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, April 30, 2009

Congratulations, Rev. Eric Bondapa!

Here is a recent e-mail I received from Rev. Eric Bondapa, the pastoral student from Africa attending Africa University. Our Common Cup ministry of 15 United Methodist churches was supposed to host Eric this past June and July as a student intern but his visa was denied.

Eric continues to keep in touch with us even though we still have not met face to face. He is truly an expression of the abundant and overflowing love of Jesus Christ.

Here's the e-mail I received from him today:

Dear Pastor Robert

I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ who is our Lord and savior.

I wanted to let you know and my churches that God has given me, that I finished the examens this Wen 29 and I'am now waiting for graduation in June 06. Let me also express my gratitude to you and to all the Churches that supported my education in 2008. You must be proud of this great achievement although it was not easy for me, but the dream is now a reality.. Praise God, keep praying for me because I need to further with my education

Love in Jesus Christ

Rev Eric

Finding God in the Shack - Session #1

This morning, my Thursday bible study began a study on the best selling novel, "The Shack." We're using the resource, "Finding God in the Shack" by Roger E. Olson which examines the approach the novel takes in explaining how a good, loving, and all powerful God can allow suffering and evil in the world.

Here are the highlights from today's session:
  • Like the character, Mack, in "The Shack," the author of "Finding God in the Shack," Roger Olson also had an abusive father and had attended seminary.
  • The author of "Finding God in the Shack" claims that some folks have unfairly criticized the theology in the novel by using biblical proof-texting. This is unfair, according to the author, since the bible is not a book in which we should use the proof-texting method. The reason? Someone will always be able to refute a proof-text with another proof-text! Any theology or biblical text should be seen in light of the larger biblical story and theme.
  • This doesn't mean that we shouldn't criticize the novel at all. It just means that any criticism should be fair.
  • Roger Olson makes a great point that some pastors, in order to hold to the sovereignty of God, claim that sometimes God causes bad things to happen in order for God's plan to be fulfilled. This, Olson claims, is a terrible distortion of who God is. God doesn't cause bad things to happen. This type of theology needs to be put in the trash can.
  • Psalm 77 is an example of how the bible gives us permission to be angry with God. Like Mack in the beginning of the novel, it's OK for us to also be angry with God whenever we encounter evil and injustice.
  • Olson affirms the novel's emphasis that whenever we experience evil or injustice, God suffers with us. God is not a distant deity unmoved by what is happening in the world. Olson references the story of Elie Wiesel in the book, "Night," when a holocaust prisoner upon seeing a boy being hanged, asks "Where is God?" Someone from the crowd responds, "Right there on the gallows."
  • The novel's explanation for why God doesn't stop evil is because God gives us free will. One day, the world will be set right the way it was meant to be.

This is gong to be a very interesting study on a theological topic (theodicy) that has caused some people to reject the Christian faith because of wondering why God doesn't stop evil now, but has also led others to embrace the Christian faith because it provides the hope that one day God will abolish evil forever.

Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Another Wesleyan Institute Volunteer Thank You!

The picture above is from our wonderful photographer, John Fristoe. I want to particularly acknowledge John for his photos during the April 23 - 25 Wesleyan Institute which was hosted by Faith Community and the Common Cup shared ministries. The photos are posted on our Common Cup website which John maintains on a regular basis.

Thanks, John! And again, thanks to all the volunteers who made last week's institute an outstanding event.

This Wednesday, April 29, 7 P.M., at our weekly Wednesday Common Cup program, everyone is invited to come and reflect on the teaching/learning highlights of last week's Wesleyan Institute. This will be led by our Common Cup pastors.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

April 26 Sermon - "Though I Walk Through the Valley of Depression"

Sunday Worship Preview - May 3

Sunday, May 3 - (8:30 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - “Though I Walk Through the Valley of Broken Relationships”

Features - 4th Sunday of Easter & Holy Communion

Scriptures - Psalm 23; I John 3:16-24; & John 10:11-18

Theme - Today, we are on the third part of a five part sermon series on "Though I Walk Through the Valley" based on Psalm 23. We are focusing on a different valley of life each week including the valley of disappointments, the valley of depression, the valley of broken relationships, the valley of grief, and the valley of adictions. On this Sunday, we will explore how Jesus, the Good Shepherd, lays down his life for his sheep as a fulfillment of God's promise.

Thank You Wesleyan Institute Volunteers!

The Wesleyan Institute which we hosted April 23 to 25 has come and gone and thanks to the fifteen churches in our shared Common Cup ministry, including Faith Community, over a hundred people, lay and clergy, from Ohio and surrounding states, were able to learn how to be more effective at making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world the United Methodist way.

Thank you for providing outstanding hospitality for our traveling guests. To all of you who prepared meals, ran the dish washer, traveled to the airport, greeted people in the parking lot, served at the registration table, sold books and resources, assisted in worship, set up the video/screen in the sanctuary, and wore those trendy Common Cup purple polo shirts to assist people during the institute, I want to say, “thank you, thank you, thank you, and thank you!”

Thanks for going the second, third, and fourth miles on behalf of our guests.

Saturday, April 25, 2009

Final Day - Wesleyan Institute

The Wesleyan Institute concluded at noon today. Here are some highlights from today's final sessions:

Sandra King Shaw

Sandra is a layperson at Asbury UMC, an historically black congregation in the D.C. area. Sandra spoke about the exciting outreach ministries her church is doing to transform lives, offer hope, and make disciples of Jesus Christ. They have a feeding program that is making a huge difference in the surrounding neighborhoods.

Sandra is one of those speakers who after hearing her, you just want to go out immediately and take risks for the sake of Jesus Christ.

Her church is heavily involved in "Covenant Discipleship" groups which was part of the presentation at this week's institute. Covenant Discipleship groups do the following: 1) Meet weekly for one hour. 2) The group and the individuals write out covenant clauses in which they hold each other accountable by sharing how they are doing at their weekly meetings. 3) They serve in the life of the congregation with their prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness (the living out of the United Methodist membership vows.)

Pastor Terry Heck & Closing Worship

Terry preached for our closing worship service today and talked about the vine and branches scripture from the Gospel of John. Her point was that we need to be connected to Christ and to one another if we want to be the dedicated disciples of Christ we are called to be. We need each other to find our way home to God.

Each of the small groups that met during the institute brought to the altar their covenants stating how we will take what we've learned these past three days and apply it in our local church settings. The service ended with the sharing in the Sacrament of Holy Communion.

My Personal Reflections

I love attending Wesleyan Institutes! This one was no different. And what a joy to see our church and our Common Cup ministry offer radical hospitality these three days. Great job, Faith Community and Common Cup!

One of my goals as a result of this institute is to get back to the basics in what it means to be a disciple of Jesus Christ. Wesley encouraged the early Methodists to be involved in the means of grace like Holy Communion, worship, bible study, outreach, caring ministries, as a way to help us become more like Christ.

Everything our church and Common Cup ministries do should help us with our main mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. The General Board of Discipleship of the UMC has incredible resources to help local churches to stick to this primary mission.

The point isn't that we totally replicate what the Wesley's did in 18th century England. The point is that we are to use the foundational biblical means of grace in our day and age to reach new generations of people with the love of Jesus Christ. It's all about love.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Day #2 of Hosting the Wesleyan Institute

From left to right, Steve Manskar, Paul Chilcote, & Daniel Flores gave presentations on what it means to make disciples of Jesus Christ the United Methodist way. Sandra King Shaw, a layperson at the historic Asbury UMC in D.C. served today as a panel moderator and will be sharing a presentation tomorrow morning. Here's a quick summary of each of the presentations:

Paul Chilcote
  • Charles Wesley expressed the Methodist way through his hymns and they focused on 1) Trust in Christ 2) Transformation through Christ 3) the Combining of Faith and Life.
  • What is particular about the United Methodist way? 1) Faith: We are both/and and not either/or. For example, we emphasize piety AND social action, physical AND spiritual, Word AND Sacrament, Evangelical AND an emphasis on the Eucharist (Holy Communion.) 2) Our view of salvation: We see repentance as the porch. Justification as the door. Sanctification as the house. Salvation isn't just about a particular moment. It's about our lives becoming holy as Christ is holy and this is a life-long journey!
  • Some other distinctive focuses of United Methodists: 1) A saving faith 2) An inclusive embrace 3) An active love.

Daniel Flores

  • Dan focused on the Holy Spirit and the United Methodist way.
  • John Wesley is known for the phrase, "Religion of the Heart." A religion of the heart is dependent on the work of the Holy Spirit to empower us to offer the reconciliation we have received through Christ to others.
  • The Methodists were known as "enthusiasts" because of their experiences in receiving God's healing (physical & emotional) and wanting to share their faith with others.
  • An early Methodist, Phoebe Worrell believed that to be sanctified didn't necessarily mean you had to wait a long time for it. We should simply receive God's grace and live out our faith now!

Steve Manskar

  • The early Methodists were known for two books: 1) the Bible and 2) the Book of Discipline.
  • The word discipline today often does not convey its early Methodist meaning. For the early Methodists, discipline meant how we are to live out our faith in practical ways for the transformation of the world.
  • Wesley believed that small groups were the best way to help Methodists stay disciplined in living as fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.
  • Wesley provided small groups to meet a variety of needs. Some were for anyone to attend to learn about the Christian faith. Other groups were designed for the more spiritually mature. Some small groups were for those who were training to be leaders within the early Methodist movement.
  • A typical Methodist small group met weekly on Thursdays for an hour or two to hold one another accountable in 1) Doing no harm 2) Doing good and 3) Loving God and keeping the ordinances of God.
  • Wesley saw small groups as the muscle of the church with holiness as the ultimate goal for each Christian.

Interesting tidbit: One of our volunteers who worked at the registration table figured out that of the registratants for the Wesleyan Institute, 52% are clergy and 48% are laity. That's a great balance!

I'll have a final summary tomorrow following the 3rd and final day of the Wesleyan Institute.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Wesleyan Institute Off to a Great Start!

Our church, along with the fifteen Common Cup shared ministry churches, are hosting the Wesleyan Institute led by the General Board of Discipleship. Approximately 110 lay and clergy from Ohio and surrounding states are at this three day event which ends on Saturday.

Here are some of the highlights from today's opening
  • Purple everywhere! Our Common Cup purple is throughout our church building for the seminar. Volunteers are wearing Common Cup purple polo shirts, the dinner tonight had purple napkins/plates, and the centerpieces were purple flowers. It was really special to see lay people from our Common Cup churches helping at this event.
  • Dr. Paul Chilcote, a Wesleyan scholar, gave the opening talk on how Methodism began as a renewal movement within the Church of England.

Some points that he made worth pondering:

  • John Wesley, the 18th century founder of Methodism lived during a time when 1) the established church was all about preserving their past 2) The vision of the established church was inward 3) The church relied heavily on rational and theoretical thinking rather than practical thinking 4) The church had lost touch with the needs of common people
  • John Wesley's Way of renewing the established church was through TIPS - T stands for Transformation I stands for Incarnation P stands for practical and S stands for solidarity (with the poor.)
  • The Wesleyan way is to allow Christ's love to flow from us into the lives of others. To do this, we need to keep to the doctrines of our faith, rely on the Holy Spirit, and hold each other accountable in Christian love.
  • The church shouldn't just do mission. The church should BE mission. To be in mission/service is to think of the word, "Diakonia" which is the greek word for "service." "D" stands for Discipleship. "I" stands for Incarnation (be the church in the here and now.) "A" stands for Apostalicity (that is to be missional.) "K" stands for Koinonia (greek word for fellowship.) "O" stands for Orthopraxy (correct practice/beliefs.) "N" stands for Narrative (stories - early Methodists told their testimony stories at Love Feasts.) "I" stands for Iconography (greek word for pictures. The Wesley's did this through music.) "A" stands for Authenticity (Wesley wanted to help people in the restoration of God's image in their lives and to live out what it means to be fully human.)

I'll have Friday highlights posted tomorrow evening.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Dave's Deep Thoughts

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.

Should we be so surprised?

She walked onto the stage,
and proceeded to shock the world.
She demanded to be heard,
and she was.....
as people were captivated all across the planet.

Most of us watched
through the internet and other media.

She was frumpy,
her hair unkept,
there was nothing about her
that was very appealing to the eye.
She would more likely invoke a roll of the eyes
as she dared to tread where only the beautiful usually dare venture.

The panel of judges expected this to be comic relief,
after all, what beauty could come from someone who looked like this?

And then she opened her mouth and sang.
Jaws dropped, eyes widened,
breath was gasped
for sublime beauty revealed itself in her voice.

She sang about dreams,
dreams that had faded away,
but she was living out the dream of her life.....
to be noticed as someone of value and worth.

The response was immediate.
The judges gushed with apologies,
the audience responded with adulation,
media flooded her with photographs and interviews.
The world took notice.

It often does when it is surprised.
How could such beauty come forth from someone so ordinary?
How can a voice that stirs our souls come from one
who barely attracts our attention?

We think we are beyond the days of caste systems,
but they live on within our hearts and minds....

On the other side of the ocean,
another drama unfolded.
This one much more serious and sinister.
A trail of robberies and murder.
All women,
all who were offering services
that would draw the disapproving eye of society upon them.

But instead it drew something else.
One who seemingly could find no worth in their existence,
except for his advantage and his rage.

Motives emerged as evidence mounted ***
Gambling debts were mentioned
in an attempt to explain
how one could so brutalize another person
in order to feed his need.

Once again
jaws dropped, eyes widened,
breath was gasped.....
as we looked upon the hideous
that appeared to be embodied in beauty.

He was the type of young man
that any father would pray to walk through the threshold of her home
with his daughter arm and arm.

A medical student,
with a handsome face and strong build.
All-American good looks,
and a promising future.

How could such darkness come forth
from someone so beautiful?
How could such a handsome face
and pleasant personality so deceive us?

We think we are beyond the days of caste systems,
but they live on within our hearts and minds....

We judge constantly on outer appearances,
and when those appearances deceive us,
we are shocked.

But what if she had no voice that sang with the angels?
Would there still be no beauty within her?

And what if he was not so possessed by evil?
Would there be no darkness within him?

We continue to judge based on what we see on the outside
We have not changed.
We continue to misunderstand who we are.

All wonderfully made,
all tragically flawed...
yet all capable of being fulfilled in Christ.

We all bear beauty,
we all embrace darkness.
We all find our completeness
in the One who formed us and restores us.
And that is a matter of the heart, or the skin.

Should we be so surprised?

"For the Lord sees not as man sees,
for man looks at the outward appearance,
but the Lord looks at the heart."
1 Samuel 16:7b

*** The author acknowledges the innocence of this person until proven guilty by our judicial system.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Where's Jesus?

Like so many questions we may have about our Christian faith, the liturgical calendar can set us straight so we have a solid biblical understanding of the life, death, and resurrection, and ascension of Jesus.

So, what happened to Jesus after he was resurrected from the dead and where is Jesus now?

By looking at the liturgical calendar, we find our answers.

Easter Sunday - Jesus is resurrected. The word, "resurrection" from a biblical understanding, does not mean that someone has cast off his/her material body in favor of a non-material body. In Jesus' day, "resurrection" was the understanding of what would happen at the end of the age when all of God's people would be literally raised from their graves and given new bodies that would not be subject to sin and death and they would live in God's new age where God's righteousness, peace, and justice would fill the earth. Nobody expected someone to be resurrected in the middle of history as Jesus was which makes the Easter story so amazing!

It's also important to distinguish between "resurrection" and "coming back to life again with the same body." In John's gospel, we hear about Jesus bringing Lazarus back to life, but Lazarus wasn't given a new body that wasn't subject to sin and death like Jesus had received on Easter morning. At some point, death did catch up with Lazarus since he didn't come back to life with a resurrected body. This is an important distinction to be made in understanding what the word, "resurrection" truly means.

Easter Season (The Great Fifty Days) - The scriptures tell us that Jesus appeared to the disciples and to many people in his resurrected body (remember, not a non-material body, but a transformed physical body that was now no longer subject to sin and death) for a period of forty days. This helps us to correct a common misconception that after Jesus was resurrected, he went to heaven. No, first he appeared before the disciples in his resurrected body several times for a stretch of forty days. Again, this adds attestation to the validity of the New Testament claim that Jesus did in fact, rise from the dead. Eyewitnesses saw the resurrected Lord several times.

Ascension Day (The 40th Day After the Resurrection) - On the 40th day from when Jesus was resurrected on Easter Sunday, Jesus gathered his disciples and he "ascended." "Ascended," meaning that Jesus "ascended" to his throne as king over all creation. Ascension Day always falls on a Thursday (40 days from Easter Sunday.) Most people, in thinking about Jesus' ascension have a picture in their mind of Jesus going up into space somewhere rather than on the more theological meaning of Jesus ascending to his rightful throne as king of kings. Churches like Faith Community tend to celebrate Ascension Day on the Sunday following the 40th day so that the whole church can celebrate this significant day on the church calendar together. Some worship leaders argue (and rightly so in my opinion) that celebrating "Ascension Day/Sunday" makes "Christ the King" Sunday, which is a more modern addition to the church calendar unnecessary and redundant since Ascension Day is really when Jesus "ascended" and took his rightful place in heaven. Ascension Day reminds us that when Jesus was raised from the dead on Easter morning, he didn't go to heaven immediately, but instead spent the next 40 days with his followers in his resurrected body.

Pentecost (The 50th Day After the Resurrection) - Jesus', having ascended ten days earlier as the rightful king over all creation because of his life, death, and resurrection, fulfills the promise that he had made earlier to the disciples before he was ascended when he promised that the Holy Spirit would come upon the disciples. "Pentecost" means fifty and marks the concluding day of Eastertide, otherwise known as "The Great Fifty Days." The Holy Spirit is God's presence with us.

So, back to the question, "where is Jesus now?" Right now, Jesus is ascended as the king of kings over all creation. Jesus is in God's heavenly realm. And there will come a day when Jesus will reappear in our time and space (his 2nd coming) and when he reappears, God's people will receive resurrected bodies and God's righteousness, justice, and peace will fill the whole earth which means that heaven and earth will overlap completely and God's new creation will be fulfilled. And this is the long awaited biblical hope for heaven to one day fill this earth just like we say in the Lord's Prayer, "Thy kingdom come, thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven." In the meantime, the church, through the power and presence of the Holy Spirit, is called to announce to the world that Jesus is the true king of the world and to offer God's healing and tranforming love in the name of the risen Christ to the world which he seeks to redeem and reclaim. In other words, the good news of Easter will not allow us to be spectators!

Eastertide is a great example of how helpful the liturgical calendar can be for us to have a well rounded understanding of our faith. Check out this website for a look at the liturgical year.
Happy Easter! (And keep saying it during these great fifty days!)

Monday, April 20, 2009

God's Good Creation - An Eagle's Nest (Live!)

Check out this live web cam from the US Fish and Wildlife Service of a bald eagle's nest in West Virginia. There is currently one baby in that nest and you can watch it mature and interact with its mother any time you want!

I want to thank Joe Hebert for referring me to this amazing website.

"But those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint." - Isaiah 40:31

"God saw everything that he had made, and indeed, it was very good." - Genesis 1:31a

Sunday, April 19, 2009

April 19 Sermon - "Though I Walk Through the Valley of Disappointment"

Sunday Worship Preview - April 26

Sunday, April 26 - (8:30 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - “Though I Walk Through the Valley of Depression”

Features - 3rd Sunday of Easter & Camps/Retreats Special Offering

Scriptures - II Corinthians 7:5-13; Psalm 23; & Luke 24:36b-48

Theme - Today, we continue a five part sermon series on “Though I Walk Through the Valley” based on Psalm 23. We are focusing on a different valley of life each week including the valley of disappointment, the valley of depression, the valley of broken relationships, the valley of grief, and the valley of addictions. The valley of depression can manifest itself as inner affliction, doubt, and fear. The disciples felt this after Jesus’ death. Today we will see how Jesus comforted the disciples and how Titus comforted the Apostle Paul.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Update on Our District Superintendent's Trip to South Korea

Hello from Korea....We are having a great trip. Bishop Ough, Rev. Steve Bennett, Rev. Marla Brown, Rev. Dennis Mohler, Char Ough and Susannah Anders are on this trip from West Ohio along with many leaders from the NorthCentral Jurisdiction.

Today we visited some mission sites ...Friends of all nations Church a great our reach ministry to the various international folks in Incheon.

They began in a shipping container. Wow.

We also visited the Naeri Methodist church one of the mother churches here in Korea.

I am amazed how many folks speak of the missionaries that have served here and their impact on this nation.

Now South Korea send out missionaries to the world, second only behind the USA.(not bad for a country the size of Indiana)

We have heard of folks from Ohio who helped to start the Ewha Woman's University many years ago.

Our very own Rev. George Sidwell was a missionary here after the war and helped to rebuild the church.

I learned this week of Esther Laird a lay person from near Camden served her in the late 1920's and again after the war.

They planted seeds that continue to change the world.

Now in Korea over 25% of the country is Christian and over 1,500,000 Methodist.
Kam sa hamneeda

Thanks for all that you do... encourage folks to go into all the world.

The world is our parish.

You can follow our trip on


Pray for the new sat. night service at EUM greenville.

Rev. Duane Anders, Miami Valley District Superintendent

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Easter Sunday Reflections

For the season of Lent/1st Week of Easter, my Thursday morning bible study has been focusing on the book, "Christians at the Cross," by New Testament bible scholar, Tom Wright. This week, we look at Easter Sunday.

The scripture texts for Easter Sunday are Isaiah 65:17-25; Acts 10:34-43; & John 20:1-18.

Here are the highlights from today's study:
  • Christians tend to short-change the Season of Easter (the Great Fifty Days.) Instead of celebrating Easter throughout Eastertide, we tend to only make a big fuss about it on Easter Sunday as if Easter is only a one day celebration on the church's liturgical calendar.
  • We Christians tend to get things wrong because we often think that the only point about Easter is that we now get to go to heaven someday. The reason this is a popular understanding of Christians is because we don't connect the bass part (the story of the Old Testament) with the story of Jesus's resurrection.
  • Tom Wright gives a very helpful analogy on what Easter really is. It's like having to drive your car through a tunnel in order to arrive at a certain city. The city isn't in the tunnel. We arrive at the city by going "through" the tunnel. Heaven is like the tunnel. It's not the final destination for we Easter people. The final destination is Isaiah's future hope of "news heavens and a new earth."
  • On Good Friday, Jesus tells the thief on the cross that "today you will be with me in paradise." The word, "paradise" has the particular meaning of a resting place along the way and not the final place of destination. Heaven/paradise is like the tunnel in the analogy.
  • So what's the final destination if it's not heaven? We need to go back to the bass part, the Isaiah 65 passage for Easter Sunday which we tend to screen out. Here, the prophet looks forward to a day of "new heavens and a new earth." This long awaited biblical hope does not envision a time when this earth will be destroyed. Quite the opposite! This hope looks to a day when this earth will be remade and renewed. This is when God will finally remove all corruption and evil in the world, but not the world itself! Big distinction.
  • So how does Jesus' resurrection relate to this future hope of new heavens and a new earth? The resurrection is an advanced sign-post of that future reality! A little of God's future appears to us in the present.
  • For a 1st century Jew, resurrection meant that one day in the future, all of God's people would be given new bodies and the earth would be made new. What they didn't expect would be for this to happen to someone before that time, but it obviously did with Jesus and our Easter accounts.
  • Easter is the beginning of God's new creation project in which we are called to be part of the remaking of the world through the power of Jesus' resurrection at work in our lives. Until that day when all things will be made new, we are called to join Jesus' in letting the world know through big and small ways that God's remaking of the earth has already begun.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Maundy Thursday Sermon - "Nothing Says I Love You Like..."

Sunday Worship Preview - April 19

Sunday, April 19 - (8:30 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - “Though I Walk Through the Valley of Disappointment”

Features - 2nd Sunday of Easter, Preschool Sunday, & Recognition of Stephen Ministers

Scriptures - Romans 5:1-5 & John 20:19-31

Theme - Today, we begin a five part sermon series on “Though I Walk Through the Valley” based on Psalm 23. We will be focusing on a different valley of life each week including the valley of disappointment, the valley of depression, the valley of broken relationships, the valley of grief, and the valley of addictions. The story of Doubting Thomas will help us see how someone was able to experience the presence of the risen Lord in the midst of his valley of disappointment.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Easter Sunday Collect/Prayer

Easter Sunday Collect:

"O God,who for our redemption gave your only-begotten Son to the death of the cross, and by his glorious resurrection delivered us from the power of our enemy: Grant us so to die daily to sin, that we may evermore live with him in the joy of his resurrection; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen."

Check my blog later this week for reflections on the meaning of Jesus's resurrection.
Happy Easter everyone! He is risen!

Saturday in Holy Week - Prayer & Reflections

For the season of Lent, my Thursday morning bible study has been focusing on the book, "Christians at the Cross," by New Testament bible scholar, Tom Wright. This week, we looked at Saturday of Holy Week.

The scripture texts for Good Friday are Lamentations 1:1-22 (Jeremiah's laments over the exile of Judah) & John 19:28-42 (Joseph of Arimathea & Nicodemus wrap the body of Jesus and place him in a tomb.)

Here are the highlights of our study on Holy Saturday:
  • Lamentations is what you get when you walk through the streets of your community and allow yourself to be totally open to the pain, sorrow, and needs all around.
  • While it's depressing to read someone's laments, there are two things to keep in mind about how the Book of Lamentations is so important to our faith: 1) Jeremiah insists that God is in the midst of the pain, sorrow, and needs. 2) In the Hebrew language, (and lost through our present day translations,) this book was written as an acrostic as each verse begins with a different letter of the alphabet in the order of the alphabet. Jeremiah does this four times in the first four chapters. The point is that Jeremiah is showing us that even in the midst of chaos, ruin, and deep sorrow, God's order and purposes lie underneath the surface even though we can't see it at the time. This example of the use of an acrostic shows how creatively and subtlely the Bible can speak to us. And it shows why bible studies to help us pick up on these things are so important.

  • The bass part which we have been referring to as the Old Testament and in this case, the passage from Lamentations, reminds us that death is real and final. Therefore, the only way to defeat death is if God will someday make a whole new creation out of the old creation.

  • For Holy Saturday in Holy Week, as Jesus is in the tomb, what we must do is patiently wait, and in the midst of our grief and mourning, know that God's purposes and order are lurking in the background. We cling to the hope that God will somehow bring about new creation. What that will look like, we do not know. What we're called to do is to be silent for these brief hours on the Sabbath, wait, and listen carefully.

  • Each year, on Holy Saturday, I meet with our confirmands who will be joining at our Easter Vigil service. At this morning rehearsal, I always remind them of the meaning of Holy Saturday and we pray the prayer you see below.

  • Next week, I'll post the highlights of our study of Easter Sunday from Tom Wright's book, "Christians at the Cross."
Collect of the Day: Holy Saturday

"O God, Creator of heaven and earth: Grant that, as the crucified body of your dear Son was laid in the tomb and rested on this holy Sabbath, so may we await with him the coming of the third day, and rise with him to newness of life; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Friday, April 10, 2009

U2's New Song "Moment of Surrender" & the Passion of Christ

One of the best songs on U2's new album is "Moment of Surrender." It has a reference to Good Friday when it talks about the stations of the cross. Even on a crowded subway, the thought of Jesus' suffering and death for the sins of the world can become an epiphany and a "moment of surrender."

"I was punching in the numbers at the ATM machine. I could see in the reflection, a face staring back at me. At the moment of surrender. Of vision over visibility. I did not notice the passers-by. And they did not notice me.

I was speeding on the subway through the stations of the cross. Every eye looking every other way. Counting down ’til the pain would stop. At the moment of surrender. Of vision of over visibility. I did not notice the passers-by. And they did not notice me."

Friday in Holy Week - Prayer & Reflections

Collect of the Day: Good Friday

"Almighty God, we pray you graciously to behold this your family, for whom our Lord Jesus Christ was willing to be betrayed, and given into the hands of sinners, and to suffer death upon the cross; who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen."

Refer to previous web blog article for Friday in Holy Week reflections.

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Thursday in Holy Week - Prayer & Reflections

Collect of the Day: Maundy Thursday

Almighty Father, whose dear Son, on the night before he suffered, instituted the Sacrament of his Body and Blood: Mercifully grant that we may receive it thankfully in remembrance of Jesus Christ our Lord, who in these holy mysteries gives us a pledge of eternal life; and who now lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Refer to previous web blog article for Thursday in Holy Week reflections.

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Dave's Deep Thoughts

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 only takes a moment.

Researchers say that for most people,
most significant moments that occur in the development of faith,
do not happen on Sunday mornings,
and often do not happen in a church.

Work camps, summer camps,
retreats and other events are far more likely places
for people to feel moved by God to conversion and renewal.

They are places where people
find themselves removed from the normalcy of their lives.

Places where people are more receptive to a moment,
a moment where they feel called by God,
a moment where they feel embraced by their Creator,
a moment where they feel touched by the Eternal

I would never discount the importance
of the gathering of the believers at the beginning of each week,
but I long for moments like these......

Holy week has many moments for me :
the waving of palms,
cries of Hosanna!
coming to the Lord's table,
revisiting the trial and scourging,
quieting my world for three hours on Friday,
a service of shadows Friday evening,
then finally,
the amazing celebration of what seems impossible on Sunday morning.......

Of all these things,
there is one moment
which becomes my significant moment

Palm Sunday service begins with great celebration.
It has the feel to a parade to it,
it is festive!
People are shouting...
Hail King Jesus!
Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!
Palms are waving,
children are leading the procession.

But none of that constitutes the moment.

It is at the end of the service.
The mood has diminished to a complete silence....

The cries of Hosanna have faded.


the song is raised...... acapella....

What wondrous love is this, o my soul, o my soul..............

A cross is brought up the aisle and placed.

What wondrous love is this, o my soul,

Three nails placed on the nail points

What wondrous love is this, that caused the Lord of bliss........

A crown of thorns is placed at the top of the cross.

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul, for my soul.

A black shroud is lain over the cross.

to bear the dreadful curse for my soul,


Then, one person moves to the cross,
and lays down his palm at the base,
and walks out of the room.

Others soon follow in silence.

That is my moment.

In that moment I acknowledge how often I turn my back on God,

I acknowledge how my cheers so quickly turn to jeers,

I acknowledge how unable I am to remain faithful
to the One who is always faithful to me.

I acknowledge how often I miss the mark.

I acknowledge my mortality.

It is in acknowledging all of that,
that allows me to come to Resurrection Day with joy,
to experience hope,
to dance with joy,
to embrace an indescribable peace.

All because,
I had a moment.

May you find your moment this week.

"But God demonstrates His own love toward us,
in that while we were yet sinners,
Christ died for us."
- Romans 5:8

Wednesday in Holy Week - Prayers & Reflections

Collect of the Day: Wednesday in Holy Week

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Refer to previous web blog article for Wednesday in Holy Week reflections.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Tuesday in Holy Week - Prayers & Reflections

Collect of the Day: Tuesday in Holy Week

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Refer to previous web blog post for Tuesday in Holy Week reflections.

Monday, April 6, 2009

Monday in Holy Week - Prayer & Reflections

Collect of the Day: Monday in Holy Week

Almighty God, whose most dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Refer to previous web blog post for Monday in Holy Week reflections.

Holy Week/Easter Services @ Xenia: Faith Community UM

  • Maundy Thursday, April 9, 7:00 P.M. Service with Holy Communion

  • Good Friday Service, April 10, 12:00 P.M. (This will take the place of the Community Good Friday Prayer Walk which has been canceled this year.)

  • Easter Vigil Worship Service, Saturday, April 11, 7:00 P.M. (Confirmands Join the Church)

  • Easter Worship Celebrations, Sunday Morning, April 12, (8:30, 9:45, & 11:00)

Sunday, April 5, 2009

April 5 Sermon - "Innocence"

Sunday Worship Preview - April 12

Sunday, April 12 - (8:30 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - “The Eighth Day – New Creation”

Features - Easter Sunday

Scriptures - Acts 10:34-43; Psalm 118:1-2, 14-24; I Corinthians 15:1-11; & John 20:1-18

Theme - The uniqueness of the Gospel of John is that it connects the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus with the creation story in the Book of Genesis. By presenting his Gospel in this way, John is able to help us see that each day of the week reminds us of the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Dave's Deep Thoughts

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.

All winter long I had waited for a big snow storm.
Little did I know that I would have to fly 1800 miles to find it.

The Wasatch Mountains are majestic
as they rise above the Salt Lake basin.

It is not unusual for a storm to settle in the canyons
and dump major amounts of snow on the mountain.....
like say 41 inches in 24 hours.

That is 33 more inches then we received at home THIS ENTIRE WINTER.

I love to ski.
There is nothing like coming down the mountain,
breathing in the freshest of air,
feeling the wind brush against you,
hearing a world silenced of phones and faxes.

41 inches of powder changes the way one skis.

And so that meant another lesson from a dear friend,
a ski instructor who has the patience of a saint.

Off to the traverse we went.....
The traverse is a trail that takes you across the mountain,
it takes you off the easier groomer paths,
to untouched powder,
(that would be 41 inches of fresh powder in case you have forgotten)
It takes you to a scary place,
a place removed from your comfort zone.

Time to learn.
Time to be stretched.
Time to pray .........for a way out.

We reached our destination.
It was beautiful, this large bowl nestled into the side of the mountain.
But the incline was daunting.

The dear friend says,
You need to ski differently in these conditions.
As you make your turns, don't lift your skis,
and lean down the mountain as you make your turns.

Do what?

Lean where?

Erma Bombeck , the great humorist once said,
I will participate in no winter sport
where there is an ambulance parked at the bottom of the hill

I saw no ambulance,
but then, I was looking down a mountain
that was 12,000 feet above sea level.
I couldn't see the bottom.

But I think I saw Jesus, 3 or 4 times
As much as I want to see Jesus,
this was not necessarily the time I was hoping for.

It's not easy to work against bodily instincts.
Let me say,
when you are looking down a 7,000 foot mountain
on a steep incline,
one's instinct is to lean back into the mountain,
not lean into the slope.

The instinct makes you feel safe.
But the instinct doesn't prepare you for what you need to do.
Leaning back into the mountain throws you off balance,
ill prepared to make any turn successfully.

The result of leaning back into the mountain while making a turn
instead of leaning down the mountain..........
in skiing terms, we call it a face plant.

After a few successful face plants,
I made up my mind to do what my friend suggested.

It takes COURAGE to follow the curious advice
of a trusted friend.
It takes FAITH that your friend knows what is best for you.
It takes ENDURANCE when you don't succeed
the first time.

There is nothing more humiliating to a skier than a face plant.
But there is nothing more wonderful than when a skier
does something differently,
and feels and sees the result.

I come back from the Wasatch Mountains
each year a better skier,
because I have the teaching of a trusted friend.

It doesn't mean that that I don't encounter face plants,
but as I trust,
I find that I am able to do things that I never before imagined.

All credit to the friend, the teacher.
That would be Carol,
but more importantly Jesus

The next time you find yourself
out of your comfort zone,
may you remember that even that which seems like strange advice
from your trusted Savior and Friend
will take you different and better place.

If you just trust and obey.

"For I know the plans that I have for you,
declares the Lord,
plans for welfare and not for calamity,
to give you a future and a hope."

Jeremiah 29:11

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Holy Week Reflections - Good Friday

For the season of Lent, my Thursday morning bible study has been focusing on the book, "Christians at the Cross," by New Testament bible scholar, Tom Wright. Today, we looked at Good Friday of Holy Week.

The scripture texts for Good Friday are Isaiah 52:13-53:12 (the Suffering Servant) & John 19:16b-37 (the crucifixion narrative.)

Here are the highlights regarding Good Friday as it relates to Tom Wright's book:
  • Tom Wright uses the analogy of white-water canoeing and the moment the canoe hits the point where all the water is rushing together and forms an inverted V-shape. Even though everything is chaotic, the canoe is able to move forward which is what you need rather than to go sideways. Things are still chaotic, but you keep moving forward. Good Friday is a bit like this analogy.
  • It's important that we, especially those of us who have heard the Good Friday story over a period of time, don't domesticate the events of Holy Week where we glibly say, "Well, that's what Jesus came to do, die on a cross" as if this all makes sense. At the time, it didn't. It was chaos, tragic, and terrifying.
  • Using the music analogy of the different parts of a song, the bass part that John the Gospel writer has in mind, is the Suffering Servant passage in Isaiah. By going through the suffering, shame, and death on the cross, Jesus is living out this Old Testament passage.
  • John carefully points out three things about Jesus in the passion narrative. 1) Jesus is Israel's and the world's true king. (see the inscription over the cross by Pilate.) 2) Jesus' identifies with the Psalms of suffering as people gamble for his garments and ridicule him. 3) Jesus is the Passover lamb. They don't break his legs.
  • When Jesus says, "It is finished," he is alluding to the creation story when God completed creation. Tom Wright has a beautiful line that says that on the cross, Jesus has gone to the "darkest and deepest place of ruin, and has planted there the sign that says 'Rescued.'"
  • Because of what Jesus did on the cross, we are called to be like Mary and John and stand at the foot of the cross and to wait patiently for a fresh word of God to help us move forward and become "community" again.

Next Thursday, we'll focus on Saturday of Holy Week.

Pastor Robert, a Buckeye Fan?????????

In front of over 200 people at our Wednesday evening Food Court last evening, Pastor Rick Tettau grabs a microphone and gets everyone's attention.

"I'm happy to announce that Pastor Robert is now a Buckeye fan."

Everyone begins to cheer and celebrate that this Pennsylvania kid has finally seen the light. Just as the roar dies down, Pastor Rick offered these words:

"April Fools!"

As we approach Holy Week (week of April 5) and begin to think about what Jesus has done for us by dying on the cross to offer us forgiveness of our sins, mercy, and newness of life, we realize that this is no April Fools. The events of Holy Week really did happen and Jesus went through all the pain, suffering, and agony to offer us salvation.


See you for Holy Week services:

Sunday, April 5 - Passion/Palm Sunday Worship, 8:30/9:45/11:00
Thursday, April 9 - Maundy Thursday Service, 7 P.M.
Friday, April 10 - Good Friday Service, Noon