Recently I read an article in Daily Guideposts 2016 by Sabra Ciancanelli. She described an impression that came upon her and which she could not shake: Expect a Blessing!
She tried to shake it because it seem too presumptuous. Expect a blessing, as if it is due you, as if you could name beforehand the thing God would provide. It was not HOPE for a blessing, or PRAY to be blessed. It went beyond anticipation to expectation. EXPECT a Blessing.
I admit that when I read her article I thought “expect” was too strong a word. Like Sabra, I felt it was presumptuous.
Then I saw an advertisement for a health insurance plan. It read: “Expect more from your Medicare Advantage Plan.” There was the word expect again. But now it was human effort from which I should expect to receive something good. And more than that it was an advertisement. Advertisements are designed to entice us to buy what the seller is selling. They want us to expect more so I will buy more. And yet, in that circumstance I had no problem with the word expect.
And that made me think, “Should I be less expectant of God’s blessing, than I am of a health insurance company’s business practice? Which has the greater power to bless? Which has demonstrated the greater love for me?” Why do I hold back from expecting a blessing?
Is it because life is often difficult, and trials come? But God is able to provide blessing even in struggles.
Is it because God has not expressed his desire to bless those who trust him? Surely that is not so.
It seems to come right down to what I expect. And God says I can expect him to love me, and care for me.
Thanksgiving is just around the corner. Maybe it is your practice to make a list of blessings for which you are thankful. I want to suggest that you add something to that practice. Make a list of blessings you expect from your Lord. Look into the future and recognize his goodness is there, even before you are and raise your expectations.
At the very least there is this: God is with you, and you can count on that.
Have a thankful and expectant heart,
Dear Friends -
In the last several weeks we have watched as a chain of natural disasters struck. Hurricane Harvey made landfall in Texas resulting in massive flooding. Then Hurricane Irma left destruction through the Caribbean, the Keys, and Florida. Hurricane Maria again created havoc in the Caribbean. In Puerto Rica roads are blocked, cell phone towers are destroyed and officials have been unable to make a full assessment of the damage. And then there was the massive earthquake in Mexico.
With each new tragedy, you have responded with compassion and generosity. Gifts toward disaster relief have been coming in, and each week someone asks me if we are still collecting funds for that purpose. That shows compassion has not diminished with the passing of time. And YES, your church is still receiving relief funds for all these needs.
In addition to direct relief, you have responded generously to the request to provide “Health Kits.” These kits are designed and distributed by UMCOR (the United Methodist Committee on Relief). They consist of very basic items for personal hygiene, like soap and a tooth brush. The original goal was 50 and you have far surpassed that goal. The deadline is Oct 8.
I’m writing this because I think you should know how generously you and other members of your church have been. Last week, I spoke on living a Christian life. I used “rules” developed by John Wesley as a practical guide for putting faith into action. The second guideline, you may remember, is “Do Good”. In fact, do all the good you can, to all the people you can, at every time and in every place you can, as God gives you opportunity. You are already living out that guideline, and that is evident in your response to these tremendous needs. Are we perfect? Of course not. But we are increasingly able to follow Christ in daily life. That is a wonderful expression of grace. Thank you.
If you would like to contribute to hurricane relief in the US (including Puerto Rico) place your check in an envelope and write the designation “hurricanes” on the outside. To help internationally, write “international hurricane". If you would like to give toward earthquake relief in Mexico, write “Mexico”. Make checks payable to Grace UMC.
Jesus taught us, it is more blessed to give than to receive. You are faithfully living out his word. Thank you.
Dear Friends -
We’ve all watched the scenes of destruction in Texas as Hurricane Harvey
made landfall. The damage continues to mount, unprecedented levels of rain
continue to fall, and the remnants of Harvey appear to be in no hurry to move
on. News sources have all described the recovery from this storm as
“generational”, meaning it will take decades to rebuild.
Faced with the magnitude of this disaster, how do we respond? First, let’s
remember that we are not simply nice people. We are Christians. That means
we are under a command from Our God and Savior to serve and assist our
neighbors whomever they may be. Remember Jesus’ parable of the Good
Samaritan. (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus concluded that lesson with these words:
“Go and do likewise.” That is not a suggestion. That is a command.
Also remember that since we are responding under the direct command of
God, he will be at work through us. This means that finite actions of
compassion on our part will be anointed and empowered by the Holy Spirit to
impact lives in ways we cannot imagine. NOTHING is impossible with God.
This is what you can do. First, we United Methodists have in place a
remarkable aid and recovery agency call the United Methodist Committee on
Relief (UMCOR). UMCOR was in place in Texas long before Harvey made
landfall. The agency has been working with annual conferences in the area to
prepare. Volunteers are trained for immediate response, clergy are working as
chaplains, churches that have not been destroyed will become working aid
stations. Your financial gift to UMCOR will make a lasting difference. Simply
place your additional gift in your envelope and on the line marked “other”
write Texas. Remember putting your designation on the check memo line is
not effective, because the check goes to the bank.
Next, Missions is asking us to donate toward Health Kits. These are UMCOR
packaged supplies that provide basic hygiene items to people who have lost
everything. Our goal is to assemble 50 kits. Information and a complete list of
items needed is included in this edition of Grace Notes and also in the Sunday
School hallway. Or you can donate $11.00 for each kit you want to sponsor.
On your envelope write Health Kit.
Finally, pray. You may feel it is hopeless to pray against so great a power as
Hurricane Harvey. But all the forces of nature are under the control of their
Almighty Creator. We don’t know what miracles great and small will happen
because faithful people pray.
So respond like a Christian, and watch God work.
Dear Friends -
Dr. Isaac Asimov loves to tell its story of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”
England was at war with Napoleonic France. To bolster their navy, they seized American shipping and pressed sailors into service for the crown. In 1812 America declared war. When Napoleon abdicated, England turned its attention to the U.S.
The English planned to invade the U.S. from Canada and through New Orleans and land in the Chesapeake, cutting the nation in two. If the plan succeeded the U.S. might cease to exist.
On August 24, 1814 British forces burned Washington D.C.. The only federal government building left undamaged was the post office. Dolly Madison refused to leave the White House without the portrait of George Washington. As the city bearing his name burned, Washington’s image was carried to safety.
The British then moved on Baltimore. Fort McHenry’s guns and the 1000 men who manned them defended the harbor.
A lawyer, named Francis Scott Key boarded a British ship to negotiate the release of a prisoner. The captain agreed but required the two Americans remain on board through the battle. So Dr. William Beanes and Key watched Fort McHenry from on board an attacking British warship.
At dusk they could see a flag over the fort. When the bombardment began, the flash of bursting shells illuminated the night sky and the flag. But toward morning the bombardment ended. Beanes and Key didn’t know why the shelling stopped. And without the flash of shells the flag could not be seen. First light would reveal either the American flag, or the British flying in victory.
What they saw at first light is recorded in the second verse of the nation’s anthem.
“On the shore, dimly seen thro’ the mist of the deep, Where the foe’s haughty host in dread silence reposes, What is that which the breeze, o’er the towering steep, As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses? Now it catches the gleam of the morning’s first beam, In full glory reflected, now shines on the stream. ‘Tis the Star-Spangled Banner. Oh! Long may it wave O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.”
What the song doesn’t capture is the memory of 1000 men who defended the fort. It wasn’t glory that kept them there. It was a willingness to sacrifice for their nation and their neighbors. We are here because of a long, thin line of brave men and women who have stood and protected us. Our anthem remembers and honors their gift to the nation. Remember and honor them this 4th of July.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
It shouldn’t surprise us that Mother’s Day and Father’s Day are separated by only a month. Just as we must honor both our Mother and Father, the role of fathers in raising their children is as important as the role of their mother.
Think about the arctic tern. Each year this amazing bird sets out on the longest migratory journey attempted by a bird. It flies from the top of the world to the bottom. Even more amazing, baby terns are hatched in the arctic north, and when they have grown old enough to take care of themselves their parents leave them and begin their migration to the antarctic south. For many weeks the fledglings fend for themselves, growing, developing the wing muscles and endurance they will need for the long flight ahead. Then they leave the only home they have ever known and begin a journey over a course they have never seen to the opposite end of the world. They have no guide and yet they arrive. God has designed these birds with an internal compass we do not understand.
I tell you that story because I want to impress upon you how very different human children are. God has not designed human babies to fend for themselves, and he has not instilled in them an instinctual compass to lead their life’s journey without a guide.
Has God mistreated human children? Not at all. God gave humans something more wonderful than the migratory instinct of the tern. He gave us parents.
As amazing as the migration of the arctic tern is, the course humans must navigate in life is more complex. It involves learning to love our neighbors and not care only for our own needs. It involves learning that right and wrong are real things, and not just the invention of individual desire, and it involves learning to choose what is right. Human navigation involves learning to forgive and to be forgiven, and then to receive the grace to change and grow into a better person. It involves learning that there is one God and Creator of us all, and that we can know him through his Son Jesus Christ.
You see, humans must navigate between two poles as distant from each other as the arctic and antarctic. We begin as sinners. By God’s grace, we can be changed into the image of Christ. And God has given us parents to instruct us on the way.
Dads, you have an amazingly important job. And it is not beyond your ability, because God wants you to succeed. Set your heart on this task: to become the compass that guides your children on the first steps of their journey in learning the love, and grace of God. You are God’s gift, even more capable than the instinct he designed into the arctic tern.
Continue in Grace,
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
May is Mother’s Day Month, and Mother’s Day makes us think of the most essential job of moms (and dads) - the raising of our children.
When asked what we want for our children, parents often say they want their children to be happy. They want their children to be successful, to live a balanced life, to contribute to society and to build loving relationships with their own spouse and children.
The question is, How do parents help their kids reach these goals?
The only sure anchor for a full, abundant and eternal life is a vital relationship with Jesus Christ. A faith relationship with Christ is a harbor for our soul. And it lays out the way we are to live daily life. That’s true for children and adults.
If we want our kids to reach the dream, WE NEED TO PASS ALONG A PASSION FOR JESUS CHRIST. However, we can’t give what we don’t possess. That means parents need to have and live a personal passion for Christ.
I’m not only talking about passing along good morals: things like being generous, having compassion, serving others, or reserving sex until marriage. These are important results of a relationship with Christ, but they aren’t the relationship itself.
I’m talking about passing along a love for Christ and his kingdom. Without that love for Christ, even our good morals miss the mark. We can’t be “good” as God would have us be “good” and ignore the God who made us to be “good” or the Savior who transforms us.
Joshua 24:15 reads “...as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.” Is that the cry of your heart? Is that the tone of your household? You see, if you don’t live your faith your kids will learn that faith is just for kids. After all, if the most important adults in their lives don’t display it, why should they?
So I’m asking moms (and dads) to examine what you do. Do your children see you attend worship, and Sunday School, or is that just a kid drop-off? Do your children hear you pray, or is that something only they do before bedtime? Do your children see your love and passion for Jesus Christ or do they see you ignoring the things of faith in your own daily behavior?
Mothers (and fathers) have a great commission from God, to go into their home, and live and teach the good news, so that their children will love Christ and do all he taught us.
My prayer this May is that our passion for Christ will ignite into a great fire that the next generation will see and embrace.
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 word 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. In every case we struggle. We feel that the stark word death shouldn’t be connected 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. 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 raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.” If Jesus is first , 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.
March 1, Ash Wednesday, is the beginning of Lent, that 40 day season that leads us to Easter Sunday. For some Lent is a powerful spiritual experience. For others it’s a strange church thing that’s mostly about not eating chocolate till the Easter bunny shows up.
The word Lent is said to come from an old Anglo-Saxon word for spring. And Lent certainly coincides with spring. It’s message is illustrated in the hope of new life we all anticipate as spring gets near.
We’ve had a strange winter; cold, warm, cold again. Even as I am writing the snow is gone and the temp is in the 50s. It feels wonderful! It’s still early though. The snow may return, but now snow is fighting a losing battle, because the sun is making its comeback. Snow depends on dark and cold. Light and warmth are taking over. From the cold and death of winter, life is returning.
What a powerful picture of what God wants to do in the human soul. John R. W. Stott writes, “Christianity is a religion of salvation...” (Basic Christianity, p. 15). In Christ God saves us from the death of sin and gives us new life.
The path to experience new life requires us to face two realities: our sin and our mortality. Just as spring overcomes snow, life in Christ overcomes our sin and death. We need to face our sin to find new life. Lent can help us do that in a redemptive way.
While serving my first church, I led a Bible study on God’s daily presence. Each week began with an evaluation of our present relationship with Christ. We marked our position on a chart, drew a time line, or sat in the sanctuary; close to the altar if we felt close to God, way in the back if we didn’t. And each week we studied the Bible about a daily relation with God through Christ. At about week five one man stopped us all and asked, “Do you mean that we can really have a daily relationship with Jesus Christ?” It took repeated exposure to the same message for him to get it. And then it was as if someone had turned on flood lights. He could finally see what was always there.
Here’s the light of Lent: Sin leads to our spiritual death BUT Jesus Christ defeated sin and death on the cross. When we receive Jesus Christ, he makes us CLEAN and we start life over, but this time with Christ alive in us. We are changed, so we can steer the course that leads to life. We come again to the cross so that we can know we are really clean and really alive!
My prayer is that this season you will discover again, your new life in Christ.
Yours in Christ,
Do you ever feel just plain worn out? I don’t mean the fatigue of one hard day’s work, or even a week of a pressing schedule. I mean that deep down bone tired you feel after an extended period of stress, anxiety, or hard work. Did you ever feel that way? Sure.
I read recently this statement, “Christians are big on systems. There are ten steps toward a happy marriage, five ways to know God’s will, ...six steps toward a more effective prayer life.” Like the rest of American culture Christians like to know what we can do in sequential steps and we’d like the same kind of advice in handling stress. Sometimes ten steps is too many. Sometimes what we are called to do is to persevere, and to trust.
Then I read this short account. A lawyer shared his prayer life with his friend, “I thought my problems with prayer were due to not knowing the system. So I read this book, learned the rules and determined that now I could really pray. I went into my office early, got out the book, and began to pray. It was the worst prayer time I ever had.”
This gentleman forgot something very important. God is not a system. God is a person. Systems have their place but they can not replace relationship. We can learn a lot about praying that can be helpful, but never forget to persevere and to trust.
Isaiah 40:31 reads, “Those who wait on the Lord shall renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles. They will run and not grow weary. They will walk and not faint.”
God gives strength to his children as they wait upon him. He hasn’t lost sight of you. He is not ignoring your need or your cry for help. Wait on the Lord. He will answer.
Yours in Christ,
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends -
Standing at the beginning of truly new experience is an awesome thing. I remember my parents leaving me in my dorm room, and there I was starting college. I remember the organ swell, and seeing Melanie on her father’s arm stepping into the church. I was getting married. I remember the nurse place a tiny bundle in my arms. I was a father.
Every one of these events was entirely new to me. In every case it was a new start.
A new beginning often requires new resources. Lamentations 3:22, 23 says “His (God’s) compassions never fail. They are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.” The idea is not that God’s faithfulness is something we’ve never experienced before. Rather, the idea is that God is always RENEWING his grace - it is never in short supply, or used up.
The image is borrowed from the Exodus. The Israelites cried out to God in the desert for food. In the morning a substance completely new to them was found on the ground. It was called Manna. A little like bread is was God’s provision of food.
The provision of Manna was not a one time experience. The Israelites did not gather it up and make it last. Instead, Manna was provided fresh and new every morning.
What did Lamentations say, “His compassions are new every morning.”
It’s like the flow of a river. If you watch a river flow past, there is always new water flowing in to take the place of the water that just flowed passed. That is how God provides compassion. There is always a new supply coming to us.
Someone has said, “A thirsty man does not measurably diminish the flow of a river, even though he drinks his fill.” Instead of exhausting the supply, the river keeps coming. You can drink and satisfy your thirst, and when you are thirsty again, drink again. The river provides a new supply.
“His compassions never fail. They are new every morning: great is your faithfulness.”
As a new year dawns I want to encourage you to think about that image. You may or may not be thinking about New Year’s Resolutions. You may or may not be facing a new experience. But whatever your situation, God’s compassions ARE new every morning. They never fail, never run out. He’s always adding a new supply.
Why not think on this image of God’s faithfulness and let his unfailing faithfulness be the starting point of your new year?
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.