Pastor John E. Russell
Senior Pastor
Downriver Christian Community Church
Melvindale, Michigan

Thursday, March 31, 2011

The Times They Are a-Changin'

The line it is drawn the curse it is cast
The slow one now will later be fast
As the present now will later be past
The order is rapidly fadin'
And the first one now will later be last
For the times they are a-changin'

The above is an old folk song called the "The Times They Are a-Changin'." It was written by Bob Dylan in 1964.

Old Bob, he understood the times he was livin' in. That song is one of Dylan's most famous. Many felt it captured the spirit of social and political upheaval that characterized the 1960s. It also made Dylan famous.

The point I'm making is this singer and songwriter saw what was happening in our country and made a living writing about it. He understood the times he was living in.

1 Chronicles 12 lists the tribes that were committed to following David. 1 Chronicles 12:32 lists the “men of Issachar, who understood the times and knew what Israel should do...”

These men saw the changes happening around them and realized the call to respond! God thinks it important enough to comment on a people who understood the times and knew what to do about it.

A very famous opening line in The Tale of Two Cities begins "It was the best of times, it was the worst of times..." You could certainly say that of today. So many advances in so many areas, but so many declines in other areas of our materialistic culture, especially morals and Godliness. And yet, this is an absolutely wonderful time to share the Gospel, precisely because of the emptiness of materialism.

People are hungry for meaning - for something of real value - and nothing is more meaningful or more valuable than a relationship with Christ. If we understand the times we are going through and if we make the most of these things, God will work them out to our good.

Our world is filled with people who don’t have a clue what life is all about. They can’t see what’s going on around them. They can’t see the battle that is raging between good and evil. They don’t know that their eternal lives hang in the balance. They certainly don’t understand there is spiritual warfare being waged.

It seems like our whole world is in an uproar right now and this gives us a tremendous opportunity to talk to people about hope, peace, the future, certainty, any number of topics that can end up leading to talking about the Lord. We need to understand the times that those close to us are going through and look for the right moment to be that light for Christ - to be lighthouses shining bright and leading people home.

The times certainly are a-changin', and it can be scary if you don't have something solid to hang on to. There isn't anything more solid than the Rock of Ages we know as Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior.

Pastor John

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Our Comfort Zone

Do you remember the first time you did something that was very important to you? You wanted to make a good impression, but the whole time you felt like you just weren't doing it as well as you knew you could. You probably had sweaty armpits, maybe a dry mouth, and probably gave a few wrong answers, at least it sure seemed like you did. You couldn't wait until this trial by fire was over even though it's likely no one else perceived it quite as badly as you did. You just stepped out of your "Comfort Zone."

Here is an interesting definition of Comfort Zone:
The comfort zone is a behavioral state within which a person operates in an anxiety-neutral condition, using a limited set of behaviors to deliver a steady level of performance, usually without a sense of risk. A comfort zone is a type of mental conditioning that causes a person to create and operate within mental boundaries. Such boundaries create an unfounded sense of security. Like inertia, a person who has established a comfort zone in a particular axis of his or her life, will tend to stay within that zone without stepping outside of it.

Take a look at the built-in barriers found in this definition of a comfort zone:
  • Limited set of behaviors
  • Steady level
  • No sense of risk
  • Mental boundaries
  • False sense of security
  • Inertia
  • No stepping out of the box

I don't know about you, but this doesn't strike me as a very adventurous or exciting life. I like to experience what life has to offer, don't you?

The definition goes on to say:
To step outside of a comfort zone, the person must experiment with new and different behaviors, and then experience the new and different responses that then occur within the environment.
Now that sounds like living!

What can help us step out of our comfort zone? At one time or another or in one situation or another, I know we all will probably find ourselves trapped in this comfort-zone prison.

The answer, of course, is God! God didn't create us to be boxed in by fear, doubt, discouragement, shyness, or whatever. He came to set us free. His Word has given us a powerful antidote to the comfort-zone blues.
2 Corinthians 9:8:
And God is able to make all grace abound to you, so that in all things at all times, having all that you need, you will abound in every good work.

Mark 10:27:
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”

Philippians 4:13:
I can do everything through him who gives me strength.

Acts 1:8:
But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you...

2 Timothy 1:7:
For God did not give us a spirit of timidity, but a spirit of power, of love and of self-discipline.
Somehow I get the impression that God didn't want us to be boxed in by our comfort zones. Instead, He wants us to learn to trust Him more and more all the time.

How often do you find yourself stepping out into an uncomfortable area that is just not you to do something for God? Our human wisdom - our normal rational minds - will hardly ever push us to do something that we think is not possible or that will make us too uncomfortable. But, if we put our trust in God, all things are possible. And this is where God can really move, and then His blessings can begin to flow.
Jeremiah 17:7:
But blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD, whose confidence is in him.
If we want to progress as Christians - if we want to be used by God - we’re going to have to trust God at every stage of our growth. To grow, we have to step into the unknown, and this is where we will have to put our trust in God. This is where we will then see the Lord’s provisions. This is where we can then be led by God’s Holy Spirit.

If we want to increase our trust in God, then sometimes we have to put ourselves in a position where we have no other choice but to trust Him. Then we’ll have to step out of our comfort zone - and that's when we'll really begin to see God move in our lives!

I have an idea. Let's say this comfort zone is a can. Instead of letting it box us in (or "can" us in), let's use it to play a game. It's an old game called "Kick The Can." Let's see how far ahead you can kick it.

Once you start kicking the can, I think you'll catch on and keep kicking that thing until it's so far ahead that the comfort zone won't be able to hold you back any longer!

Keep Kicking!
Pastor John

Saturday, March 12, 2011


I remember back when I was a young boy going to my grandma's house almost every Friday night. My aunts and uncles would come over and bring all their kids, and we would fill up the basement and have a great time playing all sorts of games and just goofing around. But besides all the kids, there was one other thing that always fascinated me and that was the fireplace. Being the oldest grandson, I received the special privilege of being the "Keeper of the Flame." I took my job seriously and always kept the fire going. In fact, the adults usually had to tell me to not build the fire so big, but I couldn't help myself. I loved fires. It seemed I was always around fires, the ones I started, the ones I played with, and sometimes the ones I ended up putting out. Yeah, I ended up becoming a firefighter, imagine that! Even today, my wife Carolyn and I love sitting around a fire, whether it's in our fireplace at home or at a campfire when we're camping.

But there is another fire that I'm more concerned about than the one we make with wood. It's the fire that is or should be burning inside of us, the one that God wants to enjoy: our passion for Him. When John the Baptist was talking about Jesus, the coming Messiah, he said this...
Luke 3:16: John answered them all, “I baptize you with water. But one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire.
Jesus was coming, and one of the things He was going to do for His followers was fill us with the Holy Spirit and fire. We see the beginning of this wonderful new ministry soon after the resurrection when the disciples were in Jerusalem in the upper room.
Acts 2:2-4: Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.
This is exactly what God wants, everyone of His people filled with a passionate fire for Him. This fire burns bright in us when the Holy Spirit is living and moving inside of us. We have to be careful that we don't push the Holy Spirit away from us and try to walk in our own power.
1 Thessalonians 5:19: Do not put out the Spirit’s fire
That's the last thing we want to do is put out the Spirit's fire. Having this fire is how we offer up our lives as a living sacrifice holy and pleasing to God! This is how we live a life that is pleasing to Him. This is how we keep ourselves from getting bored, tired, stale and lukewarm to God.
Revelation 3:15-16: I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.
I don't know about you, but the thought of our Lord spitting me out of His mouth is pretty scary.

Some people are afraid of fire. I think we have a lot more reason to be afraid of having no fire or of being lukewarm. So please, throw another log on the fire and shine on brightly!

Pastor John

Thursday, March 3, 2011

The Sting

Last week I ministered on the book of Esther. I love the way you get drawn into this story and get to know all the characters: Esther, Mordecai, Haman, Xerxes, and a few of the background cast. It reminds me of a 1973 movie called The Sting with Paul Newman (of salad dressing fame) and Robert Redford. In both stories, the bad guy has devious plans to fulfill his evil plot. Innocent people are going to get hurt or even killed, but something happens. The plot twists, and the good guys hatch another plan that will not only disrupt the original evil plot, but also, now the bad guy is the one who ends up getting burned and everything turns out better than anyone ever thought possible! What I really find amazing is that something along these lines happens to us all the time. We just need to make sure we recognize what is happening. It definitely relates to a scripture that most of us know and love.
Romans 8:28
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose."

The bad guy in our lives could be the devil or even our own fleshly nature and, in either case, things are done that can only bring disaster of some sort down on our heads. But then somehow God intervenes in these trials, sorrows, afflictions, or problems and the very things that looked so bad to us before have now been redeemed and are somehow together, now working out for our good. The key here is that we need to do our part, which is laid out right before our eyes in this scripture. We need to love the Lord with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, and we need to be walking in His purpose.

God wants to bless you. He wants you to see His blessing in your life. When we find ourselves in the midst of problems, don't climb on the pity-party bandwagon. Instead, look through the problem and try to see where God is. How is He going to use this to strengthen you, to mature you, and to make you more into the image of His Son, Jesus? The Holy Spirit is here to lead us into all truth. He will guide us in the right direction if we seek His help. He is here to help you! Don't fall for the con - no problem is too big for God.

In the story of Esther, the evil villain Haman is killed by being hung on his own gallows.

Remember, the good guys really do win in the end! That's us!

And just in case you never read the end of the story, here it is:
Revelation 12:10
For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.
Revelation 20:10
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

Our enemy, who thought he had the upper hand, is finished.
End of story! What a sting!

God Bless,
Pastor John