CONNECTION

 

September 2020 Connection

Friends In….

On my first day, just a couple of months ago, I walked into the church building through the front door (with the alarm already deactivated, thankfully) to find the words to Grand Blanc UMC’s Mission & Vision Statement spread out across a banner, placed over the sanctuary entrance:
“Friends in Christ Exercising love, hope and grace to enrich all lives.”
 
I was immediately struck by the power of these words, recognizing the possibility that lies underneath them.  But, one thing I know – as I’m sure you do, as well – is that, regardless of the intention behind carefully chosen words, unless the meaning behind them is explored and then acted upon, they will forever remain just words.  That being said, what I have discovered in the last month and a half or so, is that this congregation has no desire to let this statement remain just words.  You all have shared with me a desire to grow into them, and to see how God will move through you and through this church as, together we do so.  And so, throughout the remainder of 2020, using my article space in the Connection newsletter, I’m going to provide some additional food for thought as we reflect on our common mission and vision for GBUMC.  And so, during the month of September, we’ll explore the first few words: “Friends in Christ.”
 

 Some people arrived, and four of them were bringing to him a man who was paralyzed.  They couldn’t carry him through the crowd, so they tore off part of the roof above where Jesus was. When they had made an opening, they lowered the mat on which the paralyzed man was lying.  When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralytic, “Child, your sins are forgiven!”   (Mark 2:3-5 CEB)

Are We Really Friends?
Did you ever notice how little we know about our four helpers here in Mark’s familiar Gospel story?  We know almost nothing about them other than the assumption that, at some point, they decided to, as a group of four, do something to get the paralyzed man to Jesus. 
 

Sometimes, we assume the four of them were the best friends to have ever lived.  In actuality, we really don’t know that!  All we know is that they were among the crowd of people who (1) knew that Jesus was in town, and (2) knew what Jesus could do.  Did they play Euchre together or cheer on the Wolverines, together?  Did they support the same politician for office?  Did they all prefer 11am service over the 9am service?  We don’t know any of this, and it might be for a very good reason that we don’t.   Maybe it just doesn’t matter.  Treating others among us and in our community with kindness, humility and grace us does not require us to share best-friend bracelets or to be “blood-brothers.”  It doesn’t even demand that we be like-minded in our political or social beliefs.  What it does require is that we come to see each other as friends in Christ. Period.      

I have a learned habit of referring to my congregation as “friends” or as “brothers and sisters in Christ.”  A few years ago, someone commented to me that every time they hear me say that, they’re reminded that they are to see everyone in the church as their friend and brother or sister.  I smiled and replied: “That’s the point!”  They figured me out!  If we are to truly be friends in Christ, and if we are to truly be the light of Christ in this community and in this world, it would behoove us to see one another as friends, more and more.

Friends in Christ build up, hold accountable, and forgive one another?
The four friends in Christ we find in Mark’s Gospel story find out very quickly that their actions result in nothing for them, except for maybe a roof-repair bill.  It’s the paralyzed man that is healed.  Their mission had a single purpose, and it had nothing to do with them: get the paralyzed man to Jesus any way necessary in order that he could be healed.  You see, being “friends in Christ” with a common and singular goal of bringing others to Christ (we call that “making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world,”) doesn’t involve us receiving much for the effort.  We may, as friends in Christ – the congregation of Grand Blanc UMC – spend our whole lives making disciples of Jesus Christ and never receive public recognition for this faithful work.  But there is something that we must begin to internalize and say over and over again: “It’s not about us.”  In other words, this church isn’t for us.  It’s for the person who is being lowered through the hole in the ceiling.
 
We exist as a church, not for our own gain, but for the kingdom of God (you know, “on earth as it is in heaven.”)  To this end, we seek to build one another up, rather than tear one another down. This means we support one another in our common ministry, hoping for success and fruitfulness, even when it’s not necessarily the way we’d do it (or the “way it’s always been done.”)  It means we desire to see the fruits of the Spirit in one another (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control,) and that when such fruit is absent, we lovingly remind our friend in Christ.  And finally, it means that, when we hurt our friends in Christ, we seek to be forgiven, and that we’d offer forgiveness to our brother or sister in Christ when we are hurt, all so that we might continue the fruitful ministry of disciple making as “friends in Christ.”
 
Is Christ among us?
Ultimately, we ask, is Christ among us?  As we read the entirety of this Gospel story, we see that Jesus does provide healing for the once-paralyzed man.  Jesus commands him, “Get up, take your mat, and go home.”  He does.  And then Mark includes this little detail: “They were all amazed and praised God, saying, “We’ve never seen anything like this!” (v.12).  Typically, when we read this, we simply read that they were impressed by Jesus’ ability to heal.  You can almost see their jaws dropped open at the sight of the healing.  The only thing is, Jesus had followers already, and they’d probably seen Jesus heal in some way shape or form, already.  Part of me wonders if they were maybe responding, not in awe at what Jesus did, but rather in awe of what the four “friends in Christ” did for the paralyzed man.  These four “friends in Christ” didn’t do the bare minimum!  They didn’t just get him to the house and assume that another foursome would take over.  They showed tenacity and maybe even a bit of recklessness in their endeavor to bring the man to Jesus. 
 

Can you imagine when, one day, people will look at the “friends in Christ” here at GBUMC and see not just another church full of committees, politics, and finances, but a church that takes seriously Christ at its core, and is tenacious in its singular effort to make disciples of Jesus Christ out of an authentic and increasingly rare love?  I wonder if the first words from their mouths will be “We’ve never seen anything like this!”  May it be so!

You Got a Friend in Me
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I am forever humbled to have the opportunity and task to serve you as your pastor.  As your pastor, I hope that you will never tire of hearing me call you “friends,” if, for no other reason, than because we are, in a very real sense, “friends in Christ.”
 
Forever your friend in Christ and a partner in the rug-carrying business,
Pastor Brian
 

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August 2020 Connection

CHILD & CHILDREN OF GOD

“This is how the birth of Jesus Christ took place. When Mary his mother was engaged to Joseph, before they were married, she became pregnant by the Holy Spirit. Joseph her husband was a righteous man. Because he didn’t want to humiliate her, he decided to call off their engagement quietly. As he was thinking about this, an angel from the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, don’t be afraid to take Mary as your wife, because the child she carries was conceived by the Holy Spirit. She will give birth to a son, and you will call him Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” When Joseph woke up, he did just as an angel from God commanded and took Mary as his wife.” Matthew 1:18-24 (CEB)

“God sent the angel Gabriel to Nazareth, a city in Galilee, to a virgin who was engaged to a man named Joseph, a descendant of David’s house. The virgin’s name was Mary. When the angel came to her, he said, ‘Rejoice, favored one! The Lord is with you!’ She was confused by these words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. The angel said, ‘Don’t be afraid, Mary. God is honoring you. Look! You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great and he will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of David his father. He will rule over Jacob’s house forever, and there will be no end to his kingdom.’…Then Mary said, ‘I am the Lord’s servant. Let it be with me just as you have said.’ Then the angel left her.” Luke 1:26-33, 38 (CEB)

You can rest assured that you didn’t miss anything, and that the calendar did not just jump from summer to winter with an unannounced celebration of Christmas. It’s just that these passages of scripture have been on your pastor’s mind lately. At the time of writing this (July 20th), there is just one month remaining until Stephanie and I will wake up on the expected arrival date of our soon-to-be baby daughter (but who’s counting, right?). In the scriptures noted above, Joseph, in the blink of an eye, became an earthly father to Jesus, the incarnation of God. Mary’s life was turned upside down as she experienced the miraculous pregnancy and the labor pains of childbirth, delivering a wiggly little boy known only as Emmanuel, “God with us.” Nothing will put pressure on you as a parent like parenting the Son of God, right?!
 
Now, before you think I’m comparing myself as a parent, to the parenthood of Joseph or Mary, it’s extremely important for me to say that while my children are wonderful – and believe me, I have a unmistakable parental bias which allows me to believe that they are extraordinarily remarkable children – they are not the incarnation of God on earth. Nor am I. Nor are you.
 
But!!!
 
But, we are all children of God, created in the image of God, and vivified by the very breath of God! We are all beautifully and wonderfully made by the same God that proclaimed in the beginning that “it was good.” We are formed like clay in the hands of the masterful Potter. We are knit together in the womb, and called into a life of grace and abundant joy by the source of life, God’s-self.
 
You. Yes, you! You were created as a child of God, and no matter what people, the world, or even the church says (yes, the church has a history of getting it wrong), you remain a beloved child of God. If you didn’t know that before, please read this paragraph over and over again until it is engraved upon your heart and mind.
 
So, what does any of that wonderful reminder have to do with Mary and Joseph? For some, we are called to be parents to children, however those children become part of our myriad families. For others, we are called to be, in many ways like parents for children. But, parents or not, for each one of us who call ourselves Christians, we are called to nurture, love, comfort, challenge, and embrace all those in our midst, as if they are family (because they are). I know that this may sound so very sweet and idealistic – like something from a TV drama, this is, in fact, a commitment we make to one another in the Christian church. Read these words, likely familiar, from the United Methodist baptismal liturgy:
 
Question to the Congregation: “Will you nurture one another in the Christian faith and life and include these persons now before you in your care?”
Congregation’s Response: “With God’s help we will proclaim the good news and live according to the example of Christ. We will surround these persons with a community of love and forgiveness, that they may grow in their trust of God, and be found faithful in their service to others. We will pray for them that they may be true disciples who walk in the way that leads to life.”
 
As people of faith and as disciples of Christ, we are called, like Joseph and Mary, and like all those who have faithfully served God since, to care for, nurture, and love those who God has placed among us. Brothers and sisters in Christ, it is with love for my great big church family, and with a passion for those whom this church has yet to meet, that I share in this responsibility with you.
 
Pastor Brian
 
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July 2020 Connection

Greetings in a Strange Time

Greetings, church!
 
It’s hard to believe that it was nearly six months ago that I received a call from the East Winds District Superintendent, Rev. Hice, letting me know that I’d been appointed to Grand Blanc UMC on July 1st. Well, that time has come, and I trust that these last six months have been just as much a whirlwind for you as they have for me. While some of that whirlwind has been joy-filled, it’s still hard to ignore that much of what has taken place since March has been devastating for so many. With the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, we’ve all had to quickly learn how to do much of church in a new way. We’ve all had friends and family – or perhaps you, yourself – lose jobs, experience pay cuts, and certainly many have faced the insecurity of essential needs such as healthcare, transportation, or even things like food. Personally, I am currently awaiting the details of memorial services for the grandparents of a close friend, both of whom passed away from COVID-19. I suspect that many of you are experiencing a similar grief. Add to all of this, we’ve all witnessed through video the death of George Floyd on May 25th in Minneapolis, exposing and magnifying for the whole world the all-too-common reality faced by our brothers and sisters of color here in the United States. The anger and hurt felt by so many has rightfully placed a pall over an already suffering world.
 
In moments like these, its all that I can do to maintain Christ as my firm foundation. But just as it seems that I’ll lose my footing, I’m reminded of these words: “Now, know that I am God” Psalm 46:10 (CEB). In the midst of COVID-19, we have much work to do to care for our neighbor, conveniences to lay aside, and sacrifices we’ve never anticipated that we must now make. Globally, as we’ve also become witnesses to the plight and suffering of our brothers and sisters of color, we have a long hard road of growing and learning, repentance and healing that we must accomplish and own. But in the midst of the calamity all around us we can remember this assurance:
 
“Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there. If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast. If I say, ‘Surely the darkness will hide me and the light become night around me,’ even the darkness will not be dark to you; the night will shine like the day, for darkness is as light to you.” Psalm 139:7-12 (NIV)
 
As Stephanie and I move into the parsonage and I receive the baton that is being graciously and faithfully handed to me by Dr. J, I come to you with the sincere desire to come and serve alongside each one of you, walking with you in our journeys of faith and discipleship. While the circumstances surrounding this pastoral transition are less than desirable, especially with respect to our continued need for social distancing, online worship, etc., I am trusting that the same God who has compassionately and faithfully guided us all through the last six months will continue to guide us as we continue the good work that God has begun in this beautiful body of Christ!
 
I’ll have the chance to share more about who I am in the coming weeks and months, and to share with you what my journey of faith and ministry has been thus far. But for now, let me simply say that Stephanie and I, along with Matthew, Micah and a little baby girl arriving in August, are excited to be welcomed here in Grand Blanc, and we look forward to getting to know our new church family in the coming days!
 
With peace and joy,
Pastor Brian
 
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goodbye friends

June 2020 Connection

goodbye friends

To God Be The Glory

I can think of no better way to say goodbye than through the words of a song by Andre Crouch.  The song is called MY TRIBUTE! Here it is! 
 
 “How can I say thanks for the things you have done for me? Things so undeserved. Yet, you give your love for me.  The voices of a million angels could not express my gratitude – all that I am and ever hope to be, I owe all to thee. To God Be the Glory. To God be the glory, to God be the glory for the things he has done.  With his blood he has saved me. With his power he has raised me. To God be the glory for the things he has done. Just let me live.  Let it be pleasing Lord to thee. And should I gain any praise, let it go to Calvary.  With his blood he has saved me.  With his power he has raised me.  To God be the glory for the things he has done.”  
   
It’s all about gratitude. You have been the most loving, helpful and supportive congregation I have experienced since my arrival in Michigan in June of 1998. I have every reason to believe that the best days are ahead for Grand Blanc United Methodist Church. Reverend Laurie is very grateful to the staff, the prayer group, lay leadership and congregation for the love she felt from all of you.
 
I LOVE YOU!  I WILL MISS YOU! 
 
Julius E. Del Pino, your Minister and servant leader  
 
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May 2020 Connection

Unexpected Loss

In the past few weeks so much has happened that has impacted all our lives in significant ways. We will never be the same again. Why should we? There has been and continues to be change all around us. Many of us for the first time are dealing with unexpected human anguish and grief. Whoever thought we would be living through a pandemic. We feel the shock, the pain, the anger, and sorrow of such massive human loss. And so, we will not sugar-coat our blessings. We will not ignore the pain and minimize the bewilderment that comes in the “wake of wrenching death.” It has come and will remain with us for some uncertain time.
 
From what is happening in our world, may we as the body of Christ cling to hope and allow Christ to meet us in our deepest need…the need to be healed, encouraged and strengthened as we take this walk of faith together. That is the key….to take this walk holding hands with your neighbor as Christ leads us to a new awareness of truth and love. The truth is that God promised to never leave or abandon us. The Apostle Paul said it this way: “And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow — not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. ( NLT, Romans 8:38)
 
Rev Laurie and I had just finished our morning Bible Study of the Book of Exodus with our nephew in Japan, Michael. Laurie called me into the room when she got an unexpected message to please call –from a family friend, Dawn, in Vancouver, B.C. Dawn is the sister of Erin, the young mother who lost her husband Mike and sons Liam and Quinn in a vehicle accident at the end of February. Here is the heartbreaking, unexpected news. Erin took her own life.
 
After much wailing, sobbing, crying, heartbreak and pain, Dawn explained that Erin had traveled from her home town south of Calgary after the memorial service to visit her sister Dawn for a period of time, then to Ontario to visit her older sister Heather, then to North Bay ON to stay with her father Ron. She had with her the remains of her husband and two children. She requested to be alone during this deeply personal and solemn occasion of burial. After she buried those remains at the family lake home where she had grown up and her children had played every summer with their cousins, she decided she could not be without her children.
 
Some would say, well that’s not a surprise – who would blame her – how could anyone live without their entire family having been taken from them? The reality is, this was totally and completely unexpected by her father, her sisters, her extended family and her friends. Dawn tells us that Erin had tremendous support from extremely skilled friends who were also grief counselors and others who were psychologists. She had visited with her childhood friends. She was happy and in a very good frame of mind when she went to the lake house. Her father was stunned.
 
It was totally unexpected. Erin’s mother was a pastor. Erin’s sister Dawn is a pastor. Erin had the very best spiritual support as well as psychological support. Help us, Jesus, to cope with this unexpected loss and wisdom to minister to this family. Lord guide Erin’s soul to your side, guide her spirit to meet with her children’s spirits. Lord comfort each of us in our unexpected grief and loss as we know ONLY you can do!
 
Unexpected loss comes in many forms: sudden death, sudden change of life routines that we are all experiencing now, sudden loss of income, sudden hardships. In the name of Christ we pray that you show yourself to us. Forgive us in our humanity – our thoughts are not God’s thoughts. We are weak. Help us to Trust you – to lean on You during times of upheaval and heartache. Amen!
 
May love and mercy of Christ guide your steps in the days and months ahead.
 
Julius E. Del Pino, Pastor
 
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April 2020 Connection

HOPE In Uncertain Times
Most of us are familiar with the 13th chapter of Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. I believe it is the most extraordinary description of love anywhere. Note how it begins.
 
“If I speak with tongues of humans and of angels but have not love, I am like a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal…..”

He goes on to describe the selflessness and faithfulness of love, that love is patient, kind, humble and sensitive; and at the end of the  passage he says, “now faith, hope and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.”

I don’t think anybody will disagree with Paul’s claim that love is the most important. Love is the foundation of everything we say and do.
 
What do you think is next in importance, faith or hope? Many people will say faith is the next important. And they do have a point. WE NEED FAITH TO give meaning to life. Faith opens the door to new possibilities.

As important as it is, however, I think it takes third place. How long can we survive without hope? It is hope in a merciful and loving God that has and will carry us over the deepest abyss. It is the bridge for tomorrow. And that is what I want you to remember as we manage the unexpected
complexity of living in these times.

Easter comes again on April 12. Whenever Christians are gathered there will be learned discussions about theologies, dogmas and doctrines. But they all can be condensed into one small word —hope —which is what Easter is about.

We all know how confused and faltering the disciples were during the difficult last days of Jesus’ life. Yet something happened to them on that morning and the days and weeks that followed. Everyone of the
disciples came to life and spent the rest of their lives in sacrificial service to Jesus. Something happened. The disciples experienced a resurrected Jesus. And that resurrection gave them hope and it can do the same for you. Believe in hope and believe that hope is of God. ….hold on to hope, Even if it’s a tender thread…” Even during these challenging times, hold on tightly to hope and experience the power of God’s grace holding us together.

To God be the glory,
Julius Del Pino, Pastor
 
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March 2020 Connection

A Pastoral Letter –  Lent/Easter 2020

Dear beloved:
 
In a world riddled with violence, paralyzed by self-interest, and numbed by despair—where do we turn for comfort, for direction, for hope? The Jesus we celebrate in the season of Lent is our companion as we move in an environment of a violent world.
 

In recalling the biblical story, storm troopers seized Jesus outside the Garden of Gethsemane. They interrogated him, beat him with a leather strap studded with fragments of glass, and spit on him. In mock homage, they draped him in a purple robe, pushed a crown of thorns deep into his forehead, and pushed him out before the crowd who cried for his blood, and then they nailed him to a cross where he hung, suffering until he died.

Three years of ministry healing, teaching, and empowering, and reconciling people….three years of preaching the good news of God’s love and peace, had come to this. This man, Jesus, drew the crowds and performed miracles….Jesus whom thousands of people had wanted to proclaim King, was not perceived as failure. The despair was fathomless. The world on Good Friday was bleak beyond imagination.

 
But the final word was with God. They had seized Jesus, they had crucified him, but they could not hold him down. In the rumbling of the earth, God moved with the power of love without limits — a love so strong and mighty that all human experience was transfigured….so powerful that life overcame death. On Sunday morning the tomb was empty. What the world had judged as a failure became a victory that changed the world forever, and if we believe in resurrection faith, our lives can and will be changed as well. GBUMC WILL BE CHANGED TOO!
 
The resurrection was God’s validation of life the life of Christ—forgiveness triumphs over hatred…compassion over self-centeredness, and confident love over brutality and violence. As we prepare to take the Lenten journey, may each of us come to live in the power of Christ’s resurrection. May we come to believe that we are empowered to love…to heal…to put an end to violence of the body, mind and spirit….to be willing and able to keep justice alive for the oppressed, marginalized and forgotten. I invite each of you to take the victory of Easter into your soul and let it strengthen you to live with the power of Easter.
 
To God be the glory,
Julius E. Del Pino, Pastor
 
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feb 2020 connection image

February 2020 Connection

feb 2020 connection image

Turning The Page

Many of you may know that Reverend Laurie and I officiated the interment of brother-in-law, Bill John Shoults on Saturday, January 18, 2020 at the family plot in Mount Pleasant Cemetery, Toronto Ontario, Canada. It was a sacred and memorable occasion as Bill and Laurie’s sister, Debra Joan, were reunited in death.

Present were Bill’s former co-worker and fellow Native Canadian, Desiree, two sons, Ryan, from Kitchener, Ontario, Michael and Ayumi from Japan, Gwen and Alice, granddaughters, Laurie and myself, sister and brother-in-law to Deb and Bill.

 
Laurie thought it was appropriate to begin the service incorporating some of the Manitoba Cree traditions as this is the tradition Bill was born into. When it came time to pass the Native talking stick, their son Michael bent down to brush the snow away from the grave marker. He pointed out the image of an open book with pages turning that were on the marker. He remarked that this service signaled the end of his mother and father’s earthy story and the beginning of their time in eternity.
 
Our page here at GBUMC is also turning. The chapter of Grand Blanc United Methodist Church being lead by Reverend Dr. Julius E. Del Pino is coming to an end. A new chapter will begin July 1, 2020 under the guidance and leadership of Reverend Brian West. The history of this congregation will continue to unfold in a way that God will have it be. So let it be done.
 
My heart feels both gratitude and joy for what has been during this amazing chapter and what will be in the future for this new and exciting chapter of Grand Blanc. Let us rejoice!
 
To God be the glory.
Julius E. Del Pino, Pastor
 
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January 2020 Connection

Happy New Year!

Believe it, a new year has just started. New hopes and dreams will be cast in 2020. New ideas will surface to sustain the vision of GBUMC. Expect change to occur.
 
As we contemplate change, I encourage each of you to begin thinking about how we can become more clear and committed to making new disciples for taking Christ’s love, justice and healing into this community. Perhaps one area of emphasis will be to compassionately represent our vision to those who have left the church—-not just this church —-but any church.
 
A colleague of mine sent me the following diagram that offers reasons why people have left the church. George Barna, a reputable church consultant and researcher gathered this statistical data that has significant merit and is credible. Please take the time to study it carefully.
 
In closing, I want to have this last thought for your prayerful reflection. Stay hopeful and positive. Keep reaching out to this community. Continue to exude a gentle and loving spirit to all who come through these doors. Talk about how much God is blessing this congregation and not be reluctant to share those blessings with strangers and friends. And be prepared to step up to lead in an area of ministry that feeds your soul! Be ready to change and grow!
 
In the Name of Jesus!
Julius E. Del Pino, Pastor
 
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December 2019

Joy, Joy For Christ will be born

Greetings to all of you in this most blessed season. Advent is here!
 
The season of Advent (coming, arrival) is a time of preparation and inner exploration. The coming of the Christ child brings hope to all Christians around the world, for what we and the world might become. The retail stores usually begin advertising for Christmas before Halloween, but the church’s time of preparation focuses on the four Sundays that precede Christmas.
 
The altar paraments are purple, the liturgical color for the penitential, preparing seasons of Advent and Lent. Advent lessons and prayers are filled with images of light and watchfulness. Remember, the theme of Advent is repentance and change. As we change our lives to meet the Christ child, we experience the blessed assurance that no matter what difficulties we face in life, God in Christ will always be there for us and will see us through. We can claim that promise, and we can live in that confidence. This is the “Good News” of Advent and Christmas – God’s seeking, sustaining, sacrificial love.
 
Make worship your priority during Advent. Be more generous with the resources God has given to you. Join an adult Bible class and be sure and invite a friend or a stranger to attend one of our Christmas Eve services. Pray for your church that God will use each of us to take the spirit of Christ out of the manager and into those places where people are hurting and yearning for love, grace, and hope.
 
God be with you on this Advent journey!
 
Rev. Julius E. Del Pino
 
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