By the time you read this 2020 will be over, and good riddance!
What a difficult year! None of us have faced in our lifetime anything like the Covid pandemic. And we are all ready for this year, that included so much hardship, to end, and grateful to turn a corner and start something new.
As hopeful as I am for improved circumstances, I am more concerned for you ongoing spiritualhealththanIhaveeverbeenforanycongregation. ThisisnotbecauseIthinkwe’ve done something wrong. It’s because hardship wears down a person’s faith, and the improvement of external circumstances will not by themselves restore it.
Perhaps you remember Elijah’s despair in 1 Kings 19. A great victory only increased the danger he faced and ran for his life. Finally, exhausted he fell down under a broom tree and moaned, “I have had enough, Lord. Take my life;” (1 Kings 19:4). Hardship can wear down anyone’s faith.
But there is a more subtle danger of which I am more concerned. That is the effect of a spiritually inactive life. Faith that is not nurtured and used will grow weak. And like the debilitated person who doesn’t get rehab, a spiritually inactive Christian can grow accustomed to their lack of vitality.
Therootofthisdangeristheabsenceofpublicworship,Sundayschool,fellowship. Werely on these opportunities to restore us every week and we have been deprived of them for weeks. To face this loss of public spiritual life we need to exert private spiritual practice.
John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, taught his followers to stay in love with God through spiritual disciplines. Among them are essential practices you can and must do privately, personally: 1) Private prayer, including worship and thanksgiving as well as petition; 2) The Word of God, read, studied and applied to life; 3) Fasting or abstinence (we do not live by bread alone)
Of course, they are familiar. They are so fundament that any discussion of spiritual life MUST include these practices. They are as fundament to Christian life as tackling, blocking, and ball carrying are to football. Get sloppy in the fundamentals and your game unravels. Get sloppy in fundamental spiritual practices and your spiritual life will unravel, as well.
So let me encourage you to read from the Bible. I don’t mean one short verse, I mean over several days returned to and read extended passages from the Bible. Let me encourage you to pray, spending an extended time in which you deliberately seek God’s presence for worship and adoration as well as petition?
Let us turn this corner to renewed faith and vitality. Then 2021 will truly be a New Year.
~ Pastor Byron
Christmas is going to be very different this year. We aren’t sure what it will look like, but it will be different.
Family traditions of the season are very important. For many years Focus on the Family has encouraged families to develop traditions around Advent and Christmas. Before James Dobson retired from Focus he often talked about his family’s tradition of eating Chinese food on Christmas day. That’s not my tradition. I go for the turkey. It’s easier. But hey, they ate Chinese in the movie A Christmas Story, so why not?
This year, however, traditions will be changed. And some of us may feel the absence of those traditions very sharply.
So let me make a simple but I think important suggestion. Develop something new. Make it a practice, throughout the seasons of Advent and Christmas, to deliberately and repeatedly focus on what Christmas is all about.
That suggestion is no surprise to you, so may I give you some specifics. First, a few seasonal details. Advent begins Sunday Nov. 29 this year and ends on Christmas Eve. It includes 4 Sundays. Christmas day begins the “twelve days of Christmas” season. That’s right, its not just a song, it’s a season, from Christmas Day to January 6, Epiphany. The visit of the Wise Men is celebrated on Epiphany.
Each week will focus on a scripture that is connected to worship at this time of year.
Nov. 29 and throughout that week read and reread, Isaiah 11:1-9. Advent means the King is Coming. What GREAT HOPE! The shoot of Jesse is Jesus. Notice how Jesus is described and what he will do when he comes. Make a list of both things, adding something each day.
Dec. 6. The king is COME. What GREAT JOY! Read Isaiah 9:1-7. Notice that light shines because a Son is born. Write down who the Son is.
Dec. 13 Jesus is God in flesh, What GREAT REDEMPTION! Read Isaiah 53:1-12. How is Jesus’ sacrifice described and what does it do?
Dec. 20 Jesus is with me. What GREAT STRENGTH. Read Isaiah 7:13, 14 and Matt 1:18-18. What does Emanuel mean... to you?
Dec 25 Jesus Christ is born! Read Luke 2:1-20. If you have kids, get them together AFTER the gift frenzy and read it together. Remind everyone on Christmas Day that Jesus’ birth is what we are celebrating.
You may miss seeing the relatives, but you may your sense of joy strengthen, as you focus on Christ at his birth.
God bless you,
Its November, 2020, and what a year we have had! With a worldwide pandemic, fears of illness and death, political power struggles, racial tensions, it seems there’s no peace to be found in our fallen world. I’ve been thinking about Thanksgiving in light of the fires, hurricanes, natural disasters and human brutality of this summer and fall. Do we still have things for which to be thankful?
Yes! As Christians we have the Prince of Peace to lean on! We have the steady hand of God ordaining our future. I don’t know what tomorrow holds but “I know WHO holds tomorrow and I know WHO holds my hand.” I don’t write that casually, because our Lord has never promised nothing bad can happen. Jesus said he would never abandon us (Jn 14:18), but he also said “In this world you will have trouble” (Jn 16:33). So you might be asking, “If Jesus didn’t promise safety what should I understand trusting Jesus to mean?”
FIRST, our God does deliver his people from danger. Paul wrote in 2 Cor. 1:10 “(God) has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us.” Paul personally testified that God had rescued him and his friends from overwhelming danger.
SECOND, remember the promise of rescue from danger is not a promise of the absence of danger. Again Paul wrote, “We do not want you to be uninformed, ... about the hardships we suffered... We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired even of life” (2 Cor. 1:8). Paul, the great apostle of faith, despaired. Paul’s faith was exhausted, and his suffering was beyond his ability to endure. Still God was present and God was faithful. “But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9).
The presence of trouble is not the absence of God. Current sorrow is not a hindrance to future comfort. Continuing danger is not an obstacle to ultimate deliverance.
Here is our guarantee: “Nothing in all creation... is able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Ro. 8;39).” Since we are inseparably in his love we much for which to be thankful!
~ Byron Myers
The pandemic drags on. We are blessed here in Venango county to have had a very few cases and only one death. But life has been changed dramatically. You are no doubt tired of masks, hand satirizer and stepping back when talking with a friend on the street. I know I am. We need to continue Covid mitigation practices. They do reduce the spread of infection. And we’ve see spikes in infection rates after summer holidays when large numbers gather without masks or distancing.
The pandemic started me thinking about Biblical records of impatience within God’s people. I thought of Israel during the Exodus. They ran out of water in the desert, but God provided (Ex. 15:22-27). A little later food began to run short and God miraculously feed them with quail and manna (Ex. 16:1-15).
Day after day manna appeared on the ground each morning. The people simply gathered it up. God provided their daily bread on a daily basis.
But after some time the Israelites began to wish for something more, something different. “O boy, what I wouldn’t do for some of the fish we used to eat in Egypt. It was free too, remember? You just pulled it out of the Nile. And the cucumbers! The melons, onions and garlic! But I’ve lost my appetite: we never see anything but this MANNA. Manna for breakfast, manna for lunch, manna at dinner. Always MANNA! AAAGH!” They started to despise God’s provision. (Check it out in Numbers 11:4-6. If I’m lying’ I’m crying.)
Manna was miracle food, directly from the hand of God. And yet the people of God began to wish for the cucumbers they had eaten while slaves. They would have returned to slavery for an onion rather than eaten manna under God’s promise.
I sympathize with their fatigue of a one course diet. I like cucumbers too: but to give up a daily miracle because it had become familiar, to despise the gift of God as if it were not good enough.
One of the great challenges of faith is to recognize God is faithful in every circumstance of life. It is only in times of struggle, that we learn he is always faithful. It is only when we get through to the other side that we recognize the he was with us in the valley of the shadow.
Sometimes the life of faith requires stick-to-itiveness. We have to be patient in the present because God has good things for us in the future, if we believe.
So don’t give up! Hang in there and you will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living!
Dear Friends – On July 19 Grace suspended in person worship for the second time. This was in response to Gov. Wolf’s renewed restriction of group meetings to 25 or less. I know many are missing in-person worship, and want very much to return to our sanctuary. The Worship Committee adopted a plan to do that on Sunday, Sept 27.
Here is an outline of the reasoning behind the suspension of in-person worship and the proposed date of our return:
At this writing, I haven’t received any additional instructions regarding C-19 from Bishop Cynthia Moore-Koikoi. Congregations have been urged to make their own decisions based on all the risk factors and mitigation practices.
The plan to resume in-person worship on September 27 is based on the Oil City Area School District’s plans for the beginning of school. OCASD students will be separated into two groups. Beginning September 1 half of the students will attend in-person classes for two days while the other half attends cyber classes. Then the second half will attend in-person for two days while the first group attends cyber classes. If this plan successfully limits COVID, OCASD will resume in-person education 5 days per week for all students on September 28.
The Worship committee felt that if OCASD can successfully resume in-person education, it will be safe enough for Grace to resume in-person worship at the same time. Therefore, the first in-person worship is set for September 27.
We will, of course, continue televised and online worship each week. I am so grateful to our TV team for their diligent work.
Thank you for your understanding and support. Continue to pray for an end of this pandemic. God hears even BIG prayers. And continue to support one another. Make a phone call to members who may be experiencing loneliness. Pay special attention to shut-ins and anyone who is ill. And please continue to support your church financially.
We will get through this with God’s help.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends –
In Mark 6:31 Jesus says this to his disciples: “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place; rest.”
Get some rest. Not easy to do. Our schedules are so full. But even in the press of launching the gospel, Jesus thought it was good to rest.
Summer is a great time for getting away and resting. Take advantage of the chance. Jesus spoke of physical rest for his disciples. We also need to put aside work for a while and rest our bodies.
Two lumberjacks had a bet about who could cut the most wood in one day. In his effort to win the bet, one lumberjack chopped wood without stopping all day. The other woodsman paused from time to time to sharpen his axe. In spite of the lost time, it was the lumberjack who sharpened his axe who cut the most wood. With a sharp blade and a little rest he was able to work more efficiently.
We will find we are refreshed and sharper, more able to do our work after we let our bodies rest.
We need to let our emotions recover too. Life is stressful. Doing something different, going someplace new, finding something fun to do creates space away from stress. Our emotions heal, strength returns and we can cope again.
We also need time to nurture our relationship with Christ. A vacation can give us some time to do just that. Though we don’t often plan a spiritual break in our vacation, we need it. When your mind is less occupied you have a chance to be with Christ and hear from him. Jesus said, “Come with me ... and rest.”
So make sure you pack your Bible, or at least a New Testament. Take a spiritual book or a study guide, too. Read and reread the same book of the Bible several times while you are resting. Don’t focus on knowing Bible details. Think about what the Bible says to you.
If you were to read The Book of Acts you might notice:
1. What commands did Jesus give his disciples?
2. What is the central outcome that reoccurs throughout the book? Why is that important
3. How is the gospel presented differently at different times? How do those differences
help you understand the gospel?
4. What was Paul’s warning to the church when he left them for the last time? What
precautions did he advise they take?
5. How does the book end? What does the ending mean to you?
Always ask, What does the Bible mean for me? If you aren’t sure, that’s okay. Keep reading, keep thinking, keep putting each episode into your own words. Keep listening. The Lord will speak. Give yourself time to hear.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends –
Acts 8:1-4 reads “And Saul approved of their killing (Stephen). On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. (2) Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him. (3) But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison. (4) Those who had been scattered preached the word wherever they went.”
Notice the word “scattered” in the first verse. It was a tragedy, the first great persecution of the church, that caused Christians to leave Jerusalem. The result of the scattering was that disciples spoke the word of Christ wherever they went (not the apostles - they remained in Jerusalem.)
The faith was spread in new ways, to new places when the church was scattered.
We are a scattered church, too. We can’t gather in our building to worship, meetings for Sunday school, choirs, Bible study, youth, Super Seniors, and Family Life are all canceled. Some of us are still working, others are laid-off and at home for more hours than we’d like. We are scattered, but we do not cease to be the church just because circumstances prevent us from meeting. Instead, we can learn, as did the first believers, to blossom where we are planted.
Admittedly, sharing Christ is restricted because we aren’t at the Y, or Belle Lettres, or other familiar haunts. But what if we took this time to build some relationships so that as the reopening progresses we will have some standing on which to offer Christ?
Here are just some thoughts:
The idea is to reach out in new ways. Because we are all feeling isolated it will be appreciated. And because this is a unique situation it won’t seem weird, but kind.
Then pray and look for a chance to share Christ. Apply Ken Wilson’s strategy to make an opportunity.
When the first church was scattered by tragedy the gospel was spread to new people. We are scattered too. Let’s take advantage of the opportunities this presents.
~ Pastor Byron
Dear Friends –
For so many of us, this has been the strangest Easter of our lives. Who would have
thought we would not only spend Easter Sunday at home, but the entire month of April!
As you know, families are educating their kids at home; college students are trying to
finish classes online that were designed to be in person; many of us are working at
home; our favorite restaurants are out of bounds; and our friends must be kept at a
We are worshiping from home. I have long been grateful for the visionaries who
launched the TV ministry so many years ago. Now, that ministry is vital for all of us.
Thank you to all the TV ministry volunteers who have given dedicated service over
many years and who now are keeping our church worshiping together.
In this strange environment you may feel like you are drifting. Waiting for the shutdown
to end, you may have put your life on hold, to be resumed only when things open
Yet, regardless of our circumstances life goes on. What we are doing, how we spend
our time and effort, who we call, text or email, all this IS life right now. It is different
from everything we have experienced before, but it is life none the less. And that
means we Christians are called to live it for the Lord.
Colossians 4:5 includes this exhortation: “Make the most of every opportunity.” Make
the most of the time you have. Make the most of the moments you are given, make
One of the dangers all Christians face is to think of unplanned situations as interruptions
to life rather than life itself. But while it is good to have goals and to make plans,
remember life happens while we are planning something else.
Hopefully though that changes our perspective on our present reality. A new point of
view encourages us to see that this situation allows us to actually do things that our
“normal” schedule would prohibit.
This is especially true of our practice of spiritual disciplines. Are you watching more TV?
Then this is an opportunity! Put down the remote, pick up your Bible. Read the
passion, death and resurrection accounts in all the gospels. Turn what you read into
prayers. (Lord, you called your disciples to watch and pray. Teach me to do the same
each day. Amen. Lord, Peter denied you when he felt threatened. Help me to remain
faithful when I might feel embarrassed by acknowledging my faith in you. Amen.)
Spend time with the Lord while you can. You might find this interruption has been a
great opportunity in disguise.
— Pastor Byron
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.
Write something about yourself. No need to be fancy, just an overview.