The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters.
-Psalm 23:1-2 (ESV)
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
It’s March 2022. In the January Newsletter, I reflected on how the Lord (Yahweh) is our Shepherd. I reflected how the word “pastor” just means “shepherd.” And I wrote that, this year, I’d like us to focus on the Lord as our shepherd, our pastor. Trusting him to provide all that we need to do all that he wants for us, and to lead us in all things, especially any new things he has for us this year.
In last month’s newsletter, I reflected on the Lord making us lie down in green pastures. This isn’t God forcing us to the ground, but rather causing us to rest. King David (Psalm 23’s author) had such freedom in knowing the Lord is with him that he can take a restful posture to life. The Lord enables us to “lie down in green pastures” as beloved sheep. Or as Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30, NIV).
So now we ask, what does it mean for the Lord to “lead us beside still waters”? I guess the question is: 1) who’s leading, and 2) where are we going? I’d like to connect those questions to this season of Lent!
Ash Wednesday is March 2, the beginning of Lent 2022. Lent is a time to take more time, make more space, for the Lord’s presence and activity in our lives, particularly through spiritual disciplines. These are practices that we choose to engage in to help us grow. These practices are primarily 1) activities that Jesus practiced and taught, which 2) make space and give permission for God to work in our lives, in order to 3) help us mature into greater Christlikeness. Remember, the goal of the Christian life is not just “going to heaven,” but experiencing and sharing the heavenly life in Christ, now! The Book of Order says, “Our lives as Christians are shaped by the Word and empowered by the Spirit as we grow more and more each day into the image of the Lord Jesus Christ” (W-5.0101). We are to become more and more like Christ, bearing good fruit that will last: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. We cannot control Holy Spirit just as we cannot force a tree to produce good fruit, but we can care for the soil and the tree in such a way that it is more likely to produce better fruit. Engaging in spiritual disciplines is like tending to our souls as a gardener tends a fruit tree, preparing ourselves for Holy Spirit to produce more and/or better fruit in our lives, that we might experience the “abundant life” Jesus promises us as we follow and obey him.
Pastor and author, John Ortberg, writes, “Practices such as reading Scripture and praying are important — not because they prove how spiritual we are — but because God can use them to lead us into life” (as quoted on the website https://renovare.org/about/ideas/spiritual-disciplines).
Spiritual disciplines may seem scary. They may make us feel uncomfortable. We may make all kinds of excuses for why we don’t need them or don’t have time for them. But the real question is, are we allowing God to “lead us into life” or are we trying to lead ourselves? Friends, God will lead us beside still waters, taking us to places of peace and beauty that we may have never experienced before but which he longs to share with us on this grand adventure of following Jesus. Spiritual disciplines are one way we can allow ourselves to be led beside still waters of abundant life by Jesus, our Good Shepherd. May we give him greater leeway to lead us this Lent and this year.
Grace & Peace in Christ,
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
Last Sunday (January 23), I asked the question: who here feels well rested? I was only aware of two people raising their hands. And I wasn’t one of them. Can I be vulnerable with you for a moment? I’m exhausted right now. As I’m writing this article, I’ve been fighting a sinus infection for five days. I’ve had a temperature of just of over 100 degrees Fahrenheit the last 72 hours. I stayed home the last two days taking them as sick days, and yet I still put in several hours of work for the church on sick day number two. And, today, in addition to my actual “work day,” I had a horrible night’s sleep unable to stop thinking about church stuff, drafting and editing imaginary emails in my mind. While the details of how I “pushed through” in unhealthy ways and the sleeplessness of “anxious thoughts” may be unique to me from this week, I do not think that, generally, this is particularly unique to 21st century Americans. I share this, not for sympathy, but as a specific example of how horrible many folks tend to be at resting (myself included). Why is it so difficult for us to rest, even when our bodies and minds absolutely need it? Sure, some folks may be good at not working (either by procrastinating or just being irresponsible), and some folks may “work hard and play hard.” But actual rest? I don’t think there are many folks who are particularly good at actually resting. Why?
I cannot provide a good list of reasons why Americans in the 21st century tend to be horrible at actually resting (for some analysis and possible solutions, consider reading The Ruthless Elimination of Hurry by John Mark Comer). But I do know that, while the specifics may be unique to our generation, the general issue is not. Case in point, the Lord commanded the Hebrews: “Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy. Six days you shall labor, and do all your work, but the seventh day is a Sabbath to the LORD your God. On it you shall not do any work…” (Exodus 20:8-10b, ESV). They needed to be told to stop working! This means that 1) truly resting apparently does not come naturally, and 2) this kind of rest is important for our relationship with God, because, after all, the Lord “…rested on the seventh day. Therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and made it holy” (Exodus 20:11a, ESV).
In John Mark Comer’s book, he notes that the word Sabbath means: “to stop.” He goes on to write, “The Sabbath is simply a day to stop: stop working, stop wanting, stop worrying, just stop…But Sabbath is more than just a day…It’s a spirit of restfulness that comes from abiding, from living in the Father’s loving presence all week long” (pp. 148-149). I think that’s why the command begins with “Remember the Sabbath.” The Sabbath is something to constantly remember, every day of the week. Last month I reflected on the first verse of Psalm 23 about Yahweh being our Shepherd and how we are his sheep. The first half Psalm 23 verse 2 connects to rest. The ESV reads:
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
I love how King David says the Lord “makes me lie down.” I don’t think this means God forces David to the ground but that the Lord causes David to rest. That is, as David trusts the Lord as his Shepherd, he finds that all his needs are met. The freedom David has in the Lord causes him to take a restful posture to life, like a sheep lying down in a lush green pasture. Doesn’t it make you just want to sigh in relief? Breathe in… Breathe out…
Brothers and sisters, the God who “holds the whole world in his hands” commands his followers to enter his rest, enabling them to “lie down in green pastures.” Or as Jesus says, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30, NIV). I don’t know about you, but living restlessly is exhausting. I want to live restfully: letting him love me and learning from him how to live fully. Who’s with me?
Grace & Peace in Christ,
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Happy New Year! On the one hand, the year is new: time rolls on, 2021 is over, and 2022 has begun. On the other hand, the year isn’t new: time rolls on, things may not seem very different at all, and that can comfort and/or frustrate us.
The reality is we have a love-hate relationship with newness, don’t we? On the one hand, when we get a shiny new (and improved?) product, we’re usually pretty happy about it. (Did you get or receive anything like that for Christmas?) On the other hand, something new means something different and unknown. When things are different, when things change “how it’s always been,” we’re often suspicious of them or at least stressed by the learning curve we have to be able to operate the new device, or live within the new scenario. If we get a new product, we are wise to look to the owner’s manual to learn how to operate the new thing. If we enter a new circumstance of life, we look to those who’ve experienced similar things to understand how to operate within this new scenario. To navigate the new, we need some kind of guide.
The amazing thing about following Jesus is that we are told that, when we start to trust Christ, putting our faith in him, we ourselves become new! We’re like newborns (see John 1:12-13; 3:3, 7; 1 Peter 1:3, 23), and we’re learning how to walk (Romans 6:4). We’re even said to be new creations (2 Corinthians 5:17)! And, eventually, Jesus will actually make all things new (see Revelation 21:5)! Where’s the owner manual for this new life? Who can we look to for guidance about learning to walk in this newness of life? Who will guide us? For the Christian, the answer is: the Lord! Jesus!
As I wrote in November, I’d like us to reflect on the 23rd Psalm through 2022. Here is the first verse of Psalm 23 (ESV):
The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.
People look to different sources of authority and guidance to navigate life. Everyone has some sort of guide, some sort of shepherd, even when they think they can be their own guides. But for Christ followers, our Shepherd is the Lord (the Hebrew of Psalm 23:1 has the Divine Name: Yahweh). And because Yahweh is our Shepherd, we need not be anxious about anything. We don’t need to worry about any new experiences we’ll face this year. Whether we anticipate an experience will be good or bad, easy or difficult, we can trust the Lord to provide all that we will need in every situation.
The word “pastor” simply means “shepherd.” It’s easy for me (maybe for you, too) to get so caught up in the fact that I am a pastor that I forget that I am, first of all, a child of God in Christ—a sheep of the Lord’s own pasture—and so are you. That is who I am, first and foremost. Secondly, I am a son and brother of my parents and siblings. Thirdly, I am a husband and father. And after all that, I am a pastor/shepherd to Unity. But the Lord is our Shepherd; Jesus is our true Pastor, providing all the guidance and resources (both spiritually and materially) that we need to do what he wants for us, both individually and as a congregation. Or, as our Book of Order puts it (F-1.0202): “Christ calls the Church into being, giving it all that is necessary for its mission in the world, for its sanctification, and for its service to God.”
This year, I’d like us to focus on the Lord as our shepherd, our pastor. Trusting him to provide all that we need to do all that he wants for us, and to lead us in all things, especially any new things he has for us this year. And so, may 2022 truly be a blessed year for us all as we trust our Lord to shepherd us well, into and through all things new, to the Glory of God!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
“It’s the most wonderful tiiiiiime of the year….” The season of Advent begins the Sunday after Thanksgiving this year, November 28, and concludes with Christmas Eve. Advent is a time of preparation, a time of expectancy. It is a time to prepare for the coming of Jesus Christ. We prepare to remember Jesus’ first Advent—his first coming, or arrival (that’s what “advent” means). But it’s also a time to prepare for his second Advent! He will return to make all things new, and so this time of year when we explicitly focus on Jesus’ two Advents really can feel like “the most wonderful time of the year.”
We’re pretty good at making preparations for Christmas Day by buying presents and decorating, but what preparations can we make to prepare for Christ’s Advent? As we sing in the Christmas carol, “let every heart, prepare him room.” So what can we do to “make room” for Jesus in our lives, now, by the Holy Spirit, and “prepare ye the way” for Jesus’ second coming?
Dallas Willard has commended practicing silence and solitude. If we are always “running” at a frantic pace, how can we listen to our hearts or the voice the Lord? Even if we don’t have a busy schedule, our minds can still be “busy” or noisy—always going from one thought to the next without any reflection on what we’re thinking and feeling or why we’re thinking or feeling it. Silence and solitude can help open the way to let the Lord graciously examine our innermost thoughts and show us another way—a better way. Psalm 139:23-24 (NIV) is a prayer, requesting God to:
“Search me… and know my heart;
test me and know my anxious thoughts.
See if there is any offensive way in me,
and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Do you live with “anxious thoughts”? I know I often do. What if we slowed down with some silence and solitude this Advent to allow the Lord to address our “anxious thoughts” in order to reform our hearts and minds into a place of peace and intimacy with the Lord? Submitting our thoughts to our loving Lord, the peace of Christ, and the presence of Holy Spirit can lead our hearts and minds in “the way everlasting.”
So I want to lift up two other ways you can “prepare the way of the Lord” this Advent season. Coupled with silence and solitude, Dallas Willard suggests we engage in study and worship. To that end, I encourage you to pick up (or open in your email) this year’s Advent Devotional prepared by myself and four members of Unity! “Make room” in your schedule to read and prayerfully ponder the reflections, scriptures, and questions of this year’s Advent Devotional. And also “make room” to worship the Lord. We can worship the Lord in our hearts more than just on Sundays, but on the Sundays of Advent this year, we will be exploring “Advent with Paul,” looking at passages Paul has written that reflect the Hope, Peace, Joy, and Love that we have in Christ. In addition to the four Sunday morning worship services, we are planning an in-person Christmas Eve worship service (Friday, December 24 at 7:00pm), and a Christmas Carol Hymn Sing worship service for Sunday, December 26. We’re planning on all of these being in-person and live-streamed, too (except December 26 which will be in-person, only).
“Prepare ye the way of the Lord.” “Let every heart prepare Him room.” Sisters and brothers, this Advent, let’s “make room” in our lives and prepare the way for the Lord, who is our Hope and our Peace, our Joy and our Love. Jesus is our Light and our Life. May we worship and celebrate him well, and so truly make this, “the most wonderful time of the year.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
I am celebrating a landmark year this month! On October 8, I will have taken forty laps around the sun. :) I know that forty years old may seem young to some of you, but it’s the oldest I’ve ever been, and it’s a brand new decade for me. And a lot has happened in the last decade of my life, much of which is to be celebrated. The better portion of this decade has been spent in Cambridge in response to God’s call on my life to serve as Pastor of Unity Presbyterian Church. August of this year marked the completion of seven years serving in ministry with you. Without dismissing the difficulties, sadness, and suffering in the world, I want to celebrate both my fortieth birthday and seven years in ministry at Unity!
I also have to admit that I love seeing the trees change colors. Perhaps it’s because I was born in October, but I love Fall. I love the slightly cooler weather, and the excuse to drink warm drinks like hot chocolate and apple cider. I love the pumpkin colors and flavors in stores and restaurants (yes, even Pumpkin Spice Lattes). I want to celebrate the beauty and joy of Fall.
I know the last 18 months have been difficult. And I realize that life is not all “sunshine and roses.” But I want to ask: what can you celebrate today? What has happened in your life or in the lives of those around you, whether in the last month, year, or decade, that is worth celebrating? What joy can you share with others? This is not about putting on “rose colored glasses,” or dismissing those who are weeping and suffering. Comforting those in distress is not accomplished by rejecting their suffering, but by coming alongside them, and bearing the load with them. In Romans 12:15 we’re command to “weep with those who weep” (ESV). This is a ministry of the Holy Spirit within us, and a call to Christian love. In that same verse, we are likewise commanded to “rejoice with those who rejoice” (Romans 12:15)! This also is a ministry of the Holy Spirit within us, and a call to Christian love.
Joy is a fruit of the Spirit meant to be shared with others. The words in the New Testament translated into English as “joy,” “rejoice,” “grace,” and “thanksgiving,” are all related words in the Greek. Grace is that which gives us cause to rejoice. Joy is worth giving thanks for. We can rejoice with each other, sharing the grace of God in Jesus Christ, and giving thanks for the joy in the big things in life (like me reaching my fortieth birthday) and the little things in life (like the beauty of the leaves changing colors).
There is so much worth celebrating! What will you celebrate today? With whom will you share your joy? With whom can you rejoice? Brothers and sisters, let’s share the joy!
Grace & Peace
Liberty. Freedom! As citizens of the United States of America, this is what we stand for. This is what we hope to have and promote. But before LIBERTY was imprinted on the famous bell in Philadelphia, penned in the Declaration of Independence, or codified in the Constitution, liberty was proclaimed by Jesus and his first followers. So, what is the liberty to which we are called in Scripture, and where is it found?
On the Liberty Bell, Leviticus 25:10 is printed: “Proclaim LIBERTY throughout all the land unto all the inhabitants thereof.” The prophet Isaiah takes up this theme in chapter 61, and it is Isaiah 61 that Jesus quotes and fulfills at the beginning of his ministry (Luke 4:18-19, ESV):
The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor.
St. Paul writes that, creation itself is frustrated due to sin and death in the world, but that one day, it “shall be delivered from the bondage of corruption into the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8:21, KJV). Paul writes much about freedom to the Galatians, including the spiritual reality that, “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm, then, and do not let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery” (5:1, NIV). Yes! Between Jesus and Paul, we get the sense that captivity, oppression, slavery are not what God wants for humanity. Amen! Freedom! Liberty! But… is this a freedom from every external demand? Is this a freedom to do whatever we want? Is this a freedom to exert my rights? That’s not what Scripture says.
Peter warns that some leaders promise freedom to others, but they are actually “slaves of corruption” (2 Pet 2:19). They greedily seek after all the things of the world, and therefore—despite promising freedom—they can only lead others into slavery to their own desires (see 2 Peter 2). This is not the freedom Jesus won for us! Paul continues in Galatians 5 to say, “You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another humbly in love” (5:13, NIV; see also 1 Peter 2:16). In other words, freedom in Christ is not self-seeking or self-serving. Freedom in Christ is the freedom from self, in order to humbly serve God and others out of an overflow of love. Paul continues in the next two verses: “For the entire law is fulfilled in keeping this one command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ If you bite and devour each other, watch out or you will be destroyed by each other” (5:14-15, NIV). Getting our own way, is actually destructive.
Likewise, the book of James refers to “the law of liberty” which is something we are called to do continuously (not just hear it and then forget or ignore it) and by which we will be judged (see 1:25; 2:12). This law is “perfect” and blesses those who do what it demands (1:25). A few verses later, James writes, “You do well if you really fulfill the royal law according to the scripture, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself’” (2:8, NRSV).
The flesh (our self-seeking, self-serving desires) wants to get its own way. And when we get our own way, we think we are free. But that’s not what Scripture says. True freedom comes when we lay down our will, our way, our agenda, and submit to the Word of the Lord, the Law of Freedom. Freedom is being caught up in God’s will, God’s way, and God’s agenda, to love our neighbors as ourselves. Or as Paul says, “Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor. 3:17). True freedom is found only in Holy Spirit, who anointed Jesus to proclaim freedom, who fills our hearts with the love of God (see Rom. 5:5), making us children of God with glorious liberty, and showing us how to love and serve as Jesus loves and serves. This is what true liberty looks like and where true freedom is found: in the Spirit of the Lord. Amen! Come, Holy Spirit!
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
I love watching kids playing pretend. I love seeing them pretend to cook (plastic or wooden foods and dishes), or drive vehicles (that they ride or push along the ground), or teach school students (stuffed animals). It’s great to see them pretending. Playing pretend is way to process what they see and experience. It’s a way to make sense of their world. But some ways of pretending are detrimental to life, relationships, and community.
What are the effects of being friendly to someone when face to face, but then talking poorly about them behind their back? What happens when we say that we have things under control when we’re actually just hanging on for dear life? What is going on in our hearts that we think this is okay? This kind of pretending is damaging to everyone involved. This is called pretense, and it is defined as “an attempt to make something that is not the case appear true; a false display of feelings, attitudes, or intentions” or “a claim, especially a false or ambitious one.” When children play pretend, they are almost never pretentious but just practicing real life. But when adults are pretentious, we aren’t practicing real life; we’re practicing falsehood.
On Sunday mornings, we’ve been looking at human participation in the Kingdom through the overarching narrative of Scripture: Creation, Fall, Redemption, Consummation. What if we did the same thing for worship? In the beginning, there was honesty and openness. Humans were “naked and unashamed” (Gen. 2:25), and were in direct, unhindered communion with the Lord (Gen. 2:16; 3:8), YHWH, the Maker of the heavens and the earth (Gen. 2:4), in whose image humans were made (Gen. 1:26-27). They were able to be in God’s presence and respond in vulnerable honesty, without fear or shame or pretense, submitting to and serving the Lord whom they trusted with their lives! Now that’s worship!
We saw how that relationship was damaged in the Fall, when we chose to decide for ourselves what was good or evil instead of submitting to God. Jesus fulfilled God’s plan of Redemption. Jesus came and restored us to relationship with God by changing us from the inside out. He redeemed us, forgave us, reconciled us. God transferred us from the domain of darkness (hiding, secrets, blaming, shame, and pretense) into the kingdom of his Beloved Son (Col. 1:13), by qualifying us to share in the inheritance of the saints in light (Col. 1:12), where nothing can be hidden, and where we don’t need to hide or pretend (see Col. 1:22). In other words, the Kingdom has come near, and Jesus invites us to participate in it, now (Mark 1:15)! And one of the most important ways we participate in the Kingdom, is through worship! Being in the presence of God, responding in vulnerable honesty, and submitting to and serving the Lord in trust.
See, the Father is looking for worshipers who will worship him in Spirit and truth (John 4:23-24). There is an incredibly high premium on Spirit and truth in the Kingdom of God and for followers of Jesus. That is, we are to be changed from the inside out by the Holy Spirit, led by the Holy Spirit, empowered by the Holy Spirit, filled with the Holy Spirit, clothed with the Holy Spirit, and bearing the good fruit of the Holy Spirit. And we are to be truthful—honest with ourselves, each other, and especially with God (who already knows us and loves us anyway!)—in our worship, without pretense, but honestly desiring to be in God’s presence, with others, and respond in vulnerable honesty. And we are to seek the truth, know the truth (especially through Scripture and the Holy Spirit), and speak the truth, in all situations.
In the new heavens and new earth, at the Consummation of all things, there will be no room for pretense or any kind of falsehood (see Rev. 21:27). We will see and worship God face to face, and serve and reign with our Lord forever and ever (see Rev. 22:3-5). So may we give up all pretenses and start practicing this eternal way of life in Christ, now (see 1 John 5:6-12)!
Grace & Peace
It has been such a joy to be able to worship the Lord together in person over the last few months, and especially to be able to sing together over the last month! We need each other, don’t we? We are made for community. Yes, some of us may want more time on our own than with others, and some hate alone time altogether. Regardless, we are made for community!
The God of the universe—the One who created the earth and seas and skies, the sun, moon, stars, and planets, who called forth living creatures, and formed humanity in God’s own image and likeness—is a God of community. Faith in Jesus Christ teaches us, and Scripture confirms, that God is Three-in-One and One-in-Three: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The Lord Almighty, the Great I Am, has enjoyed Divine community from before the creation of the world. And, in Christ, in the communion of the Holy Spirit, we have each been called into relationship as sons and daughters of our Heavenly Father. We were created for relationship with the Lord and with each other.
This summer, while still being mindful of CDC guidelines, and other’s comfort levels, I encourage you: seek community with other Christians. Invite someone from our congregation to share a meal with you. Invite someone from another congregation to get together for coffee! If you’re going to go to Salt Fork or make a trip to Zanesville or Columbus, invite someone else to go with you or meet you there. We don’t need to complicate community by adding more commitments to our schedules. Whatever we’re already doing, we can just invite people to participate with us. This is what God does, as Trinity, with us. The Lord is already sending, and giving, and calling, and serving, and loving…and we’re invited to serve alongside Jesus in God’s mission and ministry. God doesn’t need our help, but God wants us to participate. But it all starts (and ends) with relationship. We’re not God’s “hired hands.” By grace, through faith, we are the beloved children of God, and therefore we are each other’s brothers and sisters in Christ.
This summer, enjoy time with family, friends, and neighbors. Yes. But I also encourage you to invite another Christian (one you’re not biologically related to) to do something with you—something you’re already wanting to do anyway (e.g. eat a meal, go to a park, movie, shopping mall, etc.). Most relationships start off a little awkward, but if Christ is our Cornerstone, then we already have more in common than we know, and our God-given differences in Christ enrich us as the Body of Christ as well (see 1 Corinthians 12)! And it is our unity in Christ, even with our all our differences, that best shows the world that Jesus was indeed sent by God (see John 17, especially verses 20-23).
Grace & Peace in Christ,
Dear sisters and brothers in Christ,
Session met May 24 to discuss how we shall proceed in view of recent announcements from Governor DeWine and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As we have been trying to abide by the guidance of the Governor and the CDC, effective June 2 at Unity, masks will be optional in the building and during worship services. Governor DeWine states that the June 2 “timeline will allow any Ohioan who has not yet received a COVID-19 vaccine to obtain one to protect themselves and others before the lifting of coronavirus mitigation protocols.” Until fully vaccinated, the CDC recommends individuals wear masks when gathering with others. The CDC states that “people are considered fully vaccinated for COVID-19 [2 or more] weeks after they have received the second dose in a 2-dose series, or [2 or more] weeks after they have received a single-dose vaccine.” Please refer to Choosing Safer Activities guidance from the CDC.
Our Worship services, beginning June 6 through the end of August, will be in the Fellowship Hall at 10:00am. We will use the 7th St. Entrance to enter and exit the building Sunday mornings. Beginning June 6 for our worship services: Masks will be optional. Congregational singing will be permitted, but the congregation will remain seated while singing. For services with communion, pre-packaged communion will be available, and those wishing to take communion during the worship service together may take one on the way in to the worship space. Those wishing to take communion “to go” may do so after the service.
Additionally, we will still take attendance at the door, refrain from physically “passing the peace” or “passing the plates.” We will still refrain from using bulletins or hymnals, and the seating arrangement in the Fellowship Hall will still be in rows to allow maintaining social distance. However, we plan to use the chairs from the Chapel in the Fellowship Hall, as they are far more comfortable!
Please note, as we have done throughout the pandemic, we plan on following Government guidance regarding the COVID precautions, which means possibly reverting back to requiring masks and/or refraining from gathering in-person if that becomes the government guidance.
Lastly, in view of the Governor’s and the CDC’s updated guidance, effective June 2, we will permit groups to resume using the church building for in-person meetings. So committees, Bible Studies, etc. may use the building, continuing to bear in mind the recommendations from the CDC about Choosing Safer Activities. Please contact Susie in the office to check building space availability when scheduling your committee meetings, or group studies, etc. The office phone number is 740-432-7308 and Susie's email address is email@example.com.
As always, please prayerfully discern what the Lord is calling you to do in light of these changes. Pray to discern what the Lord indicates is best for you to do which will include how to best “love your neighbor as yourself.” And pray for the church as a whole, that we would be faithful to the Lord, loving the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength, as we seek to fulfill the mission we’ve been given to Glorify God by Making Disciples, through Worship, Prayer and Service to Others.
Grace & Peace in Christ,
March is the one full month that we’re journeying through the season of Lent this year. Lent is a forty-day period preceding Easter. It does not include Sundays (seriously!), because every Sunday is a mini-Easter—a celebration of Resurrection! But why is it forty days?
The forty days reflects the time between Jesus’ baptism in the Jordan River and his public ministry. After the Holy Spirit descended upon Jesus like a dove in the Jordan, and the Father declared from heaven, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased” (Mark 1:11; Luke 3:22 [all quotations are NIV]), the Holy Spirit sent Jesus to the desert/wilderness to be tempted for forty days. Jesus spent forty days in the desert, or wilderness, and Lent invites us to enter this experience with Jesus.
The forty days is a faceoff—a showdown—between Jesus and the evil one. And Jesus prevails for himself and on our behalf. This is why followers of Christ are promised, “Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7). In Christ, we are victorious over sin, death, and the evil one. But who is it that Jesus faces off with?
In Luke 4, this Being is just called “the devil” (see Luke 4:2, 3, 5, 6, 9, 13). In Mark 1, he’s just called “Satan” (see Mark 1:13). In Matthew 4, he’s called three things: “the devil” (see Matt. 4:1, 5, 8, 11), “the tempter” (see Matt. 4:3), and “Satan” (see Matt. 4:10)! Obviously, “the tempter” is a title, describing what this Being does. In a vision, John sees the “sign” or symbol of “an enormous red dragon” (Rev. 12:3), whom he identifies as “that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray” (Rev. 12:9). I think we can assume this “leading astray” comes through him acting as a deceiver and tempter, but did you know that both “Satan” and “devil” are also titles? It’s true! “Satan” is a title that means “accuser” or “adversary.” The title “devil” (diablos) refers to “slandering” or “backbiting.”
That means, that when we make accusations against people (by finger-pointing, attacking, blaming, holding grudges, etc.), we are doing Satan’s job for him. When we slander others (by badmouthing, name-calling, gossiping, etc.), we are doing diabolically devilish work.
On the other hand, when we declare that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), or that, in Christ, you are “free from accusation” (Col. 1:22), because “in Christ, [God is] not counting [your] sins against [you]” (2 Cor. 5:19), then we are acting as Christ’s Ambassadors, participating in God’s ministry of reconciliation.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, making accusations is pretty easy to do. Condemning people is how the world operates. As followers of Jesus, may we go against the grain. May we be so bold as to speak grace and forgiveness to others and ourselves. I think that, perhaps, the greatest temptation of all is to give in to the fear that we are not loved. This Lent, may we enter “the place prepared for [us] in the desert” (Rev. 12:14), knowing two things: the Accuser has already been “hurled down” (see Rev. 12:9, 10); and, in Christ, we are beloved children of God (see 1 Jn. 3:1)! And standing boldly on the holy ground of God’s love for us in Christ, let us confront the Accuser, the Slanderer, the Tempter. May we not give in to the temptation to accuse or condemn others or even ourselves (see 1 Cor. 4:1-5). May we, instead, believe, receive, and share the good news of love and forgiveness in Christ. “Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good” as Paul writes (Rom. 12:21). Or as John writes, “They overcame [Satan] by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Rev. 12:11). Come, Holy Spirit, we can’t do this without you. Amen.
Grace & Peace in Christ,
Dear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,
Have you heard the song “Is He Worthy?” by Andrew Peterson? If not, I highly recommend looking it up and listening to it. You can find it on YouTube. It’s powerful! The song asks—poetically—the question asked by the mighty angel in Revelation 5:2:
Is anyone worthy? Is anyone whole?
Is anyone able to break the seal and open the scroll?
The Lion of Judah who conquered the grave
He was David’s root and the Lamb who died to ransom the slave.
Is He worthy? Is He worthy?
Of all blessing and honor and glory
Is He worthy of this?
The answer to the questions, “is anyone able?” and “is he worthy?” is: “He is!”
The song asks us if we, the singers/listeners, feel the brokenness of the world but that God is still at work. It asks if we know the love of the Father and the Holy Spirit’s presence among us. It asks if we know that Jesus is holding on to us. It asks if we know that God intends to dwell again among us. It asks, “Do you wish that you could see it all made new?” The song is powerful, I’m telling you! And part of its power is that it draws so heavily on scripture, especially Revelation 5. I encourage you to read it.
In the bridge to the song, Andrew Peterson specifically refers to Rev. 5:9-10. Speaking of the 24 elders around the throne of God, the New Revised Standard Version reads:
They sing a new song:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
for you were slaughtered and by your blood you ransomed for God
saints from every tribe and language and people and nation;
you have made them to be a kingdom and priests serving our God,
and they will reign on earth.”
Brothers and Sisters in Christ, we were ransomed, bought back, saved by Jesus for a reason. It is to be a kingdom (transcending all worldly politics and denominations) and priests (serving God). It is to “reign on the earth,” with Jesus, as Jesus does. That is reigning in humble service to God, speaking truth in love, exhibiting God’s love and justice, grace and compassion to the world, and offering up the world and all who are in it in prayer to the Lord, with the same Holy Spirit at work in us with power for the healing and wholeness of the world. We are a kingdom and priests, or, as Peter writes that we, the Church, are “a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that [we] may declare the praise of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light” (1 Peter 2:9, NIV). May we seek first the Kingdom of God, and seek to live as citizens of the Kingdom, and let’s see what happens!
Grace & Peace in Christ,
Happy New Year! As we begin 2021, I am so very grateful. First of all, I am grateful to have made it through 2020. I do not say that lightly. As of the writing of this newsletter, in the United States alone, around 350,000 people have had COVID and died. Over 9,000 people in Ohio have died due to COVID, 22 of whom were right here, in Guernsey County. So, I am honestly grateful to be alive to see the dawn of this New Year.
I am so grateful to the Session for all their hard work this past year making some very difficult decisions. While there have been over 2,000 confirmed cases of COVID in Guernsey County, and while some of Unity’s members have gotten sick, to date, not a single member from Unity has died, due to COVID. I credit Session for this because of the difficult decisions they made this last year about when and how we would gather in-person. Those tough choices were made in the interest of loving our brothers and sisters in Christ, and loving our neighbors as ourselves. So, I am happy to say, that Unity was not a super-spreader of COVID.
I am grateful to Bob Wilhelm in all he has done for Unity this past year, especially serving as Treasurer. Part of what Bob did this year was obtaining a PPP loan for the church. Due to COVID, there were fewer expenses than usual last year, and with the addition of the PPP loan, the church is doing well, financially. Even without the PPP loan, due to the decreased expenditures, the church would be doing okay, financially, because of your ongoing financial support. I am grateful to all those who have continued to give by dropping off their offerings at the church building, mailing it in, or by giving online. Thank you! And, again, thank you to Bob, because with the addition of the PPP loan, the church is doing quite well, financially.
Many congregations have worried about their ongoing existence this past year, so, I am very grateful that the institution of Unity Presbyterian Church is doing well. But the Church is not primarily an institution. It’s not primarily an organization, with a building and budget and by-laws. The Church is the people, the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, the community of saints. And as such, the Church isn’t even about the church! The Church points to Christ and to the Kingdom of God. The year 2020 felt like it was all about “surviving.” I’m ready for us to “thrive!” Last year, we learned to adapt. This year, I want us to innovate. Last year, we focused on the Church. This year, let’s focus on the Kingdom. After all, we don’t pray “thy church come,” we pray “thy kingdom come.” Nor does Jesus tell us to “seek first the church and its well-being,” but “seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness” (Matt. 6:33a). And in case we’ve forgotten, Jesus gives this command while teaching about our human tendency to worry. Jesus tells us not to worry about food, or drink, or clothes. In other words, don’t be anxious about anything that you need for life because your heavenly Father knows what you need—even more than you do! Rather, seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness, and “all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33b). Enough said. Let’s get seeking!
Grace & Peace in Christ,
I am writing for the November newsletter, but it’s still October. This is an interesting season, but the end is near!
The General Election is still over a week away, and already more early and absentee ballots have been cast than had been cast by Election Day in 2016. I know politics often come with strong emotions, and on top of everything else going on in the world right now, emotions are already high. I know things are not looking good in nationwide coronavirus trends. I know that plans for the upcoming holidays are tentative at best. So, I want us to think about “the end,” which is coming sooner than you may think!
It’s November 22, 2020! That’s the end! It’s after the General Election but that’s not why it’s “the end.” Rather, it’s the end of the liturgical calendar. Advent is the beginning of the Christian calendar each year, and Advent begins November 29, 2020. And Although I have no idea what Advent will look like this year, I do know that members of Unity are writing a devotional for our congregation for Advent this year! And I’m very excited about that. But I’m getting ahead of myself to the New Year for the Church. I want to talk about the end!
November 22, 2020 is the last Sunday of this liturgical year. And the last Sunday of the Church calendar is called “Christ the King Sunday.” And, right now, that’s something that I need to remember. That’s something I need to celebrate.
In the midst of political rhetoric and vitriol, Christ is King! “Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near” (Phil 4:5). “Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful” (Eph 3:15).
Regardless of who wins the election, Christ is King! “Jesus Christ…is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth” (Rev 1:5). “Do not put your trust in princes, in mortal men, who cannot save…The Lord reigns forever” (Ps 146:3, 10a).
Though the coronavirus rages on in this country, Christ is King! “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want…Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me” (Ps 23:1, 4a). Jesus says, “I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33).
As uncertainty surrounds holiday celebrations this year, Christ is King! Jesus says, “I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete…” (John 15:11). “Come, let us sing for joy to the Lord; let us shout aloud to the Rock of our salvation” (Ps 95:1).
As the song alluding to Philippians 2:9-11 says, “Come, now is the time to worship. Come, now is the time to give your heart. Come, just as you are, to worship. Come, just as you are, before your God. Come. One day ev’ry tongue will confess You are God, One day ev’ry knee will bow. Still the greatest treasure remains for those Who gladly choose You now.”
Friends, the Lord is near. The Lord is with us. Unlike viruses or presidents, the Lord reigns forever, and the Lord is good! In this strange season, as we approach “the end,” let the Lord rule your hearts with peace. Jesus Christ is the King! Come! Now is the time to worship!
Grace & Peace
“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts;
the whole earth is full of his glory!”
-Isaiah 6:3 (ESV)
“Holy, holy, holy, is the Lord God Almighty,
who was and is and is to come!”
-Revelation 4:8 (ESV)
Holy. There is perhaps no better word to describe God. And there may be no better word to describe the calling of the children of God, either.
But do we know what the word “holy” means? What does it mean that the Lord is holy? What does it mean for the children of God to be holy? Though trying to understand what this means, the fruits may well be worth the effort.
In 1887, the Rev. Andrew Murray published a short book with 31 reflections on “the Calling of God's Children to be Holy as He is Holy.” Holy in Christ, by Andrew Murray, can be read or listened to for free (see below)! It won’t cost you anything, but it might change your understanding of holiness, and it might deepen your relationship with the Lord.
For five Sundays, beginning October 4 and ending on November 1 (All Saints’ Day), my sermons will go along with the topics of each week’s reading. I plan for us to explore Holy Rest, Holy Surrender, Holy Love, Holy Joy, and Holy People. So you can read the book, listen to the book, worship with us and listen to my sermons, BUT I really encourage you to invite 2 or 3 people to read and discuss it with you, and it will be a richer experience for us all!
The 31 Chapters of the book are entitled “First Day,” “Second Day,” etc. up to “Thirty-first Day.” Please read or listen to “First Day” on October 1, “Second Day” on October 2, and so on.
If you’ve checked out Holy in Christ, but you’re not sure the book is a good fit for you to read, then consider reading The Cure: What if God isn’t who you think He is and neither are you. Again, invite a handful of folks to read and discuss it with you!
Brothers and sisters, we are called to be holy because the Lord our God is holy. Let’s grow in our understanding of what that means and how to be holy in Christ!
Grace & Peace
To read Holy in Christ for free, go to:
To listen for free, go to:
“I surrender!” Two words nobody likes to say. It means we know we’ve lost the battle. It’s said when we know we cannot win the war, and, as the vanquished, we throw ourselves at the mercy of the victor. An ancient title for Jesus is Christus Victor—Christ, the Victor. Jesus is the Victorious One who has triumphed over Satan, sin, and death. Christ has trampled down death, by death, and gives life to those in the tomb! Paul writes, “The sting of death is sin, and power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57, NIV; see also, Colossians 2:13-15). Amen and amen!
Has Jesus only conquered the grave? Has he only conquered sin? I believe it was Dietrich Bonheoffer who wrote that Christus Victor means that Jesus has also conquered us! Jesus is victorious over us, as well! All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Jesus (see Matt. 28:18). The question is: do we live under Jesus’ gracious authority or do we still kick against his grace? Have we surrendered and therefore experience the victory Christ has won, or do we fight to maintain our comfort and our way of life? Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit their very self?” (Luke 9:23-25, NIV). Either we surrender ourselves to Christ and find salvation and life, or we fight to keep our lives for ourselves…and end up forfeiting it all.
Brothers and sisters, surrendering to Christ is weighing on my heart. Maybe the Holy Spirit is just working on me, but I suspect I’m not the only one. A song came to mind this morning, and it’s entitled “I Surrender All.” May this become our prayer…
All to Jesus I surrender,
All to Him I freely give;
I will ever love and trust Him,
In His presence daily live.
I surrender all. I surrender all.
All to Thee, my blessed Savior,
I surrender all.
All to Jesus I surrender,
Humbly at His feet I bow;
Worldly pleasures all forsaken,
Take me Jesus take me now.
All to Jesus I surrender,
Make me Savior wholly Thine;
Let me feel the Holy Spirit,
Truly know that Thou art mine.
All to Jesus I surrender,
Lord I give myself to Thee;
Fill me with Thy love and power,
Let Thy blessing fall on me.
All to Jesus I surrender,
Now I feel the sacred flame;
O the joy of full salvation!
Glory, glory to His name!
CCLI Song # 23189
Judson Wheeler Van DeVenter | Winfield Scott Weeden
CCLI License # 2411024
Grace & Peace in Christ,
Heads up! Something is coming. During the end of this Summer and the beginning of Fall, we will be taking a journey together. This will be a journey of prayer (both asking and listening) and sharing what we hear/feel God leading us toward. This journey will begin and end with celebration!
On July 21st, we will celebrate the 20 years that we have been Unity Presbyterian Church. We celebrate the past, not to camp out there, but to express gratitude for what God has done in our midst, and to see where God is leading us. We look to the past to celebrate the past and to learn from where we’ve been, but not to return there. We look at the past only to be able to move forward in faith and faithfulness. One of the reasons I’m in the PC(USA) instead of another denomination is because a godly Presbyterian man in my seminary who was a few years older than me and preparing for ordination and ministry encouraged me with these words: “The Church’s best days have always been in the future.” So let’s celebrate the past with an eye to the future!
So, July 21st we will celebrate what God has done. The very next Sunday, July 28th, we will begin a 5-week journey of prayer through August to ASK for God’s blessings and provision in the church and our lives. These prayers will be for the present and future. We will have prayer prompts each week to guide us in asking the Lord to help us to grow in our faith and faithfulness. Over the course of these five weeks, we will specifically pray for our congregation’s children, youth, adults, leaders, and the broader community and our place in it.
In September we’ll enter in to a different kind of prayer. I will invite us to LISTEN for what God wants for us, and for guidance specifically for what the Holy Spirit wants to do in our lives and the life of the church. We may have to make specific space in our lives for this. For some of us, this might include fasting; for some of us, this may mean cutting certain things out of our schedule. Whatever it is, we will be invited to make space in our lives to listen intently for the Lord’s leading.
In October, we’ll plan to SHARE with each other what we’ve been “hearing,” how we think the Lord is leading us, and we’ll listen to each other. We may gather in groups for study, to share, and continue to pray together.
In November, we’ll once again celebrate what God has done over the previous three months as we have asked, listened, and shared. We will celebrate what God is doing and how God is launching us and leading us into the future.
So on July 21st, let’s celebrate together what God has done here, and then let’s prepare for what God will be doing in and through us as our Loving Lord leads us into the future Christ has for us.
Unity Presbyterian Church
130 N 7th Street
Cambridge, OH 43725