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


Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary - October 26


Sermon (October 26) - "Living Generously: Sowing Seeds"

Galatians 6:1-10

Along with the two Thessalonian letters, these three letters were most likely the first letters that Paul wrote to the several churches he had founded.

Preachers typically don't enjoy talking about money and somehow the Apostle Paul has figured out a way to talk about money without using the word, "money." Instead, he uses the image of reaping and sowing. The topic of giving in the church is important because money is what helps fuel the ministries and outreach of the church.

Paul contrasts "sowing to the spirit" with "sowing to the flesh." The first leads to eternal blessings and the other is only for temporary gain.

The phrase "do good to everybody" is Paul's way of encouraging the congregation to live generously.

Matthew 13:31-46

These parables of Jesus remind us that God's kingdom is often gradual rather than instantaneous. This involves being patient for positive results while gradually sowing seeds of God's love and hope.

The farmer has to wait for the harvest. The birds have to wait for the tiny mustard seed to grow into a large shrub. The woman baking bread must wait for the leaven to grow.

Do you ever get impatient when you do good for others or when you serve in the church and you're not seeing the results you want to see? Jesus is telling us to be patient and to have faith that the seeds of hope and love that we are planting today will one day lead to a harvest.


[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.]

Lancaster First UMC - Another Old Photo (1961)


One of our staff members recently stumbled upon this 1961 photo of a church staff Christmas party. Rev. George Herd who served as pastor here at First UMC from 1946 to 1976 is at the top left. His wife is sitting in front of him. They are at Rising House.

I love these old photos to remind us of those who have gone before us!

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Sunday Worship Preview - October 26


Sunday, October 26 - (9:00 am & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, October 29  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - 20th Sunday After Pentecost & Living Generously Church-Wide Focus

Scripture - Galatians 6:1-10 & Matthew 13:31-46 

Sermon "Living Generously: Sowing Seeds"

Theme - Living generously involves a system test. Do we embrace God's system for multiplying and compounding God's kingdom? To live generously means to sow the seeds of our faith.

Sermon (October 19) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Living Generously: Trust Issues"


      Last Sunday, we handed out a plastic spoon to each person who was here in church. Those plastic spoons were to remind us to serve in three different ways this past week.

     Many of you shared how God prompted you to serve. These stories have been really inspiring.
     One of you mentioned that immediately after worship last Sunday after you received your spoon, God prompted you and your husband to serve. While your husband changed your neighbor’s smoke detector battery, you took coffee and breakfast to a friend at a nursing home.
     All week long, I kept thinking, “How am I going to fulfill the spoon challenge?”  As I went through the week, I discovered that opportunities will present themselves if only we will be open to them.
     For example, this past week, I was in the drive-thru lane at a fast food restaurant. A mini-van got in line behind me.
     As I sat there just waiting to place my order, it was like God was saying, “Pay for the person behind you.” I remember thinking, “Lord, I don’t get paid for another two days. And what if that van is filled with a bunch of kids? This could be expensive.”
     As these thoughts were going through my head, it was becoming more and more apparent that this was something God wanted me to do. So when I finally pull up to the window to pay for my order, I say, “Here’s the money for my order and I also want to pay for the van behind me.”
     This worker had a surprise look on his face and he tells me, “OK, that will be another $3.10.” I went, “Yes!!” And this guy just laughed. I told him, “Just tell the person behind me, “God bless you from First United Methodist Church.”
     You should have seen the smile on this guy’s face. It made him feel good that people are willing to do nice things. So here’s the deal. That was the best $3.10 I have ever spent in my life!
     God is good! Amen? Amen!


     This morning, we continue our “Living Generously” church-wide focus by focusing on trust issues. Do you have trust issues? I think we all have trust issues to varying degrees.
     Proverbs is considered one of the Wisdom books in the Old Testament. In our Proverbs reading for this morning, it tells us that “The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run into it and are safe.”
     In the ancient world, a strong tower was a central place located in a particular territory or city where people could go if they felt threatened. It was a defensible place of protection and security.
     This past spring, the tornado warning siren went off during one of our Wednesday Fellowship Dinners out at our Crossroads facility. When the sirens started, we invited everyone to go to one of the tornado shelter areas in the building. Fortunately, there were no tornados that night, but it was comforting to know that we had these designated places for safety.
     Where do you go when you feel threatened by the storms of life? That’s a really good question because all of us experience challenging times from time to time.
     Over the past few weeks, we have been watching a video series revolving around Frank Donovan and his family. In the episode that we are about to watch, Frank’s sense of security is challenged.
     Even though Frank is extremely wealthy and has more resources than many of us combined, in today’s episode, he comes face to face with a challenge that is beyond what he can control. He is in need of a strong tower of protection in his life. Let’s watch and see how Frank responds.
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[Watch this video which is the fourth of five videos telling the story of the  Frank Donovan family. Use the password, rhemedia to access the video.]
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      Can you relate to Frank? Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you felt helpless and without any hope? While it was good that Frank wanted to take care of his family financially, he had forgotten the most important source of his protection. That source is God.


      A couple of years ago, I shared the story of Bob Buford. Bob had made a fortune in the TV cable business.  One January evening in 1987, his brother called him to let him know that Bob’s son, Ross, along with two of Ross’s friends had attempted to swim the Rio Grande River.

     “I think we have serious trouble,” his brother told him. “Ross is missing in the Rio Grande.” He told him that the Texas Rangers were coordinating the search for Ross.
     And so Bob flew down to the Rio Grande Valley to join in the search, arriving by daybreak the next morning. Because of his substantial wealth, Bob was able to hire and pay for extra airplanes, helicopters, boats, trackers with dogs, anything money could buy.
     By three o’clock in the afternoon, Bob looked into the eyes of one of the trackers and knew that he would never see his son, Ross again. He remembers walking along a limestone bluff perhaps two hundred feet above the muddy and treacherous river, as frightened as he had ever felt.
     He thought to himself, “Here’s something you can’t dream your way out of. Here’s something you can’t think your way out of, buy your way out of, or work your way out of. This is,” he thought “something you can only trust your way out of.”
     And then he prayed, “Dear God, somehow, give me the ability to accept and absorb whatever grace people might bring to me at this terrible time.”
     As the search for Ross continued, God’s grace surrounded Bob. The search team ended up finding his son four months later about ten miles down the river.
     As horrifying and sad as this experience was, Bob also experienced the gift of God’s grace and in ways that he had never experienced. Close and silent embraces from friends, letters and phone calls of concern and empathy, and gifts of meals prepared and brought to his home were much needed signs of God’s love.
     In that moment when Bob was at a loss for what do do, God became a strong tower for him during the most difficult time of his life. Even with all of his wealth and fortune, that was nothing in comparison to the sure foundation of God that was provided Bob and his family in their darkest hour.


     In our movie, Frank Donovan was faced with a challenging time as he waited to hear the news about his wife who was in a coma. Re helped Frank to see that even though Frank was feeling helpless in that moment, that God was there for him. God was his strong tower in that time of great need.
     I think that Re provided Frank with three important things in his time of great need.
     The first thing that Re showed Frank is to trust that the Lord is our strong tower. Today’s story began with Frank being frustrated in his work on trying to develop a trust fund. Re points out that Frank doesn’t just have issues with his trusts. He also has issues with trust.
     Re shared about the time when his wife had cancer and how that led him to allow the Lord to be his strong tower. That’s what we can do for each other. We can share with each other how God has been a tower of strength in our lives during times of adversity.
     Our Proverbs reading tells us that the Lord is our strong tower. That’s the first important point.
     The second thing that Re helped Frank to see is to trust in God’s perspective. When Re went to the top floor of the hospital to look out over the city, it helped put Frank’s work and focus on money in perspective. Sometimes, we need that bigger perspective to remember that God is so much bigger than the things that we face in our everyday lives.
     The tower that we read about in the Book of Proverbs doesn’t just provide something to hide behind. It also provides a perspective to help us see the bigger picture. What bigger picture is God helping us to see during our five-week focus on what it means to live generously?
     And here’s this third thing that Re helped Frank to see from today’s episode. Re helped Frank to trust that God can help something good come out of a bad situation.
     God doesn’t cause bad things to happen, but God does provide good to come out of the bad things that happen. We might not see it right away, but this is part of our faith. In the Book of Romans, the Apostle Paul writes, “We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose.”
     In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus is preparing his disciples for when he would be leaving them. He comforts them with these words. “Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid.”
     This scripture is often read at funerals to help family members know that God is offering his peace as they go through that difficult time. God’s peace is a gift that is always available to us.
     This week, I invite us to think about the walls that we create to provide us with protection and security. Instead of focusing on creating more walls to protect what we have, let’s think more about placing our trust in the Lord who is our strong tower.
     Many of us will be receiving a mailing in the next day or two that will include a financial estimate of giving card for us to complete and bring with us to church next Sunday. This estimate of giving card is one of those ways that we can put our focus on the Lord as our strong tower rather than on the walls that we create to protect what we have.
       As we consider our financial gift to God and the church for our upcoming year, I leave us with something that Re said to Frank in today’s video. Frank asked Re a really important question while they were together overlooking the city. Frank asked how he will be able to tell the difference between building imaginary walls and being smart with his money. Re gave him this answer. “Maybe when you stop thinking of it as your money.”
     I think that’s the whole point of our five-week focus. If we truly want to live generously, then we need to remember that everything we have belongs to God anyway.

     If God is truly our strong tower, than we can certainly trust him by being generous in our giving.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Dave's Deep Thoughts - A "Grand" Birthday



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.


Most people wish for a happy birthday.
I would have to call my 2014 birthday grand.
Baby, was it grand!

It was 1979 when I graduated with a music degree
from undergraduate school.
When I returned to my parent’s home after graduation,
there in the family room was a brand new studio piano complete with a bow.

It wasn’t just any piano…
It was a piano of one of my favorite brands.
It was an amazing graduation gift,
one that would do me well for many years to come.

It was also an extravagant gift.
My parents were of modest means.
We were a farming family with 4 children.
This gift was a budget buster.

It was also a well thought out gift.
I did not normally have conversations with my parents
regarding piano brands.
But they did their research.
With the help of my high school piano teacher,
they purchased a piano that I would have picked.

I remember my parents saying,
We know it’s not a grand piano,
but we hope this will do until you are able to get one.”
Typical response from parents who wanted the best for their children.

For 35 years, that piano has followed me to many different places.
It has been used in many recitals,
in teaching many private lessons,
and in countless hours of personal pleasure.
It has served me well.

Now that both parents have left this life,
it has been a constant reminder of the love they had for me.

Last week, I received a letter from a local college.
They were having a piano sale.
All pianos in their music department needed to be sold.
All less than one year old.
All at very favorable prices.
And they were the same brand that I loved.
I was being invited to their private sale.

On a whim and
remembering my parent’s comment from 35 years ago,
I decided to check it out.

The pianos had been moved to the instrumental hall.
The school had 57 pianos to sell.

I was about to celebrate my 57th birthday the next day,
and I was born in 1957.

Suddenly, it didn’t seem like a whim any more.
I felt my parent’s presence with me in the instrumental hall,
much like I did 35 years ago in the family room after graduation.
  
Within minutes, 52 pianos were eliminated from consideration.
5 pianos remained.

I played all types of pieces to test the instruments…..
Bach Inventions, Brahms Rhapsodies, Debussy Arabesques,
Mozart Sonatas…….even some Joplin Ragtime.

An hour later,
(if I had looked at my watch, it probably would have had been exactly 57 minutes)
I knew which piano was to be mine.

I realize that I have been blessed with the type of parents that I had.
I had parents that disciplined me,
that raised me to appreciate what I had been given,
that taught me to value people more than things,
and to love God more than this world.

Not everyone is given that.
When you are given parents like that,
you realize that their influence is just as great,
if not greater when they are gone.

In their absence,
I have daily sensed their presence even more in my life.

And so, on my 57th birthday,
the piano movers brought a baby grand,
complete with a birthday bow, into my home.

Because of my parents
my home is even more filled with music and joy.

I believe that is how God intends it to be.
It is not His intention to abandon us,
nor to leave us to figure life out on our own,
nor to leave us without His joy and peace.

We have been given the written Word,
we have been given the incarnate Word in Jesus,
and we have been given the indwelling Word in the Holy Spirit….

These things I have spoken to you, While I am still with you.
But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send
in my name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance
all that I have said to you. Peace I leave with you;
my peace I give to you, not as the world gives do I give to you.
Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
                                                                           John 14:25-26

What is true for all who claim Him…….

is that no one is left bereft of love,
no one is abandoned,
no one is left to wander through life alone,
no one is left without peace,
and no one is left without the music of life.

No one.

And for the believer,
that is a grandest gift of all,
complete with the biggest bow.

Oh, the last two digits in the cost of the piano…

57 of course.