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 (, 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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