September 2023 Connection

“Pull Up A Chair”

“You have heard that it was said, You must love your neighbor and hate your enemy. But I say to you, love your enemies and pray for those who harass you…If you love only those who love you, what reward do you have? Don’t even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing? Don’t even the Gentiles do the same? Therefore, just as your heavenly Father is complete in showing love to everyone, so also you must be complete.”
~Matthew 5:43-44, 46-48 (CEB)
“But in all these things we win a sweeping victory through the one who loved us. I’m convinced that nothing can separate us from God’s love in Christ Jesus our Lord: not death or life, not angels or rulers, not present things or future things, not powers or height or depth, or any other thing that is created.” ~  Romans 8:37-39 (CEB)
When my grandmother, Jane West, passed away in December 2006 at the age of 90, she left us with two requests for her funeral. The first was that we’d sing the hymn “O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing.” The second was a bit unorthodox, and that was that she demanded that we not serve Green Bean casserole at her funeral luncheon. Needless to say, it wasn’t her favorite! The problem was, for everyone else in the family, Green Bean Casserole was (and still is) a favorite. We wanted to bring to the table a dish that we loved, but simply wasn’t allowed. We honored that wish of hers…for the most part.
In the last year or so, I’ve been sharing a vision with this congregation that I pray we can live into what it means to be what I call a “Big Table Church.” Having shared this before, bear with me as I share it again with a bit more nuance. By a “Big Table Church,” what I am referring to is the idea that we gather at the figurative (and sometimes literal) table of the God, feasting on the goodness of God’s great love, and
experiencing what it means to be Christians and a people called the church. Jesus invites us to recognize that this table is not only BIG, but that it is also Growing. At this table where we gather as a church, we have to begin to recognize that what allows me to come to the table is God’s all-sufficient grace, which is also the very thing that brings you to the table.
You see, God’s table – the fellowship of believers – is not yours or mine. It is wholly God’s! And when it’s God’s table, and it is God’s grace that invites you and me to it, there can be no argument that it is not available for each and every one of God’s children! No exceptions, no small print, no asterisks. If there is space for me, then there is space for you. And if there is space for us, then there is absolutely space for
all! God’s grace and love knows no limit (Romans 8:37-39)!
But, we can’t stop here, because this begins to sound like a table full of chaos! God’s kingdom is one of love, grace, hope, peace, joy, and inclusion, and so it would be reasonable to expect that the table would be, too. For this purpose, I like to say that the table is big and open to everyone, but the menu is God’s, too, and we don’t get to bring our own food. And that’s where the Green Bean Casserole comes in. 
When we’re at God’s table, the meal that is served is love and love, alone! Another way to look at is to remember that the meal that is served at the big table is the gospel – a gospel of immense and unfailing love; a gospel of diminishing margins and the inclusion of, and love for those who have spent too long on those margins; a gospel that announces forgiveness and grace; a gospel that sets free and tears down barriers, not builds them; a gospel that commands our love to be more reflective of God’s love (Matthew 5:48).
For us to be a “Big Table Church” means that we’re going to work hard – and at times struggle – to
pull up chairs to the table to make sure that everyone has access to a seat. We’re not going to leave anyone out, determine litmus tests for who belongs, or leave anyone on the outside looking in. We’re not going to own the table, but instead recognize that it is, has always been, and will forever be GOD’S TABLE! For us to be a “Big Table Church,” it means that we’re going to feast on the incredible love of God and demand of ourselves and hold one another accountable to leave behind us all that is not of love.
There is no question that this is going to be incredibly hard for all of us at various times! At moments
we’re going to forget whose table it is and we’re going fall short by thinking that we somehow deserve a seat at the table while others are still on the outside looking in. There are going to be days where we demand our Pyrex dish of Green Bean Casserole be allowed at the table, even though it just doesn’t belong. And while we will succeed again and again at being a “Big Table Church” that reflects God’s love, we must admit that this will likely be the most difficult thing we’ll ever do in our lives! But I promise you this: there is nothing in this world more worth this effort than the Kingdom of God!
The truth is, we live in a world that is looking for a church that can be trusted. People of all ages are
looking for a church that not only talks about love, but actually loves; not only talks about grace, but also
extends it; not only exists for itself, but exists to that the world might come to know the goodness of God. In this season of Christianity, the world aches for an authentic expression of God’s very real love. We can be that! But it’s going to take each and every one of us.
Pull up a chair!
Pastor Brian
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August 2023 Connection


“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “Then the king will reply to
them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’  -Matthew 25:37-40 (CEB)
I’d never heard of Scooter-O’s before, but there they were in the “Community Closet,” a small cupboard in the basement kitchenette below my Intro to New Testament and Homiletics classrooms in DeWire Hall at Methodist Theological School in Ohio. The “Community Closet” wasn’t a very large cupboard, with its
doors a bit sticky from years of build-up and not much attention. The food items inside were a bit questionable in terms of their expiration date, but there they were; food items available for anyone in need to take. It was the seminary’s version of a food bank. And sitting between a couple of cans of
green beans and some form of bean with the label half torn off was a giant bag of off-brand Cheerios with about a month to spare on the expiration label. Looking around on a Saturday morning, I took them, went to my apartment, and had what I convinced myself was a fairly decent breakfast.
The background to the story is a lot longer than this article calls for, but the long and the short of it is that my pride kept me from reaching out for help. I wanted to believe I could do it alone. Were there those who would have helped me if I’d asked? Sure! But pride is a lonely thing.
I think about those Scooter-O’s often, and I’m immensely grateful for whoever it was that put them there in that sticky “Community Closet” cupboard. I think about that bag of cereal every time I have the chance to hand out a blessing bag from the church, or when I can help someone a bit out of the church’s
discretionary fund. For me, I do my best to help others who are in need, in part, because someone decided to put cereal in a cupboard in anticipation of a day when I’d be hungry and afraid to ask for help.
In Matthew’s Gospel, we find Jesus’ reminder to his disciples that each time they are helping others, they are helping the divine. Each time they are serving the hungry, the hurting, the naked, and the marginalized, they are – in a very real way – serving Christ.
When our neighbors ask for help, may we recognize the courage that may take. When we’re face to face with panhandling, may we recognize the pride that has been abandoned. When our neighbors ask for help, may we see in their faces the image of Christ. And when our neighbors are in need, may we
seek to remember moments in our lives when we were in need and found aid in the One we call Love and LORD.
Pastor Brian
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July 2023 Connection

Hanging in my office, just above my desk is a baseball jersey with my last name stitched between the shoulders, and the number 6 in the center. The number 6 was my choice, in the hopes of channeling the legendary Al Kaline. My name on it, however, was my dream come true. It’s also a reminder of the
day that I almost recorded an out against Hall of Fame player, and best designated hitter ever, Edgar Martine. . . almost.
While I was in seminary a good friend of mine, Tim Wisecup, happened to win a contest put on by Pepsi called “Pepsi Max Field of Dreams.” As the contest winner, Tim was allowed to put together a team of 10 of his friends to play a baseball game in front of 15,000. Our opponents? Hall of Fame professional
baseball players.
That night in May, 2012, I got to bat against Boston Red Sox pitcher, Pedro Martinez. I got to stand at first base with The Big Hurt himself, Frank Thomas. I even got heckled by the greatest catcher of all time, Johnny Bench. As a baseball fan, it really was a childhood dream come true!
Then, in the first inning, with the Kaline #6 on my back, I took my position at Right Field. Stepping up to the plate was designated hitter, Edgar Martinez – again, one of the best. As luck would have it, the first pitch met his bat, and the ball sailed out into Right Field. I suddenly became aware that I was the only
one out there. It was my ball to catch and my time to shine! With all eyes on this 6’8” tee-ball experienced baseball fraud, I ran backwards, lifted up my glove, and…completely missed it. The ball fell to the ground and rolled on the grass. As I threw the ball into the infield, I heard someone yell from the stands, “Come on, West! How could you miss that?!”
I tell this story to highlight something that was going through my head for the rest of that night – an existential question, really: Was this night my dream come true, or my most public failure? In other words, did I get to play out a childhood fantasy, or did I just make the biggest blunder of my life?
While this circumstance is a bit unusual, the question really isn’t that uncommon. We live our lives with successes and celebrations all over the place. Sometimes, they’re big moments of success, but more often than not, they’re mini, and so we hardly notice them. For instance, you got out of bed this morning! That’s a success. You managed to smile at your coworker! Great job. You got to spend time with family and friends. Awesome. You get the point. Life is full of wins…all the time! The problem is, we are really good at fixating on that one thing that didn’t go so great. 
In other words, we find ourselves on a baseball field, living our best lives – full of joy and gladness – but all we can remember is our shortcoming. 
My invitation to you today is this: acknowledge when you drop the ball. But, also take time to look at the beautiful field on which you stand. God’s grace, love, and forgiveness wants you to enjoy the game, and not linger on the missed ball. 
Pastor Brian (#6)
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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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May 2023 Connection

“Not Complicated, Not Easy”
A Call to Real Discipleship

“Teacher, what is the greatest commandment in the Law?” He replied, “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your being, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: You must love your neighbor as you love yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands.” -Matthew 22:36-40 (CEB)
In a sermon not too long ago, I made the comment that “being a Christian isn’t easy, and if anyone ever tells you that it is, they’re either lying to you, or they’re not really trying that hard.” Afterward, during a lovely conversation, someone shared with me their reflection on that idea. They said something to
the affect of, “Being a Christian really isn’t that hard, though. Just love people!” I nodded in response, agreeing that “just love people” is a pretty fair summary of Jesus’ teachings. But I also took time to add this: Being a Christian is not a complicated thing, but that doesn’t make it easy.
When we read Jesus’ response to the question in Matthew’s Gospel of “What is the greatest commandment in the Law,” we find ourselves marveling at just how simple it really is. It’s not overly complicated! There are no footnotes, small print, or hastily read lines at the end of his announcement like when we see commercials advertising the latest pharmaceutical. Jesus lays it out simply for us: Love God wholly! Love neighbor! Love yourself! Jesus even goes on to say (and I paraphrase), “and this about wraps it up!”
You see what I mean? Being a Christian and following the greatest commandment is not complicated. In fact, you probably have it memorized already (if you don’t it’s a good passage of scripture to memorize). But somehow, as Christians in the 21st century (and I would argue this really started centuries ago), we’ve conflated the idea of Christianity’s simplicity with an ease of discipleship. Herein lies the problem…It’s not always easy – in fact, it’s rarely easy – to be a Christian.
To be a Christian – to love God, neighbor, and self – means that we stand up for those who are forgotten. In a world and culture that often leaves people at the margins (and in some instances, pushes), to be a Christian means that we need to speak out against powers, policies, and practices that would leave the
margins as they are.
To be a Christian – to love God, neighbor, and self – means that we advocate for peace and community wellbeing amid a culture that encourages fear of “the other.”
To be a Christian – to love God, neighbor, and self – means that we draw the circle wider, not smaller. It means that we define ourselves by the ever growing size of our table, and not by rules that would dictate who gets to sit at it. It means that no one is forgotten, ignored, or kept at arm’s length.
We could go on and on, but I’ll leave it at this: Being a Christian requires nothing less of us than using
Jesus’ greatest commandment as a litmus test for what is good and right. Does it love God? Does it
love the neighbor? Is it loving ourselves? It’s not complicated, but that doesn’t mean it’s always easy.
And so, may we journey as Christian disciples together! May we encourage one another to love in a
way that is oftentimes challenging! May we remind one another of what Christ’s love looks like, so
often that we can’t help but reflect it, too! May we seek to be a church that embodies the love, grace,
and joy of Christ in this world…this community.
May we love.
Pastor Brian
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April 2023 Connection


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
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March 2023 Connection

Rubber Band S#%

Sin. There, I said it! It’s a word that we seem to want to avoid as often as possible. I cannot tell you how many times I’ve heard people offer their pastor the critique of “I wish you wouldn’t talk about sin so much,” or my personal favorite, the veiled critique of, “It’s nice to hear a sermon that didn’t talk about sin, for once.” The word “sin” has even taken on its own monikers, such as the “three letter word” or, as I’ve done in the title, omitted words as if it’s a curse to even write the word, let alone speak it.
Okay, you’ve probably picked up on my facetiousness, but there is a significant amount of truth in it, as well. We don’t like talking about sin, and I’m convinced it’s because we don’t really know what it is. We assume that it’s breaking God’s law – which is fair, but still a very vague description? Or, maybe we
focus in on the 10 commandments. After all, we like neat, concise lists, and there is some truth to this, as well. But “sin” isn’t really a noun, as in a set of rules, sin is really more a relational verb.
What do I mean by a relational verb? It’s actually pretty simple. Sin or sinning is something that we do. That makes it a verb. It’s relational, because it is something that we do in relation to another – God, a neighbor, or ourselves. So here is the definition I like to work with when I think about sin:
“Sin is the action, word, or thought, intended or otherwise, that creates distance between us and God, us and others, and/or even within ourselves.” 
-Pastor Brian
So, here’s where the rubber band comes in. If you have one, take it out and follow my instructions. If you don’t have one, just pretend…you’ll still get the idea.
Holding the rubber band loosely on both of you index fingers, your left index finger representing you, and your right index finger representing God. Now, with no tension on the rubber band, consider that this is the relationship we deeply want to have with God. It represents an almost closeness, maybe even a sense of comfort. This feels good, and because there is no tension on the rubber band, it may even feel effortless. This is where we want to be in our life with God. 
But then, sin comes in. Now, remember that sin is anything that puts distance  between us a God. So, gently, pull your left index finger (you) away from your right (God). As we “commit sin” this is what we are doing. We (not God) are putting distance between us and God. The more we sin, the more distance we
have. Go ahead, keep adding distance.
Now, as you add more and more distance, what are you are beginning to feel is tension. The rubber band is constantly pulling you (your left index finger) back toward God (your right index finger). We call the rubber band “grace” or even just “love.” God’s loving grace is constantly pulling us back toward God. God
NEVER pushes us away. God only pulls us back toward God’s self. Why? It’s because close to God is where we feel good. Close to God is where we feel at home.
Now, let’s go one step further. Imagine now that your right index finger is you and your left index finger is your neighbor (this can be absolutely anyone). When your neighbor (lefty) sins against you, they create distance from you? The more they sin against you, the more distance they create. The question then is, how is your rubber band holding up? Is the pull of your love the same as the pull of God’s love, or are we more tempted to let the rubber band snap – or even just take it off? We are invited by God to share the same love that is in Christ Jesus. We are invited to remember the pull of God’s grace which pulls us back despite our sin, and, in turn, seek right relationship with our neighbors through grace.
Friends, it is my commitment to you to never let go of the rubber band we share, together. I hope that you will share in that commitment with me.
Pastor Brian
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February 2023 Connection

“This Is One Boring Article”

In the book of Acts, chapter 6, we discover what might be considered the first church committee. It was a team of 7 who were charged with making sure that the widows who were part of the early Christian community were cared for and not forgotten or neglected in the midst of all the great work of ministry. In other words, it was a committee that was created for the purpose of not neglecting what really does
matter…caring for others!
Fast forward about 2000 years, and we’ve expanded the idea of church committees, just a bit [insert church committee joke here]. As a United Methodist Church, we are part of a conference that, in our case, encompasses the entire state of Michigan. Our conference – the Michigan Conference of The UMC – is made up of somewhere in the ballpark of 800-900 churches. Currently, those 800+ churches are organized into 9 geographical “districts.” Grand Blanc UMC is part of the East Wind District.
A while ago, the Conference began a process to explore how we could move from 9 districts to 7 districts by July of 2023. As that date approaches, we’ve been given an update, and so I wanted to share that update with you. The conference is, in fact, moving from 9 districts to 7 districts. Grand Blanc UMC will still be part of the East Winds District, along with many others, and we’re even welcoming some new
churches to the district! Oh, and I’ll still be serving as your pastor here at GBUMC.
Knowing that our current district superintendent, Rev. John Hice, had planned to retire, we assumed we’d be assigned a new district superintendent, and that has happened, too. Effective July 1, 2023, our district superintendent will be Rev. Dr. Margie Crawford. I look forward to Dr. Crawford’s leadership, and I am sure that you’ll enjoy getting to know her as we have the opportunity.
Now, I know that this might not be the most exciting newsletter article that you’ve ever read. In fact, I know it’s not! But I wanted to share all of the above with you in order to share this important piece of information.
By and large, this change has minimal impact on Grand Blanc UMC. And the minimal impact that it does have is all good and helpful! Grand Blanc UMC will still be in the business of making and nurturing disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We will still be seeking ways to create new spaces for new faces. We will still be connecting with our community, serving as Christ first served us, and loving our neighbors.
You see, the first church committee that we discovered all the way back in the Book of Acts was put together to make sure that certain things were taken care of in order to make sure ministry could still be fruitful. The same is true here. Our relationship with our Annual Conference and our district provides us with meaningful and helpful connections and relationships, as well as certain ministry resources. What that kind of organization does, in essence, is it allows us to be the hands and feet of mission and
ministry in our own backyards. And so, as disciple-makers and disciples ourselves, we keep serving, loving, and being the church!
Pastor Brian
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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.

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December 2022 Connection

“A Nativity’s Purpose”

I have no doubt that, by the time you’re reading this, nativity scenes will be set out on front lawns, placed on fireplace mantles, and just about anywhere else Christmas decorations find themselves. In fact, even as I’m writing this article in mid-November, I’ve already spotted some nativity scenes while out and about
(we’ll leave the “it’s too soon for Christmas” argument for another time). We all know what we’ll find in a nativity scene: Mary, Joseph, some shepherds, an angel, 3 magi/kings/wisemen, perhaps some sheep and a camel, and of course Jesus.
Now, not to be a bah humbug, but it’s probably worth noting that we don’t find that exact nativity when we look in scripture. I know, I know…I’ve ruined Christmas! But, let’s be honest. When we look at the Gospels, we only find the Christmas story in two of them: Matthew and Luke. Luke tells us about the birth,
the angel’s announcement to the shepherds in the nearby countryside, and then…well, that’s about it. Matthew is kind enough to include the visit of the magi, but says nothing about shepherds. So, how did we arrive at our favorite nativity scenes at Christmas time? We simply bring the two Gospels – Matthew
and Luke – together and provide a few embellishments. Anything wrong with this? Not at all! Is it accurate? Well…not really.
You see, we still have the timeline to deal with. Luke’s shepherds are nearby, and while we don’t know how quickly they ran to the manger, we get the sense that it was pretty soon after Jesus was born. Jesus probably still had that newborn baby glow, and Mary and Joseph were still probably trying to figure out
how they might ever sleep again. Coincidently, probably not the best time for shepherds and sheep to show up, but hey! It could always be worse, right!? But, how about Matthew’s magi. Speculation is that they (not necessarily three of them, by the way) probably arrived a good bit after Jesus birth. Herod’s order to kill all children in the region 2 years old and younger (Matthew 2:16) suggests that Jesus may have been as old as a toddler by the time the magi greeted him and the holy family. Frankincense, gold and myrrh – every toddler’s favorite gifts!
Now, before you’re tempted to call for my retraction of this nativity heresy, or begin demanding the accuracy of every nativity scene you come across, let me offer this assurance. The accuracy and historicity of a nativity is not and has never been the main point of the Christmas decoration. I’d argue that the nativity scenes we find at Christmastime are intended to remind us of something far more important than historical accuracy and fact. They’re there to remind us that people showed up. People showed up to the manger, not just to see what had happened, but to prophecy God’s truth, once again, to the holy family. The magi, the shepherds –even the sheep, camels and others – showed up at the manger in order to proclaim to Mary and Joseph that their child was truly the incarnation of God. Now, certainly they already knew this, right!? Gabriel told Mary as much, and Joseph had a dream during which he was similarly informed. So why the messengers? I believe that they came with such a witness to the earthly
parents of Jesus because for the next 30 years or so, Mary and Joseph would be tasked with raising this
infant child to be the Son of God. They’d teach him how to pray, how to love, how to worship, and how to
care for neighbor. They’d model forgiveness for him, and remind him that he is loved. Could it be that
Mary and Joseph simply needed some encouragement, and so God sent these unlikely prophets to them
in order to confirm a divine truth? I suspect that’s the case!
This Advent, we prepare our hearts to journey toward the manger where we know what we’ll find! We’ve
rehearsed this journey for generations, and so we know what will be there. Though, don’t we still need
prophets of some sort to announce and witness to us what we’ve come across? To declare to us the full
divinity of the child born on Christmas? Don’t we need to, not only see Jesus, but hear the reminder that
he came to us as Emmanuel, God with us, that we might discover love, grace, and new life?
This Advent and Christmas, my prayer is that we might be that witness for one another and that we might
share that same confirmation with others who need to hear it. This Advent and Christmastime, consider
these questions: for whom can you be shepherd, magi, or angel? And who can be that for you?
Pastor Brian
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