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

Friday, July 31, 2009

U2 Song at Farewell Sunday

A big thanks to the Faith Community praise band for playing my favorite song, "Where the Streets Have No Name" by U2 during the contemporary service at my farewell Sunday.

It was a special day to have the U2 song and the chancel choir as part of my final Sunday at Faith Community.

I didn't know that Bono (Tom Blackbern) and U2 would include Xenia in their current 360 world tour!

Thanks for the memories, Xenia: Faith Community United Methodist! And thanks for a great send off.

I love you all.

Our Wonderful Mission Trip Guide - Guatemala '09

Luis Alvarado, a US citizen who has a passion for the people and culture of Latin America, served as our July 14 - 21 Guatemala mission team guide.

Luis speaks Spanish fluently and was able to answer almost every question we threw at him, causing me to wonder how much prize money he would win if he became a contestant on Jeopardy!

Thanks to Luis, the people on our team who became ill were able to receive help at a local clinic and receive the medicine we needed. He also worked side by side with us each day in the hot sun as we dug the trench for the water line.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

View from Work Site - Guatemala '09

Every day, our 14 member mission team had a view of the surrounding volcanoes and mountains during our work on the 270 meter water project for the small community of Pachitulul, which you can begin to see immediately to the left.

The large and beautiful Lake Atitlan is located behind me as I took this picture. We had a spectacular view of one of the most beautiful lakes in the world as well as these beautiful mountains and volcanoes. Interestling enough, we were working during their rainy season but it didn't rain until our last day of the trip. We were fortunate to have been their during a two week dry time of the rainy season!

In the midst of tremendous poverty, signs of God's beautiful creation were all around us and especially in the faces of the people we met.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - August 2

Sunday, August 2 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "Called by God"

Features - 9th Sunday After Pentecost & Commissioning of New Senior Pastor

Scriptures - Jeremiah 1:1-10 & Luke 9:18-27

Theme - Our two scripture readings today help us to think about God’s calling in our lives. How do you know if God is calling you? What does it mean for us to say yes to God? In this time of pastoral transition and new beginnings, we turn to God’s call of Jeremiah and Jesus’ call of the disciples to help us be open to God’s calling in our lives.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

New Friends - Guatemala Mission Trip '09

Our Guatemala mission team ended up meeting several new people during our July 14 - 21 trip. One of the best ways to get to know people who speak a totally different language is by working side by side on a project together.

In the course of digging a trench for the water pipe project, I got to know two young men from the community who will be benefiting from the new well. Their names are Fausto and Gabino (see picture above.)

Since it became obvious to the three of us that I didn't know much Spanish and they knew little English, Gabino pulled out a note pad and asked me the English equivalant for various words. He gave me a copy of that list which I now carry in my wallet to remind me of our new friendship.

I think they were both impressed that as a padre, I could swing a pic axe fairly well!
As a token of our new friendship, I gave them two of our mission trip t-shirts on the last day of our trip.

July 26 Sermon - "The Last Word"

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Pachitulul & Streams of Living Water

A community of fifteen to twenty people will be able to have water in their community thanks to the recent Faith Community/Common Cup mission trip to Guatemala (July 14 - 21.)

Our task was to complete the 2nd phase of a 3 phase water project which included digging a 270 meter long trench, laying the pipe, covering up the trench, and erecting an electric pole. The trench line went through some rocky soil, through a corn field, and up a sharp incline to the top of a hill where the well is located. (See picture above of part of our team at work.)

We used pic axes, shovels, and hoes to dig the trench under the hot sun. Folks from the community helped our fourteen member team.

In addition to the water project, our team also helped at the nearby two room school that doesn't have electricity and distributed clothing and toys to the children. More about those projects in future posts.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Guatemala Mission Trip News

Fourteen people representing Xenia: Faith Community United Methodist and our Common Cup shared ministries are participating in the Guatemala mission trip.

The purpose of the trip is to share the love of Jesus Christ with the people of San Lucas Toliman and Pachitulul, a small town in the central highlands by helping with a water project that will make life a little easier in that community.

The town is about five thousand feet above sea level on the eastern shores of Lake Atitlan. Situated at the base of two volcanoes (Atitlan and Toliman) the economy of the town depends on coffee production. We have been selling Guatemalan coffee the past several weeks at church which will be used to provide additional support during the trip.

In addition to coffee, they also have a busy local market that provides avocados, pears, maize, tomatoes and other vegetables.

San Lucas Toliman has a population of 12,000 with another 12,000 in the surrounding villages. According to a European Union supervised study in 2002,
  • 76% live in poverty and 33% live in extreme poverty.
  • 57% are less than 20 years old but only 3% are over 60 years old.
  • 47.8% (ages 15 to 60) are illiterate.

78% of the children attend elementary school, though maybe only for a year or two.

The Guatemalan mission trip is one of four mission trips Xenia: Faith Community is participating in this summer which includes approximately 60 people from our church and Common Cup shared ministries.

Look for pictures and highlights from the trip to be posted at a later date.

Sunday, July 12, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - July 26

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

Sermon - "The Last Word"

Features - 8th Sunday After Pentecost & Pastor Robert’s Farewell Sunday

Scriptures - Ephesians 3:14-21 & John 6:1-21

Theme - The Apostle Paul, writing from a prison in Rome, tells the church in Ephesus that he is praying for them. As our church experiences a pastoral transition, we are invited to receive Paul’s prayer to be a church that continues to be filled with all the fullness of God.

Xenia: Faith Community UM Welcomes Principal Karen Miller

Today, our church welcomed Principal Karen Miller of Shawnee Elementary School (1st row on left) who came to all three worship services to thank us for partnering with them this past year. The partnership is a two-way street with our church providing tutoring, refreshments for their school events, gifts for the staff, our facility for their graduation program, and school supplies for needy children. Staci Patterson from our church (1st row, far right) coordinates our Shawnee partnership.

The children of Shawnee make crafts for our visitation team to take to members in the hospitals and nursing homes to brighten their day.

In addition to celebrating our partnership with Shawnee, we also commissioned 46 people from our church who will be participating in 3 of our 4 July mission team trips as they serve Jesus in West Virginia, Michigan, and Guatemala.

And last but not least, today was United Methodist Men's Sunday in which Adam Leopard, our summer college intern (back row & far right), Frank Brown, president of United Methodist Men (standing next to Adam), Fred Whitican (2nd from left, back row) and Deacon Rick Tettau participated in the worship services. Not pictured is Mike Leopard who also led in the worship services.

We celebrated the many ways the men of our church are making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

My highlight today was serving as one of the ushers at the traditional worship service. I can now take this off my bucket list!

Saturday, July 11, 2009

How Do You Explain All of this Beauty?

One of my favorite personal pictures is this one I took sometime last year. I was standing at the kitchen sink one morning looking at our back yard when I couldn't help but notice three beautiful flowers that we had planted together at full bloom.

I remember standing there filled with awe of how God's good creation is all around me. There are some who find it difficult to believe in God because of so much suffering and pain in the world. Their questions are legitimate and should be taken seriously. After all, Christians also ask these same questions. And yet, on the other side of the coin, there are times that we are also faced with the question, "How can there be so much beauty and goodness in the world?" The Christian responds to this question by pointing to the scriptures and the story of how God created the world and called it, "good."

Just like the day when I was surprised by these beatiful flowers in my own back yard, God's good creation is all around us. This prayer, "For Joy in God's Creation" from "The Book of Common Prayer," which is often used each Saturday reminding us of the 7th day when God rested after the six days of creation, is designed to point us to God when we see a breath-taking sunrise, an older pet dog playing with some packing tape and acting like a puppy again, or the vivid colors of flowers from a kitchen sink window.

For Joy in God's Creation

O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, July 10, 2009

Thursday Morning Bible Study Farewell Brunch

For the past three or so years, I have been meeting on a weekly basis year round with a wonderful group of people for bible study, prayer, and fellowship.

We studied a variety of topics such as the Book of Romans, the Book of Revelation, the Epistle of James, "Simply Christian" by NT Wright, World Religions, "The Shack" novel, the writings of classical Christian authors, the United Methodist Hymnal as a devotional resource, "Just Neighbors," a study resource produced by Interfaith Hospitality Network (homeless ministry,) as well as other topics.

Each week, someone brings incredible desserts and sweets to share with the whole group and we always have coffee.

Yesterday, the group had their 2nd farewell lunch for me and like the 1st farewell lunch, the food was incredible. The first lunch was such a big hit that we decided to do it again!

The group presented me with a framed picture of me with the group that you see above. To my Thursday morning bible study group, I can only say, "thanks for the memories!"

Thursday, July 9, 2009

My Clergy Cluster/Small Group for the Past Eight Years

Here's a picture of my clergy cluster/small group over the past eight years.

This was taken at a restaurant today to celebrate the commissioning of Pastor Sandy Linger Santos (Union UMC & Jamestown UMC) and Peggy Cromer (New Jasper UMC & Bellbrook UMC.) To be commissioned means that they are now "provisional members" with the goal of becoming Elders in two years which means to be a full clergy member of the West Ohio Conference through Word, Sacrament, Order, and Service, and be appointed to serve a church full time and be itinerant (be subject to moving at the discretion of the Bishop.)

We also said farewell to Pastor Tim Holly (Cedarville UMC), Peggy Cromer (New Jasper UMC & Bellbrook), and me (Faith Community UM) as the three of us are concluding our appointments at our respective churches.

Our clergy cluster has served as our small group over these past several years. Here are some of the things we have done as a small group:
  • Met twice a month for the purpose of sharing how we are doing in the areas of our personal discipleship as well as our pastoral responsibilities. Once a month, we celebrate the Sacrament of Holy Communion together as a group.
  • Attended overnight retreats for ministry planning and personal spiritual growth.
  • Serve lunches at Dayton: St. Paul's Outreach Center; work on Habitat for Humanity homes together; & served meals for our annual Common Cup basket auction/dinner fundraiser.
  • Participate in the Wednesday Common Cup program by leading some of the growth groups & serving Holy Communion on a rotating basis during the prayer chapel time.

Thank you God, for the gift of having a group such as this over these many years to help me be a better follower of your Son, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Exciting News at Bellbrook UMC

Construction on an addition to the Bellbrook UMC, one of our fifteen Common Cup shared ministry churches is moving forward at a fast pace. They are hoping to complete this project by this September and they have scheduled a consecration service with our Bishop in October.

Yesterday, I was given a tour through the new addition as workers were busy on various projects, one of which included painting the exterior brick white to match the existing church building. Church members provide refreshments to the workers on a weekly basis as part of their radical hospitality ministry.

The new addition will include a fellowship hall area for meals and programs, office space, restrooms, a kitchen (although kitchen appliances will not be part of this building phase), a spacious nursery, and a large hallway.

Pictured above is Pastor Terry Heck standing in front of the new addition.

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Thoughts on Men & the Church

As I am helping to prepare for this Sunday's worship focus on men and their participation in the life of the church, I am reminded of some troubling statistics from the church for men website.
  • Most churches are comprised of a 61/39 percentage split between women and men, men being the lower of the percentages.
  • This Sunday, 25% of married church going women will worship without their husbands.
  • Midweek church activities are comprised of mostly women. (70-80%)
  • Over 70% of boys who are being raised in church will abandon it in their teens or twenties.
  • Fewer than 10% of U.S. churches are able to establish or maintain a vibrant men's ministry.

Most of the research that I have seen on the reason for this significant disparity is due to the following reality: While men tend to thrive on opportunities for adventure and being involved in risk-taking experiences, churches tend to play it too safe for most men's tastes.

One of the big changes that Faith Community has made recently is an emphasis on adult mission trips which provide risk-taking opportunities in the name of Christ.

What are some other risk-taking ministries and adventures in the name of Christ that the church can offer that will help more men feel connected and needed in the life of the church?

Monday, July 6, 2009

Celebrity Deaths & a Christian Response

Over the past several days, several celebrities have died and we have been reminded of how fragile life really is. From Ed McMahon to Steve McNair, people we have seen in the news and the tabloids over the past several years are no longer with us.

My hunch is that in addition to the glitz and stardom that will be present at tomorrow's memorial service for Michael Jackson, there will probably be at least some reference to spirituality to help bring comfort to the immediate family, not to mention a grieving world. I'm not quite sure if Michael embraced a specific religion but I'm thinking that he might have had a blending of various religious faiths.

During times such as this, I think it's important to emphasize that the Christian faith has a very specific message for a grieving world and it's a message of tremendous hope. In very brief summary form, here are the key elements of this distinctive hope in the face of death:
  • God, the creator of the universe and who called creation good, grieves over suffering, death, loss, and sin. To enhance this point, the bible goes to great lengths in describing what God is like with images such as a good shepherd, a loving father, and a woman who searches frantically to find a lost coin. As with any tragedy or death, sharing how God surrounds us, loves us, and searches for us is the place to start when sharing the hope of our faith.
  • In order to reclaim a world that is torn by death and sin, God chose to make a covenant with us (first with the people of Abraham & the people of Israel) in which we were called to be faithful in following God.
  • We have failed to live out our end of this covenant and in order for God to remain faithful to God's own promise to redeem the world, God sent Jesus, who through his perfect obedience and death on the cross, became our representative of what it means to offer ourselves fully and completely for God.
  • The amazing news that Jesus had been resurrected from the dead on Easter morning and that several eyewitnesses reported seeing him in his physically transformed body, was vindication that Jesus was in fact the Son of God, the one who was to bring salvation to the world.
  • After appearing before his disciples in his resurrected body for forty days, Jesus ascends to be with God, the Father in heaven. The Christian hope is that there will be a day when Jesus will reappear on this earth and through a special act of God's grace will set up God's kingdom throughout all of creation and God's glory will fill all the earth.
  • In the meantime, through the gift of the Holy Spirit and through faith in Jesus Christ, we are called to live out this hope through word and deed having full assurance that death and sin will not have the last word.
  • And here's the really good part...a time will come when all of God's people will be reunited in God's kingdom and this will be a time of great joy and feasting. This will be a time of no more mourning, tears, death, sin, or suffering. This is where our Christian hope was headed all along from the book of Genesis to the book of Revelation.

This is what I want mourners throughout the world to hear and embrace as they seek comfort and consolation during this time of loss. This is the distinctive message of the good news that the Christian faith has to offer the world at times such as this.

July 5 Sermon - "Packing Tips"

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - July 12

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

Sermon - "The Men of Faith Community"

Features - 6th Sunday After Pentecost; Shawnee Elementary Partnership Update; Commissioning of Mission Teams; & Coins for Missions Sunday (Supporting Four Local Mission Projects)

Scriptures - I Thessalonians 5:12-18 & Luke 23:32-34

Theme - God has called on men throughout history to rise up and lead in his kingdom. Today is no different; the men of Faith Community are leading the charge to bring heaven to earth. We will hear some of our men share how God has allowed them to be part of his story.

Friday, July 3, 2009

Which is the True Independence Day?

Which date do you think is the true Independence Day?

The contestants are...

July 2 - The day when the Continental Congress voted to declare complete independence from British rule.

July 4 - The day when the formal wording of the declaration was approved. (The signing didn't happen until August.)

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Love The New Wesley Study Bible!

Pastor Rick gave me a wonderful parting gift in church on Sunday, The Wesley Study Bible. Although I haven't had time to sift through as many pages as I'd like, here is my initial impression:
  • It's the NRSV (New Revised Standard Version) translation which is used by most mainline denominations. The translation itself is only twenty or so years old. The NRSV is a solid translation. For bible studies and sermon planning, I had been using my Oxford Annotated Study Bible (NRSV), but it was beginning to get well worn. And I was getting really tired of seeing the big dried paint blob on one of the pages! How did that get there? I must have had it open during one of our painting projects here at the house which probably involved painting the ceiling at one point.
  • The biblical maps representing the different eras of the bible are outstanding with bright and vivid colors which stand out.
  • In addition to the standard study bible notes at the bottom of each page explaining the scripture passage, there are also periodic snapshots of Wesleyan theological doctrines as well as periodic snapshots of life applications rooted in a Wesleyan understanding. This study bible lives and breathes Wesleyan theology!

With a lot of thematic study bibles on the market (women's, men's, youth, etc.) if you appreciate the Wesleyan theological approach to the Christian faith, this is the study bible you want. By the way, a Patriot's study bible is now on the market to explain the scriptures in light of the founding fathers, many of whom were technically "deists" which offers a theology which deviates from classical Christianity. While helpful in some regards, some of these study bibles have other agendas in mind - ie. prove that America is more blessed by God than other countries. Moral of the story: Don't just buy any study bible!

Possible uses for The Wesley Study Bible?

  • Sermon & bible study planning
  • Daily devotional reading
  • Confirmation/New Member Classes
  • A great gift idea (Thanks, Pastor Rick!)

Church Members Traveling the World

I try not to be too jealous when I receive post cards from my church members who are traveling around the world. But....

Take for example, this post card I received yesterday in the mail. I have a church family who is visiting Germany and they toured the awe inspiring "The Cathedral of Cologne" in Germany.

Known for its unique golden "Shrine of the Three Magi", the construction of this greatest German cathedral was started in the Middle Ages in 1248 and completed only after 632 years.

I like the part that states, "...and completed only after 632 years."

The church member commented that it's hard to imagine the detail work that went in to the building of this cathedral.

Have you been to this cathedral? Let me know.