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, February 28, 2010

Chile Earthquake & UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief)


Below is information on the initial United Methodist response to the earthquake in Chile. We pray for the people of Chile in this great time of need.

UMCOR Responds to Earthquake in Chile

February 27, 2010—The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is responding to the needs of people affected by the 8.8 magnitude earthquake that struck Chile early on Saturday. Preliminary reports indicate at least 147 people have died, homes and hospitals have been destroyed, and the earthquake triggered a tsunami that is rolling across the Pacific.

Bishop Joel N. Martinez, interim General Secretary of the General Board of Global Ministries said, “I have just received the terrible news about the major 8.8 magnitude earthquake in Chile. The early reports of great destruction and widespread injuries and the increasing death count point to a need for a full response by all humanitarian agencies and governments in the coming days and weeks.”

UMOR is working with partners in Chile: Iglesia Metodista de Chile (IMECH), Ministerio Social Methodista (MISOM) and Equipo Metodista de Acción Humanitaria (EMAH) to respond with resources and support.

Bishop Martinez continued, “I received a message from the Iglesia Metodista de Chile and have expressed to Bishop Mario Martinez Tapia that we respond with our prayers, our solidarity, and our commitment to offer the resources and services of UMCOR to help the church respond.”

In an email, Juan Salazar, President of the Methodist Social Ministry in Chile, says of their initial evaluations of damage, “the information that arises each time indicates that the effects are greater than originally assessed.”

UMCOR executives, Melissa Crutchfield and Tom Hazelwood expressed via email, “our thoughts and prayers are with you all as you mobilize EMAH and IMECH in response to the earthquake this morning. We will continue to keep in touch and to keep you in our prayers. UMCOR and the people of the United Methodist Church stand with you and will help in any way we can.”

Disaster Response Training
Crutchfield and Hazelwood conducted a three-day disaster preparedness and emergency response training for IMECH district coordinators in October 2009. About 20 participants of the Chilean Methodist Church from different districts and regions engaged in the eight-hour a day training, which fostered networking opportunities with local authorities and relevant partners in the emergency response field. The disaster response training offered support IMECH, MISOM and EMAH district coordinators to build a disaster response network in preparation for disasters.

In a blog entry in the UMCOR Notebook, Hazelwood writes, “When we spoke of the use of volunteers and their value to UMCOR’s ministry of disaster response, the people of Chile knew and understood perfectly. They know what it means to be the hands and feet of Christ when there is trouble.”

How to Help
Bishop Martinez says, “I call on our generous United Methodist constituents to join in the response to the Chile Emergency Advance to strengthen UMCOR’s ability to be fully present with resources.”

At this point, it is not anticipated that relief supply kits will be needed. Financial support can be made to Chile Emergency Advance # 3021178.

Gifts can also be made by check to UMCOR and mailed to UMCOR, PO Box 9068, New York, NY 10087. For local church and Annual Conference credit, place your gift in the offering plate on Sundays. Please indicate in the memo line of the check that it is for the Chile Emergency.
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Saturday, February 27, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - March 7

March 7 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, March 10 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Crosses of Jesus - St. Andrew's Cross"

Features - 3rd Sunday in Lent

Scripture - Isaiah 66:1-2; James 4:7-10; & Luke 13:1-9

Theme - Today is the 3rd part of a six-part sermon series on the theme, “The Crosses of Jesus” in which we are focusing on the meaning of several types of Christian crosses to help us journey toward the cross of Holy Week during this Season of Lent. On this third Sunday of the series, our focus is on the meaning of St. Andrew’s Cross.
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Friday, February 26, 2010

Prayer - 2nd Sunday in Lent (February 28)



2nd Sunday in Lent Prayer (Feb. 28)

O God, whose glory it is always to have mercy: Be gracious to all who have gone astray from your ways, and bring them again with penitent hearts and steadfast faith to embrace and hold fast the unchangeable truth of your Word, Jesus Christ your Son; who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

An Example of Risk Taking Mission

Those United Methodists are at it again. Check out this video of a church involved in risk taking mission in their community.

video

Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Boom Boom Pow - The Fight Against Childhood Cancer

Tucker Haas was diagnosed with cancer when he was 2. He's been cancer-free now for almost three years. He performed the song, "Boom Boom Pow" at Penn State's recent THON charity event, which raises money to help fight childhood cancer.

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 call him old man.
That would be my dad.

It started just after my graduation from college in 1979
when he purchased a Lazy Boy recliner.

It wasn't long after that,
that the new invention of the television remote
came into his hands.

I remember telling him as an arrogant twenty something...
I can't believe that you are so lazy
that you can't get out of your Lazy Boy
to change the channel!

My, oh my, how times have changed since then,
as I look upon my satellite dish
with dual receivers and dual remotes
from my cushy sectional sofa.....

It was the Lazy Boy, I believe,
that accelerated my dad into being an old man

At first, he would begin to nod off in the chair by the 10 o'clock news.
Soon after, he was in la la land by the nine o'clock documentaries
Within a year,
nothing was guaranteed after the 8pm sitcoms,
If you wanted to know something from my dad,
you had better ask him by Jeopardy.
or just wait till breakfast.

Meanwhile I was a night owl.
I loved staying up till midnight and beyond.
The late night news,
The Tonight Show,
and later on,
the Letterman Show,
they were all staples of my daily schedule.

Over the years,
I have remained a night owl.
That is until I began building my house this year....

If there were an awards committee
for the best first halves of movies,
I should be on it.

Start a flick after 9pm???
you might as well ship it right back to the video store.

Olympic coverage till midnight????
you might as well award the gold by sunset.

American Idol??
Please....
the furthest I have made it into that show is:
This...........
is.............
American......

Lights out.
Game, set, match.

I have really tried to stave off my senior citizen evening nap.
After working a full time job ,
and coming home to construction,
I have come to cherish an hour or two of relaxing in front of the TV before bedtime.

Against every doctor recommended diet,
I have found that eating late night dinners helps.
It's quite a feat to fall asleep while eating.

Turning the temperature down helps too,
nothing like trying to fall asleep while you are shivering.

But I have found that the best solution to avoid being like my dad,
is to remain upright.
No lying down on the couch,
no pillows,
no blankies.....

That was till last evening.

I was sitting upright at full attention at 7pm,
soda and snacks in hand.

Nothing like a good hockey match to get your blood going.

USA versus Canada!
Olympic medals at stake!
Patriotic pride on the line!
Let's get fired up!
USA! USA! USA!

I woke up in the third period
with drool running down my cheek.

I have officially become my dad.

Then I realized.....
He may have ended the day in a Lazy Boy,
but he was anything BUT lazy.

His evening snores trumpeted to the world
that he had put in a hard day's work.

His evening nap
was a recognition of all the energy
he expended daily for his family.

I also realized,
there isn't anything wrong
with being like your dad.
Not when your dad was a man of God.

As children of God,
we are all called to model our heavenly Father,
as exampled in the flesh by Jesus.

We are even told in the Sermon on the Mount,
to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect.*
That is, perfect as in mature,
casting off those qualities
that lead to destructive ends.

I used to call him old man.
Now I realize there's nothing wrong with that,
not if those advancing years leads to spiritual maturity.

So call me old man,
or whatever you want.
Just don't call me after 8pm.
It will probably go right to voice mail......


*Matthew 5:48
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Monday, February 22, 2010

A Lenten Message from West Ohio UMC Bishop Bruce Ough


CALL TO PRAYER AND FASTING

I am Bishop Bruce Ough. Grace and peace to you from God, our Creator, and the Lord Jesus Christ.

We are about to enter the season of Lent. This is a season that begins with ashes pressed upon our heads and ends with the triumphant song “Christ the Lord Is Risen Today!” Lent is:

  • a time of self-denial and return to disciplined living;

  • a time to repent and experience God’s extravagant forgiveness and mercy;

  • a time to be set free from past patterns of self-indulgence and negative behavior;

  • a time to embrace a life of joyful holiness.

    The pattern of Lent was set by Jesus during his forty days of solitude, prayer and fasting in the Judean desert. This was an essential period of preparation for his public ministry. And, throughout his ministry, Jesus urged those who wanted to become his followers to “deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.”

    Jesus is calling us to live as he did. Jesus is calling us to deny our preferences for the sake of His kingdom purposes. Jesus is calling us to die to our selfishness so that others may have a more abundant life. Jesus is calling us to address the problems and issues people face – disease, poverty, prejudice, hunger, loneliness, hatred, fear, sin-sick hearts – with an extravagant generosity, compassion and love that the world will consider strange and wonderful.
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  • Jesus is calling us to live out of God’s abundance,
    when the world says hoard your resources.

  • Jesus is calling us to witness for peace,
    when the world is mad with war and violence.

  • Jesus is calling us to seek justice,
    when the world says look out for yourself.

  • Jesus is calling us to proclaim hope,
    when the world embraces doubt, despair and cynicism.

  • Jesus is calling us to offer salvation,
    when the world offers false security.

    This Lent, I am calling upon every United Methodist in West Ohio Conference to embrace the pattern of Jesus and enter into forty days of prayer and fasting. I invite you to fast at least one day a week and offer your savings to the poor. Pray for God to give us a “heart for the lost.” Pray that God’s “house may be filled.” Pray for and offer your lives for the desperate and dis-spirited people of Haiti, and around the world.

    As we move ever deeper into our Lenten journey, I invite you to prayerfully seek ways to live that bring abundant life to others. I invite you to lose your life for Jesus’ sake, so that your life may be whole, complete, joy-filled, saved.

    And, so I pray for each of you:

    Almighty God,
    Pour out your Holy Spirit and
    anoint your faithful servants.
    Cause your good gifts to flow
    in and through their lives and ministry.
    Receive their prayers and fasting
    as a holy and living sacrifice
    that others may have abundant life.
    Prepare your people during these days of Lent
    for the inexpressible joy and
    triumphant hope of the Risen Christ,
    In whose name I pray. Amen.

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Sunday, February 21, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - February 28

February 28 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, March 3 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Crosses of Jesus - The Jerusalem Cross"

Features - 2nd Sunday in Lent

Scripture - Philippians 3:17-4:1 & Luke 13:31-35

Theme - Today is the 2nd part of a six-part sermon series on the theme, “The Crosses of Jesus” in which we are focusing on the meaning of several types of Christian crosses to help us journey toward the cross of Holy Week during this Season of Lent. On this second Sunday of the series, our focus is on the meaning of the Jerusalem Cross.
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Saturday, February 20, 2010

Is "Accountability" a Dirty Word?

The small group coordinator was in the middle of his small group leader training and everything was going really well. He had shared how small groups are at the heart of a healthy and growing congregation and how they, as new small group leaders, would be instrumental in helping the people under their care grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ.

Everything was going so smoothly during the orientation until...until the mention of a single word, a word that took some of the potential small group leaders by surprise. The word?

Accountability.

When this word was mentioned in relation to small group ministry, there was a noticeable shift in what had been a positive spirit throughout the meeting. As the small group coordinator tried to continue to talk about specific ways to help small groups incorporate and encourage accountability as disciples of Jesus Christ, one of the participants vocalized her objection.

"Wait a minute. Is that what these groups are supposed to be about? Accountability? I'm not going to be telling people how they're supposed to live their lives. That's their business, not mine."

The small group orientation never recovered from that point on. Even after a longer discussion about what was meant by small group accountability, just that one word, somehow shut down the whole process.

Accountability. What this small group coordinator experienced as a result of using this word is not unique. When clergy in our conference were told that it would be mandatory for us to be involved in a covenant group of accountability with other clergy that met on a regular basis, based on the responses of clergy, you would have thought we were being asked to schedule a root canal.

At it's best, Christian accountability is that process whereby followers of Jesus Christ gather together to share how they are living out or not living out their discipleship so that they can help one another to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. This process happens best when a small group has developed a trust level that encourages people to share at a vulnerable level.

One of the reasons we might react negatively to any talk about accountability is because in many ways, this process goes against the grain of our society. We live in a highly individualistic society in which we rarely have opportunities to engage in any type of communal mutual support.

One of the core values of the church is "intentional faith development" which includes personal as well as communal faith formation. Jesus had his twelve disciples and he also had his inner circle of Peter, James, and John. The early church in the Book of Acts met in homes for worship, teaching, and accountability.

The United Methodist Church would not exist today without the Wesley brothers reforming the 18th century Anglican Church from within by starting hundreds of Methodist societies/classes/bands to serve as groups of Christian accountability. In Wesley's day, the only way you could be a "Methodist" was to be regularly involved in a small group that was led by one of Wesley's trained leaders. These small groups always included a time for each member of the group to share how they had been faithful or unfaithful to Christ over the past week since they had last met together.

Actually, the word, "Methodist," was used as a derogatory label by critics of Wesley to describe his methodical approach to Christian discipleship.

During this Season of Lent in which we give particular attention to having a growing personal relationship with Jesus Christ, what group of trusted Christians is helping you to stay accountable in your faith? If you are part of such a group, you are very blessed. If you don't have such a group, I'm sure there is one that God is leading you to join.

When I next meet with my small group, I'm going to thank them for being that group for me.

Accountability is not a dirty word.

Friday, February 19, 2010

Prayer - 1st Sunday in Lent (Feb. 21)



1st Sunday in Lent Prayer (Feb. 21)

O God our deliverer, you led your people of old through the wilderness and brought them to the promised land. Guide now the people of your church, that, following our Savior, we may walk through the wilderness of this world toward the glory of the world to come; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Thursday, February 18, 2010

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.

So much for global warming......

When the 28 inch storm came over the weekend,
most of us thought it couldn't get any worse.

Be careful what you think.....

The additional 20 inches of snow that came 4 days later disproved that.
That would be the 20 inches accompanied by blizzard like winds for several days.

I love snow.
There is nothing better than a big snowstorm when you are a skier.
That is, unless you have put your skis away for the year
because you are building a house.

There is something soothing
about being nestled in during a storm.
A feeling of safety, of comfort, of being cared for.
Time to slow down, enjoy some hot chocolate,
put together a puzzle .

When I was growing up on the farm,
our family called it "hunkering down."

I could tell with this storm that it was
going to be quite a bit of hunkering down.

The only problem was that this year
hunkering down meant
more time to work inside on my house remodeling project.

And the only problem with that was
that after the storm was done,
there was all the work to be done outside.

You know what I mean,
those 6 foot drifts across the driveway
that need to be shoveled....
so that you could get to the state road...
that was closed!

walkways to be tackled with the snow blower......

ice that need to be treated or scraped...

pets that needed to be rescued....
(see the update below)

After a 8 hour shoveling workout
that rivaled anything I have ever done at the gym,
I thought I was in good shape.....

that was until I looked up,
and saw my 30 by 36 foot low pitch roof
bearing the weight of 2 feet of snow.
Snow that was predicted to lie there for days, if not weeks.

With all apologies to Tevye,
I didn't need a fiddler on the roof.
I needed a snow blower on the roof.

Oh, if I were a rich man.......

No such luck.
3 more hours of shoveling.
That would be shoveling snow off the roof
onto the very walkways that I had just finished clearing.

Oh, if I were a smart man......

Hunkering down takes a lot of patience,
it also takes some brains.
and some muscle.

It also takes faith...
faith that better days lie ahead,
faith that God is with us through the storm,
faith that we will be given all that we need to move on.

The next time
I need to remember,
that before I hunker down,
I need to look up....

in more ways than one.

I look up to the mountains;
does my strength come from mountains?
No, my strength comes from God,
who made heaven, and earth, and mountains.
Psalm 121:1
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Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Don't Flick the Ashes Off Your Nose!

Ash Wednesday, the 1st day of a 40 day Lenten season that will lead us all the way into the final days of Jesus' life and his crucifixion is upon us today.

This day in which we are marked with ashes on our forehead is a stark reminder of the presence of sin, suffering, and death in our world. Notice how the Christian faith won't allow us to join our death denying culture.

Instead, Ash Wednesday reminds us of the creation story (from dust we were created) and the reality of death (to dust we shall return.) This is a day and the beginning of a season in which we come to grips with our sins, our shortcomings, our brokenness, and our complete dependence on God.

She came to my station to receive the ashes on her forehead. I carefully dipped my thumb into the bowl of ashes and gently made the form of the cross on her forehead. As my thumb released from her skin, a small clump of ashes detached from her forehead and fell onto the middle of her nose.

"That's awkward," I thought to myself. "I'm sorry," I said to the woman who didn't know why I was apologizing to her in the middle of an Ash Wednesday service. "Some ashes fell on to your nose and if you don't mind, I can remove them if that's OK," I said in a whisper.

She nodded in agreement, still not knowing how noticeable that small clump of ashes on her nose would look to the people around her. Ashes on the forehead, we expect, but not a glob of gray powder on the middle of your nose! My pastor's ritual doesn't offer a solution for a problem such as this.

Thinking that I was going the extra mile to save this woman from any embarrassment, I accurately flicked off that tiny clump of ashes from the middle of her nose. Now, I didn't get very good grades in Physics while in High School and this little real life experience showed me why. I didn't think about the whole cause/effect scenario that one little flick of a powdery substance could have on a person's face.

Instead of the particles flying off the nose, the ashes stuck to the surface of the nose skin like metal to a magnet and ended up forming a long darkened streak from the top of her nose down to her nostril area. My first thought upon seeing this woman's "new look" was "oh my goodness!"

Knowing that something had gone really wrong following that fateful flick of my index finger, I was now forced to make another awkward comment, and yes, we were holding up the long line of worshippers who were coming to my station to receive the ashes.

"I'm really sorry. I made it even worse. You might want to check in a mirror. God bless you."

Thinking that she might huff off which she had every right to do because of my feeble attempt, she instead let out a smile, and then she started laughing, and back to her pew she went grinning all the way. The really funny thing about all of this was that we were the only two who knew what had happened!

That memorable experience which will someday make chapter 47 in my book, "Weird Things that Happened to Me While I was a Pastor," reminded me of the reality of sin in our lives. We can try to brush it aside as if a little flick of the finger will make it all go away, but instead it finds a way to stick with us, sometimes making an even bigger mark on us.

While Ash Wednesday and the forty day Season of Lent can be a difficult time for us to come face to face with the reality of sin in our lives (this is a penitential/confessional season) we also can rejoice and even let out a laugh knowing that the sign of the cross points us to a victory (nikos).

Even the smear down our noses can be wiped clean thanks to Christ's victory on the cross.

Thanks be to God!


Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The Season of Lent Begins Tomorrow (Feb. 17)

Beginning this Wednesday, Febuary 17 (Ash Wednesday) and for the next forty days leading up to the celebration of Easter Sunday (April 4), the church observes the season of Lent. Lent is marked by a time of prayer and preparation to celebrate Easter.

Since Sundays celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, the six Sundays that occur during Lent are not counted as part of the 40 days of Lent, and are referred to as the Sundays in Lent. The number 40 is connected with many biblical events, but especially with the forty days Jesus spent in the wilderness preparing for His ministry by facing the temptations that could lead him to abandon his mission and calling. Christians today use this period of time for introspection, self examination, and repentance. Lent has traditionally been marked by penitential prayer, fasting, and almsgiving.

During the six Sundays of Lent at Lancaster First United Methodist Church, (Feb. 21, 28, March 7, 14, 21, & 28) our sermon series will be on "The Crosses of Jesus." We will focus on six different types of crosses which the church has used over the centuries to help us gain a deeper meaning of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world.
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Monday, February 15, 2010

President Lincoln & the Methodists


On this Presidents' Day, United Methodists might be interested to know of the connection between our denomination and Abraham Lincoln.

One of the most famous 18th century Methodist preachers was Peter Cartwright, who was appointed as a pastor of my present congregation, Lancaster First UMC in the early 1800's. Like Lincoln, Cartwright was a true child of the frontier who in his own words was able to "turn in and split rails, go to the harvest field, reap, cradle, mow, plow, or dig."

In 1846, Cartwright ran against Abraham Lincoln for a seat in the US House of Representatives. Lincoln was concerned that Cartwright would win, knowing that the large Methodist population would favor his opponent. The Methodist preacher used the Methodist support to his advantage by branding Lincoln a Deist, because of Lincoln's criticism of organized religion.

To counter this perception, Lincoln attended one of Cartwright's many evangelistic rallies and when he refused to respond to an invitation by Cartwright for conversion, Lincoln offered these words to the crowd:

"I came here as a respectful listener. I did not know that I was to be singled out by Brother Cartwright. I believe in treating religious matters with due solemnity. I admit that the questions propounded by Brother Cartwright are of great importance. I did not feel called upon to answer as the rest did. Brother Cartwright asks me directly where I am going. I desire to reply with equal directness: I am going to Congress."

Lincoln made good on his prediction and won the 1846 election serving in the US House for one term. Later, Cartwright publicly supported Abraham Lincoln in his political offices.

During his presidency, Lincoln shared his appreciation for the work and ministry of the Methodists:

"It is no fault in others that the Methodist Church sends more soldiers to the field, more nurses to the hospitals, and more prayers to heaven than any. God bless the Methodist Church! Bless all the churches! and blessed by God, who in this our great trial giveth us the churches."

There is so much more that can be shared about Abraham Lincoln and the Methodists. For more information, Matthew May, historian and archivist for the Detroit Conference of the UMC, has this excellent article, "Lincoln & the Methodists."

Sunday, February 14, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - February 21

February 21 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, February 24 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Crosses of Jesus - The Latin Cross"

Features - 1st Sunday in Lent & Holy Communion

Scripture - I Corinthians 1:18-25 & Luke 4:1-13

Theme - Today, we begin a six-part sermon series on the theme, “The Crosses of Jesus” in which we will focus on the meaning of several types of Christian crosses to help us journey toward the cross of Holy Week during this Season of Lent. On this first Sunday of the series, our focus will be on the meaning of the Latin cross which is probably the most popular form of the Christian cross.
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Saturday, February 13, 2010

Happy Transfiguration Sunday! (February 14)




Transfiguration Sunday Prayer

Holy God, upon the mountain you revealed our Messiah, who by his death and resurrection would fulfill both the law and the prophets. By his transfiguration enlighten our path that we may dare to suffer with him in the service of humanity and so share in the everlasting glory of him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, forever. Amen.

Wednesday, February 10, 2010

Churches and Ministers Not Friendly?

Group Publishing recently conducted a survey that reveals less than 18% of Americans say the church is the friendliest place in town. Among self-declared Christians, less than 25% believe the church is the friendliest place.

Most people who were surveyed defined "friendly" as "making me feel like I belong." They also listed "making me feel comfortable and at ease," as well as conversations, smiles and being non-judgmental.

On a more personal level (ouch!) ministers (hey, that's me!) were ranked behind neighbors and co-workers in terms of being friendly.

Interestingly enough, one of the core values of United Methodist congregations is to offer "radical hospitality." If the survey is any indication, we have a long way to go before we get to basic hospitality, not to mention, "radical" hospitality.

What can we do to change perceptions people have of the church and its leaders? I have always believed that good behavior tends to follow good theology. And a good theology includes an understanding that God's grace is extended to all people (not just to the people I like to hang around with and who think like me) and that we as Christ's followers are to see ourselves as servants who are to pour our time and attention into the lives of the people around us.
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I hope that the majority of Americans who do not feel that the church or ministers are friendly, have the opportunity to see what I often get to see Sunday after Sunday - members bringing a new couple to worship and introducing them to several of their church friends between worship services, a church staff member inviting a hesitant young man to offer his musical gift for an upcoming musical piece in church, a church volunteer giving a teddy bear to a child in the hospital letting the child and the family know that the church is praying for them regardless of any church affiliation.

Churches and ministers not friendly? Don't say it's so!

Monday, February 8, 2010

Good News for Mainline Churches!

For a long time now, I've been hearing how mainline denominations are on their way down with their best years behind them. The statistics of the United Methodist Church bear out this news unfortunately.

A lot of this downward trend is due to the age of our denomination (over 200 years old) and the life cycle that any organization faces after so many years of existence. Church grow consultants who study this reality point to the need for mainline churches to reclaim their original mission which is to reach people outside of the church walls rather than to cater primarily to the internal needs of the congregational members.

This was never more apparent to me than when I was serving in a church appointment in which it was determined after careful study and research that if our church relocated, we would have been better able to reach more people for Christ. Instead, the church voted to not relocate and after a brief surge in growth, it has continued to struggle and decline.

The church members who voted against relocating believed that to do so would not honor past church leaders 70 to 80 years earlier who had sacrificed their time and resources to build the present church building. I found this a curious reason to vote no since those former church leaders had built the new church building because they had decided to relocate to reach a new population of people for Jesus Christ!

This is just one example of many why mainline churches which have been around for a while are on a downward spiral. We have misinterpreted our own church history and we have forgotten our main mission for existence which is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.

Fortunately, there are examples of mainline churches that are bucking this downward trend. In an article, "Mainline Congregations Can Grow!" Dick Hamm offers four characteristics that are top priorities in growing mainline churches.

1) Lively Worship. Traditional, contemporary, blended, take your pick. The important thing isn't so much worship style but if worship is genuine, authentic, and passionate.

2) A clear sense of mission to real people and a heart for carrying out that mission. This is getting back to my introductory comments above about getting back to our original mission which is to reach the people beyond the church walls.

3) Numerous small groups in which participation is emotionally significant. One rule of thumb is to have 7 small groups for every 100 people in worship. These small groups include, prayer, sharing, a scripture focus of some kind, and outreach. The purpose of the small group is to complement weekly worship and not replace it.

4) A clear sense of vision for the future. Growing churches are on a journey and they look forward to the next opportunity to serve and reach people for Christ.

As a leader in a mainline denomination, Dick Hamm's article is a tremendous encouragement to me because I believe that the mainline church has a lot to offer our community and world. Mainline churches have a strong sense of God's faithfulness over the decades and centuries and they are able to embrace a unique blend of liberal and conservative theologies while emphasizing the primary mission of the church which is to reach people who are in need of God's healing love and grace.
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This all makes for good news for mainline churches!

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - February 14

February 14 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, February 17 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - “A Heart for Lancaster"

Features - Transfiguration Sunday; “New Ministry Initiative Launch Sunday;” & Boy Scout Recognition

Scripture - Exodus 34:29-35 & Luke 9:28-43a

Theme - Today is Transfiguration Sunday, the final Sunday before the Season of Lent begins. After Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, Jesus and his disciples return to the bottom of the mountain and immediately resume a ministry of offering God’s healing love. On this Valentine’s Sunday, our church is launching a new ministry initiative to help us reach more people with the love of Jesus Christ in the city of Lancaster.

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Cross Training the Soul with Drew Brees

This Sunday, the focus at First United Methodist Church will be on "Cross Training - The Soul" which is the conclusion of a three part sermon series on caring for our mind, body, and soul.

Drew Brees, the New Orlean Saints quarterback, recently gave a 9 minute interview regarding his Christian faith. Toward the end of his interview, he talks about the importance of prayer, trusting in God, and reading the scriptures on a daily basis.

These are some of the same cross training tips we will be hearing about this Sunday as we focus on the care of our souls. Enjoy the interview.


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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.


The moral of the story is....

When you are in a hurry,
take your time.

My mornings can be a bit hectic.
Although I have no children to usher off to school,
getting to the office early
is a bit of a challenge.

Beyond the normal wake up routine
of shower, breakfast, and dressing,

there are pills for the dog,
pills for me,
checking e mail,
making my "to do" list for the day
feeding the cats,
feeding the dog,
feeding the donkey.
(yeah, you read that right)

Oh, there is also
returning voice mails,
an occasional load of laundry,
packing a lunch,
picking up the newspaper ,
checking in on my mom....

You get the idea.
Most of us have busy days.

I was having one of those days,
which was exacerbated by
the need to get into the office
an hour earlier than usual.

I was feeling very good about my progress
as I made it to the car,
particularly because
we had a snowstorm the night before.
I had brushed the snow off the car
scraped the ice off the wind shield,
and had the car running to warm the inside.

As usual, I made my way to the car
with my hands full,
including my cup of pomegranate juice.
(filled with anti-oxidants)

With no free hands to open the door of my car,
I decided to place my cup on top of the car.

Let me say this about that......

It is not a prudent idea
to place a flimsy plastic cup
on top of a convex shaped car roof,
particularly when the convex car roof
is coated with a thin layer of ice.

As I was loading items into the back seat of the car,
I heard this scraping noise.
Not sure what it was,
I looked up......

just in time to see the cup of pomegranate juice
come careening over the edge of the car roof
onto my face.

Sometimes you go to the polar bear plunge,
and sometimes the polar bear plunge
comes to you

Let me say,
there is nothing quite as exhilarating
on a 23 degree day
as a cup of icy cold pomegranate juice
running down your head
and proceeding down your back.

This is not the way to get
your daily anti-oxidants.

This required a trip back to the house,
another shower,
a change of clothes.

And no,
I didn't make it to the office on time.

The problem wasn't all the things
that I had to do.
The problem was that the agenda
had affected my judgment.
It caused to feel rushed,
to make less than wise decisions.

In the end, it cost me more time.

Jesus warned us about the
danger of being consumed by
our schedules,
the expectations that we place upon ourselves,
our busy-ness.

His dear friend, Martha was scurrying
(like me)
trying to see that all the entertaining details
of her house guests were met.
Over in the corner,
there sat sister Mary,
seated at the feet of the One
who created time,
listening to His every word.
Doing nothing.....
except listening to the Lord of the universe.

Consider the irony,
Martha was worried about getting the food ready
for the household of guests,
while completely forgetting that the one
who fed 5,000 in the blink of an eye,
was offering food for the soul.

Martha received her own wake up splash
of pomegranate juice in the face when Jesus said,

Martha Martha,

(insert your name here)

you are worried and bothered about
so many things;
but only a few things are necessary,
really only one,
for Mary

(insert the name of someone you know
who has learned how to live in the moment)

has chosen the good part, which shall not
be taken from her. Luke 10:41b-42

The next time
you find yourself letting your schedule,
your list of things to do,
control you,
remember that as a child of God
all we need to do is...

Trust in the Lord with all thine heart;
and lean not unto thine own understanding.
In all thy ways acknowledge him,
and he shall direct thy paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6)

If you don't,
don't be surprised
if you get a pomegranate juice in the face
wake up call.

Perhaps the moral of the story is really,

When you are in a hurry,
stop.

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Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Jesus and History


One of the exciting dimensions of New Testament scholarship over the past ten to fifteen years is in the study of Jesus within his historical 1st century context. This study includes research on both biblical and non-biblical literature.

While this historical focus is not new for New Testament research, contemporary biblical scholars such as Craig Evans, Ben Witherington, and N.T. Wright have done excellent work to help us see how New Testament passages that were once thought by some scholars to be embellishments actually have valid historical groundings.

For example, these scholars ask questions such as, "if we could ask a 1st century Jew what the word, 'resurrection,' means, how would that person respond?" Another question would be, "when Jesus spoke of the "kingdom of God," what did people think he meant?"

This historical approach to the New Testament has a huge impact on the interpretation of various scripture passages. What did Jesus mean when he warned people about stars falling from the sky and the desolating sacrilege to come? Many would see this as Jesus referring to the end of the world as we know it. But taking 1st century history into consideration, Jesus could very well have been speaking about a more immediate time in the future when the Roman Empire would destroy Jerusalem and the Temple, an event that actually happened only twenty to thirty years after Jesus was crucified.

This April, I will be attending lectures which will be given by Dr. Craig Evans. One of his lectures is on the topic, "Jesus Outside the Bible" which will provide a wealth of historical information to help us know what Jesus meant by his teachings and why he said them. I'll be posting on the highlights of these lectures here on my "Nikos" blog.

This historical approach to the study of Jesus and the New Testament reminds me that there are no shortcuts in the study of the bible if we want to have a solid interpretation of scripture. Living in the 21st century has many advantages but if we want to understand who Jesus was and is, we need to think like someone who is living in the 1st century. But thankfully, there are some excellent New Testament scholars who are helping us to do just that.

Monday, February 1, 2010

Stewardship Reflections


Yesterday, I was able to worship at Stewartstown United Methodist Church, my home church located in southeastern, Pennsylvania. (See picture.) They are in the midst of a stewardship sermon series and one of the points in the sermon has stuck with me:

"Stewardship is Lordship, not hoardship."

This memorable quote reminds us that how we handle our financial resources is connected with the ultimate authority in our lives. Who calls the shots in my life? Me or the Lord Jesus Christ?

I remember a woman in one of the churches I was serving at the time telling me about how she arrived at what she would be pledging toward a capital fund drive the church was conducting.

She said, "When the campaign leaders asked us to write down a dollar amount to make as a pledge, I wrote down what seemed like an appropriate amount. But after I went home and prayed about it a little more, it was like God was speaking to me to reconsider the amount I had put on the card. I ended up pledging an even larger amount and it ended up being the right amount for me to give."

The sermon at my home church also referenced Haiti and how this tragedy of huge proportions has given us an awareness of just how much we really have here in the United States. It has awakened us to this very important and biblical stewardship principle:
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"Stewardship is Lordship, not hoardship."

P.S. On a slightly different note, it was the first time I have not sat next to my mother in worship at my home church during a visit. A few weeks ago, she fell and fractured her pelvis and her arm and has been in a rehab. unit. In a way, I felt like I was worshipping on her behalf as I greeted her many friends who were seated near my pew.
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