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
Well, we are still journeying through Lent (in fact April 1st is just past half way) as Easter is late this year. We continue to look at our faith relationship and how we are growing in our faith through the practices of our Lenten journey. It is not too late to start a Lenten Practice. How is God working in your life? How is he inviting you into a deeper relationship with him? He is asking you to slow down and realize He is with you as you rush through your busy days. He is inviting you to see that he is in your neighbor and he is looking for some time to just talk to you. He is in your children or grand- children asking for your attention and Love. Whatever it is ~ God is inviting us to grow ever closer to Jesus Christ this Lenten season. Do we acknowledge him throughout our day; do we think about all that he has done and is doing in our lives each and every day?
God is alive and well and he doesn't want our money as much as he wants our hearts. God doesn't need our time as much as he desires our Love. God doesn't want what we have, as much as he wants us. He is looking for us to have a loving relationship with Him. He wants us to know how much he loves us and is involved in the story of our daily lives.
Easter is the celebration of us rising above all the things that hold us back
from living the relationship that God intended for us for all eternity.
One in which we worship and praise him and trust him in all areas of our lives. One in which we acknowledge him and repent of the times that we fail Him. A time that we can truly call ourselves Christian. Not because we have to but rather because we get to.
May The Lord Bless and Keep You,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
Why do we need Lent and what is Lent all about? We hear that lent is a time to prepare for Easter and to live our faith out better in our lives– Well, aren’t we supposed to live our faith all year and aren't we suppose to grow closer to God and one another all year? So what is lent??
Lent is the Christian season of preparation before Easter. As Christians, Easter is the culminating event for our Faith. It holds it all together and it is what Jesus’ life and death were all about. Jesus came to share God’s love and to bring us into a personal relationship with him. We need to get out of the routines of our daily lives and really focus on the miraculous event that we are celebrating. So the church in her infinite wisdom has given us a period to ‘prepare’ for it called Lent. The Lenten season is a time when many Christians observe a period of fasting, repentance, moderation, self-denial, and spiritual discipline. The purpose of whatever practice that one observes, should always be to set aside time for reflection on Jesus Christ—his suffering, his sacrifice, his life, death, burial and resurrection. During the six weeks of lent Christians typically make a commitment to fast , or give up something– a habit, such as smoking, watching TV, swearing, or a food or drink, such as sweets, chocolate or coffee. Christians also take on a Lenten Discipline, such as reading the Bible, spending more time in prayer, going to a Bible Study, to better know and grow closer to Jesus Christ, and to better understand all that he did for us. The goal of any of the spiritual disciplines is to strengthen the faith of the observer and develop a closer relationship with God. This is our life Journey as a Christian. So lent is really a time for Christians to get back to living into our Baptismal calling. To give God more of our time and attention.
The significance of the 40-day period is based on two episodes of spiritual testing in the Bible:
I challenge each of us to take Lent serious and to honestly and openly look at our lives and the practices that bring us closer to Jesus Christ and away from sin. We need to always measure our actions and decisions against this rule.
May this Lent be different and better than all the Lenten seasons before it and may it bring us closer to God.
May The Lord Bless and Keep You,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
As we are in a new year , it is a good time to look at how we are doing both personally and as a congregation with being a disciple of Christ Jesus? We are all called to be his disciple in 2019.
Jesus said, Follow me (Matt. 4:19, 9:9). Jesus did not mean that we should just follow him physically. Rather, this is a call to be set-a- part, challenged, and taught so we see and adhere to the call and mission Christ gives us. The word disciple literally means someone who follows another’s teaching, and adheres to it. It is a commitment and a process. With Christianity it is a life long process. We spend our whole lives growing into our calling to follow Jesus Christ, to become like him and to share him with those around us.
Being a disciple means that we place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone. It is the most important decision that we will ever make, and yet many of us had the decision made for us by our parents and so we do not appreciate it. Being a disciple encompasses more than just asking Christ into our life and heart, and goes far beyond baptism or our church membership!
It is allowing Christ to really matter and to spend time with him, it is forming a relationship with him. It is learning from him, imitating him, and sharing him with others. It is allowing our faith to guide us in our daily lives and relying on our faith in times of decision making. Christianity without discipleship is always Christianity without Christ. It remains an abstract idea, a myth, something that is non- impacting on our lives. There may be trust in God, but no relationship.
May each one of us really take our calling to discipleship to heart and may we be Christ’s hands to do his work today, Christ’s feet to lead men in his way. Christ’s tongue to tell others how he loves them. Christ’s imitators to help others see him.
May The Lord Bless and Keep You,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
The beginning of a new year it is a good time to reflect on the year that is ending, and see how we have done growing in our faith. Are we following Jesus Christ more today than we were on January 1, 2018? If not, what did we do for the last 365 days? If the answer is yes, then what can I do to continue the growth? Jesus has called each one of us to continuously grow closer to him and to one another through the gift of his love.
No matter what has happened to this point, we still have the chance to grow personally and communally stronger than we have been. Jesus is always offering us the ability to start from where we are and draw closer to him. Let us not miss the opportunity that He is offering us this new year- 2019 can be a great year in which we experience our faith in a new way. By letting Jesus be present with us in our daily lives, and in our worship together, our faith will grow stronger each and every day.
Whether you make new year resolutions or not, it is a good time to review this past year and make the changes that we want for next year. We do a wonderful job of worshipping together, and now we need to challenge one another to grow spiritually through our daily experiences. Christ is alive and at work everyday in you and in me. What are we doing to show his love through our words and actions?
I invite you to really do something different this year. Increase something that you are doing. Read the bible on a more consistent basis, come to a wonderful bible study -Tuesday evenings 6:15-7:30. Or just spend 5 quiet minutes with Jesus each morning and night. You will be amazed at the way your spiritual life will grow through any one of these practices as long as you consistently follow through. If you miss a day get back to it the next day. It is not in the big things that we find God working, but rather it is like the prophet Isaiah who found God in the whisper of the wind. We will find Jesus at work in the events of our daily life, in the light of our spiritual eyes being opened to his presence.
I thank God everyday for your faithful dedication and example.
Happy New Year!
I look forward to the ministry we will do together.
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
As we begin the advent season I think it is a good time to pause and reflect on what it is and why we celebrate it. As a person of the 21st century waiting is not something that we practice or are good at. We want instant gratification and if an electronic device takes it’s time loading, we get agitated and upset. We work, play, and even relax at a hurried pace. We want it and we want it now. So we are losing the ability to enjoy and really celebrate the season of Advent—the time that has been set aside so that we can prepare for the coming of the Lord.
Advent is a season of waiting, longing, promise, and preparation. The Advent wreath, four candles on a wreath of evergreen, is shaped in a perfect circle to symbolize the eternity of God. In some churches, four purple candles, one for each week in Advent, are used with one larger white candle in the middle as the Christ candle. Other churches prefer three purple or blue candles with one candle being rose or pink, to represent joy.
While the Advent wreath with its four candles did bring light to churches, it was not to illuminate the interior as much as to symbolize the coming of Christ. The Advent wreath began in the time of the Protestant reformer Martin Luther.
During each Sunday of the Advent season, we focus on one of the four virtues Jesus brings us: Hope, Love, Joy and Peace. Others consider the lighting of the first candle to symbolize expectation, while the second symbolizes hope, the third joy and the fourth purity. The Christ candle is lit on Christmas Eve or Christmas Day reminding Christians that Jesus is the light of the world. The order and exact wording vary among churches, but the wreath continually reminds us of whom we are called to be as followers of Jesus. Advent is a great time to re evaluate our faith journey and how we are living for Christ. My daily prayer is that through this season you may draw closer to God and his will for your life. May we journey through advent together. May God show us the path to a prayerful season.
In Christ’ Love
It is November~ the month that we dedicate to being thankful – It is easy for us to take things for granted. See how many of the Here are sixty things to be grateful for in our lives ~ See how many of the following you can relate to:
Your Faith- that gets you through the rough spots and rejoices with you in the good times, that allow you to have a relationship with Your Lord and Savoir
1. Your parents – for giving birth to you. Because if there is no them, there will not be you. 2. Your family – for being your closest kin in the world. For being there and not judging you 3. Your friends – for being your companions in life. 4. Sense of sight – for letting you see the colors of life, and all that God has given us. 5. Sense of hearing – for letting you hear trickle of rain, the voices of your loved ones, and the harmonious chords of music. 6. Sense of touch – for letting you feel the texture of your clothes, the breeze of the wind, the hands of your loved ones. 7. Sense of smell – for letting you smell scented candles, perfumes, and beautiful flowers in your garden. 8. Sense of taste – for letting you savor the sweetness of fruits, the saltiness of seawater, the sourness of pickles, the bitterness of bitter gourd, and the spiciness of chili. 9. Your speech – for giving you the outlet to express yourself. To build up one another and praise God, 10. Your heart – for pumping blood to all the parts of your body every second since you were born; for giving you the ability to feel. The ability to Love the way God loves. - unconditionally 11. Your lungs – for letting you breathe so you can live. 12. Your immune system – for fighting viruses that enter your body. For keeping you in the pink of your health so you can do the things you love. 13. Your hands – so you can type on your computer, flip the pages of books, and hold the hands of your loved ones. To build the life that God has called you too. 14. Your legs – for letting you walk, run, swim, play the sports you love, and curl up in the comfort of your seat. 15. Your mind – for the ability to think, to store memories, and to create new solutions. To worship and Praise your wonderful and amazing creator. 16. Your good health – for enabling you to do what you want to do and for what you’re about to do in the future. 17. Your school – for providing a environment conducive to learning and growing.18. Your teachers
– for their dedication and for passing down knowledge to you. 19. Tears – for helping you express your deepest emotions. Both sadness and Joy. 20. Disappointment – so you know the things that matter to you most. 21. Fears – so you know your opportunities for growth. 22. Pain – for you to become a stronger person. 23. Sadness – for you to appreciate the spectrum of human emotions.
24. Happiness – for you to soak in the beauty of life. 25. The Sun – for bringing in light and beauty to this world. 26. Sunset – for a beautiful sight to end the day. 27. Moon and Stars – for brightening up our night sky. 28. Sunrise – for a beautiful sight to start the morning. 29. Rain – for cooling you when it gets too warm and for making it comfy to sleep in on weekends. 30. Snow – for making winter even more beautiful. 31. Rainbows – for a beautiful sight to look forward to after rain. The wonderful promise of God
32. Oxygen – for making life possible. 33. The earth – for creating the environment for life to begin. 34. Mother nature – for covering our world in beauty. 35. Animals – for adding to the diversity of life. 36. Internet – for connecting you and others despite the physical space between you. 37. Transport – for making it easier to commute from one place to another. 38. Mobile phones – for making it easy to stay in touch with others. 39. Computers – for making our lives more effective and efficient. 40. Technology – for making impossible things possible. 41. Movies – for providing a source of entertainment. 42. Books – for adding wisdom into your life. 43. Blogs – for connecting you with other like-minded people. 44. Shoes – for protecting your feet when you are out. 45. Time – for a system to organize yourself and keep track of activities. 46. Your job – for giving you a source of living and for being a medium where you can add value to the world. 47. Music – for lifting your spirits when you’re down and for filling your life with more love.
48. Your bed – for you to sleep comfortably in every night. 49. Your home – for a place you can call home. 50. Your soul mate – for being the one who understands everything you’re going through. 51. Your best friends – for being there for you whenever you need them. 52. Your enemies – for helping you uncover your blind spots so you can become a better person. 53. Kind strangers – for brightening up your days when you least expect it. 54. Your mistakes – for helping you to improve and become better. 55. Heart- breaks – for helping you mature and become a better person. 56. Laughter – for serenading your life with joy. 57. Love – for letting you feel what it means to truly be alive. 58. Life’s challenges – for helping you grow and become who you are. 59. Life – for giving you the chance to experience all that you’re experiencing, and will be experiencing in time to come.
And last but not least… #60: You.
For being who you are and touching the world with your presence.
Always be thankful to God for what he has done and is doing for you each and every moment of your lives.
Fall is a wonderful time to get back into a routine with school and people other activities. I am always excited to see people that may have been away for summer travelling or maybe just stayed in due to the extreme heat. That being said October is the perfect time to get back to living out our faith. We have a couple of familiar programs and a new one, that you may want to check out:
May this fall season invite us all to step outside of our comfort zone and really find a new way to get involved in our faith community. Please pass the word about Union Church to friends and neighbors, we have a wonderful faith community that needs to be shared with others. Invite someone new to one of these events. You are our best advertising. Thanks for all you do, and who you are-Union church wouldn’t be the same without YOU.
In Christ Love,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
As September begins our church calendar year, I am reminded of Jesus’s Great Commission to his Disciples: Matthew 28:19 Jesus has gathered his disciples together and says “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, of and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teach them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always to the very end of the age.”
Each of us have been called to be disciples, and to make disciples who are going to live into their relationship with Jesus Christ and will faithfully serve him. I attended a conference last week and we were told that the mark of a mature Christian is one who builds up others in the faith. We can share our faith and invite others into a relationship with Jesus Christ which is a growing process. As we build them up and send them out, we realize that our faith has matured and we are acting as the disciples that Jesus has invited us to be. As we grow in our faith, we are witness to Christ’s presence, so we need to take our faith further by building others up and sending them out. How is God present? How does he want me to share his success? Being a disciple for Christ today is a wonderful and enriching experience.
What does it mean to be Christ’s disciples in Brimfield, Illinois in 2018? How can we be disciples in our workplace? What about being a disciple in our neighborhood? Being a Disciple of Christ is a very big responsibility. We are called to live differently, and to love differently, and to always remember that Christ has marked us for himself. How are we doing?
This year we are going to focus on being a disciple of Jesus. This is one of the greatest callings and greatest blessings that we can ever receive. Jesus called only the best to be in his Inner Circle– His Disciples.
May each of us realize what a blessing we have and may we grow this gift by sharing it with others. What a wonderful year we have ahead of us. Thank you for your presence and your commitment to Union Church. I am inspired by your example of faithful living.
In Christ’s love,
Rev. Stephen W. Barch
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