“Just Keep Reading” by Marilynn Fryer

Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved by him, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly explaining the word of truth.”
2 Timothy 2:15

During the pandemic, I took advantage of enrolling in two classes through the American Baptist Churches’ Holy Spirit Renewal Ministries, one on how to discern the Bible and another a survey of the New Testament. The topics covered run deep, but there is one important starting point … read the Bible, and read it regularly.

Make Time for the Bible

We hear many claims today about Christianity and what the Bible says. Do we understand the Word of God for ourselves, or how to respond? We are called to understand and, as in 2 Timothy above, “rightly explain the word of truth.” Make time daily for reading the Bible, and make it a priority. Setting aside time each day is a great practice.

Today’s technology increases the ways we can read the Bible. You can open an app like BibleGateway.com or Bible Hub on your smartphone and read whenever you have a few minutes. You can download a version of the Bible right to your phone, tablet or computer, allowing you to read even if there is no Wi-Fi signal. Of course, you can always grab a Bible and read.

Use a Study Bible

A good study Bible will help in understanding scriptures. BibleGateway listed above includes notes from many study Bibles (some resources require membership and a fee while some are free; use your own judgment). I use the Quest Study Bible, which includes introductions to each book of the Bible, notes and short commentaries throughout. There are many study Bibles to choose from; a Google search will get you started.

Read More Than a Few Verses

Bible books were meant to be read in their entirety. Read through the Bible in longer sections, not just a verse or two. If you can read a book in one or two settings, you will better understand patterns and themes. Reading through the entire Bible in a year or two will help you understand how it all fits together.

As you read, look for context and meaning.
• Who is the author of the book?
• When was it written?
• Who was it written for?

Answers to these questions will give an understanding of both the author’s meaning and what it means for us today. Again, a good study Bible will help. A big idea from my study of hermeneutics, or biblical interpretation: the Bible cannot mean today what it did not mean when it was written. To start, we need to understand what the author meant.


These are a few suggestions to enhance your own personal Bible study. Keep reading and exploring God’s Word. Reading the Bible will help us get to know Jesus better, and what more could we want?

Seeking Questions for Upcoming Sermon Series

Starting July 18, we will begin a new sermon series based on real questions people have about faith. Responding to real questions, Pastor Dallas will do a sermon series on engaging with real faith questions. There aren’t always easy answers, but there is always an opportunity to grow and find God in the midst of life’s questions.

To do a series on real questions, we need your questions! This is an opportunity to ask anything. Seriously, ask whatever faith questions you have. Assume there are no bad questions. Use our online form to submit a question for consideration in our upcoming series.

“Teaching in a Pandemic” by Ron Woodruff

I recently had a colleague publish a thank you letter to our teaching staff for going “above and beyond” our daily responsibilities. It caused me to reflect on this past year and how we, as a teaching staff, have persevered through this unprecedented year. It has been a struggle with overwhelming challenges, but ultimately, it has also had positive moments of triumph. Moments where God’s influence, grace and guidance were vital for my peace of mind.

Although the fall was the beginning of my 29th year of teaching, it felt like my first. I had one week to get ready for the start of the year, which required learning new online platforms and curriculum. Behind the scenes, while the state grappled over school funding, there were late budget concerns that caused teacher layoffs, and ultimately, a massive scramble to solve the scheduling problems. Although my job was safe, it was still impacted by the day to day schedule changes. For example, during the first two weeks, I was teaching American Literature, and suddenly, the next day, it changed to a combined class of Journalism and Digital Media. I was expected to teach my advanced newspaper along with an introduction to media class. Like everyone, I had to adapt.

Ron teaching in classroom following Covid mask policies.

To make it all work, I had to totally immerse myself into school with every available minute. I take pride in being organized and strive to control how my classes function and flow. So, I pushed myself to make it work, to overcome and thrive in this new environment. Because of this desire, it was not uncommon for me to be up until midnight, making sure my lessons would function online for the next day. I put everything in my life on hold. I felt like I didn’t have time for my family, my friends, or even God. Looking back, God was there, and he used each situation to guide and influence me, even though I was too overwhelmed to know it at the time.

Yet, I had it easy compared to those teachers who had young children. They also had to manage how to support their family while teaching. This became especially hard when we would go virtual, and those teachers were trying to Zoom from home while their own children were also trying to learn. Often their children needed help, but they had job responsibilities that took priority. Furthermore, most of us had never learned to use technology the way we were expected to use it, and I couldn’t imagine trying to manage school while also supporting young children. We encountered new online software like Schoology, Zoom, Loom, Kami, Edpuzzle and many other programs. When we started, teachers did not have a good grasp of all this new technology, and every day seemed to bring new challenges. Students faced issues with their devices, and there were daily internet problems. These issues were constant disruptions. It was well into November before the technology demands began to slow down, and it was during that time I noticed little triumphs of how God was using people to support others.

“It was during that time I noticed little triumphs of how God was using people to support others.”

Ron Woodruff

We needed to support each other because we were being asked to educate students face to face and online, simultaneously. We were sitting at our desks, trying to communicate and teach passionately with both online and in-class students, and never knowing when, at the drop of a hat, we would be sent home to total virtual. It was overwhelming! There were so many things to remember that I even found myself on the edge of a nervous breakdown. I remember one day sitting in front of the computer, just clicking buttons because I couldn’t focus. I even said to myself, “What are you doing?” It is the only time in my career that I didn’t feel in control. The only time I felt inadequate. That is when my wife was there to help. That was when my colleagues were there to support me. I had learned a great lesson that I was trying to do everything on my own. I believed I didn’t need anyone’s help. However, God knew better. He knew my limitations. So, he provided support.

“I believed I didn’t need anyone’s help. However, God knew better.”

Ron Woodruff

God knew it was time for me to stop trying to be perfect and let Him intervene. It was time to realize I was not in control, and God’s grace was there to comfort me. I realized that He had placed people in my life who were there to support me through these uncertainties. My wife, family, colleagues, and pastor were all there in different ways to guide me through the fear, the stress, and the frustrations. It helped me understand that I also needed to be a better servant of God so that I could be there for others during these challenging times.

Week by week, I didn’t know whether I would remain in face to face teaching, or because of COVID quarantines, move to online. I had to be ready for both. However, this also impacted students and parents, and I needed to be sensitive to their needs. Many students were too unorganized to keep up with virtual work. They no longer had teachers looking over their shoulders or reminding them of what was due, and with parents working, nobody was home to monitor classwork. Many procrastinated while others simply shut down completely. Instead of the usual stresses, I was now facing new problems. I found myself frustrated and totally focused on myself. I only saw my problems and my needs. Ultimately, I needed God’s grace to shine through me. I needed God to use me as a tool of support for these parents and students. I needed to stop focusing only on my needs and to understand the situations and needs of others. Once I started focusing on how I could help them, everything else seemed to work itself out.

Now that the year is coming to an end, I can reflect and remember where teachers and students were and how better it is now. I can see the triumphs of how we persevered through fear and uncertainty. Overall, God showed me my weaknesses, and he taught me the importance of fellowship. I learned how meaningful relationships are especially when life is not easy. He taught me that I can not do life without support. I do not have all the answers. I will struggle; I will fail. But, with the grace of God, I can do all things. I learned how He has surrounded me with amazing people. Loving, caring people who understand me and are always there to help. In all, this lesson has been a teaching triumph, and I hope it has prepared me to be a better person, educator, and servant of God.


This article appears in the June-July 2021 issue of the FBCJXN Magazine. If you’d like to sign up to receive a copy of our magazine in print or digitally, you can subscribe online.

New Sermon Series: “Now You’re Talking”

Do you ever struggle to talk about God and your spirituality? Most Americans do, and even most Christians do too. You’re not alone if you find yourself wishing you had more meaningful conversations in your daily life.

People avoiding spiritual conversations for different reasons. Some avoid spiritual conversations because they are avoiding topics they think are divisive. Some are afraid of what others will think of them. Others avoid spiritual conversations because they don’t care or aren’t interested.

While many of us may feel anxiety or apathy towards talking about our faith, Jesus’s commission to the church is to share the good news. In our series, “Now You’re Talking,” we will explore how to have spiritual conversations. Join us this series not only by being present, but also by having spiritual conversations throughout your week.

DateSermon TitleScripture
May 23In Other Words: Finding the Right Words for Your AudienceActs 2:1-21
May 30The Talk of the Town: Sharing Your Faith in PublicJohn 4:5-30
June 6Talk It Up: Elevating Everyday ConversationsActs 17:16-34
June 13Actions Speak Louder: Inviting People into Spiritual ExperiencesMark 10:17-31
June 20Speak for Yourself: Finding Your Story to ShareActs 22:1-29
June 27What Did You Say? A Safe Place for Questions and ConversationMark 8:27-29

Expanding On-Site Activities

Safety Update

FBC JXN values creating a safe place for worship and exploring faith together. Over the last year we have adapted our in-person activities according to the recommendations of scientists and local authorities. We’re encouraged by the continued scientific results about the efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines for reducing the spread of the virus and limiting the severity of symptoms for those who still get sick. We celebrate the doctors, scientists, and various professionals who have helped us move into a new season.

In conjunction with local and national recommendations, masks are now optional inside our church building for those who are vaccinated. With the improving health outlook, we hope you’ll consider joining us in person for worship if you have not done so already. Your presence brings encouragement and energy to those around you; we look forward to seeing you with us again.

We are grateful for your cooperation over the last year and continue to ask that you be considerate to those around you in our building who feel differing levels of comfort around continued mask wearing post-vaccination. We will continue to monitor state and national recommendations to ensure that our community is able to continue to worship safely.

Fellowship Hour Returns

We are glad to announce that our Fellowship Coffee Hour is returning this Sunday, May 23. There will be drink options available in the Fellowship Hall after the worship service. You’re invited to stay after worship for a chance to connect with others.

With the reopening of the Fellowship Coffee Hour, we are looking for help with preparing the drinks for the Fellowship Hall. If you’d like to help make our Fellowship Coffee Hour a time that facilitates community, please reach out to the church office by phone or email.

Pobst Hall

The chapel has been transformed into Pobst Hall and the major renovations are now complete. There are still a few finishing touches ahead, but the room is available for multipurpose use whenever we need it. The room now has comfortable movable seating, air conditioning, audio and visual infrastructure, new lighting, and more. We look forward to beginning to use the room for mission purposes throughout the week.

Nursery

We are looking for nursery workers who can support our children during worship. Nursery workers help our next generation learn to love church. If you or someone you know would like to work in the nursery, please reach out to the church office by phone or email.

Lent: Lenten Guide 2021

Most people associate Lent with people fasting and “giving up” something like meat, chocolate, social media, etc. But what is Lent? How did it get started?

You’re going to have a hard time finding Lent in your Bible. It’s not there. When the last New Testament books and letters were written, Lent had not yet been developed. The season of Lent emerged as a faithful response to God in a time where Christianity flourished for the wrong reasons.

The widespread emergence of Lent occurred in the 300s CE as Christianity struggled with the effects of its growing power and influence in the Roman Empire. Starting in 312 CE, Christianity began receiving special treatment in Rome through Emperor Constantine. By 380 CE, Emperor Theodosius declared Christianity the state religion.

With its new place of imperial favor, Christianity was no longer just a path of fidelity in the face of potential persecution, it had become a path towards privilege, power, and money. Politicians and wealthy businessmen now had political reasons for converting to Christianity. Christianity’s numbers grew as it became harder to distinguish people’s motivations for being Christian.

The Roman Empire became filled with nice Christians, but less holy ones. Many Christians responded by fleeing to the wilderness to live as monks and nuns. Monks like Saint Anthony of Egypt, who left the city life behind for a life of prayer and poverty, became flooded with Christian travelers journeying to learn about a different path of holiness.

In this time, the season of Lent emerged as a 40-day season of fasting, penitence, reflection, and preparation before the celebrations of Easter Sunday. The joys of Easter Sunday are easy and popular, but who was willing to wrestle with the difficulties and temptations that prepare for Good Friday?

Some people consider Lent dour because they dislike the idea of giving up one of their favorite treats, but Lent was developed to intermix the seriousness of simple devotion alongside the joy of Easter. Before it was called Lent, the season was simply called tessarakoste (“fourtieth”), which might remind you of Pentecost (“fiftieth”). If, however, you count the days from Ash Wednesday to Holy Saturday (the day before Easter) it doesn’t add up to forty days. Sundays in the season didn’t count since they were seen as weekly celebrations of Christ’s resurrection and the Christian hope. The juxtaposition of Lenten simplistic devotion with joyful Sundays of Christian hope provides a spiritual depth that prepares the way for Easter celebration.

Christians for hundreds of years have longed to follow Jesus more faithfully and not settle for popular, cultural Christianity. This Lenten season, our sermon series, “In God’s Name,” examines the ways we describe God and God’s actions in the world. By Good Friday, Jesus will be charged with blasphemy for announcing and living out God’s liberation for the world. As we faithfully follow God, we should not be surprised that others, particularly other Christians, might consider our devotion to be blasphemy too. Early Christians committed to a Holy God and you can too.

Each day, you’re invited to pray, to sing, to read scripture, and to reflect. Throughout the guide, you’ll see imagery that invites you to contemplate how you see God. What artwork, what music, what scripture might invite you to see God afresh? We invite you to explore with us. Our prayer is that this guide might be a launching pad for your Lenten journey. As you encounter a Bible verse, a song, a prayer, and go to explore it more, may you find God there. If you go to our website, fbcjxn.org/devotions, each day there will be a new post that includes the scripture of the day, prayers, and links to videos that include the song of the day.

As you learn more about who God is, you learn more about who God calls you to be. If you hear Christ calling you towards more, we hope you’ll join us in this Lenten season. Let us journey together in Lent towards Easter.


Download our 2021 Lent Prayer Guide online. You can also interact with each daily prayer on our devotions webpage.

ABC of MI Statement on the Mob Violence in Washington D.C.

We welcome and affirm the statement from the American Baptist Churches of Michigan that was posted to Facebook on Wednesday, January 6, 2021 in response to the violence taking place at the U.S. Capitol building in Washington D.C.


“As American Baptist Churches of Michigan we declare that the mob activity that is taking place in Washington D.C. is not in keeping with the example set forth in Jesus Christ. While the elasticity of the bonds that hold us together as American Baptists provide ample space for people whose political views are a stark contrast to one another; we must acknowledge that those bonds will not stretch enough to make room for the evil violence being perpetrated.

In order to functionally remain under the Lordship of Jesus Christ at this juncture requires us to repudiate any attempt to obtain or maintain power through any means that disregard the teachings of Jesus Christ, particularly the Sermon on the Mount. This repudiation extends throughout any and all political affiliations where the example of Jesus Christ would be maligned through actions that fail to consider His example.

This day let us all be reminded that our battle is not against flesh and blood, as the Apostle Paul states in His letter to the Ephesians. The Enemy has come to foment division that is birthed out of the sinful hearts of humankind. Those who profess Jesus Christ as Savior are not exempt from the tactics of the Evil One in this way.

ABC-MI is inviting all of its members to turn to prayer in this moment and ask that Almighty God would both cleanse our hearts of any and every form of idolatry and temporary kingdom building, while simultaneously dispatching His followers to accurately reflect the One whose Name we bear. In this moment we are called to, may the reconciling work that every ambassador of Jesus Christ is charged with be the prevailing passion of our hearts.”


Silent Night

The light of Christmas is not meant to be hidden inside church buildings. Enjoy our video of Silent Night, celebrating the light emerging in our city, Jackson. The video first appeared as the finale of our 2020 Christmas Eve service.

“Unexpected Worship” by Brently Groshong

It all comes back to the same question what is worship? We explored this very question in the first part of this series in the FBC JXN Magazine, October/November 2020 and came to an interesting conclusion. The questions should not be so much “What is worship?” for we all place our devotion and allegiance someplace. The questions should rather be, “What or Who are we worshipping?”

We discovered that the more we surrender more and more of ourselves to the work of the Holy Spirit, we begin to change. We shift our focus of worship. We fall more in love with the Creator, the one that created us to be in harmony with Him. And we discovered that worship is not merely contained to a time and place, such as Sunday morning at a church building. It is having the heart to worship everywhere, all the time.

Even when it is inconvenient. Even when it doesn’t fall on Sunday or at a midweek prayer meeting or during our morning devotion time.

Jesus told a story about worship, and it can be hard to read.

“Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me’” (Matthew 25:34-40).

As Christians we like to plan our outreaches and our missions, come prepared with what we would like to offer the least of these. And these ministries are important and vital to our society. They offer goods and services to people who really need them: who really need them and know where to look for them.

But worship to the least of these—worship beyond our walls—doesn’t always come neatly packaged at the time and place we scheduled.

Acts of worship to the least of these can be unexpected and inconvenient, like when that stranger on the street corner asks for money or when your co-worker’s car breaks down or when your neighbor needs someone to drive them to the hospital.

I recently experienced this in a very real and practical way. Last summer during the lockdown when Pastor Dallas Flippin and I were still pre-recording our services for streaming on Sunday mornings, I found myself still quite in the habit of getting up and wanting to be out of the house at 7 a.m. on Sundays. After a few moments of pacing the floor, I decided I needed to just get out of the house. So I grabbed a face mask and went for a coffee at the Speedway on the corner of Ganson and Wisner.

Once I purchased my coffee and a couple of donuts for the kids, I went back to my car satisfied with my coffee and outing. I closed the door and was getting ready to go home, but then out the corner of my eye, I saw a disheveled lady walking toward me.

“Excuse me, sir.”

She was broke and needed a ride. It turns out she was also homeless, carrying all her belongings in a bag she carried. She wanted to go someplace that offered hot showers and laundry facilities free of charge.

It don’t normally give rides to strangers—although I have picked up a hitchhiker or two. But that’s an entirely different story.

For this woman, I felt like I needed to give her a ride.

In the car ride, she told me her story. Life had not treated her well. Her family had abandoned her, and her health was poor. I listened to her story and knew that right there in the car I had an opportunity to worship. I didn’t have much money in my pocket, but I what I did have, I gave to her, just like Peter.

But Peter said, “I have no silver or gold, but what I have I give you; in the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, stand up and walk” (Acts 3:6).

God’s presence filled the car as I spoke of His goodness and how much He loved and cared about her. Her countenance lifted as we prayed together regarding her situation, and all of life’s hurdles and challenges.

It was inconvenient to meet the needs of this woman. It was not part of my plan. But I opened my car door to a person in need and was able to worship the Father as I met one simple need. I remember thinking to myself in the moment, “This is what I was made to do. This is my purpose.” Then I shared with this beloved woman where I work and told her to stop by the church someday. And then it was all over. She exited the car at her destination.

A couple of weeks later, I saw her again, just outside of our church. She wanted to let me know how things are going for her. There were positive changes, and she began to watch our Sunday morning church services at a friend’s house.

I continue to pray for her wholeness believing that God has a plan for this dear woman. And me, I continue to look for those unexpected and inconvenient opportunities to feed the hungry, provide drink to those that thirst, welcome strangers, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison. Even in this pandemic, there are plenty of opportunities. We can see needs around us and be the hands and feet of Jesus. The world is watching for those who choose to worship God in spirit and truth, anytime, anyplace.

John 4:23 “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.”

“Surviving the Holiday Blues” by Marilynn Fryer

During the holiday season, we sing songs of joy, of being merry and of hopeful anticipation. For some, however, the holidays are not a time of joy and hope, but instead can be difficult and depressing times. This is commonly known as the holiday blues, which can typically run from November through December.

To help fight the holiday blues, try these self-care tips:

Remember to SEE – sleep, eat right, and exercise

While the holidays are hectic times, we must make sure to care for our physical needs.

Most adults need 7-8 hours of sleep per night. Adults with young children may laugh, but sleep is vital to our daily functioning.

Eating right during the holidays can be difficult and almost seems like an oxymoron. With parties and celebrations, the opportunities to skimp on nutrition are everywhere. Be careful to not let occasional indulgences become daily; fuel your body with good, nutritious food. Limit alcohol as well because alcohol is a depressant and drinking too much can worsen other negative feelings.

With all the busy-ness of the holidays, exercise may take a back seat. Don’t forget that even a 10-minute walk can do wonders for body and mind. Schedule time for exercise.

Examine your expectations 

Holidays have become increasingly commercialized, with businesses counting on sales for greater profits. Be careful not to buy into an overly commercialized holiday, which can lead to feelings of depression and anxiety if we think our celebration doesn’t measure up to expectations. Set a budget for your holiday gift-giving and entertaining and stick to it. Plan a holiday that fits you.

Seek out support 

While feeling sad or blue may make you want to stay home, reaching out and seeking friends can help. That is challenging during this year with the COVID-19 pandemic, but phone calls or video chats such as Google Meet can provide interaction. Look for ways to connect. Volunteering can be a good way to reach out to others, also.

Lean into faith

While the holidays may bring up many negative feelings, as Christians, we recognize that we are celebrating the greatest miracle the world has known – God becoming flesh, being born in a manger. Lean into your faith and spirituality throughout the holiday season to combat the blues and anxiety we may experience. Lifting our minds out of our current circumstances and focusing on God’s wonder can change our perspective. Practices such as prayer and meditation can bring focus and mindfulness during this hectic time.

Understand that it’s OK to feel down at times – no one is happy all the time. Be careful of the pressures that the holidays may bring. Recognizing when you’re down and knowing how to help yourself – watching a funny TV show, talking to friends and family, going for a walk or run, reading a good book or doing a favorite craft, can all help improve a blue mood.


If the blues last longer than expected or significantly impair daily functioning, you may want to talk to a doctor or mental health professional for help. The holiday blues typically leave as we get into January. With the COVID-19 pandemic, most mental health resources are available virtually.

Wishing all a merry Christmas and happy holidays!