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
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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.