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, May 22, 2017

Pastoral Prayer (May 21) - Athens First UMC

[Our worship theme was "Created for Purpose" from the Genesis creation story. There were a lot of people living out their God given purpose in a variety of ways on Sunday.  We celebrated and surrounded a young couple at the baptism of their baby daughter, we recognized our children and youth Sunday School teachers, the youth and their parents gathered for a covered dish event and shared how they grew in their faith over this past school year, and the Honduras mission trip team held a pancake fundraiser to help with expenses for their upcoming August trip.]

O God, from the very first story of the bible to the last story of the bible, you remind us that we have been created for purpose. We have been made in your image to offer your healing love in a broken and hurting world.

Whenever we feel discouraged or get down on ourselves, or question our purpose in life, point us back to the creation story where you remind us that you called all that you created, good. Empower us to simply live out who you have called each one of us to be, people created in your image, people you have claimed as your own.

During this time of year when there are many transitions in our lives; graduations, the end of the school year, getting out our wrinkled summer clothes, remind us of what always stays constant in our lives, that you created us, that you love us, and that we always belong to you. May we never forget.

Thank you for how the sacrament of baptism reminds us of our true identity, that we are a child of God, not because of anything we have done or not done but because of what you have done on our behalf.  Thank you for your grace and unconditional love!

Thank you for placing people like Wanda in our lives, people whose expressions of love point us to you as the giver of all good gifts. Thank you for Sunday School teachers who teach your Word faithfully and who encourage us along our walk. And thank you for trees, hills, sunrises, flowers, and hiking trails that point us to you as our loving creator.

But most of us, thank you for sending us Jesus who showed us what it means to be truly human, and who taught us to pray saying… “Our Father, who art in heaven…"

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Sermon (May 21) by Rev. Robert McDowell "Created for Purpose"

     The creation story seems to make the news more than any other story in the entire bible. It’s at the heart of the science vs. religion debate regarding how the world was created.
     Maybe you remember the much publicized debate back a few years ago between Bill Nye, the Science Guy and Ken Ham, the founder of the Creation Museum which is located in Petersburg, Kentucky. During the debate, Bill Nye held to the position that the earth is billions and billions of years old. Ken Ham claims that according to the Bible, the earth is only 6,000 years old. He also believes that humans and dinosaurs coexisted.
     The debate didn’t really do a whole lot to change anybody’s mind, which wasn’t a surprise. It did remind me that there are a lot of people who have a misunderstanding of what the creation story is telling us and what it’s not telling us.
     Dr. John B. Walton is a professor of Old Testament studies at Wheaton College.  He is the author of the book, The Lost World of Genesis One: Ancient Cosmology and the Origins Debate.
     Dr. Walton offers a very helpful way of interpreting the creation story. He says that when God created the world, everything was given a purpose. 
     The Hebrew word for create is “bara” which means,“function giving.” Instead of the creation story being a story of a time when God first physically made the world, it’s really a story about God creating a function for everything that was already in existence.
     Creating in this sense of the word, involves naming, separating, and assigning functions and roles in order to have an ordered system. This is what the creation story is telling us – that God provided order, function, and purpose for everything that exists including human beings.
     The creation story isn’t interested in proving that God brought everything that we see into existence. It didn’t need to do this since the people who lived during that ancient Near East time period already believed this to be true.
     If we interpret the creation story as a story of not how God brought the world into existence, but as a story of how God gave everything that had already existed a function, then there is room for people of faith to believe in the evolutionary process.
     The bible doesn’t force us to choose between science or faith. We can have both.  In telling the story of how God gave everything in creation a purpose, it used the available science of its day. It sought to communicate a Word from God to the people by speaking within their particular historical and scientific context.
     Gordon Fee, another well respected Bible scholar reminds us that the bible was not written to us, but it was written for us. What he means is that the bible was not originally written directly to us, but it was written for us. He goes on to say that we need to be careful to not impose our 21st century questions on the stories that we find in the bible.
     I think that the creation story is an example of one of those biblical stories that we often want it to say things that it never meant to say. We need to first figure out how the people who lived during biblical times first heard this story. From there, we can ask the question, “What does this mean for us today in the 21st century?”
     Since the creation story isn’t primarily about how God brought everything into existence and is really a story about how God gave everything a purpose, it allows us to be more open to what modern day science teaches us about the world. In other words, I don’t think that Ken Ham of the Creation Museum needs to be threatened by what Bill Nye and the scientific world have to offer us.
     The creation story wants us to know that God created a purpose for everything that is part of the created world.

Day #1

     So what purposes were given for each day of creation? Let’s first look at the first day of creation when God created light. And remember, we’re not talking about God creating the properties of light. We’re talking about God giving light a purpose. And the purpose God gives to light is time. Day and night provide a cycle of time.
     So for those of you who have ever wondered how there can be light on the first day of creation and yet the sun isn’t created until the fourth day, this new understanding of the Hebrew word for “create” explains it. The creation story isn’t a story about God physically creating everything, although that’s assumed. It’s a story about God giving a purpose to everything that is already in existence. 

Day #2

     What’s the purpose of day 2?  Weather. We are told that God created a dome in the midst of the waters so that it would provide a space in which people would be able to live. The second purpose was to provide a way for precipitation to be controlled so that we would have the right amount of rain.
Day #3

     What about day 3? Food. We have the creation of dry land and the sea which leads to vegetation and fruit trees. The purpose behind vegetation and fruit trees is the production of food.
     So in these first three days, the creation story is telling us that God gave our world three very important purposes – time, weather, and food. These three purposes are the foundation of life.
     You see, the important point in the creation story isn’t that God created material things. The more important thing is that God created purposes for what was already in existence so that a quality of life would be possible for all living creatures.
Day #4

     What about day 4? What’s the purpose of day 4? Day 4 is about the celestial lights at day and at night. The purpose for these lights is for signs, seasons, days, and years.

Day #5

     This brings us to day 5. What is the purpose of the 5th day? Here we have swarms of living creatures in the sky and in the water.  The purpose of day five is to provide order for all of these creatures.

Day #6

     And this leads us to day 6, the final day of creation. Here we have animals and human beings. Their purpose is to reproduce and to fill the earth so that there will be new generations of the same kinds of creatures.
     The additional purpose of human beings is to rule over all creation and to live as God’s image bearers in the world. This is the purpose that God has given to you and me. We are to lovingly care for this world and to reflect God’s image to everyone around us.
     The creation story reminds us of our purpose in this world and what a great purpose it is. We are to be good stewards of everything that has been created.
     Three or four years ago, we had to put down two of our three West Highland Terrier dogs, leaving us with Lulu who we brought with us to Athens. The other two dogs who we had to put down had reached a point where our vet told us that even with their medications, they were in too much pain.  It was a very difficult day for us because pets become part of our family in a special way especially in the McDowell household.

Lulu McDowell

     When we came home from the vet that day, I took our remaining dog, Lulu outside to our backyard. She was eight years old at that time and has always been our little baby until we got another westie this past September. Here’s a picture of Lulu who is now eleven years old.
     On the day we put down two of our westies and after we got home from the vet, I took Lulu outside in our backyard, I looked down at her cute little face and she stared right back at me, sensing that the other two dogs weren’t with us anymore.
     I had her attention and as I looked into her big brown eyes, I said, “Lulu, you are now in charge of backyard security. We’re counting on you.”  And ever since that day, she has lived out her God given purpose of keeping bunnies and squirrels out of our yard.
     Lulu knows her purpose. I never have to remind her to bark at a squirrel that is five hundred yards away high up in a tree. She just knows what to do. Her purpose is to do what West Highland Dogs were created to do. Be on alert at all times, bark, and be extremely cute. Lulu is living out her God given purpose.
     So think about this. On the sixth day of creation, the Lord said to you and to me, “You are now in charge of backyard security. This is your function as human beings.  I want you to take care of my creation. I’m counting on you.”
     It’s a wonderful thing when we live out who we were created to be. Each one of us has been called to be God’s image bearers in the world.
    What does it mean to live out our purpose of being God’s image bearers? It means that we care for this world that God has lovingly created. It means that just as God lovingly created this world and called it good, we too are called to be extensions of God’s healing love in everything that we do. We are to be kind as Nicole Phillips reminded us last Sunday.
     How’s that for a life purpose?  That’s true for every single human being in the world. This is why we were created. We were created to be God’s image bearers.
     There are many different ways to live out this purpose depending on our personalities, our talents, our gifts, and our passions. We’re not all the same but we are all called to contribute to the same purpose in what it means to be truly human.
     I think of Wanda.  Wanda was a member of one of my churches and she reminded me so much of my mother. They kind of looked like each other, but more importantly, they also had the same kind of giving spirit.
     Wanda was always giving gifts to people. I am convinced that Wanda’s purpose in life was to be a modern day Santa Claus. The only difference was that she didn’t just give gifts on December 25. She gave gifts to people every day of the year! She made Santa Claus look like cheapskate.
     She loved the stained glass windows of the church where she was a member.  In fact, she loved them so much that she had pictures of each of those beautiful windows framed and she would give these away as gifts. 
     I was on the receiving end of Wanda’s many gifts. For example, Wanda would stop by out of the blue with a freshly baked apple pie. And she really loved Christmas, so thanks to Wanda, I have Christmas angel figurines, Christmas socks, and she even gave me a choo-choo train.
     Before Christmas one year, a mysterious Christmas present appeared on our front porch. Inside was the choo-choo train. The tag said that it was from Santa, but I knew better. I had made a joke one day that Santa never brought me a choo-choo train for Christmas, and she must have really taken that to heart.
     You know, we pastors need to be careful with what we say. A pastor told me that he once made the comment during a sermon that he enjoyed the Spider Man movie. A church member who heard him say that, ended up giving him all of these Spider Man gifts like Spider Man socks, a Spider Man notebook, a Spider Man pillow, a Spider Man coffee mug, a Spider Man shirt.
    He said, “All I said was that I liked the movie. I really don’t need all of these Spider Man souveniers.”
     Wanda was kind of like that. For trick or treat night, Penny and I would give away candy to about 30 to 40 kids who would come to our door. Wanda, who lived just a block from us, would get over a hundred kids to her house.
     I came to find out that she wasn’t giving out tootsie rolls and tiny Hershey bars like we were. She was handing out these large cool looking flavored popcorn balls every year. I mean, we couldn’t compete with that. The kids were bypassing our house to get to Wanda’s house before she ran out of those awesome popcorn balls! Everybody loved Wanda. In her early 80’s, she served as a mentor to one of our of our confirmation youth.
     Wanda passed away unexpectedly while I was the pastor there. Soon after the news of her passing, someone showed me a gift that Wanda had given her just a few days before Wanda had died. Wanda lived out her God given gift-giving purpose even to her last breath.
     When I met with Wanda’s family to prepare for her funeral service, they told me that she loved giving gifts to people because she saw every single person as important and as someone who God loved very much.  They told me that she was always on the look out for nice gifts to give away to people and that her basement was like a store filled with gifts to give away.
     To put it simply, Wanda just knew to do what she was created to do. Her purpose in life was gift-giving and blessing the people around her.
     Several years ago, I gave a lot of thought to what my purpose in life is.  Instead of a mid-life crisis, I guess you could say that I was having a young adult crisis. I really wanted to clearly identify my purpose in life.  Often times, we associate our purpose with what we do for a living, or with a talent that we may have, but I wanted to know what my purpose was beyond those roles and expectations.
     After a lot of thought and prayer, here is what I discovered my purpose to be in life and it hasn’t changed after all of these years. This is what I wrote:
     My life mission is to joyfully live out the good news of Jesus Christ through word and deed so that my family, my church, and my community will know and embrace God’s hope and promises for their daily living.
     Sometimes, I need to go back and read that purpose statement and remind myself of who God created me to be. God created me to joyfully live out the good news of Jesus Christ.
     If you haven’t already written out your purpose in life, this might be something you’ll want to start thinking about this week. What is your unique purpose and are you living out that purpose? God has given each one of us a purpose. We are to be God’s image bearers in a broken and hurting world.
     The creation story isn’t concerned with how old we think the earth is. Science can help us answer that question. The more important question that the creation story wants us to answer is this.
     Are you living on purpose? Are you living out who you were created to be, an image bearer of God’s love, kindness, and justice for a broken and hurting world.
Created for Purpose
Small Group Questions
Genesis 1:1-2:4a
May 21, 2017

The science vs. faith debate as it relates to the creation story as told in the Book of Genesis is really unnecessary because we really do not need to decide between the two. In the sermon, Pastor Robert shared that the Hebrew word for "create" is "bara" which literally means "to give purpose" and NOT "to bring a material object into existence" as it is often interpreted. This interpretation of the creation story allows for people of faith to believe in God AND the evolutionary process in the forming of creation.

What is your understanding of science and the Bible? Do you think they can coexist as Pastor Robert suggests from his sermon?

Since the word, "create" means "to give purpose," the creation story is meant to help us think about our purpose as human beings in the world. We were created for the purpose of being God's "image bearers" which involves reflecting God's love back onto God which is what we do when we worship and reflecting God's love out into the world which is what we do when we serve and seek to be a blessing in our world.

How does this understanding of being created in the image of God (worship & service) give meaning and purpose in the way you live out your life?

Pastor Robert shared how his west highland terrier dogs don't struggle with their purpose in the world. Their purpose is to chase squirrels and dig! 

Why do you think we as humans seem to struggle with our purpose in life from time to time? What do dogs know that we don't know?????

Close your time of sharing by reading out loud the purpose that God has given our church: "Our purpose is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world."

How can our church always remember this awesome purpose that God has given us? Share some ways.

Monday, May 15, 2017

Pastoral Prayer (May 14/Mother's Day) - Athens First UMC

[Nicole Phillips, author of the book, Kindness is Contagious spoke at our church this past Sunday. She shared how making kindness a priority can make a positive difference in our lives as well as in the life of others. We also received eight new members and celebrated a baptism. And on top of all of that, former pastor of our church, Rev. Jim Wagner came to visit and offered the benediction. It was a wonderful Sunday! Photo Left to Right: Rev. Jim Wagner, Rev. Robert McDowell, Nicole Phillips]

O God, thank you for every act of kindness, large or small, for they all contribute to the building of your kingdom here on earth. Help us to have kind hands like Jesus and do good for all. 

Help us to notice the smallest acts of kindness that happen all around us on any given day. Like the father who stood at the end of his driveway this past week waving to his children as they got on the school bus and continued to smile and wave at them until the bus was out of his view.  Thank you, O God.

Like one of our Growing Tree pre-school children this past week who was so happy to give me her art work as a gift. It was the most beautifully decorated coffee paper filter I have ever seen. Thank you, O God.

Like the mother who I asked this past week, “Are you bracing for when school is out and your three teenagers will be at home for the summer?” and she quickly responded, “Yes, I want to see them more. I love my kids.” Thank you, O God.

On this Mothers’ Day, we look to you as a God who is not only our heavenly Father, but as one who offers us a motherly love; a love that is always patient, kind, forgiving, and nurturing. 

Thank you for mothers who have provided a loving and nurturing presence in our lives and for new mothers who offer their love to their newborns. We also pray for those who have not had a positive relationship with their mother. May your healing love surround all who have experienced pain and brokenness in these family relationships. Like a mother hen caring for her young, may we find protection under the cover of your wings.

Remind us always that kindness is contagious because you have created us for kindness. Take our hands, Lord Jesus, let them work for you; make them strong and gentle, kind in all we do. Let us watch you, Jesus, till we’re gentle too, till our hands are kind hands, quick to work for you.

And now teach us to pray the words you taught your disciples and now teach us to pray together saying… “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Monday, May 8, 2017

Pastoral Prayer (May 7) - Athens First UMC

[Our Chancel Choir sang this beautiful piece, "Song Over All Waters" during Sunday's worship service. Melissa Brobeck provided the solo and Matt James played the saxophone. We are so blessed to have a wonderful music ministry here at Athens First UMC that helps us to honor and glorify God.]

O God, thank you for your church. Thank you for those times when we are at our best, like when we serve our community, welcome each other with a smile, share the good news of our faith with neighbors and friends, deliver an inspiring anthem, preach a half-way decent sermon, and offer a listening ear to someone in need.

Thank you for also loving your church even when we are not at our best and when we don’t get it right. You know all too well our shortcomings and our struggles.

But somehow…Somehow, you are able to take our many imperfections and transform us into an authentic, loving, caring, and purpose filled community of faith. Only you could do something like that. 

And so, on this Sunday, we pray not only for our church, but also for other churches in our community who like us, are seeking to live out our faith and be a blessing to the people all around us.

And so we pray for our brothers and sisters nearby us at First Presbyterian and St. Paul Catholic Church and Christ Lutheran and Church of the Good Shepherd Episcopal and Brookfield Church, and Central Avenue United Methodist, and all the other churches that are serving in our community.

We also lift up to you our imperfect denomination of the United Methodist Church especially as a special appointed commission struggles and debates over the issues of human sexuality.  Grant the people who are serving on this denominational commission wisdom, understanding, and discernment so that they will be able to recommend a way forward for our denomination regarding these important issues facing the church.

Whenever we stumble in being the church you are calling us to be, remind us that we are always at our best when we rely on the presence of the Risen Christ in all that we do and say.

It is in his name that we offer the prayer that he taught us to pray together saying, “Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Sermon (May 7) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "The Perfect Church"

     With Mothers’ Day just seven days away, I thought you might be interested in some cards that children have made for their mothers.  These cards are so touching and they really pull at your heart strings.

     Here’s the first card. You’ll notice that Brendan made this and he drew a heart on it. It says, “Thank you mom for making me food so I don’t die.”  Wow, that is so beautifully said. It really warms your heart to read something like this. Thank you, Brendan, for that heart-felt expression of love for your mom. Very touching.

     Here’s another Mother’s Day card. This one says,
     “Mom, I love you more than rainbows and beautiful blue skies. I love you more than buttercups and wings of the butterflies. I love you more than cow.”
     Kind of an interesting ending, don’t you think? And what a beautiful picture of a cow. I’m sure that this mother will treasure this for a very long time.

     This third Mother’s Day card was made by a child who is obviously concerned about the environment and knows the importance of recycling. Here’s the card. 
     Notice that this child has creatively taken a Hallmark First Communion card for a boy and transformed it into a Mother’s Day card. This was no easy task.
     “For you” (not nephew, that’s now crossed out) “For you, ‘mum’ at” (not “First Communion,” that has been crossed out and now subtly replaced with “Mother’s Day.”)
     “For you, mum, at Mother’s Day. A First Mother’s Day wish for a day that’s filled with joy as Jesus comes into the heart of such a” (not ‘a special boy,’ but now replaced with the word, ‘mom.’) Wow, that is just beautiful.

     Here’s another Mother’s Day card. They just get better and better, don’t they?
     “To mum, for your birthday” (Oops, I wrote the wrong thing and I don’t have an eraser so I’ll just cross that out and put the words, ‘Mother’s Day.’)
     This last line kind of makes up for the previous mistake. “I’m giving you an award.” My guess is that this mother definitely deserves an award.

     This next Mother’s Day card is short and very emphatic. “Mommy, I love u sometimes!!!!!!!” In case you’re curious, there are seven exclamation points. Seven!!!!!!!

     Some mother’s day cards don’t just share heart felt feelings but they also offer back handed compliments in a very loving way, like this next card.
     “Thank you mom for being wonderful, caring and not making your meat loaf anymore.”
     Sometimes, we need to thank the ones we love for the things they don’t do.

     But let me end with a more positive card that will warm your heart. This last card says, “I love you mom!! Lots of love. PS – I really, really, really, love you.”
     This child has mastered the art of the PS, and knows the literary technique of repetition.
     I like these Mother’s Day cards and I share these with you because they remind us that the real world of family and relationships do not always match our expectations. There’s no such thing as a perfect relationship or a perfect marriage or a perfect family.
     We all have our flaws, our idiosyncrasies, and our shortcomings. Whenever you bring people together to form a community, it can be a wonderful thing, but it can also be a little chaotic, a bit messy and to varying degrees, dysfunctional.
     This is why I’m a little suspicious of our Acts scripture reading this morning, which offers this idyllic picture of the early church. This church is a preacher’s dream.
     The flock is hanging on every word of the sermon, they are in constant prayer, they are having record offerings, and they are running out of new member certificates. Even their potlucks are out of this world. Norman Rockwell would have loved to paint a church such as this.
     Now, you know as well as I do, that any time you bring a bunch of people together from different walks of life that it will not always be smooth sailing. Rarely do these gatherings live up to our expectations.
     Just think about something as simple as a family gathering. As wonderful as those get-togethers can be, you still have to suffer through those awkward moments. The uncle who tells inappropriate jokes, the two cousins who refuse to speak to each other, the aunt who insists on asking why her niece still isn’t married, the grandfather who tells way too many stories, and the Great Aunt who is always unnecessarily critical of the food people brought.
     So what do we make of a scripture like this which only tells us of all the good things the church was doing? Is there not one skeleton in this church’s closet? Is this Book of Acts church for real?
     Well, in case you’re worried that Luke is giving us a very slanted and biased view of the early church, remember that this is only the beginning of the church’s story. There are still twenty-six chapters left in this book.  Just wait until you get to chapter five when Luke tells us about some folks dropping dead in their pew because they had lied about their annual pledge.
     Let’s be honest. Sometimes we feel let down by the church. Somebody does something or says something that is hurtful. We don’t always agree with a decision that has been made.
     Several years ago, a church member who was upset over a decision that had been made in the church told me that he was going to withhold his church donation because he was so mad.
     After several minutes of listening to his protest, I responded, “Bill, I can’t even begin to tell you the number of times that I have wanted to do the exact same thing, but then I realized that if everybody acted on that impulse, nobody would give a single cent to the church or to any other organization for that matter.”          
     This scripture reading from Acts has led me to reflect on what the church has meant to me over all these years. Yes, I can think of times that I would rather forget but there is no denying that the church, even with all of its imperfections has been a tremendous blessing in my life.
     The church that baptized me as an infant is the church that reminded me again and again that God loved me and had a purpose for my life. Whenever I felt discouraged or down on myself, it was the church that reminded me that I was a child of God.
    It’s the church that helped me work through times of grief and disappointment.
     It was the church that taught me the stories of the Bible, helped answer questions about my faith, and guided me in discovering my spiritual gifts and how to use those gifts in ministry. It’s the church that has shown me what a difference our faith can make when we serve in local and global outreach.
     It’s the church that inspires me to be the person God has called me to be. It’s the church that gives me opportunities to worship and praise the one who has created me. It’s the church that reminds me that faith is meant to be lived in community rather than in isolation.
     It’s the church that will never let me forget that our faith is meant to be filled with joy even during the most challenging of times. I’m sure you can add your own thoughts on what the church means to you.
     A pastor offers these thoughts on what the church means to him. He says that both of his parents were alcoholics and both died very tragically. They lived from day to day in a volatile world of financial uncertainty and that’s when the church came a knock’n.
     The local Methodist church showed up with food, clothes, and most of all, with kindness. They welcomed him into their fellowship. They included him in the choir because he loved to sing. 
     They said he was important to them. Even though he felt that he had nothing to offer in return, that wasn’t the important thing. They introduced a new type of economy to him, an economy that was based on God’s grace and unconditional love. 
     All he knew was that he was one lost young fellow, and these good people put the arms of Jesus around his life and sent him in a new direction of hope and meaning and purpose. Because of the church, he found Jesus or Jesus found him and his life has forever changed.
     The next time you are tempted to give up on the church or read a passage like this from the Book of Acts and dismiss it as too idealistic, remember that the Risen Christ lives at the very center of this community that we call the church. If you want to experience Jesus, this is the place to meet him, even with all of the church’s imperfections and idiosyncrasies.
     I think this is why someone wrote this poem, called, “The Perfect Church.”
I think that I will never see
A church that's all it ought to be
A church that has no empty pews
A church where people never get the blues
A church whose music is always great
A church where people are never late

Such perfect churches there may be
But none of them are known to me
If you could find the perfect church
Without one fault or smear
For goodness sake, don't join that church
You'll spoil the atmosphere

It you should find the perfect church
Then don't you even dare
To tread upon such holy ground
You wouldn't fit in there
But since no perfect church exists
Where people never sin
Then let's stop looking for that church
And love the one we’re in.
     Did you know that there actually is a perfect church? There is. It’s located in Atlanta, Georgia. The actual name of this church is “The Perfect Church.” That’s a pretty bold name for a church, don’t you think?  I don’t know if it is really perfect, but they say they are.
     Luke describes what that early church was like. It was a church with great bible studies, caring fellowship, inspiring worship, all kinds of outreach ministries, overflowing offering plates, and a growing membership.
     But for Luke, it’s not all of those wonderful things that made it perfect. Read this passage of scripture in context and you’ll see that what made it perfect was that the Risen Christ was at the very center of their life together. This is what made it a perfect church.

     And if that’s what it means to be a perfect church, than guess what? Athens First UMC is a perfect church.
     Athens First UMC is a perfect church.
     There I said it.
     Now, just don’t let it go to your head.

The Perfect Church
Small Group Questions
Acts 2:42-47
May 7, 2017

Pastor Robert shared several ways that the church has been a blessing in his life. The church taught him the stories of the bible, it has provided him with guidance in facing challenges, it helped him through times of grief and disappointment, and it has reminded him over and over again of how much God loves us.

Share some specific ways that the church has been a blessing in your life.

Luke offers a very glowing description of the early church. He tells us about all the great teaching, meals, prayer ministry, excitement over how God was working through them, generosity, unity among the members, worship together, small groups, and growth in membership.

Which of these positive ministries of the early church do you see in our church?

At first glance, it would appear that it was all of the awesome ministries that made the early church seem like "the perfect church." Looking at the bigger context of the Book of Acts, the main reason why it was perfect was because the Risen Christ was at the very center of their life together. The awesome ministries that we see from our Acts scripture passage were happening because of the presence of the Risen Christ working through the congregation.

In what ways can our church and we as individuals acknowledge and celebrate the presence of the Risen Christ so that we can continue to be the people that God is calling us to be?