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
Dear Friends -
Ever find yourself in a situation in which you simply don’t know how something works?
A new home owner walked into a hardware store and asked for a chainsaw. The salesman recommended the top of the line model. It could cut down 6 trees an hour. The man was impressed and bought it. The next day he brought it back, complaining that it didn’t work. He cut down one tree and it took ALL DAY! The salesman took the chain saw, pulled the rope and it started right up. The home owner shouted, “What’s that noise?”
It is easy to miss out on good things simply because we don’t know what we need to know. – That is true in daily life. It is also true in our faith. Not knowing what the Bible teaches about our God, ourselves and our lives can lead us to miss out on a lot of good things.
I write that to encourage you to read your Bible! Reading your Bible regularly holds the promise of providing you with the knowledge that can guide your life.
If you have a regular habit of reading the Bible, great! Keep it up. If you don’t have that habit, start NOW.
There may be times when this discipline doesn’t seem to produce results. The Bible is not an easy book. The most recent parts are 2000 years old. Some of the references are confusing. Some parts are more difficult to understand than are others. Some parts are familiar and so when we read them we think, “I know that. I don’t really need to pay attention.”
Remember we often compared the Word of God to a seed. Jesus did this in the parable of the soils (Mt 13). And one thing we know about a seed; you don’t get fruit the same day you plant the it. It takes time for a seed to grow and produce fruit.
It takes some time for the Bible to have an impact in your life. If you become discouraged and stop reading, you have stopped planting seed. If you stop planting you won’t get any fruit. By regular reading of the Bible you can plant the seed that nourishes your mind and your soul, and produces fruit that pleases the Lord.
Here are some ideas for beginning to read the Bible.
Reading the Bible is good for your soul. Plant some seed today, and tomorrow you may just reap a harvest of good things.
~ Pastor Byron
Friday was a beautiful day. I was outside almost all day. I mowed the grass, trimmed the hedge, used the weed wacker, did a little painting, and just sat on the porch. I was sore and tired when the sun went down but I felt renewed. A day outside, in the sun seemed to soak into my soul.
Maybe you have felt the same way after a day in the sun. And haven’t you found yourself similarly renewed in other situations.
Is it no wonder then that we need to be renewed spiritually? Our spirits contend with the world just as our bodies and minds do. Our spirits become worn by daily life and by periods of struggle or suffering.
Wesley taught the early Methodists to employ the means of grace for their spiritual renewal.
He listed these practices in the General Rules for the United Societies (the original name of the Methodist movement in England):
He also added conversation with other believers designed to encourage us and hold us accountable.
So this summer take advantage of blue skies, family reunions, and outdoor BBQs. And do not neglect your spirit.
Here are some thoughts on prayer:
God knows our limits because he created us. He doesn’t think less of us because we have to return to him again and again for spiritual fuel. In fact, that practice is a huge part of faith. So keep the faith this summer. Renew your spirit. You will not regret it.
~ Pastor Byron
This month we see two great days in the life of the church. Father’s Day is June 16 and Pentecost is June 9. I’m glad these two days come so close together this year. It reminds us that good fathers need the Holy Spirit in their lives to do their job.
Pentecost is the day the resurrected Lord Jesus poured out the Holy Spirit on his followers in Jerusalem. Acts 1 reads, “... (the disciples) gathered around him and asked him, ‘Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?’ He said to them: ‘It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.’”
Even after Jesus’ resurrection the disciples were more interested in restoring the national sovereignty of Israel than in the spread of the kingdom of God in the hearts of men and women. But Jesus said, “Don’t worry about times and dates. The Father has all that cared for. YOUR concern is to live for and witness to me. To do that you need the Holy Spirit. So wait until you have received him.”
The Holy Spirit is God’s plan for us to live the Christian life. One wonderful result of the finished work of the cross is that the redeemed are prepared throughGod’s grace and forgiveness to receive the Holy Spirit. Receiving the Holy Spirit
means God is within every believer to empower us for life and ministry in Jesus’ name.
The Holy Spirit is very practical. In Galatians 5 Paul lists what he calls the “fruit of the Spirit.” His list includes patience and kindness. Have you ever needed patience? Have you ever lost your patience or been unkind? If the answer is yes, then the Holy Spirit is for you, for he is the one who causes these virtues to grow in the Christian life. (For a complete list of the fruit of the Spirit see Gal. 5:22-25.)
And fathers, have your ever lost patience? Have you ever been unkind to your kids? I sure have. Don’t we want to love our children and grandchildren with all our heart? And don’t we want to prove that love by consistently treating them with loving action? And aren’t there times when we blow it? Then the Holy Spirit is very practical for men who are fathers.
It’s not easy to be a good dad. There are so many demands. Isn’t it great to know that because of Christ we have divine help. We won’t be perfect, but we can step up and do the job with the power of Christ in our lives.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
Easter Sunday is just past. Did you know this is the season of Easter. “Eastertide” helps us remember that the resurrection of Christ changed everything. The life we live, the hope we share, the purpose of life, all are changed because we live in a world changed by Easter.
What has Christ done in his resurrection?
1 Pt. 3:21b “(we are saved) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ.” Jesus’ atoning death and resurrection can’t be separated, even though they are distinct. Jesus’ death atones for sin, his resurrection brings new life.
We have new life. Romans 6:5b,6b “...we will certainly also be united with him in a resurrection like his....that we should no longer be slaves to sin.” Paul didn’t say we won’t be tempted. He said we are no longer “slaves” of sin, owned by and controlled by it.
We are sanctified. Romans 6:13 “...offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer every part of yourself to him as an instrument of righteousness.” All of our lives the Spirit of God works to transform us so that we are purified, expressing the fruit of the Spirit, and seeking God.
Christ intercedes for us. Romans 8:34 “Jesus Christ who died... is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.” Do you know someone who really prays and gets answers? Think of Christ interceding for you at the throne of the Father!
We will be glorified. Here is the ultimate expression of salvation. We will be raised to eternal life, and transformed. 1 John3:2 “...when Christ appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is.”
And finally, all of God’s creation will be redeemed through the work of Christ. Romans 8:21 “...creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay and brought into the freedom and glory of the children of God.” Christianity teaches that God will redeem all of his creation. There will be a new heaven and a new earth. God will live with his people: he will be their God and they shall be his people ... and death and mourning shall be no more, because the old order of things will pass away. (cf Rev. 21)
See what a great salvation God has given us in Jesus Christ, and find peace and joy in him.
~ Pastor Byron
A Note on Church Security –
Our church is working to make Grace a safer place. Seven members of Grace recently attended a church security seminar. They have also met with a security expert here at the church. He has seen our facility and made recommendations to increase safety. There will be some changes, but every change will be properly approved, carefully explained, and is intended to make Grace a safe place for everyone. Thank you for your understanding.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.