March 2024 Connection

“Condition and Desire”

My Lord God, I have no idea where I am going.  I do not see the road ahead of me.  I cannot know for certain where it will end.  Nor do I really know myself.  And the fact that I think I am following your will does not mean that I am actually doing so.  But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.  And I hope I have that desire in all that I am doing.  I hope that I will never do anything apart from that desire.  And I know that if I do this you will lead me by the right road, though I may know nothing about it.  Therefore, will I trust you always though I may seem to be lost and in the shadow of death.  I will not fear, for you are ever with me, and you will never leave me to face my perils alone. -Thomas Merton
As we’ve been journeying through this season of Lent, we have been reflecting.  Our reflection began with the wearing of ashes on Ash Wednesday, reminding us of our mortality and our shared human condition – sin.  As I shared in a sermon only a few weeks ago, I like to define “sin” as anything that puts distance between us and God, us and others, and even us and…us.  And so, you see, the human condition of sin that we share means that at any given time, we find ourselves moving closer to God, and moving away from God.  Closer, away, closer, away, closer away.  You get the idea.
As we wear the ashes (or maybe simply remember them now that it’s March), we might be tempted to think that the ashes are a bleak symbol for our hopelessness – that we could never measure up to what God wants of us, and so we ought to just throw in the proverbial towel.  But I deeply disagree with that!  God’s command to us, articulated by Christ, is to love God with our whole being, to love others, and to love ourselves.  When we live into that, we defy sin that so often seems to have a hold on us.  When we fail to live into that command, we are met with a grace that reconciles us to the love of God.  In other words, God has absolutely no intention of letting sin have the last word.  
So, if there is grace, why did we bother with the ashes.  If God has no intention of letting sin have the last word, why did we devote a whole day – heck, a whole season – to it?  I believe it’s because we must name the condition in order to recognize the beauty of the grace which delivers us from it.  
In the prayer by Thomas Merton, he offers these words: “But I believe that the desire to please you does in fact please you.”  I’m drawn to these words because I believe they reflect the desired outcome of this season of Lent: recognizing that we suffer from the human condition of sin, and yet our desire not to let sin rule our lives means that we are reaching out and grabbing the gift of grace that Christ so graciously gives to us.  It is that reach that so pleases God!
As we draw closer to Holy Week, remember that Jesus ate with disciples who wrestled with sin, forgave the soldiers who were nailing his hands and feet, and offered grace to another man upon a cross.  Remember that it was at the empty tomb where the resurrected Christ drew closer to Mary and called her by name.
Lent is about recognizing the reality of sin and desiring to close the gap.  And it is in that desire that we discover the grace that has always been there.  The miracle is that we can now see it.
Your sibling in Christ,
Pastor Brian
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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
Today is a new day.
Pastor Brian
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November 2023 Connection


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
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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
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