Do you recall the story of Saul (who becomes Paul) in the book of Acts? Saul began as a foe of the Christian faith, of the church, and of Jesus Christ. He approved when Stephen was stoned to death for blasphemy when he preached Jesus (Ac 7). Saul then began an organized persecution of the church, seeking out believers in Jerusalem and all the way to Damascus to arrest, imprison, and even execute believers.
BUT Acts 9 records Saul’s conversion, and immediately Saul began to preach Jesus as crucified and raised from the dead. What a huge change!
For the rest of his life Saul, now Paul, gave himself to preaching Jesus - because “Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).
That concept is probably very familiar to you. Certainly the idea that Jesus saves is. But since this statement is true, so new questions come to my mind.
Why the cross? Was there no other way?
How can the death of one man save all men and women from sin and death?
What does the cross have to do with me?
How am I actually saved through the cross?
Paul was absolutely certain of his own salvation. How can that be given all the things he did?
Can I be so certain? Should I be?
There are tremendous answers to these questions in God’s word. As Lent begins on Wednesday March 6 and continues through to Easter, April 21 this is a perfect time to think about the sacrifice of Christ, and what it does for me and you. So I plan to explore all this in messages during the Lent season.
I’m not sure I can answer every question, but I bet we can figure out a lot together as we study the Bible. I hope you will come along on the journey.
As I said, Lent begins on Ash Wednesday, March 6. As Jesus fasted for 40 days before he began his public ministry, Lent is 40 days. The length of the season reminds us that in all of life we are following Jesus Christ our Lord. We can fast and pray, study and heed God’s word and be changed to resemble Christ even more.
So I hope you will mark Lent this year. You can fast (that is take no food only water) or abstain (eat limited and simple foods) one day a week during Lent. You can also adopt a practice of service during the season: visit home bound friends or Grace’s shut-ins, help a family with small children with a meal once a week.
And then, study God’s word. I think you will be blessed as you hear and follow God’s voice.
~ Pastor Byron
For several weeks we’ve been talking about writing a spiritual goal or theme to guide us through the year. You are probably ready to move on to another subject. But let me say one more thing before we do. Let’s Get Started!
I was reminded several weeks ago about the acronym for a well- conceived goal. It’s S.M.A.R.T.
Wikipedia lists multiple expressions of SMART. These are the ideas I like.
S= be specific: You should be able to break it down into smaller steps.
M = be measurable: Can you determine when you have reached it.
A= attainable: You should be able to reach the goal. Learning a new language
in one day is unattainable but in one year more attainable.
R = relevant: do I care if I reach this goal? It has to matter at least to me.
T = Time-bound: You have a deadline.
I’m interested in that first letter, S - how can I break my goal down into smaller actionable steps? You’ve heard the adage “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.” Small steps are what get us to the big goal. Have you thought about the steps that will get you moving toward your goal?
Here are some helpful thoughts on developing smaller steps.
First, break the big goal into Milestones. Some steps might be: Gather Resources, Ask for Guidance, Build a system of Support and Encouragement, Implement what you Learn from the Resources. The milestones you outline will depend on your goal and your starting place so they will vary from person to person and from goal to goal.
Second, develop a task list for the first milestone. You don’t have to have a task list for every milestone, but develop it for your first one. If you are gathering reading resources you may want to identify the best sources, obtain them from a library or purchase them, and schedule time to read and study.
Third, complete the tasks on your list toward your milestone. That’s pretty straightforward.
Fourth, evaluate. Did you spend too much time on this aspect of your goal? What was most helpful? What have you learned? How will the list help in reaching your next milestone?
Fifth, develop task list for the next milestone and repeat.
It’s good to have a direction for your spiritual life. I’m praying you will write yours and strive toward your goal and discover God’s blessing as you grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
~ Pastor Byron
Click here toDear Friends -
“And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” (Mt 28:20)
The Bible frequently and emphatically repeats God’s promise of his gracious presence. The Lord says to Joshua “Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.” (Josh 1:9) Hebrews 13:5 reads, “Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.”
You might notice that in Matthew and Joshua, God’s promise is directly connected to his command to us to obey. In Matthew, Jesus commanded us to make disciples. It ends with, “I am with you to the end of the age.” Joshua is about to lead Israel across the Jordan River into the promised land. They will face many dangers and temptations, but the Lord says, “Don’t be afraid. I will be with you wherever you go.”
In other words, the Lord gives us these promises to encourage us to trust him while we strive to live for him. The Lord has said, “I know that obeying me won’t be easy, or without risk. You will have to live in a less self-focused way, by taking up your cross. BUT, the risk will not overwhelm you, the challenge won’t defeat you, and taking up your cross will lead you to life, because I am with you.”
With Christmas the old year ends and we enter a new year, reminded that Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. None of us knows what this year will be like, but if we belong to Christ, none of us will live it without Christ with us.
So let me encourage you to live by faith. Face the challenges that may come, with the confidence that Christ Jesus is with you, Emmanuel. Live life looking for ways to intentionally serve Christ. You can step outside your comfort zone because Jesus is with you, Emmanuel. Lead your family in such a way that there is no question among your children or for your spouse that you are following Christ, and remember there will be wonderful results because Jesus is with you, Emmanuel.
Your feelings will not always match the reality of Christ’s presence, but that doesn’t mean he’s not there. If you ride a roller coast you feel the rush of fear, that’s why you are there. But you are still safe. You would not have gotten on the ride if you thought otherwise. Christ’s presence is more sure and much stronger than the restraining bar holding you in your roller coaster seat. Hold on to him.
Let’s live in Emmanuel. January is a great time to evaluate and recommit ourselves to him.
Happy New Year,
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
Ah, Christmas. Dashing through the snow, rushing home with treasures, roasting chestnuts on an open fire and dreaming of snow, or Santa, or gramma and grandpa’s visit.
When I was growing up we listened to a Bing Crosby album (LP, Hi Fi vinyl) every Christmas. I remember those songs very well. My sister bought me a CD of the same album a few years ago. Now I try to get my grandkids to listen. They are more interested in how the Grinch stole Christmas, than how Bing sang it. But those songs shaped my thoughts of Christmas even though Milford, Indiana had no stoplight to blink a bright red and green, and only three stores from which to rush home: a 5¢ and dime, a drug-store, and a dry-goods store. Mom and dad did most of their Christmas shopping from the Sears and Wards Catalogs. Even the names are archaic.
I hope you have fond memories of Christmas past. I hope you are forming new memories with each new year. Whether it is music, light up night, or buying gifts from the Mall Christmas tree for a family in need.
And we should remember. Wonder, and joy should abound. Excitement should be everywhere. We are celebrating the birth of the King!
We know the story so very well. The angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would give birth to the Messiah, even though she was a virgin when she conceived. God spoke to Joseph in a dream, assuring him that Mary’s pregnancy was of the Holy Spirit. This baby would be a boy. His name would be Jesus, which means Savior. And he would be called God with Us.
What miracles! God is doing something he never did before. He stepped into our world, not just to do something, but to be someone ... with us.
While Mary was expecting, Joseph had to move his family from Nazareth to Bethlehem. There the time of Jesus’ birth arrived though his parents were living on the street. He was born, swaddled, and his first bed was a cow’s feeding trough.
God desired so much to be with us, that he did not allow wealth or power to separate his son from the struggles we live. Jesus would later say, “Foxes have dens... but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head.” He lived that reality from birth. And just think of it, God the Son knew he would be born homeless into the world before he came to us in flesh. Jesus chose the manger, the danger of human life.
He did it so that he could lay down the life he took up as the perfect sacrifice for human sin. Even in the manger the Son of God pursued the cross.
Let those images shape your memories of Christmas and celebrate the birth of Christ with joy.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
For weeks they’ve been saying, “The mid-terms are just around the corner.” Well, now they are. I want to encourage you to vote.
It may interest you that on Oct. 6, 1774 John Wesley recorded in his journal. “I met those of our society who had votes in the ensuing election, and advised them
1. To vote, without fee or reward, for the person they judged most worthy
2. To speak no evil of the person they voted against, and
3. To take care their spirits were not sharpened against those that voted on the other side. ”
I’m interested that in the first years of the Methodist movement, the father of Methodism thought it appropriate to urge Methodists to vote. He didn’t want them to waste their opportunity, or ignore their responsibility to exercise their vote. I want to do the same thing.
Often people say, rather hopelessly, “What difference does it make if I vote?” sort of, my one vote doesn’t make any difference. Or some will say, “Nothing changes no matter who you vote for,” feeling that candidates are all self-serving and dishonest. Yet, if we do nothing, it is certain nothing will change. Edward E. Hale wisely said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And I will not let what I cannot do interfere with what I can do.”
Notice too the content of Wesley’s advice. He did not tell Methodists who to vote for. Instead, they were to vote “without fee (don’t take a bribe) ... for the person they judged most worthy.” So should we. Check the candidates’ websites for information.
Second, Wesley advised “speak no evil of the person they voted against.” We’ve all heard the slurs from “the deplorables” to “crooked...” Romans 14:13 reads, “... let us stop passing judgment on one another.” Isn’t that what unkind rhetoric is? I don’t mean that all ideas are of equal value or truth, or that you should abandon your convictions. I only mean that you should express them with compassion.
Third, Wesley said, “Take care (your) spirits (are) not sharpened against those that vote on the other side.” We can feel justified in our anger against a person who votes for a candidate who we strongly oppose. But Wesley points out that we do a great deal of damage to our own souls by nursing anger toward others. Instead let us follow Paul’s command: “Let the peace of Christ be the rule of your heart.” (Col. 3:15)
Elections are always about choices. Differences can turn to arguments if we let them. But let us “Live as children of light (for the fruit of the light consists in all goodness, righteousness and truth)...” (Eph 5:8,9)
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
Since hurricane Florence struck we’ve all seen the images of destruction left in its wake. Even as I write this water is rising along some rivers, and thousands are under an evacuation watch.
And the United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is there. Presently only trained “first responders” are in the affected areas. As water subsides specific relief plans will be made and UM volunteers will arrive to begin cleaning, and restoring damaged homes. Their work will be coordinated through UMCOR.
We don’t have details about the response to Florence so I researched some infor- mation about UMCOR’s response to hurricanes Irma and Maria which devastated Puerto Rico last summer. First, I looked at CharitableNavigator.org to see how they rate UMCOR. (Statistics are from 2015.) Contributions were $19.9 million and 93.0% of contributions went to services (not administration, fund raising etc.). The overall rating for UMCOR was 92.14 out of 100, and 4 out of 4 stars.
UMCOR initially granted $5.6 million to Puerto Rico in December 2017. As of August 2018 a total of $20 million has been granted. You may ask, “If UMCOR received a total of $20 million in 2015 how did they disperse $20 million to Puerto Rico alone?” The answer, of course, is your gifts, and those of millions of United Methodists across the US and around the world.
A report of UMCOR programs sited Joanna Rivera’s home. Her wooden home was destroyed and all its contents lost. She was unable to return for 4 1⁄2 months. Joanna cares for her 17 year old daughter who is totally disabled. UMCOR provided emergency food and water, and clothing. In August Joanne’s home was being rebuilt. The bed and bath will be a cement block structure for greater safety in the future. UMCOR also provided a new stove and refrigerator. Joanna, with great emotion, thanked UMCOR and the people of the United Methodist Church and passed on her blessings to all.
Bishop Thomas Bickerton, president of the UMCOR board (formerly bishop of Western Pennsylvania) stated, “We take for granted the monumental work that we in The United Methodist Church do. It’s normal to us, but it’s viewed as exceptional work by the outside world.”
Your support to Grace is a part of that exceptional work. Through the Mission budget and your direct gifts we help provide the money needed. And your support of Grace sustains the framework that enables this aid. The exceptional work is yours!
Thank you for your generosity in all its expressions, and God bless you for it,
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
Acts begins with Jesus sending his followers as his witnesses, empowered by the Holy Spirit. Acts 1:8, “You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses... ” It ends with Paul, imprisoned in Roman still proclaiming the gospel. Acts 28:30, 31, “For two whole years Paul stayed there (Rome) in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance.”
The role of Jesus’ followers has not changed. We still live under Jesus’ command to be his witnesses.
It may seem harder to fulfill that call today. I once asked Rev. Sam Knappenburger what he did in the 1960's to attract so many people. (Sammy had served Franklin First UMC when they built their education wing.) He said, “Our problem wasn’t getting people to come. They came in droves. Our problem was to figure out what to do with them once they came.”
It’s different today. Visitors do not come in droves. Families do not move into our area in great numbers. Those who do move here often aren’t looking for a church. We have to go looking for them.
But this does not mean that the Lord is not drawing people to himself. The good shepherd still roams the hills in search of lost sheep he may bring back to the fold. No, the change is not in the Lord. The change is in our culture, and in our church. Reaching people for Jesus Christ requires different skills today.
That is why I want to encourage you to attend the outreach seminar “See All the People” on September 28 (See related article). I believe the seminar will both inspire us and provide practical training for success. If a number of us attend, perhaps 6 or 8, we will be able to bring back ideas that will help the entire congregation.
Many people who don’t attend or even like the church, think highly of Jesus. Many are looking for a purpose in their lives. Many are seeking something or someone through whom they can make a difference in our world. All this makes successful outreach in our time possible.
So please mark your calendar and plan to attend “See All the People.” See what God may do through us when we see all the people he is seeking today.
- Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
Father’s Day gives us a second chance in a month’s time to think about family. The family is a system that cares for each member. While raising kids is central to the family, the family serves all its members. It might be useful to think of the family in broader terms than child-rearing and to remember that fathers have an important role in helping their families be strong.
Kenn Gangel includes a list of characteristics of strong Christian families in his book, Ministering to Today’s Adults. Here are some of those characteristics.
Everyone wants a strong family. So why not get started today? After you read this article, give it to your spouse then talk about it. If together you take one of these ideas and spend June working it into your family life, you will have a stronger family when you are through.
– Pastor Byron
Tim Williams tells this story:
Kristina, the youth director at our church, asked if I could teach her high school Bible study. I agreed, but wanted to meet her students first. She introduced me to the three students who were attending that week’s study. Kristina asked about their week, prayed and then jumped onto a chair. “I want two of you to grab my hands and see if you can pull me off this chair.” All three of the students were boys, two of them were large enough to lift Kristina and the chair. Only one shyly stood up to take Kristina’s hand. I volunteered to take the other. With very little effort we pulled her forward and forced her to jump from the chair. She climbed bak onto the chair and said, “Now I’m going to lift Tim to my level.” She couldn’t, of course. Then she said, “It’s a lot easier to pull someone down than it is to lift someone up.”
Isn’t that the truth? But, with attention and effort we can lift one another up. And that result is worth the effort.
Do you feel the tensions of our culture right now? Weeks and months have been filled with uncertainty and strife. We continue to hear about North Korea’s nuclear capability though there may be progress. Mass shootings continue and just this week a police officer was killed in Maine. He was the 25th officer to be killed in the line of duty in 2018. Washington continues to be awash with charges and counter-charges. The politics of destruction are being used on all sides. Just this week the nominee for Director of the VA, who had served three presidents and been highly praise by all, withdrew his name from consideration, We will never know if he was qualified because he wasn’t vetted. He withdrew because of anonymous accusations. It’s a mess!
We are sometimes pulled down by the atmosphere of mistrust and worry. But we can remember, “the light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.” (Jn 1:5) If the light is still shining, if Christ is still Lord, if the Kingdom is still coming, we have hope! I don’t want you to bury your head in the sand, but I do want you to hold onto hope. Be lifted up by your Lord.
And then be the instrument of encouragement and of hope to others. How? Through the hope in you. Kirk Franklin says, “...when we don’t say something, we are saying something. We have the spirit of redemption when we speak.”
Here’s the thing: in a world of turmoil, we can be caught in the downward spiral or we can be lifted and lift others. The result is worth the effort.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
Carol Kuykendall tells a poignant story of the death of her close friend. --“Doubt sometimes wins over faith in my life, too... like the day my friend Lois died. The ringing telephone sliced through the early morning darkness, and jolted me awake. The clock said 4:22. I knew that Lois’ struggle was finished. The day before, I had sat by her bed and told her good-bye. ‘I’ll be right there,’ I told her husband. But I took my time... reluctantly trying to connect the stark work death with Lois. The two words still didn’t go together as I got in the car. By the time I reached her neighborhood, the first fringe of dawn glowed on the horizon, and I pulled over to watch the sunrise. As the light overcame the darkness, I began to remember what Jesus said and did. He didn’t promise that a good life was a long life - He was only 33 years old when He died. What matters is how we purposefully choose to live each day. And He didn’t promise a life without suffering, but He promised to walk with us and give us strength sufficient to meet our challenges. And most importantly, He didn’t say that death is an end, but a triumphant new beginning because we have eternal life in Him. As I watched the night turn into day, death gave way to a victorious new beginning.” (1990 Daily Guidepost, p.113)
Doubt does sometimes win-out over our faith. We struggle with the difficulties in life, especially the death of a loved one. We’ve had that happen in our congregation this year, of course. It has happened to members’ extended family of our congregation. We’ve seen tragic deaths in our community. In every case we struggle. That stark word death shouldn’t connect with any of them.
There was a dark dawn 2000 years ago in Jerusalem. Friends walked through the dark city streets to the place of death, struggling to connect that stark word with the one they loved.
As the sun began to pink the eastern sky, they reached the place. The ground under their feet began to shake. It was an earthquake to change the world. Because the Son of God broke the bonds of death, and rose to life that never ends. As the sun began to overcome darkness, the darkness of death was overcome by life in Christ.
Paul wrote, “Christ has indeed been raised from the dead” (1 Co 15:20). He states the fact. Christ is alive. But he goes on. It’s not only Christ, it’s you, it’s me, it’s all who belong to Christ. “Christ has indeed been raise from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” If Jesus is firstfruits, there must be more to come.
The days are longer now but dawn isn’t too early. Watch the sun come up and chase away the darkness and remember the Son has come up and brought the light of life.
~ Pastor Byron
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.