For my whole adult life, I have been a professional Christian, meaning I get paid to be at church on Sunday mornings. The whole notion of going to church as a layperson has taken on a mythic dimension in my thoughts. I often wonder to myself if I had a non-church job, would I get up early on a Sunday morning week-in and week- out to go to church, or would I choose to have family time, exercise, read, watch the news, or go golfing?
When I ask people why they go to church, I hear a lot about preaching. But we live in an age of podcasts where you can literally hear the best preachers in the world from a wide variety of traditions during your morning commute. True, these sermons won’t be contextual to your experience in a local community, but you can still hear amazing sermons that will convict, inspire, and engage your mind.
Is it to hear music that entertains us? If this were the case, there are plenty of musical performances around where we can be inspired by the creativity and presentation of the given musical ensemble. I am a little partial to this, but church is one of the few places where communal singing takes place. So, if you like singing with big groups of people, the church is one of the few places where that particular tradition lives on.
Do you go to church to sense the divine? If this were the case, there are many beautiful trails where we can hike to personally experience the beauty and mystery of God in nature. Or maybe you sense the divine by having great faith-centered conversations with people. You could easily schedule a coffee date with a good friend and accomplish this.
What is it about church that we cannot get anywhere else besides the church?
From the earliest documentation scholars have of the Christian tradition, we know that their gatherings and life together centered around the distribution of food (Lord’s Supper), the bathing of the faithful (Baptism), petitioning and approaching God through prayer, and the hearing of God’s Word; all done in the context of a community dedicated to the teaching and mission of Jesus Christ as demonstrated in a community of faith. This is why the early church met for worship, and I would suggest this is why we meet as well today! In the community of faith here at UPC, we together proclaim the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ through partaking in Holy Communion. We together proclaim the vital presence of the Holy Spirit’s work in our lives through the waters of Baptism. We together proclaim God’s faithfulness as revealed in Scripture through the hearing of the Word, through preaching on that Word, and through sacred music we sing together. Moreover, this work is done with our brothers and sisters who have made a common decision to serve each other, the larger community of Peoria, and the world with the love of God. Not only does our participation in all of these things mystically connect us with one another, it shapes and informs the way in which we live our life. It makes us more loving, more patient, more approachable, more like the image of Christ. This is why we get up to go to church on Sunday mornings.
Author ~ Aaron Schultz Director of Worship & the Arts
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
Lee's words were the impetus for the drafting of a formal Declaration of Independence, although the resolution was not followed up on immediately. On June 11, consideration of the resolution was postponed by a vote of seven colonies to five, with New York abstaining. How- ever, a Committee of Five was appointed to draft a statement presenting to the world the colonies' case for independence. Members of the Committee included John Adams of Massachusetts, Roger Sherman of Connecticut, Benjamin Franklin of Pennsylvania, Robert R. Livingston of New York and Thomas Jefferson of Virginia. The task of drafting the actual document fell on Jefferson. On July 1, 1776, the Continental Congress reconvened, and on the following day, the Lee Resolution for independence was adopted by 12 of the 13 colonies, New York not voting. Discussions of Jefferson's Declaration of Independence resulted in some minor changes, but the spirit of the document was unchanged. The process of revision continued through all of July 3 and into the late afternoon of July 4, when the Declaration was officially adopted. Of the 13 colonies, nine voted in favor of the Declaration, two -- Pennsylvania and South Carolina -- voted No, Delaware was undecided and New York abstained. John Hancock, President of the Continental Congress, signed the Declaration of Independence. It is said that John Hancock's signed his name "with a great flourish" so England's "King George can read that without spectacles!" Today, the original copy of the Declaration is housed in the National Archives in Washington, D.C., and July 4 has been designated a national holiday to commemorate the day the United States laid down its claim to be a free and independent nation.
As we celebrate our independence as a nation we also need to stand against evil in our world today. As we as we like those brave men who changed the course of history by standing up for what they believed, and not letting others opinions affect their convictions. We too need to stand up for justice and human dignity and treat everyone the way that God treats them with love and respect. We have a much greater gift to share with the world and we just need the confidence to take our message out into the world and change it. God’s love and forgiveness is much more powerful than any declaration of independence. It is life giving and it will bring them much more freedom and peace.
As we celebrate our independence - let us really celebrate our freedom from sin and death.
Yes independence is important and is worth celebrating but so is life in Jesus Christ.
Happy 4th of July.
THANK YOU !!! THANK YOU !!!! THANK YOU !!!!
I have to thank everyone for the wonderful birthday wishes, prayers and thoughts. It was a spectacular day. One filled with faith, family and friends. Everything that you could want on a birthday. It is a special day, a day that God has given to each one of us to celebrate how special we are in his eyes. None of us get to pick our birthday but it is ours for our whole life. It is to celebrate how much God loves us, a day in which we get to celebrate us. A day that we get to thank God and our parents for the gift of life, and the gifts that they have given us throughout our life. Life is a special gift and one that we need to celebrate year after year. We should never take one of God’s gifts for granted, and life is one of the most special gifts. All you need to do is to look into a new baby’s face and you will realize just how special the gift of life is. They are all special and unique and each one needs to be celebrated.
I want to thank each one of you for making me feel special and unique on my birthday. All of the thoughts, calls, text, and prayers really made the day special. We call church our faith family and it really is a family. We look out for one another and care for one another and make one another feel special and unique. We celebrate with those who are celebrating and we suffer with those who are suffering. We encourage one another to try new things and to share God’s love in new ways. We walk together through this journey of life and we grow into the people that God wants us to be by the way we share his love and grace.
To my faith family, I want to tell you how special and accepted I feel. It is through growing in love that we will experience more of the body of Christ. It is a body that is filled with love and sharing. May each one of us feel and know how unique we are in God’s eyes and may we continue to grow together and closer to God almighty. Again thank you for all that you do each and everyday to live into the body of Christ.
In Christ Love,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
Easter is a wonderful Season. Yet, we like to move on to the next thing right away. We tend to think that once the Easter candy is gone and the big Easter dinner has been cleaned up, that we are done for another year. Easter is a season that runs from Easter Sunday (April 1, 2018) through Pentecost (May 20, 2018). Truth be told
-Easter is the spirit that we should live all year long. Our faith leads us to the cross and through the tomb to a risen Christ. Jesus Christ is alive and well! We should be shouting it from the rooftops. This is the greatest season of the year. Jesus Christ died to take away our sins and he rose to give us new life. A life that is meant to show us what it means to be resurrected. We get a glimpse of what heaven is going to be like. Remember that even though Mary Magdalene knew who Jesus was, she didn't recognize him at the tomb. The disciples who had been with Jesus through- out his public ministry did not recognize who he was on the road to Emmaus, until he broke the bread. There is going to be difference between our life now and our resurrected life. It will be big. How awesome it is that we are an Easter people and our faith tells us to experience our Risen Lord and Savior as often as we can. Watch for his presence all around us. See him in the events and situations of our daily life. No one has to tell us Christ is alive, we experience Him everyday.
As we continue our Journey through the Easter Season, I challenge you to look beyond the physical situation you are in and look for the presence of the Risen Christ, He is there ~ I guarantee it . Christ loves you very much and he wants nothing more than to give you an experience of him and his love in your life.
CHRIST THE LORD IS RISEN TODAY, HAULLEULIA !!
With the Lord’s richest blessings,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
Well, Easter has come and gone so now what?? Does it mean that we just go back to regular time in the church and wait for the next big event??
No, Easter is just the beginning of a new relationship in which Jesus has entered into our lives and we are called to live into His faith that has been given to us . When we look at world history, it resembles a cosmic chess match of moves countermoves to determine the destiny of humankind. Just looking through the old testament, we can see the battle between God and Satan over and over again. One makes a move and the other one counters.
Then there seems to be a 400 year break between the old and new testaments. It must be God’s turn be- cause then God enters into humanity . Satan again tries by tempting Jesus in the desert and trying to sabotage his mission. Satan thinks he has won when Jesus is crucified on Good Friday; But, God again shows Satan that he is no match when God raises Jesus from the dead . God has made the real definitive move. And if that is not enough, He makes sure that this act is not just something that we celebrate “in remembrance” but rather God makes sure that every time we celebrate it, we are celebrating it as if it is the first time. It is as if Jesus is again rising from the dead to show us how much he loves us and how special we are.
Evidence of God’s loveHow often do you say, “I Love You!” to your children? Daily, every time they leave the house? However it happens, you recognize that these words are not the only evidence of your love. Kids understand it better when our actions back up our words. Your ability to meet them in the areas where they are struggling or need comfort, We all understand love through action. God understood this and so He lovingly provides for our needs and lends us his wisdom and direction every day. But the real evidence came at Calvary when God laid everything on the line to demonstrate his love for us.
Proof of God’s forgivenessWhen you go shopping for something, you pay for it and get a receipt. This receipt validates the pur- chase. If there is ever a question the receipt proves the payment. According to scripture, Christ’s resur- rection serves as a sort of a “receipt” from God to prove that our sins are forgiven. This side of heaven is where we will always deal with the consequences of sin. But we need to realize that the eternal bill has been paid. We do nothing to earn eternal life.
Restoration of relationshipJesus came to restore our relationship with God his Father, and once he has done that there is nothing that can take us away from the love of God. Our relationship has been restored to its original state. The state that it was in before Adam and Eve broke it. The relationship that God intended us to have.
It is this relationship that drives us to want to Glorify God in all that we do and say –everyday. Every time.
So this Easter is the opportunity to draw closer to Jesus, to His Word, and his teachings. Jesus has come to invite you deeper into the relationship he has wanted to have with you for all eternity.
Easter is the invitation “ no matter where you are at on your journey of faith Jesus wants you to receive the gift of a new perfect relationship with him. “
May The Lord Bless and Keep You, Rev. Stephen W. Barch
As we continue through our Lenten season, I think that it is a really good time to look at our journey to the cross. How are we drawing closer to Jesus Christ as we observe our Lenten practices? Jesus wants us to grow closer to him and to one another. If our Lenten practices don’t have this as the ultimate end of them, then they are not accomplishing what they need too.
Jesus calls us to come after him, to come to him and deny ourselves. Furthermore he challenges us with the idea that if we “wish to save life, we will lose it” because in our journey—He is teaching us to trust what God has promised and trust that God will take care of our needs and wants. To see that God is active in our story (our daily lives).
During lent we focus on turning our hearts and minds back to Christ. How we do that is totally up to us but we need to pray about it and see what God is inviting us to do to focus our lives on him and his calling to each of us. There are three pillar practices of Lent—prayer, fasting and almsgiving. Prayer is not something that we are asking you to give up. It is the practice that we ask you to add just 5-10 minutes a day. Be intentional about it and you will find that God will show up more in your story. Fasting is giving something up. Traditionally it is some type of food but it does not have to be. It is giving up some type of luxury as a form of penitence. It is making ourselves a little uncomfortable to see how much God is doing in our lives. Changing our routines to see more of God. Almsgiving is the practice of giving more of what God has blessed us with to help those who are less fortunate that we are.
Let us pray that God will guide our journey to the cross by helping us fulfill his calling, and may these three pillar practices help to strengthen our Lenten Faith.
May The Lord Bless and Keep You,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
This is a question that we need to be asking ourselves on a constant basis. How am I doing at living into the relationship that I have with Jesus Christ.? How are we doing as the body of Christ in Brimfield, to be an inviting and welcoming church, that people feel comfortable in worshipping at? How am I doing at living into my baptismal promises? How is it that we are ministering to the community around us.? How are we doing??
You see faith is an action verb to Jesus—He is all about us putting our faith into action. To taking it out into the streets, to our jobs, our families, our community. He wants us to always be sharing our faith with others. So how do we know what particular thing He wants us to do? We have to cultivate a relationship with him and ask him. Just like our relationships here on earth we only know what our partners want by asking them. Jesus will let you know what it is that he wants. Spending time with him and studying his word is the best thing that we can do to grow in our relationship with him.
The new year is a perfect time to ask Jesus -what it is that HE wants us to do as a Congregation? What is it that he is inviting us to participate in with him. See, he is already at work all around us and he is inviting us to participate in it with him. We will serve him best by asking him to show us what it is that he is doing and where he wants us to participate with him. If we seek his direction for us, then we will serve him and will experience his presence, in new ways and we will feel his blessings. 2018 has a lot of potential to be our best year yet. What are we going to do with it? May each one of us realize the gift that has been given to us in our being part of the Body of Christ for Brimfield and the surrounding area. It is when we gather together that we are the body of Christ. It is when we worship together that we feed one another and are fed by each other. It is this community that Christ is present and active. It is this community that we need to focus on building up.
I went to a church seminar recently and they said that if the church lights are not on every night then there is still opportunity to grow. They told us -You are paying for the building to just sit there. Is there is something that you could be doing to attract people to your church? If you have activity going on, then there is the opportunity for a passerby to see the church lit up and they may want to stop in to check it out. We need to be praying and asking God to show us what he wants us to do. It is our story, it is God’s story, it is the greatest story ever told. Are we willing to truly ask God what HE wants for us ?
We have been given a wonderful gift and responsibility to grow our own faith and to share it with others around us, growing the body of Christ here and now. My personal prayer this year is that God will lead us in the ways that he wants us to serve him and to share his love with those that come our way. We have a special gift to share with the community around us. May God bless us throughout this year. I look forward to all the new exciting ways we are going to minister together.
In Christ’s Love,
As I write this, we have just started a New Year, have celebrated a wonderful Christmas season and have made it through the “Holidays”. Now it is time to get back on schedule and get our lives back to normal. It is time to use what we have gained at Christmas in our daily lives. Yes, I mean all the presents that we have received. What are we going to do with them –return them because we are not going to use them, OR are we going to find a way to incorporate them into our lives?
Jesus offers us the same opportunity—what are we going to do with the spiritual gift that we have received? Jesus was born again into our lives offering us all new opportunities to change things.
We have the opportunity to allow Jesus to be more to us.
With the birth of Jesus Christ, we celebrate the fullest picture of God the world ever received. He came to earth as a baby and grew to be a man who ate, walked and slept, just as you and I do. By the life he lived, he revealed the heart of our gracious and loving God.
We ought to respond to the revelation of the Lord with a revelation of our own: the uncovering of our heart to him. Too often we hide from God behind our fear, pride, and shame. But Jesus came to earth to find each person where they are, not where they ought to be. God reaches into the darkest, dirtiest , most fearful places to correct and restore us into who He meant for us to be. This is the real gift that we received this Christmas season.
May each one of us open our hearts to the Lord this January and everyday of our lives, and show Him what’s really in it. Open up and tell the God who loved us so much- that He was willing to put on human flesh(phil2:6) and dwell among us-God simply wants us to be honest with him about our life and what is going on with us.
As we start a new and exciting year 2018 may we allow our lives to truly reflect the gift that has been given to us.
May The Lord Bless and Keep You,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
‘Twas the month before Christmas when all through our land, Not a Christian was praying nor taking a stand.
Why the Politically Correct 'Police' had taken away, All of the reasons for Christmas - no one could say.
The children were told by their schools not to sing, About Shepherds and Wise Men and Angels and things.
It might hurt people's feelings, the teachers would say December 25th is just a "Holiday".
Yet the shoppers were ready with cash, checks and credit Pushing and shoving and raving to get it!
CDs from musicians, an X BOX, an I-pod Something was changing, something quite odd!
Retailers promoted Ramadan and Kwanzaa In hopes to sell books by Franken & Fonda.
As Targets are hanging their trees upside down
At Lowe's the word Christmas - was no where to be found.
At K-Mart and Staples and Penny's and Sears
You won't hear the word Christmas; it won't touch your ears.
Inclusive, sensitive, Di-ver-is-ty
Are words that were used to intimidate me.
Now Daschle, Now Darden, Now Sharpton, Wolf Blitzen On Boxer, on Rather, on Kerry, on Clinton!
At the top of the Senate, there arose such a clatter To eliminate Jesus, in all public matter.
And we spoke not a word, as they took away our faith Forbidden to speak of salvation and grace
The true Gift of Christmas was exchanged and discarded The reason for the season, stopped before it started.
So as you celebrate "Winter Break" under your "Dream Tree" Sipping your Starbucks, listen to me.
Choose your words carefully, choose what you say Shout MERRY CHRISTMAS, not Happy Holiday!
As I sit down to write this letter, I am shocked to realize that it is November already. The month that we as a nation have determined to be the month of Thanksgiving; the time that we appreciate what our forefathers have done and given us. We are a nation that would not be able to enjoy our freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom from oppression, without their forbearance, dedication and hard work.
We are thankful. Are we thankful enough for all that God has given us? God loves us so much–He gave us His only son, had Him die in our place, and He has taken away all of the wrong that we have done to Him. Our God loves us even though we repeatedly deny Him and continue sinning and turning our backs on Him. Our God has called each of us into a relationship with Him, a relationship that is based on His Love and Grace—free gifts that are given to us each and every day.
How are we really doing, living up to our relationship with God? Are we aware of His presence and the gifts that He gives us everyday? You see, no matter what else we do as a church family, if we are not growing in our relationship with Jesus Christ, then we have missed the point. If we are not looking for new ways to live out our relationship-new ways to experience God and His love– then we have become just a country club in which we get together to have a good time. We have an awesome responsibility to live into our Love relationship and share it with others. Jesus wants to share something special with you today, and I don’t want you to miss it! Watch for His presence and for the special gifts that He has for you every day. How awesome our God is!
As we become thankful for all that has been given to us, we need to take time to personally thank God for all that He has done and is doing by loving us. We can thank God quietly to ourselves, or as a family. We can thank God when our Thanksgiving group is together, and we are going crazy getting ready for the big celebration. Being thankful is a way of living, it is a change of heart, and just like any spiritual gift, the more we practice it, the more we will live it.
My prayer is that each and everyone of you will experience Jesus’ love in a new way this Thanksgiving season, and every day after that.
May The Lord Bless and Keep You,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch