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

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Dave's Deep Thoughts - When You're In the No Fly Zone

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.

It has been said “If everyone would start the day off singing,
just think how much happier the world would be.”

In my case, I just doubled the joy.

Only wedding singers will understand this.
There is something about singing at a wedding
that can be very frustrating.

Maybe it’s because it is a captive audience,
most of whom do not come to hear the singer.

While singing pre-service music for weddings,
I have seen people roll their eyes,
take a nap,
turn their heads to see who was in attendance,
and worst of all,
carry on loud conversations.

It’s enough to make this troubadour feel insignificant,
like the guy dressed like the Statue of Liberty  on the sidewalk
trying in vain to get you to come inside to do your taxes.

Recently I was asked to sing at a wedding,
a wedding where I knew many of the people.
I was hoping because of familiarity, things would be different.

I picked out my best suit,
ironed my shirt……
I might have even combed my hair.

It was an unusual space in which to sing.
The pianist was in the rear of the sanctuary
which placed her about 70 feet away from me.

I had two songs to sing.
I sang them with great expression
as I sought to make eye contact with everyone in the audience.

It was working.
People were not distracted.
They were focused.
Many, including people I did not know, smiled at me.

I returned to the rear of the sanctuary
and sat down next to the pianist.

“I thought that went really well,’” I said.

Without hesitation, she said,
“Your fly is down.”

My sense of fulfillment popped 
like a balloon in a pin factory.

“Do you think anyone noticed?” I asked.
She only glanced at me.
Sometimes words are just not necessary.

Sitting in embarrassment through the “I do’s” was bad enough.
The reception was worse.

During the hors d’oeuvres, I heard
“I’m sorry, this is a no fly zone.”

While the main entrée was served,
“Sir, you need to bring your tray table to the upright
and locked position.”

As the couple cut the cake,
“Looks like you’ve got a security breach at Los Pantalones.”

And as the bridal bouquet was thrown,
“I see you’ve got Windows on your laptop.”

Even a groomsman walking by whistled “Zippity Doo Dah”

and these were my friends.

There are days when you do the best you can,
and it is just not enough.

Parents have days like that.
Employees dread workdays like that.
And wedding singers sing their hearts out,
only to fall short.

The world in which we live
doesn’t give much leeway to falling short.
The world gauges success based on absolute performance
whether it be an athlete, a tax accountant, or a factory worker.

God’s economy is different.
Only He knows the full extent of what each person is handling.

From a worldly perspective, 
the prophet Jeremiah was a failure.
Though he preached faithfully and did everything God asked of him,
his life’s work failed to produce a single convert.

But Biblical success is all about faithfulness to God.
Jeremiah was a success because he remained faithful to God’s calling on his life.

People aren’t created to please people,
they are created to please God.
And He is ALREADY pleased with those who are doing
the most they can with their time and resources.

It doesn’t matter if those around you think you are incompetent or scatterbrained.
God knows who you are. 
And HE couldn’t possibly love you more.

Three weeks later I received a thank you from the bridal couple.
The bride said she was able to hear the songs from her preparatory room,
and the music calmed her spirit as she prepared for the biggest moment of her life.
They were extremely grateful.

And that’s how God is.
He sees the whole picture.
And when He sees His child being faithful,
it is enough.

As for me,
let me walk in grace,
and also in front of a full length mirror.

 “But he said to me, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’
Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me.”

                                                                                                         2 Corinthians 12:9

Monday, February 20, 2017

Pastoral Prayer (Feb. 19) Athens First UMC

[Our Worship U praise band led all three worship services yesterday. It was also a debut of the use of our large screen in our newly remodeled sanctuary as we were able to project lyrics for some of the songs.]

Thank you O God for your Word which is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path. You are the true source of life and happiness. Thank you for your laws which form us into the people you want us to be. Help us to know your laws and to be mindful of them as we live out our faith.

O God, thank you for the happiness that we are feeling from last Sunday’s special building dedication Sunday. We were blessed to have former pastors, friends we haven’t seen in a while, and our ministry partner groups with us in worship that day. It was a day like no other, O God.

Some said it felt like an Easter or Christmas Eve service. Others said it was like both of them combined. It was a great day to celebrate what can be accomplished when your people offer their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness for a common purpose.

May the joy and the happiness from that day continue to fill our hearts as we adjust to the new look and feel of our church building. Help us to be a haven of blessing and peace for all who come here, O God.

On this day, we especially pray for those who are in search of a haven, like the student this past week who stopped by our church to pray. Like the High School senior deciding which college to attend. Like the grieving family member at the loss of a loved one. Like the refugee fleeing from danger. Like the young adult trying to find meaning and purpose in life.

O God, thank you for being our haven of blessing and peace. And may we be a haven of blessing and peace for others.

We pray this in the name of Jesus who taught us to pray together saying,

“Our Father, who art in heaven…”

Sunday, February 19, 2017

Sermon (February 19) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "Learning Hebrew"

     Let’s all say that together.
     Shalom is a Hebrew word that you would use to greet someone.
     Now let’s say, “Mazel Tov!”
     “Mazel Tov!”
     Do you know what we just did?  We just congratulated each other for being able to speak Hebrew! See how easy it is to learn Hebrew?
     As you probably already know, Hebrew is not an easy language to learn. For one thing, it is written from right to left and there are no vowels in the Hebrew alphabet making it difficult to pronounce the words.
     But for just two easy payments of $19.99, we’re going to learn the meaning of the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet. And the name of that first letter is, “Aleph.” We’ll have to learn the other twenty-one Hebrew letters some other time.
    The reason we’re going to focus on learning a little Hebrew as we look at Psalm 119 this morning is because it is considered to be the most important of the 150 Psalms. The reason for this is because it highlights the importance of knowing and obeying God’s Word.
     Just to show how important Psalm 119 is, there are Christians all around the world who follow what is known as “The Daily Office” reading of the scriptures which can be found in The Book of Common Prayer and comes to us from the Episcopal and Anglican church tradition.
     These daily scripture readings include an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, a Gospel reading, and several Psalms that tie in with the Christian year. If you follow these readings every day for two years, you will have read through most of the bible.
     Since the Psalms are such an important part of the Bible, this Daily Office approach is designed in such a way that you read all one hundred fifty Psalms every single month during those two years. And so, the idea is that if you read all of these Psalms every month over a two-year period, the Psalms will become very familiar to you and since the Psalms are prayers, they will help you to have a deeper prayer life.
     Just to show how important Psalm 119 is in this Daily Office schedule of readings, it has you read a portion of Psalm 119 every single Wednesday for those two years. Psalm 119 is a very important Psalm.
     If you randomly open your bible to somewhere near the middle of it, you will probably open it up fairly close to Psalm 119 which represents the longest chapter of the entire Bible.
     There are 176 verses in this Psalm. I think there’s something very symbolic that Psalm 119 is in the middle of the bible since Psalm 119 talks about the importance of God’s Word. God’s Word is meant to be at the center of our day to day living out of our faith.
     Here is the neat thing about Psalm 119. It’s an acrostic Psalm which means that this Psalm begins each section of eight verses with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet.
     This is something we don’t notice since we depend on our English translations of the bible. Psalm 119 was organized this way to remind us that God’s Word helps to bring order and rhythm to our lives.
      If you ever feel stressed, out of sorts, confused, directionless, just read a little of Psalm 119 which reminds us that God’s Word is a lamp unto our feet and a light unto our path which is one of the verses in this Psalm. God’s Word is what helps us to be the people God has created us to be.

     The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Aleph. Say “Aleph” with me. “Aleph.”  See, you’re already getting an A+ in class today. You know the first letter of the Hebrew alphabet!
     This is what the Hebrew letter, “Aleph” looks like.
     Since this is the first letter of the alphabet, the Jewish people saw this letter as the most important of all of the Hebrew letters. This letter was seen as the master of all of the other Hebrew letters.
     Let’s listen again to how this Psalm begins and yes, I’ll read it in English, not in Hebrew!
     “Happy are those whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are those who keep his decrees who seek him with their whole heart, who also do no wrong, but walk in his ways.”
     “You have commanded your precepts to be kept diligently. O that my ways may be steadfast in keeping your statutes! Then I shall not be put to shame, having my eyes fixed on all your commandments. I will praise you with an upright heart, when I learn your righteous ordinances. I will observe your statutes; do not utterly forsake me.”
     There’s the first section of the twenty-two sections that we find in Psalm 119. And it all begins with the letter “Aleph.” It’s like the Psalmist is saying to us, “Just like Aleph is the most important letter of the Hebrew alphabet, obeying God and God’s Word should be the most important priority in our lives.”
     This first Aleph section tells us that if we make God’s Word a priority in our lives, that we will be happy and we will not be put to shame. That’s a pretty good deal, isn’t it? That’s what most of us want, right? We want to be happy and we want to not live in shame.
     This doesn’t mean that we will be perfect because we all make mistakes, but it does meant that putting God first in our lives will put us on the right path. And when we veer off God’s path, and we all do from time to time, God offers us grace and helps us to find our way again. 
     The Jewish people believe that there are a total of 613 laws that can be found in the Hebrew scriptures. That’s a lot of laws! How in the world does God expect us to keep 613 laws?
      Maybe you have heard the story about the time when Moses went up the mountain alone to speak with God while the rest of the people waited for him below. When Moses finally came down from the mountain, the people asked him, “Well, what did God tell you?”
     And Moses said, “Well, I have some good news and some bad news. The good news is that we don’t have to obey these hundreds of laws anymore. God has whittled it down to just Ten Commandments.”
     But here’s the bad news. These ten are a real doozy!”
     During a church event one evening, a church member wore a sweatshirt that had a variation of the Ten Commandments, but these were called Country Commandments. I thought these were pretty good.
     Here’s the country version of the Ten Commandments so they are easy for us to understand:
     One God, No Gossipn’, Sunday Go to Meetn’, No Stealn’, No Wantin’ Neighbors Things, No Hanky Panky, Honor Ma & Pa, No Idols, No Killin’, & No Cussin’.
     That kind of simplifies it, don’t you think? The Country Ten Commandments.
     Sometimes we think of rules and laws only in a negative way, but that’s not how the Bible views them. God has given us rules, laws, and commandments to help us stay on the right path. They help us to be fully human and to be the people that God has created us to be.
     Jesus affirmed the importance of following God’s commandments when he said that he came not to abolish the laws, but to fulfill them. In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus expands the meaning of God’s commandments to not murder and commit adultery by including how we control our anger and lust.
     Jesus knew that it wasn’t just our actions that matter to God. It’s what leads up to our actions that matter. We need God’s Word and God’s law to help us see who we are and who we are to be. And that takes discipline, daily discipline in applying the bible to our everyday lives.
     Arabian Horses go through rigorous training in the deserts of the Middle East. The trainers require absolute obedience from the horses, and test them to see if they are completely trained.
     The final test is almost beyond the endurance of any living thing. The trainers force the horses to go without water for many days. Then they turn them loose. 
     Of course they start running toward the water, but just as they get to the edge, ready to plunge in and drink, the trainer blows his whistle. The horses who have been completely trained and who have learned perfect obedience, stop. They turn around and come pacing back to the trainer.
     They stand there quivering, wanting water, but they wait in perfect obedience. When the trainer is sure that he has their obedience, he gives them a signal to go back to drink. Obedience is what will help these horses and those who ride them to survive when they are out in the hot and arid desert.
     In a similar way, as we obey God’s Word and follow God’s teachings, we will be able to persevere as we face the challenges of life. This is why Psalm 119 begins with the Hebrew letter, “Aleph,” the master of the Hebrew alphabet. It reminds us that obeying God is the most important thing we can do in life.
     Whenever you are facing a difficult decision and you’re tempted to not do what God wants you to do, remember this first letter of the Hebrew alphabet.  Seek God with all of your heart. Obey God’s Word.
     And you will be happy.


Learning Hebrew
Small Group Questions
Psalm 119:1-8
February 19, 2017

The Bible was originally written in the Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic languages. This is important to know because sometime things get lost in translation. For example, the Psalms were written in Hebrew. Each of the twenty-two sections of Psalm 119 begins with a different letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It's like the psalmist wants us to know that following God brings order to our daily living. 

Share when your faith has helped you to experience order and direction in your life especially during a time of chaos and confusion.

Psalm 119 is considered to be the most important Psalm because it focuses on the importance of obeying God's Word. The first letter of the Hebrew alphabet is Aleph. This is the letter that begins the first section of Psalm 119. 

What helps you to keep God first in your life?

Psalm 119:1 tells us that "those whose way is blameless - who walk in the Lord's instruction are truly happy."

Share a recent time when you felt a deep rooted happiness because of your faith or involvement in the life of the church.