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The Pastor’s Peace Archive™

The Pastor's Peace Archive™ includes Pastor Brian's inspirational thoughts and musings from the beginning of his ministry at Beaver Church in August, 2008.

2018

  • January

    If we look back at the news for 2017, we would see many headlines pointing to destruction, death, and heartache. From the hurricanes, flooding, and fires, to the tragic shooting in Las Vegas, it has been a difficult year to say the least. As we round out the year we are worried about the economy and politics, worried about North Korea, and probably worried about much more then I could ever write in an article. Some years are obviously better then others, and there have surely been worse years than this one, but if you are closing out 2017 with a bit of anxiety, I don’t blame you.

    Despite all of the tragedy there have also been great things this year, and reasons to celebrate. I know in my own life I have had several blessings this year and it goes to show that all of us have lives that are combinations of good and bad. Even in the bad, however, there are signs of good. If we look at the very same tragedies that I spoke about before, you will see examples of bravery, kindness, compassion, and love. One of my favorite stories of the year was about bakery workers who were trapped in their bakery for several days during the flood in Houston. Instead of focusing on fear and doubt, they decided to use their time to bake mountains of bread that was then handed out to those in need after the waters began to recede. Even in the worst of times the love of God can shine through.

    We were, of course, recently reminded of this during the Advent season leading up to Christmas. In this time we acknowledge the darkness while at the same time looking for the light of Christ that can shine in any darkness. This culminates in the celebration of the incarnation of God through the birth of Christ. The birth of Christ along with his resurrection are signs of hope that we remember each and every year through Christmas and Easter. This hope, however, is not confined to these seasons, but rather is a hope and a light that we can take with us throughout the year and throughout our lives. I hope that you had a good Christmas this year, and that despite any difficulties there was joy. As we continue into the New Year together let us remember that the hope and joy of Christmas comes with us into whatever awaits us in the months ahead. Together we can share the love of God with each other and the world. We can share that love in good times, but also in times of hardship, because the light of Christ shines on no matter what. In this New Year look for that light, and share that love.

    Peace and Happy New Year,

    Pastor Brian

  • February

    Well, I have to say that 2018 has been off to a bit of a lackluster start. I really shouldn’t complain, because the things that are truly important are going well for me. It is just that the weather, and sickness, and other inconveniences of life have been a bit more distracting than usual. As I write this it is snowing yet again, and yet again, I am thinking about church this Sunday and whether or not people will be able to make it. I will certainly be looking forward to Spring this year.

    As I said already, however, I really don’t have much to complain about. I have a roof over my head, food, a great wife, my health, and a cute dog. What else do I really need? That is the thing about happiness and contentment though. Even when we seemingly have all we really need, we sometimes feel as if it is not enough. Many companies selling things would love you to feel that way as well. They will tell you that some new object (car, or food, or whatever) is going to be that thing that does provide happiness and contentment--but it won’t. You might feel joy for a bit, but if you have the essentials of life covered, and you still don’t feel some level of contentment, then new shoes aren’t going to fix that.

    All of this is, of course, somewhat tied to expectations and what we feel equals success or how we feel others judge us. This is one area that we can turn to Christ for, even though we don’t talk about that as much. We are usually focused on salvation and forgiveness, but knowing that we are loved by God, and that we are OK as we are, is of great importance, too. Understanding that we are good and precious children of God and that, other than the basics, we don’t need anything else for happiness is a hard concept. No matter how many times we are told that, we often feel like we are somehow missing out on things.

    Ironically, it is not wealth or status or power, all of which are hard to obtain, that can provide true happiness in life. Happiness can only be given by something we all already possess, and that is ourselves. Letting ourselves be content with what we have and who we are is something that is truly liberating, and it doesn’t cost a dime. For 2018 I know that I am going to try to work on this some more, and I encourage you to do so as well. All things are possible through God, including happiness, and it might take a lot less than we think.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • March

    I have to say, it has not been such a great winter. We have had losses of loved ones, several serious illnesses, surgeries, and general difficulties with many of our members. This just covers what has happened in our congregation. The news of our nation and world has been a challenge as well: school shootings with tragic losses of life, brutal winter storms, stock market and economic concerns, and the ever present fear of regimes such as Russia and North Korea. It is easy to fall into despair and lose sight of hope when such things surround us. I myself have struggled to keep a positive attitude during the past weeks and months; however, these things do not define our existence.

    I was reminded of that one Sunday in March. As I gave the children’s moment, watched the smiles of the kids, and listened to their cute and insightful answers to my questions, I was overcome by joy. No matter what was happening in the world around me, the joy of those children was not diminished that day. These kids bring joy in the present, but are our future as well, representing the hope of new life and becoming the people that will work to make this world better for all of God’s creation. During Easter we speak of new life. We often think of this in terms of Christ’s resurrection and the eternal life we share with Christ through that event. This is central to our faith and the message of Easter, but God is also bringing forth new life, new opportunity, and new reasons for hope in the here and now.

    That same Sunday was also the first day I got to see a new addition to the church, a small baby boy born this winter. In the midst of the hardship I was surrounded by, there was this literal new life being brought into the world by God. In this boy there is so much potential for a future that I cannot even fathom and will likely not get to fully see, in this life at least. This is but one example of God bringing forth new things. If we look in the world we can find so many other examples. For me hope is recognizing all of the good and potential in the world around me and having faith that it will ultimately overcome the darkness. Perhaps not today, perhaps not tomorrow, perhaps not even in my life, but someday God’s kingdom will come into its fullness.

    This Easter season remember that the new life of Christ is not only about an event thousands of years ago, it is not only about the life eternal we share, but it is also about the new life coming into our world each and every moment of each and every day. See that new life and have hope.

    Peace, Hope, and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • April

    I have to say, it has not been such a great winter. We have had losses of loved ones, several serious illnesses, surgeries, and general difficulties with many of our members. This just covers what has happened in our congregation. The news of our nation and world has been a challenge as well: school shootings with tragic losses of life, brutal winter storms, stock market and economic concerns, and the ever present fear of regimes such as Russia and North Korea. It is easy to fall into despair and lose sight of hope when such things surround us. I myself have struggled to keep a positive attitude during the past weeks and months; however, these things do not define our existence.

    I was reminded of that one Sunday in March. As I gave the children’s moment, watched the smiles of the kids, and listened to their cute and insightful answers to my questions, I was overcome by joy. No matter what was happening in the world around me, the joy of those children was not diminished that day. These kids bring joy in the present, but are our future as well, representing the hope of new life and becoming the people that will work to make this world better for all of God’s creation. During Easter we speak of new life. We often think of this in terms of Christ’s resurrection and the eternal life we share with Christ through that event. This is central to our faith and the message of Easter, but God is also bringing forth new life, new opportunity, and new reasons for hope in the here and now.

    That same Sunday was also the first day I got to see a new addition to the church, a small baby boy born this winter. In the midst of the hardship I was surrounded by, there was this literal new life being brought into the world by God. In this boy there is so much potential for a future that I cannot even fathom and will likely not get to fully see, in this life at least. This is but one example of God bringing forth new things. If we look in the world we can find so many other examples. For me hope is recognizing all of the good and potential in the world around me and having faith that it will ultimately overcome the darkness. Perhaps not today, perhaps not tomorrow, perhaps not even in my life, but someday God’s kingdom will come into its fullness.

    This Easter season remember that the new life of Christ is not only about an event thousands of years ago, it is not only about the life eternal we share, but it is also about the new life coming into our world each and every moment of each and every day. See that new life and have hope.

    Peace, Hope, and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • May

    As I write this Pastor’s Peace it is the middle of April, and this past Monday, April 16th, it actually snowed in Dayton, Ohio. We are less than 60 miles from Kentucky, for heaven’s sake. If I wanted this kind of weather, I would have stayed in Boston. As I write this, it is actually a toasty 48 degrees in Boston, as compared to the 37 degrees that it is here. There in no way this should be the case, but things don’t always go as we would like. I guess I shouldn’t complain too much. I looked up weather statistics for Dayton, and in 1923 we actually got half an inch of snow on May 9th! Let us hope it will be a better year than 1923.

    Despite the fact that I would like it warmer, and that it usually is, the fact of the matter is that it is still cold and there is not much I can do about it. There are times in our lives that things drag on longer than we would like, or we seem to have to wait forever for something to come to pass. This is true of weather, finances, health issues, relationships, and most things it our life. Having patience is not always easy; perhaps that is why they call it a virtue. Patience is defined as “the capacity to accept or tolerate delay, trouble, or suffering without getting angry or upset.” It does not mean that we are pleased with the delay in our life; it just means that we do not let it control our lives or our reactions.

    When I think about Jesus, I think that he must have been one heck of a patient person. I think of all of the people who just didn’t get it, even the disciples. All of the times he had to repeat himself, and give the same lesson in a different way, would drive most people nuts, but Jesus just calmly performed his ministry. We often talk about trying to show the love of Jesus, which is most important, but we should perhaps also emphasize the patience of Jesus. We should try to be patient with the world around us and especially be patient with each other, as Christ was. Perhaps it was Christ’s divinity that allowed him to be so patient, but I like to think that it was also his faith and hope. He had faith in the future, always, despite the present. This I think can be a lesson for us. We should dwell less on what is not going the way we want and try to have faith in a better future, some would even call it hope.

    It does not mean we will always get what we want, but as was shown in the miracle of Easter, sometimes the future holds blessings beyond our wishes or even understanding. As we continue into the Easter season, remember the love of Christ and the gift of Christ’s salvation, but also remember Christ’s faith and patience.

    It does not mean we will always get what we want, but as was shown in the miracle of Easter, sometimes the future holds blessings beyond our wishes or even understanding. As we continue into the Easter season, remember the love of Christ and the gift of Christ’s salvation, but also remember Christ’s faith and patience.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • June

    In the past few weeks we have heard a great deal about the peace process involving North Korea. Politics aside, many are hoping that something does come out of all this that creates lasting peace on the Korean peninsula. Even though active fighting ended in 1953, there has been an armistice and not a peace treaty since then, meaning that North and South Korea have technically been at war for almost 68 years. I can’t even imagine what it is like to live in Seoul and have an active hostile military force present less than the distance from Cincinnati to Dayton. Things are quite difficult for most in North Korea as well, which begs the question: Why has it been this way for 68 years?


    The simple answer most would point to is the fact that North Korea has been ruled by dictators during that time period, but surely even for them a more prosperous North Korea would be a benefit. Or would it be? I think this is the challenge to peace. We feel as if we often have to give something up to achieve it. For many, what we have to give up does not seem to outweigh the benefit of peace. Perhaps we don’t value peace as much as we should. It is something that Jesus spoke of many times, and he is even called the Prince of Peace. In the world of conflict and war that he lived in, such dedication to peace would have seemed strange. The idea of turning the other cheek, or feeding your enemy is hard to accept now, let alone then.


    Was Jesus out of touch with reality? I think rather that Jesus was in touch with a different reality than we are. To Jesus, the most important things were life and love, love of God and love of each other. To Jesus, things such as possessions, land, pride, being right, power, wealth, dominance, and even personal safety were of little importance in comparison. Our issue with peace and the difficulty in achieving it is wrapped up in placing value on all of these things that Jesus did not. Being a Christian is not easy; Christ calls us all to many things and calls us to carry a cross of sacrifice as well. This idea of prioritizing life and love above all else is perhaps one of the more challenging things we are called to do, whether we realize it or not.

    I hope and pray that the peace process currently unfolding does lead to a lasting peace. I pray this for every life on the Korean peninsula, and for all of our servicemen and servicewomen constantly in harms way involved in this conflict. May Christ’s priorities reign and not the priorities of man, and may we have peace at last.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • July

    The other day I was cooking dinner at home. The kitchen was hot, and it was late, and I was trying to rush things so that I could finish, sit down, relax, and enjoy dinner. I just had one final topping to chop up, and about half way through the chopping I made a mistake. Chop, chop, chop, ouch, oh my God, and some other words I can’t publish in a church newsletter. I had been doing things too quickly and had sliced up a pretty big chunk of my thumb. I am mostly fine now, after some vigorous cleaning of the wound, and use of super glue, great for keeping wounds closed by the way. In addition to saying all those bad words I can’t publish, I remember being very angry with myself. I thought I was so stupid to rush things and now, at best, dinner was going to be pretty cold, and at worst I would be going to the emergency room; thankfully not.

    This is not the first time I have beaten myself up about something, and/or regretted my actions after the fact. We all experience regret and self-criticism of our actions from time to time. The question is, however, did any of that anger directed at myself really help anything? The answer of course is no. Once the deed had been done, being angry about it really does not change anything. Learning from my mistakes and making different decisions in the future is helpful, very helpful in fact, but self-loathing never accomplished anything good. This is important to remember not only when you cut yourself cooking, but for the many ways we make mistakes, some much more serious than a knife wound.

    Christ offers us forgiveness for our actions against others and ourselves. Christ does not want us to go around in constant regret, constant guilt, and thinking that we are no good as people. In the Bible Jesus speaks of repentance and forgiveness. In the act of repentance we admit what we have done, take responsibility for it, and try not to repeat the action in the future. These are the steps that are truly helpful after a mistake, and these are the things that Jesus calls us to do. Feeling guilt and self-hate after an event that we cannot change is not what Jesus calls us to. Guilt is what is forgiven through Christ and in return we strive to be better, to be the children of God we are made to be. So as you live life, take your time and don’t rush (trust me), try to live the life God calls you to, and if you make a mistake along the way, take a deep breath, take responsibility, accept the forgiveness of Christ and strive to be better in the future.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • August

    As many of you know, one of our church members recently competed in the Special Olympics USA Games in Seattle and won a gold medal playing with the Ohio team in the softball competition. When he showed off his medal to the church, I’m sure it was such a great feeling to have the church be so happy for his accomplishment. We sure were proud and it was a great example of people coming together to lift up and give thanks for our joys and blessings. I think that the Special Olympics is truly a fantastic organization. Started by Eunice Kennedy Shriver in 1968, as an expansion of a camp she had organized in the early 60s, the Special Olympics has grown from an event with 1,000 athletes held in Chicago, to a global partnership of organizations providing over 100,000 events a year for 5 million athletes across 172 countries. All of this came from Eunice’s belief that physical activity and participating in sports was crucial for those with mental disabilities.

    There was a time when such things would never be considered. Anyone with disabilities, mental or otherwise, was given little respect or opportunities. When I think of the ministry of Jesus, I think about all of the people that Jesus went to and spent his time with. He helped the disabled, the poor, the outcast, children, the elderly, foreigners, sinners, and everyone else who was deemed unimportant by their society at the time. To Jesus these people were very important; they were his brothers and sisters, and children of God.

    This is an important lesson for us to remember. Everyone is important, and everyone has something to offer the world in the eyes of God. I think of all of the wonderful accomplishments of those participating in the Special Olympics, of how they are given a stage to exhibit their great worth, and I think that this is the type of work Christ has called us to do. All of us go through the world and are given opportunities to share God’s love and encouragement with those who need it. If we simply care for and about others, we can truly help create positive change in the world.

    Whether our work lifts up over 5 million people like Eunice Kennedy Shriver, or it lifts up just one, any work done for the love of another is worthwhile. Working together, we can help each other realize our full potential as the beautiful creations of God that we all are.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • September

    As summer is coming to an end, I find myself reflecting back on the last several months. There were many happy events, like VACATION (just kidding.) There were indeed some great things like baptizing Clyde, Luau Sunday, the bike stop, and the nice party for Byron and Anne, to name a few. Unfortunately there were things hard to deal with as well, such as all of the funerals I performed this summer. Sadly, we have lost several church members and family members over the last number of months. In fact, I have performed at least one funeral a month, sometimes two, since March of this year. I am hoping and praying that the months ahead will bring a break from mourning those whom we have lost, but we are never in control of such things.

    Funerals are something we don’t really like talking about. We are happy to talk about weddings, baptisms, celebrations, and positive visions of the future, but funerals are not something we tend to bring up, even though they are an important part of the church, perhaps the most important. Every time we face the loss of a loved one, we face the cross, and know the sting of death. One option is to ignore it, certainly a popular one; the other, however, is to let these signs of the cross remind us of the resurrection to come. We do a great number of things at church, but at the heart of it all is the faith that we have salvation and life eternal in Christ. Every time we come together in loss, we come together to mourn, but we also come together to understand the reality of death and deepen our faith in a life after this one.

    Christ did many things during his ministry: he helped the poor, he healed the sick, and he included those that others had cast out, but most of all he brought the Good News. The beginning of the earliest gospel written, Mark, starts with talk from the prophets that speaks of a messenger that is sent by God to lead us forward. That messenger is Christ, and the place we are being led is eternal salvation. That is the Good News. We no longer need to fear death, for in Christ we share in the resurrection, and no cross is ever the end. In the moment of loss, it is hard to remember these things, but as we all reflect over the last many months, let us remember the faith we have, and let that faith guide us from sadness to hope, and from hope to joy, joy that all of us will be connected eternally in Christ, and that nothing can ever take that from us.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • October

    We recently had a surprise birthday party for one of our church members who was hitting a large milestone. I won’t say how large: you never tell a lady’s age after all. We had all gathered at a local pizza place, and her nephew had brought her there saying he just wanted to buy her dinner, or something like that. When she walked through the door, everyone yelled happy birthday, and she jumped about 3 inches off the ground. We had around 30 people show up to celebrate with her, and we had a great time doing it. It was one of the many wonderful events that I love so much at this church.

    As I looked around at the crowd that showed up for this party, I took note of all of the different ways that it was a diverse group. We had people there aged from 9 to 91, and everything in-between. We had people who were born right down the street and people who were born half a world away. We had veterans, retired people, and those still working. We had people who dealt with disabilities such as the need for a cane or a wheel chair. We had people related to the birthday girl, although most there were not. We had Republicans, Democrats, Independents, and probably even a few Libertarians peppered in for good measure. I’m sure we had people who voted for Trump, and people who voted for Clinton, and folks who voted for some other candidate. We had people who were in a higher income bracket, and those who didn’t take home much at all. I could keep going, but the point is, in those 30 people there were many ways in which we were different, and yet we had all come together to celebrate an event for someone we loved and cared for. We were a family that evening, as we are every Sunday, a family in Christ.

    If we look at the ministry of Jesus, one thing we see again and again is that he reaches out to so many types of people. Jesus does not stick to people just like him. He interacts with and helps the rich and the poor, and those who are Jewish and those who are not. He doesn’t even let such standards as purity laws keep him from sharing God’s blessings with a people in deep need of such grace. Jesus breaks all of these boundaries, because he knows that he is called not just to some of humanity, but to all of humanity, as all of us are children of God.

    There are so many ways, especially now, that the world tries to tell us that we are different, and therefore cannot come together or get along; however, that is just not the truth. We are all connected, and we are all much more similar to each other than we can possibly imagine. If Jesus was willing to cross boundaries in the name of God’s love, then perhaps we can as well.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • November

    As I write this I am getting ready to head out to Denver, Colorado. For those that didn’t know I was invited to perform the wedding of Byron and Annie Kulander’s son Chris. Most everyone reading this will, of course, know Byron and Annie, but for the few who don’t, they are long-time church members that have moved to Texas to be closer to their son. Of course, everyone here misses them terribly, but we all understand that as we get older things change and we must make accommodations. I have enjoyed them both so much over the years, and they are just two examples of some of the fantastic people I have met along the way here at Beaver Church.

    I recently celebrated 10 years of serving as the pastor of Beaver Church, and I guess that is one reason I am waxing poetic about the people here. There are so many I have met, so many I have married, baptized, and buried in my time here. As I reflect on the church, I would have to say that it truly is the people of the church that have inspired me over the years and made me feel as if I am doing good ministry here. Of course, the church itself is pretty, and I have grown to like Beavercreek and the Dayton area very much, but without the people, it would be nothing. In fact the word for church in Greek from the New Testament is “Ekklesia”, which actually means a people called together. Buildings and fixed locations are not required at all to have a church. Not only have I enjoyed meeting and knowing so many people over the years, but also they have all helped to form me into the person and minister I am today. How truly important our human relationships are; they are the things that make up our very beings.

    Perhaps this is why Jesus focuses so much on people, individuals, and every type of person he meets along the way. He does not seem interested in things, or the institutions of this world but rather in each and every person he meets, from the Roman officer to the blind beggar. In the end Jesus teaches us that everyone truly is important, and that everyone deserves love and compassion. Part of being the church is understanding that, and opening our hearts to so many types of people all called together, and those yet to be called. For me I know that opening my heart to all of you has been one of the best gifts I have received, and I pray that the fellowship we have together has been such a gift for all of you as well.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • December

    Well, as I write this the Christmas decorations are already up everywhere you look. At the Salvation Army Kroc center where I work out, they had the Christmas tree up before Veteran’s Day. With the rate we are going, pretty soon we won’t know if kids are trick-or-treating on Halloween or if they are Christmas caroling. Now the rush of Christmas is a subject I have complained about many times. I feel we overlook Advent, and we forget there are 12 days of Christmas, the 25th of December being only the first.

    I’m sure our rush towards Christmas is somewhat influenced by the consumerism of the holiday with stores and online retailers hoping for Christmas sales as early as possible. For many retail businesses the Christmas season is what determines profitability or loss. I do think, however, that the desire to celebrate Christmas early is about more than just the presents. I think that for many, Christmas represents a time where families get together, people take a break from work, and that hopefully the things that really matter in our lives are highlighted instead of put aside. In such a worldview perhaps the whole year before Christmas represents our Advent and thus we eagerly look forward to November as a time we can start to look for that light in the darkness.

    At its very core that is what Christmas is really about, light in darkness. For almost everyone there is some type of darkness in our life. There is loss, regret, guilt, and suffering just to name a few. Coming together and celebrating Christmas does not fix those things overnight, but doing so does remind us that there is something that is greater than all those things. Our faith in Christ reminds us that Christ transcends all, and that nothing, not even death itself, can separate us from God’s love and God’s family. It is only when we are reminded of this, when we have faith in it, that we can start the journey of moving beyond the darkness of our life into the light that is the promise of Christ.

    So, this Christmas season, if you find yourself in early November putting up decorations and getting ready for Christmas because you want to impress your neighbors, well maybe you want to pray on that. If, however, you find yourself decorating because you need that hope for something beyond the despairs of life, you go ahead and decorate your heart out.

    Anytime of the year, any day, any hour, is a good time to look for the light of Christ. Our savior is with us not just on Christmas and Easter, but on every day of the year. Christ is there reaching out with comfort, love, and compassion. Look for that this Christmas, look for that light, and carry it with you each moment of your life.

    Peace, Blessings, and Merry Christmas

2017

  • January

    I saw a post on Facebook the other day that read “How I feel about 2016,” and it had a video from a comedy movie with a guy falling down a hill for what seems like an impossible amount of time. Indeed several people I know feel this way about this past year. There have been many losses, illnesses, difficulties, and disappointments. All of this has added up to a point where people are saying, “I have had enough.” Life certainly feels that way sometimes and it is important to keep a bit of hope in your life when it feels that way. I could go on about how there have also been many good things occur in the past year: births, celebrations, blessings, and new experiences. However, when the scale seems to be tipping more towards the difficult side of things, it is hard to remember all of that, and we tend to focus on what is not going well in our lives. Again, it is important to keep a bit of hope in your life.

    Hope is a funny thing; it does not seem like much. We hope for things that have not even happened yet— they don’t even exist—yet hope is a powerful thing. We work to bring into being through our faith things we look forward to, or perhaps a change that can make things tolerable. In having faith in that new future we help form it each and every day. We also work with others who share in our hope so we do not do that work alone. So often it feels like we cannot do what needs to be done by ourselves, and perhaps we cannot, but that is why we work and hope with others. By ourselves we are susceptible to many things, but with each other, and with a faith in God, we have a strength that is beyond just ourselves.

    I do not know what you hope for in this New Year (I certainly have a list already) but whatever it is, hope deeply and work to make that change in the world you seek. Work with others who share in that hope, people who care for you, and people for whom you care. Together as the body of Christ, we can make a difference; we can make a change in our world. Not only will we do this together, but also we do it with God as our guide. May we look beyond whatever sadness or difficulty is weighing on us from the past and look towards the new creation that is breaking forth before us. That is my prayer this coming year for myself and for Beaver Church. Together I know we can indeed make it a “Happy” New Year for ourselves and each other.

    Peace & Happy New Year,
    Pastor Brian

  • February

    This February I will be going to some trade shows again with my wife for her business. We will hit up some of the regular shows, but this time we are going to be spending some time in Los Angles so that she can visit with some of her business’ vendors. We will be renting a car and spending a couple of days in Venice Beach. I don’t know much about LA, but I have a hunch that the weather will be better there than Dayton in February. Although, with this crazy winter, who knows? As I said, I don’t know much about LA or California, or the West Coast for that matter. I am a bit nervous as well. I have driven in some pretty big cities, but it has been awhile and LA has some of the worst traffic in the country, or so I have been told. I guess I am excited about this trip, but like anything else, it is a mixture of excitement and trepidation.


    So often new things in life, marriage, moving, buying a new home, or having a child, are mixtures of emotion. We have so much to be exited about and look forward to, but at the same time there are new concerns that come with that. Will I be able to properly take care of that new home or child? How will being married really feel, and how will I be as a spouse? Change is both great and sometimes scary. It was well described to me one time when someone said that change is like a flying trapeze artist. Once you get to the next bar you are fine, but that moment when you are just about to let go and fly through the air seems quite scary. Perhaps sometimes this fear can keep us from making the changes that are necessary in life. We are always holding on to that first bar, afraid to let go and reach for that thing we really want in our life.


    How scary must it have been for the disciples? Sure, Jesus was so wonderful and amazing, but they literally just gave up everything to follow him. Perhaps that is why they sometimes did not quite get it, or wanted more signs. Christ, his ministry, and his death and resurrection was a pretty big trapeze act. The thing that got them through, however, was faith. That is ultimately what allows us to let go, face the abyss, and reach for something new, faith. God is always with us in every phase of the act that is our life. God is encouraging us to reach for beautiful and wonderful things in our life and is there for us in the gaps in-between. God will get me through that LA traffic and get me to the beach, of that I have faith. God will also be with you, no matter the journey.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • March

    In March we will be starting Lent, a time for reflection on our relationship to God and how we can work to improve it. It is also the time during our church calendar when we hear scripture detailing the inevitable path of Jesus to the cross. Keeping that in mind, this year during Lent we will be watching a video series on the cross and crucifixion of Jesus. It is a symbol all of us are familiar with, and yet it is something that so many people have questions about. Why did Jesus need to suffer? Why do we use the symbol of his suffering in our churches? Does God expect us to suffer?

    In some circles of the Protestant Church the explanation of the cross has been boiled down into something fairly simple that many people point to. Jesus was punished and died because of our sins, and because of his acceptance of our punishment, we are forgiven of our sins. Although that seems somewhat simple and therefore appealing, it is only one of many views of the cross, and a fairly modern one in comparison to others. What the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches believe differs somewhat from this, and some Protestants as well have a slightly different or more nuanced view. All Christian faiths believe that forgiveness of sin is given through Christ; however, the exact mechanism of forgiveness and what the cross has to do with it vary. For instance, why couldn’t God just forgive? God is capable of anything, right? I have certainly forgiven people for things without requiring their severe punishment; certainly God is greater in such things than I. When you really start to look at the cross, it can bring up many questions, and it is my hope that our class will help look at some of them.

    One thing that we don’t talk about as much when it comes to the cross is the humanity it expresses in Christ. We are often so focused on this question of salvation and whether or not salvation is tied to Christ’s suffering, that we miss the general humanity of Christ’s suffering. All of us in being human have our crosses to bear. All of us suffer, and some a great deal more than others. People who are good to others still suffer; it seems to be a fundamental part of being human. We, however, do not suffer alone. Christ suffers with us in all things. Not only is Christ present with us, but Christ knows what it is to suffer. Christ knows what it is to be human. Jesus led a blameless life, and yet he like all humans still knew suffering. In this and in many other ways, Christ is tied to us and we to him. During times of difficulty in my life I try to remember this, and it gives me comfort. As we enter Lent and ponder our relationship to Christ, I hope that relationship can provide comfort to you as well.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • April

    As I write this for the April newsletter, March Madness is in full swing with college basketball fans being glued to couches and predictions about who will win changing constantly as brackets are ruined day after day. It is an interesting thing to watch— how people fill out their selections of who will win the games as 68 teams for men and 64 for women compete to be the champion. Apparently there are a great number of ways one can fill out a bracket, a selection of who wins which games, 9.2 quintillion possibilities to be exact; that is a one with 18 zeros after it. In fact in all the years of filling out basketball brackets there has never been a verified perfect bracket. The closest officially recorded was recently when someone had predicted correctly the first 39 out of 63 games. With so many millions of people each year filling out these brackets, what a wonder it is that no one has done so perfectly or really even come close.

    I find this interesting because basketball is not the only thing we try to predict in the world and in our own lives. How often do we sit and worry about the future, about things that might come true and might not? How often do we think we have the future pretty much figured out? I would say that if we can’t predict what 64 teams are going to do over a couple of weeks, perhaps we are not too good at predicting what our lives and futures might be. When I think of meeting my wife, for instance, there are dozens of little things that could have gone differently that would have led us to not getting married. Our lives are really quite unpredictable in so many ways. This might seem stressful, or it might also seem inspiring, in that there are so many possibilities before us, and that nothing is set in stone. If we think that we are stuck in some unhappy place, we can take comfort in knowing that the future is always fluid and always open to things we can’t even imagine.

    Christ was great at busting people’s brackets about life. People had fallen into a view of their God, their place in life, what would be the solution to their troubles, and Jesus showed them something new and unexpected in all those cases. They had armies, violence, and power as the winning team, and instead Jesus led to victory with peace, love, and compassion.

    Who could have seen that win? The world around us and our lives are uncertain, and that is scary; it is also powerful and liberating. As Paul said, we do not hope for what is seen, but we hope for what is unseen. As we celebrate the miracle of Easter this year, that great and completely unexpected win of God, keep in mind that God is always breaking forth, moving us to new and exciting things. Have hope for the future, have hope for what has not been seen or even expected, have hope for God’s love in your life.

    Happy Easter and March Madness,

    Pastor Brian

  • May

    Spring has sprung! All you have to do is look around to know this; everywhere things are in bloom. Flowers are in bloom, trees are in bloom, grass is growing, and the dandelions have put up their little heads. Of course, you could also just look in the drugstore and see the empty shelf where the Benadryl was and you too would know that spring is here. In addition to all of the green, there is all of the yellow, all of that pollen that covers every car and surface in sight. It is allergy season and with all that new life comes a great deal of discomfort. New life, however, can also be a messy and painful thing. Just ask any mother and she will confirm that for you.

    Sometimes we want to change something in our life, create something new, and we look forward to what we think that new life will be for us. We think of the changes that will make our life happy, but we often underestimate what it will take to make those changes. Any change for the better in life usually requires some work and some growing pains in the process. On one hand this might not make sense because why shouldn’t something good for us just be easy? The thing we forget is that for new life or new things to come forth there are several things required: growth, transformation, and often a death of the old self. Death and transformation are not so much fun, but are often required to move forward. Even something simple like losing weight and eating healthier requires that we let those old habits and cravings die, and that we transform how we view ourselves and how we relate to food. Not always so simple and pain free.

    Having just experienced the event of Easter, all of this death and new life talk should be familiar to us. We see the new life of the resurrection come out of the death of the crucifixion. This type of transformation is not only seen in the story of Christ but also in our story and in our life. There are many crosses and challenges that we face in our life.

    That life-giving power of Christ is present with us for each and every one of those crosses. Faith in this transformative power can help us through such difficulties. It should also not be surprising that when we try to change things in our life for the better, we encounter difficulty. It is not a sign that we are doing something wrong, but rather a fact that every real life change requires work. As you celebrate or suffer through spring, I hope that you, like the new leaves, are growing to better places. There will be pain, there will be hardship, but we grow and transform together with Christ into the beautiful Kingdom of God that we have been destined to become.


    Peace, Blessings, and Happy Spring!

    Pastor Brian

  • June

    On Sunday, June 11th, we are going to have our third annual Luau Sunday. We will be asking people to wear something festive and to bring a dish for the luau meal after service. We will, of course, have a roasted pig and we will be dining in the shelter, weather permitting. Please invite your friends and we will have a great time. There are several reasons that we have this event, one is that I like Hawaiian shirts, and two that I like pork, but more important than both of those is the fact that this is a church that thinks that having fellowship is important. The history and practice of the Luau embodies that spirit.

    Some sources say that the Luau was first created by King Kamehameha II of Hawaii in 1819, just a mere 10 years after Beaver Church was formed. The tradition before this time was that men and women had to eat separately and that certain foods were not to be eaten by women and the common class. In 1819, King Kamehameha II made a symbolic act of eating with women, ending the Hawaiian religious taboos around food. This event became the first luau. Now it is seen as a great gathering of people and is often used to describe parties in general. What I find interesting about this history is that the luau is more than just eating and drinking, but rather it is about bringing people together. At Beaver Church we are all about bringing folks together, saying every Sunday that “all are welcome here.”

    In the gospels and in Acts we see the importance of coming together and fellowshipping. It is not just about having some good food, but it is literally about bringing people together in holy community. Acts 2:46-47 talks about the beginning of the church and says that the people worshiped together and fellowshipped and had meals together, praising the Lord. The church is not a solo activity, but rather one that is done in community. The Greek word for church literally means a people called together. So when we fellowship and get to know each other on a more personal level, we are doing the work that God has called us to do, the work of the early church.

    When I first got to Beaver Church almost 9 years ago, we had coffee hour only once a month. We moved to doing coffee every Sunday, and then, thanks to Martha, moved to doing a small meal every Sunday and a carry-in once a month. I certainly have enjoyed some good food because of all of this, but I have also watched this congregation become closer to each other over time. We have been able to better discuss issues. We have been better acquainted with each other’s struggles and dreams. We have even learned to care about each other just a bit more, I think. The act of breaking bread together is so much more than sharing food; it is about sharing each other, and in that, recognizing that we are joined as the family of God. So on the 11th, make sure to get out your bright flowery shirts, get ready to enjoy some worship and pork, and in doing so know that you are doing God’s work as well.


    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • July

    About a month ago my mother-in-law came to visit to help my wife and me work on the outside space at our house. For those who have been to my house you will know that we have several small patios and several planter beds. The person who owned the house before us, 10 years ago, was an avid gardener and so we inherited a nice selection of plants and landscaping. For several years we did a good job of keeping up with things and making improvements. However, when my wife opened her business 5 years ago, things started to fall by the wayside with the garden.

    We tried to keep up with it, and we made several improvements. I redid the back patio 2 years ago. But, despite our efforts, we never put in quite enough time. Weeds would get thicker. Certain plants would take over (oh, how I hate fall clematis) and the general shape of our yard got worse and worse. I had a giant pile of dirt that was left over from redoing the patio that sat there for 2 years. Eventually we decided that we needed to do something about it. With my mother-in-law’s help we spent 3 whole days working, weeding, planting, mulching, moving dirt, and after it was all done it looked better than it ever had. I was inspired and over the next several weekends made several other improvements that have truly made our outdoor space beautiful and enjoyable. I am glad we put the time in, and we are motivated now more than ever to stay on top of things and keep the garden looking great.

    Christ in his ministry focused on several things, but one thing in particular he talked about was how we treat others, and how relationships are important, not only our relationships with each other, but our relationship with God as well. These relationships stay healthy and mature and deepen through time, given respect and love. In many ways relationships are like gardens. If we don’t take the time to care for them and have the love and dedication to tend to them, they turn into something less than what we want, and don’t give us much in return.

    One thing I realized about our garden is that even though it seemed pretty far gone, it really didn’t take that much work in the grand scheme of things to totally transform it and make it vibrant and beautiful again. Sometimes there are relationships in our life that we think are far gone, but we might be surprised what some love and effort can do. God and God’s love are all about growth and transformation. As you tend to your outdoor areas this summer, keep that in mind. Perhaps there are some other areas in your life that could benefit from some time, attention, and love.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • August

    This past month I went on a trip down to the fine country of Mexico. One of my best friends was having a destination wedding there, and Amelia and I were invited. It was an interesting experience going someplace new and very different from what we were used to, a different language, different currency, and different culture. We went to the area around this really beautiful city named Puerto Vallarta on the west coast of Mexico. We did have a wonderful time, the scenery was absolutely gorgeous, the people were super friendly, and the food was delicious. However, on my last day there, I did get sunburned, stung by a jellyfish, and came down with Montezuma’s Revenge. Despite all of that it was a nice trip.

    As I think back on the trip one of the first things to stand out to me was the idea of crossing a border to go someplace that is truly different from what you are accustomed. In the seminary I went to, they had a “Border Crossing” program that focused on students going on foreign trips to experience other cultures, and experience the church of Christ in other cultures. The thought was that experiencing the other was part of being a disciple of Christ. As we look back upon the ministry of Jesus, we see that he crossed many borders. He went and spoke with and stayed with people very different from him. He spread the Good News with Jews and the enemies of the Jews. After that, Paul would cross even more borders spreading the Gospel to Gentile nations as far as the known world at the time. Christianity is founded on reaching out to the other and closing the gap to become one.

    I saw this in another way when I was in Mexico. Like many weddings, there were many ways in which the people at the wedding were related to the Bride and Groom, and in this case all of us were staying in one big house. There were family members from multiple marriages; there were half siblings, step-siblings, and stepparents. There were in-laws, co-workers, and some who were just plain friends like me. We were all together in the same house, many of us not knowing the other. Yet despite all of this, we came together as one family, one family centered on the bride and groom.

    We all shared one big table for our meals and, by the end of the four days, talked as if we had known each other for years. The church of Christ is like that as well. We all come from separate places and yet are drawn together by Christ and thus become one family, the Church, the Body of Christ, the barriers between us being broken down in the process. In that body there is no other. It was an important thing for me to remember while on that trip, and, as our world gets smaller and more diverse, an important thing for me to keep in mind for the future.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • September

    Back in July I had the privilege of playing in the Conner Puckett Classic again. For those who don’t know, this is a benefit golf outing that raises money for families with children diagnosed with cerebral palsy, like Conner. It was started by members of Beaver Church, Carl and Angie, Conner’s parents, and with help from several other Beaver church folks and many others the classic has been going for many years raising money for Conner and others. It is always great fun, and for a great cause. This year like every year we had a team of church members in the tournament and we performed about as well as most of the past church teams--dead last.

    Being last is ok, especially in this case. We helped out the cause just as much as everyone else, and I think we got to have the most fun doing it, since we weren’t too concerned with winning. It was also a helpful lesson in depending on others. In a tournament like this, each player in the foursome hits a ball and then everyone hits from the best ball of the four. In such a setup we all learn to depend on each other. We had some very impressive holes, but only because each one of us contributed to it. I was certainly reminded that together we are stronger than apart. I also was reminded of another important lesson, one I mentioned earlier, and that is not to focus so much on winning.

    Now winning does have its place, and we do live in a world where people compete sometimes for important things like jobs, and some do well and some do not, with rewards and consequences for both. That being said, if we only focus on competition in life, then we really miss a great deal and probably have less fun as well. Jesus saw everyone as precious, no matter his or her money, success, or place in society. In fact some of the “losers” in society at the time were some of Christ’s closest followers. You see, once they had Christ in their life all they had to do was focus on following him, and most everything else was irrelevant. In a similar way if we trust in and follow God, most everything else will fall into place. I would rather be a loser with Christ than a winner without him, any day. Success does have its place, but that place is pretty far down after many things like God, love, family, friends, kindness, hope, and joy. If we can keep that in mind, then perhaps all of us can have a better day no matter where we are on the leader board.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • October

    In September we got together and did work on our playground area at the church. It was in need of a great deal of TLC. We had to haul out many wheel-barrows of extra dirt, we had to add a drain and new wood around the perimeter, and most importantly we had to move 2,000 pounds of rubber mulch into the bed of the playground. It was quite a bunch of work. We had announced it in advance, but secretly I worried we might not get many folks. I was glad to be wrong about that. We had probably anywhere from a dozen to twenty people help out with the project. What seemed like a big task was completely finished in an hour and a half, and looked great when we finished. It was a great example of what happens when people come together to help each other. Large seemingly impossible tasks are made doable and even easy with the help of others.

    I saw another example of this when I was participating in the Air Force Half-Marathon with my mother. I think that either one of us might not have finished, period, or at least had a much slower pace had it not been for the encouragement of each other. I saw this with many other pairs and groups of people all helping each other finish the race. Even if you were running alone, you were not truly alone, because all of the service men and women, volunteers, and other runners were there to provide help and encouragement. Helping each other is such a wonderful thing to see, such a basic part of being a human being. We are relational beings by our very nature, beings created in God’s image, who is also a relational being existing not alone but as a trinity, three in one.

    Jesus also did not do things alone. Soon after his ministry started, Jesus called upon disciples to help him in spreading the Good News. It seems so basic to help others and yet there are times we are fearful of others or of receiving help ourselves. We think for some reason that we must carry our burdens alone. We are sometimes scared to get close to others, to be in I don’t know about you, but for me this past month or so has been very hard to deal with. Between the hurricanes, fires, and the tragedy in Las Vegas, it seems that every time we tune into the world around us we see nothing but grief and despair. I myself am hoping for a bit of calm in November, but one never knows what is around the corner. This is, of course, nothing new. We could look back at the archives of our church, and I’m sure we would find writings concerning tumultuous times, be it the Civil War or WWI and WWII, or any number of calamities and conflicts that have occurred over the past two centuries of our history. As we go back in time before that, we would find many more examples, including the struggles of the early Church.

    When the Disciples and early Christians were spreading the Word of Christ they were often severely persecuted. They were harassed or jailed at best, and at worst were executed, sometimes in a gruesome public way to make a point to everyone else. Yet, despite all of this their faith persevered. God through Christ was near to their hearts no matter what the world did around them. This is part of the gift of faith. Faith is not so much checking off the right answers on a quiz, but more so about having a tool to give you hope in the face of despair. No matter what happened, the faith of the early church informed them that nothing on Earth could separate them from Christ.

    As we move through the month of November and move into December, we start the season of Advent.—a season that is often overlooked as we rush to malls, Christmas parties, and Santa related holiday cheer. Advent, however, is meaningful and a reminder that the world does contain darkness. The world is often filled with strife and suffering despite our best efforts. In acknowledging the darkness, we make the light of Christ all the more important and meaningful. Here is a light that can never be put out, a light that forever guides us. As we continue on through the year there will almost certainly be something else of great difficulty that occurs either globally or personally. When it does, remember your faith in God through Christ. Hold onto that light and allow it to use you as a vessel to improve our world. Hold onto that light and know that within it lies your eternal salvation. Hold onto that light and know that no darkness, no matter how great, can ever, ever extinguish it.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • November

    I don’t know about you, but for me this past month or so has been very hard to deal with. Between the hurricanes, fires, and the tragedy in Las Vegas, it seems that every time we tune into the world around us we see nothing but grief and despair. I myself am hoping for a bit of calm in November, but one never knows what is around the corner. This is, of course, nothing new. We could look back at the archives of our church, and I’m sure we would find writings concerning tumultuous times, be it the Civil War or WWI and WWII, or any number of calamities and conflicts that have occurred over the past two centuries of our history. As we go back in time before that, we would find many more examples, including the struggles of the early Church.

    When the Disciples and early Christians were spreading the Word of Christ they were often severely persecuted. They were harassed or jailed at best, and at worst were executed, sometimes in a gruesome public way to make a point to everyone else. Yet, despite all of this their faith persevered. God through Christ was near to their hearts no matter what the world did around them. This is part of the gift of faith. Faith is not so much checking off the right answers on a quiz, but more so about having a tool to give you hope in the face of despair. No matter what happened, the faith of the early church informed them that nothing on Earth could separate them from Christ.

    As we move through the month of November and move into December, we start the season of Advent.—a season that is often overlooked as we rush to malls, Christmas parties, and Santa related holiday cheer. Advent, however, is meaningful and a reminder that the world does contain darkness. The world is often filled with strife and suffering despite our best efforts. In acknowledging the darkness, we make the light of Christ all the more important and meaningful. Here is a light that can never be put out, a light that forever guides us. As we continue on through the year there will almost certainly be something else of great difficulty that occurs either globally or personally. When it does, remember your faith in God through Christ. Hold onto that light and allow it to use you as a vessel to improve our world. Hold onto that light and know that within it lies your eternal salvation. Hold onto that light and know that no darkness, no matter how great, can ever, ever extinguish it.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • December

    As I write this, I have just come back from a trip to Chicago to celebrate my 40th birthday. I know some of you will read this and think about 40 as still being pretty young, but age is relative, and for me I think that 40 years is at the very least a significant amount of time to have experienced the ups and downs of life. I was reminded of this when Amelia and I got together with some dear friends that we have known since even before we got married in our twenties. We got together with them in Chicago where they now live, and talked about the days, now over a decade ago, when we both were newlywed couples and would get together to discuss the joys and challenges of marriage. Since those times both my wife and I and our friends have had ups and downs, great things to celebrate and challenges to overcome. One of the things we were all happy about is that each one of us was at a really good point in life at the present, and that was a blessing for all of us.

    As suggested before, however, that was not always the case. In the past 14 years or so that we have been friends, each of us has had work challenges, the challenge of relocating to new cities, and other things such as loss and hardship that affect us all. In the lowest of those times for each one of us it seemed unlikely that at some point in the future we would all be sitting around a table with everything pretty much being OK. The future, however, is always unknown, and it can bring joy and goodness even if it seems unlikely at the time. Looking toward that better future is what we call hope. We hope for what is not yet seen. It is also what we focus on in the season of Advent, that period of time that starts around the beginning of December and leads up to Christmas.

    Advent is a time to remember and acknowledge that life is not always easy and sometimes is tragic. We might even be in a period of darkness or despair at this very moment, and if so Advent is a time to understand and admit that. In Advent we lift up the difficulties of life, and have hope for the light that can outshine any darkness. It is an important season and process, because we will always at some point face hard times. If we have the idea in our head that life is always wonderful and should be that way, then we will not know what to do when facing hardship.

    If we, however, know that God is with us and have hope during the darkness, having faith in that light that is Christ, then we can face anything knowing that all things lead eventually to our eternal salvation in Christ. This Advent, know that you are part of the family of Christ and look for that light that shines in any darkness. Embrace that light and have hope that you find goodness and mercy in your life.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

2016

  • January

    It is almost a new year yet again, and we will be welcoming in 2016 all too soon. It is tempting as always to write about the transition from one year to another. I would usually write about how this is an opportunity for a new beginning and how this can be seen as a metaphor for the new beginning found in Christ. This is all well and good, and if you were looking for that message, then I guess I just provided it in brief. I am choosing, however, to write about something else, partially because I am a bit worn down from the world that we live in, with a new tragedy unfolding seemingly every day. So, yes, 2016 does offer something new, and I pray an improvement to the last several months, but instead of talking about that, I will tell you about a road trip I had today.

    I am writing this a good couple of weeks before January as evidenced by what I did today, which was to take all of the children’s toys and clothes we gathered down to Washington UCC in Cincinnati. As many of you know, this is a church we work with that operates a mission in one of the poorer neighborhoods in Cincinnati. They do wonderful work, especially with children, and all of the items we donated will go to those kids for Christmas. When I arrived there, I saw the usual work they were doing, preparing a lunch for folks, and getting ready to open their “free store,” where people can get some essentials they need. I brought in our bags of items, and they were so appreciative. Not only that we would help out, but also that a small church like ours cares enough to put together such an offering. I hugged the pastor there, Pastor Pam, we talked about the next year, and offered each other encouragement.

    As I left I was struck again by the monumental task that Washington UCC has undertaken: in the midst of poverty that seems to never end, they stand forth to do the good work of Christ. You see, the thing that is important to keep in mind whenever we look towards the New Year, or day, or place, for some sort of salvation, is that the current place we are in is perhaps not as bad as we fear. Everywhere in the world people are working to show Christ’s love.

    This was true this year, and last, and all the years before it. Despite the challenges we see around us, Christ is present with us and working in the world. So Happy New Year, and I hope that 2016 is a year filled with love and kindness, but I say that knowing that these things were found in this year as well, and all I needed to do was look for them. Look for Christ’s love in your life and in the world, this year, next year, and every year of your life.

    Peace and Happy New Year,
    Pastor Bryan

  • February

    As I write this there is snow on the ground and it is 17 degrees outside. Of course it was not supposed to be this way. I was told quite clearly that those fuzzy little caterpillars you see in the early fall were brown, and somehow that meant that it would be a mild winter. Less than a month ago it was 60 degrees outside for Christmas. The last time I had a 60-degree Christmas was when I was a child in Miami, FL. All of this combined made me certain that it would be a mild winter. There would be no snow at all, maybe lows in the 20s, I would have a cheap heating bill, and I most certainly would not be keeping my jacket on while in my office, as I type out these words. Things, however, do not always turn out as expected.

    Life is unpredictable. We take pleasure in knowing how things will turn out. We like to be able to know the weather in advance, plan and save for retirement, think about how many years we will get out of our new car, and plan out special events and anniversaries months or even years in advance. If every thing goes to plan, we are elated, and perhaps feel that we have held back the forces of chaos and entropy that invade our lives. It is certainly nice when it happens, but the real world often gives you brown caterpillars followed by frozen pipes. You just never know, and for many, myself included, this can heap a great deal of stress into our lives. Just look at the stock market, for instance, or perhaps I shouldn’t even mention that.

    The uncertainty of the world, when accepted, does at least make me appreciate one thing, and that is the certainty of God. If we think our lives are full of chaos now, just think of what it was like in the time of Jesus or in the Middle Ages, for that matter. The idea of a loving God that is always true, always with you, and that you will never be separated from, was of great comfort. It should still be of great comfort today. Even if the Dow drops another 500 points tomorrow, the love of God will not have decreased one little bit. Perhaps this makes the difficulty of life a bit easier, or perhaps it does not. Like many things in life, however, there is little we can do about the tragedy in life. It is therefore better to think about what we can do, which is to acknowledge God in our life, and to realize the blessings and love and joy that do come with all of the difficulty. To focus on the good and know that no matter what, God is with you, are actions that will get you through much in life. They will get you through 17 degree days, dark days, and days you don’t want to even get up. As the wild ride of life tosses you about, remember that you are not on it alone, you are with so many who love you, you are with God, and that ultimately the end will be one of peace and love no matter what we have experienced along the way.


    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Bryan

  • March

    Have you ever had a moment when you were completely surprised by something, but then directly after your moment of surprise realized that you should have not been surprised at all? Well, I had such a moment at the Annual Meeting in January at the church. It happened right in the middle of my talk to the congregation when I was discussing my plans for the year. I reached the point of talking about my three-month sabbatical this summer, and I saw a great deal of confusion amongst the crowd. I was at first surprised by the confused looks, but then realized that although I had been talking to the consistory for almost a year about this, I had failed to tell the congregation as a whole, thus I should not have been surprised by the inquisitive looks. In fact, you might now have such a look on your face as you read this, especially if you were not at the meeting.

    A sabbatical, you say, what is that? Well, there is a longstanding tradition in many Christian denominations that every 7 years that a pastor serves a congregation, they can be granted a sabbatical. Often pastors are not at a church for that length of time, or sometimes they choose not to take it, and so sabbaticals aren’t necessarily something a church sees all that often. It was offered to me as a standard part of the UCC calling agreement when I accepted the call at Beaver Church, and believe it or not, I will have been at the church 8 years come August. I am choosing to take the three-month sabbatical, and there are some important reasons why. The main reason sabbaticals exist is for the renewal of the pastor so that they can serve the congregation better. When you have been a pastor at a single location that long, many things begin to weigh on you, you perhaps get a bit stale, and more importantly one often finds it harder to connect to God in the same way they did before. The sabbatical allows them to reconnect with God, and take some self-care in the process. It has actually been statistically shown that pastors who take sabbaticals have longer and more productive ministries at congregations they serve. This is especially important since over half of ministers burn out and leave the ministry altogether in the first 5 years. Being that I like it here at Beaver Church, and would like to stay for a while, I think it is important that I take the issue seriously for both the congregation and myself.

    So, what I will be doing, and what will happen at the church while I am gone? Well, the short answer is that I am training for and will do a 160-mile walking pilgrimage and retreat. While I am gone, Rev. Gail and Rev. Stuart Wells will act as pastors to the church. I am going to hold an information session where I will go over my plans in more detail on March 20th, Palm Sunday. We will have a carry-in that day, and while we fellowship, I will present my plans and answer any questions you have. I hope at least the look on your face is now a bit less perplexed. I also want to thank the church for the opportunity you have given me to serve this church, and I hope to be able to serve it well for many years to come.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Bryan

  • April

    As we find ourselves in spring and the coming warm weather, it is a great time to remember the metaphor that spring offers us concerning our own lives and situations. No, I am not talking about the metaphor of allergies or the metaphor of getting your lawn mower tuned up, but rather the metaphor of the newness of spring. It is the season when we see the new life of the earth coming into existence. All around us the trees grow leaves and new flowers start to bloom. This of course fits very well with our theme of Easter: new life springing forth from the seemingly dead and silent world.

    In thinking about it, however, the lawnmower metaphor might work as well after all. When spring comes we need to get ready for the new season and the new things growing all around us. We need to start mowing and weeding again. We need to think about what kind of flowers we want to plant. We dust off the patio furniture and get down our warmer weather clothes from the top of the closet. All of this is a reaction to the newness around us. We understand that we need to change and adapt to these new things. This requires new work and approaches to our world. This was not so different for the disciples after Easter and after Christ appeared to them. Things were not the same; they were new and completely different. They were different in a good way, but different nonetheless. The disciples had a new understanding of Christ’s ministry and what he represented and what he called them to do. Their job was to respond and face the world, fulfilling these new ministries that were laid out before them.

    In the same way, if we are striving to embrace the newness that Christ brings to our lives, it might mean a change or two along the way. If we are stuck in the same rut, or feel that part of our life is dragging us down, then to change that, we will need to respond to our lives in different ways. When we pray to God for change in our life, we should be prepared to change the way we do things. Newness and change can be great, but they usually require that we have a new approach to life as well. As we celebrate Easter for the weeks to come, think about what new thing Christ might be leading you to in your life, but also think about what new actions need to be done on your part to make it a reality.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Bryan

  • May

    This past week I took a bit of vacation to catch up on things. I stayed home and did glamorous things like doing laundry and paying bills. The life of a jet setter indeed! I did, however, start to walk a bit more in preparation for my sabbatical hike. One day I went for a 7 mile hike, and discovered quite a bit in the process. Firstly, I discovered that I should hike a great deal more before this summer, but I also remembered how nice it is just to walk in nature and not have an agenda or set of tasks taking up my time and attention. At one point in the walk I paused on a bridge and looked down at the river to see a group of geese swimming about. There was within that group another group of baby geese swimming as hard as they could against the current, then falling over, playing a bit, and continuing it all over again. It was truly a beautiful and peaceful sight, provided by none other than God.


    How often do I, and we, go about our lives so focused on what we have set as “our” agenda, so focused on what “we” think is important and critical? How many hours do I spend watching something silly on the TV or Internet that barely passes as entertainment? What do we miss when we are so focused on all of the business of our lives? How we spend our hours is how we spend our life. God often provides so much beauty around us through the world and the people in it, but do we even often notice it? I think a bit about the ministry of Jesus as I think about what I might or might not be missing. The disciples and others had very firm ideas about what Jesus should or should not be doing, whom Jesus should or should not be healing, and about what the Son of God should be all about. Jesus paid them no mind; after all he was God incarnate. Instead, he listened to the Father and took direction from God as to how he should live out his ministry. He played with children, healed people no one cared about, and stood up to an empire in a way no one thought possible. In the process Jesus made his followers abandon their pre-conceived notions and instead look to where God was leading them.


    Jesus the Christ still does this today. The Holy Spirit is next to each of us, trying to lead us to peace and happiness, despite all the anxiety and issues both real and imagined that surround us.

    This spring is a time for many things, but one thing I would recommend is that you take a walk in nature now and again. It doesn’t have to be a long one. If you can’t walk so well, take a drive to someplace in the woods, roll down the windows and just look. Take in the beauty of creation that God has put in place; see the beauty and know you are part of it. Take a deep breath, push whatever is troubling you out of your mind, and say a prayer to God for guidance: you might be surprised what you hear in return.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Bryan

  • June

    As I write this, I am working on finishing all of the things I need to do at the church before I can go on my sabbatical. There are many mundane things to attend to and so many things that I just took care of and did not even think about, like replacing the pew envelopes. It seems like a mad rush at this point, all culminating in our grand Luau Sunday on June 5th, where we will have a great deal of fun and a roasted pig to share; did I mention the roasted pig? My last Sunday at the church will at least stuff me to the gills with food. I am sure there are things that I will forget, and things I never even thought of, but all will be well. The church will continue to worship the Lord, ample pew envelopes or not, and I will be back in three months, which will probably go faster for all of us than we realize.

    As I come to the end of things before the sabbatical, I have had a song come to mind now and again. I will be saying goodbye to the church on June 6th for just a little while, and I keep hearing “Happy Trails to You” in my head when I think of that moment. Now you might wonder why that song would be going through “my” head being that I am certainly way too young to remember Roy Rogers, or even know who he was for that matter. My father, however, was born in 1947 and was about 5 years old when the Roy Rogers show first aired. Whenever there was some goodbye involved, I can remember him singing that song, and later in life finally learned where it was from. For those of you reading this who were born in the 70s like me, go ask your parents, and they will fill you in.

    What I like about the song is the last part of the opening line: ‘Happy Trails to you, “until we meet again.” ‘ Not only are we wished a good journey, but there is an acknowledgement that this will not be the end of our journey together. In many ways this relates to our relationship to Christ and each other. When Christ ascended into heaven he promised the disciples that this would not be the last time they would see him. They were in fact forever connected to him. We ourselves are connected to Christ and each other. No matter what happens in life, even death itself, we will see each other again. Knowing that makes the journey of life a bit happier; knowing that I have Beaver church to come back to will make the journey of my sabbatical all the better as well. Thank you for that, Beaver church, and may your journey while I am gone be a good one as well.

    Happy Trails, Pastor Brian

    Watch Happy Trails on YouTube!

  • July

    Interim Ministers’ Message

    What a privilege it is to be your pastors while Brian is away on sabbatical leave. A number of years ago, we had a three month sabbatical and we remember that as one of the greatest blessings in our combined 70+ years of professional ministry. We know that Brian will return renewed and with a deeper understanding of his role as your pastor. We want to offer our thanks to the congregation for sending him off for this time of refreshment and renewal.

    Revs. Gail and Stuart Wells

  • August

    Interim Ministers’ Message

    What a privilege it is to be your pastors while Brian is away on sabbatical leave. A number of years ago, we had a three month sabbatical and we remember that as one of the greatest blessings in our combined 70+ years of professional ministry. We know that Brian will return renewed and with a deeper understanding of his role as your pastor. We want to offer our thanks to the congregation for sending him off for this time of refreshment and renewal.

    Revs. Gail and Stuart Wells

  • September

    We would like to say thank you to the members of Beaver UCC for allowing Pastor Brian to take a sabbatical. Many years ago we had a sabbatical and it was a life-changing experience. At the time, Stuart had never been out of the USA but Gail had and, as she sometimes says, she dragged him overseas. We started by attending a special two-week class at Oxford, one of the best known colleges in England. We had an apartment off campus and rode rental bicycles back and forth each day – a somewhat terrifying experience because cars there drive on the “wrong” side of the road. We spent six weeks at a residential library in Wales where we researched the English roots of the Congregational Church. Then, in what was perhaps the most life changing experience, we lived with a German pastor’s family for a month and shadowed him as he did his job. The parsonage was next door to the church and between them was a beautiful rock garden. It was only later that we learned that the rock garden was there because the “rocks” were debris from when the church was destroyed by bombs. We were there the year after the Berlin wall fell and we spent one wonderful weekend with new friends in a small town about 20 miles south of Berlin as they celebrated the completion of a new roof on their church. We learned that WWII was still alive in Europe in ways it isn’t here. We still have stories to tell and know we are better pastors because of what we learned. Perhaps the experience of reentry into the USA after being gone for three months was the most important thing. We saw the nation with new eyesight with all the positives and negatives that were there.

    Every sabbatical we have ever even heard about has been very different from ours. One good friend became a volunteer “house mother” for a minor league baseball team. We believe that he had always wanted to be a professional baseball player. Another friend spent his time on the coast of Maine where he built a wooden boat. Pastor Brian has chosen another route, a pilgrimage to a monastery in Kentucky. We believe each pastor chose the sabbatical experience he or she most needed. We also believe that, in each case, the church they served benefited from their pastor’s sabbatical. We know we came back with some new insights into ministry and with a renewed passion to do it well. We are certain Beaver UCC will reap benefits from Pastor Brian’s experience.

    We thank you for the honor of allowing us to be your pastors during the past few months. It has been a very unusual experience. We have never even heard of a pastor who was an active member of the church being called to serve as an interim. Ethics require that an interim pastor totally remove him or herself from the congregation when the new pastor arrives. We are not willing to do that as we love being a part of Beaver UCC. We have decided that we will take a month or more as a sabbatical when Pastor Brian returns. So you will not see us for several months, but we will return home. We intend to take this opportunity to visit some other UCC congregations in the area where we have friends and also know the pastor. It is an opportunity that is rare for most ordained clergy. In the meantime, we wish you

    Grace & Peace, Power & Joy,
    Gail and Stuart

  • October

    What a long strange trip it’s been. As most of you know, I was away for the summer on sabbatical, completing a 250-mile solo hike from the church to a monastery in Kentucky. I have talked a bit about my trip in sermons and I plan on talking a bit more about it during the October 16th “3rd Sunday” carry-in. There were, of course, numerous unexpected experiences both pleasant and unpleasant, many lessons learned, and disconnecting from everything for several weeks had a profound effect on me. It is something I will always remember and be grateful to the church for making possible.

    One area that affected me greatly was the idea of how we as people face challenges in our lives. There are many things I have done that were “difficult” in life. However, one area in which I had never truly challenged myself was that of my body and physical activity. I have participated in sports during some parts of my life, but was never dedicated in the way those who truly call themselves athletes are. I have never done an Ironman, or run a marathon; I don’t even like running. So, the idea of walking around 15 to 20 miles a day with a 60-pound backpack was daunting to say the least. It was also unbearably hot; perhaps July was not the best time to walk across Kentucky. This also meant I had to get up very early each day so that I was not walking after 11am. By early I mean I got up between 2:30am and 4:00am each morning. Did I mention that I am not a morning person, and I don’t drink caffeine?

    Despite the heat, long distances, heavy backpack, rain, being chased by dogs, and getting up way too early, I made it. This in itself taught me an important lesson; I am capable of more than I think I am. You are also capable of more than you think you are. When Jesus chose his disciples, he chose common people and despised people. They were certainly not anywhere close to the type that we would expect to lead the Church of the Messiah, the Son of God. Yet despite others’ expectations and their own self-doubt they performed great deeds, miracles, and were great leaders and witnesses of faith. Jesus knew they were capable of so much, and through Jesus they achieved so much.

    The moral of all of this is to remember that all of us have greatness within us. Through faith and dedication all of us can do things we might not think we can. Do not let the doubt of others or even your own self-doubt limit your life. Listen to what God has called you to do and have faith that God knows our capabilities better than we do. Although, I do wish God had let me sleep in just a bit more.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • November

    When I was walking during my sabbatical, there were many things I learned about myself. In my last Pastor’s peace I talked about the importance of overcoming obstacles and having faith that you, with God’s help, can achieve many things of great difficulty. In addition to such thoughts I also went through a bit of a New Year’s resolution phase during my trip. I said to myself that there were certain things I was going to try to do differently once I got back from my trip. One of those things I decided upon was that I was going to go to the gym on a regular basis and work out. Now most of you know how much I hate exercise, but something about the regular physicality of what I was doing each day on the trail did actually appeal to me. I felt I needed to keep that up when I got back. I am also not getting any younger, and so it’s a good idea in general to stay active.

    Since my return, I have kept to a regular schedule at the gym. I go several times a week, and I prioritize it such that if something comes up, I make sure to get a make-up session in. It does feel good to exercise, and the regular pattern of it helps to reduce stress and make me happier—who knew? Now that I have done this same routine for a couple of months, it has become more and more habitual, and I know that if I missed a day or two it would be a disappointment. That is the thing about habits; if we stick to things long enough then they become ingrained in us, they become part of us, and become second nature. There are, of course, some bad habits that fall into that category as well, but I am talking about and encouraging the development of good habits.

    As I look through the Bible, I see that there are many requirements and rules that we are expected to regularly follow: keeping Sabbath, always being in prayer, weekly worship, regularly receiving communion, sharing the love and peace of Christ with your neighbor, and practicing forgiveness, just to name a few. One way we can look at these is seeing them as rules to follow so that we are “good Christians. “ Another view, however, is that we can see all of these things as habits. God and Christ have provided us a list of good habits that we can follow. By following them, we are not getting holy brownie points, but rather we are connecting with God in a deeper way and internalizing that connection.

    If we are in regular prayer and worship, then it becomes part of who we are and we can’t imagine not having that connection to God. As I continue on in the weeks and months to come, I really do hope I keep up with my time at the gym; I will certainly be better for it. It also has taught me the importance of repetition and the power of habit. As we bring 2016 to an end, try to think about what habits you can encourage in yourself and others. Most importantly, may all of us work to continue those habits of faith that bring us closer to Christ each and every day.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • December

    As we come to the end of 2016, I have to say that it has been a tough year for both my family and many families in the church. We have had people pass away, serious illnesses and injuries to deal with, break-ins in the church, and termites to top it all off. I have spoken to many and they have agreed that they hope 2017 is a much better year. This is not to say that we have not had bad years in the past. I remember one year around this time when I had four funerals within the span of three weeks. Unfortunately no matter what year it is, there is always difficulty and sadness to deal with. However, there is also hope and joy.

    Each year as we put out the Advent wreath and light the candles we remember peace, hope, love, and joy. These themes are not an accident, but rather reflect our theology and faith during this season. Although it is true that there will always be hardship, it is also true that the light of Christ is breaking in to even the darkest of places to bring us the love of God. The themes of Advent are what God gives us despite the tragedy in our life. Furthermore, we believe that sadness and death are but temporary in comparison to the love of God and our connection to God. This is at its core the meaning of Advent and Christmas.

    Despite all of the presents and the tree and the eggnog, which are fun, Advent and Christmas are really about darkness. In Advent we acknowledge the pain of life, the fact that we go through difficulties each and every year. If we were to stop there, it would be the saddest season of all, but each week of Advent we light a small candle and that tiny light pierces the darkness with both a reminder and a promise of joy, hope, love, and peace. These are how God works in our lives and brings us into happiness and salvation. It all culminates in the celebration of the birth of Christ, the ultimate light that can shine in any darkness, the event that connects us to God for all eternity. What a beauty that is beyond words; how much better is it than anything that can be wrapped and put under a tree.

    If you, like me, are thinking about this year and the challenges we have all faced, you are not alone. This is the most appropriate time in our year of faith to reflect on such things. Understand the pain, but then look for the light, look for what is promised to us through Christ, look for what is breaking forth before our eyes. God is coming, God is coming, God is
    coming into our world and our life. Alleluia and Amen.

    Peace and Merry Christmas,
    Pastor Brian

2015

  • January

    As is usually the case, I am writing this a few weeks before you are likely to read it, and thus commenting about world affairs is always a risk. I could write something now and by the time you read it the situation could be completely different. I will take the risk, however, and pontificate about such affairs as the global oil market and stocks and bonds. Keep in mind that any advice of mine is guaranteed to be worth at least what you paid for this newsletter. Don’t worry: I’m not going to give you holy stock advice, but rather just make an observation. For me, when gas prices started declining because of the drop in oil prices, I thought this was a fantastic thing. I filled my tank for less than $25 today. I felt like I was practically back in the 90s. One would think such a savings would be cause for celebration, perhaps a ticker tape parade on Wall Street? Apparently the financial markets and stockbrokers must not have to fill their gas tanks too often, because they are being rather a bunch of sourpusses. Stocks are down, bonds are down; heck, even gold is down, and Russia, from what I understand, is heading for economic disaster. Perhaps it is more like the 90s than I thought.

    So why bring up all of this, especially since I have such a narrow grasp of any of these topics? For me, I think it is an example of wanting and hoping for what we think will fill our desires, then finding something different once we get it. Oh, I was so excited about cheap gas, but it apparently has some other consequences along the way. How many times have we hoped or prayed for something only to be disappointed when our request is granted? The old saying, “Be careful what you wish for,” is as true today as when it was first spoken. I bring this up now, because we will be entering a new year, 2015, with all sorts of hopes, resolutions, predictions, and desires for renewal. I sure do hope “this” is different in 2015, or “that” is different, or that we finally get “this,“ or that we no longer have to deal with “such-ity-such.” New year desires like these differ little from our prayers and desires before God. One thing to keep in mind, however, is that perhaps 2014 is not so bad as we thought it was. I’m not suggesting doom and gloom for 2015, but rather that perhaps there were blessings we had, or have now, that go unnoticed or unutilized because we are so focused on that perceived great change coming around the corner.

    The season of Advent that we just finished is about preparing and waiting, this is true, but God was never separated from us during that period, or even before Jesus first arrived. God is always working in our lives moving us closer to God’s Kingdom if we allow it. Therefore my 2015 New Year’s wish or resolution is for open ears and an open heart. If I can’t begin to understand why cheap gas is so bad for the economy, then what hope do I have in truly knowing what is best for me in the New Year? Let me rather open myself up to someone who does know, God. May we all be open to God’s plans and desires and have the faith to follow them in 2015 and beyond.

    Peace, Blessings, and Happy New Year!
    Pastor Brian

  • February

    Well, I have some really good news everybody; I know you have been waiting for it. Jimmy Buffett has released the name of this year’s tour. It will be called the “Workin’ n’ Playin’” tour of 2015. For those proofreaders out there, the misspelling and lack of grammar are on purpose. I am confident they are to indicate the relaxed and easy attitude of this upcoming tour. I also know there are likely as many as one or two of you reading this who even care about the new tour or about Jimmy Buffett, for that matter. I do care, however, and the fact that you have a Buffett fan for a pastor means that you unfortunately will hear about such things. I could have worse vices though, so you should count yourself lucky.

    I do bring this up for a reason. I have no idea what the tour is actually about, or even, more importantly, when it is coming to Cincinnati, but I do like the name. I am going to speculate and imagine that this has something to do with the balance of work and play, something that we in the U.S. tend not to do so well. I think there are many reasons for this: Puritan work ethic, consumerism, and fear of scarcity are perhaps a few. I also wonder what Jesus might have to say about it. Was Jesus a hard workin’ no playin’ type of person, or is it more complicated than that? Something we should first ask is whether or not these things should be separated at all. We tend to think about work as this thing we would rather not do but have to, and leisure time as the thing that actually brings us joy. Life, though, is not so easily broken up. There are many times when we hope to have fun in work, and have challenges during the hours for which we aren’t paid.

    When I think about Jesus recruiting his disciples, particularly when he asks Peter and Andrew to join him, I think about this work and play dichotomy. Jesus gives Andrew and Peter new jobs. They will now be fishers of men. On one hand they would know great joy in participating in Christ’s ministry, on the other hand this would be no easy task. Was it work or play, hardship or joy? The lives of Jesus and the disciples were both, as is every aspect of our life. For me I feel that Christ, and in a smaller sense Jimmy Buffett, calls me to try to embrace this.

    If I can understand that God gives us blessings and challenges in every part and stage of life, then perhaps I can better learn to accept the challenges and embrace, recognize, and appreciate the blessings. If I think that one part or time of my life will be all joy or no fun, then I will miss out on quite a bit, and be often surprised by difficulty. We are all called by God to different lives and callings. Embrace this if you can and know that all of life is a bit of workin’ and playin’.


    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • March

    We are now in the season of Lent; you might have noticed the purple banners in the sanctuary. Besides a color change, what does Lent mean for us at Beaver church? Lent, like Advent, is a season in the church calendar that often gets overlooked and ignored. We look forward to Christmas and Easter so much that we forget what comes before. They are like headliners to a rock show you want to go to, and Advent and Lent are those opening bands you have never heard of and are not sure if you want to get there early enough to see. Well, maybe they are not that ignored, but when we hear requests to have Easter music during Lent and Christmas music during Advent, the analogy is not that far off.

    Sure, Lent is not some exciting rock and roll show like Easter, with the Resurrection and all, but it is still important and essential to making Easter what it is. Lent represents several things—Jesus’ time in the desert, and a time for us to focus on our relationship with God. We sometimes give things up during Lent, and therefore some think Lent is only a time of sacrifice. The practice of giving up an item, however, is not a punishment, but rather a way for us to remember God in each and every day of Lent. When you don’t have to do anything different in your life because of your faith, then sometimes it is easy to forget that faith. Lent is a time for remembering and reconnecting.

    It is important that Jesus’ time in the desert takes place directly after his baptism, right before his ministry begins. This time was when Jesus found himself, his mission, gave up the temptations of the world around him, and found his conviction to fulfill his purpose, despite the costs. Likewise for us this is a time to remember why we have decided to follow Christ, to remember what God means to us, and to renew our sense of purpose in the story of God. This preparation makes the meaning and importance of Easter possible. Any achievement of worth in life, be it personal or professional, does not happen over night. It is accomplished by work, repetition, and remembering your goals.

    Any attempt to skip all that usually leads to mediocrity at best, and although sometimes I end up being quite mediocre, I would like to think that’s not my goal, and not my permanent place in life. So look forward to Lent; it is a time set-aside for you to work on you, and it even has a pretty color to go along with it.


    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • April

    In spite of the snow we just had, spring and Easter are around the corner, I promise. I’m, however, not quite sure we will be able to have an outdoor Easter egg hunt; perhaps jackets will be required. Despite the last hanging on of winter, we do know that eventually it will get warmer, greener, and more pleasant outside. This is a season of transformation, as is the season of Easter. Jesus does more than simply come back to the living being he was before the cross, he becomes something completely new through the Resurrection.

    In our recent book study we talked a bit about life after death and what that would look like. Biblically there are actually several competing descriptions, and in modern times we tend to have a more Greek-influenced idea of the separation of the body and soul, as opposed to the more traditional Christian view of a resurrection of the body. Regardless of your view of any of the biblical or historical views, one thing we can say for certain is that our faith teaches us that death is not the end.

    When Paul is questioned about what bodily resurrection looks like exactly, he sort of dodges the question, suggests that it is a mystery, he does not know for sure, and we should just wait and find out for ourselves. This is one of many reasons I don’t give a definitive answer to such questions, because if Paul didn’t know for sure, who am I to say otherwise. One thing Paul did stress is the idea of the transformation that our death and resurrection would produce. He compared it to the simple seed of a tree that grows into something larger, more beautiful, and grander than we would ever expect from a simple seed. We, too, when we pass and come into the next life whatever that is, will likely be something beyond our understanding.

    Sometimes not knowing what the future holds brings us anxiety. If I can’t tell someone for sure what has happened to his or her loved one who passed, what good am I? Although I can’t say exactly what happens, I will borrow from Paul and suggest that we all continue on and are something new and better than we were before. Like the current season, even though the cold sting of death lingers and weighs heavy on our hearts, I have faith and know that we will all be in a place that is warmed by God’s love, full of new life, and more pleasant and peaceful than we could imagine. Christ has risen indeed, and we share fully in this new existence. Hallelujah, and happy Easter!


    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • May

    In May we will be showing a three-part series that looks at the work we do and how one might think of that as their calling from God. Often when we hear that term we are more likely to think of someone who is in the ministry. We are used to hearing about people being called to the ministry; however, are people called to other lines of work as well? Could someone be called by God to be a baker? Could someone be called by God to be a realtor? Could someone be called by God to be a used car salesman? Some of these called professions might seem more far-fetched than others, but I happen to believe that any profession or work we do in the world can be a calling.

    For myself, I did feel called to the ministry, but that was not a loud-voice-in-the-sky kind of calling. It was rather a slow nudging into the ministry such that eventually I truly felt it is what I wanted to do with my life. I think such nudging is pretty common, actually, for many professions. We might try one thing or another, but then we hope to find something that we like well enough to pour ourselves into it. Sure, work is about bringing home a paycheck and providing for yourself and others, but ideally it can be more than just that. Ideally, work can be a way in which we create something of worth in the world. We can use our labor to improve things around us for both the greater community and ourselves. Even a used car salesman could achieve this if he helped people find cars that truly suited the customer’s needs in a fair and honest way.

    Two things I think are important to work as a calling are integrity and working for something beyond yourself. Obviously these qualities should apply to the ministry, but really they should apply to any profession. If the work we do is not honest, then it is not benefiting the world, at least not as much as it could. If we work only for ourselves and not for what that work does for others or for the art of our profession, then we will be limited in what we achieve and in its importance to the world. Any task, from digging a ditch to the President, has the ability to impact others and to make a difference in the world. If we also see our work as somehow connected to the work of God, then we might find a deeper purpose to our work and life. So as we all look to tomorrow and how we will spend the hours of our days, think about how those hours might impact others, and know that God is with us each and every second of every day. With God as a work partner, who knows what we might achieve with our labor.


    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • June

    In the beginning of May we held our now annual basement sale here at Beaver Church. I can tell you that it was a great success. We raised about $1,700 for the church, and just as importantly, we helped people remove some items from their life. My wife, Amelia, always points out that the sale is truly two ministries in one. We raise money for church, and help people unclutter their lives. This last ministry is perhaps the less obvious of the two, but one that is rather important. In our society today people tend to hold onto stuff. If we look at the landscape 30 or 40 years ago, storage spaces were not very common, where as now there are over 2.3 billion square feet of storage spaces in the country. Enough to fit every man, woman, and child in, despite the fact that houses are on average 40% bigger than they were in the 70s, and families are smaller.

    Some people speculate that some items have gotten cheaper over time, and that there are more types of things to own, such as technology gadgets and computers, but I think it is something else. I fear that many of us have come to use stuff as a crutch. When we have a bad day or period in our life, we buy things to make ourselves feel better. I also feel that we have a hard time getting rid of stuff because we feel that there is scarcity in the world and we also give more value to material items in our life than they deserve. I have to say that even I fall into this habit now and again. In the last several basement sales, there were some items that used to belong to my mother that she donated to the sale. As I have been in one or two church member’s houses I have noticed them here or there. Of course they bring back memories of my childhood and for a second I think that maybe I should have asked for them. The thing I have to remind myself of, however, is that the items themselves are not what are special; the memories that they invoke are what have value. I don’t need a desk cluttering up my garage to have those memories. I can have them anytime I wish.

    More importantly, if I think about what makes these memories special, I see that it is about the relationships of my past, certainly not the things of my past. Matthew 6:19-21 is a famous set of verses we all know reminding us not to store our treasures on earth, but rather in heaven. It seems that the issue of “stuff “ was present even in the time of Jesus.

    If we look at our faith, we also know that we will not be reunited with any of our stuff in heaven, yet the people who were part of our lives will be joined with us in Christ for eternity. I constantly have people asking me about that, wanting reassurance that it is true, and that they will be reunited with their loved ones. I have not once had anyone ask me if they will be reunited with their favorite piece of furniture. We know deep down even without being told, what is of true importance in our life, what Christ leads us towards, and like every good ministry of the church, the basement sale leads us closer to that as well. I hope for 2016 you will be boxing up one or two more items for the next church basement sale. I know I will.


    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • July

    Who is ready for some fireworks and hotdogs? I know I am looking forward to the 4th of July and all the celebrations. I’m not so sure I am looking forward to the summer heat, but hey, that’s what friends with pools are for. Obviously the 4th is a time for us to celebrate the independence of our country from the tyranny of the British, even if they are nice to us now. Besides marking that event, many take an opportunity to remember the sacrifices of those in the Revolutionary War, and all who have sacrificed in many ways to defend our country and defend the ideals that our country stands for.

    In our neighborhood, we have the world’s shortest 4th of July parade. I don’t know if it is actually the shortest, but with a parade route of about half a mile, and a group of about 30 people, a car, and an old wicker pushcart, it is pretty short. We celebrate afterwards with hotdogs and ice cream in the park. I think last year they went through 130 hotdogs, which is perhaps the most impressive feat. Now, every year we have fun, and it is a good time, but in comparison to many 4th of July celebrations it is rather tiny. It is nothing compared to the parades in the big cities, or the grand fireworks display in New York City and Washington DC, although on hot dogs eaten per capita, we might have them beat. Even though it is not grand, is it still worth doing?

    In scripture and in the teachings of Jesus, we see many examples of the importance of small things and of humble events. We see heroes in the parables who are common people, not great leaders. We hear of the small mustard seed that grows into the great tree. We hear of the small donation of the poor woman, who gave all she had, and how that donation was truly the greatest. If we learn anything in these stories, we see that it is what is in our hearts and the sincerity of our faith that really matters, not the grandeur of our actions. So if you have a small parade, or some other event or act of kindness that seems small compared to the world around you, fear not, it is still of value. Christ is with us in every act of love and support we do. Never think that a small gesture or action will not lead to greater change in the world. After all, the great British Empire of the 18th century, on which the sun never set, probably thought very little of a small group of backward country folk in the Americas. The rest they say is history. Have a Happy 4th of July, and eat an extra hotdog for me.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • August

    As we move into the final month of summer, I hope you have been experiencing the season of summer to its fullest. We certainly have had some more typical summer weather recently with highs in the 90s and those strong summer storms. Perhaps the hot weather is why the summer is typically the time people decide to get away or at least to slow down. Who can do a bunch of stuff when it is so hot anyway? In France most folks usually take the entire month of August off-- sounds good to me! Heat aside, I think that slowing down and enjoying life a bit more during the summer or any other season is a good practice. We need to take some time to regenerate every now and again; the Bible calls that “Sabbath.”

    In July we tried something new for the first time, and that was Luau Sunday. We wore Hawaiian shirts to church, handed out leis, sang some hymns with Hawaiian verses, and had a whole roasted pig and carry-in afterwards. We ended up with 96 people in church that Sunday, probably a July record. I will be honest and say that the roasted pig probably had a little to do with it, but in general I think people were excited that we were letting our hair down and relaxing a bit more than usual. That Sunday I preached about that Sabbath thing, stating that a bit of rest now and again in not only good for you, but mandated by God.

    We know in the Old Testament that God rested on the 7th day and marked it as a holy day or rest for all. As Christians most of us generally celebrate the Sabbath on Sunday, because of the Resurrection of Christ on that day. We do understand that it is a day for us to recognize and to worship God in our life. We generally gather for worship at churches and to offer our praise. This is all well and good, and should be part of the Sabbath, but sometimes we forget the resting part. God has commanded us to take a break now and then, not only to honor God, but because it is good for us, and good for our relationships with others. Obviously the patterns of everyone’s life differ a bit, and when you can rest is different from everyone else; however, I would stress the importance of prioritizing rest in your life some way. Keep all this in mind as we enter August. If you find yourself on one of those hot days thinking that it is just too hot to do much of anything, maybe it is! Perhaps God is telling you and all of us that it is a good day for a break. Have some rest this month, and in doing so remember to honor your relationship with God and with those around you.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • September

    Amelia and I finished watching a great miniseries recently that we got from the Internet. It was called “Egypt”, and was done a number of years ago by the BBC. It was half documentary and half drama, as it retold the stories of several explorers who helped uncover some of the long-lost secrets of ancient Egypt in the early 19th and 20th centuries. It was, of course, interesting to learn about some of these people, like the Frenchman Jean-François Champollion who in the early 19th century translated the hieroglyphics on the Rosetta Stone and eventually developed the system by which all Egyptian hieroglyphics were read. It was also interesting to learn about Egyptian history, but beyond that it was inspirational to learn of the obstacles these explorers overcame. Each one of the people that were highlighted in the series overcame great challenges to become the scholars that we still talk about today.

    Each one could have turned back or taken the easy route numerous times, but they did not. Instead, they persevered in the areas and tasks that they felt called to, and in the end accomplished amazing things. One idea to take from this is that we should not back down from a challenge in life, but another idea is that there will always be challenges, even if we are doing the right thing. Sometimes we are fooled into thinking that if we only did everything right in our lives, then things would be easy. This, however, is not true; even when we are doing great things, which it seems we were destined to do, life is still hard.

    As we look at the lives of Christ and the disciples, here we see other people who did great things. They were clearly doing what they were supposed to do, what God had called them to do, and yet the world gave them obstacle after obstacle. Perhaps such a notion would get one down on life in general, but it could also be seen as uplifting. If we have struggles in our lives, it is natural, and Christ and the early disciples and all those who have followed God share in this. It is yet another way we are all connected. As far as why we have to struggle, who knows, such answers are above my pay grade as they say. I can tell you though, that a bit of struggle makes every achievement seem a bit sweeter, and certainly makes for a better story.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Bryan

  • October

    In September I participated in the Air Force 10K held at Wright Patterson Air Force Base along with the other running events such as the Marathon and Half-Marathon. I would say that I “ran” the 10K, but being that I walked 90% of it, that would be an overstatement. At any rate, I did complete it, which is the important thing in my mind, considering it was the first such event I have ever participated in. You see, I don’t like running at all, and I don’t even like walking faster than my natural pace. Being this is the case, one might wonder why I participated at all.

    It all started many months ago when a church member came to me and asked if I would do the 10K with her. Her husband was doing the 10K as well, but he would be running it, and she was looking for someone who would be willing to walk most of it with her. Normally I would have found an excuse or some other way of extricating myself from such a laborious event, but for the church member in question I said I would do it. I think the sad pouty look she gave me perhaps had an effect, and also the agreement that we would indeed be walking and certainly not running.

    The day came and all of us were there at the start line. I did a bit of stretching, once again confirmed we would be walking, and with a brisk shuffle started off on our 6.3 mile adventure. Now the course at this event, as anyone who has done it knows, is worse at the beginning. The very first thing you encounter is a big hill that seems to go on forever. We climbed and climbed, eventually getting to the top, all with the help of wellwishers, many of whom were Air Force enlisted, shouting encouragements along the way. It was one thing that I noticed right away—the amount of people helping you throughout the event. There were the people on the side of the road, but there were also the people in the race itself, helping and encouraging each other.

    After we finished the 10K, and I was handed a medal for simply completing the event, it struck me how much I had actually enjoyed it. I mean I didn’t enjoy the exercise, heaven’s no, but I did enjoy the companionship.

    I enjoyed the fact that for most of the people there, it was not about winning an event, but rather about all of us sharing in a common obstacle and goal, with everyone supporting each other in the process. It was not really that “I” finished the 10K, but rather that “we” finished it, together. Such an event was a reminder to me that no obstacle in life need be faced alone. We always have others who will be there for us if we look and ask, and we always have God walking with us on any path in life. This understanding, renewed in the 10K, has helped me often through the more difficult parts of life, and what a blessing it was to remember it yet again.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Bryan

  • November

    It is that time of the year again, not fall, although it is that, not Thanksgiving, although we will be looking forward to that as well, but rather it is election time. I know that everyone is very excited. If you work in advertising, you probably are excited, but for the rest us, I think it is not something we typically look forward to. You would think that many people would be glad and happy to be able to exercise their right to vote, but voting turn out numbers alone suggest that very few of us are happy in that way. Perhaps it is that we see it as yet another thing that has to be done, or perhaps we are tired of all of the rhetoric and lack of substance that accompanies all of the advertising, debates, and millions of little signs.

    Of course politics and the election cycle are not the only areas of life that frustrate and disillusion us. Believe it or not some people even become fed up with the Church. I know, I know, you find that impossible to believe, but it is true. Like politics, people hear something they don’t like; people see things from the Church and Christ’s followers that seem hollow and lacking in substance. People have been hurt by the Church, and there are many more reasons folks have fallen away from it over the years. Many of these are valid reasons for frustration, but like politics it is important to remember that what is at the heart of the matter is what matters most. At the heart of the election is the fact that we as free citizens have a right to vote, to help decide our fate and the fate of our fellow citizens. No matter what some politician does or says, that right is a beautiful thing and something we should be glad to have.

    Likewise the Church as a whole has done some not-sogreat things over the many centuries. There are people every day saying the worst things imaginable in “the name of Christ”, and yet this does not change what is at the heart of the Church. At its heart it is about forgiveness, love, and acceptance. It is about a humble Savior and it is about the gift given to us by God through him. Everything else is just window dressing, and often gets in the way of focusing on the central message of Christ.

    So as you go to the polls this year, (yes, you should do that) keep in mind that it is about the freedom that you have, and not all of the other distractions we see around us. Likewise as you walk your path with God, know that it is a path of love; God is love. Anything else that takes you away from that is about as useful as those million little signs we will be picking up from our roads and yards over the weeks and months to come.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Bryan

  • December

    The other night at a church meeting we went around the room and named things we were thankful for, praying and giving thanks afterwards. There were many of the usual items one would think we were thankful for: health, family, and friends. Without saying it, I think all of us were also thankful that we weren’t part of the recent violence that struck Paris and Lebanon on the 13th of November. Such acts of hurt and destruction are so hard for us to fathom. Such things should not happen, and we as humanity should have long ago realized that, yet we have not.

    In light of all of this, one addition to my thankful list is that I am thankful for God. This might seem pretty straightforward for a pastor. I love God and am thankful for God, etc. All this is true, but in this instance I am thankful for a more specific reason. I am thankful because we as humanity need God. We as a people sometimes think that we alone can bring about peace in the world, solve all problems on our own, and recreate paradise on earth. All of these are lofty goals; however, humans have shown without a doubt that left to our own devices we will not make it. I am therefore thankful that something greater and transcendent to us exists. I am grateful that there is goodness and love in the form of God that can be a guidepost and light in the darkness for us.

    Of course, one could have long arguments about how belief in the divine encourages some who cause the harm we fear. On the surface this might seem true, but my belief is that anyone who would harm an innocent in the name of God does not follow God at all. They follow only their own desires and ideals, replacing God with their own sense of supremacy. It is not that any of our religions is dangerous, but rather that false religions replace a God of love with human ego and selfish desires. As we sit with our families this Christmas season, as we remember and celebrate the birth of Christ into this world, remember what Christ represents. Christ is a prince of peace, the incarnation of a God of love, one who would never take the life of another, but rather lay down his life for all. Such a bright star is needed now more than ever in our world that struggles with darkness. The Christ child is coming—prepare a way in the world and in your hearts.

    Peace and Love this Christmas,
    Pastor Bryan

2014

  • January

    As I write this, we are in the midst of winter storm “Falco.” That sounds so serious. “Falco” reminds me of a villain’s name from an old science fiction movie. Why couldn’t they name it winter storm “Frank” or “Figgie;” those sound much less intimidating. Of course, that is probably the point. The Weather Channel just started naming winter storms this year, even though there are no meteorological standards for this. They say it is to inform the public, but I think it is more likely related to ratings, and nothing drives up ratings more than people glued to the TV or computer, terrified of winter storm “F-A-L-C-O.” I’m sure there is an angle for the grocery stores as well. Milk probably will be $8 a gallon in January, not because of the lack of a new farm bill, but because we keep buying up all the milk every time there is a new scary storm. So by the time you read this, we will likely be at winter storm “Xanth the Destroyer” with the way our winter is going.

    I joke, of course, about all of the hype and the unnecessary manufacturing of fear; however, there is a sad truth to us being overly terrified. Every time you turn on the news or watch even the Weather Channel, there is some new horrible thing going on. People are being shot, houses are on fire, winter storm Xanth will bury us, etc., etc. It almost makes you not want to leave your house, and if 2013 was that scary, what will happen in 2014? Will it be the end of the world? This is nothing new, although it would probably do us all good to watch the news less.

    There have always been people who have made a full time job out of predicting the worst possible outcomes. And now they have the ability to reach folks all over the world 24/7. Even in Christ’s time there were people proclaiming every year was going to be the last, before God made everything crumble. Many in the early church wondered how long it would be before Christ returned, and many thought it would be days or months at the most, certainly not centuries or millennia.

    What if I suggested, however, that things were really not that bad, and 2014 will be great? Some might think I am overly optimistic, but really the majority of our days are not filled with fire, death, and feet of snow. Every now and then something really bad does happen, but most of us could probably count on one hand those days when something actually worth being scared of happened to us in a given year.

    So what should we focus on, the few scary things, or the abundance of reasonable days and good things that happen as well? Of course this does not sell news. No one will be glued to the TV if we feel that all our future days are likely good ones with not much to worry about. Thus my 2014 New Year wish for you is not to worry. I know it is hard, believe me I know, but try to see that Christ is with you, that most days are good, and that we are never alone even when days are bad. If you don’t believe me and need more proof than that, check out Matthew 6:25-34, a scripture many of us could stand to read every day.

    Peace and Happy New Year,

    Pastor Brian

  • February

    We have several things to look forward to in February. There is the Presidents’ Day holiday, Valentine’s Day (of course), Groundhog Day, and my favorite, National Bagel and Lox Day, February 9th by the way. There is also something happening called the 2014 Winter Olympics. I am sure that NBC would rather I call it the Most Awesome Fantastic 2014 Winter Olympics That-you must-watch Extravaganza! I am, however, not sure how fantastic it will be. I like the Olympics, but I am not so sure about Sochi. Now I know there are probably some big Russia fans out there, maybe not, but Sochi averages around 48 degrees in February. You will notice that is above the ever-soimportant freezing of water temperature. Don’t worry, though, they literally have 450,000 cubic meters of snow saved in vaults, and hundreds, maybe thousands, of snow machines. No wonder the games are estimated to cost $51 billion, the most of any Olympics.

    As I ponder this, I think about whether it is an example of man’s ingenuity and ability to overcome, or an example of our stupidity and arrogance. It is interesting that these two things are often hard to tell apart. The world’s verdict will surely be dependent on the success or failure of the games. If it does lean more to the side of lunacy, does this mean we should never attempt difficult things? At what point does bravery and hard work turn into ego and stubbornness? For me, I think it has to do with why we are doing something. I think that is true in the Bible, particularly with Paul, who knew a thing or two about ego. When we attempt something of difficulty because we are trying to help others, or forward a worthy cause, then this is noble. If we are doing it only to add grandeur to ourselves, then perhaps it is something that is not the best use of our time.

    Paul talked about other self-important false prophets and the fact that what he did was for Christ and the Gospel as opposed to himself. Now Paul did have an issue or two with ego, but in his heart of hearts, I believe he did what he did primarily out of a love for Christ and a need to share that love with others.

    As Paul quotes in 1 Corinthians 1:31, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.” As we live our lives and face challenges, perhaps we should think about what challenges are worth working toward overcoming, and which ones we should just let go. If we work for Christ in our lives, then this should lead to an outpouring of love and work to help others. Perhaps you can find a new person to share the Gospel with on February 11th, National Make a Friend Day, or even ways to help strangers on February 17th, National Random Acts of Kindness Day. Regardless of what day you decide to do God’s work, don’t give up, and know that God is with us even when things are most difficult. Lastly, don’t forget, even if you worked really hard towards something this month and you still don’t feel like you accomplished much, there is always February 22nd, National Margarita Day.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • March

    I’m done, done, done, done, I tell you. I am done with this winter. Polar Vortex can go home to the artic where it belongs. Mr. Vortex is no longer welcome here in Ohio. I hate to be inhospitable, but some guests have worn out their welcome and the winter party is over, in my opinion. Mr. Vortex, Snow Fairy, and Jack Frost need to have some decency and leave. I am done with shoveling and salting, I am done with frozen pipes, I am done with melting snow leaking through my roof, and I am done with thinking I never left Boston when I look out my window. Did I mention I was done with winter?

    I know I should not complain so much. People at the church have reminded me that winters used to be like this in the past. Things are much worse other places. A friend from Michigan said that while we might be measuring our snow in inches, they have been measuring it in feet. Although it is Michigan, so perhaps inches are too complicated for them. None of these things matter, however; I am done. What other people think is irrelevant. Sometimes we are just done, we hit a breaking point, the straw piles up just past the point of back breaking, etc. It does not matter if others have it worse, or if we have been through worse in the past, sometimes we just reach our limit. In my experience the first thing to do when this happens is to admit it. Often we try to dismiss or diminish the difficulty; we say it’s not that bad. Again, that might be true but it does not change the fact that we are struggling. By suggesting that the trouble is not so bad, we ignore the truth of the struggle. If we look at the ministry of Jesus, we see that he did not dismiss people’s suffering. He never said you aren’t really that sick or that possessed, or “maybe” you need God. Jesus was upfront in acknowledging the reality of the hurt people had. He acknowledged it, and then often cured it. I feel this is an important lesson for us. When we are struggling with an issue, the first thing to do is to acknowledge the struggle, and acknowledge our current inability to cope with it.

    If we can start with that, then we can start to move past that place. We can start to ask for help, we can start to receive help. So if you too are done with something in your life, then you are done! You are right to feel that way. Now that this has been established, what do you want to change to make it better? Pray about it, ask God for it, look for help and receive it. Did I mention that 10 days from when I am writing this, they are forecasting a high of 57 degrees? I am still done, but God is still good.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • April

    Well, what are the chances that we will have an outdoor Easter egg hunt this year? Normally with Easter being this late in April, I would assume outdoor for sure, but this is no ordinary year. With our luck it might snow on Easter, although the colored Easter eggs would at least be easy to find. Even though we think this winter will never end, it will end at some point, and probably sooner than we think. We will have an ending of one season and the beginning of another.

    The concepts of ends and beginnings are fitting for our season of Easter. We, of course, will think about the Resurrection during Easter, and this is the ultimate of new beginnings, but we will also remember the death of Jesus. This is an important end that we remember each year as well. Sometimes we are so focused on the new beginnings that we forget the ends that lead to them. Now you might think that I am a bit morbid or crazy to focus on Jesus' death, but it is something we should not forget or overlook. In fact, not only do we remember it every Good Friday, but also every time we baptize a cute baby here at church.

    When Jesus died he took with him our sin, our mortality, our distance from God and transformed it through the Resurrection into forgiveness, eternal life, and a new covenant and connection to God that cannot be broken. In remembering our new life in Christ we should not forget the old life we leave behind, lest we forget what is so wonderful about our new life in Christ. Each time we celebrate baptism we have a ritual that represents a death and a rebirth into a new life. We are born again as the passage from the Gospel of John reminds us. In doing so we lay to rest the things that separated us from our God.

    During the rest of Lent we should be thinking about those things that linger in our life and separate us from what God has called us to do. The things that keep us from fully embracing God’s love should be ended, put to death, in as much as we can. This end is necessary so that we can have a new beginning in Christ. Like the seasons of weather, Lent and Easter are not one-time events but seasons of our lives that repeat each year. Every time we experience them it is another opportunity to end some things in our life and bring into existence a new life in Christ. How will you celebrate the Resurrection this year, what new part of your life will you look for, and what will you look to end? Just like this winter, there are things about ourselves that we might think will never change, but the power of Christ is greater than we know. Have faith that a new Spring is right around the corner.


    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • May

    Well, Easter is over right? Now what? The eggs have been found, the chocolate has been eaten, the lilies have lost their scent and we probably won’t have 150 people per Sunday, but that last thought would be nice. We have spent all this time in Lent thinking about our relationship to God, we have journeyed with Christ through Holy Week, experienced the tragedy of Good Friday, and celebrated with alleluias the miracle of Easter and the Resurrection. Do we now just go back to “Ordinary Time?” That is actually a period of the church calendar by the way. It turns out that Easter Sunday is not an end, but just a beginning. We have 7 Sundays in Easter starting with Easter Sunday and going all the way through until the beginning of June. Christ has risen indeed!

    Although I am not expecting 150 people for the next 6 Sundays, although it again would be nice, I hope that people are able to keep the Easter spirit through the entirety of the Easter season, and even beyond that. My sermon on Easter Sunday was about God’s ability to triumph over tragedy in our lives. This is not just a one Sunday or even a 7 Sunday sort of thing, but rather it is a rest of our lives sort of message. I had a professor in seminary tell me a story once about when she was talking to a group of PhD students, and one had said they would be so glad to be “done” with their PhD. The professor responded, “Done, you won’t be done; a PhD is a beginning, not an end.”

    Sometimes I think we see Easter or any big event in our faith life as an end. Perhaps it is an end to a time of prayer, or an answered prayer, or an end of suffering. Whatever the meaningful interaction we have with God, such contact should be seen as the start of something new, and not just the end of a period of time or request. It is my hope that when the Spirit of God touches you, it inspires you into new directions, it encourages you to share your faith, and that makes you hunger for an even deeper relationship with our savior Christ Jesus. The Resurrection of Christ put an end to death and the power of sin, but it was a beginning of so much more. It led to the Church we have today, the Body of Christ with billions of believers.

    It led to so many instances of miracles and important journeys of faith. It led to us all gathering in a little church in Beavercreek, and it led to the love of God we all share. My prayer this Easter season, and every season of our lives, is that the Resurrection is always leading us forward to new places and to a new understanding of God and God’s Kingdom forever more. Christ has risen indeed; now go forth!

    Peace, Blessings, and Alleluia,

    Pastor Brian

  • June

    I learned some good news: a church I thought was closing is actually open. Don’t worry; I’m not talking about ours. Our church is very much alive—at least I hope it is. No, I was talking about a little UCC church in Key West that I went to several times when I was a child. My father was a guest minister there during some of the summers of my childhood and I remember staying in the adjoining “conch” house with my parents for vacations. Now this was back in the early ‘80s and Key West has changed a bit since then. When I was there last summer, it appeared that the church was no longer open, and I mourned a bit of my childhood that seemed to be yet another casualty of progress and time.

    However, just as in an Easter-like miracle (it is “still” Easter), it seems as if the church is open again with regular Sunday services. Apparently they were merely in the midst of getting a new pastor and were in a state of transition during my last visit. Well, this is great news for me, but what does this have to do with anything here at Beaver UCC, other than the fact that your pastor has a dual case of nostalgia and writer’s block. The writer’s block is not good, but I think nostalgia is not so bad; it is natural for us to look back with fondness at our younger and simpler days. When I visited Key West as a child, I did not worry how I was going to pay for it, or where to eat, or if my wife was having a good time, or when my flight was, or if I forgot my room key. Life was simpler. I mostly just followed my parents’ lead and was entranced by all of the curious and fascinating things around me. Being a child is not so bad, I think. We spend so much time hurrying to grow up, and then when we get older, we look back with fondness on younger years— how funny and human.

    As I think about this, I remember Matthew, chapter 18. In the beginning of the chapter we see Jesus telling us that we must become like children if we are to enter the kingdom of heaven. This is in response to the question of “who is the greatest among us” from the disciples. Jesus quickly demonstrates that their concern with ego and importance separates them from God rather than bringing them closer. We must rather humble ourselves like a child. There is a great deal of truth to that. Not only should we have personal humility, but perhaps we should also focus less on all of the seemingly “important” things that come with adulthood.

    Many of the things that constantly concern us are really just distractions that keep us from seeing God’s kingdom around us. As I think about my own distractions, I think about the start of each Sunday’s service. When our service begins, I escort our little candle lighters to the altar. They have excitement and fascination in their eyes, while I am worrying about the service and what I will say. I think perhaps my focus is misplaced. If I truly want to follow Christ’s advice, then next Sunday I should try to be more like them. I will try to walk with the same eyes I had when I was a child, when I saw Hemingway’s six-toed cats, parrots, sunsets, and all the other beautiful things of Key West in the ‘80s. What fascinated you when you were a child? Try to put away the distractions of importance, and view the world as a child yet again. You never know what you might see.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • July

    I am writing July’s Pastor’s Peace having just finished our Question Sunday in which the congregants write questions that I answer instead of giving a sermon. We had some great questions, and I hope exploring those topics was interesting for the writers and the congregation. Before I started answering the questions, I commented that one of the scripture readings for the day, Matthew 10:24-39, was one of my favorites to preach on. Now since we won’t get that scripture again for another 3 years, I figured I would take this Pastor’s Peace to give you a mini version of what I would have said.

    This passage from Matthew is a favorite of mine, because it is a difficult one and thus is challenging to explore. In it Jesus claims that he did not come to bring peace but rather a sword! Now wait a second: Jesus is the Prince of Peace, so why would he say this? Sometimes this passage has been used to justify war and killing in the name of Christ, which I feel is contrary to the teaching of Jesus. Jesus speaks of setting members of a family against each other, especially along generational lines. What I believe is that Jesus is offering a radical path of love and peace and a relationship with God that is at great odds with the status quo of the time. In other words, if people really follow Christ, it is not going to be easy and it will disrupt and upset many. Jesus, however, was not here for a popularity contest, and he did bring out the sword, the sword of the Romans through the crucifixion, and the swords of later generations who would oppress and kill his followers. The teachings of Jesus threatened the ways of those in power so much that they murdered to try to protect their views. Thus Jesus reminds those who follow him, that they too will pick up their own crosses and follow—a somber reminder to many early Christians that they would indeed lose their lives as Christ had, but that they would, in turn, gain life eternal.

    Thankfully, in our community people are not trying to kill us because we follow Jesus, although there are still places in the world where people are killed or persecuted for following Christianity or a religion different from the majority. Even though we do not face the sword, I will state that the teachings of Jesus are still pretty radical, and sometimes when you follow them, it ruffles many feathers.

    I would also say that the priorities of this world are often different from those of Christ, and we are tempted to be more concerned about things, that in the eyes of God, are of little importance. For me, I try to remember that following Christ is a journey and not a destination. Each one of us has periods of great adherence to Christ and days when we are greatly lacking in our devotion. Do not be discouraged, however; have faith, continue on your path, and know that you are not alone.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • August

    It is the day after I went to a Jimmy Buffett concert in Cincinnati. Many of you know that I am a fan, and this is now my third time to see Mr. Buffett live. It was also the first time I took Amelia, my wife. Perhaps it was that I was concerned for her having a good time, or maybe it was just happenstance, but last night’s event was my least favorite so far. Don’t get me wrong; I enjoyed the music and Jimmy put on a great show, but less enjoyable this time were some of the other fans. Parrotheads, fans of Jimmy Buffett, certainly know how to be a lively bunch, with a great deal of costumes and tailgating events on display. However, one can go in a hurry from having a good time to being obnoxious, and the event had a few more very loud and very annoying folks in close proximity to me than I would have preferred.

    As I stop to reflect about this, I consider what my expectations prior to the event were, and also by what right did I have an environment of my choosing? As the world and technology continues on, we as individuals have been offered ever-increasing opportunities to have the world “our way.” From 800 channels on the TV, to online advertising fine-tuned for our every need and desire, we are continually fed an illusion that our needs and views are what should be the priority of the world around us. Although I was in a quieter mood last night, how silly was it of me to expect that of everyone around me. Since I went to an event where people started tailgating at 9:00 in the morning, I should have been grateful that the vast majority of folks were great to be around. If I am tempted to expect a concert to be how “I” want it, then what else am I expecting to be suited just for me? Do we sometimes expect Jesus and the church to fit only our needs?

    The Bible has 4 gospels, each one providing a slightly different take on Christ. In the early church these versions represented different communities that saw Jesus in different ways. There were also many types of Christian communities back then, just as there are now. Just like now, people argued about what were proper ways to worship Christ. Paul spent much of his time dealing with arguments between people in early churches.

    Today, we too can get a bit caught up in thinking we know what is best. When it comes to God, however, just like it was unrealistic of me to think that 20,000 concertgoers would agree with my view of a concert, how much more unrealistic is it for us to think a faith of 1 billion should agree on the same vision of Christ. Perhaps this is why we have so many types of churches, and perhaps this is a good thing. What is more important is the idea that we can still come together despite our differences, and enjoy the worship of our God. Next year when I go to the concert, I will bring a few more costume items, try to know a few more songs by heart, but leave a few of my expectations behind. I think that just might give me the experience I was looking for but did not find.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • September

    I will be heading out in awhile for my last bit of summer vacation, and so this Pastor’s Peace is getting written early. As I write, it is still early August, and it is still cold. Yes, that is not a misprint for those reading this outside of the state of Ohio. It’s cold here, well at least for August. The forecast shows a low of 51 degrees tonight, and I am thinking about what plants I should bring in, in August! It will be getting a bit warmer next week according to forecasts, but for now it is quite an odd and out-of-place season indeed. Can you imagine this happening many centuries ago without the ability to forecast the weather, or know the exact time of year? Everyone would be panicking, thinking that winter was coming and there was not nearly enough food or other things prepared. I’m sure there would be at least one wise old person in the village that would tell people of similar oddities decades ago, suggesting normality would come back, but people would likely still panic, suggesting that he just didn’t understand the gravity of the situation.

    That is quite the elaborate scenario I concocted, and perhaps you have guessed that I am getting at something more that just an unseasonably cold summer. You see, there are many times in our lives when we feel out of sorts, or fear that the world around us is just not right. Perhaps we are even correct in that assessment, having suffered a loss or significant setback. The thing about times of depression or fear, however, is that we tend to panic and think that this is a permanent change to our life. We fear that we will never be the same again, or that things won’t improve. There is probably some wise old person in our life even, telling us that this too shall pass and that a brighter day will be in our future, but we are often dismissive of folks like that, suggesting that they don’t get it. Once there is a significant change from the norm in our life, it is sometimes impossible to believe that our lives will be righted again.

    When I experience times like these, yes, they do happen, I try to focus on the constant of God in my life, and the saving nature of Christ. No matter what happens, no matter how different things get, God never changes. God’s love never changes, God’s connection to me never changes, and God’s path for me in life never changes. Furthermore, Christ is always present with me during any challenge, and Christ is continually trying to save and lift me from any abyss I might have fallen into.

    Now these things are often easier to talk about than to believe in during our times of need; however, that is the power of faith and hope. We hope for what is not yet seen. I might not be that wise, and I’m not that old, even though people think I am, but I have seen enough people lifted out of bad situations to have hope for the future. If you find yourself in such an odd and out-of-sorts place, have such hope as well, you are not alone, and a new season is before us all, no matter the time or state of our life.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • October

    Well, we have done it! You might wonder what it is, being that we have accomplished several things at this church in the last couple of months. The “it” I happen to be speaking of right now, is the completion of the sanctuary truss repairs. And there was much rejoicing! There are still some minor bits of work that will be done over the next month or two, but the big part of the project is finished. I want to thank all of the people that gave so generously of funds and time to make this project happen. At a final cost around $40,000, this was a pretty big undertaking for a smaller church like Beaver, but people came together and got it done. This of course was not the first big challenge Beaver Church has faced and it will certainly not be the last. I have faith, however, that if we stay true to our calling to spread Christ’s love, we will have God to see us through any challenge we face.

    As I think about this challenge and any challenge in life, for that matter, I am reminded that everything we accomplish we do so with the help of others. This was true for the truss project in every way imaginable. We were helped by the former generations of this church, current members, and even people only tangentially related to the church. Most of all we had God’s help in this endeavor as well. Because we all came together, we were able to be successful and do our part not only for the congregation right now, but for those who will come through our doors to seek God 50, 100, or even 200 years in the future. In this way we are supporting them and helping in their challenges as well. Sometimes when the world closes in on us, we are frightened because we feel so alone and have no idea how we will make it to the other side of something. The real challenge sometimes is to have faith that you are not alone, and that others will come to your aid.

    If we look at Matthew 18:20, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them,” we see that we are not alone and we see the importance of community. The interesting thing about this scripture is the acknowledgement that we need others in our life, even when it comes to finding Jesus. We do not have a relationship with God by ourselves but rather in community with others. A church with a single member can only accomplish a little, would find it nearly impossible to deal with many challenges, and be limited in scope to a single lifetime. A church of many, however, can do more than we can possibly imagine, can weather almost any storm together, and can continue for centuries upon centuries. Thank you, Beaver Church, for demonstrating this, for coming together to take care of the sanctuary, but more importantly, thank you for coming together as a diverse group of people with different ideas and voices, yet with the common bond of Christ and the love of God.

    Peace and Blessings,

    Pastor Brian

  • November

    Towards the end of this month, at the Thanksgiving Carry-In on the 23rd, we will unveil our second annual “Volunteer of the Year” award winner. You can still vote by writing a name on a slip of paper and placing it in the vote box on the card table at the head of the sanctuary. (If you can’t get to the church, call or email me and I can put in an “absentee” ballot for you.) One might ask what great honor is bestowed on our winner of this coveted prize— riches, medals, their name in the annals of history? Well, we will bestow something better than all of those combined: your name on a plaque in the vestibule. Did I mention the plaque is shiny? With such a great prize, it is no wonder we have so many good volunteers at Beaver UCC. Now I might be joking about the draw of our hallowed plaque, but I am not joking about the number of wonderful volunteers we have. Considering you aren’t really given much in return for volunteering, why do people give time and resources to the church?

    We live in such a consumer and consumption driven society. Constantly the question is asked about what we will get in return for our investment in something. How are my needs and desires met, for instance, when choosing a restaurant, or a pair of shoes, or a movie. Sometimes we might be tempted to think of the church in those terms, but I would argue that to “consume” church misses the point.

    That said, I do think it is important to find a congregation and setting that connects you to God, and that fact is different for different people. Our relationship to God, however, is not one in which we give God something and expect something in return. First of all, God doesn’t need anything from us. Secondly, God has already given us more than we could possibly imagine and we have done nothing and given nothing for it. In many ways our relationship to God is the exact opposite to our relationships of consumerism. So then why do we give our time and resources to God and the church? I am a simple preacher, but I like to think it is love.

    Why do we spend so much time and resources on children? I don’t think they provide too good a return on investment. We do that because of love, because we believe in our children, love them, and want to see them be everything they can be. In a similar way we love God. We have love and gratitude for all God has done for us, and those around us. We worship, and give of ourselves to the church because we believe in the Good News of Christ. We want to help share that news with others, and remind ourselves of it as well. We want to show the same kindness and generosity that God has shown us.

    We believe in what the church does, and what it offers to people in need in so many ways. These are some of the reasons I think we volunteer and give. So the shiny plaque is nice, but much more important than that, we give because we belong to Christ’s Body, we work because we are grateful not to be alone, and we show our gratefulness in this season of Thanksgiving every time we gather and worship in Christ’s name.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • December

    By the time you read this, no doubt there will be many Christmas jingles on the radio and in the stores reminding you of good times and holiday cheer. This is ok, a bit early perhaps, but ok. In Christmas we remember the light that comes into the world through Christ and brings peace, hope, joy, and love. Right now as I write this, I could use a couple of these things. You see, the other text I am writing today is a eulogy. I have lost my last Betty here at the church. When I first got to Beaver church I had three Bettys, my Betty trio: Betty Brill, Betty Gilbert, and Betty Filson. All three were fantastic older women who had seen much and had much to share. All three were women of faith in their own way, and each inspired me. Tomorrow is Betty Filson’s funeral, three months ago was Betty Gilbert’s, and two years ago we lost Betty Brill. Despite all of the Christmas music around me, despite the plans for tree decorating, I have to say it sucks. I could try to sugar coat things, but sometimes life is hard, and anyone reading this knows that to be true.

    Advent, a period of the church calendar, has that understanding built into it as well. We often skip past the season of Advent, certainly our malls and radio stations do, but it is an important season. When we sing songs such as “Come Thou Long-Expected Jesus,” we do so to acknowledge the difficulty of life. We don’t plead for Jesus to come to us because he has a Tickle Me Elmo, or a life-sized Elsa doll; we cry out to Jesus because we need him. We need him to help with the sorrows of life, with the times when our faith is challenged, with the hardships that threaten to break apart our families and way of life. These difficulties are real, and, boy, do we need some help with them. Advent doesn’t begin for another week or so, but I am certainly having that longing-for-Jesus feeling right now. Then again, Advent is only a representation, an allotted time period to explore and acknowledge feelings we have all the time.

    Luckily, Christmas is merely a representation as well, a time to remember Christ in our lives, and we don’t need to wait until December 25th to receive that light in the darkness. Each month, each week, each day of our life is likely an Advent and Christmas all wrapped together. Throughout our lives we face darkness and therefore it is important to know that the light is always there as well. So feel free to crank up that Christmas music, listen to it today, or in July if you want. Every day is a time to remember Christ, but in doing so understand what Christ does for us, understand that Christ is there for the pain and sorrow to give us that hope we often need. What a blessing that is, what a joy it brings, and what an awesome thing it is to celebrate on December 25th, or any other day of the year you need to. For me it’s today.

    Peace, Blessings, and Merry Christmas!
    Pastor Brian

2013

  • January

    If you are reading this, the world did not end on December 21st, as many a doomsday follower suggested it might due to ancient Mayan calendars. So we have gotten to 2013 and avoided apocalypse, hurrah! If that’s not a reason to celebrate the New Year, than I don’t know what is. Of course sometimes celebration is difficult. 2012 has been a challenging year in so many ways, with losses here at home, natural disasters, and national tragedies. We might be scared to think about what 2013 will bring if 2012 was so bad. Such fear is not unwarranted, but there were also many good things that happened this past year, examples of love, kindness, and joy. Can we not hope for more of this in the New Year as well?

    After Jesus ascended into heaven and the church was left waiting for his return, many were frightened. People at first thought Christ would return immediately, and then He did not. There were those who were worried about the challenges they would face while they waited, and those who worried about calamities and judgment that would happen upon Christ’s return.

    During this time in the early church Paul would write letters to different congregations trying to help them through issues and reassuring them about their faith. In a letter to the Corinthians he reminds them of three eternal things they can count on in times of difficulty, and those are faith, hope, and love, with love being most important.

    As we enter 2013 there might again be tragedies and great difficulties, but we do not face them alone; we face them together. If we take Paul’s advice and rely on faith, hope, and love, then we can together weather any storm. For me it is my faith in God that helps me to see something greater in the future, this leads to hope, which reminds me to hope for things not yet seen, and love is what gets me out of bed in the morning and makes life worthwhile. I do hope that 2013 is a better year not only for you and me, but for the entire world as well. I know no matter what the year brings, however, we will have each other and we will be together in Christ.

    Peace and Happy New Year,
    Pastor Brian

  • February

    This year Easter is fairly early, March 31st; not the earliest that is possible (that being March 22nd) but still seemingly early, as it is anytime we have a March Easter. Of course, this is the February Pastor’s Peace, and so you might wonder what I am doing talking about Easter. Well, if you back up 40 days before Easter, not including Sundays, then you are at this little thing we call Ash Wednesday, also known as the start of Lent. This year the Easter cycle puts Ash Wednesday on February 13th, the day before Valentine’s Day. It might seem weird to have these two days right next to each other. In 2018 they will actually be on the same day, an event not witnessed since 1945. This year we will have ash applied to our foreheads, speaking of repentance one day, and then the next day we will be celebrating love, complete with chocolate and flowers. This might seem like quite the 180, but perhaps these two days are not so different as one would imagine.

    We know, of course, that St. Valentine’s Day is dedicated to love. Last year I discussed all of the various theories of the beginning of St. Valentine’s Day, which are many and confusing; but let us just say that no matter how and why it started, the idea is that it is a day that we spend celebrating love and those we love. There are often gifts, cards, and things more expensive from husbands who have forgotten other special days, but more importantly it is about love. When we think of love we inevitably think of happiness and joy, feeling good, and contentment. These, however, are not usually the emotions that come to mind when we think of Ash Wednesday. On that day some of us are sad, are repentant, or perhaps regretful about things we have done, and are focusing on ways we might be better and closer to God. Rather than celebrate, some of us actually fast during Lent to outwardly show our repentance. Despite all of that, I am going to say that Ash Wednesday is really all about the same thing that Valentine’s Day is--love. Ash Wednesday is about love, because God is about love; in fact, according to our Bible, God is love. When Jesus is asked about the most important commandment, he replies that it is to love God with all your heart, and the second most important is to love your neighbor. All of the commandments are based on this. If we look at the Ten Commandments, we see that they are indeed all about two things, loving God, and loving your neighbor.

    If we had only this love of God and our neighbor, then we would never fall short of God’s commandments; unfortunately, however, we sometimes let other things get in the way. Ash Wednesday and Lent are therefore times for us to focus on this love, and to find ways to love when we have failed to love in the past. How appropriate it is, then, to have a holiday dedicated to love, Valentine’s Day, as a start to Lent. I hope this season, both of these days make you think about love, think about how wonderful it is, and understand that it is never something to be rationed, hidden away, or feared. Happy Ash Wednesday, and happy Valentine’s Day.


    Peace and Blessings

  • March

    I never paid much attention to military spending before I moved to the Dayton area. My general feeling was that our military was fairly strong and if they needed to make cuts here and there, then there was likely more than enough room. However, now that I live and work in a community where military spending has a very direct multi-billion dollar impact on the local economy and is the largest employer in the area, I pay a bit more attention. I find myself being a bit more selfish, hoping they don’t cut spending here, because we need the jobs, and I don’t want to see people I know lose them. For me, I sometimes think people’s employment has become more important than the actual merit of the spending, even though I know that is probably not the right way to look at it.

    As we go through Lent and approach Easter, I think the early followers of Jesus felt kind of the same way. They had become exceedingly attached to Jesus; in fact, they needed him in their lives so much that his closest companions became protective of him. Jesus was less concerned, however, with their current needs and more concerned with fulfilling what he was called to do, even though eventually it would cause his friends great despair. I can almost see some of the disciples telling Jesus he should stay low for a bit, and certainly should not go into Jerusalem. Jesus, however, would press on, making an entrance that was anything but low-key. Did he truly know what the outcome of Holy Week would be, or did he simply trust in his faith?

    As we in this region await the news from Washington, which will inevitably affect our friends, neighbors, and relatives, I hope and pray that the decisions made are good ones. And that they are not just good for us, but are the best possible for everyone, fully weighing all the pluses and minuses that any difficult choice possesses. Perhaps Dayton will benefit somehow, or maybe it will just be a shuffle or something a bit more painful. Regardless of the outcome, I pray that things are done for the right reasons and not just to benefit some special interest. When decisions are made for the betterment of all, then they are the right decisions even if there are some difficulties along the way. Now I’m not suggesting that I have anyway near the same faith in our politicians that I have in God, but if by some miracle the decisions are made for the right reasons, then I have faith we will make it through as a region, regardless of the outcome.

    In the end, Easter and the early Church presented something completely different for the Disciples from what they knew, and was beyond their wildest imaginations. It was hard work and they faced persecutions, but they were able to share the Good News and know that their salvation was assured. God was always with them through earlier prophets, Christ, the Holy Spirit, and in many other ways too numerous to count. In the same way, God has always been with us and always will be. Take heart in that, follow what you know to be true, love the things in your life that are truly important, and rest assured in your salvation. Not even the cross nor death could negate that. How minor in comparison are budget cuts or anything proclaimed by any earthly rulers! Christ lives, today and always, thanks be to God!

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • April

    Spring is here, well sort of. There is snow on the ground as I write this, but hopefully by the time you read this it will seem more “Spring” like, i.e. temperatures above freezing. Every year we see the beauty of God’s creation burst forth from all around us. Everything looks dead, and then like the miracle of Christ’s resurrection, we see that life reigns eternal. It happens every year like clockwork, and perhaps we begin to take it for granted. Is this miracle of creation something we truly appreciate, and are we doing what we should to make sure God’s beauty is sustained for generations to come?

    I once asked Charlie Brill, a longtime member no longer with us, why they called this area Beavercreek. He responded simply enough, “Because there were beavers here.” He even had a beaver or two still left on his farm, but there were obviously far fewer of them than before. Much has changed in Beavercreek over the many decades. There used to be so much farmland and green space that is now parking lots and housing developments. We must keep in mind that change is inevitable, and as a region’s population grows there has to be building to go along with it. All that being said, it is still worth looking at how we build, and making sure that along with growth there is still room for the beauty of Beavercreek’s nature. If we reach a point where there are no longer any beavers in the area, then my question to Charlie will sadly not be so silly.

    There has been a movement, within many Christian churches of all types over the years, to call attention to the care of God’s creation. Not just for “environmental” reasons, but more importantly because it is humanity’s job to have dominion over the earth, to safeguard it. As we look to places like China, where damage to the environment has reached levels where people can literally not spend any time outside without protective face masks, it is easy to see that humanity can and has taken development too far in some cases, paying too little attention to God’s miracle of nature. The eternal blessing of Christ’s resurrection is something that is ours, and yet it is something we should not take for granted. Christ did not live and die by the cross so that we could go on about our days paying no mind to our relationship with God and our brothers and sisters in Christ. God’s grace is a gift, but it is also a gift that requires some responsibility. In the same way, God’s creation is a gift, and likewise it is a gift that comes with a sense of duty. Now I don’t have all the answers for how to have a perfect relationship with creation, or how to have a perfect relationship with God, for that matter; however, I do know we should care about it and we should try.

    This year starting on 4/1, our denomination will be doing a bit to help us think about our relationship to creation through a program called “Mission 4/1 Earth.” We as a church will be participating. I hope you feel called to help in this mission, but more importantly I hope that when the spring flowers bloom this year and the beauty of the Miami Valley surrounds you, you will not take it for granted, but understand what a blessing it is that God has given.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • May

    There have been quite a few birthdays recently. Of course there are the regular birthdays that have been happening with people turning all sorts of ages from 9 to 90. There was also our all-church birthday party during April, when we got to celebrate everyone’s birthday, and learn some fun facts about people as well. I still think November had the best table, but then again I might be biased.

    Birthdays are a funny thing. When we are younger we can’t wait for them to happen, another year older, presents, cake etc. As we get older they still have some appeal, as we are able to do things like drive and vote. Eventually, however, birthdays become less fun for most. We are reminded of the fact that we are yet again a year older; we reach milestones we perhaps don’t want to celebrate, 40, 50, 80, etc. There are of course still some presents and cake, but I know many a 40 year old that would forgo all the festivities to be 39 again. Why do we dread getting older? Is it because we think our best days are behind us?

    There is one more birthday coming up that I have not mentioned yet, and that, of course, is the Church’s birthday--not just our church, but The Church. The entire creation of the Church—the body of Christ—is celebrated on Pentecost, May 19th this year. This is the day that the followers of Christ received the Holy Spirit and came together as one. Now when we celebrate this birthday, we are still pretty happy about it, even though the cake might have close to 2000 candles on it. And you thought being 90 was old! We celebrate it because we remember all of the beauty and love that the Church has brought into our lives and the lives of others. We celebrate it because we find it miraculous that a Church started by a peasant from nowhere has survived for almost 2000 years, has billions of followers, and has persevered despite the challenges of the world.

    Perhaps we can learn a lesson about our own birthday from Pentecost. Rather than focusing on one more year gone of our finite life on earth, we can celebrate all of the people that we have loved and helped over the years. We can celebrate the fact that we have been preserved for many decades in spite of the challenges of the world. Everything on earth is finite, even the Church. Only with God and in God are we eternal. The Church, us, Beavercreek, the earth itself will cease to be some day, but God’s love and our life with God will never cease. This year, when your birthday comes around, try to remember that it is not how much time we have left, but what we have done with the time we have had that is important. We are all children of God, and no matter how long we have been here, we have all contributed to the beauty of God’s creation. Take heart in that, take a deep breath, blow out the candles, and have some cake.

    Peace and Happy Birthday,
    Pastor Brian

  • June

    Summer is here, or will be at any rate. Memorial Day marked the unofficial start to summer, with an official start of June 21st. I’m sure people are planning trips and vacations. Children are looking forward to a break from school, and pretty soon we will all be complaining about how hot it is, even though we promised not to complain about such things several months ago. I hope you have some fun things planned for the summer, and at the very least have an opportunity to relax a bit.

    Spring has been an interesting one in comparison to last year. We have had ups and downs, plenty of rain, and those that failed to follow the rule of not planting starts before Mother’s Day, had several chilly nights to worry about. Often I heard some, including myself, complaining about it. Folks would talk about how nice and warm it was last spring, saying “I can’t believe that we have to turn our heat on again”. Many weekend plans were interrupted by downpours and one was never quite sure what the next day would bring. My wife reminded me, however, that this is what spring is. How funny it is that we forget sometimes that transitioning from one thing to another is a complex process having many ups and downs.

    In life as in our seasons we can get accustomed to things, or fail to see how fortunate we are. We are surprised or shocked when life throws challenges in our path, or our transition from one stage of life to another is not as smooth as we had hoped. We should remember that this is not unusual, but rather part of life. It is not possible to have a life and not experience ups and downs. We saw this in Christ’s ministry, his death and resurrection, and in the history of the church starting in Acts and moving through today. Now understating that challenges and difficulties are normal does not make them go away, but perhaps it can give us some comfort and hope. If so many others have made it through their seasons, perhaps we will as well. Regardless of what change or challenge you are currently dealing with, and I’m sure everyone is, know that it is normal, and that God is with you. Our lives will always have cold nights and stormy days, but eventually we can relax by the pool and enjoy the blessing God has created for us.

    Peace and a Blessed Summer,
    Pastor Brian

  • July

    It’s hot! At least it has been hot as I write this Pastor’s Peace. Of course knowing Ohio weather, it will probably cool down by the time you receive the newsletter. Summer has arrived, though, and at least for now it is hot. This means that many of you have undoubtedly turned on your air-conditioners and thus have relative comfort inside your homes. At the Eastman/ O’Dowd household, however, we have not turned ours on yet. Amelia does not care for AC so much, and now that I have lost some weight, I don’t mind the heat so much. We are trying to see how long we can go without it. Granted, it helps to have a well-shaded brick house. Perhaps we will make it all summer, and perhaps not, but interacting with the heat has taught me some interesting things.

    “Mad Dogs and Englishmen”-- that is the old line from Southern India that described the only people foolish enough to go out in the noonday sun. When you sit with and respect the heat, you realize there are some things you just should not do, like spend a bunch of time in the sun at the hottest point of the day. You also learn to slow down some. I think that some folks even learn to be less angry, because getting upset at things just makes you hotter. Perhaps this is why the slowness of places like the Caribbean Islands seems so strange to many Americans from up North. We are used to quickly scurrying about here and there, and they are used to being a bit slower because of the heat. Slowness can be a good thing, however, as we tend to notice things a bit more and focus more on what we are doing.

    I like to think of Jesus as kind of a slow person. First of all he probably was, because he traveled on foot in a hot desert. I don’t think the disciples sprinted from town to town. More importantly, I think that we find stories of Jesus interacting with the common folks of the town, because he took his time. He looked to see who needed help, and how he could best convey God’s love. Many times the disciples thought Jesus did not have time for such trivial things, but Jesus always did. Maybe we can learn a lesson or two from this. How often do we, like the disciples, think that there is no time except for the things we are convinced must be accomplished? How often do we rush by someone or some situation that could be important for us or someone else?

    How often do we miss God’s calling because we “know” what we need to do. There is some value in the heat of the day--some value at recognizing that life is not always best lived in the fast lane. So this summer, sit back and relax a bit; kick up your feet in the shade. You might be surprised at what you find, and how important things you never noticed might become.

    Peace,
    Pastor Brian

  • August

    Towards the end of July several of our church members went on a mission trip to Washington UCC in Cincinnati. We spent 5 days there and experienced a range of situations and emotions, and learned some life lessons. Washington UCC is a church in our denomination that serves the Camp Washington neighborhood. This area of Cincinnati has a child poverty rate of 90% and is in great need in so many ways. Washington UCC decided as its membership dwindled to focus almost solely on mission work in the area rather than close or move the church. Each summer there is a program that ministers to around 35 kids from the area. Different churches come and stay a week, volunteering with the children. This teaches much to the kids in need, and equally as much to those doing the volunteer work.

    When I think of our group and all of our experiences from handing out food to those in homelessness, to watching kids eat smores for the first time, to sharing laughs and smiles from all around, I realized that the things that separate us are not as large as we would presume. Even though some of these kids experience poverty on a daily basis in ways we cannot imagine, they are still kids at heart, no different from the kids that come to our church each Sunday. All of us have challenges to face in life, some are greater than others, but this does not make us any better than the next person or more valuable in the eyes of God. Most often it is assumed that the youth and adults that volunteer at Washington UCC will learn how fortunate they are and learn to appreciate the blessings in their life. I certainly learned this and assumed others from our group did as well, but even more than that I hope that people saw themselves and their family in the eyes of others.

    Paul says that we are all connected in the Body of Christ. We are also reminded that Christ was born, died, and lived again for everyone. When we look at the ministry of Christ we see that he brought so many different types of people together. What seemed to separate them fell away in comparison to the love of God and the Word made flesh. As we continue Christ’s ministry on earth it is meaningful when we create communities that express the unity of Christ. As I think about our days at Washington UCC, I think about all of the moments when people were just people.

    We were just taking care of kids, meeting new acquaintances, and trying to fill the summer with meaningful experiences. This lack of separation appearing many times during our 5 days made me know that Christ was present. Christ was amongst us, bringing people together, calling the little children around him, and leading us to a better future. Thank you, Beaver UCC and Washington UCC, for showing me yet again the presence of Christ in my life.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • September

    On my recent trip to coastal Maine to attend my brother-in-law’s wedding, I was constantly impressed and amazed at how beautiful the scenery was there. Amelia and I drove up US 1 along the coast and passed through cute small town after small town, drove along beautiful harbors, and watched views of tranquil coastal islands pass by our windows. Of course I was impressed, and understood immediately why people flocked to Maine in the summer and why it is called vacationland. I have to admit I was even a bit jealous as I thought about the views back home and wondered if there were any that could compare to what I was witnessing. The Miami Valley is beautiful, but was it really that beautiful? Well, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, as they say, and I think this is truer than we realize.

    I remember when I was once on a spiritual retreat and did a several-day fast. My body slowed down, my mind slowed down, everything slowed down. I was always at the back of my group when we walked places, always the last to get up, and always the person to stare and think the longest about anything around me at any given moment. I remember one of the remarkable things during those several days was how much more I noticed the beauty around me.

    Towards the end I remember seeing several folds in an old carpet and thinking how beautiful they were. That experience taught me several things, but most importantly it taught me about the beauty of God’s creation, all of God’s creation. When we read the book of Genesis and see that God created all, and that it was “good”, we sometimes fail to really understand that. We, of course, see coastal Maine and can easily understand such beauty coming from God, but in reality all landscapes and everything are from God. Is everything therefore beautiful?
    When I think of the many ways the ministry and life of Jesus inspired and affected those around him, I think one way he was different was his eye for beauty. So many times the disciples would fail to see the beauty of God in others, and yet Jesus always saw people as the children of God that they were. No matter if the person had a disease, was poor, had some hated profession, Jesus saw their beauty regardless. Sometimes this baffled the disciples and those around him, as it sometimes baffles us today.

    As we work together to walk as a community in the footsteps of Christ, perhaps we should try as he did to take stock of the scenery around us. Perhaps we should try to see the beauty of the world that constantly surrounds us no matter where we are. If we can glimpse that a little more often, we just might see the beauty within ourselves and the beauty of God that is within everything around us.


    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • October

    Sometimes my wife and I go walking in the cemetery not too far from our house. It is a famous one, Woodland Cemetery in Dayton. There are several well-known folks buried there like Paul Dunbar and the Wright Brothers, just to name a few. Besides all of the beautiful monuments, there are many beautiful trees as well. There are also the ducks. Yes, there is a small pond there with a group of ducks and sometimes geese that waddle around eating, squawking, and trying to look impressive. We walk around Woodland because it is a place that calms you down. Any stress that we take in with us is usually left behind when we leave. I always make jokes like “people here don’t seem to be worried about much,” to which I usually get the stare from my wife indicating she has heard that joke 272 times.

    That joke, however, is also an important reminder to myself. There is often something serious tucked into jokes. We sometimes have to put things in joke form, because it is the only way to handle tough topics. This important reminder to myself is that I too will be in the ground some day, probably sooner than I would like. I, also, won’t have much to worry about then. If I know and understand that, I should perhaps spend my above-ground time enjoying myself and letting go of what I have no control over. Perhaps I should even let go of the things I do have some control over! No matter what I do, I know my final destination will be to join the trees and ducks somewhere. The world will keep spinning, and future husbands will continue to make bad jokes, now at my expense.

    As Christians we believe that there is something waiting for us beyond just earth, trees, and ducks. We believe in a resurrection, another type of existence through Jesus the Christ. We do not know exactly what that looks like, but we are confident in our faith that death is not the end. I do not know exactly what will happen when I join with God; however, I am certain I will no longer be worried about the water bill, or painting the house, or a myriad of other useless but seemingly important things in my current life. If I know my final destination will prove many things insignificant, perhaps I can get a head start and treat them that way now. God, after all, has indeed created a paradise for us in the ever-after, but perhaps here as well. Will we attempt to enjoy it, or will we overly concern ourselves with that which is not eternal? So go out, take a walk with someone you love, watch some ducks, enjoy life, and don’t be afraid to make a joke or two along the way.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • November

    My diet is almost over! For those who have been following my weight loss progress, you know that I have been dieting for almost a year now with the goal of getting to 199 pounds. I am only a few pounds shy of that goal and hope to hit it by my birthday in November. It has been a long road, which has taught me much along the way, as challenging things often do in life. I recently went through my old and now much too big clothes seeing what I could get rid of and donate. I stumbled upon the belt that I started my diet with. I put it around my waist, set it to the notch that I used when I weighed 306, looked down and almost cried. What in the world was I thinking back then? How could I have allowed myself to get that big?

    Often in life we walk down paths that lead us places we never would have gone but we end up there somehow. In my case I let my need for food come before my own health, and a promise to my wife to be there for her. Had I continued, I am sure I would have never lived to see 55 or possibly even 50. For me the act of losing weight was as much about accepting responsibility for my life and seeking assistance from God, as it was counting calories or eating healthy food. In many senses I had to get right with myself and tackle some of the underlying issues that led me astray for so many years.

    I, however, am by no means alone in these types of struggles. Many of us have gone down unhealthy paths. Some of these paths have led to bad self-care, bad care of others, addiction, crime, or even something as irrevocable as taking the life of another. Christ teaches us that forgiveness is available for all. Each one of us no matter what we have done or what path we have chosen can find a new life in Christ. This does involve more than just counting calories. For any change we wish to make in our life, we must first admit what we have done, and try to understand why we did it. We must be willing to take responsibility, ask for forgiveness, and ask for help from those we know and most importantly from God.

    As we approach this fall season, winding down with longer nights and colder temperatures, it is easy to see the darkness of our lives closing in. It is in times like this we should remember that the season of Advent is upon us.

    Soon we will look with hope for light in our lives, the light brought by Christ and shared by the love of others around us. Look again for this light, and know that it can outshine any darkness in your life. Christ is coming, and he is coming for you, and for me, and for everyone. Accept him anew into your life this Advent season, accept his love, and accept what his light illuminates in your life.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • December

    Recently my wife and I were at the Greene to see a movie. It was a slow Monday night and the crews at the mall were busy putting the finishing touches on the Christmas tree in the center square. It must be 60 feet tall, and many of you have seen it, I’m sure; you can’t miss it. Being that you will be reading this newsletter article at the end of November or beginning of December, this will not seem odd to you. The Monday I’m speaking of, however, was Monday the 11th of November, also known as Veteran’s Day. The holiday was not even over and they already had a 60-foot Christmas tree up. Perhaps soon they will push things so early that Santa will be handing out Halloween candy.

    Now this is nothing new; people have been complaining about this for many years now. In fact, one of my friends has started referring to everything in the malls as “X-mas” events and decorations. He refuses to call them anything having to do with “Christmas,” because they have nothing to do with the birth of his Lord and Savior. I think I will join him and thus say that the Greene has a 60-foot “X-mas” tree, because it sure doesn’t have anything to do with Jesus. Don’t even let me get started on how Wal-Mart and K-mart and probably every other sort of mart will be having sales on Thanksgiving Day. Apparently $99 flat screen TVs are what one should be thankful for, not family.

    One further irony is that on the day after the real Christmas season begins, (the 12 days that start on December 25th),on the 26th, they take it all down. Yet another reason to refer to it as “X-mas.” In thinking about it, however, that might not be such a bad thing. Perhaps we should focus a bit more on those 12 days of Christmas. The big retailers and malls won’t be ruining them for us. We can take a bit more time to think about Christ and what is truly important in our lives. This year I challenge all who read this to keep celebrating Christmas after the 25th.

    Keep your Christmas trees up until January 6th, the end of Christmas, and on each of those 12 days think about what Christ means to you in your life, think about what is truly important in your life, think about what adds most to who you are and why you live, think about what the light in the darkness brings to you. I bet all of those things don’t cost $99 at Wal-Mart, and I bet you don’t even have to leave your house to find them. So take a moment sometime between December 25th and January 5th, put away all the “X-mas” stuff, and remember what “Christmas” is truly about.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

2012

  • January

    Much of the world celebrates New Year’s Day on January 1st. There are other calendars besides the Gregorian calendar that we use, such as those in China, Ethiopia, and Iran, to name a few. For us, however, it is the good old Gregorian. Our current calendar was introduced in 1582 and was a correction of the Julian calendar that had existed since 45 BC, when it was introduced by Julius Caesar. Slightly before this, around 153 BC, the month of January was named after the Roman god Janus, who was the god of gates, doors, beginnings, and transitions. Janus was also depicted with two faces; this was not because he was “two faced,”, but rather because he always kept an eye on both the past and the future.

    Even though Janus was a pagan god of a culture long gone, I think there are some interesting things we can still learn as we think about transitioning from this year to the next, or any transition for that matter. I also think that Jesus often taught about the importance of keeping both the past and the future in mind as we live in the present. Sometimes I have seen people try to make a change in their life, being only concerned with the future and not with what got them to where they are. The past sometimes is difficult. There are bad memories, or things we are not proud of. They, however, are part of who we are and offer lessons on how we can transition into a better place. It is said that you will never know where you are going if you forget where you came from. I think Jesus knew and understood this.

    Jesus kept a balance of the old and new. Jesus often spoke of the importance of the traditional Jewish law, even though in many ways he was reforming it. Jesus also spoke of people becoming new and of the new creation to come, but at the same time we remember that creation, and we as part of it, were always good and always part of God. It can be difficult to remember our past mistakes and sometimes, once we make a change, we want to forget the “old us.”

    However, the old us was still good, and still part of God. We have always been loved and worthy creations of God, even when we didn’t always do what was best for ourselves or others. Our bad decisions do not change the fact that we are created in God’s image. This is the beauty of God’s grace. We are always loved by God; we are always given God’s grace through Christ. It is up to us to accept it. Once we understand and accept this grace, it will affect our outlook on both the future and the past. We will see that we were always worthy of God’s love, even when we failed to understand what that meant. As you celebrate the New Year this January think about the future, and think about how you can live more fully into the role God has created for you. Remember that God has always been with us through our journey of life. Any and all mistakes are lessons, and the lessons learned will further shape us into the image God has made. Blessings to you this New Year and blessings for our work at Beaver church to be the body of Christ to each other, and the world around us.

    Peace and Happy New Year,
    Pastor Brian

  • February

    Well, in case you have been living under a rock, I am here to tell you that 2012 is a presidential election year. I don’t know how one could really miss that, and by the beginning of November much money will be spent making sure you don’t. Oh, the fun of the primaries! With such debates and commercials offered around the clock, who really needs to watch other forms of entertainment? I mean football or baseball only last part of the year, but this lasts almost all year round, even longer if it goes into overtime time like it did in 2000. The hits passed back and forth by the candidates are as rough and gut-wrenching as any quarterback sack. Did you see Gingrich take a hit from both Romney and Paul one right after the other in the Florida debate? Tom Brady doesn’t have to deal with anything like that. I can’t wait to see what happens when Obama and the GOP candidate finally square off. It will make the Super Bowl look like peanuts, and will be full of false starts, pass interference, and much un-sportsman like conduct. Get the TIVO and the popcorn ready--it’s going to be a long year.

    Perhaps you have noted a bit of sarcasm and humor in my pastor’s peace thus far. Of course the election process is important, perhaps serious even, but I have found that in cases like that, humor is sometimes the best remedy. Regardless of who gets the GOP nod, or who wins the presidency, people will be upset. Someone will lose, and with the recent division in this country, that will translate to somewhere around 49% of the population being very upset.

    I am sure there will be name calling, people will be accused of being for or against America, and there will be angry exchanges and insults best kept from children’s ears. This is why it is not such a bad idea to laugh, because if you think too much about it, you might be forced to cry.

    This is not too different from the time of Jesus, or anytime in history really. There have always been divided populaces, favored rulers and despised ones, depending on who you talk to.

    All of this makes the revelation of Christ all the more important and amazing. Jesus worked not for a king, or a country, or any other earthly organization, but rather for a transcendent reality that we call God. Christ was so far beyond politics and squabbles. As Christians this is important to remember and contemplate. When people try to mix religion and politics, it is like trying to put the ocean in a bathtub. God cannot be shrunk down to fit any party or candidate. God transcends all. This fact can also give us hope. Remember this year that regardless if your candidate wins or loses, this is but one election, in one country, during one period of time. In comparison to the infinite nature of God, the vast depth of Christ’s love and salvation, it is ultimately not as serious for our lives as the commercials would have you believe. So this year grab some popcorn, watch the show, vote your opinion, and sit back knowing that no matter what, you are God’s beloved. This is a gift you share with all of humanity and with all of your brothers and sisters in Christ. One election will never change that, and never be more important.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • March

    For my recent vacation, I worked on a home improvement project we have wanted to do for quite some time. Each day I got up early and worked 8-12 hours trying to get the project done by the end of the week. Besides all of the labor, there was the massive mess involved, and disruption to our lives. As I write this, I am happy to report that I just finished the project and our house is returning to normal. One day when I was working on this, I thought about all the projects I have done on this house. I thought about how one day I won’t live here anymore and someone else will get to have all these great improvements without having had to work on them. Is this fair? Of course people pay for the house they get, but there is a difference between money and labor. I can be given money for my labor, but can never be given back that labor.

    As soon as this thought of “fairness” popped in my mind, I looked around the house and thought how silly the idea was. Sure, I have done a great deal of work, but I didn’t lay the foundation, didn’t put up the brick walls, didn’t layout the joists, and did not do so many of the things that make this a house we love. What an important lesson for me, and one I think relates well to Lent. During Lent we think about how we can put aside those things that separate us from God. Some see this as repenting for sin; others see it as working to be closer to God. One way we separate ourselves from the divine is to fail to acknowledge God’s role in our lives; we ignore what God has done for us. When we do this and only think about what we have done, and make the mistake of thinking we owe nothing to God or anyone else, then this sets us on a path towards self-centeredness rather than Godcenteredness.

    The vast majority of what we have is due to what God has done for us, and what the people who God puts in our lives have done for us. We did not earn or provide our salvation, and yet God has given it to us. We did not lay the foundation of the universe, nor put together the building blocks of our planet, and yet God has given it to us. Our very lives were not constructed by us, but rather by the hands of God.

    No money or labor can pay for these gifts, and God does not ask for payment, but we should acknowledge them and live our lives in recognition and appreciation of them. This Lent I will work to think about all God has done for me and be thankful. I will also be thankful to a group of German immigrants who left their homes and all they knew to come to Dayton and lay the foundation and solid brick walls to my house that still stand some 160 years later. Ich bin Ihnen sehr dankba.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • April

    Believe it or not there are actually some good things going on right now. I know there are always tragedies, but recently it seems as if the whole world is steeped in tragedy. Just looking over the last year, worldwide and locally we have had earthquakes, tsunamis, wars, famines, tornadoes, economic downturns, political stalemates, and high gas prices, just to name a few. It is hard sometimes to see the light in all this darkness. You might just want to lock your door, close your blinds and call it a day. But as I said, there are some good things going on right now.

    Besides the good things going on here or there, we have some good things going on in people’s lives. I noticed this past Sunday that there were twice as many “joys” as there were “concerns” during our prayer time. We have had a beautiful and early spring. I read an article about how small business loans are up in the Miami Valley, and that economically the region is in an upswing. I even read today that gas prices might go down in the summer. These might seem like small things, but just like the small shoots of flowers that are popping up from the ground right now, these small things can flower into true joys.

    This was also what the disciples experienced in Easter. They had all of the terrible sorrows of watching Jesus being taken away and imprisoned. Betrayed by one of their very own. They had to see Jesus being tortured and put to death. They had to bury him, and to add insult to injury, they even thought someone had stolen his body. Then things started to change. One person saw Jesus, then another, and another, until they came to see that Christ had risen from the dead. They witnessed Jesus ascending into heaven, and then received the Holy Spirit. The work that they did afterward, preaching the gospel and starting churches, might have seemed small at the time, but it grew into the church we have today, and a faith that has changed the world.

    Is there some little good thing happening in your life now, some small shoot of God’s grace and love coming into your life? The Easter season is a time to focus less on all of the difficulties, and look for the ways in which Christ is manifesting in our lives. Try to listen, try to look for it. Whatever direction God is moving you, even in small ways, might eventually grow into something profound for your life and for those around you. Let us all grow in God and grow in our love together.

    Peace and Happy Easter,

    Pastor Brian

  • May

    What an interesting and good time we had at the church garage sale last month! There were, of course, the difficult moments, such as putting out all the items and the pricing—oh, the pricing. We did, however. have fun as well. For starters we had all of the interesting items to look at, and we did have quite the selection. I mean, we had everything from a microwavable bacon cooker to the Suzanne Somers thigh master. Now that I think about it, those items would probably go well together. Besides the looking, we also got to do some shopping. I myself bought many items that I probably did not need but were just too good to pass up. We also got to bring joy to people who were looking for deals and found them. Let us also not forget that it was an opportunity for us to get some stuff out of our houses as well. Overall, it was a great experience and we did pretty well, about $1,700 as of last count.

    All of this garage sale stuff makes me think of the idea of “old and new.” So often we are attracted to “new” things. We want the new car, or the new house, or the new golf clubs that still won’t improve our golf game. We are taught that old things are not so valuable, unless they appear on something like Antiques Roadshow. However, what is old and what is new is often in the eye of the beholder. All of those “old” items that were donated to the garage sale might seem pretty “new” and wonderful to others. It is the same item but before, it was old, and now, it is new. I think that could be a good lesson for our lives as well.

    Sometimes we might feel that we are old. I don’t mean just in terms of our age, but that we are stuck in the same rut, or that our life will never change. Perhaps we are caught in some pattern that we want to escape, but can’t. We look for some new thing in our self to make that change, or perhaps we rely on some self-help book or latest fad. After all, if we are the same person we were before. how could we become new again? The wonderful thing about Christ in our life is that Christ accepts us as we are.

    It is as if we are all at a cosmic garage sale, and instead of being discounted to next to nothing, we are seen as something new, wonderful, and worth any price. To Christ, we are the things he was looking for and finally found. The good news is that we were never old to begin with. We should realize that we are worthy and forgiven, that God has been with us the whole time, and that we will always be new in Christ’s new creation. Realizing our inherent worth that was always there is so much more important than feeling we must always spruce ourselves up to get approval. You are worthy; don’t sell yourself short, and don’t put a low price on something Christ was willing to pay so much for.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • June

    This month we will be having a graduation party for our recent graduates here at Beaver church. This year our church will have 3 college graduates and 1 high school graduate that I know of, and I am sure I am forgetting someone. There are also so many people related to church members and friends who will be graduating. May and June are big months that denote a passing of one phase of life to another. It is such an achievement to finish any degree, from high school to a doctorate. These recent graduates deserve our honor and praise.

    I remember when a favorite professor of mine in seminary was talking to some of us who were getting ready to graduate. She told us about getting ready to finish her PhD, and telling her advisor about how happy she was finally to be done. Her advisor told her , “Done, you are not done, you are just beginning.” His point to her, and her point to us, was that a degree was only the beginning of the next phase of our life, the phase in which we get to use that knowledge to better the world and the people we contact. You see, a degree is not merely an accomplishment, but it is also a responsibility.

    This is not too different from what it is to be a Christian. When someone decides to follow Christ, it is more than just a personal experience. We are saved in Christ and share in Christ’s abundant life, but also share in Christ’s mission to further bring the Kingdom of God into the world. We have a responsibility as Christians to love as Christ did, teach as Christ did, forgive as Christ did, and share the Good News as Christ did. Regardless of how your life with Christ began, it is an accomplishment, but more importantly it is a responsibility. As that advisor would say, “Done, we are not done, we are just beginning.” Congratulations, 2012 graduates, may you use your degrees with responsibility, integrity, and God’s love in your heart.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • July

    I write this having just returned from a vacation in South Carolina, visiting with Amelia’s family and spending lots of much appreciated beach time. I got to see the Charleston area, the history, the people, and the pride in what folks there refer to as the culture of the Lowcountry. Things seemed pretty different there than here in the Dayton region. Things were older, the food was a bit different, there was an ocean, and things were much more expensive. That last point made me very happy to return to Dayton. There are so many ways that South Carolina could seem to be worlds apart from what we know here in the Miami Valley-- but was it?

    I had a bunch of fun while there and some funny events happened, like me trying to learn how to surf, but there were also some very interesting moments. One evening we were at one of the local bars with Amelia’s mom, and we started talking to some folks there. It turned out that two seats down from me was a young man from Dayton. Not only was he from Dayton, but he had also lived in my neighborhood before moving to Charleston, and he even knew some of the same people I did. A couple of days later, we were sitting in a restaurant and I started talking to someone else (you know I love to talk) and it turned out that she was from Palestine, had gone to college right down the road from where I went, and knew one of the folks very well that I knew in college. Charleston seemed worlds apart at first, but perhaps it was closer to home than I thought.

    As we live our lives we often come into contact with people who seem different from us, come from different places, or are from different cultures. At first we might think that there is more that separates us than brings us together. Jesus reminded people in his ministry that they were all connected. When Jesus talked about his family, he did not just mean his relatives, but all those who followed God’s calling. Paul reminds us that as Christians we are all connected as the Body of Christ. Sometimes these things are difficult to remember, and we see ourselves as more fractured than we truly are.

    There are many things we can do to help us remember and live out our connectedness; one, however, is very simple-- talk to people. On my trip I could have thought that no one had much in common with me, but upon simply talking to some people, simply getting to know them, I realized I had much more in common than I could have imagined. So folks, I guess the lesson from this is to get out and talk. Get to know people, even strangers, and you might just see how big and wonderful the Body of Christ is.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • August

    The day was not too hot, thank goodness. We had a group of 9 people from Beaver Church who had volunteered to help with a micro-farm that is run by Homefull, a homeless advocacy and support organization in Montgomery County. The farm is located in West Dayton and adjoins a homeless shelter for men. We were joined by Erin, the woman who runs the micro-farm program, Donald, a man who works for Homefull, and Donald’s daughter. We were also joined by a young man from the neighborhood who is part of their apprenticeship program, and another young man from the shelter. Together we accomplished a good deal that morning, planting many seeds, taking out many weeds, and removing all the soil from 8 raised beds that had become contaminated with a fungus.

    The Homefull micro-farm program is an excellent example of a charity that helps many. The program is designed to teach job skills to those in homelessness, give them a job there, and then hopefully connect them with landscapers and farmers to get further employment. They also sell the produce at a local farm stand, providing needed fresh produce to the area, with the proceeds going back to the program. The statistics for rehabilitating those in homelessness, many of whom are suffering from addiction, mental illness, or other problems, are not good. However, Homefull does what it can, does it well, and, despite the odds, has some success. It is important to remember that people who find themselves in homelessness are just like you and me. Many people are one or two paychecks away from homelessness, and it might be surprising who is in that category. Some estimates, for instance, suggest that anywhere from 15% to 25% of people in homelessness have served in the military. Think about all of the veterans in our church and all the veterans we know.

    As we worked on the micro-farm, I reflected on what we were doing and our surroundings. The farm is located on very hard soil, which is why they use raised beds, and it is placed between the shelter and a prison complete with barbed wire fences and guard turrets.

    What a place for a garden, in-between two places where people were dealing with hardship and despair. Prior to the garden, all there was to look at from the shelter was the prison, something that probably did not inspire hope. Now, however, in this unlikely space there is new life sprouting forth. Tiny tomatoes are turning red, okra is beginning to ripen, and there are a hundred other beds, where work, caring, and love have produced something life affirming and perhaps life changing. What a wonderful example this is of Christ in our lives and Christ in our world. There are many times in our life where things seem so dark, and hope seems foolish. However, there in the midst of despair is Christ, ever tending to us, ever bringing forth new life, like a gardener tends to his garden. What is Christ growing in your life? What are you helping Christ grow in others?

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • September

    As many of you know, Amelia, my wife, is opening up a hat store downtown. This past week I took a “vacation,” and helped her get the shop ready. My stepfather and mother were kind enough to come to town to assist with the renovation as well. We accomplished all sorts of things, including painting the entire building and finishing most of the construction inside. There are still a significant number of things to do, but we have made tremendous progress, and I could not have done it without the help of my family and friends.

    Even though we accomplished so much, there were still many moments this week when I wondered if we could accomplish what we had set out to do that day or even if we would get done what was needed before the opening. There were frustrating moments, such as when we realized that the lift had a problem and was stuck for a good couple of hours, or discovered that the “minor leaks” in our roof were really a bigger issue than we thought. Each time something like that would happen, I would have doubts about whether this had been a good idea, and if we could really get this project done.

    Now, I don’t know how many of you have tried to restore a 160-year-old building, but I’m sure all of you have had these types of doubts before in your life. There are always times when we face challenges and doubt our ability to make it through them. For me, each time I would doubt, I would try to have faith that it would get done some way, some how. I did not know how it would happen, but I would try to give up the idea that I could predict the future, and would try to have faith that what needed to get done, would be.

    Our faith as Christians often works the same way. We do not always directly see God in our lives, or the path God is taking us. We can believe in the idea that we know everything, or we can give up on that notion and have faith in God.

    Handing ourselves over to God like that can be difficult, especially when it seems like there are no guarantees. Faith requires us not to be in control, but in reality we were never in control in the first place. Faith understands and takes solace in the fact that although we are not in complete control of our lives, God is always there with us and helps us along the way. The world does not always seem bright, but rejoice in the fact that you are never alone in it. Have faith.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • October

    Amelia finally opened up her hat shop last month. This has been the culmination of so much work for her - and for me when my time allowed. As I wrote about last month, there were so many times along the way when we were discouraged, or wondered if we had made a mistake. There were people who doubted the idea and doubted us, and doubted Dayton as being a place to open a successful business. I am happy to report that the business has done very well for Amelia so far. We set what we thought was a reasonable goal on our opening night and ended up exceeding that by four times. Apparently people in Dayton really like hats.

    So far Amelia’s business is doing well, and for that we are grateful, but there are plenty of people who try something that doesn’t work out, even when it is a good idea. I think about the times I have helped others who have failed at something, or when I myself have failed. I heard a speech not too long ago about this exact topic. Failure is something that we all experience in life, but something that is frowned upon in our general society. Should we, however, embrace and honor failure? The speech I heard suggested that most if not all of the people that we see as great successes in the world have failed at some point or another. In fact, there are many venture capitalists who will not invest in people who have not failed at least once in business. Failure is necessary for us to learn and to grow, to become greater than we were before. Any great athlete learns from his successes, but often learns even more from his failures.

    As Christians we are in the business of following Christ. Sometimes we are successful at it and exceed even our own expectations, and other times we fail, myself included. Time and time again we see the disciples failing to truly get what Jesus was trying to teach them, and yet he continued to work with them, and they continued to follow him. We too sometimes fail to see what Christ is doing for us in our lives, and yet Christ is still there with us, and if we continue to follow, we surely will learn more in the process. Never be afraid of failure in business, life, or faith; try to live out your life with passion and purpose.

    Failure will happen, this is expected, and this is OK. Not learning from one’s failure, however, keeps us from learning how to be better, to truly be what we are called to be by God. Good luck, and God bless whatever endeavor you are working on, for whether you succeed or fail, it is to be celebrated, and in the end you will learn, grow, and Christ will be with you always.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • November

    Recently I saw the documentary “Searching for Sugar Man”, a movie about an obscure musician from the 70s named Rodriguez. I could go into detail about what the movie is about, but then I would ruin it for you, and so I won’t. You should go see the movie; it is certainly worth your time. What I will tell you is this, the movie is about how someone’s actions or work can go places and have consequences that are completely unexpected. This is a theme that I think is important not only in this movie, but for all of us.

    Recently many of our lectionary scripture readings have involved the disciples doing what they do, mainly not understanding what Jesus was trying to do. They tried to keep the children and poor people away from Jesus; they bickered about who would sit at Christ’s left or right hand. They seemed to be focused on bigger things-- important things--and those little people just kept getting in the way. They failed to see that the little people and the little things were the important parts of the ministry of Jesus. All of the people Jesus helped--all of the poor and sick and insignificant people of the world--were central to what Jesus did and central to how he would spread the Good News. Are there times in our lives when we focus too much on things that are really not as important as we think?

    Are there times when we are unaware or overlook what truly matters, and fail to see the good work we might be doing in the world? Success and importance are usually defined by big events and status symbols, but what about the little events in our lives--are they important too? When you do something so simple as hugging a friend, you might very well influence the world in ways you can’t even imagine.

    In the mathematical field of chaos theory, there is a popularized term called the “butterfly effect.” It states that something so simple as a butterfly flapping its wings can influence the conditions leading to a weather pattern halfway across the world. The basic idea is that in chaotic systems small changes can have big effects. I am not a mathematician by trade, but I feel somewhat confident in saying that the whole of human history could be defined as a chaotic system.

    If such a thing is true, think about how all those “little” people Jesus helped contributed to where we are now. Think about how, if we live out the Gospel and just focus on the small stuff of our lives. we might impact events down the road. Never underestimate the gifts you have been given by God, never underestimate what your good works can accomplish. Through God all things are possible, and you never know, God might just be working through you right now.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • December

    Yet again the Christmas season is upon us. Everywhere one goes there are Christmas songs and decorations. We are busy surviving Black Friday, Small Business Saturday, Cyber Monday, and the myriad of sales and encouragements to consume goods this holiday season. I wonder sometimes what someone who never heard of Christmas would think about all we do around this time. What would they think Christmas was about?

    If that stranger to Christmas watched TV, or listened to the radio, or went to the mall, I feel it is safe to say that they would think Christmas was about buying things; it was about stuff, material goods. Possibly they would pick up on the idea that a heavyset elderly bearded man in a red suit, and putting a tree in your house had something to do with it. These parts of Christmas, however, would just bring them back again to the stuff part of Christmas, as the red guy brings the stuff, and the tree is a place to put the stuff. If the person were lucky, they might see a manger, or step into a church on Christmas Eve. There they might see something about a baby named Jesus being born, but of course later on people bring stuff to that baby as well, so maybe it is just a celebration of the first person to get stuff. Then on Christmas day, the main event, our Christmas stranger would see that the vast majority of these churches were closed, and that almost every family would go to their house tree and enjoy their stuff.

    Perhaps this description seems a bit harsh. I don’t mean to be a scrooge, or a killjoy, or suggest that no one should buy presents for Christmas. I certainly won’t be any better than anyone else. I will have my tree and my stuff under it. I will go buy stuff for others, and even look for some bargains in the process. No matter what we do it is almost impossible to escape the stuff aspect of Christmas. I really don’t think we can get away from it, but perhaps we could think a little bit more about Christ in the Christmas season. There are many ways to do this: church attendance, volunteer work, praying, or reading Bible passages as a family. The month or so before Christmas is a time for shopping for most people, but more important than that, it is also Advent, a time for us to think about what Christ brings to our lives.

    We are all in need of so many things in our lives, and these needs are not filled by stuff, rather they are filled with the gifts of Christ: love, compassion, salvation, faith, hope, and caring, to name a few. None of these gifts can be purchased or put under a tree. Sharing these gifts, however, will bring us closer to each other and closer to Christ. This Christmas season will undoubtedly bring much of the same, but try if you can to give and receive the gifts of Christ. In doing so, you might teach someone what the true meaning of the holiday is, and you might even learn something new yourself.

    Peace and Merry Christmas,
    Pastor Brian

2011

  • January

    As I write this, my roof is being shingled and I hope the roofers will complete the job soon. I have to say that I feel very sorry for them. As you will remember, December was a bad month for doing much of anything outside, let alone roofing. Giffen and Sons Construction has persevered, however, through the snow, ice, negative wind chill, and just miserable outdoor weather. At least it wasn’t hot, they told me. I think Santa will be getting them a little something extra for their stocking.

    It’s really ironic how Amelia and I came to our current roofing situation. When we bought the house, we knew that we might only have a couple of years on the roof. This fall we started to get some small leaks, and I knew it was time. The contractor told me they did cold weather roofing, and that they could finish it before the end of the year. I thought to myself, “Well, the weather isn’t too bad in December; we will get a new roof before the ‘real’ winter weather hits.” Well so much for good intentions. The moment the roofers started the job, it started to snow; Murphy’s law is alive and well.

    Even though I tried to do what was right, what seemed to be wise, there were unforeseen difficulties, and things didn’t quite work out as we had planned. In our case it was not a big deal; we will still have a nice roof in the end, even if my neighbors do think I’m crazy. Unfortunately, unforeseen difficulties have been much more severe for so many around us. Many have lost their jobs, homes, and health insurance; peace of mind seems to be rare for almost anyone. I think it is important in times like these to remember that no one can prepare for everything and that we all share a common vulnerability to disaster.

    As I have read discussions regarding those in need, I came across the occasional comment stating that people in trouble simply didn’t plan enough. Although there will always be those who are more responsible than others, to think that one is immune to misfortune is a bit delusional, to say the least. This is something that we see in the Gospel and the ministry of Christ. Jesus saw a people who all needed God’s love, with each person in need of salvation. No Pharisee was so perfect that he did not need God. Paul comments that those who have been blessed with certain gifts of the Spirit should help those less gifted.

    I do not know what 2011 will have in store - hopefully something better than 2010. I hope and pray that people can find greater comfort and stability in their lives. One thing I have learned is that everything is a blessing, and nothing should be taken for granted, not even a roof. As we start this new year, I pray that we are all blessed in some way, but more important than that, I hope we are there to lend a hand, a shoulder, or an ear to each other in times of need. In this way we will love one another as Christ loved us, and there is no greater blessing than that.


    Peace and Happy New Year,
    Pastor Brian

  • February

    It’s that time of year again--the time we get our dinner reservations, order the flowers, buy the chocolate, and maybe even purchase a cute teddy bear. Now some husbands or boyfriends might be wondering why they need flowers and a teddy bear to watch the Super Bowl, but they will realize probably 8 days later, that February has something else significant besides football. Of course, I’m talking about Valentine’s Day, a day for love, romance, and making up for past mistakes, like forgetting it was Valentine’s Day last year.

    This is a very important and old holiday. First started in the year 500 by Pope Gelasius I, this day commemorates St. Valentine. However, which St. Valentine we celebrate on that day is in question. It turns out there are several candidates. There was the martyr Valentine of Rome, then there was Valentine of Terni, and even perhaps a third Valentine martyred somewhere in Northern Africa. To make matters even more confusing, it turns out that Valentine’s Day had absolutely nothing to do with love and romance until the 14th century. At that time Chaucer wrote a poem that linked romance to the holiday by commemorating the first anniversary of the engagement of King Richard II of England to Anne of Bohemia. Chaucer wasn’t even talking about the Valentine of February 14th, but rather yet another St. Valentine, the Bishop of Genoa, who was celebrated on May 2nd. Perhaps all this confusion is the reason that Pope Paul VI deleted it from the Roman calendar of the saints in 1969, or maybe he just received one too many valentines that year.

    Regardless of the lack of history, the many St. Valentines, and its varied past, Valentine’s Day is currently seen as a holiday of love, plain and simple. In fact it has become so popular that it has spread to countries with little Christian background, and is one of the more popular holidays worldwide. In Iran, for instance, there was even a ban against valentines and teddy bears around Valentine’s Day, because some in power thought it was anti-Islamic. I can only imagine what the teddy bear black market was like.

    Despite being dropped from the Roman calendar of saints, and bans on valentines, this holiday continues to grow and to be celebrated. Perhaps the reason it is popular now has nothing to do with cards, or saints, or teddy bears, but rather something more basic-- love.

    Valentine’s Day is a free pass to express your love to someone. This would seem to be a common event, but often we see expressions of affection as something that make us vulnerable or even weak. Christ himself was thought to be weak because of his continued emphasis of love, rather than conquest or vindication. What kind of messiah, Son of God, would let himself die on a cross, beaten and humiliated? As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, let us think not only about the love we have for those close to us, but also remember the love universal that God has for all of us. Every day is a good day to show your love for each other, every day is the day to forgive and love one another as Christ did. If you do that, every day can be a Valentine’s Day, and we might just realize how loved we are, teddy bear or not.

    Will you be my valentine?

    Pastor Brian

  • March

    On Sunday, February 20th, something very special happened at our church. We, of course, had our church service as we do every Sunday. We read from scripture and listened to the good news of the Gospel. We praised God and contemplated how we can acknowledge God in our lives. We had fellowship, listened to beautiful music, and gathered as the Body of Christ. All of these things are valuable and worthy of weekly attention, if not daily attention. However, on that particular Sunday, we did something a little more - not only did we hear the good news, but we lived it out.

    On that Sunday, several of us decided to have our heads shaved to raise money for Breast Cancer research. The Papajciks' granddaughter was raising money, doing a Goin' Bald For Buck$ campaign. Jeannette let the church know in case any of us wanted to support her granddaughter. Thanks to Ellen's idea to have several of us go Bald for Bucks as well, the church did more than simply support her. We raised almost $400 to send to her. This in itself was a great accomplishment, but it was more than just writing a check. We as a community decided to not just give, but to participate. We came together as a family to acknowledge the pain and difficulty so many go through with this disease. Even though it was a symbolic act, the fact that several of us lost our hair and that everyone was there to support us, in a small way brought us together with all those who suffer this disease and their families and friends that helped them through the ordeal. Many in our congregation do not need any help in understanding what this experience is like, because they have lived it personally. To those of us who have not, such symbolic acts are a way we can show our support and honor them.

    I say that this is a living out of the Gospel, because the ministry of Christ was based upon God joining with us and we with each other. Christ calls us to become one in all that we do. We do this every time we come to worship, every time we celebrate communion, and each time we as a Body of Christ come together to express the love and compassion that Christ gave to us. We as a group came to witness to the loss so many experience and the love and support so many give. I will never cease to be impressed and encouraged by the love of this congregation. May we continue to inspire and witness to each other the miracle of Christ in everything we do.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • April

    As we watch the tragedy in Japan unfold, we are left with a sense of helplessness. We are not able to solve their nuclear crisis. We are not able to bring back their thousands of dead. We are unable to change the destruction to both their homes and their hearts that will be remembered and felt for decades to come. Some in Japan have called it the greatest destruction since the atomic bombings of WWII. What are we to do in the face of such destruction? The recent devastations in Japan, Haiti, and Indonesia, have killed half a million people and left scars across the face of our earth.

    Such times make us wonder perhaps if there even is a God. It brings to mind the great lament psalms describing a people calling out to God, crying to God to end their suffering. The last verses of Psalm 88 describe what many in Japan must be feeling. "Your wrath has swept over me; your dread assaults destroy me. They surround me like a flood all day long; from all sides they close in on me. You have caused friend and neighbor to shun me; my companions are in darkness." As much as we want to be in control of our lives, of the world around us, we are not. We are always at the mercy of God, and should you think this is not true, you will be convinced otherwise at some point in your life, of this I can guarantee.

    I do not have an answer for why tragedy befalls us, but I can tell you that God is with us. We are not in control, but we are not alone. As desperate as the author of Psalm 88 was, the simple composing and pronouncement of such a prayer acknowledges God's presence. Lent offers us an opportunity to remember our relationship with God, to remember that before any crisis, during, and after, God is still with us. It is often our arrogance, arrogance that we are in control, arrogance that all of our blessings are of our own creation, arrogance that we are self sufficient in every way that leads us astray, away from God.

    When we believe the falsehood that we direct our own lives, then in tragedies such as Japan we are left in utter helplessness and alone because we have failed to see God and God's children in our lives. However, if we renew our relationship with God, if we recognize the importance and our reliance upon the body of Christ, the people around us, then we are never alone. We are never helpless. We are surrounded by the love and light of Christ no matter the darkness. We have the hope of the resurrection, despite the cross. No matter what you struggle with this Lent, no matter what despair you are in, remember God is with you; have hope, know you are never alone, together we will wait for the first light of the dawning of Easter.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • May

    This Lent brought many challenges for all of us. Some of us worried about jobs. Many of us dealt with personal illnesses, or with surgeries and care for those we love. There were several friends and family who passed away, including members of this church. We held three funerals here at Beaver Church during Lent, with two of them taking place during Holy Week. As I thought about those we have lost, I also thought about how appropriate Lent and Holy Week are for funerals. This period in the church calendar is the time when we come to terms with darkness and death. In reality there were not three but four funerals in Lent, including that of Jesus. It is a funeral that we relive ever year, as we discuss his death and burial. At our Maundy Thursday service we end by extinguishing candles and leaving in silence, a symbolic act acknowledging the despair and anguish of the moment of Christ’s death. This is what makes the miracle of the resurrection and the beauty of Easter so magnificent. This is what makes our faith in the face of any death miraculous.

    As we celebrated those who had passed during our Lenten funerals here at Beaver church, there was something of Christ’s light breaking through during each service. Even though we had lost those who were close, there was a sense that they were not truly lost; they were still with us, still in God’s care, still in our lives, just not in their prior form. What a miracle that is to have a faith and to feel it. I know that when I talked to several of the family members and friends, their faith was concrete about this subject, despite what can be proved or observed by the naked eye. As the risen Christ tells Thomas,” Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29). This is the beauty of the Easter season that we are in now. It is that faith in the resurrection, that faith that we have not seen the whole story of existence. With such an understanding we can weather any storm, move beyond any darkness, and no one, no power on earth, can separate us from God and what God has planned for us. What good news indeed!

    Now that we are in the season of Easter, let us not forget the true miracle. It is not just our salvation, which is good, it is not just the fact that Christ lives, which is good, not just the fact that we have a loving God, which is good; it is the fact that nothing, absolutely nothing, not even death can separate us from our God. This is a bond that through Christ is never broken. It is why we sing halleluiah, it is why we can watch our loved ones pass and still see a dawn beyond the night. We have walked together yet again through the darkness of Lent. Please join again in the dazzling beauty of Easter, carrying that triumphal message throughout our lives and to the entire world before us.

    Peace and Happy Easter,
    Pastor Brian

  • June

    If I told you to “get happy”, would you know what I was talking about? Perhaps you would look at me and say, “I am already pretty happy,” or you might say,” I don’t feel happy and you can’t just demand that I change my mind.” Of course if I said this in many traditional black churches, they would certainly understand what I was saying, and might even start to dance, shake, sing, or shout. You see, “getting happy” is a term used in many black churches to describe receiving the Holy Spirit. Different people respond in different ways, but what is clear is that something lifechanging is happening.

    This practice goes back to the very beginning of the black church in America. Some think that this was a way for people to acknowledge the beauty and love of God, the resurrection of Christ, in the midst of the extreme hardship and persecution of their lives. One ex-slave preacher gave the following description as recorded in the book God Struck Me Dead: Voices of Ex-Slaves by Clifton H. Johnson: "All of my people were great Christians. Shouting, singing, praying, and good old heartfelt religion make up the things that filled their lives..... Aunt Charlotte used to cry most all the time when she got happy." Even though “getting happy” is not part of our tradition here at Beaver Church, receiving the Holy Spirit is. If we open up the good old Heidelberg Catechism of 1563 and look into the conversion of a Christian, we will find question number 90: “What is the quickening of the new man?” and see the answer: “It is a sincere joy of heart in God, through Christ, and with love and delight to live according to the will of God in all good works.”

    Even in stodgy old Germany with their black robes and very long catechisms, we see that joy and happiness is at the center of receiving the Holy Spirit and being a Christian. This does not mean that you need to see everything in your life as joyous, but it does mean we should take comfort and joy in our relationship with God despite the difficulties. Sometimes we look to God to make everything in our life the way we want it. We ask for money, or health, or solutions to our problems.

    Perhaps we think that happiness is found in a life free from difficulties and challenges. In reality there is no life that is free from these things, but a life in Christ means you are never alone in facing them. The Holy Spirit is always there for us and in us, whether we realize it or not. What a joyous thing to know that nothing can take that from us. If I were in a place of oppression and extreme difficulty, you better believe I would be happy that I had Christ. I might even do a dance.

    In June we celebrate Pentecost, the receiving of the Holy Spirit by the church. In memory of that day, I ask that you take a moment to look for the Holy Spirit in your life. Look for the Spirit in our church. Look for the Spirit in you. Know that it is an outpouring of God’s unending love, and that it will always, always, be with you. If you can find that some Sunday and it brings a smile to your face, a tear to your cheek, or the uncontrollable desire to “get happy”, this stodgy old German won’t mind, and I’m fairly confident that the rest of the church might even join in with you.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • July

    As you have likely already heard, or will read about in this month’s newsletter, the congregation will be gathering to vote to fund the demolition of the parsonage. This is the continuation of a process that has been going on for several years (the church voted in 2008 to demolish the house,) and it is an issue with multiple and heartfelt opinions. This is not the first time a difficult topic has been voted on at Beaver Church and I’m sure it will not be the last. There are always times in our life and times in our church when difficult decisions must be made, decisions that require thought and honesty, and where the solution is not always obvious.

    Time and time again, as we look around the world, we see examples where difficult decisions about the future are debated, worried about, prayed about, and then finally decided. There are numerous examples in our current political landscape here in the United States, as well as abroad. In Greece, political leaders have the difficult task of trying to do what they feel is best for the future of their country, while knowing that some of these decisions will financially hurt the very people they are trying to help and serve. Not an envious position to be in, I would think. Thankfully for us, votes on the parsonage are infinitely less dramatic and less dire. This does not mean, however, that these decisions are not difficult. In the end, there will likely be some people who will be disappointed after our July 17 meeting, and will feel that a better decision could have been made. Again, this is why such things are difficult, because the answers aren’t as obvious as we would like.

    In my time here at Beaver Church I have reflected on so many things that I love and appreciate about this church and the people who worship here. One thing that impresses me again and again is our ability to wrestle with challenging topics in a way that is respectful of others-- with each person being focused not on winning, but on what is best for this church, the mission of Christ, and our future together. This is something I hope and pray never changes.

    Unfortunately, it is becoming common in our society to be increasingly comfortable with demonizing those who disagree with us. The motto of our denomination is “That they may all be one.” This does not mean we will always think as one, or agree about each topic, but hopefully it does mean that beyond any debate we understand that we are all one in Christ. We are all brothers and sisters, and this above all else is what truly matters. I anticipate that the upcoming congregational meeting will be handled in the same respectful and compassionate manner that I have found to be commonplace here at Beaver church. I would ask that all of us remember that, as the votes are counted, as any decisions are enacted, our bond to each other in Christ is more important than any building, any vote, or any disagreements we might have. May we all be one in Christ’s love, working together towards the greater glory of God’s kingdom.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • August

    The day was Friday, July 22nd 2011; the sun was out with just a few clouds in the sky, and four brave middle-aged men drove their chariots to the field of conquest. It was hot, very hot; no, I really mean it, like drop dead hot. These men none the less carried on through water, ditches, sand, trees, bunkers, and nice grassy fields on occasion, toward the flag that marked their destination. There was much struggle, fear, sweating, disappointment, some words that can’t be said in church, and dreams of the feasting that would occur later that day. In the end, however, with hope as their guide, these brave men prevailed, completing their mission with all accounted for, and with at least some of their dignity.

    No, I am not recounting the actions of a battle involving brave soldiers, but rather the actions of my foursome during the 5th Annual Conner Puckett Classic golf tournament. For those who don’t know, this is a fundraising event organized by Carl, Angie, and many volunteers from our church and elsewhere to raise money for Conner and other children with Cerebral Palsy. Now normally I would not be so dramatic in my description of a day of golf, but it felt dramatic that day. With a heat index north of 100 and my lack of being in shape, I did feel as if I were in some kind of struggle. I, however, was glad that I went and glad to finish. I would do it all again for the real reward that came at the end of the day. I’m not talking about the barbecue, although that was good, but rather the reason we had all come. It was the moment when Carl called up the other family they were assisting this year, and gave them a check for $4,000. The Conner Puckett foundation helped them financially, but it also gave them something else, hope.

    Sometimes people think that hope is overrated. I, however, think hope is one of the most valuable things we have. As Paul says in Corinthians, it is faith, hope, and love that remain eternal. So unless it’s faith or love we are talking about, all else in the world pales in comparison to hope. In talking to parents of children with disabilities, I have heard how challenging it can be, how it can bring marriages together, or tear them apart. In the midst of that challenge and difficultly, how wonderful it is to have hope for the future, and to know that you are not alone. Never underestimate or undervalue hope; it could be the difference between making it one day to the next and just giving up. It is no accident that Paul speaks so highly of it, and that the ministry of Jesus Christ was filled with it. I give thanks, and pray that the Conner Puckett Foundation continues to give hope each and every year. I pray as a church we give each other hope to deal with our own struggles big and small. No matter the challenge, hold on to hope. Together with faith and love it will see us to a better day, a brighter future, and a kingdom of God.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • September

    As I write this month’s pastor’s peace, I have just finished our Vacation Bible School and all of the memories and experiences are flowing through my head. This year we used the ReNew VBS instead of our usual Group material. Towards the beginning of the program the question was asked, “What does this have to do with the Bible?” The curriculum was based upon the parable of the sower (Mark 4:1-9), which was biblical of course; however, that was all it was based on. Our usual Group VBS was based on several Bible passages, several each day sometimes Old Testament passages, New Testament, and the story of Christ’s death and resurrection. Were we getting ripped off this year by only getting one little parable, just nine verses? Was this VBS less about the Bible, and less about our faith, then ones of the past?

    I thought about these questions and reflected on this little parable, looking at how it was delved into each day, thinking about what Jesus was getting at. How did this little story about seeds relate to our life as Christians? As with many things in life, and as was often the case with Jesus, good things can come in small packages. Jesus once said that all of the commandments, and that means approximately 613 in the Old Testament, can be boiled down to two - Love God and love your neighbor (Matthew 22:36-40).

    In the same way Jesus also used parables to discuss the complex nature of faith in simple terms and examples. If we look at the parable of the sower, we see that God or Christ is the sower, and the seeds are grace, salvation, or an invitation to faith. Each example within the parable discusses the challenges we face in accepting God’s gift. Some never accept for many reasons, some accept it quickly but not in deep ways that sustain their faith, others accept it but their faith is drowned out by the cares and trivialities of the world around them, and then there is the “Good Soil”, those who accept it fully in ways that are deep, nourishing, and lead to an abundance.

    We could stop at the more basic view of this parable and say that this represents different types of Christians, and I hope I am one of the “Good Soil” types, etc.

    There is a deeper truth, however. Each one of these scenarios represents what all Christians go through during their lives of faith. The task of a Christian therefore is to recognize this and work past our dismissal, shallowness, and lack of prioritizing God’s Word, leading to an eventual full acceptance of it. All disciples including myself struggle with at least some of these things; however, there is “Good Soil” within each of us. If not, God would never have bothered to plant the seed, would never have sent us all a savior, and would never have offered us eternal salvation. Discipleship is an often difficult task, but one with abundance beyond our wildest imaginations, and one worth the effort. If any of our kids learned this lesson, then our time together was more than worthwhile. I know I learned a thing or two, and I have a hunch I wasn’t the only “adult” to do so. Thanks and blessings again, to all those who helped and donated to this year’s VBS. May we continue to learn, love, teach, share, and help nurture the “Good Soil” in each one of us.

    Peace and Blessing

  • October

    The Popcorn Festival is over, the corn is gone, the roasters are cleaned out, and we ended the festival with around $3,200 in sales. It was another successful Popcorn Festival, and another successful fundraiser. Of course it could have been a bit better in terms of sales. As anyone who was there will tell you, Sunday was super-duper, amazingly busy. We were selling corn left and right; chicken and noodles were flying out of there as fast as we could spoon them. Everything was shaping up for it to be the best Sunday of sales ever. Then at 4PM it happened. Just as the dinner crowd was coming, there was a lightning strike several miles away, and the organizers decided to shut the festival down.

    Talk about disappointment!!!

    I stood there looking at the coolers full of cooked corn, stood there thinking about the $500 or so in sales we would not get, and I have to admit I was a little sad. I understand that the safe thing to do was to stop the festival early, but that didn’t change the fact that I was disappointed that we had worked so hard, and now we were going to miss out on a pretty sizable amount of fundraising for the church. The funny thing about disappointments, however, is that they are tied to expectations, and unfortunately these expectations are usually of our own creation. What I didn’t understand at the time was that these expectations were getting in the way of something greater.

    Talking to Charmayne about her expectations eventually made me understand the whole situation differently. As we were getting ready to pack up, Charmayne shared with me the good news that her Candy Bouquet booth had won a ribbon for best decorated booth of that type. She didn’t even know they were giving out ribbons, and she told me that even if she had not sold one bouquet that day, the fact that she won that ribbon made the whole thing worth while. I pondered that a bit, I guess, somewhere in the back of my brain, as we loaded everything on the truck and unloaded at the church.

    After all the work at the church was done, we volunteers sat back in fellowship hall, relaxed a bit, and told stories of childhood, growing up in Beavercreek, and people from the past. I heard again about Mark Stewart, flying trash cans, and chalk bits thrown so fast and close that you could hear them whizzing by your ear. It struck me then as we sat in the basement, everyone laughing and smiling, that this was my ribbon and I didn’t even know it. The fact that I got to work with, spend time with, and know the wonderful people of this church was the true blessing of that weekend. Even if we had not sold one ear of double-dipped corn, it would have been worth it. God can do a funny thing with expectations, usually when we least expect it. Thank you, everyone who helped with the Popcorn Festival. It was great as always, and I look forward to next year and more memories.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • November

    There was a recent TV commercial I have become rather fond of, a commercial for hot dogs, I think, but that’s not why I liked it, although I do like hot dogs. It was the subject matter I liked. A father comes home from work; sees the kids playing video games, and his wife typing away on the computer or something like that. Everyone was home, but no one was interacting with each other. He goes down to the basement and turns the main power breaker off; the whole house goes dark and he claims there has been a power outage. The family is forced to grill hot dogs and actually speak to each other.

    The idea that we are becoming increasingly removed from each other has been developing for quite some time. I remember how sad it seemed when almost a decade ago there were public service announcements reminding people that it was a good idea to have dinner as a family. I wonder how many nights a week the average family sits down at a dinner table together, all of them, just them and the food, no phones, or TVs, or computers. Perhaps one might even have to ask how many times a month, or sadly even a year. I’m sure some would see me as some “old fogy” for suggesting that these more traditional ways of interaction are more valuable than the brief and often shallow interactions brought to us by media and the information age, but I bring this up not out of nostalgia, but because I truly feel our society is losing something important.

    As we gather for Thanksgiving this year, I would hope that this meal, at least, is one that most people will spend actually looking at each other and talking to each other. If we can’t do this even for Thanksgiving, then we truly have lost something. I bring this up not only for secular importance, but also because of its importance to our called life as Christians. Jesus had a ministry in which relationships were central. Jesus talked with people, ate with people, touched people, healed people, and focused as much on how we relate to each other as how we relate to God. The second most important commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. How can we love someone we don’t even know? How can we know ourselves fully if we don’t know ourselves in relation to others?

    Perhaps all of this is just a phase that will rebalance itself over time. I hope this is the case, because Christianity without at least thinking of and relating to others loses so much of the gospel message and the love of Christ. It is no accident that great atrocities and acts of evil are often committed when one group fails to interact with another, fails to acknowledge them, and fails to see them as human anymore. This Thanksgiving, keep in mind that sitting at a common table and breaking bread together is so much more than sharing a meal. It is about sharing in each other, it is about knowing the body of Christ, and such acts, as simple as they seem, are what hold us together as God’s great family. Remember, it is not what you eat this holiday season, but who you eat it with that truly matters

    Peace and Happy Thanksgiving,
    Pastor Brian

  • December

    As we watch the news this Christmas season, we will likely be reminded of all the ways that we as Americans are divided. There are, of course, the parties — the Democratic Party, the Republican Party, the Tea Party, the Green Party, the Libertarian Party, and the Christmas party down the street to which you might or might not get invited. There are the movements, the occupy movements, the 99% movement, the 1%, and the movement up or down your retirement funds experience, if you even have retirement funds. Besides politics and money, we are divided by where we live, what we wear, how we get to where we are going, what is under the Christmas tree, our religious views, and even what kind of TV we like to watch, just to name a few.

    It seems so hard to believe that we have anything in common any more with all this division about. I have read articles recently that suggest people are further dividing themselves, choosing their friends and even where they live based upon people with whom they agree. Gone are the days when you were forced to get along with your neighbors and family because they were the only people you would or could contact. As we lead up to Christmas. we wait in the season of Advent, literally. Advent is a season of waiting. We wait for what we don’t have. We wait for what we feel the world needs; we wait for what we yearn for the most. For me, I am waiting for commonality this Advent. I am waiting for a realization that we all have more in common than we do not.

    Is it silly to wish that people come together in this atmosphere of separation? I think not. After all, I with everyone else am waiting for the coming of Christ, the coming of God’s light into the world. When Jesus came into the world, as he does for us each Christmas, who did he come for? I don’t think he came for the Tea Party, or Democrats, or the 1%, or the 99% even. He came for the 100%. Christ came into the world for us all, and we are all saved in Christ. Despite everything that keeps us apart, this is one thing we all have in common. It is also perhaps the most important thing we have in common.

    As we celebrate the birth of Christ this year, please try to remember what that means; try to remember that this is a light that shines on all. I am sure that there will always be things that make us different, but this Christmas, I want to have a moment when all of that fades away amidst a star over Bethlehem, the crying of a newborn baby, and the salvation of the world.

    Merry Christmas and Christ’s Peace,
    Pastor Brian

2010

  • January

    Has anyone seen three men named Caspar, Melchior, and Balthazar? I've been trying to locate them, but I guess these wise guys are off somewhere getting into trouble. Don't they know that our Savior has been born? Don't they know that God has come to dwell among us? They weren't there when Jesus was born, and it's already been over a week. I hope when they do show up, they at least bring some gifts.

    The three wise guys that I mention are, of course, the wise men, the Magi, the three kings with their gifts of frankincense, myrrh, and gold. We all know who these people are, but did you know that they were not there when Christ was born? They came later, maybe several months or more later. We celebrate their arrival on January 6th, also known as Epiphany. The word Epiphany comes from a Greek word, which means an "appearance" or "manifestation." In the Eastern church, this day is also used to celebrate the Baptism of Christ. In Hungary, for instance, January 6th is referred to as the Vizkereszt or "water cross", a reference to the Baptism of Jesus. What is interesting about this holiday, this "manifestation" of Christ, is that even though God was incarnate in Christ from birth, the true significance was not revealed until Epiphany.

    This gradual realization is not only the story of the ministry and life of Jesus, but also a fitting way to think about our faith life as Christians. Often Christ comes into our lives, but the true impact, or manifestation of Christ in our lives, is not completely realized at first. The great civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr. first became involved in the movement when he simply was a fill-in speaker at a meeting. Who knows why he decided to do it; my thought is that it was the Holy Spirit. He could never know at that time what that first step would lead to. Every great journey starts with one simple step.

    This January as we celebrate Epiphany, Christ's manifestation, let us be aware of how Christ might be moving in our lives. What direction is God leading us? How can one simple act or decision lead to something greater than we could imagine? How can Christ become fully manifest in our lives? No matter how wise we think we are, we are all fools compared to God's wisdom. Give yourself over to God, follow that bright star in your life-you never know where it might lead.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • February

    This month we begin the season of Lent. At 7PM on February 17th we will hold a short Ash Wednesday service at the church, marking the beginning of this new season. Lent is a season of repentance and preparation for Easter. We begin with ashes, because they are a traditional sign of repentance and mourning in the Bible. Such examples can be found in Job 42:3-6, where Job repents in dust and ashes, and in Numbers 19:9, Matthew 11:21, and Luke 10:13, just to name a few.

    One question to ask would be, "What are we repenting for?" For some that might be a pretty easy question. For others, who feel they have lived a pretty good life, the answer might be a bit more difficult. However, if we focus on our individual sins and transgressions, then we have really missed the point. You see, no matter how good we seem to be, no matter how righteous others think we are, we are still part of a flawed humanity. We are saved through Christ, yes, but still we have not fully lived into the just Kingdom of God. We fool ourselves if we look only at our individual actions and do not admit that we are all part of humanity, and, as members of such, we often fall short of the love and grace shown to us by Christ.

    Let us not forget that the ashes that start Lent are made from the very same palms used to celebrate the triumphant entrance of Jesus into Jerusalem. This is not an accidental custom. It illustrates that humanity at one moment honors Jesus and then that very same human family sends him to his death. It is as if the ashes are a reminder of the hypocrisy that humanity showed its savior. It is our challenge and burden to know that we are responsible for each others' actions. We are all the Body of Christ. The moment the hand blames the foot, or the eye blames the ear for our shortcomings is the moment we cease to recognize our connectedness, cease to understand that we are not saved individually but saved in unity. Christ did not come for one, but for all.

    Listen for the Good News. Even though being one body is a challenge, it is also a great strength. If we understand how we are all connected, if we realize that we are supported by all of humanity, then we realize that this is a body that can never be broken. Together we can overcome any obstacle, we can triumph over any evil, and we can transcend death itself; yet each year we fail to do this. There is enough food and farmland to feed the world, yet hunger still exists.

    There is enough money in the world to provide basic needs and care for all, and yet it has not happened. There is enough clean water for all, and yet people still thirst. We have ample clothing in this world, and yet people are still naked. We must not forget Matthew 25:41-46; when we allow the least among us to suffer, we allow Christ to suffer as well. This is what I repent for in this season of Lent. I am just as responsible for humanity's failings as anyone else is, and I am sad for it, and humbly ask for forgiveness. Please join me this Ash Wednesday, and let us all hope for and work for a better future. Repent and hear the Good News.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • March

    As I write this month's Pastor's Peace, the weather channel is forecasting more snow. Oh, how I look forward to March, the beginning of Spring, and, if I am lucky, the end of snow. Don't get me wrong-there are good things about snow. Some people make their living removing snow. Snow helps replenish ground water. Snow is pretty and can be fun to play in. In fact, Amelia has been so happy this winter, because she missed the snow from Boston, and, well, now we have it here in Dayton, too.

    Sure the snow can be great, but boy can it be headache as well. From the difficulties of digging your car out, to slipping on ice every time you take a walk, to just plain being a hassle to walk through. I have had several church members say that they simply don't come out when it snows. It can even be blamed for a decline in the stock market. Apparently consumer confidence was down for February, which some believe was because of all the snow. Who would have thought that something could ruin my shoes and my retirement account all at once?

    Such a dual role snow has. Good to some and horrible to others. Snow, however, is not unique in being both good and bad at the same time. There are many things in life that we look upon one way or another depending on our situation.

    Sometimes our faith in God falls in that category as well. There are times when we praise God for the wonderful things in our life, or the inspiration and strength God gives us. Other times we are mad at God, we regret something that has happened, or blame God for the great injustices of the World. What I try to remember in those times is that like snow, God has no intention of causing us grief and strife.

    Snow does not fall with the intention of causing chaos on the highway. In reality it is we who cause the chaos. We build homes far from work, drive cars everyplace, and yet get frustrated when nature does something it has done for millions of years. Perhaps if we planned for nature better, we would be less frustrated. In the same way, God has given us life, given us free will, and given us the intellect to know God on a personal level. Yet we are frustrated when God does not control everything as we would like it. Part of life is death, and part of free will is the understanding that some will make the wrong decisions. This will always be the case, but we can plan better for it. We can focus on the beauty of the life we have; we can encourage those around us to make good choices. If we all focus on the beauty of God's creation, then perhaps the difficulties won't seem so severe. As we journey through Lent this season, let us not get too depressed about all that is wrong, but may we rather rejoice in the gift we have from God to make it better.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • April

    As we celebrate Easter we do not have to look far for examples of darkness turning to light, life coming from death. In fact, all we need to do is look outside. How wonderful it has been to see Spring blossom around us. The days are getting longer, the weather warmer, heating bills lower, and soon we will be having barbecues and potlucks outside. For some this will be reason enough to smile come Easter morning, but for many this year there is darkness where light is still desperately needed. Our lives are not as predictable as nature, and some wonder when a new dawn will appear. So many hard things have occurred both in our little church, and in the larger community as a whole, everything from lost jobs to grieving over those who have passed away. Some have faced depression, some anger, some nervousness about the future.

    During such times it might be difficult to truly celebrate Easter, to sing your hallelujahs and songs of praise to God. We celebrate Christ's resurrection, but some still long for a resurrection in their own life. For many in our society it has been a very long season of Good Fridays. I look around and see those waiting for their loved ones to return from war, and for the many millions unemployed and under employed who wait for the opportunity to work again. For them a big smile and rosy view of the world might seem a bit hollow come Easter morning. We should not think, however, that this is anything unusual. Holy week is an intersection of the greatest sorrow and greatest joy, and they overlap in many places.

    The followers of Jesus watched as their friend, teacher, and savior was brutally murdered in front of their eyes for all to see; I can only imagine how hard it was. They had hoped for a change from their current state of being, a deliverance, and finally they found someone they could believe in, only to have that person and dream stripped away. They would, of course, find great joy in seeing the resurrected Christ, but we should not assume that all their despair was gone. Something as traumatic as the crucifixion is never forgotten. They still were unsure about what the future would hold, and what the new kingdom was to look like. They sang a great hallelujah, but they sang it from a broken place. This is the miracle of Easter, not the great joy of the resurrection, but the great joy of the resurrection in the midst of the great pain of the cross. This Easter feel free to sing a broken hallelujah if you need to. Know that despite the uncertainty and suffering in your life, God still loves you, Jesus suffers beside you, and we in the church will support you.

    Hallelujah,
    Pastor Brian

  • May

    There are many wonderful things about the month of May. Our flower gardens really start to come alive at the end of the frost season. The weather stays warm and so we get to enjoy the outdoors and all the activities associated with that. There is, of course, May Day, Memorial Day, and Mother's Day, which we'll celebrate on Sunday, May 9th. On that day we'll honor our mothers with flowers and with a general appreciation of mothers everywhere.

    The founding of Mother's Day in the United States has an interesting history. One early call for a Mother's Day came from Julia Ward Howe, who in 1870 called for such a holiday as a reaction to the brutality, death and loss of the Civil War and its effect on mothers everywhere. The person most often credited with starting the holiday was Anna Jarvis, who in 1908 started this day intended for the second Sunday in May. She wanted a day when each family honored their own mother, hence the singular spelling of the holiday. Eventually her campaign for this holiday proved successful and was signed into law by Woodrow Wilson in 1914.

    Although Anna Jarvis was initially excited about her victory, she would eventually regret it, calling Mother's Day her biggest mistake. Why would she come to this conclusion? It turns out that Mother's Day quickly became one of the most commercial holidays in the country, as it still is today. Anna Jarvis felt that her holiday to honor mothers had just become a day of marketing and consumption. She felt that buying a greeting card just showed that you were too lazy to write a personal letter. Eventually, Anna Jarvis would be arrested for disturbing the peace while protesting Mother's Day.

    There is an important lesson to be learned from the history of Mother's Day. We often confuse giving stuff and spending money with caring for someone. Many of the best things we can do for someone involve no money at all. As we celebrate this holiday, maybe we should think of something that would truly honor the mother in our family, rather than just running out to the store.

    This, of course, goes beyond Mother's Day. We are called by Christ to care for one another and to be the body of Christ to the world. How can we best honor each other? How can we best show that we care? It might just be a phone call, or a visit, or a note. I can tell you from personal experience that in talking to people in hospitals and recovering at home, personal notes are always mentioned before flowers or other gifts. Have a happy May, enjoy your garden, and honor your mother.

    Peace,
    Pastor Brian

  • June

    Spring is in full swing and summer is on the way. At my house the garden is in full bloom. We have a giant clematis on our front gate. The tulips have come and gone. The irises are still going strong, and the peonies are popping open all over the place. We have tomato plants in the ground, thanks to Deal's landscaping. The potatoes and onions we planted are starting to grow, and the mint has pretty much taken over the bed we planted it in. Each plant has its own time to shine, its own way of growing, and its own preferred spot in the sun.

    There are many images we have for God; some see God as father, some as mother, some as best friend, some as a great ruler. No image is wrong and we all relate to God in different ways. Sometimes I like to think of God as the gardener, and we, of course, are God's garden. Or maybe Christ is the gardener and God is the sun, the water, the soil, and everything else needed to create and sustain life. Each of us has his spot in the garden, each of us is individual and yet together we make up the beauty that is the garden of God.

    What I like most about this analogy is that it recognizes that we are all a little bit different, and yet God still cares for us, and we can still grow in God's presence. Some of us like the shade and some of us like the sun. Some of us need a lot of nourishment and others seem to need very little. Some of us bloom early and some of us late. Some of us stand tall with beautiful flowers, and others have more going on below the surface, like those potatoes in our garden. No matter what we are, we all have a place and a purpose and a value to God.

    I also like the idea of a garden because it reminds us that we all work together. In our garden we have marigolds next to our tomatoes because they keep the aphids away. Worms in the garden might be slimy, but they make the soil rich. Bees help themselves and help pollinate the plants at the same time. When we look at others in our church and our world, we should keep in mind that God did not make us all the same, and God did that on purpose. Our diversity makes us more beautiful as a collection, and our different talents and ideas all add to the strength and life of the garden. Don't be afraid to be who God made you. Grow into who you are and remember that God is there to give you all you need along the way.

    Peace,
    Pastor Brian

  • July

    At the end of June we confirmed four of our youth. Again, I would like to congratulate Amanda, Gracie, Morgan, and Olena and thank them for all their hard work. It struck me during the ceremony that confirmation is something we celebrate, and, yet, perhaps don’t know why. Confirmation is at its most basic form a confirming of your baptism. Historically this was also considered a pouring out of the Holy Spirit and thus a sacrament. Confirmation later ceased to be a sacrament in protestant churches, but was still celebrated as a symbolic act or rite. In scripture it comes from such passages as Acts 8:14–17, when the apostles Peter and John received the Holy Spirit sometime after they had been baptized.

    In the early days of both the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches, confirmation was generally done at the same time as baptism; this is still the case in many Orthodox churches. In Catholicism, since many new converts were not adults, but were infants, confirmation was separated from baptism. In the Orthodox and the Catholic Church, confirmation was required before communion could be received. In the 20th century, however, this began to change for Catholics. In protestant denominations some still require confirmation prior to communion, while others do not.

    This covers a brief history of confirmation, but why is it still important for us Protestants? Why do we even have confirmation classes? For Protestants it really comes down to fully understanding the sacrament of baptism. Denominations such as Baptists, who only practice adult baptism, don’t generally have confirmation. In denominations like ours, however, that practice infant baptism, we really want people to understand what their baptism was. Baptism after all is when we die to our old selves and are reborn into the body of Christ. What does it mean to be one with Christ, and part of the Christian church? Our confirmation classes aim to give youth an understanding of what a Christian is, we ask them to confirm this understanding, and then we hope they fully realize the meaning of their baptism.

    I think that even for those of us who have already been confirmed, confirmation should be a reminder of who we are and what we should strive to do as Christians. If you look at the basic questions asked during confirmation, they first ask if we want to be part of the church. If we do, we should strive to do God’s will and reject what is hurtful and evil in the world. To do this we need Christ and we need to follow him. Finally, as followers of Christ we need to work towards being the best examples we can to improve the world around us, in the process sharing the good news along the way. This is a very basic understanding of what it is to follow Christ, but we should ask ourselves now and again if we are fulfilling our promises. Confirmation is not an end, it is really a beginning of a life in which we continue to understand our faith and continue to try to live it to its fullest.

    Peace,
    Pastor Brian

  • August

    As August approaches, I know there is one thing I am looking forward to, and that is the permanent sealing of BP’s Deepwater Horizon well in the Gulf of Mexico. We have been told that the only way to permanently fix this issue is with a relief well that will pump heavy mud and concrete into the well. Thankfully, the relief wells have been ahead of schedule and they should be able to complete this in August. I also pray that the current cap holds until those wells are ready. I write this as we mark the 3-month anniversary of the disaster, which claimed many lives and has now released almost 200 million gallons of oil into the Gulf.

    The question is not so much what we want to do about the tragedy. It is pretty clear that we wish for the leak to be sealed permanently, and for BP to clean up the spill and compensate families and industries for their losses. The more challenging question is “what have we learned from this event.” Like any tragedy the oil spill has been used to support or tear down any number of policies and positions. Some would say we need to stop drilling for oil, period, while others say this proves that we need to open up more land for drilling. Some blame the government, some blame corporations, some blame everybody else. These things will be long debated and I’m sure never completely resolved, but as a church, as a member of the body of Christ, what can we learn?

    If we look to the creation story in Genesis, we find that God created a “good” world. Adam and Eve, humanity, were placed in it with all they needed. They were quite content until they took the one thing they should not, the fruit of the tree of knowledge, knowledge of good and evil and everything in-between. This, of course, led to the end of paradise and brought the suffering that came later. If we look at the story of Cain and Abel that follows, we see that both Cain and Abel are using this new- found knowledge. Cain is growing crops, while Abel has made use of animal husbandry. Abel eventually uses this knowledge to make an offering that is pleasing to the Lord, while Cain also attempts an offering, but it is not praised by God. God is not mad at Cain; he simply did not accept the offering. Cain is furious, unwilling to accept his limitations and lashes out, killing Abel.

    A lesson to be learned is that with our knowledge, we will continue to do new and amazing things. If we use these skills to glorify God, and remain “good”, then we will have the favor of God and not increase our suffering. If, however, we refuse to live by our limitations, then sin and suffering are waiting. If I have learned anything, it is that as we are increasingly less concerned with doing what is good, we are less willing to sacrifice and do without. Companies and societies are more willing to risk the wellbeing of people to reach for things that perhaps they should not. As we think about what we should do in the wake of this recent disaster, I feel that we should take a hard look at balancing our desires with the limitations God has placed in this world. If we continue down a path that ignores this, then I fear we are following Cain’s path, forever hurting others, and forever suffering ourselves.

    Peace,
    Pastor Brian

  • September

    Our summer is drawing to an end. Officially summer lasts until September 21st, but most of us start to give up the shorts and barbecues after Labor Day, the symbolic end to summer. In some sense Labor Day represents getting back to our main labor. For kids that means being back in school and for adults it usually means the end of any vacations. Labor Day also marks the beginning of some of our favorite pastimes such as the NFL and college football seasons. I know at least one church member who can’t wait for the start of football. There are also parades and many a cookout that happen over Labor Day weekend, but what about the stuff having to do with labor?

    Labor Day was born out of a very difficult time between “Labor” and owners. President Cleveland worked to pass a national holiday as part of a strategy to make reconciliation with Labor organizations after several tragedies, such as the killing of several workers by the U.S. military and U.S. Marshals during the 1894 Pullman strike. Labor Day was supposed to show "the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations,” as stated in one of the original proposals for the holiday. Some Labor organizations proposed that the Sunday preceding Labor Day was to be known as Labor Sunday, when the spiritual and ethical nature of the Labor movement could be discussed.

    What are the spiritual aspects of the Labor movement? I know that people have a wide variety of views on the Labor movement. I myself am happy to have a 40 hour work week, and I will leave that discussion there. Moving aside from Labor unions, and any political topics, I think it is worthwhile to discuss the fair treatment of those who work for and with us. A topic that anyone, Labor or not, can appreciate. When I think of this topic in the context of Christianity, I feel that Paul’s letter to Philemon is a helpful guide. In this letter Paul sends back to Philemon a runaway slave named Onesimus. This letter has often been used to suggest that Paul supported slavery, but that is hardly the case.

    It is clear in Philemon that Paul understands the categories in which the world places people; however, he reminds Philemon that Onesimus is now a Christian and therefore his brother in Christ, to be treated as such. We are always called as Christians to treat others as fellow brothers and sisters. To follow the Golden Rule, as listed in Matthew 7:12, is always at the heart of following Christ. As we think about those who labor, and what they deserve, I think it is always important to ask the same questions of yourself. If you think your work at a full-time job should at least provide shelter, food, and basic needs, then perhaps we should advocate for such things for others. The world will always have conflicts between different groups of people; there will always be discrepancies between what is legal and what is right. Christ, however, calls us to rise above these things. This is “our labor” as his followers.

    Peace and Happy Labor Day,
    Pastor Brian

  • October

    As I write this I have just come back from a pastor's group where we talked about several scripture readings, including Jeremiah chapter 32. In this section Jeremiah is told by God to buy land, land that is desolate and in the midst of utter destruction. Jeremiah is promised by God that there will be fertile gardens there in the future. From destruction will come prosperity.

    I often joke that the prophets in the Old Testament are like broken records. The story always seems to be the same. We aren't doing what God wants, God is not happy, bad things are coming. Of course several prophets such as Jeremiah and Isaiah also talk about the beauty and new life that will eventually grow out of the desolation and destruction.

    This theme of moving from destruction to rebuilding is central to many parts of the Bible. From Genesis to Revelation, we hear this same story. As Christians the most poignant example of this is the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. Here we have complete destruction side by side with supreme glory and life eternal. Perhaps this movement from death to life is the central message of the Bible.

    This message should be kept in mind as we struggle with so many things in our life. As we deal with our broken economy, let us remember that just like Jeremiah, God will take care of us in the future again, especially if we work to treat everyone with God's love and respect, as is so often required in the prophetic texts. When we think someone is beyond help, we should still keep hope alive, because God can work miracles in anyone's life, and who knows what might grow in someone's heart.

    Often we lose sight of the horizon and focus only on what is wrong in the here and now. Let us never forget to keep hope alive and to work towards making a world that we want to see. As Paul said, we hope for what is not yet here. Jeremiah did not buy land because it was a hot property, but rather because he had faith in God providing in the future. May we have the same faith in our lives, in our church, and in the path God has led us. Some might accuse you of being a broken record, but I would rather be stuck on hope, than lost in despair. I hope you are stuck with me.

    Peace,
    Pastor Brian

  • November

    "You don't appreciate what you have until it's gone," is a saying we have heard many times, yet we often fail to appreciate what we have. Perhaps it really is true, that being without is required for fully feeling the blessings we have. If we look at the rescue of the miners in Chile, we are reminded yet again of this truth. One of the miners told the world, "If you're married, go home and kiss your spouse now." Upon being released from the hospital, three of the miners almost immediately proposed to their girlfriends. How lucky we must have seemed to them.

    Part of me wonders how long they will see the world in a different light. There is a chance, of course, that such a traumatic experience is truly life changing and that they will always have a bit more appreciation for what they have. It would be nice if all of us could have a life-changing experience, not through traumatic events, but through some other means. It would be wonderful if all of us could suddenly see all the blessings around us. I do not write this to make light of the difficulties people experience on a daily basis, but I do feel that all of us take some things for granted.

    Perhaps this is what the Advent season is about. As we move into November and Thanksgiving, we will end the liturgical year with Reign of Christ Sunday and start a new one with Advent.

    We will start with a season where Christ is not to be found, where we long for the Savior who has not yet come. Is this our opportunity to appreciate Christ through his absence? Can you imagine a world without Christ, without our church, without the idea that God became flesh, lived and died for us out of divine love? Would you feel alone? I know I would. As horrible as this sounds, it is the point of Advent: a time when we wait for Christ, a time for us tor reflect upon what Christ means to us, what God's love means to us, what the love of our congregation means to us.

    Let us all be thankful in November, but let us also appreciate even more our faith journey together with Christ and each other. Each Sunday we spend together is a beautiful experience, just like each of those things the miners missed so deeply. My hope is that we all see that this season. My hope is that when Christmas comes, we embrace that babe in the manger like all of the miners embraced their families upon their freedom. My hope is that we all have a life-changing experience; it's out there if you look for it, beyond the darkness, beyond the fear, beyond the loneliness, in the loving arms of God.

    Peace,
    Pastor Brian

  • December

    The year is winding down in more ways than one. The days are becoming shorter and shorter, dwindling down to the shortest day of the year right before Christmas. Projects are winding down with everyone putting things on hold until after the holidays. People are closing up their houses for the winter months ahead, and everyone is wondering what 2011 will bring. Will it bring more jobs? Will it bring our troops home? Will people keep their homes? Will it simply be a better year?

    Besides the secular change of year, it is a religious new year as well. The end of November moving into December marks the beginning of a new year in the Church. With that first Advent candle we bring the light of a new season into being. We begin yet again and take our place as those who await the birth of our Savior, as the Church has done for centuries upon centuries. What will this new year bring? Will we find ourselves closer to God? Will we find a deeper fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ? Will the Good News break open in a fresh new way within us? Will the Holy Spirit lead us in a new direction.

    Even though we live our lives from day to day, humanity has a way of creating cycles, ways of breaking things up into equal parts and following in the same footsteps we did before.

    We repeat over and over everything from birthdays, to calendar years, to holidays, to fairs, and even taxes, always repeating. What is the purpose in this? Is it a do over, in case our first attempts did not succeed? Are we hoping that we will learn something new? Perhaps we do it so we don’t forget the past.

    Personally, I think it has something to do with hope. As we say goodbye to one year, we say hello to another. This is a new opportunity, something entirely different with new possibilities and prospects. This fits well into the Christian life. Jesus was always starting something new in the lives of those he came in contact with. People were born again into new lives, leaving the old behind, leaving the old in last year.

    Again and again Jesus comes into our lives offering hope, offering a new beginning. What do you want to leave behind? How can Jesus help you to a new life this year? Even if this year does not bring the change you seek, do not give up hope. There is always the year after, and the year after that, each time a new opportunity, a new possibility. Christ comes into our lives in a new way each and every day. We are never winding down to oblivion; we instead always see the light of a new dawn. May you see that light, the light of Christ, and may it bring you hope this Christmas season.

    Peace and Goodwill to All,
    Pastor Brian

2009

  • January

    Advent is over and Christmas has come, alleluia. We have yet again celebrated the birth of our Savior, the great light that has come into our world. So how was your Christmas this year? Was it full of good times with family and friends? I am sure most of you are still recovering from large meals and visiting relatives. For some, however, this holiday was not a happy time. Many of us had mixed feelings during the Christmas season. There was some joy, but also sadness for those who are no longer with us, or for a Christmas that did not meet our expectations. Many this year likely had less under the tree than the year before.

    This mixture of joy and sadness is to be expected. We must remember that the season leading up to Christmas, Advent, was one of longing for change and longing to be freed from all that binds us. Jesus was the light that came into the darkness, and although Jesus was that light, there was also the darkness that cannot be ignored. We are saved in Christ and have grace given freely by God, but this does not mean that every difficulty and dark area of our life goes away instantly.

    Accepting God's grace is often a process that can take time. Even Jesus the son of God was accepted by the world over time and not instantly. This is part of human nature, but the good news is that freedom is there if we want it.

    Christmas and our salvation is sometimes like opening a present where we instantly have what we long to be, but more often it is like decorating the Christmas tree. It is a process where little bits get added day by day, and over a period of time we become the fully decorated tree, the beautiful artwork of God's creation. Sometime a light bulb might go out, or an ornament might fall off, but we strive to be better none the less. So as we continue into this new year, as we move on from the Christmas season, let us remember that the incarnation of God was not just a one day event. The spirit of Christmas is something that we must hold onto for the whole year and our entire lives. The light has finally come, but how will you use it? I hope you use it to step into what God has called you to do. I hope you use it to share and spread the love of God. I hope you use it to overcome the darkness of the world. Let us hope together this new year, and look for a beauty that is not yet seen but possible together in Christ.

    Peace and Blessings,

  • February

    Welcome to the year of the Ox, as represented by the Chinese zodiac. The Ox is seen as a sign of prosperity through fortitude and hard work. Many are still waiting for our nation's prosperity to kick in; however, the official Chinese year of the Ox starts January 26th, so perhaps February will be a bit better. This description has been the butt of many jokes, since the outlook for 2009 seems to be one of disparity, not prosperity. Despite this, however, it is more of an appropriate description than we might think.

    We are quick to long for prosperity in 2009, but there is another part of the Chinese description; this prosperity must come through fortitude and hard work. If ever there was a time in our world for fortitude and hard work, now would be the time. When things are easy and convenient, you don't need to work hard for prosperity; it is already here. When your life is difficult, when times are uncertain, that is when you need to dig in, trust in what you know, and work hard to accomplish your goals. As Kennedy said, "Ask not what your country can do for you, ask what you can do for your country." This advice is sound in times such as these, and is important to keep in mind for the church as well.

    From the time of the Prophets, to Jesus and the Disciples, to Paul, and even to today, church work is hard. If you are looking for something easy that won't challenge you, then don't send your resume to God Incorporated, because they are all out of those positions. The Prophets all dealt with a people who were difficult and didn't believe, Jesus was crucified, and even when Paul wasn't in jail, it seems he always had to deal with some issue in the church. Yet despite the difficulties, the tragedy, the hardship, unimaginable prosperity came to this world. It came through a fortitude and faith in God, and the hard work of carrying the cross as Christ did for us.

    As was discussed in the annual meeting, there are some challenges Beaver UCC faces in the years to come. This, however, does not change my view that Beaver is a fantastic church, with a bright future, and with much to offer its members and the community at large. Will accomplishing our goals take some work? Yes, it will. Will there be some difficulties along the way? Yes, there will be. If we come together as a church and faithfully work to build our church, will we be successful? Yes, we will. Nothing of value ever comes easily. Every benefit one generation has, came from the work of those that came before it. It's the year of the Ox; let's get to work and share the prosperity of Christ amongst ourselves and with a world in greater need than ever.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • March

    As we begin March, we begin the next liturgical season in our church calendar, Lent. We celebrate Lent as the 40 days from Ash Wednesday until Easter, not including the Sundays in-between. The liturgical color is purple, and it is a time for penitence, representing the 40 days in the desert Jesus spent prior to his ministry. This covers the basics of Lent, but what does it really mean to us as Christians? What does Lent mean to you?

    Different people do different things in Lent. Some people give up things for that period of time; others add something to their life that brings them closer to God. Others will even fast for certain periods. Different denominations observe Lent by doing things such as covering the cross in a shroud and not using the word alleluia until Easter. Some go as far as physically burying the word in a box during the season. Of course many of these practices have to do with a sense of repentance on our part and strike a different tone that contrasts the joy of Easter. It is in some ways a season of Good Friday.

    All of these practices might help us get into the mood of Lent, but to really understand it requires that one accepts why Easter and Good Friday are different from each other. Of course Christ died on Friday and was raised on Sunday, but more important than that Christ ushered in a new relationship between God and humanity in the process. Through grace we as people have a different relationship with God, something that theologically was not present prior to this. You see, through Christ we were given a fresh start, a new covenant, and a new conscience. This renewal is what we truly remember this season. It is the process of recognizing how we can live out our covenant better, how we can better live out Christ's love, and culminates in a retelling of the forming of that covenant, Easter.

    Not only is Lent the season when we can think about this renewal for ourselves, but it is a time for us to think about how we can be a better society at large. The economic issues we are facing now are partially cyclical, but are also largely the result of individuals and institutions that ignored warning signs in favor of a quick profit, a profit for which we are all now paying the price. How can we better instill a sense that people are more important than things? How can we have what is right be more important than what is technically legal? How do we remind ourselves that our neighbor is just as important as ourselves? These are the questions we should ponder, as we all suffer this penitence for a culture that put money first and responsibility last. May Easter come soon, may a renewal of our economy come soon as well, and may our observance of Lent better help us to appreciate what is truly important.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • April

    Have you noticed the bits of green popping up from the ground? Have you noticed the increasing chirping of birds? Have you noticed a decrease in your latest heating bill? Have you noticed people are actually wearing shorts? There are many ways to notice the season we are in. Spring is perhaps one of the most dramatic changes to our environment that we encounter on a yearly basis. After months of cold, months of staying inside, months of seeing little alive, we see all of this new abundance. One way we notice spring in the Christian church is Easter, of course.

    How fitting to have our holiest of days occur during this season! We have just been through the season of Lent; we will soon celebrate Palm Sunday and remember the death of Christ on Good Friday. This season of spiritual repentance and death leads to one of great celebration. On Easter we celebrate the greatest of God's miracles, triumph over death itself. We take that time to remember all that we are given by God and to celebrate it in every way we can. This is the day in which we say "Alleluia" as loud as we can.

    A lesson we should remember during Easter and spring is that we live in relationship with a God that can make what seems impossible, possible. No matter what darkness we are in, no matter what despair we might have, God can turn any depravity into abundance of life and blessings. We might not always appreciate what we are given, and sometimes we might get something different from what we wanted, but renewal and change are always possible.

    What change is beginning to blossom in your life today? In times such as now, when economically, and in many senses, our world is in a state of depression, it is all the more important to look for the bits of new life popping up in our lives. Even in the worst of situations some small, tiny, mustard seed size of good is there. If we hold onto that, if we choose to celebrate with an alleluia that abundance in our life, then you never know what is possible. You never know what that good thing will blossom into. Remember you are fertile ground, let the love and promise of Christ grow in you this season. It might not lower your heating bill, or make you feel more comfortable in shorts, but it will change your life, and might just change the world.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • May

    Easter came and we celebrated the resurrection of Christ in grand fashion here at Beaver UCC. Thanks to all of you who helped make everything possible on that wonderful Sunday. Between the two services we had 155 attendants, and the breakfast and Easter egg hunt were well enjoyed. So now that we have celebrated the High Holiday, now that we have taken the lilies home, now that the Easter dresses are back in the closet, what do we do? This is not a new question; in fact the early church thought a great deal about what to do after the death and resurrection of Christ. In the gospels we find the first accounts of Christ appearing to the disciples and others; it must have been amazing. In Luke, Acts, and the traditional ending of Mark we read about the ascension of Christ. What a glorious thing to have witnessed! I have a hunch, however, that shortly after that, one or two Christians thought, “Now what.” An answer to that was Pentecost when the Holy Spirit descended on people. This event, 50 days after the resurrection of Christ, marks the beginning of the Church. Again, what an awesome event, but afterward, I wonder if people again said, “Well, now what do we do.”

    People such as Paul knew that what had to be done was to spread the Word, and to prepare people for the eventual return of Christ. Many in the early church felt that Christ would come back very soon. In fact, people wondered if it made sense to plant crops or even get married, because of the impending return. Some 2000 years later,we have come to understand that either Christ’s return somehow works differently than we thought or that it was not intended to be immediate, and it has yet to come. We would be justified in wondering, “What are we supposed to do while we wait?” Often in life we live from one big event to another. For instance, a person’s career might be seen as a series of events: college then your first job, your second job, a big promotion, a not so big promotion, retirement. If we just look at those events and focus our life around them, then we stand to miss everything in-between. Many times it can be the moments between the milestones that truly define your life. The church is not so different. Between all of the events of the early church and even today, there has always been a constant, God’s love. We don’t celebrate God’s love with any specific event, yet it is there in everything we do as a church. As we leave the big holiday of Easter and our attendance returns to lower numbers, please remember and remind others that the church still meets every Sunday. Remember that what will likely be the most important events in your church life will happen in-between Christmas and Easter. Remember that God’s love is with us every day, and simply recognizing that is the “now what” of a life in Christ. In fact, it might be the most important thing we ever do.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • June

    Summer is finally here. Gone are the days when we need to worry about frost or snow. We no longer will rack up big heating bills and we won’t have to shovel out our driveways. We will have to mow the grass and turn on the AC, but that seems like a pretty good trade. Hopefully some of us will take some vacation time and some interesting trips. I look forward to hearing the stories and seeing the pictures of your great adventures.

    At some point over the summer, I myself am planning a trip to Lake Erie to cure my coastal blues. You see, being a mainly coastal person, Ohio is the first state I have lived in that did not have an ocean coast; I have really missed being close to the ocean. Recently, however, I watched a TV program about the Great Lakes and thought to myself “that looks enough like an ocean to me.” I am hoping there is some small town nearby where it’s fun to just relax. I am sure that all of you can give me some suggestions. My new love for Lake Erie also reminded me of a very important lesson. Often in life we miss something or long for something. God usually fills our needs, but not always in the way we might think. Another way to put it is that you should be careful what you wish for, because God just might give it to you. We never know how our lives will turn out and where God will send us. Although I am still young and have much to learn, one piece of advice I would give is not to fight where God is sending you.

    We often get caught up in expectations, and become disappointed when we don’t get what we want, but that’s life; sometimes you have to settle for what you have. As the Rolling Stones song goes, “You can't always get what you want but if you try sometimes you might find you get what you need.” Honestly, I have found that God does work in mysterious ways, and each time one door closes, another one opens. It might not be the one you wanted to go into, but it’s there. You never know where it might lead, maybe it’s to a new career, perhaps it’s to a new love, or maybe it’s to a nice quiet coastal town somewhere between Toledo and Cleveland.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • July

    Fear Not! – This, of course, was the main theme of our vacation bible school week. This was my first VBS and I have to say that it was great. All of the people that helped out did such a wonderful job and I know that the kids who participated had a great time and learned so much about their faith. It was a truly wonderful experience and a good mission to the families in this area and beyond. I am proud of what we do here at Beaver UCC and this VBS reminded me of that each day.

    It was interesting that even though we were dealing with children, and teaching simple lessons, the themes that were covered are complex ones that many adults struggle with. How do we deal with the scary things of the world? If God is so powerful, why do we have to suffer sometimes? These questions and others would periodically come up and I appreciated the time to reflect on them, even if it did involve being covered in silly string.

    Ultimately we know that God is powerful, but sometimes we wonder why things go wrong in our life. I don’t think that we can ever answer the question of why bad things happen, but God’s power in dealing with our struggles is everywhere. If we have faith that there is something just and good beyond what we see with our eyes, then it gives us the will and power to continue. Without that faith, I think many might quit along the way. The love that we find in Christ and each other gives us compassion and instructs us to look to a just and peaceable kingdom, if we listen to our hearts.

    Fear not, indeed; it is a lesson we all can learn. We banish fear, not because we think God will wrap a bubble around us and protect us, but rather because we know that God is ultimately with us throughout our existence. No matter what happens in life, faith and love will always help us to weather the storm. They are more powerful than any army, disaster, injustice, or any other thing we fear. Sometimes we might have a long road to travel, but at the end there is always God’s love waiting for us.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • August

    A special thing happened on Friday, July 17th. Where were you on that day? I know many of you were at the Conner Puckett Golf Classic. For the few of you out there that don’t know Conner, he is a much loved member of our church, who has to struggle with the challenge of cerebral palsy. This was the third annual golf classic that helps to raise money for his treatment and for other children who struggle with similar disabilities. What a wonderful event it was, and what a wonderful showing of people from Beaver UCC. Not only did we have many people play in the event, but even more importantly so many members volunteered their time and energy to make it happen. I could have had the worst golf game of my life that day, and I still would have been prouder than I have been in a long time. Not proud of myself, of course, but proud of the genuine outpouring of support this church gave for Angie, Carl and most importantly Conner. Working together to take care of those in need is one of the best examples of showing Christ’s love, and I saw that love in every face I looked at that day.

    We often talk in the church about God being with us, or say that Jesus is always there for us when we are in need. These statements are both true, but perhaps in more ways than you know. There is that presence of God that is unexplainable, one we are unable to understand or fully perceive. Some might call it the Holy Spirit, some might feel it is the presence of Christ; it is Holy and somewhat a mystery.

    There is, however, a much more tangible presence of Christ that we see in our everyday lives. That presence is each other. We, the church, are the body of Christ. In Romans 12:4 and 1 Corinthians 12:13 we see Paul’s view of the body of Christ. Together we are baptized into the one body, and although we are all different, we are all part of that body and we all need to work together, because we all have different roles. When I was at Conner’s golf tournament, I saw how so many people helped in different ways to make it a successful event: from those who played, to those who gave kisses, to those who drove Conner around to meet everyone. All were different parts of that one body, all worked together to have Christ’s presence felt, and Christ’s work be done. I don’t know about you, but I am already looking forward to next year’s event. I am also already thinking about who else I can invite. The more people we have, the more members of that body there will be-- more members to give their unique gifts to help a boy who has touched all of us so much. God Bless.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • September

    September is here and that means school, school, and school. No matter who you are, the going back to school season affects your life. Kids of all ages have yet another season to appreciate acquiring knowledge. Parents have another season to celebrate having their kids occupied for approximately 7 hours a day. Teachers get to practice their trade, bus drivers get to learn new routes, and everyone else gets to enjoy school plays and speed zones. No matter who you are, you are affected.

    Around my house I get to see the change in the neighborhood with the influx of college and grad students attending Sinclair and UD. We see new faces moving into new houses. Traffic picks up, and the line at the grocery store gets longer. What is all this school about? Why do we value knowledge and continue to arrange our lives around the dispensing of it? As many of you know, much of our property tax goes to support our schools. Being that this is my first house, I had never really appreciated the magnitude of property tax, and yet I would not want to give less money to the schools. If we are willing to pay for it, it must be important. Traditionally education was very directly tied to your place in society. Getting anything but a very basic education was limited to the upper classes. Eventually this started to change. In England, for instance, churches supported educating everyone so that they could learn to read the Bible and better their understanding of Christ. Although this might seem like a minor change, it represents what has happened in many cultures and countries. That change was the elevation of the value of people no matter what class they were from. Slowly but surely it was understood that everyone was valuable, especially in the eyes of God, and so everyone deserved an opportunity to make their lives better.

    This is a central part to our faith as Christians. We know that no matter who you are and where you come from, God loves you and you are valuable to God. Christ’s salvation is for everyone. We encourage our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ to live out every wonder God has prepared for them. Perhaps this is why school is so important to us. Perhaps this is why we are willing to change our ways every September and cough up some extra dough. We know that knowledge will ultimately help people become the best they can be, and help them to help a world in deep need.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • October

    The leaves are starting to change, the weather is starting to cool down, and I'm sure every store you have been to has started displaying items for Halloween. Hopefully they have not yet started advertising for Christmas, but I will save my rant on that for another time. Halloween, what a holiday it is, with different people having different views about the detriment or betterment to society that it provides. When it is even celebrated seems to be in question, as Amelia and I found out upon moving to Dayton. We were completely unprepared for "Beggar's Night" and found it quite odd to have no one knock on our door during All Hallows' Eve.

    So what is this strange and scary holiday and should we as "Christians" be for or against such a display of ghouls and goblins? Now whether you are for or against Halloween probably depends upon many things other than your religious beliefs. If you don't like children, candy, and the possibility of having your trees covered in toilet paper, then you probably don't appreciate this holiday, no matter what I say. If you do, however, like the candy, the jack-o-lanterns, the costumes, apple cider, and other fun family aspects, then fear not; your faith in Christ is not in conflict with the 31st. In fact, the celebration of Halloween is very much a part of the Christian calendar.

    Halloween occurs the day before All Saints' Day. This is an important Christian holiday that has been celebrated in the Western Church on November 1st since about the 9th century. In Ireland there was also a holiday called Samhain that celebrated the changing of seasons and the last harvest. These two celebrations were tied together and hence the name Halloween was born, from All Hallows' Eve, from the Old English phrase which meant "all saints' evening." What was important about All Hallows' Eve, and All Saints' Day is that they were times when we remembered and connected with those who have died. In fact the Day of the Dead, or All Souls' Day, is celebrated on November 2nd in Mexico and many Latin American countries. So this Halloween or All Souls Day, if you prefer November 2nd, try not to think of scary things, but rather think of all those you love who have gone before us to our Lord. This is a special time of year where we go from life to death, from Summer harvest, to Winter desolation. Death can be a scary thing, but our faith in Christ reassures us that there will be a Spring after Winter, the cross is not the end, for Christ or anyone else. Remember this, have hope, remember your departed loved ones, and remember, don't toilet paper my trees.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • November

    Thanksgiving is a holiday that is celebrated in the U.S. and in Canada, as well. It is a holiday about turkey (or tofurkey, if you prefer), family, travel, and, of course, asking what we are thankful for. We usually ask that of ourselves and family members during Thanksgiving, but is once a year enough for such a question, and do we really recognize that thankfulness should be the reason for the season. The idea of a Thanksgiving service historically has nothing to do with turkey, or family, or really even Pilgrims. Services of Thanksgiving were not big meals but rather holy services giving thanks to God. Usually people were thankful for still being alive, or perhaps for a victory over an enemy, or for some other fairly monumental thing. One of the first such religious services in the United States was performed not by the Pilgrims, but rather by Pedro Menéndez de Avilés. When he and his men arrived in what is now St. Augustine, Florida, in 1565, he immediately led a service of Thanksgiving for their safe arrival in the New World.

    Don’t get me wrong; there were Pilgrims in Plymouth Bay who in 1623 did celebrate a successful harvest with a Thanksgiving service during their annual festival. There was a feast of some sort, probably not turkey, and I’m sure there were family members, and I’m sure it was a good time. The point is, however, that the food, folks, and fun were secondary to the thankfulness - the idea that we should thank God for what we have in our life. This is an idea older than the Pilgrims, and one that has been central to the Christian church from its beginning. The Eucharist, or Communion, has at its heart a sense of thankfulness.

    The word comes from the Greek verb eucharistéō, which means to give thanks. When we celebrate the Lord’s Supper we not only come into contact with the Divine, but we do it with hearts that are thankful for salvation, and thankful for all that is good in the world.

    Sometimes it is difficult to be thankful. Sometimes we have suffered a tremendous hardship, and that burden weighs so heavily that we can’t see anything else. In such times it is important to remember that no matter what the world has subjected us to, we are children of God, we are loved by God, and we are worthy and saved. Such things might not seem like much, but they can never be taken away; God will always be with us no matter what. This Thanksgiving, help each other to remember these seemingly small facts. Help each other to see all the good and beauty in the world that exists despite the evil and ugliness. Help each other to know and to be thankful for God’s love and the love of one another. Do this, and you will know the true meaning of Thanksgiving; you will have joy and hope in your heart. It won’t matter if the upcoming Christmas tree might be a little bare, it won’t matter if someone isn’t home this year, and it won’t even matter if the tofurkey is burnt. We will just be thankful for what we have. Blessings and Happy Thanksgiving,

    Peace, Blessings, and Happy Thanksgiving!
    Pastor Brian

  • December

    "It's beginning to look a lot like Christmas everywhere you go. Take a look in the five-and-ten, glistening once again with candy canes and silver lanes aglow." Actually, it's not beginning to look like Christmas, at least not while I am writing this. We are still having highs in the 50s and 60s, and I am much more concerned about Thanksgiving right now. By the time you read this, it will be a bit closer to Christmas, we will start decorating the church, and although there will probably not be snow, it will likely be colder. The five-and-ten, or Wal-Mart, however, is already looking so very Christmas-like. In fact, every retailer I have seen seems to be in Christmas DEFCON level 1, so to speak. They are desperately hoping for an imminent attack of holiday shoppers. However, is that what Christmas really looks like?

    One thing I have never liked about that famous Christmas song is how much it focused on the stuff of Christmas. Toys get the #1 mention, followed by some notice of decorations, and lastly is a brief mention of singing. Is that really what Christmas looks like--toys, decorations, and a couple of songs? Unfortunately, that is what Christmas often boils down to, at least in advertisements and popular culture. We keep asking ourselves if we are ready for Christmas. We constantly run around trying to prepare for that big day, trying to get gifts, trying to get things decorated, trying to get in enough cantata rehearsals.

    However, if we look at the season of Advent and the birth of Christ, we see a very different picture. In the first Christmas, there were some gifts, but they were for Jesus. Frankly, I don't think Jesus really wanted them--what does a baby do with myrrh, anyway? There weren't any decorations, that's for sure. There was not a round of singing, not by the humans at least. We just have a little baby and some perplexed adults. Now that I think of it, not much has changed. Christ comes into our lives each and every year, and we run around not knowing how to handle it. We have all of our gifts and decorations, because perhaps we simply don?t know what to do with a king who asks us to serve him by serving others. We do not know what to do with a God that comes in the form of love and humility, rather than a form of authority and power. We do not know what to do with someone who loves us despite all of our shortcomings and the ways we have hurt ourselves and others. I guess it does look like Christmas after all; it looks like Christmas every day of every year. Christ is always coming into our lives; the question is, are we ready for what that means? Are you ready for Christmas? Are you?

    Peace and Good Will on Earth,
    Pastor Brian

2008

  • August

    Hello and peace to all of you from your new pastor. I first want to thank the entire congregation for giving me the opportunity to serve Beaver UCC, especially the search committee for showing me such hospitality and kindness during the interview process. For those of you who I have not met yet, I look forward to meeting you soon. From worship to potlucks, I have enjoyed the small time I spent at Beaver UCC and am looking forward to hopefully many years of fellowship in Christ with this community.

    As I write this, I am now halfway between Boston and Dayton, halfway between the old and the new. As I have been packing and packing and packing my things I have thought about the profoundness of moving and how it is a metaphor for many aspects of life, including following Jesus. The idea of going from one place to another is present in so many parts of our faith. From Old Testament accounts of 40 years roaming the desert to themes of Baptism where we die to the old and are reborn to the new, these ideas of transition are abundant and powerful.

    One consistent theme in these moving stories is that of trial and tribulation during the process. I certainly have had my frustrations of packing, lamenting over leaving friends and even anger in dealing with scam artist moving companies. However, these things are nothing in comparison to the difficulties Moses had during the long journey to the promised land. They are also trivial in comparison to the struggles of Jesus at Calvary. Despite the small magnitude of my difficulties, they are still real and challenging, as are many of the difficulties we all face in our daily lives. If we face these difficulties, however, with God's help we can ultimately overcome them and move into a better and brighter future. For me this is coming to a promising ministry in Dayton, for Moses it was finally seeing the promised land, and for Jesus it was the salvation of Humanity. All things are possible with God. We must remember that even if the journey looks long and difficult, eventually God's love waits for us on the other side.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • September

    The 2008 Olympics has been entertaining, thrilling, and the cause of sleep deprivation for many. Time and time again the term "Olympic Spirit" was used both to describe people with Olympic Spirit and those lacking in it. I decided to look up what this term means, and the most concise definition I can find is the following. Olympic Spirit requires mutual understanding with a spirit of friendship, solidarity and fair play.

    There were certainly some athletes that showed this Spirit more than others. Good examples would be people like Michael Phelps, who still managed to have humility after winning more gold medals than any other athlete in history. Bad examples were athletes such as Angel Matos, who attacked a referee after disagreeing with a ruling. What is interesting is that this World event has given us a broad view of many different cultures and countries. It is apparent that no one group has a monopoly on Olympic Spirit or a lack thereof. All of these athletes are human and thus each is susceptible to the best and worst emotions that come from competing in such a grand fashion.

    It is not much of a leap to think about our own lives and trying to have a type of Spirit in how we interact with others. When we see others who have something more or better then us, we should try to appreciate what they have achieved rather than become jealous. In a similar way, when we see someone who has less than us, we may appreciate what we have, but we should try not to think of ourselves as better than that person or above them. In all our interactions with others we should try to put forth love as the standard. This Spirit is what I would call the Christian Spirit and it requires us as Christians to have mutual understanding and a spirit of friendship and solidarity; to conduct ourselves fairly with those we meet. You know a true champion by his humility in the face of victory, and you know a true Christian by his love.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • October

    The end of summer this year will likely stick with us for many years to come. As we enter the fall season we are still cleaning up from Hurricane Ike, and are still trying to clean up Wall Street as well. Both at home and across the nation most are feeling some pain or difficulty. As we watch the leaves fall from the trees, some of us will wonder how we will fare through the winter. Will we make it to spring?

    I wonder how the disciples must have felt almost 2000 years ago around this time in their final year with Christ. John the Baptist would have already been killed. Perhaps this was also when Jesus started to talk about his own death in passages such as Matthew 20:17-19 and Mark 10:32-34. With only about 6 months left before the crucifixion, rumors must have been swirling about people in power being against the ministry of Jesus.

    I am sure that some of the disciples questioned what the next year would bring. I am sure that some worried about the future. It, in fact, would only get worse for them; events would unfold that would lead to the capture, trial, and death of Jesus. As you know, however, the story did not end there. The glory of Christ's resurrection was beyond the disciples' wildest dreams, and the event motivated them to create the church and spread the Word.

    I do not know what will come of this season in our lives, our country, and our world. What I do know, however, is that our faith teaches us that great things can come from even the darkest of hours. As Paul stated, "We hope for what is not yet seen." I hope that out of any current difficulties will come new and exciting possibilities for all in this congregation and all in our world. Let us therefore have hope together and look not towards winter but rather to spring, in whatever form that might take.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • November

    As if you needed someone to tell you, election season is upon us here in the "swing" state of Ohio. We have seen more ads than we can probably count, and if you put all of the campaign signs end to end, I wonder if they would reach the moon. Politics is a big deal; it was a big deal in the time of Jesus and it is still a big deal today. History books are full of all of the various intrigues and happenings of the Roman Empire, and I'm sure someday people will look back at this period of political history to try to gain a lesson or two.

    As important as this political season might seem with all of the advertising and predictions of total gloom, doom, prosperity, and abundance, we must keep things in perspective. Rome was in total control in the time of Jesus and no one questioned the everlasting presence of that Empire, and yet it passed away only to be read about. Every empire and country will fall or change or become something completely different eventually. In just a little more than 200 years, our county is something just a bit different than when we started. There is nothing wrong with this; it is just the inevitability of time.

    Regardless of what might happen with the future of our country and political system, one thing has remained constant. One thing has been present from the time of Jesus until now, and in fact has been present for all of human history. That thing is God. God the mighty "I AM" has and always will be with us. The ways we worship God might change, but God does not, and the fact that we are God's children has and will always be true.

    With this in mind as the political season comes to an end, we must remember that whoever wins or loses, whoever sits in the seats of power in our country, these things are only temporary and fleeting. They are not even a breath's worth of time in God's eyes. So let us therefore come together as a nation and, more importantly, as a Church, no matter who wins or what the outcome is. There might be several political parties in the United States, but there is only one family of God. I pray that all of us and the entire nation remembers this and is unified in this. Only together can we deal with the greater problems of our country and our world. Only together can we help to usher in God's Kingdom in all its great glory.

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

  • December

    Isaiah 64:1 "O that you would tear open the heavens and come down..."

    O how we wish that Isaiah's prayer would come true today. In the sixth century BCE, when Isaiah wrote, Judah was in great despair. They had lost the temple and had been in exile in Babylon. The sixty-forth chapter of Isaiah was written to a distraught group of people in Jerusalem, waiting in anticipation for God to renew the covenant and save them.

    As Christians we find that new covenant in Jesus the Christ. Jesus is sent by God as an answer to the prayers of Isaiah and others who struggled with the difficulties of a broken world. Jesus was a final covenant, a salvation of all of humanity, a great light that would never cease to outshine the darkness of our world. Although our sins are forgiven through Christ, and we know God is with us, sometimes the world can still seem dark.

    In these current economic times, things such as layoffs and disappearing retirements can leave us in great despair. Theycan leave us longing, like Isaiah, for God to come again from the heavens and deliver us. Time and time again I have heard the stories of people who, upon losing their jobs, feel like they are worthless. Men of older generations in particular feel that somehow their masculinity itself has been stripped away by their inability to provide for their family. This Advent season is a time for us to remember what it was like to wait in anticipation. For many people this year, such anticipation for salvation will not be too hard to imagine.

    Despite the difficulty, despite the hardship, we must remember that a light does shine and is with us and in us. Even in the time of Isaiah, God was still with them. God was still working through the prophets and guiding the people of Israel. God is still with us today, as well. We do not know when God will tear open the heavens again to usher in Christ's return, but we must have hope. We must believe the promise of God and look for the light again with fresh eyes in a world that seems to be in such need. Even if Jesus does not come back today or tomorrow, or for a thousand years, we can still help usher in the Kingdom of God every day of our lives. We can do it; we can help bring light to those who need it. In this season of Advent, this season of such deep anticipation, take a moment and ask yourself, "How am I bringing the light of Christ? How am I living out God's promise?"

    Peace and Blessings,
    Pastor Brian

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