Tuesday, January 24, 2017

God, King or Servant

So Samuel delivered God’s warning to the people who were asking him to give them a king. He said, “This is the way the kind of king you’re talking about operates. He’ll take your sons and make soldiers of them—chariotry, cavalry, infantry, regimented in battalions and squadrons. He’ll put some to forced labor on his farms, plowing and harvesting, and others to making either weapons of war or chariots in which he can ride in luxury. He’ll put your daughters to work as beauticians and waitresses and cooks. He’ll conscript your best fields, vineyards, and orchards and hand them over to his special friends. He’ll tax your harvests and vintage to support his extensive bureaucracy. Your prize workers and best animals he’ll take for his own use. He’ll lay a tax on your flocks and you’ll end up no better than slaves. The day will come when you will cry in desperation because of this king you so much want for yourselves. But don’t expect God to answer.”     [1 Samuel 8: 10-18]

This week we held the inauguration of our 45th President here in the United States. It was an unhealthy campaign and produced unhappy results on both sides of the party lines that led to this moment in history.  It was our first president that, remembering scripture, refused to be named king of America and instead, pushed for appointed terms of service to the people. He remembered the warnings of the evil, self-serving ways that could be exacted by rulers and wanted this country to establish a new path for those who rule over others. He wanted to make sure that those who rule are there to serve the people and not the other way around. Washington invoked the name of God so the people of America would not forget God’s leadership. Like the people of Israel in the time of Samuel, the people however, got in the leaders they desired and deserved.

If only we had listened to Washington, chosen a different path than Israel in the time of Samuel and acknowledged our service to God as our King. Though the names change and the offices are titled differently, the story remains the same. History has a habit of repeating itself because we as broken and flawed human beings are, if nothing else, predictable.
Thankfully, God is always ready to forgive and welcome us back, but we first need to come to Him and ask, live repentant lives, again pledge our service to Him and live loving and service filled lives. Is it time yet?

Rev. Michael VandenBerg

Pastor, HOPE Community Church @ the YMCA

Wednesday, December 7, 2016


This time of year is filled with the familiar melodies of our favorite Christmas Carols. We joyously sing them over and over at the top of our lungs until their words become engrained in our consciousness. Music is a reflection of who we are, what our concerns are and where our hopes lie. Someone once described music as the deepest reflection of our souls. Music teaches, soothes, calls us to action, heals our grief, grieves our parents and revives our childhood. Music is the quiet white space against the back drop of our lives written in ink, never to be changed. Music is our worship in the temple of creative grace.

King David used music to express his deepest needs, greatest praise, most solemn remorse and his longing cries to God for his constant help. He wrote his music in the Psalms or sacred songs of the older testament of the Bible. He wrote of his emotions of despair after committing murder, his elation after winning in battle, his joy in finding in God a friend he could always trust and so much more. The Psalms down through the centuries have been one of the most loved books, not only of the Bible but as literature. Its popularity is I am sure due to the way it not only presented King David’s emotions but ours in such clarity.

It use to be that the church worldwide had a repertoire of songs that everyone knew and sang with gusto. Now it seems each congregation has its own songs, own favorites and we have lost some of the unity with which we once sang. While I miss this unity in song, I love the fact that music is still a primary expression of our worship experience and is present in each and every congregation, reflecting for most part the messages of God.

As Advent progresses and Christmas approaches, I find great joy and comfort in once again being reminded of an enduring faith that spans time and generations. With the Carols of the season, comes the joy of childhood, the pensive reflections of youth, the exuberance of young adulthood and the security of middle age, all projected into the expanse of life.

The Hallelujah Chorus breaking into the finality of both Christmas and Easter, the Angelic voices of that first Christmas in Hark the Herald Angels Sing and the resounding chorus of Joy to the World, bring flooding in a lifetime of Christmas’.

May you prepare for the message of hope for the world, in the Carols of the season, as you prepare your heart, even in song, for the coming of the Messiah.

Rev. Michael VandenBerg

HOPE Church @ the YMCA  

Monday, November 28, 2016

Giving or Getting

Giving or Getting
We have just passed through some of the most shopping filled days that we can experience here in North America, Black Friday and Cyber Monday. In between we have Small business Saturday. Of course each of these, like any good sale, stretches out for days if not weeks, so as not to lose a sale and turn our bottom line from being in the red to being in the black.

We as faithful capitalist are more than happy to oblige and continue to shop, fill the ever growing list of wants that over shadow the needs. Like any faithful follower, we American Capitalist will look for ever great methods to find the bargain, even if we don’t really need it. Apps, online, in store, discount, retail, coupons, you name it, we pursue it in the hopes of simply finding that one thing that will ultimately meet our need, our longing, our emptiness.

The problem is that our emptiness, longing and needs can’t be satisfied with drawing resources to us. We can’t shop our way out of loneliness, despair and feelings of anxiety. We can’t buy our solutions, or bargain our way to satisfied living.

Now I am not one of those who is opposed to the gift giving, and Christmas traditions of our past, but let’s pause for just a moment and take a look at what it is that we are trying to accomplish, where that desire comes from and how we can make it more meaningful.

The God who created us is a generous and giving God, one that desires for us, like a parent, the best for their children. We only have to look at the roots of the season we are celebrating to see that “God so loved the world that he GAVE His only son”. The beginnings of Christmas celebrations is God’s giving His son to share with us the way to live satisfied, healthful, and full lives by living them the way they were created to be. Part of our desire to give comes from the God who created us in His image, to reflect His very nature as a giver. It is the outward direction of our desires that fills the holes in our spirit. Outward toward God and outward toward those around us.

Anyone who has ever seen the smile in a child’s face as they open an unexpected gift knows the joy of giving. But have you ever seen the face of someone whom you may not even know that well, come alive as you offer them a gift? It might be an item they need just to make it through the day, it might be time spent with them by their bedside as they struggle for life, or it might even be just giving your companionship, friendship and care to another who is in need of hope. Perhaps that is the best gift giving we can do, to offer ourselves to another, to listen, really listen to them in their need.

Enjoy the gift giving as reflections of your love but never let it become a substitute for your actual love. With it, you will discover that it truly is better to give than to receive.

“For God so loved the world that he gave His only son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but instead have eternal life. God sent His son into the world, not to condemn the world, but that the world might be saved through Him.”  Jn. 3:16-17

Rev. Michael VandenBerg

HOPE Church @ the YMCA

Monday, November 21, 2016


Now is the Time
“But make sure that you don’t get so absorbed and exhausted in taking care of all your day-by-day obligations that you lose track of the time and doze off, oblivious to God. The night is about over, dawn is about to break. Be up and awake to what God is doing! God is putting the finishing touches on the salvation work he began when we first believed. We can’t afford to waste a minute, must not squander these precious daylight hours in frivolity and indulgence, in sleeping around and dissipation, in bickering and grabbing everything in sight. Get out of bed and get dressed! Don’t loiter and linger, waiting until the very last minute. Dress yourselves in Christ, and be up and about!” Rm. 13:11-14 (MSG)

How much of every day do you squander doing things that don’t last, working for things that don’t satisfy, and living for things that won’t bring about eternal satisfaction? If we are all truly honest with one another, we would have to admit that much of our day, every day, is spent on things that in the end, just don’t matter. We focus on the trivial so we don’t have to look at the things that really matter, but are difficult. We spend our lives pursuing things that never satisfy but seem always so important. In the end, what is it that we have to show for our efforts?

As a pastor, I get the opportunity to spend time with those in the last days of life, listening to their joys and their regrets. I get to listen to how either they have taken great joy in how they spent their lives or how foolish they have been and wish they could have a “Do Over”.  Life doesn’t give do overs, so the best we can hope for is to do our best to get it right the first time around. In the letter to the Roman Church, the Apostle Paul tells them that it is time for them to wake up and get going on the things of God, and if not now, when? He tells them to stop burning daylight for things that don’t matter and instead, focus on the things that can make an eternal difference.

What lessons do you want to be remembered for? What do you want your children and grandchildren to know about how you spent your life? Perhaps now, TODAY, is the time to make the break and leave the foolish pursuits of the past in the dust heap and start working diligently for the things that touch the lives of others, build up those around you, make your family, your neighborhood, your business, your world, a better place to live in, just by you having been a part of it. I, in all my years have never heard anyone at the end of life say, I wish I would have spent more time at work and less with my family, more time making money and less time with God. I usually hear just the opposite.

So don’t spend the bulk of your time, however much you have left, writing more schedules, pursuing bigger fortunes, arranging more meetings, but instead, pour yourself into others, build lasting relationships, enjoy the beauty that is all around you even in the worst of days and most of all, come to know your creator. He loves you and want you to come home again.

Rev. Michael VandenBerg

Pastor, HOPE Community Church @ the YMCA

Saturday, November 19, 2016

A Season of Thanks


A Season of Thanks
This is the time of the year when we pause for a moment and reflect on the good things we have experienced over the past year. It is a time when we look to envision what the new year may hold and it is a time of year when we give thanks for what we have.

Past, present and future. For those with insight they are all held together by the commonality of thanks. For the mistakes of the past and for our successes we give thanks for what we have learned from them. For the present difficulties and our joys, we give thanks for being alive and engaged to experience them. And for the possibilities and the insecurities of the future that go with them we give you thanks for the past and the present that have brought us to this point and given us the tools we possess to move forward.

We live in a blessed country, one where we are free to make our own choices, choose our own alliances, make our own mistakes and suffer, but not permanently, our own setbacks. We live in one of the few countries on the face of the earth that has elevated the value of Life, the character of Liberty and the freedom to pursue our own happiness. So why then are so many of us unhappy, unfulfilled, and feeling as though freedom is out of our reach. Perhaps it is a matter of perspective. Do we look for and expect that all these things are within our reach? Do we celebrate our failures as much as we celebrate our successes? Do we accept the responsibility to stand on our own, but not alone?

If you are struggling with the past, avoiding the present and not welcoming the future, then perhaps this would be a good time to take in some wisdom from the past that like the proverbial north star, will allow us to re-compass our course and set a new path into our future.

King David of Israel, encouraged his people to follow his lead when the times get difficult or fears press in by saying, “Come let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker! For He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that TODAY you would listen to His voice!”  Worship is intended to make holy the life we are given and to bring us into the presence of God. It is intended to help us hear with clarity, the voice of God above the rumble and noise of the world around us. It is intended to bring us into an attitude of gratitude for the God who has given us all things, including life itself, and promises to be with us, in good times and in difficult, in failure and success, in health and in illness, even until time itself ends. No promises of a life without care, but only of a God who will care for you, even in the most difficult of times. Why walk alone though life, why not walk with God and start by walking into worship this holy season.

Rev. Michael VandenBerg
HOPE Church @ the YMCA

Monday, November 7, 2016

We Remember


We Remember

This week is Veterans Day and on Monday of this week I had the privilege of honoring the men and women who have served in the various branches of the military with a breakfast provided by the Benjamin Harrison YMCA. I heard Brigadier General (Ret.) J. Stewart Goodwin of the USAF and currently the Executive Director of the Indiana War Memorials Commission speak. He told the largely active and veteran military audience that they needed to stop answering the question of what they did in the military with the phrase, “I was only a…….”. He rightly pointed out that there are no, “only...” positions, in that it takes the efforts of every last soldier to complete the job the military is given to carry out. Without the cooks, the military would starve. Without the laundry the men and women would constantly march with dirty uniforms. Without the supply units, the “beans and bullets” would never get to the front lines where they needed them.

A friend of mine, Major (Ret.) Walter Giffen served during World War II in Europe. He was part of the Quartermaster Corp that kept the supply lines flowing so that our soldiers could and would win the battles at places like Normandy, Omaha Beach, Paris, London, Berlin, etc. At 98 years old, I simply can’t imagine Walter as ever having been an “only” anything. He is the picture of the perfect soldier, ready to give his all in whatever task he is given and never look for the praise or honor, but only the service. Walter will always come to mind when I think of those men and women who give their all, without being mindful of, “what’s in it for me”.

Jesus told his followers that they too were to serve others, sacrificially if need be, without expectation that it would somehow benefit them. They were to give their lives in the service of the Lord, simply out of the honor there came in serving Christ. Hundreds of thousands, men and women, do just that today, not looking for the glory, but just to carry out the master’s orders, to “love one another, as I have loved you”. For these servants of Christ, I stand in honor, even as I did for the soldiers we honored in service to our country.  I too have heard servants of Christ answer the question as to what they do for Christ saying simply, “I am only…”. I concur with General Goodwin, STOP! Christ has given each of us a purpose and a calling and we should honor that calling by standing proud of the job we are doing in His name.

I hope you took the opportunity to honor those you know who have served our country, fought to secure our freedoms and gave their lives for their love of all of us. As well, I hope you will take the opportunity to thank those who serve Christ faithfully with their service to you and the community. I suspect that in many cases, you will be thanking the same persons.

12 My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. 13 Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. 14 You are my friends if you do what I command. (John 15)

Rev. Michael VandenBerg
Pastor: HOPE Church @ the YMCA

Wednesday, November 2, 2016



He is not the God of the dead, but of the living, for to him all are alive.” [Luke 20:38]

God of the Living not the Dead

As I write this, I am awaiting the onslaught of young children, all dressed in costumes, from Superman, to Dracula, Princess Ariel to a dragon. It is Halloween, or the Day of the Dead in other cultures, or as it was centuries ago, All Souls Day Eve (all Hallows-een). Each originally paid respect to departed ancestors as well as to the souls of loved ones who died over the past year.

This time of year, when the seasons change, darkness becomes much more of our norm and the world around us is filled with signs of death in leafless trees, dying plants and bitter cold, become reminders of our own mortality. These holidays were each attempts to acknowledge and pay respect to the dead before us and were our tip of the hat to our death, whenever that may come.

In the Gospel of Luke, we read of the prophet and law giver Moses, encountering God in a burning bush that is not consumed by the fire. But Luke makes a grammatical observation, that the God of Moses, as well as Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in not the God of the dead, but instead, the God of the LIVING. In it he notes that the text says, “I AM” the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not I was the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. All of these saints of God are still alive with Him.

This gives us great hope as we can anticipate, not an eternity of darkness and gloom, illumined only by our fears, but in God, an eternity of light, hope, laughter, love, peace, and joy. God tells us in His revelation to the Apostle John that there will be a new heaven and a new earth that will recover the perfected glory of the original creation.

Halloween in eternity will become an unnecessary and unwelcomed holiday as we will see no more dying, no more tears, no more illness, no more darkness, no more fear. We will face the future with hope and love and will walk with God in person, not merely in memory.
Halloween, Day of the Dead, All Saints Day, All Souls day, until redemption comes, will remind us of our own mortality and honor those who have gone before us, but when God brings about His new creation, we will no longer have any need of these holidays. So I hope you enjoyed the night of ghosts and goblins, super heroes and super villains and the sweet treats that the night brings. But I also hope that you will look for the new life to come in the God of the living, not the dead.

Rev. Michael VandenBerg

Pastor, HOPE Church @ the YMCA 
October 30, 2016