As we begin our Lenten journey I read an interesting article entitled ~ “Survey says 24 percent of Americans observe Lent”
It got me wondering why we have lost our observance of Lent? Does it not matter in our faith life? What is Lent all about? Why do we need to prepare for the resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ?
Lent is a solemn religious observance in the liturgical calendar that begins on Ash Wednesday and ends roughly, six weeks later on Holy Saturday ( it excludes Sundays). The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer through prayer, doing penance, repentance of sins, alms giving , atonement, and self—denial—all things that Jesus did for us.
In Lent many Christians commit to fasting or giving up certain types of luxuries as a form of penance. Many Christians also add a Lenten spiritual discipline, such as reading a daily devotional or reading the Bible. All Lenten practices are done to bring the believer in touch with the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made to take away our sins. It is to change our focus from being satisfied in this life so that we can focus on the life that we are all created for and are citizens of by our very baptisms. Our observance of lent then should be done with the intention of focusing on those things that are going to bring us closer to our calling--becoming more Christ-like. (Yes -these are the very things that we are called to do all year long) but Lent is a season that we come away with Jesus to his desert experience to better focus our calling. Our observance of Lent does make a difference and directly influences our celebration of Easter. I pray that each of you will have a holy Lent.
May we grow together in our Spirituality as we journey through our Lenten
season together. May we all be seriously committed to become like Christ.
In Christ’s love - Rev. Steve
As I start this letter, it is a good time to look at what we are accomplishing as a church body. It is so wonderful being part of such a spirit-filled congregation.
Remembering that we are called to be the body of Christ, it is what we should measure all of our activities against. How are we being the body of Christ to one another and the community that we have been called to serve—Brimfield, Illinois.
We have been given a special gift from God and He needs us to use those gifts to build up the body of Christ on Earth. So yes, our faith is our calling to grow closer to Jesus Christ in the way that we think, act and believe. It starts with a healthy and united congregation. We should be able to agree and disagree respectfully and always be striving to work together to minister to each other and the community around us. People are watching us to see that we believe in the way that we act. Christ is present with us and He wants us to bring our challenges to Him and ask for His help. May we stay connected to one another and realize just how blessed we are.
As you know our congregational meeting has been changed, so our year is getting a late start, but we have some wonderful things planned for this year, and they can only happen when everyone is doing their part and helping out where and when they can. I am asking that if you have time to offer, please see Ginny or myself or the person in charge of the committee that you want to be involved. I really want to get this year off to a good start and continue to grow together physically, spiritually and emotionally. That being said—I am always here if you ever need or want to talk about things going on or things that we can be doing. Please never hesitate to call me anytime or come into the office on a Tuesday afternoon to see me. You are all my extended family and I love you and want to grow together. Thank you for your example of Faith, hope, and Love.
May God bless you.
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
Happy New Year!! What an exciting time of year. Everyone is in the Christmas spirit and they are more generous and friendlier than other times of the year. It is also that time of year that everyone seems to make New Years resolutions. (Well maybe you have made one and broke it by now) . So many of us are going to lose weight, exercise more, get out of debt, stick to a budget, stop smoking, save for the future, or spend more time with the family. No matter what the resolution is we set our heart on it and start off really good and then we lose heart. It made me think –Is there a Christian new year resolution list and what would it look like:
1. Pray More: He said to me, “This is the word of the Lord.. Mot by might nor by Power, but by my spirit says the Lord (Zechariah 4:6)
2. Invest in my spiritual gifts Do not neglect your gift, which was given you through a prophetic message when the body of elders laid their hands on you.
3. Care for myself spiritually Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already been made perfect, but I press on to take hold of that for with Christ Jesus took hold of me (Philippians 3:12)
4. Make the tough decisions I know are best. And now, compelled by the Spirit, I a going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me. However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the lord Jesus has given me.—The task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace and Love.
5. Confront the patterns of sin in our lives Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance that race marked out for us. ( Hebrews 12:1).
6. Do the hard work to build community:If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you, if he listens to you, you have won your brother over (Matthew 18:15)
7. Quit comparing myself to other Christians, other leaders and other churches Turning his head, Peter noticed the disciple Jesus loved following right behind. When Peter noticed him he asked Jesus , “Master, what’s going to happen to him?” Jesus answered “If I want him to live until I come again, what’s that to you? You follow me.” (John 21: 20-21)
8. Prioritize my family A Christian must be well—thought of—committed to his life. Attentive to his own children and having their respect. For if someone is unable to handle his own affairs, how can he take care of God’s Church? (1 Timothy 3: 2-5)
9. Be more open to change See, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs up: do you not perceive it? (Isaiah 43:19)
10. Stayed focused on the vision They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. Everyone was filled with awe of the many wonders and miraculous signs that were done by the apostles. All the believers were together and had everything in common, selling their possessions and goods, they gave to everyone as he had need. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved. (Acts 2: 42-47 niv)
May we honor God by committing to one or more of these resolutions for the year 2020 and beyond.
May God bless us all.
Rev. Steve Barch
Advent -- the season when we await the coming of Christ. It’s more than just waiting for Christmas to arrive, it’s a time to really look at the practices of our daily lives and see how we can better prepare our hearts for the coming of our Lord and King--Jesus Christ.
Advent is a season of both the celebration of the Nativity of Jesus at Christmas and the return of Jesus at the second coming. The term is a version of the Latin word meaning “coming”. The Latin word adventus is the translation of the Greek word Parousia, commonly used to refer to the second coming of the Christ. For Christians , the season of Advent anticipates the coming of Christ from three different perspectives.: in the flesh in Bethlehem, in our hearts daily, and in glory at the end of time. “ The season offers the opportunity to share in the ancient longing for the coming of the messiah and to be alert for his Second Coming.
The new church liturgical year is the time to really assess the way that we have taken Jesus Christ seriously and allowed him to come into our hearts in a new way. Have we let Jesus really take the center of our hearts and lives? To make this year different than all the previous ones, we should be doing something different than we have in the past. To set aside more time for prayer, to give up a bad habit, to really watch our tongue with the gossip. Each little thing that we do– allows Jesus to have more room in our lives. It opens our heart and mind to his presence. Jesus wants nothing less than our hearts. He wants us to be completely devoted to living out our baptismal calling--to be his disciples of today.
Yes Advent is an important time, it is preparing for the birth of our Lord and Savior. What would it be like if we did nothing and just let Christ into our hearts. We would be ashamed of the fact that we didn't prepare, that we didn't give him the place of honor in our lives, that we didn't treat him as the king that he is.
May this advent season draw us closer to the one who has called us, the one who has given
everything for us, the one that wants to live in our hearts everyday.
May you be blessed this advent season!!
In Christ’ Love,
This fall we have been looking at Taking Jesus Seriously –Growing in our Discipleship, a favorite interest of mine. Our journey is nearing the end of the church Year and we have walked with Jesus to Jerusalem. We need to take time to see how we are taking Jesus Seriously and are we doing what He wants us to do. Here is a recap of our Journey so far:
We will continue this sermon series for the rest of this month and then we will start the new church Year on December 1st with our Journey to Bethlehem. I really hope and pray that as we have made this journey together, it has helped us
to step back and look at how seriously we take Jesus in our daily lives, and that God is calling us to grow in our faith life.
Faith is a wonderful gift from God but it is meant to change us throughout our life. Our faith is always growing as we invite others in. Faith calls us outside of ourselves by allowing us to serve others, Just Like Jesus. May this sermon series and our worship really feed our faith life and help us to become more like Jesus.
May The Lord Bless and Keep You,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
This fall I really want us to take a look at our relationship with Jesus and see how we are doing at growing into the disciples that he has called us to be. Like any healthy relationship we need to step back and look at how we are growing together and how we are accomplishing the goal of the relationship. In our faith life—God loves us just the way we are, but he refuses to leave us that way. He wants us to be just like Jesus. This is the goal of our faith journey. So how are we doing at growing in our Likeness to Jesus? We are called to be disciples of Jesus Christ our Lord and Savior. A disciple in Matthew’s gospel is one who understands, teaches, and does what Jesus taught and did. In Matthew’s gospel, discipleship is not a distinctive office or role but rather describes - the life of an ordinary follower of Jesus Christ. A person who was trying to model their life after Jesus.
What does that even mean in today’s society? Is the way that we are called to live out our faith different than the way that the disciples were called to live their faith? How are our faith journeys similar to theirs? All of this gets us thinking about our relationship with Jesus and what does discipleship cost us? Should it cost us?
Do you realize that Jesus has put us here for a reason? He needs us to do what he has
called us to do. To share his love and forgiveness with the people that he has put in our lives.
To be people who are not scared to live our faith in our daily lives. Who will go out and find the people who need Jesus in their lives and share what has been given to us. The disciples of Jesus day are no more gifted or special than you are. God loves you the way you are. He has called us to be people; lead and taught by him to be able to become like him in our daily lives; in thought, word, and deed; to change ourselves and the society that he has called us to live in.
Being a Disciple of Jesus requires us to put forth an effort to stand up against sin and division to show the world the power of God’s love in our world. He wants us to make a difference in the situations of our daily lives. We do not have to go outside of our positions. We just have to continue to grow into the disciples that Jesus wants us to be. God loves us and will continue to mold us and shape us—we just have to give him our heart—daily.
Yours in Christ,
Rev. Stephen Barch
The end of Summer is near, and we are preparing for our Fall kick off of a new program year at Union Church. It is a great time to look at the scriptures and realize that we are in Ordinary Time of the liturgical year, the time of year that we are to be directed in the ways to grow as a disciple of Christ . Jesus is giving us all the instructions that we need to be his disciples. This is a wonderful time of year.
We have heard about how we need not store up treasures here on earth and how we need to grow in our relationship with Jesus, we need to grow into the disciples that he wants us to be. This is not easy and Jesus knows that. You see we live in a culture that is opposed to Jesus and the message of LOVE that he brings. We have to live in this culture and Jesus knows that we are going to be affected by this culture - we become self-centered and selfish, we struggle giving ourselves over to Jesus and the calling he is giving to us. We know that his way is better but we get caught up in the culture around us and the selfishness that is so rampant in society. Jesus has called us to work at living his way everyday of our lives.
Faith is only really faith when we move it from our head to our hearts. We can not just have the knowledge of faith, we have to live it out everyday and in every situation. Jesus called us to be dedicated to him all the time. The story that we are living is the way that we experience God and show him how much we love him. It is us connecting our lower story with his Upper story. He does not want disciples who just talk about faith, he wants us to live our faith in our daily lives. So every moment of everyday is part of our Story of Faith. Every time we focus on our faith or we make a decision and share it, our faith becomes stronger and more alive. We get to experience how close Jesus is to us and how much he loves us. He is not a God who is up in heaven only—He is with us every minute of everyday, loving us and sharing his love with us. Jesus is more interested in people who act on the faith than with people who know faith. Jesus continuously gives us opportunities to grow into the disciples he wants us to be.
How do we take Jesus serious in our lives?? We have to move our faith from our head into our heart– the place that we make our decisions and the place that we live our lives. Jesus is calling us to really focus on him and the faith that he has given us. If we are going to be the disciples he wants us to be we need to become more like Jesus everyday. May each of us write our faith story from our hearts.
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
Once upon a time God put all feelings and emotions on a coastal island for a vacation. According to their nature, each was having a good time. Suddenly, a warning of an impending storm was announced and everyone was advised to evacuate the island.
The announcement caused sudden panic. All rushed to their boats. Even damaged boats were quickly repaired and commissioned for duty.
Yet, Love did not wish to flee quickly. There was so much to do. But as the clouds darkened, Love realized it was time to leave. Alas, there were no boats to spare. Love looked around with hope.
Just then Prosperity passed by in a luxurious boat. Love shouted, “Prosperity, could you please take me in your boat?” “No,” replied Prosperity, “my boat is full of precious possessions, gold and silver. There is no place for you.”
A little later Vanity came by in a beautiful boat. Again Love shouted, “Could you help me, Vanity? I am stranded and need a lift. Please take me with you.” Vanity responded haughtily, “No, I cannot take you with me. My boat will get soiled with your muddy feet.”
Sorrow passed by after some time. Again, Love asked for help. But it was to no avail. “No, I can- not take you with me. I am so sad. I want to be by myself.”
When Happiness passed by a few minutes later, Love again called for help. But Happiness was so happy that it did not look around, hardly concerned about anyone.
Love was growing restless and dejected. Just then somebody called out, “Come Love, I will take you with me.” Love did not know who was being so magnanimous, but jumped on to the boat, greatly relieved that she would reach a safe place. When getting off the boat, Love met Knowledge. Puzzled, Love inquired, “Knowledge, do you know who so generously gave me a lift just when no one else wished to help?” Knowledge smiled, “Oh, that was Time.” “And why would Time stop to pick me and take me to safety?” Love wondered. Knowledge smiled with deep wisdom and replied, “Because only Time knows your true greatness and what you are capable of. Only Love can bring peace and great happiness in this world.” God smiled and gave man the power to control both time and love in our own lives.
How well do we use the gifts that have been given to us?
May The Lord Bless and Keep You,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
In thinking about this month’s letter, I am just filled with a wonderful feeling. We have been busy doing the work of the Lord, and there are many different ways that this is evident.
We have focused a lot of energy on seeing how our relationship with Jesus is one that grows and matures with us. As we are actively living out our faith, God is helping us grow. We continue to be changed from what we are into what God wants us to be.
It has been a real blessing to be able to journey with each one of you as you continue to walk by faith and not by sight. The momentum and enthusiasm around church is fantastic. People are really enjoying their faith and are seeing how much God loves them and how He reveals that love to us each and every day.
As the weather changes and we move into summer months it is easy to put faith aside and enjoy ourselves. This is detrimental to us and our faith journey. I had a wise professor in seminary that use to always say “ good, better, best; never let it rest until the good become better and the better become best.” This is a wonderful way to remind ourselves that there is always room to grow and ways to make our faith life stronger and better. How do we look for Christ in our daily lives and in our daily actions? If we are called to be Christ to the world today ~ How am I doing with it?
It is an awesome responsibility and a wonderful reward to know that we are Christ’s hands and his feet this week and in this place. May we be the hands that reach out to our brothers and sisters in need. May our hands reach out to hug instead of fight. May our feet walk the extra mile with our neighbor in need instead of kicking. May our hearts love the unlovable. May this summer allow us to be the best example of Christ that we can.
May The Lord Bless and Keep You,Rev. Stephen W. Barch
Now that we have celebrated another Easter Sunday and are back into the grind of life, what now? Is Easter Over? Did Easter make a difference in your life?
Well, it is up to us as to how we respond to Easter. Will we allow Easter to change us? The disciples did not have to do anything after they encountered the risen Christ. They too could have just returned to life as normal, but you know what--everyone who has truly encountered Christ is changed and cannot go back to the way it was before. As we read in the introduction to Acts “They aren’t the same men. Oh I know they look like it….. The ones who argued in Capernaum? The ones who ran for their lives in Gethsemane?.... They are different. Within them dwells a fire not found on earth. Christ has taught them. The Father has forgiven them. The Spirit dwells in them.”
Oh, they will continue to live the physical life that they have, but they will live it a new way. We are called to share our risen faith with those around us. We are called to allow Christ’s risen presence to live in us. The way that we approach our daily lives will be different. Christ is alive! He has truly risen. What we do with the miracle that was given to us on Easter, is up to us. Christ has called each one of us to share this joy with the world. It means that I have been loved enough to change me. Easter is not over and for the Christian it is never over. Easter will continue to live in and through me. We can go out every day and share Christ’s risen love in what I do and say. I can show the world what it means to have a God that loves me enough to die and rise again. I can show the world that death is not to be feared, but that we know that life and love exist beyond the grave.
So Easter faith is something that we get to share with the world. It is a chance to partake in the wonderful work that Christ has done for us. He has done the work and we get to share it with every- one. We, like the disciples have been called to share our faith in the place that God has planted us using the gifts and talents that He has given to us. In every day and every situation God is showing us how to live with Him and for Him. Easter calls us outside of ourselves and into a world that is hungry for God’s love.
As we watch the spring come alive and all the plants and flowers begin to blossom and grow, may each one of us blossom and grow in our faith and love for Christ and one another. Easter is a blessing and a commissioning for each of us. May we, like the disciples carry the faith to the ends of the earth.
With the Lord’s richest blessings,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch