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

Monday, November 30, 2009

You're on the Invitation List!

Today's epistle lesson from "The Daily Office" readings claims that we have received an invitation "to participate in the life of God." A little later in this same passage, we are called to confirm God's invitation to us. We get to choose whether or not we will receive all that God wants to give to us - "firm footing" as we participate in God's inbreaking kingdom in the here and now.

As I thought about this invitation in today's scripture reading, I couldn't help but to think about the couple who recently attended a State dinner at the White House without an invitation exposing a major security breach that should never have happened. This just goes to show how important invitations and being on the guest list really are.

In this Season of Advent, this scripture from II Peter offers us the good news that we are invited to attend the coming of Jesus Christ into our world. The invitation is extended to shepherds, to wisemen, and to all who are willing to make the journey to Bethlehem and bow down in worship and adoration of the Christ Child.

In this first week of Advent, consider yourself on the official guest list to join the nativity. During these four weeks, let's journey together to Bethlehem. There's room for all of us around the manger.

II Peter 1 (The Message)
3-4 Everything that goes into a life of pleasing God has been miraculously given to us by getting to know, personally and intimately, the One who invited us to God. The best invitation we ever received! We were also given absolutely terrific promises to pass on to you—your tickets to participation in the life of God after you turned your back on a world corrupted by lust.

5-9 So don't lose a minute in building on what you've been given, complementing your basic faith with good character, spiritual understanding, alert discipline, passionate patience, reverent wonder, warm friendliness, and generous love, each dimension fitting into and developing the others. With these qualities active and growing in your lives, no grass will grow under your feet, no day will pass without its reward as you mature in your experience of our Master Jesus. Without these qualities you can't see what's right before you, oblivious that your old sinful life has been wiped off the books.

10-11 So, friends, confirm God's invitation to you, his choice of you. Don't put it off; do it now. Do this, and you'll have your life on a firm footing, the streets paved and the way wide open into the eternal kingdom of our Master and Savior, Jesus Christ.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - December 6

December 6 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, December 9 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Moving Life toward the Day of Christ"

Features - 2nd Sunday of Advent & Holy Baptism (9:45)

Scripture - Philippians 1:3-11 & Luke 1:68-79

Saturday, November 28, 2009

1st Sunday of Advent Prayer

Collect of the Day: First Sunday of Advent

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

An Advent Message from Bishop Bruce Ough


Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and Christ Jesus whose advent we await.

I greet you in this Season of Expectation on behalf of the West Ohio Conference Center staff, the district superintendents and the pastors and laity of nearly 1,200 congregations in the West Ohio Conference.

The familiar Advent hymn, “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel” (one of my favorites) perfectly captures the spirit of this season. Even though the risen Christ is among us, and we dwell in His presence, still we long for a nearer and greater vision of Jesus and his return among us – the Second Advent.

Bernard of Clairvaux, the great twelfth century Cistercian abbot, once wrote about Advent in his Sermons on the Song of Songs:

“During my frequent ponderings on the burning desire with which the patriarchs longed for the incarnation of Christ, I am stung with sorrow and shame… Very soon now there will be great rejoicing as we celebrate the feast of Christ’s birth. But how I wish it were inspired by his birth! All the more, therefore, do I pray that the intense longing of those men of old, their heartfelt expectation, may be enkindled in me.”Where in all of our seasonal “holiday” celebrations, we might wonder, is Jesus? Confronted with an increasingly secular celebration – a Christless Christmas – it would be easy to sigh along with Bernard: “But how I wish it were inspired by his birth!”

But the abbot points us away from such lamentation and dismay and towards a more positive road – a pathway I encounter in every healthy, vital congregation. For us, even if for no one else, the Advent season is:

•A time when our longing for God can be enkindled in us.
•A time when a restlessness and homelessness is stirred up in our souls and we are reminded that we are “strangers and foreigners on the earth” (Hebrews 11:13), whose only true home is in God.
•A time when the fires of our passion for Christ can be stoked until they blaze.
•A time when we seek nothing other than to “love God with all of your heart, and with all of your soul, and with all of your mind, and with all of your strength…and love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31).
•A time when we are reminded to keep Advent every day of our lives.

I rejoice and give thanks that hundreds of United Methodist congregations in the West Ohio Conference display an intense longing for the incarnation of Christ and enkindle such a spirit within their members and constituents. For it is this spirit of longing for and seeking God that undergirds our mission of making and equipping disciples of Jesus Christ. For it is this spirit of longing for and seeking God that calls us to life in the Kingdom – the radical and transformative reality which Jesus came to inaugurate.

I pray that you will keep Advent in your life during this season and every day of every season.

Bishop Bruce R. Ough

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

November 8 Sermon - "Big Spender"

Post November 22 Sermon Reflections

In this past Sunday's sermon, I referred to a humorous website called, Graph Jam which includes fictitious surveys on various topics.

In the sermon, I referred to this website's survey on time spent on completing a project. This was used as an illustration under reason #2 why Jesus teaches that we need not worry - Worry doesn't solve anything.

"And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life?" - Matthew 6:27

Monday, November 23, 2009

Celebrating Christmas a Little Early

OK. I admit it. The McDowells' like to celebrate Christmas early by decorating the house a week before Thanksgiving.

It's odd that we do such a thing in our home since Penny and I are both liturgically minded and we believe in the importance of the Advent season which includes hymns such as "O Come O Come Emmanuel" and "Come Thou Long Expected Jesus." My sermons always include a counter cultural Christmas restraint to help us prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world through confession, contemplation, and hopeful anticipation.

So, why do we decorate for Christmas so early in our home?
I think it has something to do with the need to do a little early Christmas shopping. Each year around early to mid November, my brother sends my two sisters and me the names of needy children who are in need of Christmas presents. Our goal is to give these gifts to my brother during the Thanksgiving holiday so he has time to take them to the social agency which will be distributing the gifts. We've been doing this as a family for the past several years and it has become an important part of our yearly yuletide tradition.

Today, we went to the store to buy the gifts and when we got home, we packaged them so that they would be ready to give to my brother. It was nice to come home to a lit Christmas tree, knowing that an anonymous family going through a time of financial hardship was going to receive nice presents for Christmas.

Of course, we could still go out and buy the presents and wait to decorate until at least after Black Friday is over. I just like knowing that the light of Christmas can sometimes come a little early.

Have a blessed Advent and Christmas season.
I mean, have a Happy Thanksgiving!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - November 29

November 29 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, December 2 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Best Christmas Ever!"

Features - 1st Sunday of Advent; HIV/AIDS Awareness Sunday; & Holy Communion by Intinction

Scripture - Jeremiah 33:14-16 & Luke 21:25-36

Theme - Our Advent season begins with the prophet Jeremiah speaking God’s word of hope while in a prison cell to a people who are being overtaken by the Babylonian empire. Jeremiah points people beyond their despair to a time when God would make all things new. As we begin this season of waiting and expectation, do we dare to believe that this just might be our best Christmas ever? How might 2010 be our best year of ministry ever at First UMC? These high expectations are only possible thanks to Jeremiah’s word of hope to us on this 1st Sunday of Advent.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Christ the King Sunday & Ascension Day

Tomorrow, November 22 is "Christ the King" Sunday, a day to celebrate that Jesus is Lord over all creation and to look forward to that time in the future when Jesus will appear again and make all things new. This will be the time when that portion of "The Lord's Prayer" will finally be fulfilled; "Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven."

Until then, the primary mission of the church through the power of the Holy Spirit, is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world. How exciting to know that as citizens of the kingdom of Jesus Christ and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we are called to participate in reclaiming this world for Jesus Christ until that day when Christ returns to establish his kingdom fully on this earth.

In a similar way, Ascension Day, celebrated on the 40th day after Easter Sunday (or the Sunday following Ascension Day) is a day the church celebrates when the resurrected Lord ascended into heaven. When using the word "ascension" it's not so much the meaning of going into the sky as it is that Jesus ascended to his throne ("seated at the right hand of the Father" - The Apostles' Creed.)

So basically, Christ the King Sunday and Ascension Day (Ascension Sunday) are one and the same. Christ the King Sunday is a more recent addition to the church's liturgical calendar and is always celebrated on the Sunday prior to the 1st Sunday of Advent.

Christ the King Sunday Prayer

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Post Bible Study Reflections

At yesterday's weekly bible study, I gave a brief overview of the Christian calendar or the liturgical year since this Sunday is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the church year.

This topic generated a lot of interest with folks wanting to have more information about the liturgical calendar. A great website for the church calendar and seasons is "The Voice." Keep in mind that this web page is about to change from the 2008/2009 year to the 2009/2010 year since the 1st Sunday of Advent, the beginning of a new church year is just around the corner (November 29.)

Here are some advantages of understanding the liturgical calendar:
  • The focus of the calendar is around the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ so that every year, we grow in what it means to be his followers and disciples.
  • It helps us to celebrate the high moments of our faith (feast days such as Easter & Ascension Day) and it guides us during the more confessional, anticipatory, and reflective journeys of our faith (such as Advent & Lent.)
  • It helps us to shape our daily time of scripture and prayer with God to be in alignment with the seasons. For a daily devotional plan that ties in with the seasons, "The Daily Office" is probably the best resource and one that I enjoy using.
  • We are better able to find a rhythm in our faith by moving from season to season rather than focusing on various seasons haphazardly.

Here, at Lancaster First UMC, we are intentional about following the liturgical calendar with appropriate worship themes, litanies, sermons, scriptures, and music.

Wednesday, November 18, 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.

I used to hate making gratitude lists.

It always felt like a stale assignment
given by a psychotherapist
to make you feel better about your life,
even when your life was falling apart.

It seemed far easier to make a grumbling list.
After all...
life IS hard.

For me, it started with finding the
twenty feet of mold, water drenched walls in my bed room
(see last week's devotion)

There's no better day brightener
than realizing the inside of your house walls
look more like a terrarium than a wall.

After two weeks of struggling with the house rescue,
I felt like I had had enough.

That's when the mouse ran across the stove
while I was eating my breakfast.

Great, now I have a rodent problem
That's all I need.

My philosophy on mice is,
if you don't pay rent, you are out of there.

Off to the store (on a day when I don't have time to do this,)
to get mice poison.

The next day
I discovered that my dog had fleas.
Off to the vet for medication......
off to the store for flea spray & powder.

I can't think of a better way to get a busy day started
than by shampooing the dog,
vacuuming the rugs and furniture,
washing blankets and linens
and bombing the house...

yes, that would be the same house that is under emergency rescue.

If I have learned anything,
it is never ask
What can happen next?

While working on the roof of the house,
I began to smell a foul odor.....
really foul.

The septic tank was backing up.

Let me say, there is nothing like
working on the outside of your house,
while your septic tank is acting
like a bomb ready to go off.

As the day turned into night,
I climbed the ladder to shingle the roof.
At times, I felt like tears were welling up.

It was hard to say if they were welling up because of the stench,
or because of the sequence of events that had piled up in my life during the last three weeks.

On one climb to the top of the ladder,
I looked up.

I looked up and saw the most beautiful star-laden sky.
And God spoke to me....

In everything, give thanks
for this is my will for you in Christ Jesus

My first reaction was,
You have got to be kidding!

In everything, give thanks
for this is my will for you in Christ Jesus

How does one give thanks for a backed up septic tank?

Then I remembered a trip when I had visited a squatters village in Mexico
where thousands of the poorest of the poor lived hidden in the woods in shacks
and raw sewage flowed past in the trenches.
Meanwhile, I had the daily convenience of a home with plumbing.

How does one give thanks for fleas?

Then I remembered how this dog
daily offers me unconditional love and companionship

How does one give thanks for rodents in the house?

Then I remembered I had a warm house that attracted them,
a warm home that provided shelter on these frosty autumn nights

How does one give thanks for a water damaged roof and walls?

Then I remembered the generosity of friends who came to my aid.

I remembered enjoying the beauty of autumn days and nights
while being outdoors working
rather than being in my office.

I remembered that I had the financial means to repair my house,
when I thought of the thousands in places like New Orleans
whose lives were devastated.

I was making a gratitude list while on the ladder,
but now it didn't feel like a stale assignment.
I was having a genuine thanksgiving moment,
well before the turkey ever came to the table.

I know many whose lies are being challenged.

Loss of employment,
life threatening illnesses,
the death of a loved one,
messy divorces,

The key to thanksgiving
is not to pretend your problems don't matter,
but to realize that there is a greater solution beyond all of them.

May you experience a genuine thanksgiving
whether it be at the top of a ladder
or when you are at the bottom of your hope,

In everything, give thanks
for this is my will for you in Christ Jesus

(1 Thessalonians 5:18)

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

The Donatos Creed

While eating at Donatos tonight for dinner, I noticed the Donatos Creed on the side of my medium drink. It's printed in such a way that it has the look and feel of the Apostles' Creed. Of course, the content of their creed is all about pizza and it seems like I should sing the Gloria Patri at the end of it.

We believe in great pizza.
Which means we believe in only the finest
and the freshest toppings used in abundance.
And we believe in getting those toppings in every bite.
Because great pizza is a passion,
and we believe that passion is contagious.
Yes, we believe in absolutely
everything pizza should be.

This unexpected use of a creed in a fast food restaurant reminds me of the importance of having a creed that summarizes our faith that can bring us hope as we go through our day to day living. When the Apostles' Creed was formulated (2nd & 3rd centuries) it became a way for the early Christians to identify the key points of the faith.

A lot of Christians do not feel confident in articulating their faith with the people around them and yet, we have the Apostles' Creed which is a great summary of the good news of Jesus Christ. For wordy people like me, it's a great way to share our faith and keep it short and sweet.

Join me in reciting the historic confession of our Christian faith, the Apostles' Creed.

I believe in God, the Father almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.
I believe in Jesus Christ, his only son, our Lord.
He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit
and born of the Virgin Mary.
He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried.
On the third day he rose again.
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic Church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Home Field Advantage

It's 8:12 A.M., Sunday, November 8, a couple of minutes before worship is to begin, and I'm about to walk into the sanctuary of First United Methodist Church in Lancaster, Ohio when an usher abruptly stops me and says, "Buddy, you're in trouble. Take a look up there."

The usher was pointing toward the chancel railing and pulpit area where all kinds of Ohio State Buckeye paraphernalia was in prominent display. I said a quick prayer. "Lord, please get me through this morning in one piece. Amen."

I continue to the back of the sanctuary where I will be proceeding forward during the prelude music. After just two steps, laughter erupts in the sanctuary. The prelude music is the Ohio State school song, "Carmen Ohio" masquerading as the great Christian hymn, "Come, Christians Join to Sing." I repeat my previous prayer. "Lord, please get me through this morning in one piece." Some prayers are just meant to be repeated over and over again.

The laughter dies down and I head up the chancel steps. There's my preacher chair. If I can just make it there and sit down, I'll be safe for a while. I sit down, trying to look pastor like and worshipful when I notice the Ohio State door mat in front of the pulpit which only I can see.

It was at that point, that I decided to quickly glance out to the congregation which ended up being a strategic mistake. To my surprise, the first four or five pews are filled with congregants wearing scarlet and gray. And they are smiling and excited that I finally made eye contact with them. More laughter erupts.
It was at that moment, that I knew that maybe God was teaching me something. "Do you remember when you wore your Penn State jersey to the bible study this past Wednesday and how you were trash talking your own Ohio State parishioners about how Penn State was going to win? Well, here's what happens when you do those kinds of things."

I ended up surviving that worship service as well as the other services that morning. And yes, I learned a valuable lesson. Don't trash talk your congregants before the big game. Love your parishioners regardless of their Big Ten leanings.

So I asked my Buckeye friends who you see in the picture above (taken after the worship service.) "What would you have done if Penn State had won?" "Oh, we had that figured out. We would have worn all black," came the reply. To which I said, "You mean Purdue black?"

Maybe I didn't learn my lesson after all.

Upcoming 2010 Sermon Highlights

Looking ahead to 2010, I'm excited about the sermon schedule. I developed this schedule back in August at a sermon planning retreat and have already been working on some of the sermons. My goal is to offer sermon series that cover the following vital areas 1) evangelism 2) discipleship 3) pastoral care needs 4) equipping for ministry/service.

I haven't listed all of the sermons but here's a quick preview of the sermon series:

  • 3-Part Sermon Series on "Faith, Film, & Fiction"
  • Basketball Legend, Jerry Lucas to Speak
  • 3-Part Sermon Series on "Mind, Body, & Soul"
  • "A Heart for Lancaster" New Ministry Initiative Launch


  • 6-Part Sermon Series on "The Crosses of Jesus"


  • 4-Part Sermon Series on "Big Questions"


  • 3-Part Sermon Series on "Puzzling Parables of Jesus"


  • "Christmas in July"


  • 5-Part Sermon Series on "Biblical Matriarchs & Patriarchs"


  • 4-Part Sermon Series on "In Concert with God"


  • 4-Part Sermon Series on "Prayers, Presence, Gifts, Service, & Witness"


  • 4-Part Sermon Series on "Christmas According to the Four Gospels"

Sunday Worship Preview - November 22

November 22 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service)

Sermon - "No Worries"

Features - Christ the King & Thanksgiving Sunday

Scripture - Joel 2:21-27 & Matthew 6:25-33

Theme - On this Christ the King Sunday which precedes the Thanksgiving holiday, we are given the opportunity to reflect on Jesus’ teachings on how to deal with the worries of life. What are some worries that you are presently experiencing? Jesus’ teachings during the Sermon on the Mount in the Gospel of Matthew can help us not let the worries of life get the best of us.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Facing a Crossroad in Life

Cross Roads is a small town near where I grew up in southeastern, Pennsylvania. I served as a groomsman for a high school friend of mine at the United Methodist Church in this town (Cross Roads UMC.) I always thought it was interesting that during an important crossroad in his life, he was married in a town named, Cross Roads.

Here at First UMC in Lancaster, Ohio, we have the new Crossroads facility which is also a place for people who are facing those crossroad moments in their lives. In my first three months here, I have experienced several special moments of how God is using this facility to be a blessing to others.

Here are just a few examples:
  • A couple of weeks ago, we baptized a little baby boy at our Crossroads Wednesday worship service. It was a special moment to see members of our church who regularly worship at our downtown church to make a special effort to attend this service and surround the parents of this child with a community of love and support.

  • During a meeting with community leaders, they told me how grateful they are that we open our facility to groups in our surrounding area. One person said, "We've heard people in our community share many positive comments about how crossroads has been a great addition to Lancaster."

  • Before I even moved to Lancaster this past summer, a couple from this area told me that even though they do not attend the church, they often come to our Wednesday fellowship dinners because of the great food and fellowship. They told me, "You're going to love the meals on Wednesday evenings at your new church!" They were right!
I give thanks to God for how our crossroads facility is being used for the benefit of the people in our community. It's exciting to think about how God will continue to use this vital resource to be a blessing to others for years to come.

The mission statement of Cross Roads UMC in Cross Roads, Pennsylvania reads, "A church that you can call home."

I'm glad that we can say the same about this facility as well.

Thursday, November 12, 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 when it rains, it pours.

You just don't expect it to be pouring...
INSIDE your house.

My addition project to my home
began with the gutting of the master bedroom and bath.
It was the beginning of what will be a 12 month project.

When I removed the clothes from the closet,
I noticed some faint but defined marks of water on the back walls.
I made note of it,
but didn't think too much of it.

As I began to demolish the closet,
I then felt the back flooring of the closet begin to give way.

Urgency ensued.

I began ripping at the wall to see what was hidden.
As I removed the back wall of the closet,
I gasped.

The interior of the wall and the foundation were compromised......badly.
I hadn't seen anything this bad since a mission trip to hurricane ravaged New Orleans.
This water had been invading for years,
and I had no clue.

Mold....mildew.........water soaked lumber........
I continued to remove the wall surface....

3 feet......6 feet.....12 feet.........
20 feet.

20 feet of compromised wall,
20 feet of wall that was bearing the weight of the house roof.

Sleep for the most part escaped me that night,
as anxiety and worry crept in.

To add insult to injury,
a long heavy rain came through the night
to further remind me that my home
was not the shelter that I believed it to be.

Prayers were uttered as I hoped to fall asleep.
Prayers for the peace of Christ to rule,
for courage, for trust.......

Somehow, things seemed far scarier at 3am than they do at 3pm.
They always do.

Erma once said,
It always seems darker
just before they turn the lights on.

The next day,
as I told my story,
the lights began to turn on.

The lights came in the form of friends,
both old and new,
who offered their time, their tools, their energy, their skills,

The task was daunting.
The roof beams were elevated
to replace the walls one section at a time.

10 days
working whenever time would allow....
often working deep into the night.
A rotation of friends who could have easily looked the other way,

Difficult circumstances
are God moments.

Though not welcomed nor sought out,
they are invitations for the Divine to speak and act.

They are moments in retrospect,
when we can see God's faithfulness.

They are moments
when we can choose to grow in faith.

They are moments
when we can be the hands and heart of God in another's life.

10 days later,
and there is still much to do.
But once again,
my hope, peace, and courage are restored.

Sometimes, when it rains, it pours.
But God is faithful to give us a very big umbrella.

A special thank you to the umbrellas in my life named
Charlie, Randy, Jessie, and Bob.
and to the many others that prayed me through this time.

A friend loves at all times,
and a brother is born for adversity.

Proverbs 17:7

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

For Those in the Armed Forces of Our Country

Today, President Obama is considering four options for Afghanistan which includes the possibility of sending another 34,000 troops. As difficult decisions are being made, let us pray for the armed forces of our country and on this Veterans' Day, let us pause and give thanks for those who have bravely served our country.

This is the prayer I offer each week during my morning time of prayer. It comes from "The Book of Common Prayer" of the Episcopal Church. Please join me in offering this prayer on a regular basis on behalf of those who serve our country.

A Prayer for Those in the Armed Forces of Our Country

Almighty God, we commend to your gracious care and keeping all the men and women of our armed forces at home and abroad. Defend them day by day with your heavenly grace; strengthen them in their trials and temptations; give them courage to face the perils which beset them; and grant them a sense of your abiding presence wherever they may be; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Happy 209th Birthday, Lancaster, Ohio!

Today (November 10) we celebrate the founding of Lancaster, Ohio. Ebenezer Zane blazed a trail through this area in 1800 and a community was formed.

Yesterday, at my monthly clergy cluster meeting, new hope and possibilities emerged as we started to think about what it would be like for our area United Methodist churches and pastors to intentionally work together in offering the hope and good news of Jesus Christ to our Lancaster community.

The thought of sharing together in ministry while at the same time honoring our unique local church identities led to all sorts of possibilities - reaching the youth of our community, participating in servant/evangelism events (community acts of kindness in the name of Christ), shared pastoral care, as well as many other ideas for strengthening our ministries began to surface.

How appropriate that on the day before our community's 209th birthday, the possibilities for new beginnings and new ministries emerged from our clergy meeting.

Happy birthday, Lancaster!

Monday, November 9, 2009

November 1st Sermon - "The Breath Taking View of God's Future World"

Post Sunday Sermon Update - Extreme Home Makeover

In my sermon yesterday (November 8) I shared about a recent conversation I had with a man who told me that he had helped with the "Extreme Home Makeover" show which came to Beavercreek, Ohio this past July.

This man was asked to give a couple of hours of his time to run a forklift to help with the project. Instead, he told me that he ended up working 25 hours straight because he was so moved by the story of how they were helping a man in a wheelchair to provide for his family. As I prepared for yesterday's sermon which was based on the story of the poor widow who trusted God with all she had by giving her two remaining coins to the Temple treasury, I thought about this man who experienced the joy of giving all that he had to make a difference in this family's life.

During my sermon, I failed to mention that this episode would be aired last night on ABC. Here's an 8 minute clip which tells the inspiring story of how they helped this family in Beavercreek, Ohio.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - November 15

November 15 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, November 18 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - “Living Up to What God Has Done for Us”

Features - 24th Sunday After Pentecost & Recieving of New Members (9:45 & 11:00)

Scripture - Hebrews 10:11-25 & Mark 13:1-8

Friday, November 6, 2009

Health Care Bill & West Ohio Conference UMC Response


Our United Methodist Social Principles state clearly that health care is a basic human right and joins Ezekiel in affirming the duty of government to assure health care for all(Social Principle paragraph 162V). Recently, our General Board of Church and Society has taken a position to support HR 3962, a new bill to reform health care in the United States.

HR 3962 provides the following key points:

1. Creation of "Insurance Exchange" coverage people can purchase through the government. The rates have been negotiated with hospital systems so that the interests of various parties are represented: the public, health care providers, insurance providers, and the government.

Over the past 32 years, General Conference has consistently advocated for a single payer option which would cover every American. The Insurance Exchange (or Negotiated Rates Public Option) is a compromise to the United Methodist position. This means that the rate to purchase it will depend on where a person lives. In some instances, it will cost more than the purchase of private insurance. In other places, it will cost less.

2. This bill would eliminate the practice of denying insurance to you based on pre-existing conditions.

3. If your income is below 150% of the federal poverty level, you will become eligible for Medicaid. If your income is between 150-400% of the poverty level, you can purchase subsidized insurance through the exchange.

4. HR 3962 will also allow parents to cover their dependent children through age 27.

In summary, HR 3962 will make health coverage accessible to more people and provide health care for more people.

Yankees Hit a Homerun

Whether you're a Yankees fan or not (I was pulling for the Phillies) you gotta like this brief story of how they are making a difference.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Buckeyes & One Lonely Nittany Lion

One of the joys of my ministry at First United Methodist Church is leading a weekly Wednesday and Thursday bible study in which we read and discuss the scripture texts that will be used for the upcoming Sunday worship services.
I appreciate the discussion, the conversations, the insights, and the joy of being together as a community of people on the journey of discipleship. Today's focus was on Mark 12:38-44 in which Jesus notices a poor widow who gave all that she had (two small coins) into the Temple treasury. Jesus contrasts this widow's all out devotion and trust in God with the self interests of the scribes who were more interested in their own popularity than in having a complete trust in God.
At the bible study today, I chose to wear my Nittany Lion jersey (see picture above) in preparation for Saturday's game with Ohio State. It made for a great bible study ice-breaker and it also helped me to illustrate the point of the Mark text that we shouldn't go around wearing long jerseys just so that we can be greeted with respect in the marketplace.
Go Penn State!

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 is said that they have nine lives.

I would say they have nine meals......
in one afternoon.

Because I live on a farm,
one would think that I would see a lot of rodents.

The reality is that through the years,
I have rarely seen a mouse.....
until now.

I began seeing them in the barn,
then the garage,
then they appeared in the house when the weather turned colder.

This might not seem unusual for a farm,
but it is is,
when your farm has gazzillion farm cats.

I say a gazzillion,
but it might be a gazillion and one.

Through the years,
my mom has kept a legion of cats on the farm.

If I were a mouse,
I would have chosen to walk through a minefield rather than to
invade our farm.

One false move in the barn and it was over.
Cat's in all directions just waiting for a meal to walk in.

I thought it was peculiar when I began noticing the mice,
that is until the day that I cleaned out the garage.

On that Saturday, I decided to finally tackle that long overdue project.
As I was working,
my mom came from the farmhouse to the barn,
passing by the garage.

"Just going to feed the cats" she said as she carried the milk towards the barn.

I kept working.

"Just going to feed the cats" my mom said as she carried the milk towards the barn.

My mom has been battling Alzheimers for several years now.
The disease has progressed that my mom has virtually no short term memory.
She literally lives life in the moment.
Her life is filled with repetitive motions or speech that have no recall.

"Just going to feed the cats" my mom repeated as she walked by.

Well, at least she is getting some exercise, I thought as I continued
my exorcism of the garage.

"Just going to feed the cats"

Man, we are going to have some fat cats around here, I thought.

And then it dawned on me.....
Fat cats........an increase in mice.
These cats are so full that they aren't doing their job anymore.

I am finishing up my work
when mom walked by one more time.
That would be five meals in less than three hours.

My mom's repetitive feeding of the cats
might have been good for the local milk industry,
but is was doing no good for our cats or our farm.

Fat cats get nothing done.
Fat cats live shorter lies.
Fat cats don't fulfill their purpose

Fat cats might be good news for mice,
but they are of little value to their masters.

The church historically has been at its best
during the times in which it has been persecuted.

During times of prosperity (lots of milk)
the church has tended to be lethargic and lifeless.

Jesus spoke of such a church in His revelation to John

"I know you inside and out, and find little to my liking.
You're not cold, you're not hot-
far better to be either cold or hot!
You're stale, You're stagnant. You make me want to vomit.
You brag, "I'm rich, I've got it made,
I need nothing from anyone,
oblivious to the fact that you're a pitiful, blind beggar, threadbare and homeless.

Here's what I want you to do:
Buy your gold from me,
gold that's been through the refiner's fire.
THEN you will be rich" (revelations 3:15, 17-18a)

Jesus said that it is better to hunger and thirst after the things of God,
than to constantly seek after the things of the world.

It is then that our spirits are satisfied.
It is then that we find peace.
It is then that we best fulfill our purpose.

Cat's don't know any better
than to continually drink up milk that they don't need.
We, as children of the King, know better.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Stewardship Reflections

This is a season in which many churches are holding their stewardship campaigns as they prepare for a new year of ministries. Here at First United Methodist Church, we will be holding our stewardship campaign on Sunday, November 8.

This is my 4th recent post to help us reflect on stewardship and it also gives me a reason to post beautiful pictures of the changing autumn leaves!

Stewardship Reflection:

Several years ago, I had a conversation with another United Methodist pastor in my district about stewardship in his church. It was refreshing to hear him share that based on the average household income in his area, members of his church were giving somewhere around 5% of their income to support the ministries of the church.

At the time of our conversation, I had read that the Wesleyan denomination had the highest percentage of givers of all the church denominations. Our denomination (United Methodist) was bunched together with several other mainline denominations around the 2% average giving. One of the reasons the Wesleyan denomination has a stronger financial giving record is because they have consistently taught the biblical principle of tithing (giving 10% of your income to support the ministries of the church) to each generation.

Back to the conversation with the United Methodist pastor: So I asked him, "What gives? Why is your church giving at such a higher level than most other United Methodist churches?" His response mirrored the reason the Wesleyan denomination has been at the top of the list in terms of giving. Before he arrived at the church to serve as pastor, the pastors and key lay people before him had consistently taught the biblical principle of tithing to each generation in the congregation. Tithing had become a core value of that church.

Over the years, I have learned that becoming a tither or moving closer to tithing usually doesn't happen overnight. It's a process of putting our giving to Christ and the church at the top of our budget with the goal of giving the biblical principle of 10%.

It's exciting when people in the congregation see how their generous giving fuels ministries which help us fulfill our stated mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world. Our giving takes on that snow ball effect. As we see lives being transformed through the grace of Jesus Christ, we want to give even more since we can see how God is at work through our giving.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Buckeyes in the Pulpit

This morning, BEFORE the big Ohio State/Penn State game this upcoming Saturday, I find four buckeye nuts on the pulpit. Ah! The pre-game festivities begin!

Every year in the church I serve, there is an acute tension between the Nittany Lion pastor (me) and my Buckeye congregations. A few years ago when Ohio State won, I was a good sport and wore a church member's OSU alum varsity jacket during worship. I walked down the sanctuary aisle wearing that jacket and as is my usual routine, paused at the altar for a brief prayer. It was during that silent prayer that I heard several people snickering in the congregation as they began to notice what I was wearing.

Last year, a gracious associate pastor who is an OSU alum, wore my Penn State hat for five seconds during worship since Penn State took care of OSU the day before.

The picture above includes two members of my previous church who had a little OSU/PSU pre-game fun before the big game.

This year is an even bigger dilemma as this Sunday is Stewardship Sunday, the day we invite people to make financial commitments to support the work and ministry of the church for the coming year. Do I want my beloved Nittany Lions to win or do I want the congregation to be in a good mood for a successful stewardship Sunday? It's a no win situation.

Go Penn State!

Sunday Worship Preview - November 8

November 8 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, November 11 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - “Big Spender”

Features - 23rd Sunday After Pentecost, Stewardship Sunday; & Veterans’ Recognition

Scripture - Hebrews 9:24-28 & Mark 12:38-4

Theme - As Jesus and the disciples spend time “people watching,” he points out an unsuspecting poor widow as an example of what it means to be a big spender. She offered all that she had which was only two copper coins or a penny and gives us an example of what it means to trust God with all that we have.