Dear Friends – On July 19 Grace suspended in person worship for the second time. This was in response to Gov. Wolf’s renewed restriction of group meetings to 25 or less. I know many are missing in-person worship, and want very much to return to our sanctuary. The Worship Committee adopted a plan to do that on Sunday, Sept 27.
Here is an outline of the reasoning behind the suspension of in-person worship and the proposed date of our return:
At this writing, I haven’t received any additional instructions regarding C-19 from Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi. Congregations have been urged to make their own decisions based on all the risk factors and mitigation practices.
The plan to resume in-person worship on September 27 is based on the Oil City Area School District’s plans for the beginning of school. OCASD students will be separated into two groups. Beginning September 1 half of the students will attend in-person classes for two days while the other half attends cyber classes. Then the second half will attend in-person for two days while the first group attends cyber classes. If this plan successfully limits COVID, OCASD will resume in-person education 5 days per week for all students on September 28.
The Worship committee felt that if OCASD can successfully resume in-person education, it will be safe enough for Grace to resume in-person worship at the same time. Therefore, the first in-person worship is set for September 27.
We will, of course, continue televised and online worship each week. I am so grateful to our TV team for their diligent work.
Thank you for your understanding and support. Continue to pray for an end of this pandemic. God hears even BIG prayers. And continue to support one another. Make a phone call to members who may be experiencing loneliness. Pay special attention to shut-ins and anyone who is ill. And please continue to support your church financially.
We will get through this with God’s help.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends –
In Mark 6:31 Jesus says this to his disciples: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place; rest.”
Get some rest. Not easy to do. Our schedules are so full. But even in the press of launching the gospel, Jesus thought it was good to rest.
Summer is a great time for getting away and resting. Take advantage of the chance. Jesus spoke of physical rest for his disciples. We also need to put aside work for a while and rest our bodies.
Two lumberjacks had a bet about who could cut the most wood in one day. In his effort to win the bet, one lumberjack chopped wood without stopping all day. The other woodsman paused from time to time to sharpen his axe. In spite of the lost time, it was the lumberjack who sharpened his axe who cut the most wood. With a sharp blade and a little rest he was able to work more efficiently.
We will find we are refreshed and sharper, more able to do our work after we let our bodies rest.
We need to let our emotions recover too. Life is stressful. Doing something different, going someplace new, finding something fun to do creates space away from stress. Our emotions heal, strength returns and we can cope again.
We also need time to nurture our relationship with Christ. A vacation can give us some time to do just that. Though we don’t often plan a spiritual break in our vacation, we need it. When your mind is less occupied you have a chance to be with Christ and hear from him. Jesus said, “Come with me ... and rest.”
So make sure you pack your Bible, or at least a New Testament. Take a spiritual book or a study guide, too. Read and reread the same book of the Bible several times while you are resting. Don’t focus on knowing Bible details. Think about what the Bible says to you.
If you were to read The Book of Acts you might notice:
1. What commands did Jesus give his disciples?
2. What is the central outcome that reoccurs throughout the book? Why is that important
3. How is the gospel presented differently at different times? How do those differences
help you understand the gospel?
4. What was Paul’s warning to the church when he left them for the last time? What
precautions did he advise they take?
5. How does the book end? What does the ending mean to you?
Always ask, What does the Bible mean for me? If you aren’t sure, that’s okay. Keep reading, keep thinking, keep putting each episode into your own words. Keep listening. The Lord will speak. Give yourself time to hear.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends –
Acts 8:1-4 reads “And Saul approved of their killing (Stephen). On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (2) Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. (3) But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. (4) Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
Notice the word “scattered” in the first verse. It was a tragedy, the first great persecution of the church, that caused Christians to leave Jerusalem. The result of the scattering was that disciples spoke the word of Christ wherever they went (not the apostles - they remained in Jerusalem.)
The faith was spread in new ways, to new places when the church was scattered.
We are a scattered church, too. We can’t gather in our building to worship, meetings for Sunday school, choirs, Bible study, youth, Super Seniors, and Family Life are all canceled. Some of us are still working, others are laid-off and at home for more hours than we’d like. We are scattered, but we do not cease to be the church just because circumstances prevent us from meeting. Instead, we can learn, as did the first believers, to blossom where we are planted.
Admittedly, sharing Christ is restricted because we aren’t at the Y, or Belle Lettres, or other familiar haunts. But what if we took this time to build some relationships so that as the reopening progresses we will have some standing on which to offer Christ?
Here are just some thoughts:
The idea is to reach out in new ways. Because we are all feeling isolated it will be appreciated. And because this is a unique situation it won’t seem weird, but kind.
Then pray and look for a chance to share Christ. Apply Ken Wilson’s strategy to make an opportunity.
When the first church was scattered by tragedy the gospel was spread to new people. We are scattered too. Let’s take advantage of the opportunities this presents.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends –
For so many of us, this has been the strangest Easter of our lives. Who would have
thought we would not only spend Easter Sunday at home, but the entire month of April!
As you know, families are educating their kids at home; college students are trying to
finish classes online that were designed to be in person; many of us are working at
home; our favorite restaurants are out of bounds; and our friends must be kept at a
We are worshiping from home. I have long been grateful for the visionaries who
launched the TV ministry so many years ago. Now, that ministry is vital for all of us.
Thank you to all the TV ministry volunteers who have given dedicated service over
many years and who now are keeping our church worshiping together.
In this strange environment you may feel like you are drifting. Waiting for the shutdown
to end, you may have put your life on hold, to be resumed only when things open
Yet, regardless of our circumstances life goes on. What we are doing, how we spend
our time and effort, who we call, text or email, all this IS life right now. It is different
from everything we have experienced before, but it is life none the less. And that
means we Christians are called to live it for the Lord.
Colossians 4:5 includes this exhortation: “Make the most of every opportunity.” Make
the most of the time you have. Make the most of the moments you are given, make
One of the dangers all Christians face is to think of unplanned situations as interruptions
to life rather than life itself. But while it is good to have goals and to make plans,
remember life happens while we are planning something else.
Hopefully though that changes our perspective on our present reality. A new point of
view encourages us to see that this situation allows us to actually do things that our
“normal” schedule would prohibit.
This is especially true of our practice of spiritual disciplines. Are you watching more TV?
Then this is an opportunity! Put down the remote, pick up your Bible. Read the
passion, death and resurrection accounts in all the gospels. Turn what you read into
prayers. (Lord, you called your disciples to watch and pray. Teach me to do the same
each day. Amen. Lord, Peter denied you when he felt threatened. Help me to remain
faithful when I might feel embarrassed by acknowledging my faith in you. Amen.)
Spend time with the Lord while you can. You might find this interruption has been a
great opportunity in disguise.
— Pastor Byron
Dear Friends –
Immediately after being baptized by John, Jesus went into the wilderness to fast and pray for 40 days (see Matt. 4:1-11).
The wilderness of the Jews is not the wilderness we think of. For us wilderness is probably the big woods. For the Jew the wilderness was the desert; miles and miles of arid, open nothing dotted by an occasional oasis.
More than that, the wilderness was the place to seek and find God. Moses was tending his father-in-law’s sheep in “the far side of the wilderness” when the LORD appeared to him in the burning bush (Ex 3:1). When Elijah fled for his life, he ran to the wilderness and heard the “still small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:1-18). Israel wandered for 40 years in the wilderness and then entered the Promised Land.
Lent is a time when we intentionally imitate Christ and his pattern of 40 days fasting and seeking God. We learn the lesson Jesus taught, “Humans require more than food. For life they need every word that comes from God.” (Mt. 4:4)
Lent is a season to remember and to practice those essential words. We live busy lives. We have lots of opportunity for entertainment and distraction, as well. Between work, family and Netflix it’s easy to make little time for God’s word, in spite of the fact that we believe it, and know it is essential for life.
What will you do to make Lent a significant time in your disciple-living? Isaiah 56:6 reads, “Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near.” He is near now. He can be found now. This is a great time to focus your attention on seeking, and finding the Lord and renewing the joy of his salvation.
Bible reading and study, prayer and fasting are necessary disciplines for seeking the Lord. He has given us these means of grace as appointments, times and places where he will meet with us.
I’d like to invite you to read the Gospel of Matthew during Lent. I asked you to read Matthew back in January. Please, read it again. Read slowly. The goal is not to get to the end of the book. The goal is to get the book into our minds and souls.
And spend time praying. Start with praise, perhaps a verse of a hymn you like. Then ask the Lord to meet your needs and the needs of others. Finally, pray the words from Matthew which you just read back to the Lord. For example, “Lord, you said ‘Treat others as I would like to be treated.’ Help me remember those words. Show me when I fail. Teach me that failing is significant, and help me keep your word in my heart and in my action.”
You can find the Lord as you seek him. If we don’t seek the Lord now, then when? Join me as we seek our Lord together.
— Pastor Byron
Winter months can be long and dreary. Heavy clouds carry snow and rain, blocking out the sun. And its cold! And wet! And you’ve got to put on coats, hats, gloves, scarves and boots and you’re still cold. There is even a winter condition called Seasonal Affective Disorder - a depression related to lack of sunlight.
Getting through the dark weeks of winter can be tough.
Psalm 42:11 asks a poignant question: “Why, are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Savior and my God.” It’s part of the human condition to become downcast. Some develop a more serious, clinical depression that may required medication, but everyone faces that downcast feeling.
Part of my downcast-ness, is from just trudging through day after day. When I’m in the middle of that, I will find myself walking down the alley on my way to the church on a beautiful, if rare, winter day. The sky is blue, the air is a little warmer, even the wind feels refreshing rather than freezing. But I still have my head down, picking my way through the slush. I’ve discovered that if I stop, look up, and let the sun shine on my face, something inside wakes up, like daffodils breaking through the snow.
So I suggest you break it up a little. Change up the way you trudge through these weeks of cold. If you aren’t outside from day to day, step out on your front porch and just breath. If you are home day after day, go somewhere. Make a point of watching for a good day, and taking the opportunity to go somewhere just to get out. It will feel like someone has broken a layer of ice off your soul.
In the movie, A Family Thing, Robert Duvall plays a man named Earl. Earl discovers that though he grew up with his white father, and his own skin is white, his real mother was a black woman. Earl goes to find his black family and meets his nephew, Virgil. Virgil is a young man with a grudge, hating every moment and everyone. Earl says to him, “There was a man in my town who owned a fix-it shop. He hardly made any money, but every month he would take his wife to the city and buy her something, a scarf, a new dress, something. As the trip got closer he had a light in his eye. After ten years or so his wife died. But he was approved to adopt a little boy. It started all again. Every fourth week they took a trip, and he bought the boy a toy or something. One day I asked him about it. He said, ‘Being happy ain’t nothing more than having something to look forward to.’” Then Earl said, “You need to find something to look forward to.”
Sometimes we need to find something to look forward to. So make a plan, build a hope, and smile even though it’s dark.
Some years ago I came across the story of a man who, throughout his lifetime, each January wrote down a list of commitments for the coming year. He began the practice as a young adult. And he kept each annual commitment throughout his life.
At his death his family found his collection of annual commitments in a box in the attic. They had known about his practice and were eager to see what he had written each year for so long.
They discovered that the commitments he made were simple and related to the basic responsibilities of life. To their great surprise, however, his list changed very little throughout his life. In fact, every year included some of the same commitments: 20 pushups every day, reading this Bible every day, kindness to strangers, honesty in business, faithfulness to family. For an entire lifetime this man had committed every year to the same things.
At first his family was disappointed. They thought that making the same commitment each year was perhaps a little shallow, a little easy. But as they thought about him, they realized that he had lived each of those commitments, perhaps not perfectly, but consistently. They began to feel that the secret to his life had been his unwavering commitment to what was really important. His annual recommitment to the same foundations expressed and empowered his determination to do what he said he would do.
At New Year we may be thinking about how we will live the new year. Perhaps we are looking for something new, exciting, creative. That’s not bad at all. But there is great power in reviewing the most basic demands of life and faith, and recommitting to keeping them again in the new year.
What would you measure to be foundational to your faith and life? Would you include spiritual disciplines like prayer, Bible reading and study, application of biblical truth to your life? Would you identify kindness and compassion to others? Would you write down serving your Lord by serving those in need?
Would you commit yourself again to do what you know is the center of God’s design for our lives? Its not a bad way to start the year.
~ Pastor Byron
In December 1903, after many failed attempts, the Wright brothers were successful in getting their "flying machine" off the ground. Thrilled, they telegraphed this message to their sister Katherine: "We have actually flown 120 feet. Will be home for Christmas." Katherine hurried to the editor of the local newspaper and showed him the message. He glanced at it and said, "How nice. The boys will be home for Christmas." He totally missed the big news; a man had flown!
There is always the danger in December of missing the BIG news. Of course, the BIG news is that Jesus Christ is born. We miss it the same way that editor missed his big story: we overlook it in all the holiday stuff.
We know it, we believe it. We can rush past it.
The BIG news is “the Word became flesh and lived among us. We have seen his glory,” (Jn 1:14). Realize for a moment that for John, who wrote these words, they were literally true. Jesus LIVED in John’s hometown. Jesus lived right down the street, in the home of Simon Peter, who was John’s business partner. John was one of the twelve so Jesus spent three years living with him. John saw him, heard him, ate with him, walked from town to town with him, joined in his work, and saw what Jesus did. In John it is literally true that the Word became a man and lived with him. Because that is true, we can trust everything that John said. He was right there. And because he saw it and wrote it, it becomes true to us: the Word lived among us.
Jesus did this for a purpose. “Out of his fullness we have all received grace upon grace,” (Jn 1:16). We have seen what God the Father is like because we have seen the kindness, gentleness, love and the strength and justice of God the Son. Do we wonder if God really loves us? Loves you? Jesus shows that he does.
And we have received the power and the right to become God’s own children (Jn 1:12). Do you truly love your children, your grandkids, your nieces and nephews? If so, don’t you think God, who makes us his children, would truly love you, his daughter or son?
We have received the second birth, through faith in Christ Jesus. Born anew, born spiritually, born from above we see and enter the kingdom of God (Jn 3:3,5). Our sins are forgiven and we are reconciled to the Father.
So enjoy Christmas. Give gifts. Eat cookies. Sing carols. Visit family and friends. Do it ALL.
But don’t miss the BIG news! JESUS CHRIST IS BORN! And that makes all the difference in the world.
~ Pastor Byron
Thanksgiving day is this month, of course. But thanksgiving is more than a day. It is just one aspect of worship, and worship is the life of the church and of each Christian. Jesus said, “A time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in the Spirit and in truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks.” (Jn 4:23) The Father seeks worshipers. Are you a worshiper?
Thanksgiving Day is rooted in the Pilgrims. While some details of that day are apocryphal tales, the rock bottom truth is that the Pilgrims came to America to establish a new life for themselves. They wanted that life to be centered on Jesus Christ. They suffered horribly during the first winter. Over half their number died of starvation and disease. AND YET when their first harvest came in, they held a feast of thanksgiving.
I’m not sure that American Christians today view worship with the same fervor as did the Pilgrims. For us, worship is an option competing with a plethora of choice. And often, if our action is any measure, worship is the last choice on the list.
It is true that Christians can worship in places other than a worship service. In fact, we should be worshiping every moment.
However, the fact that we can worship in places other than church doesn’t mean the church service can be replaced. No, it is supplemented by private worship. But church is when we worship together.
“The Sunday morning church service is generally recognized as the church’s chief expression of itself to its community. ” (Haley’s Bible Handbook, p. 835) The worship service says there is a living God, and God is worth our praise. The worship service serves the worshipers who gather by centering their lives around Disciple-Living.
Someone may say that because I am a pastor I get paid to go to church. But that is not why I go. I go to church to worship. My God has given me life. Every breath I draw is by his mercy. I am blessed with a wonderful family, grandchildren, and my daughter’s in-laws are friends and Christians. I can buy fresh strawberries from Peru in the dead of winter. And beyond all this Jesus Christ gave up his life so that my sin could be washed away and I can stand in the presence of God as his child.
Thanksgiving Day is but a moment, a reminder to be thankful. Giving thanks is just one part of worship and I am called to be a worshiper of the one, true and living God. I pray that this Thanksgiving season you would seek a new desire for worship. Let us worship our God together for only he is deserving of our praise.
Dear Friends -
What is the target of your life? Very often we don’t have a conscious, or deliberate goal that guides our most important decisions. We may ask at some point, “What do I want to do for a living?” and that is critical, but our job or career is not the same as our life. We may ask, “Do we want children?” and that demands our serious answer, but having children is a part of the whole of life. What is the target you aim for in your life.
In Galatians 5 Paul lists the fruit of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Calling these virtues fruit of the Spirit means the Holy Spirit produces them in the lives of Christians. They are not the result of human effort alone. Each quality comes from the Spirit living and working within us. Paul reflects the perspective that Jesus described in John 14. He said, “Abide in me and you will produce abundant fruit.”
Then Paul wrote, “Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit.” (Gal. 5:25) That phrase “keep in step with the Spirit” fascinates me.
“Keep in step” suggests two things to me. First, it suggests the direction in which we are moving. When a body of soldiers is moving from one place to another together, they march, they match themselves to the step another. Keeping in step with the Holy Spirit suggests the same image, matching ourselves to the Holy Spirit. When we have choices to make, we chose to go in the Spirit’s direction. Since love is an attribute of the Spirit, we keep in step with him, turning away from anger, conflict, and self-serving action, and move toward reconciliation, understanding and cooperation.
“Keeping in step” also suggests that we keep moving. We keep marching, we keep putting one foot in front of the other. You can’t keep in step if you stop.
Stopping is perhaps the biggest enemy of continuing progress. It’s hard to press on, and easy to quit. But the attitude that makes the difference in the long run is the determination to keep on keeping on.
So when you look at your life, what is the target you are aiming for? Is your goal to love God with all you are, and love your neighbor as yourself? Is your goal to be as much like your Master Jesus Christ as is possible through the power of the Holy Spirit? Or is your goal earn a living, (important but not everything), enjoy comforts and entertainments (good but not all there is)? Think about it so that you can decide what your goal is, what reaching the goal would look like, and how you expect to get there.
Keep in step with the Spirit and you will move toward the goal of Disciple-Living.
- Pastor Byron
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.