A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Monday, September 26, 2016

Pastoral Prayer (September 25) @ Athens First UMC

[This is our stewardship logo this year as we prepare to complete our "Estimate of Giving" cards to support Christ and his church in 2017. A mailing with information about our stewardship focus is going out this week. You can either send in your card or bring it with you to worship this Sunday (October 2) and place in the offering plate. For Sunday's sermon on "Generosity: Just Add a Little Love," click on this link.]

Lord Jesus, just as you surrendered all on our behalf, help us to surrender all by adding a little love through every gift we offer in your name. Lead us into being the generous people you are calling us to be.

Every time we gather in this building to worship and grow in our faith, we are reminded of the generosity of those who have gone before us. Thanks to their generosity, we have this incredible space to call home.

Thank you for the generous people in 1908 who built a church in this location, and for the generous people in 1958 who rebuilt this church after a fire, and for the generous people today who are making our church building even more accommodate and inviting for the people of our community. We are so blessed to be part of our church’s history of generosity.

We know that the church is not only the building. It’s your people gathering together for worship, for small group sharing, for growing in our faith, and for serving others. Thank you for every single ministry in our church that helps us to live out our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

As many of us this week will be prayerfully considering our estimate of giving toward the general budget for this coming year, remind us to just add a little love in how we manage our personal finances. May our gifts in this coming year continue to help our church be a have of blessing and peace for our church family, for college students who are away from home, those who come to Monday lunch, the children who attend our Growing Tree preschool, the people who attend AA, our scout troupe, those who listen to our worship service on the radio, and so many other ministries of our church.

Lord Jesus, remind us to just add a little love in all that we say and do here at First Church. You are the one who taught us how a tiny mustard seed can lead to incredible growth. You taught us that just five loaves and a couple fish can be multiplied to feed 5,000 people. You taught that with even just a little faith a great big mountain can be moved.

And you also taught us that when we pray, all we really need to say are these words that reflect your will for each one of us as well as for our church…

 “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Sermon by Rev. Robert McDowell (September 25) "Generosity: Just Add a Little Love"

     Around this time last year, Penny and I were getting ready to buy something at a store here in Athens. Next to the cash register was a sign that had a portion of a verse from our I Timothy scripture reading today.
     The sign read, “Since money is the root of all evil, we’ll be happy to take it from you.”
     I turned to Penny and I said, “Now, that is funny!” And Penny said, “But they misquoted the bible verse.”
     I said, “What?”
     She said, “It’s not, ‘money is the root of all evil.’ It should say, ‘the love of money is the root of all evil.’”
     Leave it to a person who is named after a coin to know her bible verses about money.
     She’s right. This is probably the most misquoted verse in the entire bible and I fell for it that day! A presidential candidate misquoted this verse during a speech by saying, “money is the root of all evil.”
     I wonder if the Apostle Paul who wrote this letter to Timothy had any idea that this would become the most misquoted verse in the entire Bible. Maybe he should have put the word, “LOVE” in all caps. Or maybe, he should have included a heart emoji after the word, “love” to emphasize his point.
     Why do we tend to misquote this verse about money? What’s up with that? Maybe it’s because we are a little embarrassed to admit that it’s easy to have a love affair with our money.
     You know how I am with quarters, right? I’ve shared with you how for the longest time, I have stored quarters in my car. Pennies, nickles, and dimes are not allowed. Only quarters are permitted.
     I think the reason I have a love affair with quarters is because they give me an extra sense of assurance, like that time I made a late afternoon trip to Dairy Queen. When they asked for me to pay the $8 or so amount, I realized that I had forgotten to bring my wallet with me.
     I motioned for the worker to give me a just a minute. I went out to my car and proudly put over 32 quarters on the counter. I walked out of that place with my head held high and with a little swagger to my step. My precious quarters saved the day. So, yeah, we sometimes have this love affair with our precious money.
     The Apostle Paul isn’t saying that we shouldn’t care about money. He just wants us to keep it in perspective so that we can be the generous people that God is calling us to be.
     Paul is saying that it’s important for us to have the right perspective with money. We need to remember that we can’t take it with us when we leave this world.
     As someone once said, “I’ve never seen a hearse pulling a U-haul.” Our possessions won’t do us any good in the afterlife, but it can do a whole lot of good while we’re right here on earth.
     Paul writes how money can provide us with the basic necessities of life like food and clothing and this can give us contentment, but he also says how it can lead us down a selfish and destructive path.
     Paul concludes this passage of scripture on money by encouraging us to do good and to share what we have with others. This is what it means to be generous. This is what it means to live out our faith and to use our money wisely.
     If the love of money is the root of all evil, then Paul also wants us to know that it’s the love of God that is the root of all good. If we love God with our whole hearts, we will become the generous givers that God is calling us to be. We just need to remember to add a little love in how we handle our money.
     John Wesley, the founder of Methodism has given us three important ways to be generous in our giving and to now allow the love of money to get the best of us. Those three ways of handling money are to 1) Earn all you can. 2) Save all you can. And 3) Give all you can.
     If we can just remember those three things, we will be able to be to have a proper perspective on handling money.
Earn All You Can
     The first way of handling money is to earn all you can. Of course, this is assuming that our earnings are done in an ethical way. It’s important to have enough money to care for our needs. Earning all we can means that we use the gifts, abilities, and opportunities that God has given us to make a living.
Save All You Can
     The second important way of handling money is to save all you can. Saving money is not always easy, but it’s so important because we need to think about our long-term financial stability.
     Putting away a little money each month will pay dividends in the long run.
Give All You Can
     And the third important way of handling money is to give all you can. This is at the heart of what the Apostle Paul is saying in our scripture reading for today. He want us to be generous givers so that we can not only use our money to give us a sense of contentment, but to also bless others.
     When we give away all we can so that we can do good for others, it helps us to keep our focus on God and not on our money.
     This is how we are to handle our money. Earn all we can. Save all we can. And give all we can.
     Rev. Dick Teller was my first District Superintendent back in the mid 80s. We also served on staff together at a church in the 90s. He became a spiritual mentor for me over these many years, giving me pointers about pastoral ministry, the importance of taking care of myself, and giving me thoughts on things he had learned about managing finances. He passed away last November.
     Just before he passed away, the church where he had been attending in his retirement years did a stewardship video with him. They showed this short video at the church as part of their annual stewardship campaign.
     I’d like to show this video of my friend Rev. Dick Teller to you as he shares his thoughts about being generous givers to Christ and his church. Let’s watch.

     My friend truly lived out what he shared in this video. He and his wife, Jan were very generous people.
     Being generous is all about just adding a little love to our giving. That’s what the Apostle Paul is talking about in our scripture reading for today.
     This past Spring, Sharon Stoltzfus and I attended a meeting at the Conference office in Columbus. They had asked several leaders of different churches in our conference to come and share ministry ideas. We shared about our outdoor prayer cross and how that has been a way for people who walk by our church to let know that we are a church that cares for them.
     One of the churches at that conference meeting shared an incredible ministry idea that Sharon and I thought you would like to hear.
     This is a small church located just north of Columbus. The pastor of that church told the congregation that they would be receiving a special offering through the month of December, including at their Christmas Eve service.
     He told them that he wasn’t going to tell them what the special offering was for until at the end of the Christmas Eve service when all of the money had been collected. He said how people in that church kept bugging him during the whole month of December to tell him where they were going to send the offering, but he wouldn’t tell them, no matter how much they begged him.
     He said how some of his members who said they would be in Florida for Christmas Eve, wanted him to tell him what that surprise offering was for, but he said, “It’s a surprise. I can’t tell anyone.” They were even trying to bribe him, but he just wouldn’t tell them.
     So, finally, Christmas Eve came and at the end of their 11 o’clock candlelight service, he told them about the offering. He told them the amount that had been collected which was one of the largest Christmas offerings they had ever received at that church.

     He then told the 11 o’clock Christmas Eve service crowd that the Christmas offering was going to be evenly divided and given to all the workers at the local Waffle House restaurant that night. As a church, they were going to give them a very nice Christmas surprise.
     So, the pastor invited anyone from the 11 o’clock service to head on over to the Waffle House to surprise these workers with this offering. The pastor said how he thought that maybe 5 people would actually go with him to The Waffle House that night. But to his surprise, about 30 to 40 people were there. They all wanted to be part of this random act of kindness.
     The pastor said that he arrived at The Waffle House after everybody else because he had to turn out the church lights and secure the building. When he got there, he asked them if they told the workers why they were there and they said, they hadn’t because they were waiting for him to arrive.
     He said that those Waffle House workers were probably really worried about all those people they were going to have to serve. So they all went in to the Waffle House restaurant, and this pastor said that each of those workers received a little over $400 on that early Christmas morning from their church.
     They were shocked that their church would do such a nice thing for them. They were so thankful to these church members. It was a very memorable night for everyone involved. The church was on cloud nine over this. It became the talk of the town.
     The pastor didn’t think too much more about this until about a week after Christmas. One of his church members said that she decided to eat at that same Waffle House restaurant one day, and the waitress, recognizing this person from that early Christmas morning said that she was one of the workers who received money from the church.
     The waitress then said how that extra $400 really came in handy because she and her children were facing an eviction notice at the time. Because of that generous Christmas gift from their church, they were able to stay in their apartment.
     This story reminds me that being generous is really just about adding a little love in our giving. When we add a little of God’s love in our giving, it truly does bring transformation to our community and world.
     This week, many of us will be receiving a 2017 estimate of giving card in the mail. We are invited to prayerfully consider what our generous offering will be to Christ and his church for this coming year. We can either mail our cards to the church or bring it to church with us next Sunday as we dedicate our cards to the glory of God.
     The Apostle Paul was right when he said that, “It’s the love of money that is the root of all evil.” May God always help us to remember that “It’s the love of God that is the root of all good.”

     As we prepare for a new year of ministry, let’s add a little love in our giving. That’s all it takes in being the generous people that God has called us to be.

Generosity: Just Add a Little Love
Small Group Questions
I Timothy 6:6-19
September 25, 2016

Pastor Robert said that I Timothy 6:10 is perhaps the most misquoted verse in the entire bible. It doesn't say that money is the root of all kinds of evil. The correct phrase is "the love of money..."

Why is this distinction important in interpreting and living out this verse in our everyday lives?

John Wesley, the founder of Methodism encouraged people to 1) earn all you can 2) save all you can 3) give all you can.

Which of these three areas do you struggle with the most? Which of these three areas come more easily than the others? 

In thinking about the Waffle House story from the sermon, we can only imagine how good the people in that church must have felt to help the workers at that restaurant on that early Christmas morning.

Share a time when someone was blessed through your giving just by adding a little love. How did that experience deepen your faith?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Dave's Deep Thoughts - When It's Too Much to Stomach

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

Sometimes the band just plays on,
but sometimes, the boys just need to take a break.

It started with a rumble in the tummy.
No, not the “Feed me” rumble.
This was the “what in the heck did you feed me? rumble.

The timing was not great
You see, I was in a worship service playing the organ.

I have felt that feeling before,
but not very often.
“It will go away” I thought.

I pride myself on having an iron stomach.
I have only “lost it” 3 times since I graduated from college 37 years ago.

Most people think it strange that I 
would even know how many times I have tossed my cookies,
let alone take pride in the number.

Actually, I find it quite natural to do so.
It speaks of hardiness, fortitude, and vigor, and hopefully fresh breath.

Dieters keep track of how long they have stayed away from the chocolate cake.
Recovering alcoholics announce days, months, and years of sobriety.
            The baseball world even counts how many consecutive games a player like Cal Ripken shows up on a baseball diamond.
I just happen to keep record of my refusal to bow before the porcelain god. 

You see, I lost it on Valentine’s Day of my senior year in college, 
thus the date was easy to remember.

12 years later, I gave it up on a lovely spring day while driving on the interstate. (not recommended)
17 years after that, I returned what I thought at the time was a lovely dinner. 
After 8 more years of temperance, one of the 12 days of Christmas was not so merry to me.

And 8 years after that, there I was…….
sitting on the organ bench. with that oh so familiar feeling.

My first response has always been,
“C’mon Dave, you’re bigger than this!”

But my adversary wasn’t going away.
We were in this for all twelve rounds of the fight.

While I was playing, “Take Time to Be Holy
I was thinking of taking a different type of time out.

I fought through hymn #2,
the choir anthem,
the offertory,
another hymn.

Then came the sermon.
The pastor was challenging the congregation to battle mediocrity,
but I was in a full-fledged battle with a different enemy.

I stepped outside thinking some fresh air might help.
But my enemy mocked and taunted me.

The hot, humid air of late summer did me no good.
Nor did the smell of the garbage dumpster in the nearby parking lot.

I conceded defeat
and for the 4th time in 13,733 days.
I met my match.

There is a relief, a freedom in surrender.
As I was regaining my composure in the men’s room,
I heard the congregation begin the final hymn…….a capella

They sang well. They sang strong.
The opening stanza rang out like a call to arms.
The text was not lost on me….

“Make me a captive, Lord, and then I shall be free.
Force me to render up my sword, and I shall conqueror be.”

I rose from my posture of shame,
newly convinced that in my captivity, I had once again found freedom.
Moved to embrace that by rendering up, I was once again ready to conquer the world.

I walked into the front of the sanctuary
and joined those who I count as brothers and sisters in singing us all on to victory.

It is very easy to begin to believe that we can do it all on our own.
If we are honest with ourselves, much of the time, we live that way

How many times do we ignore a message from our bodies
because we are too busy being busy?

How many times do we not ask for help
when we really could use a hand?

Maybe we do that because we don’t want to feel like we are a burden.
Perhaps we are afraid of being turned down.
Often, we just want to feel like we are in control of everything.
And in many cases, it is simply about false pride.

Scriptures make it clear that there is nothing wrong with asking for help.
In fact, Scriptures encourage us to do so.

Our help comes from the Lord (Psalm 121:2)
and sometimes that help comes through fellow believers.

I could have asked a fellow musician to cover for me,
but instead my pride said that I could fight it off on my own.

In Romans, Paul describes the church as a body of believers 
who are connected to one another as is the human body.

Even though we are many individuals,
Christ makes us one body
and individuals who are connected to each other. (Romans 12:5)

My connectedness to others is more important than pride.
My willingness to receive help from others
doesn’t make me weak, it makes me strong.

On the day that I thought I lost something,
I was reminded that have everything that I need,
that is if I just ask.

(Thanks to a special friend who stepped in for me in my moment of need)

I also recommend staying away from the breakfast burrito bowl.