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, May 31, 2009

May 31 Sermon - "Loud & Clear"







Sunday Worship Preview - June 7

Sunday, June 7 - (8:30 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "Hitting Your STRIDE – Spiritual Gifts"

Features - Trinity Sunday; Holy Communion; & 1st Grader Bible Presentation

Scriptures - I Corinthians 12:1, 4-11 & John 14:12-18

Theme - What does it mean to “hit our stride” in being the fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ we are called to be? This is going to be our question for the four Sundays in June. On this first Sunday, our focus will be on identifying and using our spiritual gifts to help build up the church to bring transformation to the world.

Happy Pentecost Sunday!





Collect of the Day: Pentecost

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

2009 West Ohio Annual Conference (June 7-11) - Recommendation #2

Our West Ohio Annual Conference consisting of lay and clergy representing 1,150 United Methodist churches meets June 7 to 11 at the historic and scenic Lakeside grounds, in Lakeside, Ohio, along Lake Erie.

In addition to inspiring worship services, the ordination of Deacons and Elders, the approval of the conference budget, and times for learning and growth, Bishop Bruce Ough will preside over our legislative meetings. This year, we have nine recommendations to consider as an Annual Conference.

Please keep Faith Community's representatives, Joyce Smith, Mary Carol Short, John Sherer, and me in your prayers as we prepare to participate in this year's Annual Conference.

Each day leading up to the beginning of Annual Conference, I am providing a recommendation so we can all begin praying and think about these issues that are before us. You are welcome to make comments on this blog regarding these issues.

RECOMMENDATION #2
2 No Casinos In Ohio!
3
4 Those who exploit the poor blaspheme their Maker,
5 but those who are kind to the needy honor Him.
6 Proverbs 14:31
7
8 WHEREAS Jesus calls us to love our neighbors as God has loved us; and,
9
10 WHEREAS the Bible further compels us not to put stumbling blocks before others; and,
11
12 WHEREAS Paul reminds us that “if one part of our body hurts, we hurt all over. If one part of
13 our body is honored, the whole body will be happy. Together you are the body of Christ. Each
14 one of you is part of his body”1; and,
15
16 WHEREAS the Evangelical Ethic compels us to become activists for God because we are called
17 to treat others like people whom Christ gave his life for on the cross2; and,
18
19 WHEREAS our United Methodist Social Principles state, “Gambling is a menace to society,
20 deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic and spiritual life, destructive of good
21 government and good stewardship3; and,
22
23 WHEREAS the field research indicates that nationwide you stand to lose 1.5 jobs for every job
24 the casino creates…for every dollar that legalized gaming interests claim is contributed in taxes,
25 it really costs the taxpayer $3 to address the increased socio-economic costs to society4; and,
26
27 WHEREAS about 60% of the 4.2 million Americans addicted to gambling have annual incomes
28 below $25,000”5; and,
29
30 WHEREAS a Mississippi State University study found that in counties with casinos, those
31 earning less than $10,000 per year lost 10% of the family income to casinos; and,
32
33 WHEREAS Penn National and the Ohio Race Tracks have presented two different proposals to
34 bring casinos and slot machines to Ohio within close proximity to communities living in poverty;
35
36 THEREFORE BE IT RESOLVED: That congregations and members of the West Ohio
37 Conference stand firm in their opposition to gambling through education and public witness; and,
38
39 BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that members of West Ohio congregations actively engage
40 friends, colleagues and family members around the negative impacts of gambling; and,
41
42 BE IT FUTHER RESOLVED that members of West Ohio congregations actively communicate
43 with their Ohio legislators to defeat the Ohio Race Track proposal which would place slot
44 machines at the 7 race tracks without a vote of the people; and,
45
1 BE IT FUTHER RESOLVED that members of West Ohio congregations actively write letters to
2 their newspapers opposing Penn National’s proposed constitutional amendment and the Ohio
3 Race Track owners’ proposal; and,
4
5 BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that members of West Ohio congregations actively and
6 consistently pray that gambling interests will not be successful in their efforts to bring casinos
7 and slots to Ohio; and,
8
9 BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED that members of West Ohio congregations remember our
10 neighbors living in poverty who would be harmed by casinos and slot machines.
11
12 Submitted by: Anti-Gambling Taskforce and Let Justice Roll Lead Team
13
14
15 1I Corinthians 12:26-27 CEV 2Jackson Day, GBCS Consultant
16 3United Methodist Social Principles 163G, 2008 4Professor John Kindt, University of Chicago
17 5National Institute on Mental Health


Saturday, May 30, 2009

2009 West Ohio Annual Conference (June 7-11) - Recommendation #1


Our West Ohio Annual Conference consisting of lay and clergy representing 1,150 United Methodist churches meets June 7 to 11 at the historic and scenic Lakeside grounds, in Lakeside, Ohio, along Lake Erie.

In addition to inspiring worship services, the ordination of Deacons and Elders, the approval of the conference budget, and times for learning and growth, Bishop Bruce Ough will preside over our legislative meetings. This year, we have nine recommendations to consider as an Annual Conference.

Please keep Faith Community's representatives, Joyce Smith, Mary Carol Short, John Sherer, and me in your prayers as we prepare to participate in this year's Annual Conference.

Beginning today and leading up to the beginning of Annual Conference, I will provide a recommendation each day so we can all begin praying and think about these issues that are before us. You are welcome to make comments on this blog regarding these issues.

RECOMMENDATION #1
Resolution on Healthcare

WHEREAS, Concern for health and health care has been central to the Jewish and Christian faiths from their beginnings. The Hebrew Scriptures address issues of sickness and healing. The Gospels report the ministry of healing by Jesus Christ, for whom healing, like salvation, was an expression of deliverance from sin and death. Jesus' message emphasizes wholeness as the will of God and encourages humans to seek and accept God’s gift of spiritual, mental, and physical health (Matthew 10:7-8).

WHEREAS, Holy Scripture makes the claim that actions required to achieve the goals of health involve both personal (Exodus 24:3; 1 Corinthians 9:24-27) and social (Ezekiel 34:4) responsibility. St. Paul, in turn, identifies "the cosmic powers of this present darkness" (Ephesians 6:12) as a source of much that is ill in this world, and encourages Christians to side with God against these powers. In all these times, the provision of health care has been an expression of the duty of hospitality (Matthew 25:36). Through the ages the Christian Church has expressed this duty through personal deeds of service and the creation of healing institutions.

WHEREAS, The United Methodist Church through its Social Principles (¶162V) has expressed its commitment to health care for all. John Wesley was always deeply concerned about health care, providing medical services at no cost to the poor and emphasizing preventive care. The first Methodist Social Creed (adopted in 1908) urged working conditions to safeguard the health of workers and community. Through its many hospitals and health-care facilities around the world, as well as public-policy advocacy for health, the United Methodist Church continues to declare its commitment to quality and affordable health care as a right of all people. (UMR 113)

WHEREAS, Access to quality affordable health care has reached crisis proportions in the world, impacting the well-being of God’s children of all ages, everywhere, but especially the most vulnerable, including the poor, the children and the aged. Today, health care is a major issue globally for the world's population. Key indicators of child mortality, poverty, environmental degradation, maternal health, the spread of communicable diseases and access to medicine constitute 6 of 8 United Nations Millennium Goals and tell of a world that is sickening to too many and brings the end of life too soon.

WHEREAS, In the United States, the number of persons without access to health insurance is 47 million and regrettably continues to grow; those who do have such access face a health care delivery system of increasing cost and diminishing quality.

And, WHEREAS, In Ohio, the economic downturn has led to an increased proportion of low and middle income citizens who cannot afford the cost of healthcare. 1.4 million Ohioans have no health insurance and 62% of Ohioans had some experience with being uninsured either through their own experience or through the experience of a household or family member. Millions more with health coverage are under-insured or reluctant to use their coverage because of high co-payments, deductibles and other cost sharing requirements.

The West Ohio Annual Conference of the United Methodist Church is compelled, based on our faith and in honor of our Wesleyan tradition, to act in the midst of this crisis.

THEREFORE, may it be resolved:
1. That as individuals we challenge ourselves to make a commitment to live healthier lives and work toward health care for all, and we encourage our clergy and lay employees to model health and well-being for our local church members, including keeping Sabbath rest.
2. That as members of West Ohio Conference, we call the General Agencies to work together comprehensively and strategically to insure that health and well-being are a priority both in the work that we do for members of our denomination and also for citizens across the world.
3. That as members of West Ohio Conference, we call upon our congregations to conduct Health Care Justice Sabbaths during the first weekend of January or another weekend of their choosing in which the theological, political, economic and medical issues involved in health care can be raised in sermons and discussions. A range of health care related works of mercy, from blood pressure screenings to blood drives, can benefit the community and should be offered.
4. That as citizens of the State of Ohio, we call upon the Ohio Legislative bodies to introduce and pass legislation to address health care for all in Ohio. We anticipate and support that a variety of regional approaches may result, and that this will provide an experience base that can be replicated in other regions of Ohio as well as the country as a whole. The Conference will offer opportunities for gathering as West Ohio United Methodists for legislative visits and for conversation around the relationship between advocacy and faith.
5. That as citizens of the United States, we call upon the United States Congress to introduce and pass legislation which will move us to universal health care on a single payer basis, consistent with UMC Resolution #3201 and to the extent this cannot be immediately achieved, to introduce and pass legislation which will move us toward this goal in increments, such as effective means of providing health care coverage to seniors, to the poor, to those who are employed but cannot access coverage, and to children; and to support state-level initiatives toward expanding healthcare coverage.
6. That as citizens of the world and advocates for the Kingdom of God, we call upon the United Nations, its constituent agencies, such as the World Health Organization and World Trade Organization, and member nations, to determine actions that will address the United Nations Millennium Goals and increase the quantity of health care services, particularly preventive and village-based health care services, throughout the world.

Submitted by:
West Ohio Healthcare Ministries Team and Let Justice Roll Team

Friday, May 29, 2009

Too Many Books!


I love it when a book order arrives on my doorstep!

My NT Wright book, "Justification: God's Plan & Paul's Vision" and "Jesus, The Final Days: What Really Happened" by Craig Evans and NT Wright came this past week.

The first book is an explanation of the doctrine of justification and a critique of reformed theology's interpretation of this doctrine. Wright argues in this book that the issues which were facing the 16th century protestant reformers led to an overemphasis on an individualistic understanding of this doctrine rather than the Apostle Paul's more wholistic view of the redemption of all of creation which includes the individualistic dimension. In short, the modern western church has inherited this "me and Jesus" theology and we need to get back to Paul's understanding of this doctrine.

The second book is a compilation of lectures given by these two authors as a result of urban myths that are being widely circulated on cyber space regarding Jesus' last days. Rather than approaching this problem from an apologetic/faith perspective, although both authors are also committed Christians, the authors approach it from a historical/contextual view in debunking erroneous and popular misunderstandings of the events of Jesus' last days (the events of his death and resurrection.)

My only problem is before I can begin those books I still need to finish my Bill Hybels' book on leadership and I also started reading a book on the importance of networking with people to accomplish goals.
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So, no more ordering from Amazon for me, at least for another month!



Thursday, May 28, 2009

Finding God in the Shack - Session #5

This morning, my Thursday bible study continued 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 and a creative approach to understanding the doctrine of the Trinity.

Here are the highlights from today's session:
  • Part of the novel focuses on the inclusive nature of God and how it borders on universalism (the belief that all will eventually be saved.) The novel emphasizes that we sometimes have a narrow view of who is in and who is out regarding salvation.
  • One example of scripture which supports this more inclusive view of salvation include John 10:16 in which Jesus says, "And I have sheep that are not of this fold."
  • The novel tends to have a negative view toward organized religion. While not discounting the several examples of how churches can be dysfunctional, I take issue with any attempt to differentiate our spiritual lives from church structure/politics. A church needs both the missional component as well as the structural component for long term health. Sure, we sometimes get these out of balance, but I also don't think that it should be either/or.
  • The author of "Finding God in the Shack" takes issue with the novel's lack of emphasis upon the role of the church in the life of the Christian. People in my bible study pointed out that since the novel isn't meant to be a systematic book of theology, that just because references to the importance of the church are absent doesn't mean that it is not important to the author of the novel.
  • There are good reasons and bad reasons for not participating in the church. The author of "Finding God in the Shack" states that too many people leave or quit attending a church for inadequate reasons. Most of the time, people leave simply because the church doesn't meet their needs in the way they expect. However, the role of the church is to help us to serve and be involved in ministry. The primary purpose of the church isn't to meet our needs.
  • Part of the reason why our culture (and the novel) seems to deemphasize the role of the organized church is because western culture prides itself in individualism.
  • The main character in the novel, Mack, had a really negative experience with the organized church. One of the problems of the novel is that it doesn't speak on behalf of Christians who have and/or are part of healthy and functional churches. Maybe this is why I am uncomfortable with the novel's attempt to differentiate between spirituality and the organized church. It's because my experience with the church has for the most part, been very positive. Sure, there have been examples of Christians behaving badly in the church here and there, but I'm positive that my faith wouldn't be as strong as it is today if I didn't have positive experiences with the organized church over the course of my lifetime.

Next Thursday, we will conclude our study on "The Shack."


Quote of the Day

I love this line in U2's song, "Stand Up Comedy." Think about it.



"God is love. And love is evolution’s very best day."

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Covered Dish Dinner Evangelism

We were on opposite sides of the covered dish food line carrying on a conversation when he said, "I'm telling you. This church has some of the best cooks in the world." He made this statement with such assurance and confidence that you couldn't help but to believe him.
I think he made this comment when he was in the middle of scooping up some of the delicious looking chicken and rice casserole which was next to the black bean lasagna which was next to the salad with homemade dressing, which was next to a vegetable tray which was next to a colorful fruit salad which was next to an array of desserts that included homemade m & m cookies, cheesecake with fruit, orange pineapple cake, and a blueberry jellow masterpiece.

Sorry, but when you are describing a United Methodist covered dish meal, you can't help but to have a run-on sentence.

And then I said to him, "With the way United Methodists eat, you kind of have to wonder why anyone would choose to be unchurched." Now, I made that statement in a humorous kind of way, but in hindsight, I think there is more truth to it than what I was originally thinking.

The scriptures are filled with food and feasting references. Think of the extravagant dinner party from the Prodigal Son parable. Think of those messianic age images of a feast from the prophet Isaiah. Think of those early disciples of Jesus, after having received the Holy Spirit (Pentecost) and how they broke bread together in each other's homes and praised God.

And then think of our Holy Communion liturgy in which we say, "Until Christ comes in final victory and we feast at his heavenly banquet."

You gotta wonder if that heavenly banquet won't include some of that chicken and rice casserole I had at church yesterday.

Man, I'm glad I'm a Christian.

Monday, May 25, 2009

"Angels & Demons" & "Star Trek"


Over the past week, Penny and I were able to see these two movies in the theater. Here's my extremely brief review:
.
"Angels & Demons"

I give it a B-. It wasn't nearly as good as "The DaVinci Code." Let's not even worry about the gnostic influence in Dan Brown's novels since they are just that, novels. What kept this movie in the B category for me (and not C) was outstanding Italian church footage. The movie went overboard when the Priest parachuted from the sky to safety.

"Star Trek"

I give it a B+. The plot line was easy enough to follow which is important for me since I can easily get lost in sci-fi movies. I'd give it an A- if they wouldn't have crept into silly super hero type of stuff like Kirk dangling from a piece of metal and avoiding the stomping foot of the mean space villain. Do you know how hard that would be???? These movies need to stick to a consistent level of realism at least for the human species.
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A Memorial Day Prayer



Collect of the Day: Memorial Day

Lord God Almighty, who has made all peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and peace: Grant to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

May 24 Sermon - "On a Need to Know Basis"






Sunday, May 24, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - May 31

Sunday, May 31 - (8:30 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "Loud and Clear"

Features - Pentecost & Graduate Recognition

Scriptures - Acts 2:1-21 & John 15:26-27, 16:4b-15

Theme - This is the day of Pentecost, the fiftieth and last day of the Easter season. On Pentecost we remember the birth of the church and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the gathered community. We will focus our worship celebration on the role of the Holy Spirit in overcoming barriers to communication. A special emphasis is placed on Peter who received mercy after denying Jesus and is now boldly sharing his faith with the world. He sets an example for us to accept all into the church who desire Christ.

Saturday, May 23, 2009

Patriotism & Ascension Sunday

This weekend marks an interesting dual theme of patriotism (Memorial Day Weekend) and Christ the King (Ascension Sunday.) For the Christian and for the church, the key is to show respect for our country and for those who have served bravely in the armed forces without having all of this overshadow our true allegiance which is to Jesus Christ.

The way the liturgical calendar has Ascension Sunday placed in the middle of a patriotic weekend is helpful at this point because our first thought should be on our celebration of when Jesus ascended his throne (Ascension Sunday.) And yet, it's also important for us to acknowledge and be thankful for the brave men and women who have served through our armed services and who are no longer with us.

Here's how this tension of patriotism and Ascension Sunday is enfolding for me this weekend:

Friday
Mayor's annual prayer breakfast in Xenia. Sometimes community prayer breakfasts have a patriotic triumphalism connected to them but this prayer breakfast did a good job of not letting this happen. The prayers were respectful of different Christian faith traditions and did not glorify war or inflate the importance of our country over against other countries.

Later that day, I officiated at a graveside service in which many of the graves had patriotic decorations which I think is a wonderful thing to see. My message to the people at the graveside was that we believe that through faith in Christ, there will be a day when we will be reunited with all of God's people and that will be a time when there will be no more tears, heartache, sin, or death. Several people nodded their heads as their way of saying "Amen" to this good news of our faith.

Saturday
Today, I have another graveside funeral service. This person served in the military and there will be the playing of taps and the presentation of the flag to the family. In the midst of our patriotism, the good news of Jesus Christ will comfort us even as we grieve the loss of a loved one and a dedicated member of the church.

Sunday
The sermon and the worship theme will focus on Ascension Sunday and we will offer our praises to Jesus Christ who has ascended to his heavenly throne and is the true ruler over all powers and earthly leaders.

Following the last worship service, our church will gather around the flag pole and the scouts will lead us in a brief flag ceremony in which a flag in memory of one of our members who served in the Marines will be raised and flown proudly on our church grounds.

As I go through this Memorial Day weekend, I'm thankful for our fallen heroes and their sacrifices for our country, but I'm even more mindful of the one who is the true ruler over all and who calls us to participate in the reclaiming of the world so that one day, justice, peace, and righteousness will flood the whole earth just as the waters cover the sea.

Psalm 47 (Ascension Sunday Psalm)
1Clap your hands, all you peoples; shout to God with loud songs of joy.
2For the Lord, the Most High, is awesome, a great king over all the earth.
3He subdued peoples under us, and nations under our feet.
4He chose our heritage for us, the pride of Jacob whom he loves. Selah
5God has gone up with a shout, the Lord with the sound of a trumpet.
6Sing praises to God, sing praises; sing praises to our King, sing praises.
7For God is the king of all the earth; sing praises with a psalm.
8God is king over the nations; God sits on his holy throne.
9The princes of the peoples gather as the people of the God of Abraham. For the shields of the earth belong to God; he is highly exalted.


Friday, May 22, 2009

Dr. Tom Albin - Dean of the Upper Room

This past week, Dr. Tom Albin, Dean of the Upper Room in Nashville, gave two presentations to the clergy of the West Ohio Conference. I heard Dr. Albin give a presentation in Nashville a couple of years ago and thoroughly enjoyed the way he was able to communicate how our unique Wesleyan heritage can help our local churches make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. He was equally compelling this past week!

Here are some key thoughts from this past week's presentations worth pondering:




  • Methodism is built on a three legged stool - Doctrine, Spirit, & Discipline.
  • Methodism at its best provides a system to help all people grow in grace. 1) Small groups for seekers that meet in a neutral site away from the church. The church needs to be present in the public domain! 2) Small groups for people who are willing to grow as mature Christians. 3) Small groups for people who are serious believers and who are seeking to become leaders in the church.
  • The big question Dr. Tom Albin asked of us pastors is, "Does your church have an intentional process to help people move into deeper levels of discipleship?" Most local churches offer a wide array of groups/activities but they are often not presented in a methodical way that can help people on their road of discipleship. It's often "hit or miss" in local churches. We need to be much more intentional in our disciple making process.
  • For Wesley and the early Methodists, it wasn't just about having the right information on how to be a Christian. It was about having other Christians in a small group setting help them stay accountable in moving forward and on to perfection and holiness.
  • The goal of transformation is for men and women to be fully alive. Wesley liked this quote from Irenaeus, a 2nd century early church father, and he adopted it for his Methodist movement. For Wesley, being fully alive meant 1) not being afraid, and 2) having joy.


Thursday, May 21, 2009

Finding God in the Shack - Session #4


This morning, my Thursday bible study continued 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 and a creative approach to understanding the doctrine of the Trinity.

Here are the highlights from today's session:
  • The novel explores theological thoughts of sin, evil, & salvation. Evil is interpreted as the absence of good, much like darkness is interpreted as the absence of light.
  • We talked about two theological issues that are often in tension with each other; the sovereignty of God and human free will. The author of "Finding God in the Shack" believes that the novel goes a little too far in emphasizing free will and neglecting the doctrine of "prevenient grace" which is the grace that makes it possible for humans to have free will.
  • We spent a lot of time discussing the issue of forgiveness and it's relationship with salvation. Just because God forgives someone doesn't mean that person receives salvation. Again, humans can choose or not choose (thanks to God's prevenient grace) to be in a relationship with God.
  • The author of "Finding God in the Shack" references the 2006 shooting involving an Amish school and how the Amish were willing to offer forgiveness soon after the shootings. We were reminded of how difficult it is to live out the Christian faith when we are called to forgive people for doing terrible things. Perhaps the author of the novel could have emphasized our need to depend upon God's power to offer forgiveness. Like Ezekiel 36:26 points out, we need a new heart and a new spirit in order to be a forgiving people.
  • The author of "Finding God in the Shack" raises the troubling but important question if we are able to envision an eternal life in which people who have done terrible acts of evil and who have repented and accepted a relationship with God through Christ, will be alongside of other people of faith who haven't committed such terrible deeds of evil.
  • We also were reminded that God takes sin and evil seriously and that there will be a day when God will offer judgement. Our Judeo/Christian faith is a faith in which unrighteousness will be finally judged and defeated. This is when heaven and earth will become one.

Happy Ascension Day!


On this day, the fortieth day following the resurrection on Easter morning, we celebrate Jesus' ascension, his rightful rule over all creation. On Easter morning, Jesus didn't immediately go to heaven. Instead, he appeared before the disciples in his resurrected body on several different occasions. It wasn't until this 40th day, that he claimed his rightful rule at the right hand of the Father (Apostles' Creed.)

Our church will celebrate Ascension Day this Sunday as a congregation. This is a time on the church calendar to celebrate Jesus' reign over all earthly powers and to anticipate that time in the future when he will reappear (his 2nd coming) and by a special act of God's grace, heaven and earth will become one.

Here's the prayer for Ascension Day.

Collect of the Day: Ascension Day

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.


Wednesday, May 20, 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.

This is his final devotional thought until the end of the summer.


They are a symbol of beauty.
They are harbingers of spring.

They usher in each new morning
with song and winged flight.

They prance upon the lawn
as they search for nesting supplies.

And they are killing me.

Many await their arrival each spring
as a sign of fairer weather and temperatures.

I view it as an invasion..

And unfortunately, I am hopelessly outnumbered.

It was a pristine day,
perfect for a dinner on the deck.
It was the kind of day you would like to freeze frame.
The temperature was perfect,
the sky a majestic blue.
The air offered a cleansing aroma of springtime.

It was a great night to entertain friends.
The grill was sizzling,
music was softly playing in the background,
and laughter was in full supply.

It was then that they made their presence known.

Not by the renditions of their songs,
nor by the beauty of their flight.

No.

They decided to let us know that they were present
when they released their droppings into my friend's ceasar salad.

"Would you like some more cheese on your salad?

"No thanks, the bird droppings are just fine!"

It doesn't stop there.
Every spring during nesting season
they cover everything with reminders
that they lord over the skies.....

Nothing escapes their attempt
at redecorating.

The deck is splattered......
the pool is bombarded.....
the freshly washed windows become speckled,
and the car looks like a work of Picasso,
on one of his bad days.

Try scrubbing down the house,
and by next morning it all mysteriously reappears.

Try power washing the deck,
and watch our feathered friends
plan their next assault.

I could take a chain saw and cut down all the trees that surround my property,
or I could shrink wrap my home until nesting season has passed.

Give it to them,
they are persistent as well as beautiful.

People can be like robins.
Beautiful in many ways,
but prone to verbal droppings that can splatter........

You look great......... for your age.

You just need to have more faith.

I know exactly how you feel.

Shouldn't you be over this by now?


We all say things from time to time
that leave marks on the people around us.
Sometimes we just fly away,
totally unaware that someone is left
to scrub up the mess.

Sometimes, we are so busy with building our own lives,
that we don't realize we have the power to discolor people's spirits.

Robins have an excuse.
They have been given very small brains.
We don't have such an excuse.

"Teach me to do Thy will,
For Thou art my God;
Let Thy good Spirit
lead me on level ground."
Psalm 143:10
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Sunday, May 17, 2009

May 17 Sermon - "Though I Walk Through the Valley of Addictions"







Sunday Worship Preview - May 24

Sunday, May 24 - (8:30 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - “On a Need to Know Basis”

Features - Ascension of the Lord Sunday

Scriptures - Acts 1:1-11; Psalm 47; Ephesians 1:15-23; & Luke 24:44-53

Theme - When the disciples met with Jesus prior to his ascension, he helped them to focus on the things they needed to know for that moment and to not worry about things that were beyond their control. What did Jesus want them to know? And consequently, what does Jesus want us to know on this Ascension Sunday?
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Friday, May 15, 2009

John Wesley Was My Pastor

OK. Since I'm in the process of a pastoral transition this summer, I've been reflecting on the (United) Methodist pastors who were part of my home church in southeastern, Pennsylvania. All of them had a particular influence on my faith journey and relationship with Jesus Christ.

And yes, John Wesley was one of my pastors...kind of. Here's a brief synopsis:

1963 (my birth year) to elementary years - Rev. John Wesley Stamm.
Isn't this the coolest name for a United Methodist pastor? He's the one who baptized me as an infant. Obviously, I don't literally remember my baptism but when I saw him at an event when I was a college student, I told him that he had been my pastor when I was little. Remembering my family and without pausing for a second, he pointed his finger at me and said with a look of great pride, "I baptized you." Turns out that I was his first baptism at his newly appointed church.

Elementary Years to Eighth Grade - Rev. William Lippert.
I used to draw pictures of Rev. Lippert during his sermon. Most of the time, these were flattering pictures! So, you can say these were my "church is really boring" years. He probably had wonderful sermons. I just didn't have the attention span to appreciate them during those years. My best memory of Rev. Lippert was that he taught my confirmation class which I believe was during my 6th grade year. Once a week, I would get off the school bus in town and go to the church for confirmation class. Did I mentioned I had a short attention span during these years? Well, all I remember about those after school confirmation classes was that Rev. Lippert earned his pay with the likes of me and my other disruptive confirmation classmates.

But, my best memories of confirmation were outside of class when Rev. Lippert took us on a field trip to Lovely Lane Chapel in Baltimore, MD, the place where in 1784, we became an official denomination and not just a movement within the Anglican Church in England. This is where Francis Asbury and Thomas Coke became co-superintendents or bishops (a phrase which John Wesley didn't appreciate since he was uncomfortable with us becoming an official denomination.) I never forgot that visit or the date of 1784 as the start of the Methodist Episcopal Church in America. In fact, one of the adult Sunday School classes in my home church was named, "The 1784 Class.")

My other positive memory was in receiving my own personal Cokesbury black bible with my name inside of it. I still have it and keep it in my office at church. I read the bible everyday for personal devotions, for sermon prep., and preparing for bible studies. What would my life be like without the bible giving me guidance, comfort, strength, and hope?

9th Grade to College Years - Rev. Ed Zeiders
Now, how many middle aged adults can say that they remember the 1st sermon that was preached by a new pastor when they were only in the 9th grade? I can! It was something about a scarecrow and how God loves us. OK. Maybe that doesn't count as remembering, but that creative opening sermon helped me to immediately connect with this new pastor. Sometime during my 10th or 11th grade years, he came up to me at a church function and said to me, "I want you to think about becoming a United Methodist pastor some day because I think God may be calling you into ministry." Of course, I just shrugged his comment off as if he was just trying to be polite.

During my junior year in college, I made an appointment to see him and that's when I asked him, "Do you remember that day a long time ago when you asked me to think about going into the ministry? Well, I think God is calling me and I want to become a pastor." I'll never forget this. He was sitting behind his desk at the time and when I told him this, he took the papers he had in front of him, threw them up in the air and yelled out, "Praise God!"

He gave me the opportunity to preach my first sermon there in my home church. It was on the Sermon on the Mount. It was a lame sermon but that wasn't the point. That frightful experience ended up giving me that little confidence I needed to know that I could speak in front of people and live to tell about it. Rev. Zeiders is why I am in the West Ohio Conference. When I asked him which seminary he recommended for me to attend, he said, "United Theological Seminary in Dayton, Ohio. Great seminary. That's where I went." Because of the relationships I made during my seminary years, I decided to stay in Ohio.

So thank you Rev. Stamm for baptizing me into the faith. Thank you Rev. Lippert for teaching me about the importance of the bible for my daily living. And thank you, Rev. Zeiders for planting a seed which helped me to respond to God's calling to become a United Methodist pastor.

And thank you God, for the itinerant system in which pastors are appointed to churches to help people grow in what it means to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.


Thursday, May 14, 2009

Finding God in the Shack - Session #3


This morning, my Thursday bible study continued 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 and a creative approach to understanding the doctrine of the Trinity.

Here are the highlights from today's session:
  • The author points out that "The Shack" does a good job of keeping the reality of evil and the Christian future hope of new creation in tension. I like his term for this - "optimistic pessimism."
  • "The Shack" affirms the doctrine of total depravity which says that all of humanity is infected with sin and we are totally dependent on God to rescue us. My bible study spent some time discussing how reformed theology emphasizes predestination and how Wesleyanism allows for free will with the understanding of God's grace as prevenient. Prevenient grace is the grace that God stirs within us which invites us to accept God's offer of grace/salvation. The key difference with reformed theology is that Wesley didn't believe that grace was irresistible. Even though God stirs prevenient grace within us to provoke a response, we still have the choice to accept or not accept God.
  • I loved the G.K. Chesterton quote that says, original sin is the only empirically identifiable doctrine of the Christian faith. LOL!
  • We also discussed that to help us think about the problem of evil from a Christian understanding, we need to see the bible as a whole story which includes five parts: 1) Creation 2) Corruption 3) Covenant 4) Christ 5) Consummation. A big thanks to a bible study member who helped us think of the word "corruption" to keep us consistent with words that begin with the letter "c!" In other words, this overall look at the biblical story of God's salvation history helps us to see that while evil is a real and present reality in our world, God will eventually judge evil once and for all and God will renew all of creation when heaven descends upon earth completely.
  • One of the good points made in "The Shack" is that we can't point to one experience or person in placing the blame for evil. Evil is woven throughout all of humanity. I shared with my bible study the famous line that says, "throw a rock in the air and you're bound to hit someone guilty."
  • "The Shack" helps us to not see God as angry and filled with wrath as some people have been known to portray God. Jesus helps us to see who God is. If Jesus was willing to die on a cross for the world, God must be filled with a lot of love, not anger!
  • We talked about hell as being a place for people who refuse to be the creator God's image bearers in the world. When we fail to be God's image bearers in the world, (that is people who are filled with love, mercy, and righteousness), we fail to be human.

More on "The Shack" next week.



Wednesday, May 13, 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.


Sometimes, things look a lot better than they really are.

It was a beautiful spring day.
The sun was shining brightly.
There was a soft breeze moving.
It was the kind of day that would make you
wish that you were at the park or the beach.
It was a cotton candy day.

Even though it only a grocery store parking lot,
it still felt like a cotton candy day
for the 3 year old and her mother
as they approached Mr. Horsie.

Mr Horsie is strategically positioned
just outside the entrance to the grocery store,
beckoning all who seek adventure and fun
to climb onto the saddle,
for a very reasonable 50 cents.

His shiny saddle and stirrups,
along with his bright blue leather work
can't help but attract the attention
of any fun seeking child.

And so it was with this little girl
who eagerly asked her mommie
if she could ride Mr Horsie.

A wise parent,
the mother knew that it was better to ride Mr Horsie before entering the store
rather when exiting.
After all, a lot of ice cream can melt during a three minute ride.

And so, the little girl climbed into the saddle
as mommy dug into her purse for two quarters.
The little girl's face was filled with glee and happiness
as the coins clanked their way into Mr Horsie's coffers.

And then it started..........

Oh yes, Mr Horsie began to rock back and forth gently.

But it was the sound.

It was abrasive,
irritating,
agitating.

It appeared that Mr Horsie's spring action
was in serious need of a lube job

Every rocking motion of Mr. Horsie
created this bone chilling, scratching sound
that sounded like rusty old farm machinery
trying to get started.

Store patrons were looking to see
from where the grating noise was emanating.

Small children were covering their ears.

The look of glee fled from the little girl's face,
as she realized that her dream ride with Mr. Horsie
had turned into her worst equestrian nightmare.

Soon the tears began to flow
as mommie lifted her off the saddle.

The only problem was
Mr Horsie wasn't done.
50 cents worth after all is 50 cents worth.
Sometimes three minutes can seem like an eternity.

And sometimes, things look a lot better than they really are.

When my brother was a child,
he decided to eat an entire stick of margarine.
Take him to an IHOP to this day,
and watch his still nauseated expression
as the unmelted margarine gleams at him from atop his pancakes.

When I was a child,
I decided that gasoline smelled really good.
My mother remembers me staggering to the house in my little cowboy boots.
To this day, whenever I smell gas fumes
I vividly remember that dizziness I experienced that day.

As adults, we aren't much different.
We might realize that margarine and gasoline
are not to be ingested and inhaled,
but there are other things that entice us.

Cars with payments more than we can afford.....
Credit cards with interest laced debts that we can't repay......
Foods laden with enough calories to feed a small nation......
A drug or drink that offers escape from our problems.

Name your temptation.
Name that which looks pleasing to you at the outset,
but over time, reveals its ugly painful side.

Then look past the immediate pleasure,
and look to the one who was tempted in all things,
yet kept His gaze upon the Father

Sometimes, things look a lot better than they really are.
but with God, it's even better than you can imagine.

"For we do not have a great high priest
who cannot sympathize without weaknesses,
but One who has been tempted in all things as we are,
yet without sin.
Let us therefore draw nearer with confidence,
that we may receive mercy and may find grace
to help in time of need."
Hebrews 4:15

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Post Sermon Reflections - May 10

Here are some of my additional thoughts on I Thessalonians 4:13-18 which was one of the texts I used in my sermon this morning as part of our "Through the Valley" sermon series.

After explaining in great detail the events that will take place when Jesus appears for his 2nd coming, the Apostle Paul tells the Thessalonian Christians to, "encourage one another with these words."

Unfortunately, it seems that many Christian and churches have gone one of two ways regarding this topic of Jesus' second coming, and both are not very helpful or biblical.

For some Christians, they believe that when Christ returns, those who have placed their faith in Christ, will depart this earth (first those who have already died and then those who are still alive) to live in heaven forever. This is not the correct understanding of the scriptures.

The whole point about the Christian faith isn't that Christians will one day leave this earth to be in heaven. The whole point of the scriptures is that there will come a time when Jesus will return and God will renew the face of THIS earth. This is the long awaited hope that we find in the Bible from Genesis to Revelation. Our Judeo/Christian faith is a creation embracing faith, not a creation denying faith. "Rapture" theology has distorted this basic understanding of the biblical hope due to a misunderstanding of Paul's use of creative metaphors in this Thessalonian text.

On the other hand, there are also many Christians who have gone to the other extreme and have "spiritualized" the New Testament and Pauline hope of Jesus' second coming in which it is not seen as a future historical reality but as a generalized hope that the world will get better if we just try hard enough. While true, that our work toward transforming the world in the here and now does make a difference, the New Testament clearly points us toward a time in the future when heaven and earth will become as one and this will be fulfilled through the second coming of Jesus. At that time, Christ will take all the good that we have done through the power of his Holy Spirit in our day and age and through a special act of God's grace will flood THIS earth with justice, love, and peace.

A lot more can be said here, but one of the reasons why I am posting on this issue is that how we understand the second coming of Jesus isn't just an unimportant theoretical issue that's interesting to talk about once in while. It defines how we view God's creation. Why would we bother to make the world a better place if we're just going to escape it and go to heaven someday anyway? And why would we bother to make the world a better place if it's all up to us? We would feel defeated before we would even get started to make a difference in the world if that was the case!

This is why the Apostle Paul says to "encourage one another with these words." What we are doing in the present moment matters in the grand scheme of God's salvation history and we are to never forget that one day God will renew the face of the earth and that will be a time when there will be no more tears, death, sin, or pain. Imagine such a world!

"Encourage one another with these words."


Sunday Worship Preview - May 17

Sunday, May 17 - (8:30 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

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

Features - 6th Sunday of Easter; Missionary Special Offering; & Holy Baptism (11 A.M.)

Scriptures - Psalm 23; Romans 6:1-23; and John 8:31-36

Theme - Today, we are on the fourth 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 disappointment, the valley of depression, the valley of broken relationships, the valley of grief, and the valley of addictions. On this Sunday, we will explore how walking through the valley of addictions can take years and negatively impact many people, not just the one who is addicted. Today, we will seek to hear how God is with us as we walk through the valley of addictions.
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Thursday, May 7, 2009

Finding God in the Shack - Session #2


This morning, my Thursday bible study continued 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 and a creative approach to understanding the doctrine of the Trinity.

Here are the highlights from today's session:
  • Tritheism is a heresy that claims there are three gods and that the Christian faith is not monotheistic. Modalism is a heresy that denies that the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are God simultaneously.
  • The Council of Nicaea in A.D. 325 is the orthodox understanding of the Trinity in which God is one divine substance and three distinct persons at the same time.
  • The novel seeks to tear down popular images that God is a static being. Instead, God is a dynamic presence in which the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit enjoy community and unity.
  • Roger Olson thinks the novel goes too far in saying that all three persons of the Trinity were present at the cross of Good Friday. This comes dangerously close to "patripassionism," which is a heresy that claims the Father suffered and died along with Jesus. I suppose this heresy allows for the resurrection of the Father, however, the point is that in order for someone to die, they need to be human which of course, is the whole point about Jesus becoming flesh. The Father in the Trinity didn't become human.
  • There are three traditional perspectives on the problem of evil. 1) God is the all determining reality and nothing happens a part from God's plan and purpose. 2) God limits his control to allow for free will. 3) Process theology claims that God is not all powerful. The novel takes a fourth approach that claims that God limits himself because he does not want to control us.
  • Deism teaches that God created the world and is now distant from creation and expects humanity to continue the care of creation without depending on God much since God isn't active in the world or rarely is. Deism would explain why God didn't intervene in the holocaust for example but it doesn't make room for the more biblical view of God being dynamic and constantly interactive with creation.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

The Assertive Approach - What the Church Needs to Practice

As I reflect on Pastor Rick's excellent sermon from this past Sunday, entitled, "Through the Valley of Broken Relationships," he offered this really helpful explanation on how to approach someone on a sensitive issue. Since the church is made up of people, this helpful information is something we need to always keep in mind as we relate to one another.

How many times do we choose one of the first three ways to approach a problem instead of choosing the fourth way? What has been your experience with these four approaches in the life of the church?

Here is an excerpt from Pastor Rick's sermon:

In their book, Speaking the Truth in Love, Ruth Koch and Kenneth Haugk describe four approaches to admonition.

  • In the passive approach – one might ignore a person’s spiritual dangers.
  • In the aggressive approach – one might attack or be insensitive to the person
  • In the passive aggressive approach – one may look to draw a person out through inappropriate remarks
The authors do not recommend any of these ways.

They suggest the assertive approach – in this approach one offers direct, respectful, and kind words of support. The assertive approach respects the person being admonished and does not try to force or manipulate change. In this way people are able to work openly and honestly with each other while being sensitive to the situation.
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Sunday, May 3, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - May 10

Sunday, May 10 - (8:30 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

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

Features - 5th Sunday of Easter; Mothers’ Day; & 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)

Scriptures - Psalm 23; I Thessalonians 4:13-18; & John 11:20-36

Theme - Today, we are on the fourth 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 disappointment, the valley of depression, the valley of broken relationships, the valley of grief, and the valley of addictions. On this Sunday, we will explore the difference in facing grief without hope and facing grief with hope.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Retreat - Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations

This weekend, I was with several of our church leaders for a retreat at Kirkmont Retreat Center, near Zanesfield, Ohio. The picture above is our group on the deck of our lodge. We spent our time focusing on "The Five Practices of Fruitful Congreations" which was our congregation-wide Lenten theme.

The five practices to help a church make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world are:
  • Radical Hospitality
  • Passionate Worship
  • Intentional Faith Development
  • Risk-Taking Mission
  • Extravagant Generosity

If you want to learn more about these five practices, go to United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase's web blog. Our plan is to share our brainstorming ideas at our next Council on Ministries and Administrative Board meetings.

In addition to a lot of praying, reading scripture, and brainstorming around these five practices, we also were able to take walks, enjoy wonderful meals, share in worship, and enjoy our time together.