On February 7th, our worship time will be moving from 10:30am to 9:30am. For more about ‘why’, please watch this video.
On February 7th, our worship time will be moving from 10:30am to 9:30am. For more about ‘why’, please watch this video.
The world around us feels like it is crumbling and almost nothing seems certain, until we look to Jesus and see that our Hope is very clear and certain. He didn’t just give us salvation—Jesus is our salvation and the example of what it means to live in the fullness of grace and truth. What the world needs is His redemption, the very redemption and hope that lives inside of us. Rather than shrink back, it is time to love like Jesus loved, serve like Jesus served, pray like Jesus prayed, and pursue holiness like Jesus pursued it. This February 5-6, join this global gathering of women across denominations, generations, and cultures as we come together in the name of Jesus.
For more: https://ifgathering.com/localgatherings/ifgrand-rapids-se/
On Christmas weekend we learned that a dear friend and part of our community lost a long and brave battle with postpartum depression (PPD). Sasha leaves behind husband Cody, 3 year old daughter Ember, and 5 month old son Gus. We are heartbroken by this loss.
Cody has courageously shared their story [click here]. We stand with him in honoring Sasha’s memory and talking openly about depression and PPD.
A memorial service for Sasha will be Saturday, January 9, at Ada Bible Church in Cascade. Visitation will be at 10am, with the service beginning at 11am.
If you would like to support the Hettich family, you can do so financially through the go-fund-me page [click here]. There is also a meal train [click here] (need more information about either of these? Email firstname.lastname@example.org).
We will be walking closely with Cody in the coming weeks, attentive to how the Branch can continue to support him and his children.
Finally, we hold to the promise that when we are in the darkest of valleys we are not abandoned or left on our own. God is with us. We cling to the hope and strength of this promise together.
Tonight we celebrate the unlikely story of God coming to dwell with us from 5-6pm. Together we’ll mark this unending, unconquerable gift of Light through song and candle lighting. Our kids are also leading the way in giving their gifts through drama, choir, and dance. Bring the family — bring your neighbor — bring the kids. We hope to see you!
The Branch is committed to building community, not just within but without. One of the ways we strive for that is building positive and fulfilling relationships with the church communities with whom we share a meeting space. This coming Sunday, November 22nd, we will be combining services with Alas Conexion and meeting at 11:30 (rather than our usual 10:30). Please join us in coming together with our beloved fellow Christians. There will be snacks, coffee and fellowship starting at 11:15, so come early and make a new friend! We look forward to blessing each other with this time.
Welcome to Kids Games!
We are joining with several community organizations to put on Kids’ Games. It’s a fantastic way to reach youth in our community in a positive way.
The week of June 15-19, 6:00 pm – 8:30 pm, we will join Alger Park CRC, Seymour CRC, St. Luke AME, Tabernacle Church, Alger Middle School, Garfield Park Neighborhood Association, and the KROC Center, to host Kids’ Games at the KROC Center.
Because we are able to host this at the KROC, we feel participation will be very high. Enrollment is capped at 300 entering K-4th graders as we do have limited space and want to provide adequate volunteer support.
There are many volunteers needed to make this run smoothly, so the kids have a wonderful week of learning and feeling God in their lives in a fun and safe environment. Opportunities for volunteering include:
Tracks are multi-age activities offered for the last 45 minutes of each night. Kids split from their small groups into their chosen track.
Volunteering will look a bit different because we are collaborating with the KROC Center. All volunteers will need to register with the KROC (Salvation Army Volunteers ), have a background check and take the on-line “Safe from Harm” training. Once these are complete, you will be directed to the signup genius to choose your volunteer opportunities. If you are not able to do this on-line, please contact Julie Thomas (616 245-4115).
This opportunity will be like nothing else you do this summer. Touching lives in our community, through God’s love, can be a beautiful and powerful thing. We hope you will join us for a life changing week!
Ready to sign up your own kids to participate in KidsGames? Click here.
Want more general information about the program? Check out their website http://kidsgamesregistration.com.
Advent starts this week! Join us as we prepare for Christ’s arrival by reading through devotionals together. You can find the readings here – AdventReadingGuide
We will NOT be meeting this Thursday, Nov 27. Have a great Thanksgiving and we’ll see you next week for our usual potluck dinner. We will also NOT be meeting on Christmas Day or New Year’s Day.
Alas Conexion church would like to invite you to their first Annual Vision Night!
The date is Saturday, December 6 from 6:30pm to 8:00pm.
Come enjoy a wonderful dinner as we share with you our work and vision in the city of Grand Rapids. You will be hearing some testimonies, plans, and dreams that God has put in our hearts for the city. We would love to have you here to celebrate with us what God has done in our lives and in the lives of people that He has allowed us to serve. It will be a pleasure to have you with us.
We’re really excited to share in worship together! Sunday, Nov 9 @ 11:30 The Branch and Alas will be enjoying a joint service – shared worship, shared teaching, shared celebration! We invite you to celebrate and join us afterwards for some light refreshment.
On Sunday, September 7, we start “The 10:30 Challenge”. What’s this challenge all about? Why are we doing it? This is the first of two posts giving some context. We hope you’ll join us.
A couple of months ago I had the chance to worship with another church on Sunday morning and it was great. I loved the opportunity to participate in a different style of worship and meet other brothers and sisters who are faithfully following Jesus. But the experience also reminded me of just how difficult it can be to walk into a church for the first time as a visitor. It seems so obvious, but you don’t know where anything is – you don’t know any one – you’re not sure where the bathrooms are or if coffee is allowed in the sanctuary. It can be down right daunting (and that’s coming from a guy who’s been in church his whole life).
That experience stuck with me and has led Andy and I to spend the last couple of months considering how we are doing at helping visitors feel welcome and at home. During that time, I’ve sought out guests at the Branch and after worship asked them about their experience. By and large it has been positive: the music and preaching, communion and prayer, the way they were able to greet people during worship — were all meaningful. But interestingly, each person I spoke with also talked about their ‘first impression’. When they arrived early (as visitors almost always do), they found the building nearly empty. Not only were they not sure where the bathrooms were, but they wondered if they had come at the right time. And because there was no one to talk to and a really quiet, low energy atmosphere — they felt a bit awkward as they stood around waiting for us to start.
As I listened to these folks, I shared a bit of our history as a church — explaining that for the first seven years of our life we were rarely able to begin at our official start time because there was another church that worshipped before us. And so while the Branch started at 11:00, everyone knew that practically speaking it wasn’t really until 11:05, 11:10 or later that we got going. Over time, this led us all (myself included) to be understandably casual about the way we viewed our official start time.
The good news is that today we don’t face that same constraint. Because no one worships before us we are free and able to start at 10:30. So here’s what we’ve been thinking about (yes…I’m finally getting to the point). In order for us to offer our best hospitality — to mirror the welcome and kindness that we know God extends to us — we need to shift the way we think about 10:30. Instead of thinking of it as the time to arrive — we need to see it as the time we begin. Which means that arriving before 10:30 will be critical if we are to welcome visitors with the generosity and authenticity that makes the Branch so unique.
One thing I know beyond a doubt is that the Branch has so much to offer those who are looking for a home — so much to share with those who are hoping to find a place to belong. But in order for us to offer hospitality — we need to be here when they walk through our doors.
Now, to be sure, we will all have weeks when everything goes haywire and making it here before 10:30 just isn’t possible. That’s ok and to be expected. But for the not-so-haywire weeks, here’s the challenge I want to extend to you:
[box type=”note”]Let’s form a new habit of being in our seats, ready to worship, at 10:30.[/box] This will certainly mean arriving early enough to check in your kids or grab a cup of coffee (so maybe it’s actually the 10:20 challenge). Can you partner with us as we offer our best hospitality?
We have some fun things planned during this challenge — we’re looking forward to it — and grateful that you would consider joining us.
Next week — Part 2. Because believe it or not, hospitality isn’t the only reason to accept this challenge. More to come.
We want our city — our neighborhoods — our homes — to look like heaven on earth. We long for beauty and life and joy to overtake this town. Jesus calls this holy overthrow the Kingdom of God. And when we look for it, we’ll find it (hint: it starts within).
9/7 LOVE | TWO KINGDOMS — Two opposing kingdoms exist—the Kingdom of God, and the kingdom of the world.
9/14 RECEIVE | ENTER THE KINGDOM — We enter the Kingdom by receiving the love of the King.
9/21 OBEY | SUBMIT TO THE KING — Kingdom subjects serve at the pleasure of the King.
9/28 FIGHT | A KINGDOM AT WAR — Obedience to God is a battle blow against a powerful spiritual enemy.
10/5 Branch Retreat at Cran Hill (no Sunday worship)
10/12 SEEK | KINGDOM GOGGLES — When we seek the Kingdom, we start to see the world through God’s eyes.
10/19 KINGDOM COME — God wants his Kingdom to come on earth.
Registration for our October 3-5 fall retreat at Cran Hill Ranch is now open! For more details and registration, CLICK HERE.
We gather this Friday from 7-8pm (childcare for birth-3yrs provided).
Good Friday is a chance to quietly reflect on the depth of God’s love for us, visible in Jesus’ humble and relentless surrender. We come face to face with sacrifice, betrayal, denial and love. We hope you’ll be able to join us.
If you’re just joining us, we’ve been considering some practical steps we can take to get better and better at hearing God’s voice. To see what’s been covered so far (each post is fairly short), start here. Today I want to offer a final ‘filter’ in the process. To recap:
Get away to listen. Then, when you believe you’ve heard God speak…
filter it through Scripture,
filter it through wise council and finally,
filter it through action.
Samuel is such a helpful example of how important this final ‘filter’ can be. When God first whispers to him, Samuel doesn’t recognize God’s voice (can anyone relate?!?) But he gets up — and goes to the only person he can think is speaking — his mentor, Eli. Eli, like any sleepy adult who is awoken at 3am, tells the child to go back to bed…perhaps with a slight edge to his voice. Samuel obeys, but he soon hears the voice again. So he gets up — goes to Eli — and is again told to go back to bed. This happens a third time, and finally Eli is awake enough (spiritually speaking) to realize what’s going on. He tells Samuel to go back to bed and if he hears this voice again, he should answer “Speak, Lord, your servant is listening.”
It was through action – through trial and error – that Samuel learned to discern God’s voice. It is so often the same for us. There comes a moment when only stepping out will tell you what you want to know.
Recently, while spending some time reflecting and praying in the morning, I thought that I heard God say to me that I needed to confess my pride to someone in my life — someone very close to me — and ask for forgiveness for the way my pride had damaged our relationship. To be clear — I didn’t hear God audibly speak. It was more of a whisper — a still small voice. And so I started to run it through the filters.
Does this line up with Scripture? Absolutely. We are to lay down our lives for each other. And pursuing reconciliation is at the top of the list. Check.
What about the filter of wise counsel? I knew that everyone of the people I go to for help in these situations would encourage me to move forward. This one was pretty obvious. Check.
So that meant it was time to act. Time to move. Time to obey.
But I didn’t. Not at first. Even as clear as this was to me — I didn’t want to do it. I made up reasons why I thought it wouldn’t work. I imagined horrific scenarios during which my confession was rejected — the relationship damaged. Etc. Etc. It wasn’t until weeks later — and a couple of more times of hearing from God — that I finally acted.
And do you know how it went? It. was. really. hard. (I mean….really hard). But at the end of it, a small ray of light began to shine again in our relationship. A light that grew and grew in the coming days. Reconciliation ended up happening. And it was at that point — being able to look back on the experience — that I was able to say with confidence that God has spoken to me all those days prior.
Obeying God doesn’t mean that the path forward will be easy. Again – the conversation I had (out of obedience) was tough. So the test isn’t whether or not everything becomes rosy once we obey — the test is whether there is fruit produced. Somewhere, somehow there should be fruit if it was God speaking (think about all of the times in Scripture when God’s spoken word — God’s voice — produces life. The same is to be true in our lives).
Samuel learned God’s voice through trial and error. He, like Abraham had to get up and go — and it was in the ‘going’ that God’s voice became more clear. Esther – who had received wise counsel — found God’s word faithful when she stepped out and had one of the hardest conversations imaginable. It was in the wrestling and struggling that Jacob heard God speak. And the stories go on and on.*
Hearing God’s voice is not always easy. The world is a terribly noisy place. But God is speaking. Today. To you. Because, you see, you are meant to hear and know the Shepherd’s voice. To help us, God gives us the Scriptures and wise friends. But in the end, we must step out and obey as best we can. Sure….we may get it wrong some times. But so did Samuel and plenty of others. Because you see, even when we get it ‘wrong’, God uses it for good — using our mistakes to teach us to better recognize his voice the next time around.
So keep listening, friends. And then start moving, because it’s in that journey of obedience that we become better and better at hearing our Creator’s voice.*[Side note: if you’re like me, you may imagine that whenever God spoke to someone in the Bible it was a pretty straight forward event: the clouds parted — a beam of light shot down from the sky — and God’s audible voice rang out. And maybe that’s how it happened once or twice, but I can’t help but wonder if practically every character in Scripture didn’t go through the same sort of discernment process we go through…and then finally have to take a bold and faith-filled step of obedience. True…there are those burning bush moments — but those seem to be the exception, not the rule]
I’ve been writing over the last couple of weeks about how we can grow in our ability to discern God’s voice. I’m convinced that this is an absolutely critical skill if we are to follow Jesus, because I’m convinced that following Jesus revolves around these two questions: “What is God saying to me?” “What am I going to do about it?”
I spent the first post advocating for regular times of listening. We have to step away from the noise. And in last week’s post I shared the first of a few ‘filters’ Christians have used for centuries to hone in on God’s voice amidst the noise: the Scriptures.
So, let’s imagine that you’ve been spending time listening and you believe you’ve heard God speak. You take the step of filtering God’s word to you through Scripture and there doesn’t seem to be a conflict (let’s be clear…if there is a conflict between what you heard and Scripture…you should take great pause). It’s then time to pour what you’ve heard through a second filter: wise counsel.
God’s Spirit is consistently moving us from independence to interdependence. The New Testament makes this clear: we are members of God’s family and a part of one body. So it’s not surprising that learning to hear God’s voice is something that happens best together [Samuel had Eli (1 Samuel 3). The disciples had a number of women (Luke 24). The Apostles had each other (Acts 15)].
Let me put a bit more definition around what I mean by wise council. I’m talking about someone who has experience listening for God’s voice, hearing God’s voice and obeying God’s voice.
This has to be more than just someone you look up to — or someone you consider wise (although those are good things to consider) — we need a person who knows firsthand what it’s like wrestle with the noise and chaos of life, hear God’s voice in the midst of that chaos and then obey God’s voice so that fruit is produced.
This doesn’t mean you’re looking for someone who is a perfect example (does anyone get it right all of the time?). What we’re looking for is a living example. Someone who can listen well — ask good questions (because they’ve been there before and know what to ask) and who can offer, with grace, a word of encouragement or caution.
Now, before you feel overwhelmed – wondering who in the world could ever fit this bill – take a breath. I have no doubt there are people like this in your life, and I say this with confidence because (1) we have a really good God who wants to put good people in our lives for this purpose and many more, and (2) if you’re reading this you’re likely somehow connected to the Branch — a community that has a number of living examples who would gladly walk with you as you discern.
If you are in need of wise counsel and don’t know where to turn, you should shoot one of our staff an email. Seriously. Don’t wait. Do it. 🙂 We’re hear for you and we can walk with you and bring others along side of you to help in this.
We’re meant to do it together.
Next week I’ll write about the final ‘filter’ — which requires that we actually get out there and do something.
Until then…keep listening.
Last week, I wrote a post that began looking at how we can grow in our ability to discern whether or not God is speaking to us. I suggested that it begins with stepping away from the noise — which you can read about here.
So let’s say we do that — we step away , listen and then it happens. We hear God speak. Or at least we think we do. “Was that God?”, we ask, or was it just one of the countless other voices vying for our attention?
There’s not a sure-fire way to answer these questions — a formula that can guarantee that we get it 100% right. But there are some ‘filters’ Christians have used throughout the centuries to weed out the other voices. Like a pair of noise-canceling headphones that negate the frequencies we don’t want to hear — these steps help separate the distracting noise from the voice that brings life.
Let’s start first with the filter of Scripture.
Consider the thing you think God is telling you to do and ask, “Does Scripture tell me to do it as well?” Sometimes the answer will be clear (God is saying: reach out to extend forgiveness to your sibling. The Scriptures agree that forgiveness is to be extended). Other times the connection will be more gray (which is why we have other filters). But start here. Start with the Scriptures.
Here’s an example: you’ve been praying about whether or not to take a new job. While you won’t find a verse in the Bible about you taking a job at ____ company, the Bible has plenty to say about all of the things that are affected by your decision. Here’s a few to consider. Faith: will this new job increase or decrease your relationship with God? Will it leave time for you to stay engaged with God personally and communally? These are questions we often don’t think about — but Jesus tells us they are the most important questions. Relationships: how will the people in your life be impacted by this decision? Will this new job mean you will rarely see your children — or you’ll have no time to invest in other relationships. If so, the Scriptures have something to say about this. What about your relationship with your spouse? Will it be bettered or worsened by the decision you make? Giftedness: will this new job allow you to use the gifts God has given you? Will moving to this new company provide opportunities for you to use your intellect, passions and skills more?
Of course, with this example (and with life in general), there is all kinds of nuance, but I hope you see the larger principle at play. When you believe you’ve heard God speak, use the filter of Scripture to help you discern. If what you’re hearing aligns with Scripture, then move on to the next filter – which is what I’ll write more about in the next few days.
Until then…keep listening.