November 2021 Connection

Canned Thanksgiving

If you’ve sat down to a Thanksgiving dinner before, you’ve probably been exposed to the activity of going around the table to name something for which you are thankful. As a kid, we’d do this with our little family of four, along with any immediate relatives who happened to travel in that year. As the youngest in the family, it was always up to me to go first. I’m not sure if this was a privilege extended to me as if I’d won some form for family lottery that I wasn’t aware of, or if it was just everyone else’s way of making sure that they had a few extra seconds to come up with something that they were (1) willing to share out loud, and (2) would make them look extra thankful! But there I was with not one moment to prepare: “Brian, what are you thankful for?”
 
I don’t recall what my answers were, but I suspect it was probably something as profound as “family” or “my friends.” Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that those topics of gratitude are any less deserving of being named, but they felt so canned! It’s like asking a kid what they’re favorite part of school is and they answer, “recess!” It’s true, I’m sure, but we were looking for something a bit more…original.
 
And so, I’d blurt out my answer, “family,” only to be outdone by the next answer that recalled the memorable family trip from earlier that summer! Constantly being outdone in my gratitude, I was determined one day to have a big family so that I could be the last one to express my thanksgiving at the Thanksgiving table and bring the masses to tears with my thoughtful response!
 
Do you see the twist coming?
 
Now, as the adult and parent, I am oldest in our household (by 3 months, mind you). It’s MY turn to look on as others nervously name their thanksgiving, all the while knowing that I’d be the last to go with the most touching, creative answer! I look around the table as our kids, one by one, name what they’re thankful for, and then, finally, it’s my turn. My answer: “Family.”
 
After 30 years of waiting for the opportunity to come up with a blow-‘em-out-of-the-water answer, and I come up with the same canned answer that I did when I was young enough to still need an apron to eat a decidedly “messy” dinner. What gives!?
 
What I think happened was this: the answer of “family” or “friends” – or any answer that might feel canned – was never really just a rote answer, but was instead an answer I didn’t fully understand until I grew older. “Family” was and is a perfectly good answer to the question, what are you thankful for? I just didn’t know it yet.
 
This November, or whenever you’re able to join others for a Thanksgiving dinner, remember that gratitude is not about outdoing one another in our thanksgiving, but seeing the value and meaning in the things that might otherwise go unnoticed.
 
What are you thankful for?
 
~Pastor Brian
 
Download Connection

Read more...

September 2021 Connection

If you remember back to the August Connection, reading part 2 of 3 of our story about the fictional “Cheer Team,” you’ll remember that we left our TBall parents, Courtney and Dave having a night’s-end conversation about the church-sent cheerleaders who had a pretty great mission: make sure every
kid had someone cheering them on! You might also remember that, thus far in our example of a different kind of evangelism, no pamphlets have been given, no bullhorns made an appearance, and the book of Habakkuk remains unquoted! This must be a different kind of evangelism! Well, let’s see what
happens next!

Checking In On Our Family:

A couple more games have been played since we listened in on Dave and Courtney’s conversation about the church’s Cheer Team, and you better believe, that Cheer Team was present for each one of those games. Dave, sitting in the stands for each of the games, got to know the cheering churchgoer better and better. Finally, during the last game of the season, one of the Cheer Team members who has come to know Dave better and better offers these daring and bold words of evangelism. “Dave it was really
great to meet you! You have a great family! I wanted to let you know that if you ever want to come by our church on a Sunday, we’ve always got room in our row, and we’d be happy to sit with you guys!”
Okay, well, those words weren’t too bold, I suppose. But, consider how it would have felt like to make that invitation without ever having met, talked to, or learned about Dave. Awkward, right?! When we take time to build relationships with folks, invitations to church become much easier, and are actually received much better. Think about what keeps you a part of GBUMC. I’d be willing to bet that relationships, of some form, have something to do with it, right?

Fast Forward A Few Weeks…

It’s been a few weeks since the baseball game ended. Our Cheer Team member hasn’t seen Dave, Courtney and their son, Michael, since the T-Ball season ended, but he thinks about them from time to time and remembers them in his prayers, at least. But, one Sunday, Dave, Courtney and Michael walk into the sanctuary about 5 minutes before the start of the service. They take a seat at the back of the sanctuary in the first empty pew. Without hesitation, our Cheer Team member quietly walks up to them and asks if he could join them (did you catch that…he met the visitors where they were – in their comfort zone).

What Then:

Our mission as a church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world . Sometimes that can feel like an insurmountable challenge. Is that something I can even do? The answer is yes, and sometimes it’s as easy as going and sitting in the bleachers in order to make sure kids have someone cheering. It’s as simple as getting to know someone in order that a relationship can form and a sincere invitation can be made. It’s through evangelism – no longer a scary word, I hope – that we
can grow God’s kingdom, and make the world a little better place.
 
~ Pastor Brian
 
Download Connection

Read more...

August 2021 Connection

Last Time, on Pastor Brian’s Newsletter Article:

Every evening, Grand Blanc’s Bicentennial Park is flooded with families all summer long. We’re talking kids of all ages, parents, grandparents, aunts uncles, etc. And they’re all there for the same purpose: little league sports! Now, imagine you’re part of a group from Grand Blanc UMC that commits to going to some of the games, all the while wearing a shirt with the Church name on the front and the words “Cheer Team” on the back. When you arrive at the fields, you simply sit in the stands and do the best job in the world: cheer on the kids! Now, one or two nights would pass by with out much comment, but eventually, a parent walks up to you and says, “Someone was here yesterday and the game before with that same shirt on. I’m just curious.” Your response is this simple: “Oh, yeah! I’m from Grand Blanc United Methodist Church. We’re really wanting to commit ourselves to caring for families in our community, and we thought an easy way to do that would be to make sure that every kid here would have at least one more person cheering them on.”

Evangelism, Right?

This is where we left our intrepid “Cheer Team” member in June’s article as we talked about the often-feared word, “evangelism.” Once more, my hope is that this word has shed some of the baggage it often comes with. Evangelism, after all, is simply the sharing of God’s good news. Sounds right up our alley, doesn’t it? So, how is cheering on little leaguers from a bench full of proud parents and even prouder grandparents evangelism? Let’s continue our story.

Continued…

After hearing the reason for church members gathering to cheer on kids to whom they are not even related, the parent turns and says the words almost no one associates with evangelism: “That’s great! Thanks for doing that!”
 
As the game continues, our cheering member keeps cheering on the kids, our curious parent does the next most surprising thing. He starts to tell our cheerleader a few things: “By the way, my name is Dave and my wife, Courtney, is the coach. That’s our son at first base, Michael.”
Pretty normal still, isn’t it?
 
With all of the courage in the world, you’re now ready to become a true evangelist. You turn to Dave and say, “It’s great to meet you guys. It’s been a long time since our kids played little league. It’s a real blast from the past sitting here again.”
 
Despite my feeble attempts at humor, did you notice that this conversation had between our Cheer Team church member and Dave sounds a lot like any other conversation you’ve ever had with anyone?! No pamphlets were handed out, scripture from the book of Habakkuk wasn’t recited by memory, and the bullhorn and floppy-paged Bible never made an appearance. But, still, it was evangelism.

How Was That Evangelism?

I’m happy you asked! (You did ask, didn’t you?) You see, you would likely never identify this bleacher-based conversation as evangelism, simply because 99.9% of people think of evangelism as a I’m-gonna-push-my-religion-in-your-face kind of thing, rather than a relationship kind of thing. But, this really was evangelism! This conversation, believe it or not, did share God’s good news with someone else. To see what I mean, listen in on this conversation had between Dave and Courtney after they got home from the baseball game, put kids to bed, and kicked their feet up for the evening:
 
Dave: (Using the remote to find their current binge-worthy show): Hey Courtney, did Michael go down okay? I think the snack that one of the moms brought had him pretty sugared-up!
 
Courtney: It took a little while, but he finally settled down. Then he looked at me and said, “Mommy, you’re the best coach!” You know, I didn’t really think I would like coaching, but I really do! I don’t really know what I’m doing, but its fun! And he says things like that!
 
Dave: (Laughing in agreement): You’re doing a great job. A bunch of the parents were talking about how great you are with the kids. By the way, did you see that guy from the church?
 
Courtney: If he wasn’t picking dandelions, you’ll have to be a bit more specific.
 
Dave: He was sitting next to me. He and his wife are from the Methodist Church, I think it was, and they just go and cheer on kids at the games.
 
Courtney: That’s kind of weird.
 
Dave: (Laughing) No! It’s a whole bunch of them. They try to go to every game. He told me that it’s their goal to make sure that every kid has someone to cheer them on.
 
Courtney: Okay, that’s actually kind of sweet.
 
Dave: They even had shirts! I don’t know, I thought it was cool!
 
For now, we’ll just leave Courtney and Dave in their living room and check in with the next article. But 2/3 of the way into the story, we have Dave and Courtney, young parents, feeling good knowing that there are people from a church nearby who care enough about kids to make sure every kid has someone cheering them on. Sounds like good news to me. I’m pretty sure Jesus would approve.
 
And that, friends, is evangelism done well. More to come next time.
 
Pastor Brian
 
Download Connection

Read more...

May 2021

Imagine

In 1971, a Beatle turned solo artist released a song that quickly became one of the hallmarks of the global music stage. The song, “Imagine” was written and sung by the late John Lennon, and it captured the imagination (pun intended) of the world as he invited all those with ears to hear to imagine a world with the central goal of uniting one another rather than breaking down and breaking apart an already fractured world. It was then, following each movement of imagination, that Lennon provided this well known chorus:
“You may say I’m a dreamer,
but I’m not the only one.
I hope some day you’ll join us,
and the world will be as one”
 
As I write this, I’ve had the song playing in my head all morning, and I’ve been reflecting on these words, considering what it means to be a dreamer. To me, it seems that dreaming for something that can be – that needs to be – is more than just a matter of hoping. Dreaming, in Lennon’s sense, meant that we must actively pursue what it is we dream of. For Christians, we actually have a name for that: we call it “God’s kingdom.” And John Lennon isn’t the only one with a catchy chorus. Let’s say it together:
 
“Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
 
As strange as it may seem to compare the two – and it’s admittedly strange – this part of the Lord’s Prayer is very much our Imagine chorus! And like Lennon’s invitation to join the dreamers, this prayer is God’s invitation for us to join God – to join God in bringing about a world that more closely resembles God’s vision of kingdom. And now, for the million-dollar question: How do we get there? To answer that, we turn to Scripture (big surprise, right?).
 
“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.”
 
To be fair, I share this scripture passage a lot, but I think with really good reason. When we ask the question, “How can we achieve God’s vision of kingdom, here on earth as it is in heaven?” I find myself beginning right here with what I argue is Jesus central teaching. If what we are doing in our effort to bring about God’s kingdom vision is loving God and loving all our neighbors, then we are on the right track! If our efforts do not love God and do not fully love our neighbor, then we are actively working against the kingdom goal. I know that sounds extreme, but I believe we must begin to understand that when we, especially as Christians, fail to love God and neighbor, we are actively causing ourselves and others to take steps backward from that kingdom goal. And when we do so in the name of God, perhaps the failure is even greater.
 
And so, in all that we do, say, believe and teach, let it be in complete, whole, and beautiful love for God and for neighbor. May it inspire us to imagine a world in which fractures are mended, brother and sister may stand with brother and sister, and the strife of this world caused by our collective hands would cease.
 
In the name of God, I offer this prayer. 
Amen.
 
~Pastor Brian
 
Download Connection

Read more...