Year: 2017

Jesus is still there

As we celebrate Advent and move into Christmas, we hopefully are made more aware of the presence of God in our lives.  We are called to be inspired by the stories, once again, to seek the hope, peace, joy, and love which come from our experience of the manger.   Next month, regular time can take over the progress we have made toward becoming a more hopeful, peaceful, joyful, and loving people.

We light the candle of Christ on Christmas Eve and for awhile, that light which punches holes in the darkness of our world shines brightly for us.  Many times we let that flame only burn for a little while.  Life seems to take over and our focus shifts.

But Jesus is still there…pointing us to a life that is fulfilling and sustaining throughout the year.  Long after the trees are put away and the holiday hustle and bustle gives way to regular time hustle and bustle, we are still called to be bearers of the “Light of the World”.

This poem reminds me that we never finish our work together.  God calls us all to continue the work of Christ in the world!

“When the Song of the Angels Is Stilled”

When the song of the angels is stilled,

When the star in the sky is gone,

When the kings and the princes are home,

When the shepherds are back with their flocks,

The work of Christmas begins:

To find the lost,

To heal the broken,

To feed the hungry,

To release the prisoner,

To rebuild the nations,

To bring peace among people,

To make music in the heart.

                  -Howard Thurman

May you know the hope, peace, joy, and love of Christmas more fully this year than you ever have before!  Take time to enjoy the season!  Rest and relax!  You deserve it!  But remember…After all of our celebrations and relaxation, we have work to do.  When we all go back to regular time, that’s when Christmas really begins!

Merry Christmas!

Gary

The Experience of the Season

There are many things happening at the church this time of year!  Advent worship leads to Christmas.  Christmas leads to New Years, and we pack away the holidays.  We can sometimes forget to experience the mystery and wonder of the season.

We have decorated the church, lit the candle of hope, and are well on our way to celebrate peace this Sunday.  For the first time in several years, we will have a float in the Lake Ozark Christmas Parade.  Our children and their leaders are working on their Christmas play.  The choir is working on their cantata.  We anticipate the arrival of the babe once again.

In the midst of all that preparation, other ministries are happening.  Our angel tree participants are busy shopping for the children on their lists.  Money is being raised to provide food vouchers for their families.  Once again, we are providing gifts and vouchers for food for the teen parent program at School of the Osage.  We are also busy with calls for help that are met through our benevolence fund.

In all of this busyness and preparation, I am reminded to take time to focus on the depth of the experience of the season.  To take time to breathe.  I also am mindful of the many people at this time of year who experience loneliness, isolation, and even depression.

Our task at this time of year is to proclaim the light of God’s reign punching holes in the darkness of our world.  Once again, we focus on hope, peace, joy, and love in a spirit of giving that we seem to put away after Christmas.

I hope you will be part of this time with us!  It is a time where the ordinary becomes extraordinary and we once again relive the mystery and wonder of the story. It is a story of hope, peace, joy, and love.  And we all can use a little more of all these things in our lives!

Be a light!

Gary

Happy Holydays

The Holy Days are upon us!  That’s right!  I wish you Happy Holydays!  I do this without shame or reservation.  The etimology of the word “Holiday” comes from the words Holy Day.  Thus, when I wish someone “Happy Holidays” I am not committing an affront, or being blasphemous.  Rather, I am connecting all of these holy days together and wishing season’s greetings for the holiday seasons: Thanksgiving, the weeks of Advent, Hanukkah, Christmas, and the New Year!

The “War on Christmas” is a tag line for certain groups to make claims that you are not being a good person of faith if you use any greeting other than “Merry Christmas” after wishing people “Happy Thanksgiving”.  As if a Starbucks cup could take the Christ out of Christmas!

The truth is that the “War on Christmas” isn’t words at all.  It is the blatant consumerism that calls people at this time of year to move away from holy days to obsess about their spending ways.  When we, as Christians, care more about giving and receiving gifts than experiencing the Holy, we miss the mark.  These things are secondary to the opportunities we have to open our hearts and experience the wonder and mystery of the season!

The key here is to keep the holidays alive after we put away the tinsel and the tree.  We are called by our faith to cerebrate holy days throughout the year!  Remember the 4th Commandment? “Remember the Sabbath and keep it Holy” (Exodus 20:8) outlines a weekly holiday that we are to observe.

So, when you hear, as you will, that those “ungodly people” are committing a war on Christmas because they say, “Happy Holidays” or “Season’s Greetings”, ask yourself if it really matters.  I submit that it doesn’t.  I am free to use whatever words I choose to express my feelings during the holidays.  I don’t buy the hype brought on by those who proclaim a religious (and sometimes secular) superiority to those who don’t choose the same words as they do at this time of year.

So…I wish you a Happy Thanksgiving, an Awesome Advent, Merry Christmas, and Happy Holidays!

There!  That should cover most of it!  And not one ounce of disrespect or blasphemy!

Peace!

Gary

The greatest among you will be your servant

The drought is over.  It has been quite some time since a group from LOCC has gone to another community to serve others on a mission trip.  Next week, that will all change as a group of 10 of us will travel to Van Buren, Mo. to work on two houses in the area that were damaged by floods this Spring.

One of the great things about a trip like this is that you never know what will happen.  You have to be flexible when projects change, building materials don’t arrive as scheduled, weather issues arise, or any number of issues happen to change your plans.  Sometimes, you have to give in to the experience and drop any agenda you might have.  Jesus said it this way in Matthew 23:11:

The greatest among you will be your servant.”

A couple of weeks ago, we were recipients of an act of mission and service as 7 8th grade members of the Osage Honor Club, supervised by Lori Sallee, spent several hours working around the church.  They worked on our playground, painted a ceiling in one of the storage rooms in the chapel, and worked to remove the trimmed branches of the Oak tree by the portico entrance.  They worked hard and were truly servants to us.

We have people in our congregation who do much to keep our facilities in great shape and work diligently to serve others here as well.

Living out the Gospel in service to others is what we as Christians are to be about.  I give thanks in this season of Thanksgiving that there are folks here who are willing to put their faith into action and move beyond our walls to be servants to the world!

Peace,

Gary

See YOU Soon!

It is important for you to be here!  You help to make up the community of faith that calls itself Lake Ozark Christian Church.  Whenever you are gone, there is a space left open that only you can fill.  That is how important you are in this place!

We gather to give praise and thanks to God.  We open ourselves once again to hear the message of Jesus Christ for our lives.  We encounter the Spirit through prayer, scripture, song, Word, and community.

We are part of a congregation that is very mobile.  Our participants travel extensively.  I know that our people are busy.  In all of that busy, the community of faith gathers each week. to pray, sing, hear, recharge, renew, and connect.

Sometimes we have difficulty connecting in our everyday lives.  LOCC is a place to connect.   Sometimes, in the course of a continual bombardment of life, we choose to disconnect.  That disconnect can leave us feeling desolate and apathetic.

The promise for us all is that we will not be left desolate (orphaned).  While I believe it is true that God’s presence is with us always, that presence can be better experienced in community.  Your church community.  When you are not here, we are less complete.

Lake Ozark Christian Church is special.  It is a welcoming place and seeks to reach out to the greater community.  It also is a place where I feel a greater connection to my faith as we gather together to worship and live out being the body of Christ to our world.

We hear in Scripture “For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.” ( Matthew 18.20 ).  It is uplifting when those worshippers are joined by many more!  We do ministry better together, and your presence is important!

I look forward to seeing YOU in church very soon!

Peace,

Gary

Storms of Life

Hurricane Harvey has come and gone, leaving a path of destruction that will take years to recover from.  After tearing through the Caribbean, Hurricane Irma is expected to be here this weekend.  Jose is just a little farther behind, moving across the Atlantic.  Hurricane Katia has its sights on Mexico.  It can be a little overwhelming, can’t it?

The perception for us, even though we are far from the path of these storms, is that we are under attack.  We feel helpless as we watch live storm coverage and see the post-storm carnage.  We all want to help.

In most weather events like these, we are reminded of the destructive force of nature.  We hear stories of heroism and tragic loss.  We see pictures and video of utter despair and get glimpses of hope.

In all of the chaos of times like these we are reminded of the scriptural references of the presence of God:

Psalm 18.2: The Lord is my rock, my fortress, and my deliverer, my God, my rock in whom I take refuge, my shield, and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.

Then, just as now, God’s people faced huge adversity.  They faced the storms of life with an understanding that God was present…even in the midst of the greatest storms.

That is the wonder of it all.  In these tragedies, we sometimes get a glimpse of what living out the Gospel really looks like.  People reach out to each other and help.  Basic needs are met.  People seem to care.  And once again, for the most part, faith in humanity and the power of the Spirit is visible.

The main thought is that whatever storms come and go in our lives, we don’t face them alone….we have each other.  So we don’t lose heart, because we are all God’s children, and we are called as followers of Jesus Christ to reach out beyond ourselves with love and care for all!

Peace,

Gary

History Often Repeats Itself

It is true that history often repeats itself unless people do something to keep that from happening.  It seems we are at the threshold of another historical repeat with a resurgence of the “alt-right”, including white supremacists, Neo Nazis, Ku Klux Klan, and other hate groups who feel a new empowerment in our country.

I had hoped this was all finished.  The Civil War brought about the end of one person owning another here.  The World Wars were fought and the evil of the idea of the supremacy of one race over another was fully exposed.  I thought we had learned our lesson.  We haven’t.

We learned that this evil still exists among us.  We have evidence of those who hate among us.  We see them in pictures and video waving Nazi flags and other symbols of hatred side by side, chanting “One blood, one soil!”.  They even throw the Hitler salute for good measure.  On American soil.

As I said in my sermon two Sundays ago, I respect their right to do these things.  I am appalled that in 2017 people still want to, and that many who hold these beliefs consider themselves followers of Jesus.  They aren’t.

Jesus would have nothing to do with this.  It is the antithesis of his message to the world.  He said to love God.  Love your neighbor (not just the ones who look, talk, and act like you), just as you love yourself.

History will repeat itself unless something is done to prevent it.  It is up to us to overcome hate and ignorance by proclaiming that God’s reign is not for a select few, but extends to ALL of God’s children.  It is then that we fulfill our calling to be followers of Jesus.

Peace!

Gary

A New Sign for the Times

Earlier this week our old marquee sign was removed.  All that remained were the two poles that it had been mounted on years ago.  Just sticking up there…a testament of the kind of service two steel poles could provide.

Our old sign had fallen apart.  You could move the frame from side to side.  The lighting inside had gone dark.  And the plexiglass windows that had announced numerous events over all of these years had grown cloudy.  After each wind storm, letters had to be glued back on.

I will have many memories of that old sign.  People honking their horns as they drove by while it was being changed.  Changing the letters in the cold, hot, rain, and snow.  Being hit on the head after the plexiglass window blew upwards in high winds, causing the pvc pole that held it up to fall away and the window to come crashing down.  In the summer, a sign change at night required a breathing apparatus because of all of the bugs.  And I won’t forget bees and wasps.

On the day Valerie Marshall left to begin chemotherapy in St.Louis, It said, Go “Valerie, Go!” As she and Tom drove past just as the sun was coming up.  Sadly, we never got the chance to put “Welcome Home” on it for her.

The sign welcomed people to our services.  It announced many events.  It served us well.

This morning, our old sign was replaced.  It has undergone structural modifications to give it strength….The old marquee sign has been replaced by LED panels that can be changed without leaving the building.  We will be able to announce something without abbreviations because we can make all of the letters fit.  We can change fonts and font sizes at will.  We can add pictures and video.  We can do a lot with it!

While I have made memories changing that sign, I have to admit that I am looking forward to the new possibilities we have with this upgrade.   While we have been talking about it for years, it is now a reality.  The reason it is possible is we received a significant gift from one of our families at the end of last year.  It was to be used for whatever project(s) it was needed for.  The new sign has been completely paid for.  Many thanks to our special anonymous donors who made this possible!

As our future unfolds, our new means of communicating with our community will help to proclaim to those who pass by that WE ARE HERE!  May the information we share out there reflect God’s love for all, and may others know of our love by the messages they receive as the pass by!

I am thankful for the memories I have with our old sign, but I can’t say I will miss it!

Peace,

Gary

Time for a sabbatical

Part of the biblical call for the people of God is a built in period of rest.  We celebrate that time as sabbath.  It was a day set aside as a representation of God’s day of rest after the first creation story in Genesis;

“And on the seventh day God finished the work he had done, and he rested on the seventh day from all the work he had done. So God blessed the seventh day, and hallowed it, because on it God rested from all the work that he had done in creation” (Genesis 2:2-3).

When I was called to be pastor of LOCC, the church leadership understood the need for pastoral sabbatical, and it was written into my letter of calling as a way for reflection and renewal.  I chose to structure my sabbatical leave a little differently than others do.  The standard for sabbatical leave is 3 months sabbatical after serving for 5 years.  I chose to structure my sabbatical to include 1 month after serving for 3 years.

In previous sabbatical experiences, 3 months seemed like a long time to be away, for me.

I was scheduled for 1 month sabbatical last summer (2016), but postponed it one year due to changes in staffing.  I’m glad I did that, and now look forward to spending some time in reflection and renewal.

Sabbatical is different from vacation.  While it has at its heart the idea of rest from work, I will have opportunities to look to the future and to spend time catching up on reading, study, and exploring the possibilities for the future.  I hope to connect in to some online learning experiences also.

I also plan on getting out on the lake, too, as I hope to have the project sailboat I have been working on for 2 1/2 years on the water during this time.

I thank you for this great opportunity to get away…to recharge and renew and to listen for God’s call on our ministry together.  I won’t be around the church until August 1, but you can help by being here to support guest preachers and other activities, such as our Family Camp Night on July 9.

If you have a need while I am away, please call the church office at 365-3366!

I hope that you will find rest and renewal as well during this time, and I look forward to seeing you when I return!

Peace and blessings as we continue our journey together!

Gary

It is “in season” again

It is “in season” again!  For a few months, the lake area will host tens of thousands of guests. Some will be visiting LOCC, and others we will encounter on the street, at the store, or on the water.  What is important as we experience this yearly ritual is for us to remember to live out our faith and to answer our call and exhibit the Gospel to all we encounter.  A smile or a helpful word can go a long way.  An invitation to join us at LOCC is appropriate as well.  It is a call for us to be the church…. and to show the face of Christ to our world!

The last couple of weeks have seen many things happening around here!  We ended this year’s Wednesday after school program with a trip to The Funny Farm petting zoo and a cook-out at the church.  Many thanks to Ron Ferguson for being our grill master!  Also, many thanks to Patty Mitchell, Sandy Wilson, and Terri Van Clavern, and all of our other volunteers for making this another great opportunity to serve our community.

Last Saturday we hosted an Older Adult seminar with FCC Eldon and Community Christian Church in Camdenton.  We had a great time, got great information, and experienced the generosity of our regional church, who made our presenter possible at no cost to the local churches.

Our Youth also ended the school year with a mini golf outing and dinner at Sergio’s.  Many thanks again to Patty Mitchell for her dedication to this group!

Also, our fellowship committee did a great job with our Taco – themed graduation party!

There are many more things that happen each week at LOCC.  I invite you to be part of the happenings here and to be here on Sunday mornings to worship.  While you are at it, extend an invitation to someone else to be part of the dynamic community of faith we seek to be!

1 2