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, November 30, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - December 7

Sunday, December 7 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "An Upside Down Christmas"

Features - 2nd Sunday of Advent & The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Scriptures - Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; II Peter 3:8-15a; & Mark 1:1-8

Theme - What does it mean to celebrate an “upside down Christmas?” We live during a time when people are finding it more and more difficult to differentiate between the cultural meaning of Christmas with the biblical meaning. The message of John the baptizer is a reminder to the church of what it means to celebrate an “upside down Christmas.” Come and discover what this might mean for us during this season of Advent.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

As I took our dogs for a walk through the windy and cold rain late yesterday afternoon, I heard someone singing. It was the little neighbor girl and you would have thought that it was a Hanna Montana street concert!

She has a wonderful singing voice and it was a gift to hear someone singing joyful music in a place and a time you would least expect. She sounded so much better than any song on my mp3 player. As I rounded the corner with my dogs leading the way (my doggies love their walkie!) this singer in the making spotted us and just like that, the concert was over.

I'm sure she was a little embarrassed but she reminded me of that old Irish proverb, "Sing like no one is listening. Dance like no one is watching. Live every day like it is your last."

During this week of the Thanksgiving holiday, let's remember to sing, dance, and live in response to the overflowing and generous love of God through Jesus Christ.

A Thanksgiving Prayer
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The World Vision Experience: AIDS - December 1 - 7

Our Miami Valley District (West Ohio Conference) District Superintendent, Rev. Duane Anders has taken the lead in helping to stop the terrible disease of HIV/AIDS in our country and around the world, particularly in Africa.

His church, Stillwater UMC, 6911 Frederick Pike, which is also the location of our district office, will be hosting The World Vision Experience: AIDS, December 1 through 7. (December 1 is HIV/AIDS National Awareness Day.) The available times to walk through the exhibit vary, but are basically from mid morning through the evening on each of these days. This website will walk you through securing a free ticket to the exhibit (recommended, not required.)

Please allow 20-30 minutes to go through the World Vision Experience. There are as many as 40 open spots for every 30-minute time slot. Once you've selected the date and time of your experience, please confirm there are enough spaces available for you and your group (see the "tickets remaining" box). Then enter the number of tickets desired, your first name, last name, and e-mail address. Shortly after you've reserved your tickets, we'll send you an e-mail confirmation with your reservation details.

The exhibit is a 3,000 square foot interactive exhibit that invites visitors to "step into Africa" by hearing, seeing and walking through an African village to personally experience the lives of children affected by AIDS. The stirring audio tour and captivating photography will transport you into the life of an African child and give you a new perspective on the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.

Pastor Rick and I will be volunteering at the exhibit and hope that many of our members take the opportunity to experience this educational experience. Helping to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS was one of the sermons that was preached at our church this past August as part of our "What Breaks God's Heart" sermon series.

Below is some information regarding the HIV/AIDS crisis provided by our District Superintendent:

A global pandemic
Nearly 33 million people live with HIV.
Last year alone, more than 2.5 million people were infected.
6,000 people die every day because of AIDS.
. . . another person dies every 15 seconds.
Source: AIDS Epidemic Update, UNAIDS, December 2006

AIDS in Africa
Two-thirds of all people living with HIV are in Africa.
Two-thirds of all new HIV infections are in Africa.
Three-quarters of all AIDS-related deaths are in Africa... in a place that's home to just over one-tenth of the world's population.
Source: AIDS Epidemic Update, UNAIDS, December 2007

Children and AIDS
Approximately 2.5 million children worldwide have HIV.
Right now, there are more than 15 million children who have lost one or both parents because of AIDS.
Every day, another 6,000 children are orphaned due to AIDS.
. . . and most of these children live in Africa.
Sources: AIDS Epidemic Update, UNAIDS, December 2006; Africa's Orphaned and Vulnerable Generations, UNICEF, August 2006; UNAIDS, 2002.

The future of AIDS
By 2010, more than 20 million children will be orphaned due to AIDS.
By 2020, AIDS could kill up to 12 percent of Africa's workforce - as many as 58 million people.
. . . this crisis will not go away by itself.
Sources: UNICEF, August 2006; International Labour Organization, November 2006

World Vision's response
770,000 children in Africa received values-based HIV-prevention training in 2006 alone.
615,000 orphaned and vulnerable children received care and assistance.
11,000 church leaders were mobilized to respond to the AIDS crisis.
. . . World Vision has been on the front lines of the AIDS crisis in Africa since 1990.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - November 30

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

Sermon - "A Blue Christmas"

Features - 1st Sunday of Advent

Scriptures - Isaiah 64:1-9 & Mark 13:24-37

Theme - We are getting increasingly negative news about our economy and recognize that Christmas can be a difficult time for families. This Blue Christmas worship service will offer comfort and hope to families faced with economic hardships, grieving the loss of a loved one, or feeling the blues during the holiday season.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Week #4 - The Blue Parakeet

Here's a summary of the Thursday morning bible study (November 20) on the book, "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible" by Scot McKnight.

Chapter 9 - We began by taking a quick test on what we believe should be applied today from the several commandments found in Leviticus 19. We agreed that we should not slander (verse 16) but didn't feel that to not wear clothing with two kinds of material (verse 19) was necessary to apply in the 21st century.

This chapter in the book also pointed out that while we agree that pre-marital sex is wrong that we should also understand that in today's world, in many ways, it's more difficult to refrain from pre-marital sex than it was in the time of the bible. One of the reasons for this includes the observation that people in bible times married a lot younger than people today, making it much more difficult to resist temptation. This doesn't change what is right or wrong but we should be aware of these cultural differences.

Chapter 10 - The author gives examples of how some issues within the bible have been adapted even within the bible. For example, the early church (Acts 15) after a lot of discussion and disagreement, finally came to the conclusion that circumcision was not necessary for non-Jewish males who wanted to become followers of Jesus Christ. Baptism ended up taking the place of circumcision for the Christian community.

Other examples where we see adaptations within the bible itself include divorce/remarriage, styles of Christian women, and the death penalty. Regarding divorce, our group discussed how emotional/physical abuse should be considered as grounds for divorce today even though this issue is not specifically mentioned with regard to marriage in scripture. Jesus allows for divorce in the case of sexual infidelity and Paul allows for divorce if a non-believing spouse wants out of the relationship. The point the author is making is that if the bible adapts on the issue of divorce, we should adapt in our day and age as well as long as we keep in mind the overall grand narrative of the bible and the meaning of marriage.

This session brought out out a lot of group discussion about these many topics on how we should apply biblical commandments in our day and age. The author claims that in order to be faithful to following the bible, we need to use wise discernment in applying the scriptures to our cultural context.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, our next session on this book will not be until the first week of December.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - November 23

Sunday, November 23 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "Hope for the Directionally Challenged"

Features - Christ the King Sunday & Sunday Before Thanksgiving Day

Scriptures - Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 123; I Thessalonians 5:1-11; & Matthew 25:14-30

Theme - Are you directionally challenged? Even just a little bit? Sometimes in our faith journey, we find ourselves in unknown territory. How do we find our way home? The prophet, Ezekiel, has a word of tremendous hope for us whenever we wander off the beaten path of our faith.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What if the church marketed Starbucks?

Check out this 5 minute video from http://www.beyondrelevance.com/ that shows what it would be like for a first time Starbucks customer if the church was behind their marketing.

While "tongue in cheek" this video is a great way to help the church rethink how we are perceived by the unchurched.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Xenia: Trinity Methodist Church!

On this day, 145 years ago, Xenia: Trinity Methodist Church was born. Trinity was an offshoot of Xenia: First Methodist which traces its beginning to 1808 here in Xenia, Ohio.

Ironically, these two churches with histories already intertwined merged to become "Faith Community United Methodist" and worshipped for the first time at our present Country Club Drive location in 1972. We have been here ever since, "Sharing Faith and Building Community."

Since this is Faith Community's bicentennial year, it's only fitting that we pause on this 145th birthday anniversary of Trinity Methodist and give thanks to God for the faithful people who have gone before us.

In my eight years as pastor of Faith Community, many members of the church will slip into the conversation that they were from the Trinity church. God bless them for how they are grateful for their previous congregation that is now part of Faith Community.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Week #3 - The Blue Parakeet

Our Thursday morning bible study had another great discussion on the book, "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible" by Scot McKnight.

Here are the highlights from today's discussion covering unit #2, "What Do I Do with the Bible?"

Chapter 6 - We were reminded how the Bible contains a "grand narrative" or a larger story as the author of the book puts it. We need to always remember this big picture whenever we read the bible to help us discern how to interpret the bible.

Psalm 119 uses a lot of personal pronouns such as "I delight in your decrees..." "I will walk about in freedom..." showing us that the bible invites us to be in a relationship with God through the words in this ancient book.

When we read a particular book in the Bible, we need to keep in mind the other books as well. r example, the Book of Deuteronomy has a theology of obedience and blessings whereas the Book of Job shows that obedience doesn't always lead to blessings. We need to keep the tensions of various theologies in mind when reading the Bible.

Chapter 7 - To read the bible effectively, we need to be good listeners when we read the bible. Love and listening are connected.

Chapter 8 - The bible is meant to help us live out our faith. It's not just about information but about helping us to live transformed lives to in turn, bring transformation to the world through God's Holy Spirit.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - November 16

Sunday, November 16 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - “What the Church Can Learn from Tailgating”

Features - 27th Sunday After Pentecost

Scriptures -I Thessalonians 5:1-11 & Matthew 25:14-30

Theme - What can the church learn from tailgating? A lot!! In order for the church to have a “tailgate atmosphere” it must first be ready to accept Jesus’ challenge to give what it has away and invite people to receive God’s healing and forgiving love.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Week #2 - The Blue Parakeet

Yesterday, my Thursday morning bible studied discussed chapters 3 through 5 of "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible," by Scot McKnight.

Chapter 3 - McKnight gives a summary of the three major sections of the Bible to help us read it as a grand narrative:

Beginning (Genesis 1-11)

Middle (Genesis 12 through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus)

End (Matthew 25, Romans 8, & Revelation 21-22)

The problem is that we often take short-cuts in reading the bible as a grand narrative. Here are the short-cuts:

1. We see the bible as morsels of law (the Bible becomes a giant encyclopedia)
2. We see the bible as morsels of blessings and promises. (see the many verse a day calendars. What verses are on those daily calendars? Positive and cheery verses. But what about the verses of judgment and God's wrath? We conveniently screen those out!
3. We see the bible as an inkblot. We project our images of Jesus/God into the Bible. ie - if I'm a Republican I tend to fashion Jesus into a "conservative" Jesus.
4. We see the bible as a great big puzzle. The thinking is that once we complete the puzzle, we don't need to read it anymore. Big mistake!
5. We see the bible from the perspective of Maestros. If the Apostle Paul is our favorite biblical author, we make him the dominating perspective for the rest of the bible.

Chapter 4 - Since the Bible is a grand narrative, we always need to be aware of the context of a particular passage of scripture. The 7 important words of biblical interpretation is, "that was then and this is now." Since the bible was written several centuries ago, we need to be aware of the historical time period in which it was written.

The bible is filled with "wiki" stories. Like wikipedia in which people keep adding information to a topic on the internet, the bible is an adding on of stories to the grand narrative. I know that wikipedia has the problem of incorrect information being added and that's where this illustration breaks down. The point is that the biblical authors added their stories to the Story in order to tell God's story of salvation history.

Chapter 5 - The bible can be broken down into these parts of the plot:

Creating Eikons (the word for humans as God's image bearers) - Genesis 1-2
Cracked Eikons - Genesis 3-11
Covenant Community - Genesis 12 - end of OT
Christ, the Perfect Eikon - Matthew - Revelation 20
Consummation - Revelation 21-22

The problem today is that people are so concerned and worked up over the creationism vs. evolution debate, that we miss the whole point of the creation story in Genesis 1 & 2 in which God created humans to be image bearers and good stewards of God's good creation.

Next Thursday - We focus on chapters 6 through 8.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Summary of the Bible

Do you ever feel like the bible is such a big book and difficult to summarize?

Or put it this way - If someone would come up to you today and ask you, "Hey, you're a Christian, aren't you? Please explain to me the main message of the bible and how this message can have an impact on my life."

If you have any interest in either of these two questions, I invite you to check out this post by Scot McKnight, a New Testament scholar, who has an uncanny ability to help make sense of this marvelous book we call, "the Bible."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Two Election Day Musts - Vote & Pray

Over the past several months, various Christian/political groups have spoken their mind on who our country should elect as our next president. Some of these groups (many?) have been anything but charitable in their views.

About a month ago, I received an e-mail from one of these organizations encouraging Christians to register to vote. As I read this, I couldn't agree more that it's important for Christians to participate in the voting process. But as the e-mail continued, it went on to explain that Christians should register to vote so that they will be able to vote for the candidate who takes a particular stance on a particular issue. In other words, this Christian organization wanted me to be a single issue voter.

By encouraging me to vote a certain way, this organization was in effect telling me that as a Christian I should discount the stance of my denomination on the issue (United Methodist) and vote the "Christian way." As I got to the bottom of that e-mail, I felt insulted and saddened that the primary purpose of this organization was to point out to me that I'm not a Christian if I don't agree with their particular political stance.

Among my United Methodist pastoral colleagues, I have appreciated hearing differences of opinions on the many political issues that are facing our country (not just one issue!) After leaving these conversations, I sometimes shake my head wondering why they don't share my same political stances on every issue because of course I have all the answers! (Tongue in cheek comment.) What I appreciate most about United Methodists is the openness to hear different viewpoints on the challenges that are facing us and to still see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

During this election process, let's vote for the candidate who we think will best lead our country and let's be in prayer for the voters, the poll workers, and BOTH political candidates.

Election Day Prayer

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - November 9

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

Features - 26th Sunday After Pentecost; Veterans’ Sunday (Veterans will be recognized at all 3 worship services. A band will play for the 11:00 service); & Coins for Missions Sunday (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)

Worship Theme - "The Ultimate Sacrifice"

Scriptures - Romans 5:6-11 & John 15:9-13

Theme - Today is our annual Veterans’ Sunday in which all veterans will be recognized at all three worship services. We will hear about Milton Olive who gave his life and saved his fellow soldiers during the Vietnam War. We will also hear about the One who offered his life on a cross to take away the sins of the world.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Blessed All Saints' Day

We will be celebrating All Saints' Day tomorrow at Faith Community even though today (November 1) is the actual day to observe it. Please pray for the many families of Faith Community (26 member deaths) who have experienced the loss of a loved one since last year's All Saints' Sunday.

As we prepare for tomorrow's annual Church Conference meeting in which we will review our membership roll, the encouraging news is that in 2008, we have already received 15 new members (this doesn't count the new members joining on November 16.) But since we have experienced several deaths this year, we presently have a net loss of membership.

Collect of the Day: All Saints'

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.