The Great Disappointment

I don’t know much about what happened on October 22nd, 1844, but I can tell you one thing that did not happen: Christ did not return and fulfill the words of Daniel 8:14. This might not strike you as important. You might respond that he didn’t return on October 23rd either, for what it’s worth. Yet for the thousands of followers of a simple Baptist named William Miller, the results of that day were a devastating blow. Miller had come to the conviction that Christ would return sometime between March 1843 and March 1844. When March passed by, some clever Bible reading added another seven months to the scheme. But, alas, the day came and went. Miller’s influence with the crowds vanished. Many were disillusioned. I can’t imagine the pain that this unfortunate experience caused for many who so deeply believed that Christ was on his way.

But not everyone gave up so easily. James and Ellen White decided that on October 22nd Christ did not come to earth but he instead entered the heavenly sanctuary to make atonement there. Moreover, there was a clear reason that he did not return to earth: the church had failed to keep the sabbath of the seventh day. What optimism! The Whites turned the disappointment of October 22nd into the beginning of a movement that would become a global denomination – the Seventh-Day Adventist Church. This may be one of the greatest examples in history of people who turned metaphorical lemons into lemonade.

October 22nd, 1844 came to be known as the Great Disappointment. It is that phrase that has been bubbling around in my mind this week. I did not calculate that the Lord would return on Monday, but I did intend for my family to pile into our van and set off for a vacation in Florida. Yet, that did not materialize. Instead, we were treated with a family round of COVID. As I write these words, I feel an unpleasant tightness in my face and a burning in my throat. I had hoped to be eating a Chick-Fil-A sandwich and getting ready to board the Millenium Falcon. I wouldn’t dream of comparing my suffering to the suffering of the old Millerites. But I am disappointed. Maybe most of all, I am disappointed for my kids. At this moment, I can’t really muster the optimism of the Whites. There is no speculation that my family has spiritually entered the heavenly Florida while our actual bodies are resting right here in Michigan. I am sure that we will reschedule. I know that we have much to be thankful for. But, I am, nonetheless, sad.

I don’t know much about what happened to you today. Or last week. Or five years ago. But I can tell you one thing that has happened: you have been disappointed. You have been hurt. Your expectations have been shattered. The plans fell through. The relationship ended. The test results came back and knocked you off your feet. I don’t pretend to have easy answers for you. Nor would I counsel you to come up with strange rationalizations like the Whites did after the Great Disappointment. There are, however, two truths that stabilize me right now and, I pray, would help you as well. The first truth is this: “But our God is in the heavens: he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased” (Psalm 115:3). God’s sovereignty is sweet news to the weary and the disappointed. What do you get if you reject the clear meaning of this verse? You don’t get relief from the suffering. You don’t get joy. Instead, you lose the thought that even your disappointments have purpose and your wrong turns still bring you home in the end. I would rather suffer with the firm conviction that God is not surprised nor set back. I would rather be disappointed knowing that this too can serve God’s glory and my good. The second truth is this: “Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God” (2 Cor. 1:3-4). I have been disappointed. But I can receive comfort from God at this moment. Then, I can give the comfort that I have received to someone else as they process their own hurts. What a beautiful arrangement! It is through the ugliest event that ever happened – the crucifixion of Jesus – that the salvation and mercy of God have been proclaimed and offered to the nations. Your tribulations are also little schools getting you ready to bless and comfort others.

I am disappointed that we did not go on vacation. But I am comforted to know that God has his purposes for this week. One of those purposes is to increase my capacity for empathy and compassion toward others who share in disappointment. As we await the second advent of Jesus, we are each commissioned to minister to those around us and to speak comfort to the hurting. To join in this work is not disappointing in the least.

Pastor’s Annual Report for 2022

It has been another lively year at First Pres. We engaged in crucial ministry, even as we continued to see convulsions in the wider culture and even in our local community. In many ways, it is a dark time in our nation. Political division has reached a fever pitch. Tales of violence and crime reach our news feeds every day. Sexual immorality runs rampant, especially in the continued normalization of LGBQT+ lifestyles. And the heinous practice of abortion remains in Michigan. Though I rejoiced to see the fall of Roe v. Wade this year, I was deeply disheartened to see our state so resoundingly support a culture of death through the passage of Proposal 3. The freedom to destroy life in the womb comes from hell and, therefore, is not freedom at all but the deepest of slavery. As I begin my report this year, I want to remind you that the work of the church is the liberation of the captives. The world, the flesh, and the devil offer slavery in many forms. The gospel of Jesus Christ shatters the chains.

The liberating work of the church begins in its ministry of teaching and study of the Word. This year, I finished up a series in Genesis, reflected on several passages from Mark’s Gospel, engaged in an in-depth study of John 15-16, and considered some of the Messianic prophecies of Isaiah. Wednesday evening Bible study continued, some folks coming to my study and some joining via Zoom. Our topic continued to be a verse-by-verse look at John’s Gospel. In Sunday school, we covered a range of topics in church history and practical theology. The ladies’ book group continued throughout the year, under the leadership of Becky Patten and Lisa Roberts. We also saw the launch of a successful short-term small group program. Five groups gathered together in the fall for 5-6 weeks and reviewed material from Bible teacher Chip Ingram on the task of prayer. Thank you to all our group leaders and to all those who attended.

Worship also held its fair share of excitement this year. Early on, we transitioned to a 10:30 start time for Lord’s Day service and bumped Sunday school to the slot before worship. Thanks to Dean’s able leadership, the music program thrived. We even added a music intern program that began in the fall with the addition of Ezra Blackwell to our fellowship. We witnessed the baptism of Jude Fawley, celebrated the Lord’s Supper on seven occasions, and received additional supply ministry from Deacon Aaron Lawrence and Pastor Jeff Kunkel. Lauren Scharstein, one of our missionaries supported through the Outreach Foundation, addressed us with an excellent Moment for Mission and Sunday school presentation. We also saw the Ash Wednesday and Maundy Thursday services move downstairs to the fellowship hall for a combined dinner-and-service format.

We were touched by grief this year. Members who passed away included Shelley Downey, Arlan Gilbert, Betty Diegel, Mary Bearman, and Onalee Foulke. Betty actually passed away in 2021, but her family invited me to officiate a service at the veteran’s cemetery in Holly. Thanks to Alan and Mitzi Dimmers for going with me and providing a wonderful German lunch afterward! Before Mary passed away, we were able to celebrate the wedding of Jay and Linda Bearman. This year also witnessed vow renewals for Bob & Lisa Roberts and Myrna and Warren Schneider

And what could I say of all the outreach and mission work that took place this year? Soup suppers kept running under the able leadership of Marsha Rollins and her team. We ran two sessions on Life Skills. This ministry continues to be a great encouragement to me. In 2023 and beyond, its name will become Strong Foundations, better reflecting its purpose and power. We helped out again with Loaves and Fishes, produced an amazing outreach video through the production skills of Quin Waters, and hosted an informational lunch on preventing financial scams with the help of the team at County National Bank. And what about the Jerusalem Marketplace? Brenda Barron and her committee (and basically everyone in the church) worked hard to make July 30th, 2022 a memorable day in the history of the congregation. There was indoor fishing, Middle Eastern-themed food, a replica of the ark of the covenant, face painting, and all sorts of goods for sale. Finally, I would be remiss to leave out the hard work that makes the Rummage Sale possible each year. As they have in the past, Barb Auseon and Connie Erholtz rallied a wonderful team to make this annual event happen.

Other things might be added in reflection on this year. The Buildings & Grounds team was hard at work, though much of the work didn’t have the visible and obvious impact that it sometimes does. But necessary maintenance is maybe more important than big remodels. You may have noticed a bucket truck, however, moving around the building when we had our stone treated in the summer to prevent moisture problems. Thanks to the generosity of the Bearman family, we are also beginning a redo of the front landscaping. This project will finish in Spring 2023. I should also make a note about finances for the year. Our congregation was very generous during a time of deep financial uncertainty. Our church investments took a hit, but our church members kept giving. In passing, I think it is worth noting that this year’s financial planning has demonstrated that investment income and testamentary gifts are becoming significant portions of our annual operating budget. In part, this reflects that though our overall membership declined this year, we have simultaneously sought to expand our ministry and focus outward to the surrounding community

To return to the theme of the introductory paragraph, I want to remind you that the ministry of the church is a ministry of liberation. The world brings people into bondage, but the message of the gospel provides the hope of freedom. I am sure that as our cultural decline continues, we will begin to see refugees from the madness coming into our churches. Will we be ready to receive the broken and the hurting who have been waylaid by the foolishness of a secularized, materialistic society? As 2023 moves along, I hope and pray that we will.

In Christ,

Pastor Scott Cress

Come and join us!

There is so much going on in the life of First Pres. We are gearing up for an exciting Lenten season. The fellowship committee has planned a year’s worth of activities. We are planning outreach activities for the summer. We are launching an Adopt-A-Student program. Soup Suppers and Strong Foundations classes continue. I am praying for the health of our church, and that many will join us this year. Here is the info about Lenten activities.

Pastor’s Stewardship Letter 2022

The following letter was mailed to all members of First Pres. It accompanies a letter from the chair of the finance committee and a pledge card. Stewardship Sunday will take place on Nov. 6th.

Dear friends of First Presbyterian Church,

As 2022 quickly winds down, it is time for the Finance Committee of our congregation to collect annual pledges for the coming year. These pledge amounts will be used to create an operational budget that plans for employee salaries, facility usage, and mission-giving, among other things. None of these things simply happen. You pay your light bills and your staff (thank you!) by giving generously as the Lord leads you to give. You provide precious financial resources, and the leadership of our congregation determines how to best put those resources to work. Because you give, Lauren Scharstein can minister to young women in Kenya; Love INC can employ necessary staff who love the poor and the marginalized; and your pastor is free to preach, to pray, to teach, and to counsel without the encumbrance of another vocation. Because you give, we can light and heat a building that shelters not just our congregation but Cub Scouts, Boy Scouts, and the Hillsdale Arts Chorale. Because you give, inspiring choral anthems resound throughout our county every Sunday morning at 7:30 AM, and those on the down-and-out can catch a free meal and a little hospitality every month. This all happens because you give.

We are entering a challenging season in the life of our congregation. The experts tell us that a great shaking is coming to the American church. The mainline project has come to an end. American culture was once deeply informed by the great Protestant church traditions. This is no longer true. Many churches will close in the coming decade. Many others will choose the path of lingering. I pray that you would join me in wanting neither of these paths for our beloved church. We want to not only remain open but to thrive amid the turmoil of American life. We want to worship God in the Spirit and in truth (John 4:24). We want to be a congregation that prays unceasingly (1 Thessalonians 5:17). We want to be a part of the discipling of the nations (Matthew 28:19). We want to be a community of shared rejoicing and shared weeping (Romans 12:15). We want to keep in step with the Holy Spirit (Galatians 5:25).

Not all churches will close or linger. In fact, there is a clear indication that throughout our land and even in our own community there will be churches which are full of the Spirit’s power. They will minister with faithfulness. They will preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. They will grow in depth and in size. It will happen because of the grace and strength of God. I want us to be one of those churches. Let us pray, work, and give to that end. And may our great God – Father, Son, and Holy Spirit – be glorified.

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Scott

New Promo Video & Outreach Suggestions

Dear friends of First Pres,

We are excited to introduce our new promotional video. This is a great way to introduce people to who we are and to who we desire to be as a church. Here are a few suggestions on how to use this video and connect with our community.

  1. Share the YouTube link through your social media.
  2. Email the YouTube link to family and friends.
  3. Use your phone or another device to show the video to friends.
  4. Follow up the viewing with an invitation to Bible study, small groups (beginning in October), or Sunday worship.
  5. Share your own testimony of connecting with Jesus and our church.

Enjoy the new video!

Invitation: Join us for our study of John’s Gospel!

Tomorrow evening, plan to join us for our continued study of the Gospel of John. We will begin at 6:30 PM and dig into chapter 14. You can join the pastor in his study or follow along on Zoom. Here is the info for the Zoom meeting.

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 829 3272 1981
Passcode: 266600

Some people want to know why we spend so much time studying the Bible. One of the answers to that question is that the Bible is sufficient. Here is a message from 2021, when I was in the middle of a bout with COVID, in which we dig into the Bible to see how the Bible teaches the sufficiency of the Bible to answer the most important questions in life. Please view and share!