Thoughts and reflections from Liberty’s Pastors

January 26, 2023

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

Hello, Liberty Family!

I’m writing this sitting in my home office looking out at a beautiful winter wonderland. The only downside, I suppose, is that school is cancelled, and I’m also writing this with kids all around! I’m thankful for this beautiful and wonderful life God has given me.

This weekend two great things are happening! First, I’ll officially be installed as Liberty’s new Pastor with a celebration to follow. The service begins at 4:30pm and should be a holy, joyous affair. One of my best friends will be preaching (a pastor from Pittsburgh), guests from our larger presbytery will be there, and there will even be an anointing with oil (when is the last time you saw that!). I’m not supposed to know this, I think, but the reception looks amazing, and a harpist will be there, too!

Second, don’t forget about Sunday morning! I’ll be preaching on Paul’s amazing prayer at the end of Ephesians 1 where he asks that the same power that rose Jesus from the grave would act in us as well. What an ask! My two trusty comrades in worship (Pastor Julie & Steve Banks) are away—one at a continuing education conference in Birmingham and the other in Cancún. I won’t tell you which one is where, but I know God is filling them up with exactly what they need! May God do the same for you…

Blessings,
Pastor Chris

January 12, 2023

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

 

What is Ephesians All About?

 

During the coming months, I’ll be preaching through Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. I’m very excited about this for three reasons.

First, the content.

The letter itself contains some of the most astounding, insightful, and beautiful language found anywhere in the Scriptures. In essence, Paul is giving the Ephesians a primer on the Christian faith with an emphasis on asking the questions (1) Who is Jesus, and (2) Who am I? It turns out that if you answer those questions correctly everything else starts to fall into place.

Second, expositional.

What does that mean? It means going verse by verse through the Scriptures. The goal is that we all experience together the true inspiration of the entire text and truly get a feel and understanding for what it says. There is nothing wrong with “topical” preaching (which is what I’ve been doing through the fall), but I want to offer a different model in spring and keep our hearts and minds growing.

Third, personal.

The message in Paul’s letters to the Ephesians really speak to me and my spiritual walk with Jesus. Over the coming months, I’ll get to share that with you all and I can’t wait to hear how it speaks to you too.

~PC

P.S. One of my goals is to memorize Ephesians along the way. Anyone out there want to help keep me accountable?

January 5, 2023

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

Hello, Liberty family! I can’t express in words how excited I am for this new year. To give you some perspective, as we were watching the Michigan-TCU game on New Year’s Eve, I stood in awe watching my 7-year-old daughter actively and aggressively root against Michigan. That’s when I knew God had made this our home.

Because Christmas Day and New Year’s Day fell on Sundays this year, it’s been an odd few weeks. I’m more than eager to get into a great rhythm and connect more deeply to Liberty’s incredible people, leaders, and staff. Just this week, my head’s been spinning at all the wonderful conversations I’ve had with folks describing how God is working in their lives, ideas for the church, and ways that we can reach more people with the Good News.

This Sunday, to get us all back into a rhythm, we’ll take some time to reflect on the previous year and thank God for all the blessings in our lives. I’ll do my best to share some biblical wisdom on how we can grow as disciples in 2023. We have a baptism where we get to celebrate God’s continued faithfulness, too. Onwards and upwards…I’m so thankful for all that God has done and is doing in our midst.

Pastor Chris

December 29, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR JULIE

Isaiah 60:1-2

“Arise, shine, for your light has come,
and the glory of the Lord rises upon you.
See, darkness covers the earth and thick darkness is over the peoples,
but the Lord rises upon you and his glory appears over you.”

Thinking on the new year, I often think of light…not necessarily the bright celebratory lights, but the constant light of God. You see, God’s light has a way of changing nothing into something. The earth started off void until God said, “Let there be light.” Then there was light, life, and breath. Shards of brightness interrupted Earth’s nothingness until Earth was never the same again.

God does the same in our lives. Our lives started off void until God said, “Let there be light.” We were blind with no sight for love or peace. Since the beginning, humanity has been using shadows and other means to cover mistakes, imperfections, and sin. God saw this and came to us through Christ, who carries heaven’s brightness around his shoulders—a redeemer to rescue the captives and to save the prisoners. Light pierces our eyes and cuts through our soul as we look to the one who is the embodiment of light and salvation.

The Son of God came to shine that we might focus on the one who sent him, so that our hearts may desire to follow him.

In following the Light of the World, we walk in the light of the Lord so that we can be the light to a dying world. God is still saying “let there be light”, and still shines on hearts and souls, giving truth and hope. May the way we love shine his light. May our hearts and minds shine his light. May our lives shine his light.

This Sunday, the youth, children and I invite you to “Arise! Shine!” and come worship with us as we focus on this Light. I am honored to have them join me in leading the service, and am thrilled they are choosing to shine their light in this service. Additionally, communion will be offered Sunday. We look forward to seeing you!

Keep Shining!
Pastor Julie

December 22, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

It’s game time! I’m so excited to get to celebrate my first Christmas at the Barn with you all in just two days! It’s not lost on me that Jesus was born in a “barn” of sorts, so it feels just right. I’ve been working through the Advent Devotional Presence this month and I hope you’ve been as blessed by it as I have. Did anyone besides me download the accompanying app? I’ve really, really enjoyed it!

As a reminder…here’s the schedule!

Christmas Eve

4pm–Kids’ Service
6pm & 8pm–Candlelight Service
10pm–Reflective Communion Service (with candles too!)

On Christmas Day, we’ll have a very scaled down service at 10am and another very simple service on January 1. Let’s put all our energy into celebrating the birth of Jesus and the gift he truly is to us. See you all soon!

~Pastor Chris

P.S. Communion will offered on January 1. Our kids and youth ministries will remain on break until January 8. Enjoy this wonderful Christmas season!

December 15, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

My hope is that the message this weekend will help you appreciate Jesus more than you ever have before. Why? Because the “gift” of Jesus is only the best gift if we first come to grasp our greatest need.

When I think of medicine, I think of pills, not Jesus. This week, however, I’ll be helping us all discover how the gift of Jesus is truly the best gift of all because it is the best medicine for our greatest pain and need. I don’t want to make light of physical suffering, but I do believe that all physical suffering is the result of spiritual sickness and that spiritual sickness is far more dark and worthy of despair that we care to admit. When Jesus came into the world, he took aim at our darkest pain, viz., our spiritual alienation from God and one another.

Shifting gears, now that our Christmas pageants and concerts are over (weren’t they amazing?!?!), our church leaders are laser-focused on Christmas Eve preparations. Our 4:00 p.m. service will still be geared toward young children and parents, the 6:00 & 8:00 p.m. will be “classic” candlelight services, and the 10:00 p.m. will be an intimate communion service that revels in the mystery of Christmas.

Above all, I hope you come—and invite a friend. May God fill that Barn to capacity and may the Good News be heard and accepted by all!

Blessed Advent,
Pastor Chris

P.S. This year we will have very simple, scaled-back services on December 25 and January 1. Communion will offered on January 1. Our kids and youth ministries will remain on break until January 8. Enjoy this wonderful Christmas season!

December 8, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

Welcome to my digital “desk”…which is ironic to me since I am currently without a desk! One of my more exciting projects these days is getting my new office up and running, and I’ll finally have my desk arrive next week. So, next week when you see this email it won’t be from a plastic table!

Even amidst all the change, I’m thankful that Advent consistently comes to anchor us and remind us that God is the same yesterday, today, and forever. Advent pulls me back home, no matter how messy the house is. I’m thankful for that.

This Sunday is a bit of a celebration in the middle of the darkest days of the year—the Children’s Christmas Pageant. It’ll be my first one, and I’m so excited to see it. I’ll be preaching from this third chapter of the book Presence: An Advent Devotional with a special focus on Psalm 35:1-10. I spent time reading, praying, and reflecting on this text this morning and by the end I was bursting with excitement. I know you’ll feel it too.

For all those overburdened by the season and the foggy day outside my window today, I hope you’ll spend some time with me just remembering the way the trees looked in summer when they were so alive. It won’t be long until that dream comes alive again. Just like Christmas, abundant life is in front of us.

~PC

December 1, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

Dead Stumps and New Shoots

The Israelites know all about waiting. They waited for centuries to be delivered from slavery in Egypt, and even had to wander around in a desert for 40 years after that! If you know even a little about Israel’s history, waiting is their middle name.

As they were waiting for the Messiah to come, there were times when all appeared hopeless. Even if deliverance was on its way, it was nowhere in sight. The prophet Isaiah described the way the Messiah would come this way: “A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a branch will bear fruit.” In other words, where others see dead stumps or fruitless roots, God sees an opportunity to let new life burst forth.

This Sunday we’ll reflect on the text of the week from the Advent devotional Presence where God works with apparently dead things to bring new life. Nothing is too far gone for God to work a miracle. Christmas is that kind of miracle. Israel’s long wait was over and in a place no one expected and when hope was extinguished, God saw an opening for a new life to be born.

~Pastor Chris

November 23, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

Advent: Presence

This Advent I’m inviting our Barn Church to sit with Jesus. The Incarnation—God becoming human—remains the most astounding doctrine of Christianity. It is what fundamentally separates us from other Abrahamic religions like Judaism and Islam, and it stands in contrast to polytheistic religions (i.e., Hinduism) since we believe that in Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell” (Colossians 1:19). He came down to dwell with us, to share his presence, and invite us into it.

Jesus sat with us, so let’s sit with him. In this series called Presence we’ll slow down this Advent and dwell with the God who dwelt with us. This first week, we’ll reflect on how the greatest gift God can give us is his own presence. The messages will be based on the Advent devotional that will be available for purchase at the church. The “devo” is an opportunity to rest from the busyness of the season and reflect on the miracle of God’s presence. Each week my message with sync up with the devotional for the day and my prayer is that you might more fully connect with Jesus this Advent season.

If he truly is coming, let’s not miss him.

~Pastor Chris

November 17, 2022

Luke 23: 42-43 (NLT)
Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.” And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR JULIE

As the season of Advent approaches, it is easy to become consumed with the busyness of the holidays, the anticipation of giving and receiving, and understandably the joy of Christ’s birth. Before that comes though, we take time to reflect on the reason Jesus came to earth. The Sunday before Advent marks the end of the church year, and we look to the cross on which the Messiah took his final breath. It sounds more like Good Friday, and may seem full of sorrow, but we know that the cross is joy and life to us.

In the longer passage from Luke 23:33-43, we see that Jesus had been convicted of crimes, even though he did nothing wrong. Although this was a dark time for Jesus, he still asked God to forgive those who hated him, ridiculed him, and were tormenting him. Jesus could have stopped it, but he allowed it to happen. Jesus knows what it is like to hurt, and understands our pain and sorrow because he was hurt also, and yet also forgave those who hurt him. This King showed mercy and even stated to the thief on the cross that he would be with Jesus in paradise.

What a king to celebrate! The king who is merciful, forgiving, loves us, and is always with us. This Sunday is Christ the King Sunday, which reminds us why Jesus came to us. The church gives thanks and praise for the sovereignty of Christ, who is Lord of all creation and is coming again in glory to reign!

After the church service this Sunday, we will have our Thanksgiving dinner. What perfect timing as Christ the King Sunday is also typically celebrated with a feast. Join us this Sunday for worship and this celebratory feast. So many reasons to give thanks!

With gratitude,
Pastor Julie

November 10, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

 

Finishing up a Series!
I’m ending my first sermon series here at Liberty with a sermon on God’s justice. There is no denying that justice is a theme that runs through the Scripture and that justice is integral to God’s character…” righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne” as the Scripture says.

But, honestly, I’m more of a “grace” guy than a “justice” guy. I’ve always struggled to articulate how God’s grace and justice fit together (even though I’ll try on Sunday!). In the parable of the prodigal son, some people identify more with the lost son rather than the one that stayed home…and I’ve always been the kid who comes home asking for forgiveness, not the one who asks for fairness. If I was perhaps born in a different place or lived under different conditions, it might be the opposite. I do know this: grace and justice are united in Jesus and not in conflict.

This weekend I hope to help us see how when we use love to make the world more just, we bring God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven.” I want to see a just world where the oppressed are set free and where wrongdoing is held accountable. God does too. The text this weekend is from Amos 5: “let justice roll on like a rolling river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.”

Pastor Chris

November 3, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

 

From Despair to Joy

I am simultaneously looking forward to this week’s message…and not looking forward to it. It’ll be hard.

This weekend I’ll be talking about how the Gospel offers joy even in the midst of searing pain. One of the unique things about being a pastor is folks share their pain with you. Partly because I’m paid to listen, but mostly because I care and love the people, it’s amazing to me what folks will tell me. Since I arrived at Liberty, it has been one of my greatest privileges to cry with many of you and to feel your pain. I’m honored by that, and I pray for you every single day.

The text this week is Hebrews 12:1-3 where it says, “for the joy set before him he endured the cross.” I want to help us see how Jesus shows us the way to understand and respond to suffering and how even in the midst of suffering JOY can be found, nonetheless. In world full of suffering and despair, the Gospel offers hope for those in pain and the possibility of joy, too.

I hope you’ll join me. It’ll be communion Sunday and, as usual, those musicians will be leading us in triumphant praise.

~Pastor Chris

October 27, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

Light is Greater Than Darkness

I can already tell the days are getting darker, and the bright, long days of summer are disappearing. Oh, how I prefer the light! I think I’ve heard the phrase “winter is coming” more times than I can count…a grim reminder that cold and darkness are on the horizon.

Jesus said the Pharisees were great at reading the weather (i.e., winter is coming) but were terrible at telling the difference between truth and lies and completely misread both the heart of God and the timing of the arrival of the Messiah. They were confused. In a world full of darkness and confusion, it turns out that the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were no better off than anyone else at knowing the truth from a lie.

If last weekend the word was “grace” then this weekend the word is “truth.” I’ll explore with you how one of the best words God can offer is one of light and truth, pulling us out of darkness and into a marvelous light. As long we approach truth humbly, one of the greatest gifts God gives us is a roadmap to reality and a path to blessing. Join me this week as we celebrate the light of truth.

Pastor Chris

October 20, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

 

Grace is Greater than Judgment

A Barna research study found that among Millennials, 87% view the church as judgmental, 85% as hypocritical, and 70% as insensitive to others. That is not good!

This week I’ll be exploring how God’s beautiful word of grace is the antidote to a world full of judgment and to a church that often loses its way. We’ll begin by looking at how the thread of grace is woven throughout the Scriptures and how Jesus so powerfully embodied and enacted grace in everything he did.

On a personal note, the first book I read after becoming a Christian was Philip Yancey’s What’s So Amazing About Grace? It changed my life and set up the trajectory of my life. It gave me a wonderful window into the heart of God. This Sunday I’ll share a story from the book that continues to make me tear up even today, and I hope that as we explore God’s grace together our faith can be reawakened and strengthened.

Blessings,
Pastor Chris

October 13, 2022

Psalm 121: 1-2 (NLT)

I look up to the mountains—does my help come from there?
My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth!

 

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR JULIE

This past summer, I was able to travel to the Grand Canyon. I was told by many friends who know my love of nature and strong faith that I would be awe-struck when I could see the Canyon in person. They were not kidding! The tears flowed as I gazed with wonderment upon this awe-inspiring, natural wonder. I cannot begin to tell you the strong presence of God I felt in this place.

As you look out from the top of the Canyon as you would high on a mountain, it seems as if you can see forever. There may be clouds floating by yet you are able to look across the valley and see more parts of the Canyon – up, down, and all around. Such loveliness! All I could think was, “Wow! Our God who created all this, created me, always watches over me, cares for me, and loves me endlessly! Me! I am so humbled!” The strength and assurance I felt were unprecedented.

There is something about mountains and foothills that make you think about the power and strength of God’s love—even in the deepest of canyons where there is such beauty. God paints and creates such exquisiteness for us. Just looking at God’s magnificent creation is inspiring. It gives us hope and lifts us up. God is always with us!

Just as we see God’s imprint in the mountains and valleys, know God is with you at the highest and lowest points. When we are discouraged or having some sort of difficulty, perhaps we can gain strength by thinking of the majestic mountains and deep canyons, remembering this verse: “My help comes from God, who made heaven and earth.”

Grace and Peace,
Pastor Julie

October 6, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

Together > Alone

Churches are supposed to be places where we cherish being together and everyone feels welcome. But this is sometimes not the case! Have you ever felt unwelcome in a church before? I’m thankful Liberty is as welcoming as they come! As a reminder, though, here are…

Here are 5 signs of an UN-welcoming church:

1. No one says “hello.” Have you ever walked into a church and it felt like no one would make eye contact with you, or even acknowledge your presence? If so, you’re not alone. Not everyone is an extrovert, but basic kindness should be a minimum at all churches!

2. Insider Lingo. Some churches require 20+ visits before a person can figure out what different parts of the service mean, what buildings and rooms are named, and all the various volunteer and staff positions might mean.

3. Cliques. It’s natural for church to be a place where you have your friends and check in on them each week, but sometimes churchgoers forget that once upon a time they were the ones looking for connection. A welcoming church has porous boundaries in each little group, allowing others to connect and join.

4. Stuffy Uniformity. Imagine coming to a church where in order to fit in you had to dress a certain way, talk a certain way, believe a certain way, and always hint that you hold the same politics as everyone else. In this case, church culture is acts like a prison more than a sanctuary. God designed the church to be united in Jesus, but diverse in nearly every other way!

5. Accessible. Beyond the bare-minimum ADA requirements, churches should go out of their way make their churches accessible. This means parking lots and sidewalks that aren’t bumpy and well lit, they have clear websites explaining how to make your visit a success and easy access to information on how to get more involved and take next steps. An unwelcoming church puts the burden on the new person to find their way in, rather than making it easy for a newcomer join.

All churches can get better, and I’m thankful Liberty is a place where we are already.

September 29, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

Life > Death

Death is the way of the world. Ben Franklin famously said, “In this world, nothing is certain except death and taxes.” And I’m confident that death is far more certain than taxes! As I write this, I am keenly aware that many in our congregation are facing death or the death of someone that they love. Death is not a joke or an abstract concept; it is, rather, the crushing reality of the world and the fate of every person who has ever lived.

Except one.

In a world where the death rates hovers around 100%, Christians embrace a deeper reality than death centered around the impossible possibility of the resurrection of the dead. The earliest followers of Jesus could barely believe it, and 2,000 years later we continue to wonder if it is true, how it works, and when it will happen. I hope you will join us in worship this week as I get the privilege of teaching you about one of God’s most beautiful words: Life. Eternal Life.

Death is such an affront because you and I know how much we were made for eternity. In a world of death, God speaks a new word: LIFE.

Pastor Chris

September 22, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

Freedom > Sin/Slavery

When you hear the word “freedom”, what do you think of first? Freedom of speech? Or religion? Or, if it is not too soon and disrespectful, freedom from the monarchy of England and the celebration of American independence. Nowadays, freedom means working from home for some. For me, freedom means having a babysitter so Jenn and I can go out on a date!

But, freedom was originally a biblical word before any of these ideas and situations came to be. This week we’ll explore a few new words: sin, slavery, and freedom. We’ll unpack a famous Scripture from Romans 6:22-23 “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the benefit you reap leads to holiness, and the result is eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Freedom meant not freedom from sin, but for holiness. Freedom is more than you think.

I love that our church is called Liberty, a constant reminder that we are called to be free. Join me this week to learn more about how you can find freedom in Jesus.

Pastor Chris

September 15, 2022

September 8, 2022

FROM THE DESK OF PASTOR CHRIS

 

Introducing Our Fall Sermon Series: Good Words

Throughout the fall, I’ll be preaching a series of sermons called “Good Words” that explores how God replaces our worst words with unimaginably wonderful ones. In a world filled with hate, emptiness, and death…God replaces them with love, abundance, and life. Each week, we’ll take a different set of words and see how God transforms our darkest words with unimaginable light.

As a new pastor at Liberty, I’m hoping this series helps give you a window into my mind and heart as I open up the Scriptures with you. As Psalm 119:130 proclaims, “The unfolding of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” So, let’s find out what “words” God uses!  There will be a few weeks here and there on different themes, and all messages are subject to the leading of the Spirit (!!!), but here is the roadmap:

  • 9/11        Love > Hate
  • 9/18        Full > Empty
  • 9/27        Freedom > Slavery
  • 10/2        Life > Death
  • 10/9        Together > Alone
  • 10/23      Grace > Judgment
  • 10/30      Light > Darkness
  • 11/6        Joy > Despair
  • 11/13      Found > Lost
  • 11/20      Heaven > Hell

This week, we’ll stand in awe of how God replaces hatred with love—and how we are invited to do the same.

Blessings,
Pastor Chris