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

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - October 5

Sunday, October 5 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features - 21st Sunday After Pentecost & World Communion Sunday

Sermon Title - “A Forty Day Journey - Presence"

Scriptures - Revelation 4 & John 4:7-24
Theme - This is the third sermon of a six-part sermon series on “Prayers, Presence, Gifts, and Service: A Forty Day Journey.” On this middle Sunday of our forty day journey together, we will reflect on the third week of readings which focus on the vitally important Christian discipline of weekly communal worship.

Friday, September 26, 2008

A 2nd Look at Prayer/Healing

As I started on my three mile run yesterday, it dawned on me that my injured right foot was healed! This past weekend, I must have done something to hurt it. On Monday, I could hardly put any weight on it but thankfully that was my sermon/worship planning day so I was at a computer most of the day.

On Tuesday, my foot wasn't any better. I had a district meeting and began to notice throughout the day, that my knee was beginning to give out on me because of my foot problem. That night was the Impact World Tour at the High School and because the gym was packed, I had to stand for two hours against a wall on the gym floor level. I tried to relieve the pressure on my foot by resting it on my other foot, but you can only do that for so long.

Wednesday was another tough day for the foot. I made hospital calls in Dayton which meant a lot of walking (3 different hospitals.) We had the 2nd and final night of the Impact World Tour that night and I was wondering if I should go since my foot wasn't getting any better.

That night, one of the Impact World Tour leaders invited people to come to the front of the stage to make a commitment to Jesus Christ. As one of the local links, I came forward with my bum foot. While we were all standing together, the speaker slipped in this little comment, "Maybe you need to be healed from something tonight. We've heard stories of how God can heal us physically...if you are in need of healing, I pray that God would take away your pain..."

Now, I realize that being at the Impact World Tour wasn't primarily about me. It was about having a small part in how God was reaching younger generations for Jesus Christ. But when the leader made the comment about how God brings healing and as my foot was throbbing with pain at that moment, I decided to move my injured foot about 6 inches closer to the stage. After the prayer, I went about my business not thinking any more about that prayer.

On Thursday, I went about my morning with a meeting and a bible study at the church. Later that afternoon, I went for my three mile run, and that's when it dawned on me that for the entire day, I didn't have any more pain in my foot whatsoever. During my run, I thought about that prayer for healing the night before and how I had moved my foot closer to the stage.

Now, I'm not one that is particularly drawn to healing ministries, although, in my years of pastoring, there have been circumstances in which prayer and God's healing touch, were the only ways in which doctors and church members could make sense of certain situations.

A couple of reasons why I'm on the cautious side of not making a huge deal of physical healings is because of Christians who have misused or exploited this gift of God not to mention that there are a number of faithful Christians who for whatever reasons have not experienced healings and and have had to live with an ailment and with pain that comes with it. As a pastor, that raises a number of theological and pastoral questions.

All I know is that I hurt my foot pretty badly. I didn't let it rest or do anything to help it heal. Somebody prayed. And I was able to run 3 miles without any pain whatsoever yesterday.

Thanks be to God!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Island Breeze - Wednesday Night

The 2nd night of the Impact World Tour was another great success. Last night, Island Breeze, a Polynesian dance team performed to a packed house at the Xenia High School gym. At the end of the evening, it appeared that approximately 150 people came forward to either accept Christ for the first time or make a recommitment to Christ.

Several members of Island Breeze were guests at our Wednesday Common Cup food court before heading off to the high school to get ready for their performance. It was very touching when one of their members grabbed a microphone during the food court time to thank our church for hosting them. They proceeded to sing to us as they made their way out of the church building.

I haven't heard official numbers of the two day campaign, but my guess is that close to 400 people (almost all under 18) came forward and made commitments to Jesus Christ. This means that the 125 or so trained local links will be making contacts with these folks over the next 8 weeks, encouraging them to continue to grow in their walk with Jesus Christ.

Like Tuesday night, there were Faith Community volunteers all over the place helping with the event. Our Common Cup churches were also well represented by serving in a variety of capacities. A big thanks to all of you for helping to make make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Proud of Our Church!

The first night of the Impact World Tour at Xenia High School last night was a huge success. The gym was packed with teenagers and children who came out to see GX International which consists of awesome skateboarders and dancers.

Throughout the hour and a half performance, several different performers shared brief testimonies of how Jesus had made a big difference in their lives. Several times during the night, they mentioned that they were doing all of this because of their love for God and their love for the people who had come to watch them perform. After each of these comments, I thought to myself, "that might be the first time that many of them had heard anyone say that they were loved."

I arrived an hour and half before the performance, along with what looked to be 125 trained Local Links, to receive some additional training on how we were to help people who would receive Christ during the program. They gave us bibles to give to people and a follow-up procedure to help new Christians begin their journey of discipleship. During the program, I ended up giving my bible to a youth who was around 12 or 13 and accepted Christ that night.

One of the Impact World Tour leaders specifically told me of what a huge help Faith Community has been in providing a number of volunteers to serve as ushers, set-up, local links, and for how our church is providing meals for 70 IWT workers and performers. I saw a number of our church members serving in a variety of ways last night. I am so proud of our church in providing so much support for this wave of evangelism in Xenia.

Toward the end of the performance, people were invited to become a disciple of Jesus Christ by coming forward to the stage. A swarm of children and youth came forward. I don't know how many came forward but my guess is that it was in the neighborhood of at least 200 people. Praise be to God!

Pray for the Local Links as they now begin to make personal contacts with these new Christians to help them in their new journey of faith. Also pray for tonight's performance as Polynesian dancers share the good news of Jesus Christ.

The picture is from last night as skateboarders were performing.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - September 28

Sunday, September 28 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features - 20th Sunday After Pentecost

Sermon Title - “A Forty Day Journey - Prayers”

Scriptures - I Thessalonians 5:12-22 & Luke 11:1-13

Theme - This is the second sermon of a six-part sermon series on “Prayers, Presence, Gifts, and Service: A Forty Day Journey.” On this second Sunday of our forty day journey together, we will reflect on the second week of readings which focus on having a deeper prayer life.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Daily Devotions on the Run

This morning, I came across a website that will provide a new way of participating in daily devotions for me. If you enjoy "The Daily Office" approach for your daily devotions and you like to use your MP3 player, this might be of interest to you. The website is provided by an Episcopal Church in Maryland.

This morning, before I went for a jog, I downloaded their morning devotions for Friday, September 19. (They also have a noon-day & evening service.) In addition to the readings, this download also provided a mini-worship which includes a call to worship, prayer of confession, the scripture readings, other prayers, the Apostles' Creed, and a benediction. It was 17 minutes long.

"The Daily Office" (not to be confused with NBC's hit show, "The Office") is the Anglican/Episcopal/Catholic approach to the daily reading of scripture in which each day consists of readings from the Old Testament, the Psalms, an Epistle, and a Gospel.

There are three main reasons why I love this daily devotion method. First of all, the scriptures always reflect the present liturgical season (Advent, Christmas, Epiphany, Ordinary Time, Easter, etc.) Secondly, the lessons repeat themselves every two years which means that after two years, I will have read through most of the bible. Last but not least, since many denominations use this method, there is a sense of unity since we are all reading the same biblical lessons each day. Presently, the New Testament readings focus on Acts and the Gospel of John, while the Old Testament just began the Book of Esther.

If you're not into the full MP3 "The Daily Office" service, you can go to a couple of other websites (non-MP3) and just get the daily scripture texts. If you want to read the texts only, go to this website. If you want to have the texts read to you which is also pretty cool, go to this website. For people who really aren't into reading, I highly recommend either the MP3 website or the website that reads it for you.


Wednesday, September 17, 2008

Update on Local Links Goal

Last week, about 10 folks were trained to be local links for the September 23 & 24 Impact World Tour which will be held at Xenia High School. A local link is someone who has been trained to be a support person for someone who accepts Jesus Christ.

Tonight, we had another group of folks trained at our Wednesday Common Cup program at Faith Community, and yes, we finally got our electrical power back after high winds from Hurricane Ike blew through here Sunday afternoon. Praise God!

It looks like about 15 to 20 people were trained over the past two Wednesdays at Common Cup. Our goal was 100 but those we trained will help 15 to 20 new Christians keep moving forward in their walk with Jesus several weeks after the Impact World Tour is over.

The picture above is from our 2nd and final local link training tonight at the church.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

A Church With or Without Power?

As of Tuesday night, Faith Community continues to be without electrical power from the aftermath of Hurricane Ike which blew through here Sunday. Notice how I phrased this. I specifically mentioned "electrical power."

A pastor in our district who serves a church that hasn't lost electrical power called me today to tell me that she wanted to put a message on her church sign that said, "Our church has power. All are welcome." Catching the double meaning, she said, "maybe I should be more specific!"

Well, let's hope that every church is a church that recognizes that it has the power of the Holy Spirit to live out the good news of Jesus' resurrection in our community and world!

Today marks the 2nd day of a 40 day Prayers, Presence, Gifts, & Service church-wide stewardship campaign at Faith Community. This week's readings are on the theme of preparing us for what God has in store for us during this journey which will last until Sunday, October 26. For the first two daily readings, I've been jotting down some reflections in my workbook that came with the free book for the campaign.

Yesterday, I wrote in my workbook how spiritual journeys have a way of helping me to sift through what's important and to learn to truly listen to God. My thought from today's reading is that I am looking forward to the journey but I also have a little fear in how my life might change by becoming a more fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

For those of you who are participating in this campaign, I hope these 40 days are meaningful to you. And for all of us, may we always remember that whether or not our church has electricity, we do have power...the power and presence of the Holy Spirit!

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - September 21

Sunday, September 21 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features -19th Sunday After Pentecost

Sermon Title - “Prayers, Presence, Gifts, & Service – A Forty Day Journey”

Scriptures -Exodus 24:15-18; Acts 1:1-5; & Matthew 4:1-11

Theme - This is the first sermon of a six-part sermon series on “Prayers, Presence, Gifts, and Service: A Forty Day Journey.” On this first Sunday of our forty day journey together, we will reflect on the first week of readings and hopefully, we’ll hear some travel tips that will be of help to us for the rest of the journey.

Friday, September 12, 2008

9/11 & the Cross

Coming back from making a hospital visit in Dayton yesterday, I decided to call my brother who lives in Pennsylvania. He was returning from Pittsburgh, having made a prison visit which includes a four hour drive. My brother has been making these visits several times over the past several years, but that's another story.

Toward the beginning of our conversation, my brother, who was at that moment traveling just north of where United Airlines Flight 93 had crashed on that same day, seven years ago, told me of his location on the highway. We then began to reflect a little on how the 9/11 anniversary has a different feel as each year passes by.

And then my brother made an important point. He shared how Jesus' death on the cross 2,000 years ago is still a significant annual remembrance to this day, even in an increasingly secularized culture. His observation was an important one and leads to this thought: Of all the tragic events in ancient history, Jesus' death on the cross has its own unique and enduring quality to it.

The earliest New Testament books weren't written until approximately two decades after Jesus' death and resurrection, and yet even after some time had passed, the New Testament writers all highlight the cross in their understanding of who Jesus was and what Jesus was able to accomplish through his life, death, and resurrection. In other words, time did not erode the remembrance or the significance of the cross for those early Christians.

By dying on the cross and rising to new life on Easter, Jesus was able to take upon himself the sin, the brokenness, and the heartache of the world, and win the victory (nikos) over the enemies of sin and death. How appropriate that on the 7th anniversary of 9/11 we also remember the meaning of the cross and the hope and promise it gives us in the midst of our present day sufferings.

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

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

10 Trained - 90 More to Reach Our Goal!

Good news! Tonight at our Wednesday Common Cup program, ten people received the first part of a two-part training to become Local Links for the Impact World Tour campaign which will be held September 23 & 24 at Xenia High School. Next Wednesday, September 17, beginning at 6:30 P.M., the 2nd part of the training will be offered as well as the 1st part for those who weren't able to attend tonight's training. (The 2nd part of the training will be offered first.)

A trained local link is someone who will attend the September 23 & 24 Impact World Tour events at Xenia High School, come alongside a person who accepts Christ, and offer a personal contact over the next eight weeks by encouraging that person in the faith and inviting that person to be involved in a fellowship group at a church.

For those who weren't able to attend tonight's training, you can still become a trained Local Link by coming to our Common Cup program next Wednesday, September 17, and receive the two-part training.

Our goal as a Common Cup is to train at least 100 people to become local links. The United Methodist Churches in our Common Cup ministry represent over 2,000 members. We can do it!

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Change the World Conference - October 24 & 25

Our 16 Xenia area United Methodist Common Cup churches are encouraging church members to register for the Friday to Saturday October 24-25 "Change the World Conference" at Ginghamsburg UMC located in Ginghamsburg, Ohio.

The plenary speakers will be Brian McLaren, Jim Wallis, Adam Hamilton, and Mike Slaughter. There will also be break-out sessions on many different areas of the life of the church.

For lay members with at least 3 from one church, cost is only $119 per person. The clergy rate is $79. I have been challenging Faith Community to have at least 25 lay people from our church attend this conference.

As a follow-up to the "Change the World" Conference, our Wednesday Common Cup Food Court/Growth Group program will offer a conference debriefing gathering on Wednesday, October 29, 7:00 P.M. at Faith Community. This is open to those who attended and those who are interested in learning about what was shared at the conference.

"Change the World" sounds a lot like our church's mission statement - "Make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world."

Sign up soon!

Sunday, September 7, 2008

2009 Worship/Sermon Themes

I just got back from a week long 2009 worship/sermon personal planning retreat in the remote mountains of central Pennsylvania. This is the first time in my twenty plus years of pastoral ministry that I have been this intentional in planning out each Sunday's worship theme for the upcoming year.

In addition to quality sermon/worship planning time, I also was able to take walks in a park near where I stayed (see attached picture of sunset streaming through the mountain pines this past Thursday night.) A bounteous Amish meal, worship at a vital and growing United Methodist Church, receiving the Sacrament of Holy Communion, and praying for the Faith Community congregation as we prepare to hear and respond to God's Word in 2009 were some other highlights of the week.

For anyone who may be interested, I highly recommend spending some time away from home each year in order to reconnect with God in an intentional way. Yes, I developed my own personal agenda before leaving for the retreat in order to keep me accountable to my primary task of working on next year's worship schedule, but I also allowed time each day to enjoy God's creation which wasn't difficult to do since it was all around me!

I want to say a big thanks to the several people who provided thoughts and suggestions on possible worship/sermon themes for 2009. While I wasn't able to incorporate all of the ideas, your input helped me to have a better idea of the needs of the congregation. Again, thank you for taking the time to let me know of your ideas.

Here are the upcoming 2009 sermon/worship themes: (Lectionary refers to the assigned texts for particular Sundays that may or may not be part of a multi-Sunday sermon series theme. I have found that it is good to incorporate the Lectionary throughout the year to allow for some spontaneity and to remind ourselves that these texts are also being read in churches throughout the world on the same Sundays symbolizing our unity in Jesus Christ.)

High Def. Christianity (Two Part Series based on the Lectionary)
Love for a Lifetime (Four Part Series based)

Love for a Lifetime (Continued)
Lectionary (Two Sundays)

Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation (Five Part Series)
Lectionary (Two Sundays)
Though I Walk Through the Valley (Five Part Series)

Though I Walk Through the Valley (Continued)
Lectionary (Two Sundays)

Hitting Your Stride (Four Part Series)

Lectionary (One Sunday)
United Methodist Men (One Sunday)
The Letter of Ephesians (Seven Part Sermon Series based on the Lectionary)

The Letter of Ephesians (Continued)

Lectionary (Two Sundays)
Prayers, Presence, Gifts, & Service (Six Part Sermon Series)

Prayers, Presence, Gifts, & Service (Continued)

Lectionary (Four Sundays)

Lectionary (Four Sundays)

Sunday Worship Preview - September 14

Sunday, September 14 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features -18th Sunday After Pentecost & Coins for Missions (Coins placed in the offering will help support St. Paul UMC Outreach Center in Dayton, FISH Food Pantry, the Caring Place Meal Ministry in Xenia, & IHN which provides temporary housing for families in need.)

Sermon Title - “Red Christians and Blue Christians”

Scriptures -Romans 14:1-12 & Matthew 18:21-35

Theme - We live in a labeling culture. When we disagree with someone, we tend to label that person as liberal or conservative which helps us to dismiss that person and not really listen to him or her. In this election year, what can we learn from the Christians in Rome who also played the labeling game? What does Paul teach us about relating to people in the church who hold different or even opposite opinions on issues we consider to be important?