was a sermon taught to me about pride, boasting, and selfishness. It hit me pretty hard, and it was then that I learned that pride is the work of Satan and that I should only boast in the name of Jesus. I also was challenged that I should put others before myself as my mother taught me and what the Word of Jesus tells us to do. 

After being baptized and living my life for Jesus, I began to use my talents in a peculiar way. I played music for the worship team, I would play intramural sports with a team affiliated with the Christian organization (knowing we were going to lose pretty bad), and I would use my trade skills to help those in need on mission trips. It was not long after that I was taught out of the book of Matthew about the parable of talents. Matthew 25: 14-30 states, “For it will be like a man going on a journey, who called his servants and entrusted to them his property. To one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. He who had received the five talents went at once and traded with them, and he made five talents more. So also he who had the two talents made two talents more. But he who had received the one talent went and dug into the ground and hid his master’s money. Now after a long time, the master of those servants came and settled accounts with them. And he who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five talents more, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me five talents; here, I have made five talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ And he also who had the two talents came forward, saying, ‘Master, you delivered to me two talents; here, I have made two talents more.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful over a little; I will set you over much. Enter into the joy of your master.’ He also who had received the one talent came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew you to be a hard man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you scattered no seed, so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here, you have what is yours.’ But his master answered him, ‘You wicked and slothful servant! You knew that I reap where I have not sown and gather where I scattered no seed? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and at my coming I should have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him and give it to him who has the ten talents. For to everyone who has will more be given, and he will have an abundance. But from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” 

After reading this parable, I knew how to use my talents to glorify God. I was going to use my talents to spread the Gospel of Jesus. Since then, my talents seem to be growing in number, and I will turn around and use them for His glory. I feel it is such a blessing and honor to be able to be a servant in His kingdom.  

With a wife of three years and our first child on the way, I am so excited to be able to bring our child up with the love of Christ in his or her life. With this new adventure, we are about to embrace, putting God at the center of our household and with steadfast prayer, I believe God is going to bless our home abundantly! 

Ramblings of the Redeemed

Reach |• Devotion #1: Ramblings of the Redeemed
Matthew Darden | Custodial

Born the second of five to two Crystal Meth addict parents in rural Missouri, my childhood was filled with CPS visits, drawn-out stays with relatives, and the always changing environment of houses due to the nature of the drug world. The cycles mentioned above continued until I was eight years old when my dad was in prison. My aunt from Michigan came down to take him to a halfway house. In the time before he had to check in, he and his sister came to visit my mom and us kids. Upon arriving, he saw that the six of us plus one of my mother’s friends are all staying in a two-bed motel room. My aunt offered to bring us up to Michigan for a vacation to give my mom a chance to get her stuff together a little bit. Two days into our Michigan trip my mother was arrested. With both parents incarcerated and us kids away from our usual relatives, we stayed with my aunt who opened her home to us kids and began to take care of us. 

I began to experience love and consistency of life I had never been exposed to before; I flourished. During these next six years, while I lived at my aunt’s house, I became active in church, received Christ, and served in various capacities while furthering my faith. As I entered the last year of my middle school career, I moved in with my dad and became entranced with the world and “all it had to offer.” Doubts crept in, and I began to question my faith. My dad was now clean from Meth but was still a very heavy smoker and not very interested in parenting. This lack of parental supervision encouraged me to explore my various lustful desires. The continued strain on the relationship between my father and I, in addition to his alcoholic new bride, caused me to move out when I was sixteen. 

I stayed with friends until the end of the school year, then having reconnected with my mother returned to Missouri under the pretense of her being clean. Within days I saw that she was not clean; this discouragement and bitterness allowed me to let go of any previous reservations I had, and I lived completely for myself and any fickle desire that presented itself to me. I returned to my maternal aunt’s house for the remainder of high school and beginning of college. 

For the next three years, I partied and doubted attempting to satisfy that which is insatiable. In bitterness, I looked to the world for freedom; in brokenness, I found all-encompassing chains. To serve a master that is never pleased or satisfied is a horrible thing indeed. By the end of these three years, my mother’s hepatitis B had become liver cirrhosis. Abandoned by who she thought held her dear, that is her friends and lovers in the drug world, she had nobody. A good friend and I moved in to help her. At this point, having found no contentment in all the things I felt would surely give my life meaning or at the very least happiness, I began to think about my faith a little more. My mother’s sickness progressed until she finally passed. Throughout my mother’s sickness, I prayed occasionally but never one time for healing, rather for salvation for her soul. 

The seed planted when I was yet a child, remained there no matter what substance or alcohol I dumped on it. That seed continued to convict me and draw me closer. My mother’s death shook me up, and made me evaluate my morality and what I would leave behind when I passed. The question became how do I want to live my life? I began for the first time to get into the Word for myself. I was enthralled, captivated, and astounded by the realness and applications that the Bible showed me. Having been saved as a child, at age nineteen, I began to live for God. What did I receive? Contentment, forgiveness, a purpose, and peace that surpasses all understanding were part of the gift.

My favorite verse is Titus 3:3-5 (KJV), “For we ourselves also were sometimes foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But after that the kindness and love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and the renewing of the Holy Ghost.”

John Calvin

Lesson Eighteen | Devotion #6: John Calvin
Dr. Randy T. Johnson | Growth Pastor

Often when people think of John Calvin, they only speak of the TULIP. This is an acronym used to summarize five of his key theological (and maybe controversial) points: Total depravity, Unconditional election, Limited atonement, Irresistible grace, and Perseverance of the saints. Although you may not agree with him, he has had a huge affect on the church today.

Not much is written of his testimony, but Christianity Today records, “With his brother and sister and two friends, John Calvin fled Catholic France and headed to the free city of Strasbourg. It was the summer of 1536; Calvin had recently converted to the ‘evangelical’ faith and had just published The Institutes of the Christian Religion, which articulated his Protestant views. He was a wanted man.”

The Institutes of the Christian Religion was written as a basic guide to the Christian faith. Calvin described it, “The whole sum of godliness and whatever it is necessary to know about saving doctrine. I labored at the task especially for our own Frenchmen, for I saw that many were hungering and thirsting after Christ and yet that only a very few had any real knowledge of him.” His work is still read and respected today.

Calvin’s journey was unique. He started off studying for the priesthood, but then switched to the study of law. In studying to be a lawyer, his reading became quite diverse, and he was jolted by reading the Bible in its original languages.

Calvin’s final days were very active. Christianity Today reports, “Calvin drove himself beyond his body’s limits. When he could not walk the couple of hundred yards to church, he was carried in a chair to preach. When the doctor forbade him to go out in the winter air to the lecture room, he crowded the audience into his bedroom and gave lectures there. To those who would urge him to rest, he asked, ‘What? Would you have the Lord find me idle when he comes?’” Calvin made a huge impact for the Lord right up to his death.

John Calvin made other noteworthy statements:

“A dog barks when his master is attacked. I would be a coward if I saw that God’s truth is attacked and yet would remain silent.”

“Seeing that a Pilot steers the ship in which we sail, who will never allow us to perish even in the midst of shipwrecks, there is no reason why our minds should be overwhelmed with fear and overcome with weariness.”

“There is not one blade of grass, there is no color in this world that is not intended to make us rejoice.”

“However many blessings we expect from God, His infinite liberality will always exceed all our wishes and our thoughts.”

“I gave up all for Christ, and what have I found? Everything in Christ.”

Charles Finney

Lesson Eighteen | Devotion #5: Charles Finney
Dr. Randy T. Johnson | Growth Pastor

Charles Grandison Finney was a lawyer, evangelist, theologian, author, and college president. He was also the most famous revivalist of the Second Great Awakening. While most preachers ‘waited’ for the right timing for a revival, Finney believed the time was always right. He said, “More than five thousand millions have gone down to hell, while the church has been dreaming, and waiting for God to save them without the use of means.” While others studied approaches, Finney preached.

Not much is said about Finney’s childhood. Apparently, he was well-educated and became a lawyer. Christianity Today records his salvation moment, “The 29-year-old lawyer Charles Grandison Finney had decided he must settle the question of his soul’s salvation. So on October 10, 1821, he headed out into the woods near his Adams, New York, home to find God. ‘I will give my heart to God, or I never will come down from there,’ he said. After several hours, he returned to his office, where he experienced such forceful emotion that he questioned those who could not testify to a similar encounter.” Finney walked into the woods lost and came out found.

His salvation was radical and life-changing. The next day he went to his law office as normal, but it was different. He met with his next client and said, “I have a retainer from the Lord Jesus Christ to plead his cause and cannot plead yours.” Finney felt the immediate call to leave law and become a preacher.

Although he became a preacher, his style was very analytical as that of a lawyer. He used logic and expected people to make an open and public confession to follow Jesus. He knew he was saved miraculously and expected the same for others. We need a faith like that.

Finney, ‘the father of modern revivalism,’ said many valuable things:

“A state of mind that sees God in everything is evidence of growth in grace and a thankful heart.”

“Nothing tends more to cement the hearts of Christians than praying together.”

“It is the great business of every Christian to save souls.”

“If the presence of God is in the church, the church will draw the world in. If the presence of God is not in the church, the world will draw the church out.”

“Revival is a renewed conviction of sin and repentance, followed by an intense desire to live in obedience to God. It is giving up one’s will to God in deep humility.”

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