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:
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.