September is nearly here! School will begin (later than usual), sports are happening (different than usual), businesses are open (but modified). The Church is adapting, too.
Since we resumed our in-person worship services on July 12, we’ve been exploring what it means to be the Church. The Church is comprised of followers of Christ, formed, filled, united, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Church is the fellowship of believers, devoted to Jesus. The Church is the worldwide Body of Christ, the peculiar Bride of Christ, and set apart by God for God’s own particular use in the world. The Church is incredibly diverse and radically unified by Christ and sent out as ambassadors of Christ into the entire world. The Church has its citizenship in heaven even while living in the world. Therefore the Church desires for Jesus to return in power and prays to our Father, “Thy Kingdom come.” The Church lives in the world, but because we are not “of the world” we live here like sojourners in a foreign land.
Church is not just something that we “go to.” Church is not an activity. If we believe in Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior, then we are the Church. And we are called to continue following Jesus, growing in Christ, obeying our Father in Heaven and bearing the fruit of the Spirit. And there is no one way, set in stone, to do that. So this Fall, there will be many opportunities to do this, and ways for us to learn to adapt what it means to be the Church, now.
In September, our worship services will continue to be online and in-person at 9:30am, as we stay in Phase 2 of our Safe Gatherings Plan at least through the end of the month. Please note: if Guernsey County ever moves to a Level 3 (Red) per the Ohio Public Health Advisory System (see https://coronavirus.ohio.gov) the following worship service will be only online (in-person worship will be suspended).
September 6, we will celebrate communion. Those who worship with us in-person will be able to share communion together. We will do this in the parking lot at the conclusion of our worship service, while those worshiping from home will commune at home.
September 13, both Youth Group and the Adult Discussion Group will begin meeting again. They will both meet via Zoom before or after the worship service. For more information, please contact Katie Weber (for Youth Group) or Shane Cunningham (for the Adult Discussion Group).
September 19, we’re hosting an online event called Marriage Night.
In October, we’ll have the opportunity to explore in greater depth what it means for us to be holy. We will be doing a church-wide book study on Holy in Christ, and my sermons will be in line with that book. Small group discussion will be made possible for those interested, but depending on how things are going with COVID, it may be online rather than in-person, or it might be a mixture of the two…or over the phone!
Though all of these look differently now, the Church continues to gather, to worship, to grow, and to reach out in the community as ambassadors of Christ. Jesus is calling you to be part of what he is doing? How is Jesus calling you to participate in his ministry and mission at this time? Think about it. Pray about it. And then do it. Let’s be the Church!
Grace & Peace in Christ,
Things, they are a-changin’! The summer is winding down, but school won’t start until September 8 in Cambridge, which is almost a full month later than last year! And even when school does start back up, it will look different. Four days a week will be in-person learning, and once a week will be online classes. Kids will have to wear masks in the hallways, and teachers will have to wear masks all day. However we feel about these things, they are happening. And it’s not just for schools.
As of the time I am writing this, Unity is currently in Phase 2 of our Safe Gatherings Plan. We have worship services online and in-person, but no other gatherings are permitted in our building. Those who worship with us in-person must have a face mask on, have their temperature taken at the door, sit socially distanced from others, we won’t eat together on Sundays… oh yeah, and maybe the biggest struggle (at least for me): we are not singing together in-person. Don’t get me wrong! It’s been a joy being together in-person, but things have changed. Some people may feel like it’s so different they may wonder, “Is this even church?”
So the question for us is: what is church? What is the Church? Is it somewhere we go? Is it a building? Is it a members-only association, like a country club? Is it an event? Is it just something we attend on Sundays? In light of all the changes and in light of all that is going on in this nation and the world, what is the Church? Spoiler alert: the Church isn’t a building, club, or event.
We have begun a ten-week sermon series called, “The Church, the Kingdom & the World.” What does it mean to be the Church? What is the Church’s relationship to the Kingdom of God? What is the Church’s place in the world? We have already looked at the first days of that Spirit-filled gathering of Christ-followers, by exploring Acts 2:42-47. We spent one week looking at their devotion to the Apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship. The second week, we looked at their devotion to the breaking of bread and to prayer, and for all four of those devotions, we explored what it might look like for us today. Then, taking our cue from the Nicene Creed, we will explore what it means for us today that the Church is “one, holy, catholic, and apostolic.” We’ll take one week for each of those four attributes. Then we will take two weeks to explore how the Church is connected to the Kingdom of God, specifically how the Kingdom is both now and not yet. Our final two weeks will look at how the Kingdom of Christ, and the Church, is in the world but not of the world.
Brothers and sisters, the Church is comprised of followers of Christ, formed, filled, united, and empowered by the Holy Spirit. The Church is the fellowship of believers, devoted to Jesus. The Church is the Body of Christ, the Bride of Christ, set apart by God for God’s own use in the world. The Church is incredibly diverse and radically unified by Christ and sent by God out into all the world. The Church has its citizenship in heaven, and therefore lives on earth as sojourners in a foreign land.
If we accept Jesus as our Lord and Savior, then we are the Church. Someone once said, “If you aim for nothing, you’ll hit it every time.” If we do not understand what it means to truly be the Church, we will fail at being the Church. I don’t want us to be content to simply go to church (whether in-person or online). I want us to be the Church! I hope you will join me on this journey of allowing the Holy Spirit to engage us through scripture as to what it means for us to be faithful as the Church. I want us to let down our guard, to let go of our assumptions of what Church is, and preference for what we think the Church should be. I want us to be reshaped by what the Word says the Church is and what the Lord calls the Church to be. I hope you’ll join me on this journey of faith formation as we follow our Lord Jesus Christ, empowered by the Holy Spirit, giving thanks to God our Father. Amen.
Grace & Peace
I am free! And so are you! In Christ, we have freedom! “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” (Galatians 5:1). Jesus frees us, “because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set [us] free from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
We are free from sin. We are free from death and its fear because Christ has conquered the grave. We are free!!! But… what are we to do with this freedom? What do we see Jesus doing with his freedom? What did Paul do with his freedom?
Did Jesus want to go to the cross? Gethsemane cries “no”! But, in the freedom of love for our sake, Jesus chose to go to the cross, saying “Thy will be done.” Similarly, Paul gave up his “rights as an apostle,” and was willing to “put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Corinthians 9:12; see all of 1 Corinthians 9). Paul speaks much about our freedom in Christ. We are so free! In fact we are so free that we can lay down our wills and our wants for the sake of others.
“Be careful…that the exercise of your freedom does not become a stumbling block [to those who do not understand your freedom]” (1 Corinthians 8:9). “Everything is permissible for me—but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek their own good, but the good of others” (1 Corinthians 10:23-24).
In Christ, we are so free that we can actually give up our desires, our wants, our wills—and at times we are even called to give up our needs, our rights, and our lives—for the sake of Jesus Christ and in order to love our neighbors. Jesus says, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it” (Mark 8:34-35).
Do I want to wear masks in worship? No! Do I want to sing during worship? Of course! Do I want to shake people’s hands, hug them, and share food together? Absolutely! Am I afraid of catching Coronavirus and getting sick or dying? Nope; I am free and secure in Christ! But…
Am I willing to be the cause of someone else getting COVID? No. Am I willing to lay down my preferences so that the most vulnerable among us are able to come to worship without risk of getting sick? Yes. Am I willing to wear a mask and give up singing and shaking hands and hugging so that those who do not have the hope of Jesus and who live in fear of COVID might feel physically safe enough to come to worship at Unity and hear the gospel? Yes!
“You, my brothers and sisters, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the flesh; rather, serve one another in love. The entire law is summed up in a single command: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Galatians 5:13-14). “Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible…I do all things for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings” (1 Cor. 9:19, 23).
Brothers and sisters in Christ, let us exercise our freedom. The freedom to love others as Christ has loved us by “losing” our lives, laying down our preferences, desires, wills, rights for Jesus and the gospel. Amen!
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, I have a confession to make. In the April Newsletter, I wrote these words:
We have been talking for months about becoming less busy and more engaged. Though this isn’t true for all of us, many of us have suddenly found ourselves much less busy! Will we stay engaged? Will we become more engaged, even? This season is a moment of truth…
May we, the Church, step up in this season, and become more engaged than we have been. May we be more engaged in encouraging and supporting each other, praying with and for each other, and building up the Body of Christ, as we continue to worship in spirit and in truth, and “gather” through the many means of connection we have at our fingertips.
My confession is this: during this time, I allowed myself to become more busy—not less. Sometimes, at least for me, the more busy I am the more engaged I think I am, but it’s not always the case. In fact, in my life, it is rarely true that the busier I am the more engaged I am.
What do I mean by being engaged? I mean talking with people without having any agenda. I mean giving and receiving, and not just staying on one side of that equation. I mean paying attention to what God is doing and wants to do in my life and in the lives of others. I mean praying more. I mean listening more than speaking. In short, to become more engaged means to care more about people than programs, products, or events. To be more engaged means to develop and deepen relationships with both other people and with God rather than clinging to my rights and routines. It may even mean being less prepared in order to be more present.
How about you? Have you been busier during this time? Or have you become less busy? If you are someone who has become less busy, have you actually become more engaged—or have you become (more) disconnected?
The Lord has revealed to me some good things that I’ve taken on during this time of pandemic, that I need to release. They were good things, mind you! Yet, God wants me to let them go, so that I can be more engaged, rather than more busy. So I’m doing just that. How about you?
Brothers and sisters, I am convinced, more than ever, that the Lord is calling us to become less busy and more engaged. For some of us, the “less busy” part came along with the pandemic. For others of us, the busy-ness just changed with the pandemic. For a few of us (myself included), my busy-ness actually increased! But the Lord does not call us to be busy. The Lord calls us to be engaged. How is the Lord calling you to be more engaged?
Perhaps you could contact folks you don’t normally contact (neighbors, relatives, friends, colleagues; church members). Perhaps the Lord is laying on your heart to begin a new relationship, or deepen an existing relationship with someone (see previous list of people). Perhaps the Lord is calling you to pray more, or read scripture, or begin a group to discuss matters of faith. Perhaps the Lord is calling you give up some of the “good things” you’ve been busy doing, to make space for those deeper or newer relationships. Whatever it is, don’t waste another minute. Act now; be blessed!
Grace & Peace in Christ,
It’s a slow process watching things outside grow and blossom and green. But it happens! And before we know it, it seems like the outdoors always looked that way. It’s a gradual change that’s hard to mark and to time.
During this time of the coronavirus pandemic, some changes came quickly and suddenly, seemingly overnight. To some of us, the changes may have seemed too soon or too drastic. To some of us, the changes may have seemed too late or not enough. Either way, change has come, and whether we have liked it or not, we have gradually acclimated to “how things are” even as more changes may be yet to come.
I talked with a colleague of mine a few weeks in, and he was rejoicing how this nation has seemed to come together for the better. There are so many messages saying, “We’re in this together.” Similarly, in the church, changes have been made to how we do things. We now can worship together online or over the phone! Most of our group meetings (e.g. Sunday Morning Adult Discussion Group, Youth Group, Session, Deacons) have continued to meet, only via Zoom rather than in-person. I have been collaborating weekly with five other Presbyterian pastors for our worship services, and despite some challenges, it’s been a joy! (see page two for more information about these things)
Change happens, and we can only control some of it. The questions for us, as Christians, and as the congregation of Unity Presbyterian Church is: how do we “be the church” during this time and as we come back together? We need to be praying about this. How do we, the Church, bring hope to a hurting and fearful world? How do we, the Church, bring peace to an angry world? How do we, the Church, love the world (and each other) as Jesus loves? Pray about this.
Lord, what changes have we made because of this pandemic (collaboration?), that you want us to keep in place afterwards? Lord, what changes have taken place (apathy?) that you do not want for us? And perhaps, most importantly: Lord, what changes do you want us to make that we have not yet made, either for this current time or for when we return together?
It would be all too easy to return to the status quo. But we, as the Church, and as Unity, need to think and pray about what needs to change not out of apparent necessity, but out of faithfulness to Jesus and by the direction and power of the Holy Spirit. Remember, the Church is a sailboat…not a rowboat. The Church’s power and direction are not meant to be things that we control, decide, or manipulate. The Church’s power and direction come from the Holy Spirit, through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, in the almighty love of the Father.
Things are blooming and growing and changing outside. Signs of life during our time of confinement. Sometimes the growth seems sudden. Sometimes it seems slow. Sometimes the change is only meant for a season and other times its meant to remain. Once it happens, it’s all too easy to take it for granted. In what ways is the Holy Spirit working in you—and in me, and in us together—to cause us to bloom and grow and change? The Lord wants us to flourish, the question is: what does that look like? What in my life and church do we need to choose to do differently in order to foster the kind of flourishing the Holy Spirit is bringing about?
I know there are more questions than answers here. Please be praying, thinking, maybe even journaling about them. And feel free to share your thoughts with me and/or Session as we try to prayerfully discern and implement the hows, whats, whys, and whens. And pray for us!
Grace & Peace in Christ,
The times of sunlight are finally noticeably longer! It’s nearly the season of Spring in the weather, and it is the season of Lent for the Church. Lent is the time when the light of day lengthens. Lent comes from the same root as “to lengthen.” That’s literally what it means! And for we, the Church, I want to invite us this Lenten season to “lengthen” our time as well. I invite us to lengthen our time listening to Jesus.
There are many ways that Jesus still speaks to us today, and there are three things that we can practice in order to listen to Jesus. Jesus speaks to us today, by his Holy Spirit: 1) through Scripture, 2) through prayer, and 3) through other people (especially other Christians).
Jesus is the Word of God made flesh, and so Jesus speaks to us today through the Holy Bible. Of course, we can read the Bible to learn about what God said in the past, but even the Bible tells us to listen to what the Spirit is saying to the churches (see Revelation 2-3). We can choose to be ready to hear from the Lord, today, allowing Jesus to speak to us by the Holy Spirit, through Scripture. This is what I mean on Sunday mornings before reading Scripture aloud when I say, “Listen for the Word of the Lord.” That is to say, listen for how Jesus—the Word of the Lord—is speaking to your heart, today. I want us to listen to Jesus. To listen to Jesus is to obey Jesus. Listen! First, listen for the Word of the Lord for you, for today. And then listen to Jesus; obey Jesus today. This Lent, perhaps the Lord is calling you lengthen your time of listening for Jesus and to Jesus by spending more time reading and hearing Scripture.
The second practice we can engage in to listen for and listen to Jesus, is prayer. Praying to listen to Jesus may seem scary. But Jesus calls us friends. How do you speak to and listen to your friends? Prayer is simply dialogue. It’s just a conversation with someone who loves you more than you can imagine! Brothers and Sisters, God wants to hear from you! Your Heavenly Father wants you to share everything that is on your heart! Yes, God already knows: that’s not the point. Parents: how many times have you found a note or a picture that your child wrote or drew before they chose to share it with you? When your child chose to share it with you, how did you respond? Or maybe you have a sibling or a friend, and they did something for you that they hadn’t told you about yet, but still you noticed or found out before they said anything. Does their sharing the generous thing they did make it less meaningful because you knew about it beforehand? The power and significance of sharing the drawing, the note, or the kind gesture has deep meaning not by knowing about the thing itself, but because of knowing the person. The importance is in the relationship itself. That’s the same with you and Jesus. Maybe the Lord is inviting you to lengthen your time in prayer. If so, just talk to Jesus, either out loud, or in your heart. And listen for his guidance, grace and love. That’s where the relationship is: in the communication. Speak and listen. Give and take. Share your heart and receive his peace!
Lastly, Jesus also speaks to us today by the Holy Spirit, through other Christians. Maybe the Lord is calling you to “lengthen” your time with other Christians. There are several study groups that adults can participate in at Unity. During Lent, there are also Community Lenten worship services and Lenten Lunches (see page ____ for more info). Even planning to get together for a meal or coffee with a brother or sister in Christ is a fantastic way to open ourselves up to other Christians, and find Jesus speaking to us through them.
This Lent, as daylight is lengthening, may we also lengthen our time in listening to Jesus, whether through reading and hearing Scripture, through prayer, through other Christians, or through some combination of those three.
Grace & Peace in Christ,
“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.