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

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

Are We Really that Hyper-Sensitive?

I'm all for tolerance and respect for not pushing anyone's religion on anyone, but are we really this hyper-sensitive?

Check out this article about a public school superintendent in the state of Washington who recently banned students from an instrumental performance of Ave Maria at a graduation ceremony. The US Supreme Court has decided to not intervene.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Latvia, Lithuania, & Stewartstown, PA?

What a weekend! My church at Lancaster First UMC just got done hosting the Latvia/Lithuania mission partnership weekend seminar sponsored by the General Board of Global Ministry of the UMC. During the weekend, we were able to hear how our mission partnership is making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Coinciding with the Latvia/Lithuania seminar, our church also hosted forty-eight members of the Company of Praise youth choir from the Stewartstown UMC in Stewartstown, PA, my home church and where my brother serves as the Director of Music. The group was able to sing for our Latvia/Lithuania guests for the closing session of the seminar on Saturday night and then again for Sunday worship which included several of our mission partnership guests.

As the two groups mingled around dinner tables Saturday evneing and then following the Sunday worship services along with members of the congregation, it was special to see the unity that we all have in Jesus Christ, regardless of our language barriers and geographical distances.

When the youth choir from PA shouted out "OH" and then had the congregation respond with "IO," during worship, I knew that only the Holy Spirit could pull off such a display of courtesy!

Latvia, Lithuania, and Stewartstown, PA all present in one place of worship singing "How Great Thou Art" - that sounds like the way church was always meant to be.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - May 2

May 2 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, May 5 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Big Questions - Why Do Bad Things Happen?"

Features - 5th Sunday of Easter & Holy Communion

Scripture - Job 1:13-22; Romans 3:10-26; & John 16:31-33

Theme - Today is the final part of a four part sermon series on “Big Questions.” On this Sunday, our focus is on the important question, “Why Do Bad Things Happen?”

Saturday, April 24, 2010

A United Methodist NFL First Round Draft Pick

University of Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford, a member of United Methodist Church of the Servant in Oklahoma City, was selected as the first draft pick in this year's NFL draft by the St. Louis Rams. Check out this video interview in which Sam speaks about his faith.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Final Thoughts on "Mainline or Methodist" by Scott Kisker

For my initial review of "Mainline or Methodist," by Scott Kisker read my earlier post. So here's my thought on this book. To be honest, it didn't start out well for me since he views the word, "mainline" in a negative way whereas I view it in a positive light.

For Scott, the label "mainline" as in mainline denominations like United Methodists, Presbyterians, and Lutherans, means that we have chosen an established path rather than a revolutionary path of living out our faith. For sure, mainline denominations have too often gone down that lazy status-quo path. However, for me, the label of mainline correctly identifies denominations such as the United Methodist Church as Christian communities that are willing to bring together a variety of points of views (left vs. right, democrat vs. republican, Michigan vs. Ohio State, etc.) and through scripture, reason, experience, and tradition, we can listen and help each other to discern God's voice.

But putting that aside for the moment, I have very high marks for what Scott has done through this book. He wants us to reclaim the counter-cultural movement that once marked those early 18th and 19th century Methodists.
Scott reminds us that Wesley's true conversion was when he decided to begin preaching in the fields on April 2, 1739 rather than the date of his heart warming experience at a prayer meeting on May 24, 1738. The Methodist movement really took off once Wesley offered the good news of Christ to where the people were. Wesley preached outside to the people twice a day!
But Scott reminds us (and this is why I really like the book a lot!) that it wasn't just about Wesley being a street preacher. Wesley was creative, disciplined, and attentive enough to make sure that Methodists were planted out in the crowd who would then notice anyone who was stirred by the message. They would then invite the people who were moved by the sermon to join their weekly Methodist class meeting and that's where many of the conversions happened. They happened in these small group meetings!

Toward the end of his book, Scott makes the point that we United Methodists today need to get back to our roots by spending more time with people in our community and find creative ways of helping people to be part of a small group where they can grow in what it means to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

The exciting part of the book is that Scott invites us to think about what this might look like in the church we attend. In what ways can we become less mainline (less status-quo) and more Methodist (revolutionary for Jesus) in our churches?

And if I may, I would add, and at the same time, how can we continue to be even more mainline in the way I define the word mainline (open to different points of view/less judgmental?)

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Bible Study Summary - Upcoming Sunday's Scriptures

Here at Lancaster First UMC, I am privileged to be part of two weekly bible study groups that study the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.

Here are some of the questions/insights from the two groups:

II Timothy 3:10-17

• II Timothy is considered “Paul’s last will and testament” for Timothy. Paul encourages a timid yet gifted pastor to live out his calling. I Timothy defines a faithful congregation. II Timothy defines a faithful pastor.
• The bible is a complex book and can be frustrating to read. But we also see how it can bring new life. Reason it brings life is that it is inspired or “God-breathed.” See v. 16. Translated as “inspired” because of a Latin word.
• Three problems with using the word “inspired” with today’s meaning: 1) Many things can “inspire” us like a good play or movie. This word has a much deeper meaning! 2) Inspired might lead us to believe that the biblical authors were merely dictating machines of conveying God’s words. 3) Inspired denotes a particular theological understanding of the Christian faith.
• V. 15 – scripture can make us wise and have us think differently as it helps us to know through stories, poetry, proverbs, symbolism, and history, that through God’s rescuing love for the world in the person of Jesus Christ, we are part of God’s salvation story.
• V. 16 shows us how this is done. Teaching, rebuking, training, and transforming.
• V. 17 the goal of all of this is to help us be fully human in living out our true identity in Jesus Christ, reflecting God’s image.

Luke 24:13-27

• One of my favorite passages of scripture because it combines a retelling of the scriptural story and concludes with a reference to the Sacrament of Holy Communion combining Word & Sacrament.
• Has been used by people who are going through a difficult time.
• Who is the couple on the road? Cleopas and his companion. Maybe referring to John 19:25 and the married couple, Mary and Clopas. Couples have used this story to help them through marital difficulties.
• The stranger might have caused fear with the couple since the authorities might be looking for Jesus’ disciples.
• The couple is down because they believe that Jesus’ ministry had failed because of his death on the cross.
• The stranger (Jesus) tells the story of the Old Testament to the couple to help them see that in order to rescue Israel from their suffering, God would have to suffer on their behalf.
• Why didn’t the couple recognize that the stranger was Jesus? Jesus’ resurrected body. But also because they didn’t understand the full story of where the scriptures were pointing and how Jesus fit into that story.
• This passages reminds us that in order to study and understand the scriptures, we need Jesus by our side. Only then will our hearts burn within us (v. 32.)

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

When Culture & Gospel Collide

OK, let me publicly state it. I think Crystal Bowersox, one of the finalists on American Idol is amazing. No check that. AMAZING! No disrespect intended toward the other contestants but it's like a professional athlete competing against a top amateur.
I haven't read anything about Crystal's faith or her religious background, but when she sings anything that remotely resembles gospel music or a song with a religious theme, she brings to the table what contestant judge Simon Cowell calls, "a believability."

Enjoy Crystal's performance from last night's show. Wow!

Monday, April 19, 2010

March 21st Sermon - "Crosses of Jesus - The Tau Cross"

March 28th Sermon - "Crosses of Jesus - The Crucifix"

A Discipleship Making Machine

The mission of the church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world. We say this, hear it, repeat it, and promote this as our primary mission, but are we really making it a priority in all that we do?

A couple of years ago, Willow Creek Community Church conducted a survey of the leading churches in America. One of the things the survey revealed is that one of the reasons people stop participating in the church is because they felt that the church failed in not helping them to continue to grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Effective disciple making is a long and difficult process, and yet it is the church's primary mission. One of the key ingredients of the rise of Methodism was their intentionality in helping every Methodist become a more fully devoted follower of Jesus Christ.

Beginning in May, Lancaster First UMC is embarking on a more intentional approach in helping people in our congregation grow in deeper relationship with Jesus Christ. Utilizing the discipleship making approach at Church of the Resurrection United Methodist Church in Kansas City, we will be offering three Learning Communities each year that explore the foundational components that every disciple of Jesus Christ (regardless of where we are in our faith journey) needs to implement in their daily living.

The three Learning Communities are "Loving God," "Knowing God," and "Serving God." In addition to these Learning Communities, we will be encouraging our existing long-term groups to include elements of these three Learning Communities in their discussions each year.

Our goal is for every member to participate in the three Learning Communities at some point. Think of the church as a disciple making machine that takes seriously our primary mission to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

To learn more about these Learning Communities, click on this link of our most recent church newsletter. The article can be found on page 5.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - April 25

April 25 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, April 28 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Big Questions - Is the Bible Reliable?"

Features - 4th Sunday of Easter; Latvia/Lithuania Guests Welcome; & the Company of Praise Choir (9:45 & 11:00)

Scripture - II Timothy 3:10-17 & Luke 24:13-27

Theme - Today is the 3rd part of a four part sermon series on “Big Questions.” On this Sunday, our focus is on the important question, “Is the Bible Reliable?” What criteria do people use to make this statement? What does the evidence suggest? Join us on this Sunday to find out why the Apostle Paul claimed, “All scripture is inspired by God.”

Saturday, April 17, 2010

The New Ohio License Plate & Thoughts on the Church

I'm curious what folks think of the new Ohio license plate. When I registered in January, I opted to stay with the old plate as plain as it is.
Yesterday, Penny and I were driving home from Columbus and we were behind a car with the new license plate plate and we both agreed that it was trying to get across too many ideas in one plate. Just for fun, I counted five ideas on the new plate.
  • Of course a plane flying symbolizing the Wright brothers and the phrase, "Beautiful birthplace of aviation."
  • The 1803 reminder to show that we've been a state for a long time.
  • A farm showing that we are a rural state.
  • A city skyline showing that we also have cities.
  • Trees showing that we have woods.

Is the bridge supposed to symbolize that our urban and rural life are somehow connected or is it trying to convey that we have more bridges than the average state? Or is there another reason for the bridge?

It appears to me that the designers of the new plate are promoting the diversity of our state rather than one particular symbol. For me, it's a little too busy, the phrase at the top is way too small to read, and it feels all to general for me. I would much rather go with one idea and make it look really nice, like the Wright brothers/invention theme. Or maybe go back to the theme of Ohio being "the heart of it all" since our state is located where the heart would be on the human body and which promotes our Midwestern values.

If license plates can try to do too much, so can the church. Many churches run the danger of trying to be all things for all people. I know this is a little tricky since God calls us to minister to the needs of our community and the people we are reaching, but on the other hand, I don't think that God wants us to stretch ourselves so thin, that we aren't offering quality ministry that will honor God and bring God's transforming love to the people we are serving.

If you would design a logo that captures the essence/uniqueness of your church, what image(s) would you include?

Thursday, April 15, 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.

Life can be quite a ride.
Sometimes, too much of a ride.

Last week, I had the rare chance to get away.
It was the perfect opportunity to travel out of state
to visit my brother and to make plans
for an upcoming church trip.

There was only one hitch.....
The day I was leaving was the day
a construction crew was scheduled to arrive at my home.
They were excavating to pour a foundation
for a new addition being added to my home.

As I thought it through,
I decided that if I met with the crew leader
and went over the blueprints at the start of the day,
everything would be fine.
After all, I was only a cell call away.

And so I left for my destination
on a beautiful spring day.
That was till mile marker 147.........

The cell phone rang.
It was the crew leader.

I hate to tell you this,
but we hit the water line from your pump to the house.

I was 2.5 hours away from home.

I had always wanted a fountain in my front yard,
but this was not what I had envisioned.
I told him where the breaker was to turn off the pump
with the expectation that he would call me back.

mile marker 165

No news.
It is said that no news is good news.
In this case....not so much

mile marker 174

The crew leader calls back.
It looks fixable.
He is headed out to a local store to get plumbing supplies.

mile marker 285

The crew leader calls back.
The water line is repaired.

it appears that when the water line was hit,
the jarring motion caused some pipes
in the crawl space of the house to spring leaks.

Water is now pouring out of those pipes underneath the house......
and it is late afternoon.
The team needs to leave.
Water is gushing everywhere.
I tell him to turn the breaker off and have a nice day. Arrgghhh!

mile marker 292

I call a friend who has plumbing skills.
He's willing to go out and see if can fix the leaks.

mile marker 110 (I am in a new state)

My friend calls me.
The problem is solved.
Everything is fine.

mile marker 150

I hear a rumble
I pull over to the shoulder of the road.
When I get out to examine,
it is what I think it is....
a flat tire.

Within seconds,
I notice a police car pulling up behind me.
I assume he is there to help me.

He is there to give me a citation for speeding.

It seems that within the last few miles
the speed limit has lowered from 65 to 55,
and I didn't see it.

I admit to the officer that I had not seen the sign.
He glances at my car and admits,
that he has never issued a citation for speeding
to someone who has a flat tire.

He chooses to leave me with a warning
He does not offer to help me with the tire.
I consider it a fair trade off.

The next time I leave on a trip,
I think I'll stay home instead.

The next time I leave on a trip,
I'll do what I should do,
whether or not I am home or away.
Trust God.

After all....
it is still a beautiful spring day.
I arrive at my destination only 30 minutes later than intended.
My water problems are fixed.
I am able to change tires and arrive safely,
and I experience the compassion of a stranger
when I could have been ticketed.

Life is a road trip.
We don't know how many mile markers we will pass,
or how many states we will pass through.
What we do know is that we don't travel it alone.
And when we encounter bumps in the road,
God is there to smooth out the road....eventually.
Now enjoy your ride.

Look at the birds of the air.
They do not sow,
neither do they reap, nor gather into barns,
and yet your heavenly Father feeds them.
Are you not worth much more than they?

- Matthew 6:26


Notes from Dr. Craig Evans Lectures

Every year, United Theological Seminary hosts the Heck Lectures and this year, the featured speaker was Dr. Craig Evans who spoke on the topic, "Jesus Outside the Bible." I had the opportunity to speak with Dr. Evans at the seminar and I told him that his books and research have been a great resource to me in my pastoral ministry.

If you follow New Testament scholarship, you have probably heard of The Jesus Seminar which includes a group of New Testament scholars who have come to the conclusion that only 18% of the biblical sayings of Jesus are most likely authentic words of the historical Jesus. Dr. Evans, along with a host of other scholars from a wide range of theological spectrums and backgrounds offer a very different view on what we can know about the historical Jesus. Dr. Evans argues that an understanding of 1st century Palestine and studying Jesus in his historical context as a 1st century Jew in Palestine offers us evidence that suggests that the four New Testament Gospels are historically reliable.

The purpose of Dr. Evans's lectures on what we can know about Jesus outside the canonical Gospels is important to New Testament research especially since a minority of scholars argue that there are gospels not included in the New Testament that offer a more accurate picture of the historical Jesus. In a nutshell, Dr. Evans disagrees with these minority scholars on the very early dating of the non-canonical gospels and concludes that the New Testament Gospels are our best sources for the historical Jesus.

Below are the raw notes that I took during his two lectures.

Heck Lectures - Craig Evans - 4/14/10

1st Lecture:
Gospels of Thomas & Peter
Codices found at Nag Hammadi

Thomas is queen of non-canonical Gospels.
Egerton Papyrus 2
Secret Gospel of Mark
Gospel of Peter
Gospel of Mary

The Jesus Seminar - Authenticity of sayings of Jesus. Used different beads. 82% of sayings of Jesus are doubtful according to seminar.

Criticism of JS - Too much reliance on apocryphal Gospels.

Thomas - 114 sayings of Jesus.
Peter - Portion of gospel (passion and resurrection.)

Thomas - 3 Greek fragments - Date range - 220-280 CE
Nag Hammadi - 340 CE

Egyptian language
Written with mostly Greek letters.

Thomas legend - John's Gospel Supporters (And their dating for these sources) - Crosson, Pagels
Stephen Patterson - 70s
April DeConick - As early as 30-50 & later in stages.
Elaine Pagels - 90s (A lot of scholars agree with date.) A Thomas vs. John community.

Focus on Stephen Patterson.

What's the best explanation? Thomas is a 2nd century source, not 1st century!
1. Coherence with Syrian traditions - 100-150 CE 2. Acquaintance with much of the NT
3. Acquaintance with the Diatessaron etc. (Harmony of the Gospels)
4. Lateness of references to Thomas.
5. No evidence of significant evolution of the text of Thomas.
6. Lack of historical-cultural verisimilitude

Coherence with late Syrian traditions - 2nd and 3rd centuries
Esoteric perspective.
Anti-materialism - 2nd century (parable changed to focus on money)
Celibacy (sex is bad) - Syrian focus!
Thomas knows more than 1/2 of NT!
Presence of post-Markan editing in Thomas.
Thomas and Taitian - 1st and 2nd person language.
References to Thomas are late - 220 CE. Gospels are a lot earlier by church fathers.

How can Thomas be under radar for 150 years? And no evidence of evolution of Thomas.

Thomas is poor fit with 1st century Palestine.

If all we had was the Gospel of Thomas would we know that Jesus was a Jew? - Larry Hurtado, 2009

Afternoon Lecture - Gospel of Peter Found in 9th Century
Begins with Pilate washing hands.
End of 2nd century - Fragments

Supporters - Crossan & Dewey

Ignorance of Jewish customs
Ignorance of 1st cent. Palestine
Influenced by Matthean redaction
Surreal and anti-Semitic material

Exaggerated Apologetic

Jesus & Witness of Outsiders
Paul refers to them.
Papius - refers to 80s and 90s
2nd century ms fragments of Gospels - John

Discrepancies in New Testament? New Testament Manuscripts
4 dozen predate 300 Greek NT
Most of NT comes before the Council of Nicea in 325.
5,800 Greek NT mss; 2.6 million pages of text.

I John 5:7-8 (Bart Ehrmann misleads by citing this passage as one of the discrepancies.)

Attestation of Historical Jesus Outside of the New Testement (This was impressive!)
Roman Writers - Tacitus
Annals (110-120 CE) - Christus
Suetonius (110-120 CE) Life of Emperor Claudius - Chrestus
Pliny Jr. (110 CE) to Trajan - Chrestus & Christians.
Celsus in True Doctrine (150 CE) - Refers to Jesus
Lucian - (160 CE) -
The Syria Mara bar Serapion -
Josephus (95 CE) - Outlines life of Jesus. Refers to Jesus' messianism. The Rabbis -
The Qur'an

Robert E. Van Vorst - Best book on topic.

The Jesus Cup (Jesus is written on front of cup) - (1st century) This could be the earliest artifact that has an inscription of Jesus on it, but the dating is still a question mark, even though archaeologists are giving it a 1st century dating during this early stage.

Panel Discussion - Scholars offered summary comments on Dr. Craig Evans' book, "Fabricating Jesus." One of the scholars included Dr. David Barr, professor of Religion at Wright State University who considers himself a secular historian but who offered complimentary words regarding Dr. Evans.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Video Update on the Shroud of Turin - CNN

For an article describing the Shroud of Turin, I recommend one of Dr. Ben Witherington's recent posts on his web blog. Dr. Withingerton is a New Testament scholar at Asubury Theological Seminary.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Post Sermon Reflections - Pictures of God

After the middle worship service this morning, a little girl showed me a picture she drew of God on the back of an offering envelope. Above is the picture which I scanned to my computer.

She had listened to a story I shared about a little boy who was drawing a picture during class. The teacher asked him what he was drawing and he said, "I'm drawing a picture of God." The teacher said, "But we don't know what God looks like." And the little boy responded, "They will when I get done with this picture!"

First of all, I'm glad that this very young girl was listening to the sermon. And even more importantly, I like it that she saw beyond the patriarchal stereotype of God and showed God as a female. Not that God is male or female, but I think we too often have a limited picture of God in our minds.

I'm not so sure what the image is to the one side of this picture of God, but if you have any thoughts, let me know. If you would draw a picture of God, what would your picture of God look like?

Sunday Worship Preview - April 18

April 18 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, April 21 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Big Questions - How Can I Forgive?"

Features -3rd Sunday of Easter; Special Music by the Lancaster-Fairfield Youth Choir; & Welcoming of Special Guests from Lithuania

Scripture - Psalm 30:1-5, 11-12; Colossians 3:12-15; & Luke 6:32-38

Theme -Today, we are in the second part of a four-part sermon series on “Big Questions.” For this Sunday, we focus on the question, “How Can I Forgive?” This question was submitted by our congregation as one of the top questions that people have about their faith. Since forgiveness is at the heart of the Christian faith, we'll be able to hear what the scriptures say about this very important question.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Early Thoughts on the Book, "Mainline or Methodist: Rediscovering Our Evangelistic Mission"

I just started reading "Mainline or Methodist?" by Scott Kisker. His main point is that for United Methodism to be a thriving denomination, we need to see ourselves as a movement rather than as an institutional mainline denomination.

When we were at our best, we were a denomination that offered the radical and distinctive message of the saving grace of Jesus Christ. The author claims that our slide into mediocrity began when a Methodist preacher conducted the funeral for Abraham Lincoln. By the time of the Civil War, we had become part of the establishment and ceased to be the revolutionary movement that characterizes healthy and vibrant churches.
A great early quote in the book is when the author cites a line from the movie, "A River Runs Through It" in which a 1920s Presbyterian Minister refers to Methodists contemptuously as "Baptists who can read."

More thoughts on this book will appear on my blog when I finish reading it.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

Bible Study Summary

Here at Lancaster First UMC, I am privileged to be part of two weekly bible study groups that study the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.

Here are some of the questions/insights from the two groups:

Acts 5:27-32
• The Jerusalem Jewish leaders wanted to know what this Jesus movement was all about. (Jesus faced that question as well! – Luke 20:1-7: Is this movement from God or was it self-initiated?)
Question – How do you know if something is from God or not?
• Chief Priests believed that Jesus’ movement was not from God! Big challenging verse – v. 30. We don’t like to be told that we caused Jesus’ death!
• Peter – v. 30 connects Jesus with their own Jewish heritage. Forgiveness was through the Temple and disciples were saying it was now through Jesus! This is what got Jesus crucified in the first place!
• Sermon Series – Is God Real? To answer that question, we need to have an open mind about which God we’re talking about. Modern day notions of God are often not the biblical picture of who God is.

John 20:19-31
• Shocking verse – v. 23 – “If you forgive the sins of any, they will be forgiven.” Jesus thinks the disciples can do it! God is going to forgive sins THROUGH them.
• The giving of the Holy Spirit – v. 22 – What is the Holy Spirit? Purpose of Holy Spirit is to enable the disciples to do what Jesus had been doing.
• Analogies – composer writing music and musicians play it! Clockmaker makes the clock but we’ll have to wind it up, etc. (We are to implement what was accomplished by Jesus through his death and resurrection.)
• John’s Garden Tomb and Creation Story tell the story of the resurrection –
Genesis 3:8 – Adam & Eve heard God looking for them in the garden at the time of the evening breeze. On the first day of new creation (Easter Sunday) we have the “spirit” or “breath” looking for the disciples.
• Gen. 2:7 – God breathed life into Adam & new life being breathed into disciples which will in turn bring new life to the world.
• With this spirit, the disciples are to announce forgiveness through Jesus. “Retain sins” refers to warn the world about the dangers and consequences of sin. Even post Easter, the world is a broken place!
• Doubting Thomas – First person in the Gospel to address Jesus as God. v. 28.
• Is God real? Jesus seems to be part of two world (heaven & earth) because of his resurrected body. Thomas had doubted earlier as well – 11:16 (let’s go to Jerusalem and die with him!) and 14:5 ("We don't understand what you’re telling us, Jesus!")
• Thomas wasn’t there on Easter Sunday when the other disciples were there. Thomas needs some evidence.

Quick Answers to Prayer

Following "The Daily Office" prayers and scripture readings this morning, I prayed the "For Peace Among Nations" prayer (see below) Soon after I prayed this prayer, I received a mobile phone text alert from CNN which included this message:

"President Obama and Russian President Dmitry Medvedev signed a major nuclear arms control agreement that reduces the nuclear stockpiles of both nations."

Now, I know that prayer often doesn't work this way where the results of the prayer come instantaneously, and who knows how many hours of difficult deliberations preceded this breaking news announcement, but still...that was pretty quick, God!

I'm reminded of something that Ton Compolo, Christian speaker and author said soon after the Berlin Wall came down in the early 90's. He wondered how many churches who had often included congregational prayers for world peace in their Sunday worship bulletins, realized that their prayers actually made a difference when the news of the wall came down. Sometimes we pray, pray, and pray, and when God acts upon our prayers, we don't even make the connection between our prayers and how God is indeed working in the world offering peace and justice.

Here's the prayer I prayed from "The Daily Office" just before the text alert:

For Peace Among Nations

Almighty God our heavenly Father, guide the nations of the world into the way of justice and truth, and establish among them that peace which is the fruit of righteousness, that they may become the kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

"After You Believe" - Reclaiming Christian Virtue

During commercials of the NCAA men's basketball championship last night, I was able to finish reading the book, "After You Believe," by Tom Wright. I won't spend a lot of time on the first part of the book since I already covered that in an article a week ago. By the way, congratulations to Butler on making this one of the best tournaments in recent memory! I also liked seeing the sign that read, "Duke Divinity School" which was lifted in front of the TV camara at one point.

First of all, as a United Methodist thinker and proponent of Wesleyan theology, this book articulates what John Wesley taught and believed throughout the formation of the Wesleyan movement - that salvation is more than simply raising a hand in the air to accept Jesus Christ. Not to downplay that significant moment when someone says "yes" to Jesus Christ, but salvation means a lifetime of allowing God's grace to help us to be the people we were created to be - priests and rulers who worship and work for God's justice in the world. To do this, we need to practice Christian virtue.

Wright doesn't soft peddle that this intentional life of exercising Christian virtue will be easy. No, we need to develop habits of reading/hearing scripture regularly, examples of mature Christians, stories of faithfulness to the gospel, participation in the community of faith, and practices (spiritual disciplines.) Because some Christians might be uneasy about this high emphasis on sanctification and the spiritual practices, Wright continually reminds the reader that all of this is born out of God's grace, and not something we are doing to earn God's love or favor.

What I most like about this book is that Wright reminds us that living a Christian life isn't a simple and easy matter. It calls us to be open to God's grace again and again and to practice the spiritual disciplines with the goal in mind which is to live our lives in such a way that anticipates that time in the future when heaven and earth will be as one and God's glory and beauty will flood this earth.

Not a bad goal to have in life, is it?

Monday, April 5, 2010

An Easter Message from Bishop Bruce Ough, West Ohio Conference

Christ is risen!

Christ is risen indeed! Alleluia!

In the name and spirit of the Risen Christ, and on behalf of the West Ohio Conference, I greet you in this glorious Easter season.

Easter defines Christianity. Paul writes clearly and boldly to the church in Corinth: "And if Christ wasn't raised, then all you are doing is wandering around in the dark, as lost as ever." (I Corinthians 15:17, The Message) If Christ is not risen, then our faith is worthless. But since Christ is risen, our world is redefined. The empty tomb is the geographic center of creation. The risen Christ is the focal point of history. The dark night is over. We are an Easter People!

Every Christian and every church should approach Easter and the entire Easter season as a sustained, explosive carnival of hope and joy. The author Frederica Mathewes-Green once received this letter from a Jewish friend at Christmas:
The big celebration in Christianity should be Easter. No Easter, no Christianity. So all the focus on Christmas, at least to me, seems misdirected. Why Christians don't whoop it up more at Easter is a mystery to me now. How inspirational! How joyful! That is the time to toast each other, lay on gifts, attend worship services, pack in the rich food. Something really substantial and holy to remember.
(from Easter Changes Everything)
Dear West Ohio United Methodists, let the carnival of hope and joy begin. Celebrate Easter. Celebrate boldly, and loudly, and passionately. The resurrection of Christ is everything. Without it, humanity is lost forever, death wins, darkness prevails, and we are without hope.

And so I pray:

God of power and majesty, you have raised Jesus Christ and delivered him and us from death's destruction. Throughout this Easter season, continue to:
Threaten your people with resurrection,
Awaken them to new possibilities,
Kindle in them the fire of your love,
Grant them victories over sin and evil in their lives,
Open to them the gate of everlasting life,
Beckon them to proclaim the marvelous mystery of death and resurrection,
Renew their hope and joy, and
Claim them as your Easter People.
For all praise is yours, now and throughout eternity. Amen.

Bishop Bruce Ough
West Ohio Conference
Easter 2010

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - April 11

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

Sermon - "Big Questions - Is God Real?"

Features -2nd Sunday of Easter & Holy Communion in Pews

Scripture -Acts 5:27-32 & John 20:19-31

Theme -Today, we begin a four-part sermon series on “Big Questions.” For this first Sunday, we focus on the question, “Is God Real?” We will be exploring why some people do not believe that God exists and others do. For the remainder of this series, we will look at the questions, “How Can I Forgive?” “Is the Bible Reliable?” and “Why Does God Allow Bad Things to Happen?”

Friday, April 2, 2010

Holy Week - Saturday Prayer

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

Holy Week - Good Friday Prayer

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

Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Easter Story - 1st Century Style

Dr. Tom Boomershine, my New Testament professor at United Theological Seminary taught that the gospels were originally told in story form. When you couple good story telling techniques with solid biblical scholarship on how the story should be told, you end up with a fresh hearing of the bible that can literally change your life.

I had Tom for both the Gospel of Mark and the Gospel of John. For the first class of the Gospel of Mark, Tom shared with us the Gospel of Mark by memory. It took him two hours to do this, if I remember correctly. He told us ahead of time, that he would probably make a few mistakes along the way, which he did, but he reminded us that storytellers in the 1st century had the same problem. But it's no big deal. You just keep going.

Through Tom's classes, I learned that how you express yourself when you read scripture reveals a lot about your theology and your interpretation of that particular passage.

So, here's Tom sharing the resurrection account from Mark's Gospel. Enjoy!

Holy Week - Thursday Prayer

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