THE CONNECTION

 

February 2021

“In All Things”

I recently read a newsletter article written by a friend and colleague of mine,  offering this bit of wisdom and permission: “It’s okay if you’re enjoying some of what’s going on right now.” To be clear, he isn’t advocating that we should be okay with the state of division in our nation and world, nor should we be content with the rate at which people are becoming sick with COVID-19. No one should be taking
pleasure in those things. Instead, what he’s referring to is this: it’s okay if you’ve been enjoying worship from your couch while resting with a cup of coffee. It’s okay if you’re enjoying more time at home with family. It’s even okay if you found some solitude around Christmas to be a bit of necessary rest. It’s okay if you’re not missing your commute to work. It’s even okay if you find yourself cooking more meals at home rather than eating out. To reiterate, it’s okay if you’re enjoying some of what’s going one right now.
 
As a frequent listener of podcasts, most of what I listen to are interview shows.  Some are faith-based, others political and news oriented, while the rest are often themed with pop-culture TV shows, music, or movies. During this past year, it seems as though just about every interview begins with the question, “How have you been doing during the pandemic?” Almost as if every interviewee read some sort of memo before the show, they all reply with the same basic formula. At first, they lament at how hard it’s been – something we can all relate to. Second, they share some of what they’ve been up to, often regaling the audience of their new sourdough bread hobby. Third, they start to reflect on the positive side of things –
the silver linings. And then, finally, they offer a clause that sounds something like this: “None of this is to say this whole thing isn’t awful, because it is!” It’s almost as if they feel the need to apologize for experiencing happiness and something good during a very challenging and scary time.
 
I’m wondering if we can trade one feeling for the other. With nearly a year of the pandemic in the rearview mirror, likely with months still to go, I suspect we can adopt a new posture, and this should come as no surprise to you: Gratitude.
 
“Give thanks in every situation because this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.”
        -1Thesselonians 5:18 CEB
 
To be clear, Paul isn’t suggesting that hard and scary circumstances are God’s will for us. Rather, Paul is saying that a posture of gratitude is required for us to really tap into the Joy of Christ. This also doesn’t mean that we should ignore all that is going on around us and focus only on happy things! Instead, gratitude provides a new lens – new glasses, if you will – to see the world through. Let’s take a look at
some practical examples:

• If you’ve been worshiping with us from home using Facebook or YouTube, or maybe even from the parking lot with your radio, take time to marvel at the fact that, as a church, we have the ability to record and share a whole worship service over the internet. While there is lots about the internet that is regrettable, we can give thanks for this small glimmer of light, can’t we?

• I was talking with a church member the other day who was planning to prepare a meal to take and deliver to one of our church’s shut-ins. I have to wonder if we’d think to do that regularly if we were more preoccupied with the busyness of life? Has slowing down caused us to think of others a
bit more?

• On New Years Eve, as much as we would have loved to gather with friends to celebrate the New Year and watch our similarly-aged children run around and have fun, Stephanie and I sat with our kids on the couch and did an early countdown with cups of sparkling grape juice for the kids. It
wasn’t what we’d hoped for, but it was beautiful in it’s own way.
 
Once again, this isn’t to suggest that the hardships people are facing are not real. It’s certainly not to suggest that we shouldn’t mourn the 400,000 plus deaths in the United States from COVID-19, and weep with families as loved ones pass away. What I’m suggesting is that it’s okay not to apologize when
you have an opportunity to give thanks in this season of life. Perhaps it’s those moments of gratitude that will help us to see how God is walking with us through the storms of life.
 
Peace, 
Pastor Brian
 
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January 2021 Connection

Enrich All Lives

…To enrich all lives.  This is how Grand Blanc UMC’s mission and vision statement ends.  And, not coincidently, it’s how this series of Connection newsletter articles will conclude before moving on to something new in February.  Over the last four months, I’ve spent time on this page expressing my impressions and thoughts about the mission and vision statement of this church.  I’ve explored the idea of being “friends in Christ,” I dared to utter that word “exercise,” and we talked, of course, about
hope, love, and grace.  But now, the crux of the whole statement: “…to enrich all lives.”

While it may be the greatest cliché, it seems important to say this.  Mariam-Webster Dictionary defines “Enrich” as to make rich or richer especially by the addition or increase of some desirable quality, attribute, or ingredient. 

Why is this definition important?  It’s important – even vital – because these final last words of our statement identify the purpose for which we are bothering to do any of this!  We call ourselves friends is Christ, and live into that identity; we exercise hope, love and grace with one another, and extend it into the world, understanding that God is still working on each of us in a perfect-making sort of way; we do all of this, we extend all of this, we embrace all of this, and we believe all of this all for the purpose of enriching all lives.  All that we do has no other purpose!  The work of the church is not primarily about providing a social network for all of us to enjoy.  It’s not about creating a status that emboldens us in the social and economic community.  It’s not even about fostering a righteousness within us that we can measure ourselves against others with.  It is all about enriching all lives.

To be sure, there is other language that we use in the church to talk about enriching all lives.  One of my favorite is when we talk about “kingdom-making.”  You see, here we’re talking about God’s kingdom (often written “kin-dom” as a way of reminding us that we’re not talking about a monarchy, but something altogether different…the reign of God)!  And God’s kingdom on earth as it is in heaven (sound familiar?) is about ensuring that all lives – all lives – are made richer (no, not money) by the addition and increase of a remarkable quality, attribute and ingredient that we call GRACE! 

And so, we are, by the statement we have adopted as a church, a kingdom-making church!  We are in the business of enriching the lives of all people with the grace, love, hope, peace, promise, and joy of Jesus Christ!  We proclaim that all – everyone – excluding no one – is invited into this amazing and grace-filled covenant with Jesus Christ.  The door is open, the admission is free, the result is freeing!  This is what we are about and nothing more!

My prayer as you come to the end of this article is that you will read our mission statement once more, and read it as a prayer for this church.  Where we are already living into it, let us rejoice!  Where we are not yet living into it – where we’re still holding on to a part of what we want it to be rather than what God wants it to be – let us draw closer to God who, with amazing grace, forgiveness and love, calls us back into even deeper relationship with our Creator!

A few years back, I had a conversation with an upset parishioner of another church who insisted that “everyone needs to stop trying to take over my church” (the great offense was that the food bank volunteers had temporarily placed food donations on a table in the fellowship hall).  I calmly replied, “we need to remember that this church is not ours. We are simply stewards of it. The church does not belong to us. It belongs to God and to the person who has yet to walk through its doors.”
 
When we say that we’re here to “enrich all lives,” we have to remember that this means we are here with a dedicated purpose to welcome and serve the person who walks through our church doors for the first time. We are here, and function as a church for the child who has been told many things throughout his life, except for that fact that he is lovable and loved. We are here for the woman who stands before a judge and learns that she’ll be incarcerated. We are here for the grieving person, so hurt that they have stopped praying
.
We are here – the church is here – God is here…to enrich all lives.
Peace, Pastor Brian
 
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December 2020 Connection

Exercising Grace: Hard Stop

So, you may have caught on by now that this December newsletter article would be about the church’s mission and vison statement again! In fact, it’s the last one on this topic, and then we’ll switch to something else come January – I’m thinking about something that elicits warm and cozy feelings. You know, in order to fend off the Michigan winter cold! Today’s key word is “grace.” We find it right there in our mission and vision statement:“ Friends in Christ Exercising love, hope and grace to enrich all lives.” So, what does it mean to exercise grace?
“Grace” is a word that we probably use way too often! Kind of like “love,” come to think of
it. “I love pizza!” “I’d sure love for my flight to take off on time.” “I just love how the
Hallmark Channel has Christmas movies on 24/7 during from October to March!” (yes, I
have a bit of a soapbox to stand on when it comes to Hallmark Christmas movies, but that’s
for another time, I suppose). Just like that word “love,” we also say the word “grace” a lot,
don’t we? It’s what we call the prayer before a meal. It’s the word we use to refer to
manners and social skills (“She has such grace!”). But we also talk about grace when it
comes to God, so let’s make that the focus of our time here.
God’s grace is profoundly important to the Christian faith, but also profoundly confusing!
It’s confusing, because it doesn’t play well with our understanding of what it means to earn
or deserve things. In our world, we receive a paycheck for work done competently. We
receive goods and services when we pay for them. We get things because we’ve earned
them. The opposite is also true. When people receive things that they don’t earn, we get a
bit frustrated, if not downright angry! We call it “handout” and demand reform! So, it’s no
wonder that we get a bit confused when we talk about grace: an immense love and promise
shared with us by God regardless of our deservedness!
You see the problem, don’t you? God promises me grace, just as God promises grace to the
person who is serving a life-sentence in federal prison (if we’re made uncomfortable by this,
then my point is well taken). Grace makes us uncomfortable because there is nothing we
need to do to earn it, deserve it, take it, or anything like that. We simply need to be open to
it and stop worrying about why we get it. God loves you, and there is nothing you can do
about it!
Let’s go back to our original question, “what does it mean to exercise grace?” If God loves
me and pours out this amazing thing called grace upon me, regardless of anything I’ve done
or have not done, am I permitted to just hold onto it? Is it mine to store up? Do I get to
determine who get’s a share of it? Who else deserves it? Of course not! Instead, God
invites us to extend God’s grace to others regardless of being deserving! We are to extend,
share, and exercise God’s grace to everyone! There is no checklist for who gets it. There is
no test or pop-quiz to determine who gets more than someone else. Let’s put it another way:
“Love your neighbor as yourself.” -Mark 12:31
As a church, we have the remarkable invitation from God to share the gift of grace with the
community and world around us. That’s it! There is no small print! There is no
determination to be made. Share God’s love and grace with the world. Hard stop.
 
Peace, Pastor Brian
 
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November 2020 Connection

Exercising Hope: For All The World to See

For the third month in a row, I wanted to use my column inches in the Connection newsletter to continue sharing my reflections on the mission and vision statement of Grand Blanc UMC: “Friends in Christ Exercising love, hope and grace to enrich all lives.” So far, I’ve written about “Friends in Christ” and all that it means to take seriously our call to be neighbors, brothers, sisters, and friends in the broad and limitless family of Jesus Christ. Last month, I reflected on a connecting word in the statement: “exercise” (everyone’s favorite word, right?). I hope you’ve had the chance to read these articles, but if not, don’t bother looking in the NY Time’s Best Seller list. They’re not there. But they are on our website (grandblancumc.org), just waiting to be read!
 
For this month, I want to look at another way that this congregation is committed to exercising as friends in Christ (remember, exercise is like practice. We actually have to do it to get better at it): Exercising hope.
 
Hope is one of those words that we use all the time in so many different contexts: “I hope the Lions can keep the 24 point lead in the 4th quarter” (they won’t); “I hope the power doesn’t go out” (it’s allowed to flicker at most); “I hope my candidate wins!” (If it’s November 3rd when your reading this, did you remember to vote?); “I hope my paycheck is big enough” (if you’ve never thought that, consider the privilege that carries with it). The list of “hope” statements can go on and on, and they are all correct uses of the word “hope.”
 
So, what does it mean for a church to exercise hope? Well, to answer that, we first have to answer a similar question: Is it the same as believing in hope? To some degree, it is the same, or at least related. When we say that we “believe in hope,” especially in the context of our Christian faith, we are announcing that we believe that Jesus Christ represents and is hope for all of us. He’s hope for all who feel broken and lost. He’s hope for all who discover that one cannot physically lift him/herself up by their own bootstraps (think about it – it makes no sense). Christ’s redemption is hope that we don’t need to live as slaves to sin, but are freed from the chains that have become rusted-shut around our limbs. These are all things that we believe and hold true as faithful Christians. And so, if that’s what it means to believe in hope, what does it mean to exercise it?
 
Remember in the last article how I talked about exercise being a routine of practice in an effort to be more perfect (or at least better)? To exercise love is to take what we believe about love, and make it part of our every day lives of how we treat one another, care for one another, and value one another. We work at it, and work at it, and work at it more (in other words, we exercise it) until loving our neighbor becomes second nature to us.
 
Well, the same thing is true for exercising hope. It requires us to live our lives hopeful that Jesus’ promise of redemption was sincere and true. It’s taking leaps of faith in ministry, believing that we might come alongside God in our discipleship and become the answer to someone’s hopeful prayer to be fed, loved, housed, clothed, valued, taught, healed, and so much more! It’s believing that we can go through a virus-filled storm and come out of the fog having become stronger. It’s stepping out onto the waters of uncertainty, trusting that Jesus will reach out for us when the waves begin to consume us.
 
You see, exercising hope is doing all of these things, and putting it on display for all the world to see that belief in the hope God promises is not a fool’s errant, but rather our moment of grace realized. So, the next time, as a member of this church, you are faced with the invitation from Jesus to step out onto the water or gather the loaves and fishes, believing it to be enough, believe in hope enough to do it.
 
Don’t look now, but you just got stronger.
 
Peace, my friends!
Pastor Brian
 
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October 2020 Connection

Exercising Love: For Gary’s

For this Month’s Connection newsletter article, I wanted to continue my article series, exploring deeper Grand Blanc UMC’s Mission and Vision Statement: “Friends in Christ Exercising love, hope and grace to enrich all lives.” If you had the chance to read the September article, you’ll remember that I commented on a caution regarding mission and vision statements. Unless we, as a church, fully embrace what the statement truly means, and pursue its fulfillment with all that we do, it will always just remain 12 words on paper. But, the reality is, these are 12 powerful words that we ought to spend time exploring.
 
In my September Connection article, I shared some thoughts about what it truly means to be “Friends in Christ.” For this month’s article, I want to explore the next two words: “Exercising love.” To do that, we’re all going to have to think about something that is most unpleasant for many of us, including your pastor (sigh): exercise! It’s a great word choice, even if it makes my muscles and skeleton hurt just thinking about it. But, all kidding aside, our mission and vision statement obviously is not talking about physical exercise, like running on a treadmill. It’s talking about the work of doing something; in this case, loving.
 
That being said, I’m not entirely sure we should throw the physical exercise baby out with the proverbial bath water. We might be able to learn more about what exercising love is all about by exploring the kind of exercise that causes my shin splints to flare up! Physical exercise is not just about burning calories, though it is a nice byproduct. It’s also about conditioning the body, taking our muscular/skeletal system, one step at a time, from it’s current condition to what it can (and probably should) be.
 
During my parental leave, time of grace, since Jane was born, I have been taking her for a walk each day in her stroller. I do it to try to give Stephanie some peace and quiet, but also so that I can get out for a walk and take advantage of this beautiful weather we’re having. Jane also falls asleep, which is an added bonus! The first walk that she and I took was the epitome of father-daughter bonding time. Physically, though, it destroyed me! My body was not ready for that kind of exercise! I hadn’t walked that kind of distance since before the pandemic began, and my body did not let me forget it! But Jane likes her walks, and I love her napping even more, so the next day we set out again. At first, my body was still sore, but ever so gradually, it began to feel a bit better. The third day, it was like I was walking on sunshine! Fast forward to now, my body doesn’t much mind the walks. In fact, I’m even able to go a bit further in the same amount of time.
 
You see, my exercise has become practice for my body. With each moment of intentional exercise I put my body through, my muscular-skeletal system gets stronger, more attuned to the rigor of pushing a stroller, and something wonderful starts to happen: my exercise becomes more fruitful!
 
So, what might it mean to be a church that exercises love? Well, just acknowledging that we need to exercise our love ought to tell us something: we’re not the best at doing it! (Did you audibly gasp? If not go ahead and gasp dramatically). Please understand that this is not an insult or a slight at this church. In fact, I have to own it, too. When I joined you as your pastor back in July, your ranks of imperfect love grew by the size of a 6’8”, 33 year old United Methodist pastor. Love is something we could all stand to exercise.
 
I think Paul understood that when he wrote his letter to the church in Corinth: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 CEB). Paul knew that the church in Corinth needed an exercise regimen in order to establish a more perfect love. So do we! So do all Christians!
 
This morning, a good friend of mine posted a comic on his Facebook page that I thought addressed this well. In it, Jesus is addressing the crowds from atop a mount (sound familiar). The conversation goes like this:
 
Jesus: “Be kind to everyone”
Crowd: “Wait, even Gary? Yeah, Gary’s the worst.”
Jesus: “Look, we’ve been through this. Yes, be kind to Gary, as well.”
Gary: “Ha! Suck it losers!”
Jesus: (palm to forehead) “Not now, Gary.”
 
This is where our exercise of love meets the pavement, though, right?! As Jesus says, it’s easy to love those who love you back. But how are we at loving those with whom we disagree? How are we at loving those who care about things that are different from the things we care about? Let’s go one step further, and just dip our toes into the waters of discomfort: how are we at loving those who don’t love us back? Who wish us harm? Who want to get in our way? In other words, how are we at loving Gary?
 
My prayer for you today, this month, this year, etc. is that you would find in the passage from  1Corinthians 13 a work-out routine of sorts for exercising you love. May we, as a church, exercise our love more fully, and may we be known as a Gary-loving Body of Christ.
 
Yours in Christ,
Pastor Brian
 
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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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