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
For the last two weeks in worship , we’ve focused on Christ’s call to “follow me.” I’ve asked you to evaluate the state of your own soul. Is your love for Christ warm and vital, or have you forsaken your first love? (Rev. 2:4)
Christ first forgives our sin, restores our relationship with the Father, and gives us new life. From that beginning, Christ wants to lead us so that our entire lives, our thoughts and desires, our words and actions are all submitted to his lordship.
In Matthew 28:19,20 Jesus commanded the disciples to “Go into all the world and make disciples... teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” ‘Everything’ is a big word. It is a high standard.
Paul wrote, “I can do all things through Christ who gives me strength” (Phil 4:13). In other words, if Christ commands it, then he also makes the way for me to do it. Maybe the possibility of actually satisfying Christ’s call is more daunting than hearing the call itself. If I can persuade myself that the goal is unattainable, then I can be satisfied where I am.
However, if we expect to reach this goal in one step would we be doomed to failure. We would also be missing the point of discipleship.
Discipleship is not a one time decision. Conversion can be, but discipleship requires the decisions of a lifetime. Discipleship is starting where I am right now, and taking the next step in following Christ, and then doing it all over again. Paul wrote in Philippians 3:12, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on...” That is discipleship, the willingness to press on. This is why the regular practice of nurturing our souls is so essential. The disciplines of Bible reading and study, prayer and worship are all means by which God provides the desire, strength and guidance to “press on.”
In a sense it is like an athlete and a coach. An athlete has a coach to improve their performance. Once the coach is on board, the coach becomes the boss. At each practice, every fitness training, at each meal, the coach decides what is to be done, and the athlete follows.
In a similar way, the Bible becomes our coach, giving constant guidance and correction. Prayer becomes our link of our spirit to the Holy Spirit. Worship puts us regularly in our proper place as followers of the God we worship.
So if you are taking seriously the call of Christ to “follow me,” the essential ingredient is his training. When we give ourselves to his training on a regular basis we are giving ourselves to him, one step at a time. And after all, that is the only way to follow.
Yours in Christ, Pastor Byron
“... he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Phil 1:6
Marian Wiggins tells the story of a visit to a struggling friend. Her mother had told her of visiting a classroom. While she was there, a student quietly stood, walked to a side table, picked up and gently rang a small bell, replaced the bell and returned to her seat. The teacher explained, “Whenever a student senses the presence of God, she rings the bell to remind others that He is always with us.”
Now Marian was driving to visit her friend, and a package on the back seat held a small bell. Along with the story, she hoped the bell would bring encouragement. She stopped at an intersection, waiting for an traffic to clear. Suddenly her car hurtled forward. Her foot on the brake had no effect. She was gripped by fear as car collided with car.
Then she heard the bell.
Another driver had driven into the back of her car, forcing it into the intersection. The cars were demolished, fortunately no one was seriously hurt, and Marian came away with an added assurance that God was at work in her life.
At the beginning of a new year it is a good thing to remember that our Lord is not only present but is also at work in our lives. He has a plan and a purpose and he is pressing forward to bring that purpose to fruition.
His purpose is not always to make us happy, healthy, prosperous or secure. These would be our wishes, but our Lord has a much higher purpose.
He has begun a good work in us. The goal of that work is our completed salvation. Yes, when we repented of our sin and asked Christ to be our Savior, he forgave us. We are saved by grace through faith, and not by our works, so that no one can take credit for their own salvation (Eph 2:8,9). But it also true that when we initially believed we were not all that Christ wants us to be.
Do you remember how small was your understanding of the things of God when you first believed? Do you recall how little your new life resembled that of Christ? Do you realize, that as far as you have come, you have a way to go to be like your Lord?
You see, God has more to do in us than to forgive. He also wants to transform so our goals, motives, words and actions become more and more like those of Christ. He has begun a good work but he is not done yet.
So in this new year, look for Christ to continue his work. Whether your dreams are met or unrealized, Christ is there and at work. Make his purpose your own, and the peace of Christ will rule in your heart.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
Soren Kierkegaard told this story to describe the incarnation.
A certain king was rich, powerful, and unhappy. He was alone. Without a queen, the vast palace was empty. One day, while riding through the streets of a small village, he saw a beautiful peasant girl. Her beauty immediately stole his heart. He wanted her more than anything he had ever desired. But how could he win her love? He could issue a decree and order her to the palace, but since she was his subject she would be forced to obey. That would not be the love he sought.
Then he thought, “I will call on her in person. I will wear my royal robes, put on the crown jewels, the sword of state, all my finest. I will sweep her off her feet.” But would she love him or his wealth.
Then he decided to dress as a peasant, and in disguise he would approach her house. But the dishonesty of this trick did not appeal to him.
So finally, he laid aside his royal robes and went to the village to become a peasant. He shared their lives. He worked and suffered with them. By becoming one with them, he won his bride.
There are lots of Christmas Tales, and I enjoy a lot of them. Whether it is one of a thousand retellings of A Christmas Carol, “How the Grinch Stole Christmas,” A Miracle on 34th St. (1947 black and white version, or 1994 color), or even Rudolph the Red Nosed Reindeer with Berle Ives, they invite even the most secular to recognize and think about Christmas.
But Kierkegaard’s story captures Christmas better than most. He gets the essentials.
• The King wanted to win his bride (remember the Church is called the Bride of Christ.)
• Because of love he lay aside his position as King and risked everything, including rejection, to win her.
• And living with her as one like her, he did.
Kierkegaard did leave out one essential aspect. Christ did not win his bride only by becoming like her. He won her by giving himself for her. The Manger is empty without the cross. Bethlehem loses its power without Calvary. The incarnation misses its purpose without the crucifixion.
When we see that the child who was born came to die, then we see the Christmas story in its true light.
Christmas is the Good News wrapped up in human flesh. “God loved the world so much he gave his only Son, so that anyone who believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.” Keep your Christmas around that truth and have a blessed Christmas.
~ Pastor Byron
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.