January 2024 Connection

Muddy Footprints in Jesus’ Church 

And Other Reasons It’s Not Really About Us

 
A number of years ago, a church I served, after about 10 years of hosting a very popular Trunk-or-Treat on Halloween night, finally had to move things indoors on a particularly rainy Halloween night. Rain became mud, and not a soul wanted to be outside unless it was to move from one candy source to another. The night was still a great success, but, as you can imagine, the church’s carpets we pretty well muddied
and in need of cleaning. The next day, as I listened to a church member complain about the community’s disrespect of her church, I offered a not-so-subtle reminder of an important truth: “This church is not yours or mine. This church belongs to those who don’t yet have a church family.” The conversation ended, but I do hope that my point was taken. Sometimes, in the busyness of being the church, it’s easy to forget
what our purpose is.
 
In John 21:15, responding to Jesus’ question as to whether Simon Peter truly loved Jesus, Simon Peter’s reply was, “Yes. Lord…you know that I love you.” It was at that moment that Jesus gave the first of three nearly identical instructions: “Feed my lambs.”
 
In Mark 1:17, after calling his disciples, Jesus tells the two fishermen, Andrew and Simon, “Come, follow me…and I will send you out to fish for people.”
 
In Matthew 28:19, we discover the resurrected Jesus giving the disciples what has become known as the “Great Commission:” All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
 
Time and time again, Jesus invites his disciples (and we are his disciples, too), that the notion of the church – the “Body of Christ” – is only about us up to the point that we are fed. Once we are fed, it is no longer really about us. We become the church for someone else! It becomes our obligation to become fishers of people, lamb feeders, and into-the-world goers!
 
The problem is, over time, the Church as institution (note the capital “C”) has done an amazing job of convincing Christians that church is all about “us.” We’ve been taught that Christianity’s goal is getting to heaven and getting as many people to go with us as possible. We’ve been taught that good people “go to church” and that Sundays are the most important thing we do.
 
Now, don’t get me wrong! I absolutely love the Church! I love being a Christian and I love being a follower of Jesus. That said, the Christian Church (notice that capital “C” again) needs to reexamine its role. We need deeply to see that the goal of Christianity is and has always really been about caring for and seeing the image of God in our neighbor, loving those who struggle to love us back, and praying for those we’d otherwise call our enemy. We deeply need to see that there are many, even in our community – our own backyard – who have been hurt by Churches and have walked away because Christians haven’t always been the best reflections of God’s immense and limitless love. We deeply need to begin to understand that worship attendance, while immensely important to our spiritual health and relationship with God, is not the marker of one’s “goodness” or their Christian faith, for that matter. Worship is, at its core an expression of gratitude and love for a God who has loved us before we could ever comprehend it (we call that prevenient grace).
 
Does this mean that we ignore one another and only focus on those not in relationship with this church or another church? Absolutely not! Jesus’ commission was never to forget one another. In the early church, we see countless examples of seeing and caring for one another, praying, encouraging one another, and growing deeper in faith! Just read Paul’s letter and you’ll discover it immediately. But you’ll also discover that the goal for all of that was singular – that others might come to discover through the church (little “c” means “Body of Christ) the good news of Jesus Christ.
 
In other words, its time for the Church to embody the church, and to see the muddy footprints on the
carpet as evidence of grace, goodness, and good news. It’s not my Church and it’s not your Church. We
exist as a church for those who have yet to discover the real gospel!
 
Are we ready – are you ready – to do what it takes to fish for people, feed sheep, and go into all the
world?
 
Today is a new day.
Pastor Brian
 
Download Connection

Read more...

November 2023 Connection

“Thud”

After this I saw another angel coming down from heaven. He had great authority, and the earth was filled with light because of his glory. He called out with a loud voice, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great! -Revelation 18:1-2 (CEB)
 
I often find that people get nervous around the Book of Revelation. It’s almost as if just the mention of the title puts people on edge. It’s often associated with doom-and-gloom, “end times,” “rapture” (we’ll get to this one in a minute) and other such things. The Book of Revelation is like the dishes on Thanksgiving.
Everyone knows it’s coming, but no one wants to deal with it.
 
Did I mention its one of my favorite books of the Bible?! It actually is! I love the Book of Revelation, and not at all because of the things it’s so often associated with (see above).
 
Let’s start with doom-and-gloom. The style of literature with which the Book of Revelation is written is called “Apocalyptic Literature.” While I know that name, too, sounds scary, it’s just a style, much like poetry or allegory are styles of writing. Apocalyptic literature is most known for being dramatic, written in
narrative form (reads like a story), and presents present circumstances as doom-and-gloom, and then presents a final day as an outcome. This is a style used pretty broadly in ancient literature, not just in Revelation. Also, none of this is intended to say that apocalyptic literature is intended to be understood
literally. Similarly, consider the Tortoise and the Hare. It’s intended to be understood as a fable (another style of writing), and not a factual account of a rabbit and turtle running cross country. So, don’t be scared by the doom-and gloom! It’s just the style of writing. It’s not meant to freak anyone out.
 
How about the “end times” stuff, though? Again, it’s all part of the style. It’s not intended to predict a day on the calendar when some cosmic or geopolitical events will bring the world to an end. Those images and descriptions are just part of the doom-and-gloom style that is apocalyptic literature! The Book of Revelation was never intended to be a user’s manual for predicting the end of the world or anything like that. Its intent is actually far more intriguing.
 
But before I get to that (I know! Cliffhanger, right?!), let me address that thing called the “rapture.” If you’ve heard of it before – either from a book series that I don’t really recommend, from a social media post, or from your neighbor with a lot of ideas to share – you know that it’s a theory that teaches that one day, evil (Satan) will get its ultimate grasp on the world and all its people, and that God will take all true Christian believers to heaven, leaving behind everyone else, not to mention the clothes of those who have seemingly vanished, to experience the days of tribulation that are to follow. (deep breath.)
 
Sounds scary, eh? Well, let me put you at ease. Rapture theory is NOT a theory that United Methodists hold to, nor is it sound theology. And before you get worried that I’m denouncing core Christian beliefs, let me reassure you that “rapture” theory has only been around since the early 1800’s, and was espoused with the hopes of converting non-Christians into believers. You know, “if we scare them, they might convert!” While it may have worked to some degree, it did a great disservice to the Book of Revelation and the reputation of apocalyptic literature (and Christianity, while we’re at it).
 
So, what is the Book of Revelation really about, then? This is the intriguing part! It’s the story,
written in the apocalyptic style, of John receiving a revelation from the risen Christ that reminds him
of what the present world is like (difficult circumstances, to say the least), and assures him that, that
which is not of God and Love (referred to as Babylon) does not win in the end! God wins in the end!
It’s in that moment of the narrative that we hear the words you read at the beginning: “Fallen, fallen
is Babylon the great!”
 
Now, this might be the most simplistic one-paragraph description of the Book of Revelation (it really
deserves it’s own sermon series…hmmm). But, why do I like the book so much? It’s because the
pages are alive with proclamations of resurrection, new possibilities, new life, restoration, and
goodness! It’s a reminder to me that, no matter what we face in this world (and we certainly face
some challenging things), God has already overcome it! No matter what “Babylons” we face in life –
that which is not of God and Love – whether we face them personally or communally, God has and
will again, cause Babylon to fall!
 
There are times when the world around us feels like it’s crumbling. It’s in those moments that the
King of all kings, the Lord of all lords, and the Prince of Peace invites us to hear the thud of that
which is evil, hate, violence, hurt, division, and strife. 
 
Say it with me: “Fallen! Fallen is Babylon!”
 
And so, we give thanks!
Pastor Brian
 
Download Connection

Read more...

June 2023 Connection

A church that worships together — thrives together —
grows together!

At the beginning of this year, the Worship and Arts Team here at GBUMC set some goals around worship, including one around worship attendance: to see in-person worship attendance at GBUMC increase by 10% throughout the year. This goal was based on a few contributing considerations:
 
1. We have the people to make this happen! In other words, even without visitors flocking to GBUMC, this goal is more than attainable.
 
2. While worship attendance doesn’t necessarily make someone a Christian, we do strongly believe that regular worship attendance does have a direct relationship to our spiritual health, our relationships with Christ. Certainly, this is something we want to encourage.
 
3. Our online streaming of both worship services continues to be used by members of our church family who are unable to come for one reason or another. Virtual worship, while it has its limitations, still allows individuals to experience and participate in worship with us. It also continues to be a meaningful outreach tool as it provides a safe “first visit” for folks looking for a church home. For these reasons and more, we’ll continue to provide this virtual ministry. Our efforts to encourage in-person worship is not opposed to a virtual worship ministry.
 
In the last few months, the Worship and Arts Team has begun a few efforts to help encourage regular worship attendance such as our church text messaging service which about 60 people have signed up for. Through weekly texts, it is our hope that we can remind and encourage GBUMC’ers to make Sunday worship part of, what can often be, a busy schedule.
 
Now, as you read this, I want to be perfectly clear: This is NOT a guilt trip from your Pastor. This is not intended to make anyone feel like their uncommitted, or anything like that. Instead, I want it to be an invitation from your pastor to help your church grow: grow in size, grow in spiritual health, grow in its outreach and service. You see, when you are here with us in worship – when your loved ones, children, friends, etc. are here with us in worship – you become stronger in your faith and walk with God. And in turn, as the Body of Christ, we grow stronger and we grow as a family.
 
As I’m writing this, I am optimistic that we’ll meet our goal of 10% growth in in-person worship. Not because we’ve made people feel guilty (I hope that’s not the case), but because we all become part of a church-family effort to grow. I hope you’ll join me!
 
See you on Sunday!
Pastor Brian
 
Download Connection

Read more...

April 2023 Connection

Doubt-ish

Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came.  So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!” But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.” A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe.” Thomas said to him, “My Lord and my God!”
                                                                                                                ~John 20:24-28 (CEB)
 
As you’re reading this, we’re likely toward the end of Lent, approaching Palm Sunday, Holy Week, and Easter. Maybe you’ve picked up the newsletter a bit later in the month and have Easter Sunday in the rearview mirror, along with Michigan snowstorms (hopefully). Either way, this passage of scripture from John’s Gospel comes soon after Jesus’ resurrection, and so it’s fitting that you’re reading it.
 
So often, we title this passage “Doubting Thomas.” Chances are you’ve heard it called that before, but I’ll be honest, I’ve never liked that title for it. Truth be told, I’ve never liked using titles for scripture passages. They seem to set us up to see only one thing. For example, in the “Feeding of the 5,000,” our brains are trained to only see the feeding miracle. The title keeps us from seeing the miracle of 5000 men (plus women and children) gathering because they believe that Jesus can heal. It keeps us from seeing that all of this takes place in a fishing village, pointing out the disciples’ singular focus on what they have, while not noticing the potential in the community in which they find themselves. Considering that, the title could also be “The Disciples Can’t See the Forest for the Trees.”
 
Here, in John 20, the title forces us to see Thomas, one of the disciples, as “doubting.” And because of that, it’s hard to see anything else. So, let’s look at some other aspects of this story, ignoring Thomas’ doubt for a minute. Did you notice that Thomas wasn’t with the disciples when Jesus came? Where was he? The answer is that we don’t know, but perhaps Thomas didn’t have the benefit of having seen the empty tomb as Peter, Mary and the “beloved disciple” had. Perhaps Thomas had continued on in ministry, returning only when he heard of Jesus’ resurrection – returning to see if it was real.
 
Or, do we notice that Jesus, now resurrected, still has the wounds in his hands, feet and side? So often, we think of Jesus resurrection as a healing from his earthly death, but here that’s challenged. Jesus was alive, to be sure, but he still had evidence of the death he experienced. Could it be that resurrection in and through Christ doesn’t take away wounds, but rather that it restores life in spite of this world’s wounds? Maybe, then, Thomas’ reaction was not so much “doubt” as it was surprise. Perhaps the disciples assumed all along that resurrection would mean that the cross would be erased, only to discover that it simply rendered the cross ineffective. Was Thomas simply responding to this new realization? (Keep in mind, It’s in John 16:33 that we hear these words: “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”). If that’s the case, couldn’t we title this passage, “Thomas Discovers Resurrection’s Power”?
 
Now, okay… Jesus does say “Stop doubting and believe.” I will admit, it seems like this would completely dismantle my defense of Thomas. Maybe Thomas was doubting a bit. Maybe it’s not the worst title in the world. But until we got past the title, we wouldn’t have looked more closely at Jesus’ wounds – only Thomas’ doubt. Now that we see the wounds, and now that we’ve explored what that might teach us about resurrected, perhaps the “doubt” Jesus is referring to is not Thomas’ doubt that Jesus really was resurrection, but rather the disciples’ (Thomas included) doubt that resurrection could only be real if it erased the trouble and wounds we experience in this world.
 
There Jesus stood – wounds, trouble and all – not in the tomb, but resurrected. Jesus reminds Thomas…Jesus reminds the disciples…Jesus reminds us, the reader, that though we’ll carry our own cross in our discipleship (Matthew 16:24), ultimately the wounds of this world don’t have the final word. Resurrection does.
 
May we no longer doubt, but believe.
Pastor Brian
 
Download Connection

Read more...

January 2023 Connection

“For Auld Lang Syne and Days to Come”

In May of 2013, the American adaptation of the television series, The Office, aired its series finale which was cleverly titled, “Finale.” During that heart-string-pulling episode, the character Andy Bernard, played by actor, Ed Helms, reflected on the many memories of his years at the Scranton, PA branch of Dunder Mifflin Paper Company (true fans would demand that I mention the fictional Sabre Electronics division to that title).  In that moment of sentimentality, Andy says: “I wish there was a way to know you’re in the good old days before you’ve actually left them.” 

I was thinking about those words the other day as I was surrendering to the speed at which the 2023 new year seems to be approaching (though, it will have arrived by the time you read this).  Andy’s reflection actually got me thinking a bit about how we can approach the new year, specifically this time around the sun.  What if, instead of approaching this year as if it is just another year – a year of our lives, a year of our careers, a year of our relationships…perhaps a year of our ministries? – what if we approached it as THEE year of our ministry as church?  THEE year of our lives as family people, relational people, even working people.  In other words, what might happen if we approach 2023 as if it was already a year that we’d remember with excitement for all our lives to come? 

To do this, we have to first accept a few nuances:

  1. It is safe to say that 2023 will not be perfect! We need to anticipate that there will be moments of disappointment and dissatisfaction during the year.  There will also be moments of heartbreak and seemingly failure.  This is part of life and is unavoidable.  That said, how we approach those inevitable challenges makes all the difference!  If we go into January 1st expecting 2023 to be a fruitful and special year in our lives, then we can approach difficulties with a reminder within ourselves that God has already overcome anything that seems insurmountable.  The grief we’ll face, the loss we’ll experience – it doesn’t get to define us!  Perhaps we can reflect on these words from the Gospel of John,

“In the world you have distress.

But be encouraged! I have conquered the world.”

-John 16:33 (CEB)

  1. We have to put some energy into making it true! Like with planning our New Year’s resolutions, we sometimes forget that nothing magical happens as we hang our new calendars on the wall or as we watch the ball drop in New York City.  If I resolve to eat better, I have to actually change my grocery shopping habits.  The calendar won’t step in to start making me kale salads, much as I might want it to.  And yet, we mark time by dates and years, and so we can certainly enter 2023 with a desire to make it special.  But then we have to join forces with God to begin doing something to make 2023 special and memorable for all the right reasons.  IF this is the year that we’re going to see ministry at GBUMC flourish, then we all have to, not only get excited about that, but we have to start making it happen! 
 
  1. 2020-2022 weren’t all bad. Were they difficult years for a variety of reasons?  Absolutely!  Were there moments when we faced fear and uncertainty?  Absolutely!  Did we grow in areas during that time?  We sure did!  Did we learn as we experienced life in new ways?  Of course!  Like #1, we will face challenges in the year to come.  We should expect that!  But, we can’t forget that we’ve faced challenges in the years gone by. 

 

I look forward to all that we will be as a church in 2023.  I do believe it will be a year we will look back on with memories of growth, new beginnings, and fruitful ministries!  Do you believe it?  Will you help to make it so?  If so, take a seat at God’s ever-growing table with me and all others, and lets begin to feast!!!

For auld lang syne and for days to come,

Pastor Brian.
 

Download Connection


Read more...