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

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Living Generously Small Groups In Full Swing

[Small groups meeting together last night at our Crossroads facility to view the 1st week video of Living Generously. The groups then met separately to continue their discussions and time of prayer.]

Our Living Generously church-wide focus began this past Sunday (September 28.) Some of our Living Generously small groups met last evening (see above picture) as part of our Wednesday Fellowship program at our Crossroads facility. The groups met together for the first few minutes to watch the video for the first week of the series. After the video, we broke into our smaller groups for further discussion and prayer.

[A scene from the first Living Generously video shown at the September 28 worship services. Frank Donovan is consulting with his financial advisor.]

Other small groups are meeting at other times during the week and our adult Sunday School classes are also focusing on the Living Generously theme during these five weeks. Small group participants books are available along with a video presentation based on the previous Sunday's theme.

It's also prompting people to think how God is calling us to be a blessing to others by living generously.

We are already hearing people share how this Living Generously series is helping them see signs of God's generosity throughout our day to day living. It's also prompting people to think how God is calling us to be a blessing to others by living generously.

If you would like to become part of a Living Generously small group, there's still time to sign up. Contact our Discipleship Director, Dan Kemp at dankemp@lancasterfumc.org for more information or you can simply sign up at the information table next to the desk in our church parlor.

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Taking Flight: 1,000 Acts of Kindness

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, it only takes a moment.
Sometimes, it only takes a spark,
and sometimes, it only takes an idiot.

The destination was Kansas City,
but I had a connecting flight through Chicago.
My return trip home would bring me back through windy city.

It was in Kansas City that I heard the news…..
someone had deliberately set fire to a building
near the air traffic control tower in Chicago,
virtually shutting down the second busiest airport in the US.

Having two days remaining in my trip,
I assumed that things would be cleared up by my return.

Not really.

I got back to my hotel fairly late
the night before my return.
I checked my flight status on line.

Connecting flight to Chicago…..


This is not news that anyone wants to hear in the wee hours of the night.
I frantically called the  800 number that was listed.

Amazingly, I was able to talk with a real human being right away.
I explained my flight plight to her.
She responded, “Thank you for flying our friendly skies.
The fire at the Chicago airport
has affected virtually every airport in the country.
Sir, I am happy to tell you that we have been able
to book you on a direct flight to Reagan National in Washington DC”

“But my car is sitting in Baltimore” I replied.

“Sir, I am happy to let you know that there is a shuttle service
between the two airports. You can reserve a space online.
And thank you once again for flying our friendly skies.”

At this time of night, I was feeling neither happy nor friendly.
The online booking site for the shuttle service was so overwhelmed
that I was not able to get on.
The site suggested that I call at 6am to make a reservation.

Decision time.
Do I wait until 6am and run the risk of the shuttle being full,
or I do I call back and find another way to get to Baltimore?

I call the airline back.
This time, the oh so happy agent was not available.
In fact, no happy agents were available for the next 3 hours.
But if I left my name and number, they would return my call.

The phone wakes me out of my deep slumber.
Thank you for flying our friendly skies.
How may I help you?”

I had several suggestions
starting with locking up the arsonist for life.

In a stupor reserved for those awakened out of a deep sleep,
I explained my dilemma.
“Sir, I am happy to tell you, that I can get you to
your destination via a connecting flight through Dallas.
You will however arrive in Baltimore 4 hours later than your original return time.”

Relieved that my agent was so happy,
I fell back to sleep for a couple of hours.

As I was waiting in line at the Kansas City airport,
I looked at the departing flights board.
Flight #1106 was nowhere to be found.

The ticketing agent happily told me that this flight was for tomorrow, not today.
I have my “about to cry” look that is very useful from time to time.
Moved to either compassion or disgust, the agent found another flight,
also going through Dallas, to get home.

The flight to Dallas has been put on delay……
something about a fire at the Chicago airport.

Two hours behind schedule, we board the plane.

The plane is still on the runway.
Something about a minor mechanical issue.
I’m not sure that anything is minor at 13,000 feet.

We take off.
Everyone is concerned about making connecting flights.
I did the math, I would make it just in time.

We land in Dallas.
The rush of passengers trying to get off the plane
resembles the running of the bulls in Pamplona.

Like OJ hurdling every airport obstacle,
I reach my boarding gate…..


Something about a fire at the Chicago airport. 

4pm…… delay    5pm……..delay    6pm…….delay

We are told we are ready to board the flight to Baltimore.

All buckled in in row 19 and my seat is in the upright position.
There are three infants located in rows 18, 19 and 20.

All buckled in and my seat is still in the upright position.
Something about a button on the pilot’s control panel not working
Baby # 1 is crying.   Baby #2 wants to cry.
And Baby #3 wants to play with my hair.

The button is now working.
All three babies are now crying at the news.

During the three hour flight,
I learned several things…….
1)     It is possible for a baby to cry non-stop for several hours.
2)     Always buy a sandwich before boarding, because airlines don’t serve meals anymore.
3)     Always bring ear plugs when flying.
4)     Wearing a cap during a flight can help keep baby food out of your hair.
5)    on any given day, one person can have a huge impact on many lives.

There were thousands across the country who were impacted by that idiot in Chicago.
That’s the power that each of us possesses, either for good or for bad.

During my conference,
I was challenged to do 1,000 acts of kindness during the next year.
I carry a coin in my pocket to remind me.
With each act, I switch the coin from pocket to pocket.
Three acts a day………Left pocket, right pocket, left pocket by the end of the day.

Some acts are easy….opening the door for someone.
Others take more …….offering a ride to someone when it’s not on the way.

I offer this challenge to you
1 year   1,000 acts of kindness.

If one person can bring such hardship
imagine what many can do for good.

We live in a most unkind world.
You might not be able to change the world,
but you can change the world for a few.
And most of all, it will likely change you.

It only takes a moment,
and a willing heart.

Now get started.
Act of kindness #1
Does anyone have some shampoo?

Therefore, just as through one man sin entered the world,
and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned,

For by it, the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one,
much more, those who receive the abundance of grace,
and the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ.
                                                                                                         Romans 5: 12, 17

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary - October 5

Sermon (October 5) - "Living Generously: Who Is the Boss?"

II Corinthians 8:1-7

The Apostle Paul wrote this letter which has a very different tone from his first letter to the Corinthians. Since that first letter, a very difficult problem had emerged in the church and Paul addresses it in this new letter. The letter ends on a positive note of the good news of our faith in Jesus Christ.

Paul is hoping that the church in Corinth will set aside money for a special offering that will benefit the impoverished church in Jerusalem. He briefly wrote about this special offering in his first letter to them (I Corinthians 16:1-4.) This offering will not only help the church in Jerusalem but it will also be an expression of unity between a Gentile Church (the Corinthian Church) and a Jewish Church (the Jerusalem Church.)

Even though this offering will do much good for the kingdom of God both in practicality (helping a church suffering through a time of famine) and symbolically (expressing unity between Gentiles & Jewish Christians,) there are also obstacles and challenges to overcome.

Verse 6 - Instead of using the word, "money" in referring to this special offering, Paul uses the word, "grace."Knowing that money could become a tricky topic with the Corinthians, Paul talks instead about this "work of grace."

By referring to the collection of the special offering as "grace," Paul is reminding the Corinthians that everything they do is to be an expression of the unconditional love of God through Jesus Christ. Paul refers to the generosity of the Macedonian Churches who are much poorer than the Corinthian Church and yet they had given a substantial gift to this offering. Paul is hinting that if these poorer churches could give so generously, certainly the Corinthian Church would be able to do even more.

Matthew 6:19-24

This is a passage about priorities and having God as our very first priority.

In Jesus' day, when people fasted, they would indicate this by letting down their hair and putting ashes on their face. Jesus encourages a different approach, where we don't do religious acts just to be noticed by others. We should do these things for God alone.

In establishing the right priority, Jesus refers to treasure and a lamp. The treasure refers to the things that we are doing in the here and now. The lamp refers to keeping our eyes on God so that we can go in the right direction.

Jesus concludes by referring to not being able to serve two masters. Jesus wants us to recognize that money can easily become a god that would keep us from keeping the true God first in our lives.

[Note: The resources used for these scripture reading commentaries are based on the Everyone series by NT Wright, Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary, The Wesley Study Bible, and the “Montreal-Anglican”lectionary commentaries.]

Monday, September 29, 2014

A Real Life "Living Generously" Story - Day #2 of Five-Week Spiritual Focus

So, I guess it doesn't take long for God to provide an opportunity to practice what was preached the previous day in worship. This opportunity occurred exactly 24 hours after we sung the last song in worship yesterday.

A family of five children, ages 4 months old to 16 years old stopped by our church today. They left their home in Columbus because they live next to a drug house and there was a murder in their neighborhood. For the past week, they have been living out of their van and looking for shelter. Our shelters in Lancaster are currently full.

Some of our church staff met the family at a gas station and put $40 of gas in their van so that they will be able to continue driving to another town where they will hopefully be able to live with an uncle. With the help of today's Monday lunch crew, we were also able to give them some food and table settings.

As one staff member shared, "They are certainly at rock bottom." Let's pray for this family as they seek to find a new place to stay where they can be safe and get back on their feet again.

Join us this upcoming Sunday as we continue our "Living Generously" church-wide focus. Let's continue to be open to the opportunities where God may be calling us to live generously and be a blessing to others.

See you Sunday!

Sunday, September 28, 2014

Sunday Worship Preview - October 5

Sunday, October 5 - (9:00 am & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, October 8  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - 17th Sunday After Pentecost; World Communion Sunday; Holy Communion; & Living Generously Church-Wide Focus

Scripture - II Corinthians 8:1-7 & Matthew 6:19-24

Sermon "Living Generously: Who Is the Boss?"

Theme - Living generously means that we empty ourselves so that we can be freed to serve God and others. True giving comes from our essence and just just from our excess. 

Sermon (September 28) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Living Generously: First & Best"

[The sermon begins with this video introducing us to the fictional Frank Donovan family. Use the password, rhemedia to access the video.]

     So, I’m wondering. How many of us like stinky sheep? I don’t know of too many people who like stinky sheep.
     This seven-minute video that we watched together is just the first part of a five-part story about Frank Donovan. I don’t know about you, but I can identify a little bit with Frank in the movie. Like Frank, I find myself struggling in what it means to be generous.
     Did you notice Frank’s dejected look when his wife mentioned that they would be hosting a dinner gathering to raise support for a missionary family who had returned home from the Philippines? Frank felt like they had already helped this family enough by sending a check to support them in their ministry. This family was now in need of additional assistance since they weren’t able to bring their belongings with them.
      You get the impression that Frank is more concerned with getting ahead in life more than he is with the needs of this family who was in need of some support. Frank’s heart just wasn’t in the right place.
     When you’re heart isn’t in the right place, have you ever noticed how easy it can be to offer our leftovers? Instead of giving this family his best, he settled for searching through a drawer and he found a dusty old watch that he was going to give to this family.

     When his son decided to give his favorite toy away which was the antique vintage plane, do you remember how Frank put that old watch back in his pocket? He was embarrassed that he was about to give away an old watch when his son was willing to give away a very special toy of his, his favorite toy.
     If I have to admit it, there are times that I don’t want to offer my best either. My heart isn’t always in the right place. 

     I heard about a church that came to the realization that they were not offering their best gifts to help people in need. This church had an annual toy drive each year and they gave the toys that were collected to the needy families in their community.    
     One of the church members noticed a dirty old doll that had been given to the church to give away. This old doll had stains on it and it was missing an eye. As they looked at some of the other worn out and broken toys that had been given that year to give away, they decided that this just wasn’t good enough. God expected better. They decided they would do things differently.
     They discontinued the used toy-drive and for Christmas that year and they asked each family in the congregation to adopt a needy family for Christmas. Instead of giving them toys and clothes that the people in the church didn’t want anymore, they were to buy their adopted family brand new gifts.
     The pastor was enthusiastic about this new approach and he encouraged the congregation to offer their best to help others. His wife went Christmas shopping one day for the family that they were assigned to help.
     When she came home, she showed her husband the electronic toys, the Nike shoes, and the Gap clothes that she had purchased for their Christmas family. He said, “Why did you shop in those stores? You could have purchased cheaper things in the less expensive stores.”
     She responded, “But you told us in church to buy things that we would buy for our own families. And these are the places where we shop.”
     This pastor was speechless because his wife was right. Why shouldn’t they treat others in the same way they treat their own children? Isn’t that would Jesus calls us to do, to offer our very best?
     Sometimes we want to offer God our stinky sheep, but God calls us to offer our finest sheep. When our hearts want to give God our best, we will offer our very best to others as well.
     In our Gospel reading, one of the religious leaders asked Jesus which one of the commandments is the greatest. Without any hesitation, Jesus answered by saying,    
     “’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
     I think that one of the reasons Jesus cited these two commandments was because they help us to remember to give God our very best. I never really noticed this before, but did you hear the word, “all” mentioned over and over again?
     We are to love God with all of our heart, with all of our soul, and with all of our mind. The word, “all” really makes a difference in living out our faith. Our faith means more to us when we offer to God and to others our very best.
     I think that this is why Re, the gardener is always smiling in the video. Re has learned what it means to give his all. When Frank’s son asked Re why he was taking a plant to give to the missionary family, Re said that it wasn’t something he had to do. It was something that he wanted to do.
     Living generously is really a matter of the heart. It’s something that we do because we want to give our very best to God and to others.

     When we think of living generously, we often first think about money, but that’s only one part of what it means to live generously. Our video began with Frank meeting with his financial advisor.
     Frank and his advisor were working on a financial plan that would help him to cover all of his expenses for the rest of his life. Did you notice that Frank never talked about giving any money away? When his financial advisor said something about charitable giving, Frank told him that could wait for another day.
     It’s important to save money for colleges costs, for an emergency fund, and for retirement, but it’s also important to remember that the financial gifts we have really belong to God. If we are to love God with all of our heart, all of our soul, and with all of our mind, that will include how we use our money to bless others.
     The dictionary defines the word, “generous” as “showing a readiness to give more of something than is strictly necessary or expected.”
     Being generous doesn’t just include how we manage our money. It also includes our time and our service.
     One of our church members shared with me a time when she received a generous gift from some folks in our church. It wasn’t money that she received. It was the gift of time.
     This past October, her father passed away and the visitation for the funeral was held in Columbus. What a surprise it was when she was at the visitation and looked up and noticed the people from her small group bible study standing there to offer their support and love.
     She said that it wasn’t until that moment, that she realized how important it is for people to offer their gift of time. She said, “I am so blessed to have my church family!”
     Another member of our church shared that she received the gift of prayer from a nurse in a doctor’s office during a family crisis. She can still feel her hand holding her hand as she prayed for her and for her son.
     Those moments when we are on the receiving line of generosity are special moments. Generosity reminds us of just how much God loves and cares for us.
     I have a friend who told me about a time when her car broke down and the repair was going to be more than she could afford at the time. She and her husband prayed about how they were going to handle this situation since she needed a car for work.
     She said, “Robert, you won’t believe this but somebody heard about my situation and donated a car to me. It was a nice car, too. It was an answer to prayer. One day, I walked out the front door of our home, and there it was in the driveway.”
     I said, “Diane, What an incredible answer to prayer!” She said, “But that’s not the end of the story. Around that same time, there was somebody in my small group who also needed a car, even more than I did at the time. My husband thought about it and prayed about it and we decided that we should give the car to her.”
     She said that it was wonderful to see what a blessing that car was for this woman who desperately needed a car. And so I said, “But what about you? How did you manage without a car?”  And she said, “Well, my husband and I prayed some more, and somehow we were able to put some money together and have my car repaired.”
     As I think about this woman’s story, even the first part of her story would be an incredible answer to prayer. Someone generously provided a car for her just when she needed it.
     The bigger miracle in this story was in how the generosity of one person led to even more generosity where two people ended up being blessed with cars. When we live generously, there is a ripple effect of God’s grace that touches more and more people. When we give the best we have to be a blessing to others, more people experience God’s grace and love.
     Our video ended with Frank standing in front of his house thinking about his son who had just given his favorite toy to a boy who needed it more than he did.  As we go through our week, I want us to also spend time thinking about whether or not we are offering our best gifts to God and to others.
     This is a great question to think about in your Sunday School class or small group. What we offer to God reflects what’s in our heart.

     But this is just the beginning. God has more in store for Frank. We’re going to continue to hear about Frank’s journey next Sunday in a court case you won’t want to miss.

     May God bless each of us as we seek to live generously.