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Christmas Holiday Ideas

by Pastor Gib Giblin

At Midland Free we want to encourage individuals, families and groups to reach out with the “Good News” of Jesus. Here is the way I view this:  Jesus is part of my life. I don’t have to make it the issue of every talk and conversation, but He is part of my life [I consider it the most important part]. He is my Lord, Savior – my God. What I believe is going to come out. Christmas is a natural time to share this. The “Good News” is simple – Jesus died for my sins and was resurrected from the dead. Sometimes how we share is not. Here are some ideas:

  1. Pray for Our Lord to reveal people to us who are hurting, need help, or need some encouragement. You may know if they are believers. You may not know of their need, but Our Lord, through the Holy Spirit, puts them on your mind and heart. Act on the prompting. It may be neighbors, co-workers, relatives, or friends.
  2. Do something.
  3. Pray for courage to share what Christ and Christmas means to you. Ask others to pray.
  4. Contact them and invite them to meet with you. See below for ideas.

One on one Ideas:

  • Ask them to go to lunch or a coffee shop.
  • Take a neighbor some cookies and ask if they would like to talk [or invite them over for coffee, pie].
  • Ask them to go to the Garden Walk at Dow Garden. There are carols, hot chocolate and opportunity to talk and share life.
  • Watch a Christmas movie together and ask:  What do you think the true meaning of Christmas is?
  • Do life together. Go shopping, walk the mall. Walk around the block. Walk downtown and look at the nativity setup.

Group Ideas:

  • Have a neighborhood gathering [could be an office gathering, apartment gathering, etc.], hand, send or mail invites. Ask everyone to bring something. During the event do something which places the focus on Jesus. Read the Christmas Story [a la Linus -have one of your children read it]. Sing carols, talk about what the carol means to you. Multiple or back to back gatherings work well for some.
  • Have your Life Group or group of friends invite others for an evening of games, watching Christmas movies, snacks or a Progressive Dinner. Plan a Girl’s or Guy’s Night out for your neighborhood or work.
  • Go with a neighbor or friend to the Santa House [do not forget the kids!] and ask if this is what Christmas is all about. As part of a group you can do most of the things listed in One-on-One Ideas.
  • No guilt, no condemnation: pray and follow God’s leading.

Merry Christmas!

Reflection on the Death of Jesus

by Pastor Gib Giblin

The crowds were cheering and the crowds were grieving. Some called for the death of Jesus. It is better, of course, for one man to die than everything being lost, isn’t it? But there were the others, the poor, formerly lame, the rejected but loved by the very man who now carried his own cross down the street, cacophonous with crying, jeering, curious. How can this be happening? He is so loving, kind, merciful, giving. He claims to be God. If ever someone had godlike qualities, it was Jesus. He does not just teach, He explodes our minds with a different view of God; not the harsh father figure sitting in heaven with wrath and vengeance, but the loving, watchful father of the prodigal son, waiting for his son to turn and return and running to him. Healing all the lepers even when only one returned. We saw hope in the future, what was God doing in sending Jesus? But now, here he comes. Horrible. He is unrecognizable. Beaten, scourged. It is like they have taken every frustration and hatred toward life out on Him.

Do I just look on, looking as one who wants to see, observing but not joining in. Why not, I ask myself? Because, another part of me says, you will feel the pain. If you join in you will feel discomfort and thoughts that might be revealing about who I really am. Do you really want to go there, Gib?

Why am I afraid to join in? To feel the pain of Jesus walking and collapsing under the cross, feeling grief with the people who loved Him. To anticipate the excruciating pain of an iron spike penetrating my flesh, wiggling helplessly, unable to escape, unable to get away from the pain, having to push up on my feet to get a breath. The physical agony and anguish is overwhelming. Maybe I don’t want to go there because it makes me feel guilty and inadequate. It should have been me, not Jesus. I deserve to die for my rebellion against God.

As I join in, into the death of Jesus further, even against my desires, there is more of which to be a part. The physical was tough, the emotional/spiritual was worse. Jesus knew this was coming and He foreshadowed to the disciples, saying things like: when I am lifted up from the earth, I will draw all men to myself. He is right; I am drawn to Jesus, even Jesus on a cross. I am drawn to Him, the God-man, a perfect representation of the Father in human form, who has taken my place and died for me. Jesus knew. In the garden He prays, not my will but thy will be done. [Sorry, I still cannot get the thy out of my vocabulary.] He is sweating drops of blood because of the intense stress he is under. I join in and watch, moving as closely as I can picture; I am there, watching my Lord; I am moved with love, respect, anguish, tears. In a way, in my mind, the garden is more emotionally moving to me; Jesus submitting to the will of the Father. O Lord, help me submit to You as well. I want to, but like the sleeping disciples, my spirit is willing but my flesh is weak. Help me to love You with all of my heart, my soul, my strength, and my mind.

Yes, I already rejected the jeering crowd calling for the death, but at some point I do cheer and rejoice in it. But that does sicken me, too! I know what His death means to me, many others – the power of His resurrection, a changed life, a new life in Him – forever changed in ways I do not even know – called into a foreign world of following, to obeying, submitting to understanding His words in the garden,”not my will by they will be done.”

Yes, I am in and desiring to go deeper and share with others my Jesus. Don’t fight it. Join us as we reflect, look and rejoice on Resurrection Sunday.

Angella Peters Faith Story

Angella Peters – Obey the Word of God, January 24, 2016 >>Link to video

When Kim Goodnight asked me to speak to you about Obedience, my first thought was, “She has got the wrong person!” My sins from the past caused me to think that I should be the last person to talk about obedience. Then I heard God’s Word, “Everything hidden will come into the light.” John 3:21 “But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what he has done has been done through God.”

Allow me to explain: In September of 2010 my world came to a traumatic point where I was like shattered glass with pieces of me shattered everywhere on the floor. I have seen the root of evil, the darkest side of people, and the most evil side of myself. Out of frustration, anger, sadness, disappointment, and a desperate desire to be loved, I pretended to be someone I wasn’t. In the end I realized I’d become nothing more than an object. It was in that moment that I had come to the very end of myself. I surrendered control, got on my hands and knees, and cried out to God to save me!

I wept uncontrollably for days until my son took me to my parents’ house. The years of disobedience and pretending that everything was all right had finally come to an end. It was at that moment that God showed me His great mercy and grace. I didn’t deserve it, but He began to put all the shattered pieces of my life together like a wonderful work of art. It was not easy, but it was absolutely necessary. God needed me to come to the end of myself.

I know someone needs to hear my story because God can turn our messes into our message. Jesus paid the ultimate price to free us from our sins, to give us salvation, forgiveness, and redemption. God has been working on me for a long time and ever since I fell on my knees and wept for true forgiveness, my life has been transformed. Psalm 43:3, “Send forth your light, and your truth let them guide me; let them bring me to your holy mountain to the place where you dwell.” None of us does it right; that is why we need Jesus. I have personally been delivered from darkness and delivered into His light. God is capable of trading sin and death for holiness and life when we are obedient to His word. Obedience comes when we deliberately take action; when we stop thinking with our head knowledge, and start thinking with the mind of the Holy Spirit. Obedience is a way of life and it is the key. Jesus said, “If you love me you will keep my commandments.” We don’t get to pick and choose what we will obey. 2 John 6, “this is love that we walk in obedience to His commands, as you have heard from the beginning.” His command is that you walk in Love.

1 Peter 1:22, “obeying the Truth of God purifies us and frees us to have sincere love for our brothers, loving one another deeply.” As God has been teaching me obedience, I have seen His glory at work–the work of His hands. For example, at age 13 God gave me a vision and a heart for the people of Africa. I knew one day God was going to send me there, but it took exactly 30 years for me to get out of my own way and obey God. In January 2014 the vision God gave me as a young girl came to life when I obeyed His call to go to Gulu, Uganda, through Midland Free. The trip was incredible and filled with God’s handiwork. It’s not about me or you; it’s about God’s truth, His glory, and the love he has for us. John 15:16, “You did not choose me but I chose you to go and bear fruit; fruit that will last.” “There is nothing in all of creation that is hidden from God’s sight. Everything that is hidden is brought into the light because everything is uncovered and laid bare before God,” Hebrews 4:13-14.

Please read God’s Word and obey Jesus’s teachings and believe in Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. God sees your heart and mind and knows everything about you. Submit to God in obedience. Jesus said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” Jesus will never leave you nor forsake you. He is everything you need. All things are possible with God. I know because He saved me. I am now free to live a life of obedience each day, including serving in Children’s Ministries and Women’s Ministries at Midland Free, and surrendering to whatever else God calls me to do on His behalf. Thank you!

Walt and Theresa Reaume Faith Story

From January 17, 2016 – Live by the Holy Spirit >>Link to video

We are Walt & Theresa Reaume.  We will celebrate 52 years of marriage in April.  While we were married in church in 1964, we were more devoted to our own comforts and ambitions rather than one another.  We were pretty selfish and self-serving and this attitude often put us at odds with each other.

On Valentine’s Day weekend in 1987, we were invited to attend a marriage retreat. We said to each other, “Do we need to go?” It was during that retreat that our eyes were opened and we realized how we had been growing apart, and our marriage was, indeed, in trouble. Later that year, in October, Walt first attended a spiritual retreat focusing on his relationship with Christ. When he came home, I knew there was a drastic change in him. When it came time for me to attend my retreat, I was reluctant to go.

Because I love Theresa, I said to her, If you value our marriage, “you will go.” Pretty strong words for me. At these retreats, we learned about Christ’s love for us exactly as we are – flawed people, in need of repentance, and forgiveness and beginning a new life with Jesus.

Up to that point, neither of us understood what it meant to be filled with the Holy Spirit.  We rededicated our lives to Christ and this was the beginning of a new life trusting Christ and wanting to live completely for Him. One of the first areas of change the Holy Spirit worked in our lives was giving us a desire to know God’s Word. We were convicted that in order to grow in our walk with Christ, we needed to develop the daily discipline of reading and studying His Word.

We quite often spend time in the morning over a cup of coffee or two discussing what we are learning. We can be studying the same lesson, yet have entirely different perspectives.

The Holy Spirit has guided us to understand that God intended for Christian marriage to reflect Christ’s love for His church. The references of Christ as the bridegroom and His Church as the bride helped us to see we are to live and love sacrificially in our marriage.

We have learned to be compassionate and forgiving toward each other. The Holy Spirit convicts us daily of our sin especially in our words to one another. When we are tired or discouraged, it is too easy to say unkind words. We are much quicker to recognize our sin, confess and ask for forgiveness.

We want our marriage to be an example to others coming behind us. We want others to see that marriage should be and can be filled with joy. We are seeing too many couples today breaking their covenant with one another. We would encourage couples to trust God, listen to the Holy Spirit, and know there is much blessing to come when you are obedient to God’s call in your marriage.

Probably the greatest work of the Holy Spirit in our marriage came during the darkest time of our lives together. The deep pain we experienced in the death of our youngest son at 26 years old caused us to become completely dependent on God and on one another.

We know that the experience of losing a child can quite often result in a split for a couple. For us, it was a time when we felt the presence of the Holy Spirit most profoundly. He drew us to God’s Word for comfort. He showed us how to comfort one another.  He sent friends to comfort us. All of these things showed us how much God loved us.

While we asked many questions of God concerning Bob’s death, we never doubted His love and mercy for us or for our son. We know now that we would have never survived this time in our life without the Spirit drawing us close to God and to one another. Over time – a long time – the Holy Spirit has taught us to be thankful in all things both big and small. We are ever grateful to our God for the love He has given us for one another.

As our growth in God has increased so has our love for one another. There is a passage in the book of Joel which  says: “I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten.”  This passage can definitely apply to our marriage.

Before Christ, our relationship was dry and damaged. But God, (we love those two words, But God) has healed our relationship and blessed us abundantly for those lost years.

Len Bogan Faith Story

View the faith story of Len Bogan from January 10, 2016. Trust in Christ Alone for Salvation.

Multiply Disciple Makers

by Patrick McElgunn

I lead a Life Group at Midland Free. You might recognize me as one of the MCs who does the greeting and announcements before some of the services on Sunday morning or the guy that forgot to introduce his family when we lit the Advent wreath a few weeks ago. But in all seriousness, I was invited to share about the story of our Life Group journey over the past five years and how we have focused on deep relationships, growth and multiplying our group.

My wife, Shannon, and I where attenders here at Midland Free in high school and became regular attenders after we moved back to Midland once we had finished our undergraduate studies at Hope College in 2010. Even though we both had spent most of our lives growing up in Midland, trying to find a community of friends and fellow believes after college was difficult and awkward. Midland Free has a lot of great programs and ministries, but we quickly found out that there wasn’t a whole lot for our age group and life stage. Jared and Becca started the only Life Group for our age demographic. We signed up as fast as we could and started building relationships with the people in that group. It soon became apparent that there was a need for more groups like the one that Jared and Becca had started. But Shannon and I had no intention of leading a Life Group. The funny thing with God, though, is that he has His own plans. Another couple in the group, Sean and Meghan Cody, approached us to co-lead a second Life Group with them because neither of us felt like we had the time or the ability to lead a group on our own. And so the Cody/McElgunn group was born. Little did we know that this convenient model of co-leading would be the foundation for us to sustainably grow our groups. What started as an overfilled, 14-member Life Group meeting in a 700 sq.ft. apartment has today turned into three inter-dependent Life Groups made up of nearly 40 people! So in three years God multiplied our members three-fold! Praise God for He is good!!

As much as none of us could have ever anticipated that our original group would grow to what it is today, none of it happened by accident. All of this was born out of a deep desire to give our peers a community and a place to call home. We had a strong emphasis on engaging each other not only spiritually for two hours each week, but also by actually doing life together on a regular basis. Guys hosted game nights, girls got together and did girl things. We had each other over for dinner, made a conscious effort to serve the Midland community, and made phone calls and told people they were missed. All of this not because we were trying to play “Big Brother,” but because we truly cared about them, wanted to make sure everyone was ok and our group dynamic was always so different when people weren’t able to come. We made relationships the priority—our relationships with God, each other, the church, and the greater Midland community.

We had a great thing going! We had an amazing community of 14 people who loved each other, spent time together, and had more inside jokes than I can count. It would have been VERY easy for us to stop there and close ourselves off into our own holy huddle….but what good is that? I am reminded of a song that I always sing with my daughter, Piper – This Little Light of Mine. (Hide it under a bushel, NO! I’m gonna let it shine) As much as we are called to be engaged and fellowship with each other and build upon our own spiritual life, we are also called to be the light of the world. I cannot even count how many requests we received from Mary Donnelly to see if we had room in our Life Group during that first year. And that doesn’t even include the people that where naturally assimilated into our group through our members inviting people that they ran into at church, work, or any other activities they were involved in throughout the week. God was obviously calling us to grow. So we grew…..and grew again…..Never in haste, always seeking wise counsel, always partnering a leader with a co-leader who is ready and willing to spin off another group when the need arises, and always focused on the relationships that were so important to us in the beginning—our relationship with God, each other, the church, and our community. God does not call us to live our lives in holy huddles or hide our light under a bushel, but rather He calls us to let it shine! I hope this story encourages and inspires you to be that light right where He has you.

>>More about Life Groups at Midland Free

An Invitation to Pray

by Pastor David J. Jebaratnam

The Elders and Pastors at Midland Free made a commitment to pray for 30 people/families during the 30 days of September. You may have received an email or phone call asking for specific prayer requests or just a note letting you know that one of your leaders had prayed for you.

God desires to hear our prayers. Philippians 1: 4 says, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. As God so often does, He blesses the one who is praying as well as the person for whom the prayers are being lifted in intercession.

The individuals for whom I prayed during these 30 days played a key role in revitalizing my prayer life and I want to thank you for that. There were times when I went to sleep with not having anyone to pray for on the next day. But when I woke up the next day to pray, I had one of your emails. In this way, the Lord stretched my faith a few times. Praise be to the Lord, He has provided a person or family to pray for on each day. And you have been an important part of that process as the Lord taught me new lessons.

Now, as I mentioned at church a few weeks ago, I invite you to generate your own list of 30 people/families and pray during the month of October. The people/families you pray for can be members of your family or friends, colleagues at work, neighbors, people at church, etc. They can be Christians or non-Christians. It doesn’t matter who you pray for; rather our desire is that you pray. Would you join the Elders and Pastors and others at church who would be taking up this challenge to pray for 30 people/families during the month of October? Would you join and be instrumental in creating a Movement of Prayer at our church?

Thank you in advance for your favorable consideration of this invitation! With much appreciation for you,

Pastor David

Working Toward Financial Peace

by Jan and Jim Bow

In 2013 Jim and I made a decision to attend Financial Peace University to learn more about our finances. We thought it would be helpful to learn more about budgeting. This program can help people of all ages, single or married. Financial Peace University is Christian-based financial counseling. It helps us to be better stewards of what God has entrusted to us.

The definition of stewardship from a Bible dictionary is: Responsibility to manage all the resources of life for the glory of God. Acknowledging God as provider.

It says in the word: Proverbs 15:22, “Without good advice everything goes wrong. It takes careful planning for everything to go right.”

FPU helps with the planning part. If you were going to ask us where we are today, we would say that we are much more aware of our position as far as our finances are concerned. We encourage anyone at any age to attend this class to work towards financial peace.

Financial Peace

by Linton Phillips

Having watched a significant downsizing in the Military in the mid-1990’s, I changed careers by moving into the “business world” in 1996, and have held various positions in the Pharmaceutical Industry for 19 years. Similar to my military experience, I’ve seen ups and downs in “downsizing” or “rightsizing” of many peers and that includes living in Midland seeing DOW and DOW CORNING experience change. In full disclosure, though, I’ve not personally experienced “job loss;” I’ve spent many hours (and many sleepless) nights with a fear of “what would we do” if this were to happen to “us”… In 2010, I made a company change and it was then I decided to make changes in our life beyond just a job. You see, through the news, or reading, or others’ advice – not only did I need to develop a plan that could help me take care of my family in case of job loss – but also I knew that I needed to “save for college, 529s, save for retirement, IRA, ROTH IRA, 401k, pay my house off, help my extended family, give more to the church, etc…” As I sought “financial advice,” if you looked inside my head, you’d know that though it was financial advice, it really was me needing direction that would help get the stressful thoughts out of my head and give me “peace.” I was allowing much of this to suck the joy of being a Christ Follower out of my life.

It was then that I heard about Financial Peace University. A class was being hosted at another church here in Midland and it piqued my interest. Honestly, I wasn’t sure it was what I needed – I really didn’t want to sit through 13 weeks of a budgeting class and it wasn’t like I had insurmountable debt that I was trying to wade through. But I gave it a shot. The 13-week class taught me a ton! It teaches biblically based principles on giving, saving, spending, etc… and then offers practical, step by step instructions on how to prioritize all those other things I mentioned that were spinning in my head. Not only did it help with the financial aspect I was seeking, it helped Heather and I focus and align more on what our goals and dreams were. It has helped me teach my children many concepts I didn’t know growing up. Hopefully they can avoid some of the mistakes I made earlier in life.

This class made such a dramatic effect in me that I sought out Pastor David. The conversation went something like: “FPU has been one of the best classes I’ve ever been through. Though it helped me with financial planning and stewardship, the benefits were significantly more on the spiritual end – I now have a “Peace” in this aspect I’ve never felt before.” I then told him, “I was irritated that I had to go to another church to find this class” and “that our church should be feeding our flock here, at Midland Free.” His response was, “Linton, when would you like to start teaching it?”

And here we are. Our church has offered on average, 1 to 2 classes per year. This fall, we are offering two separate 9-week classes:  Sunday mornings and Wednesday nights. I believe this is part of my calling here at MEFC – to share what I’ve learned through FPU. It is a video-based series and we will have the opportunity to discuss specific questions from the curriculum and address questions you have. It does require some homework, it’s fun to do, it will help you communicate with your spouse more (if you are married), and you will learn a ton. No matter your “financial” situation, we all can learn something new in this class. Maybe you have it all figured it out but can use pearls from this class to help teach your peers or the next generation. “Financial Peace” is part of the gospel to me. Imagine what can GOD do through us when we abandon our own selfishness and are committed to following his principals – that includes financial stewardship.

If you are interested in signing up, please follow this link. There is a fee associated with the materials but please do not let this be a deterrent for you. There are scholarships available.

fp blog

On the Road to Responsible Financial Stewardship

by Gary and Chelsea Topolewski

Hello to you all. We are the Topolewski family. We have two boys, Carter and Jasper, and our third baby will arrive in February. We’ve been attending Midland Free for nune years. Chelsea is the Early Childhood Coordinator with Children’s Ministries at Midland Free and Gary is an usher. We  have been involved in other ministries as well. We have attended a Small Church, Life Group, and taken several classes offered over the last few years.  Today, we’d like to tell you about the most applicable and significant class we’ve experienced at Midland Free.

A couple of years ago Chelsea saw a bulletin announcement about Financial Peace University. She immediately rolled her eyes and thought, “Oh no. It’s arrived here in Midland.” See, friends of Chelsea’s from college went through the class at their church in Texas and just raved about how life changing it was. They went on and on via Facebook and emails.  “Dave Ramsey is a genius. Dave Ramsey’s plan is easy to implement once you commit.  Jump on the debt-free train  It will be a wild ride!” Various situations over the course of a couple of years before this had led us into deep debt, often spawning some of our most passionate fights…I mean, discussions. Chelsea sort of nudged Gary and pointed. He shrugged his shoulders and continued to listen as the sermon began.

Fast forward a couple of weeks and there we were…sitting at a round table waiting for Financial Peace University to begin. As Linton Phillips facilitated the class and we got to know him and others within the group, it was kind of a relief to know that we weren’t alone. Our passionate discussions became more productive and focused as each week of the class passed. We were able to start on step one, which is to save a small emergency fund of $1000. It was a sacrifice and it was hard. We prayed for wisdom and discernment about where to cut things in our budget in order to save this money. No more Coffee Chaos, a total bummer. No more visits to the gym for a while, another disappointment. We were about halfway through step one and almost all the way through our 9-week class when we experienced firsthand why an emergency fund is necessary.  Seriously?! Our dryer stopped spinning. Not using a credit card and definitely not having enough regularly budgeted cash on hand, we had to use some of our emergency fund to fix the dryer. We grumbled and groaned about taking the money out. I mean, we had LITERALLY scraped the bottom of the barrel to save that money in the first place. But once the deed was done and our dryer was back up and running, it was the first time in a long time we breathed deeply. We were simply able to fix it. No fighting, no juggling bills around or not paying a bill to deal with the emergency. We were caught off guard but were prepared.

This year has brought financial trials for us with Gary making a career chang.e  It isn’t just about money, though. It is a lifestyle change, forcing you to re-think all areas of our life. We don’t have it all figured out and certainly are not debt free…yet. So, we’re trying to work our Sunday schedules out in order to repeat the class  It would be great to see some of you there. Regardless of your financial situation or lifestyle, Financial Peace University is a great way to start or continue on the road to responsible financial stewardship.

>>Link to sign-up for Sunday Financial Peace University Class

>>Link to sign-up for Wednesday Financial Peace University Class