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, October 31, 2010

All Saints' Day Prayer

November 1st is All Saints' Day on the church calendar with most churches celebrating this feast day on the upcoming Sunday. It's a day to give thanks for all the saints, particularly those who have gone before us and who now live with Christ in glory forever.

All Saints' Day Prayer

We bless your holy name, O God, for all your servants who, having finished their course, now rest from their labors. Give us grace to follow the example of their steadfastness and faithfulness, to your honor and glory; through Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - November 7

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

Sermon - "A Life Well-Lived"

Features - All Saints' Sunday & The Roll Call of the Victorious
Scripture - Luke 6:20-31

Theme - On this Sunday each year, the church remembers the faithful who have gone before us and who live victorously in heaven. We anticipate that time in the future when all of God's people will be reunited forever in God's eternal glory. We will speak the name of each member of the congregation who has passed away over the past year and light a candle for each of them.

Friday, October 29, 2010

God Likes to Play Hide & Seek

Today, during my reading of the book, "Sabbath" by Dan B. Allender, I came across an interesting explanation as to why God feels distant at times. Many of the Psalmists speak of God feeling far away and we too experience those moments from time to time.

Some of the possible responses when we feel distant from God may include anger or disappointment. Or maybe we might even question if God exists. We've probably all been there at some point. Maybe, we're there now.

Dan Allender offers another possible way of dealing with those times when God seems absent or distant. His theology for this approach goes like this...

When God created the world, he called it good. This means that God takes great delight in his creation. What do parents often do out of delight with their children? They play with them! One of those games is hide and seek. Could it be that when we feel distant from God, that it's just God's way of taking delight in us and playing a little peek-a-boo?

While this may sound a little "cheesy" or far fetched, I think there might be something to this. This book is making a strong biblical case for God's delight with his creation. To appreciate this biblical theme, we might need to reconsider our understanding of who God is. God is so much more than a philosophical concept. The God of creation takes delight in us, even to the point of engaging us in child-like playfulness and joy-filled spontaneity.

Just as I'm finishing this blog article, our one westie came up to me with her favorite toy in her mouth begging me to chase after her. There's never a choice. I have to stop thinking/typing and chase her around the house.

I'm back now from that playful time with Lulu. Perhaps, there is something to this thought of God taking great delight in us. Why wouldn't God want to play a little hide and seek once in a while?

Thursday, October 28, 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.

They say getting old isn't for sissies.

I don't mind growing older,
after all, it is inevitable for all of us.

I have a philosophy about aging....

I choose to grow older,
but not grow old.

That's why last week was a punch in the stomach.

I am in the concluding stages
of building my home.

So far,
I have subjected my body to:

Insulation irritation to the eyes, nose & throat,
cuts, scrapes and bruises over my entire body,
a 25 stitch cut to the arm,
and aches and pains in places that I didn't even know existed.
And that's only in the first 5 months!

Through it all,
I kept telling myself to suck it up,
and press on.

But last week was the final straw.

I noticed on Wednesday that the middle finger
of my left hand began to swell.
By late Wednesday afternoon,
it had swollen to such a degree,
and was so painful
that I called for an appointment with my doctor.

I was fortunate enough to get the last appointment of the day.

The finger had all the looks of being infected....
not a difficult feat to accomplish when one is living
in layers of drywall dust and sawdust.

It was swollen to the extent that
it looked like it was going to explode.
Touching it would have met
with the greatest of displeasure by the owner.

The doctor examined the finger,
cleared his voice, and said to his beleaguered patient.

"Well it might be infected,
but what I think you are dealing with here
is the Gout."

"The What?" I retorted

"The Gout," he repeated.

"It has all the classic symptoms of the Gout," he explained.
"Even though the Gout is normally found
in the feet,
it can occur in any joint of the body."

I wasn't listening to anything he was saying anymore.

All I heard were two words.....

When I thought of The Gout,
it conjured up images of
old people, nursing homes, hot water bottles, and afghans.

Suddenly this wasn't an attack on my finger.....
it was an attack on my youth.

I can't have The Gout, I said inside my head.
I go skiing, I play volleyball,
I am building a house for goodness sake!

I don't have time for a hot water soak with Epsom Salts
I barely have time to salt my lunch.

In the middle of the examination room,
I was having a mid-life crisis,
all brought on by those two words.

I started seeing visions of me with a walker,
complete with tennis ball coasters and an pouch
filled with pill bottles and TV remote.

Add a lifeline lanyard around my neck and I was set.

If growing old isn't for sissies,
well give me the sissie of the year award right now.

After a blood test and a few days of antibiotics,
it turned out the doctor was wrong.
The finger was infected.

As I am building my house,
I am doing so making considerations in the construction
for the last years of my life.

It is the first time that I have seriously
thought about the last years of my life.

Facing one's mortality does take courage.

As each birthday passes,
one often hears the comment...
Well, it is better than the alternative!

Is it?

Not according to what my Creator
has said in His Word about life eternal.

I realized my fears weren't about death,
they were about becoming useless,
about being forgotten,
about being seen as irrelevant.

As the church celebrates All Saints Day this Nov 1,
may we all realize that
a life lived in Christ is never irrelevant.

In fact,
it is after we are gone,
that our influence is often felt the most.

Call me a sissie if you will.
Call me anything,
but in Christ,
never call me irrelevant,
in this life or the next.

"For we know that if the earthly tent
which is our house is torn down,
we have a building made from God,
a house not made with hands,
eternal in the heavens.
For indeed in this house, we groan,
longing to be clothed
with our dwelling from heaven."

- 2 Corinthians 5:1-2


Wednesday, October 27, 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 worship services.

This Sunday’s Sermon – “Marks of a Christian: Commitment”

Main Text – Acts 2:41-47

Overview of Acts – Written by Luke who wrote the Gospel of Luke so this is a sequel book. Luke uses a journey them in these two books. In his Gospel, it’s the journey of Jesus to Jerusalem. In Acts, it’s the journey of the Apostle Paul and the gospel to Rome (ends of the earth.)

Book of Acts – Focuses on the early church. Church means “gathering” or “assembly.” Luke wants us to see what God’s new family looks like.

The book begins at a fast past culminating in the Day of Pentecost and the giving of the Holy Spirit. Now, we get to take a breath to see what all of this means for the Christian community.

This text is often used as a template for the 4 marks of a healthy church: 1) teachings 2) common life of the believers 3) breaking of bread 4) prayers. A church needs all of these things, plus they overlap. I’m going to adapt these four marks to the five marks as part of the sermon series: 1) prayers 2) presence, 3) gifts 4) service 5) witness.

Teaching – Without teaching, we can easily revert to the ways of the world and lose our distinctiveness as a church.
Common Life (fellowship) – Without this, we can become too isolated.
Breaking of Bread (Holy Communion) – Without the Sacrament, we lose the foundation of our faith that Jesus died and was resurrected.
Prayer – Without prayer, we forget that we are a people who are to work toward bringing heaven to earth. That’s what prayer is – bringing heaven to earth.

When the church is vibrant in these four areas, no wonder signs and wonders happen all around us (verse 43.) The Holy Spirit is able to bring transformation to lives.

Early Christians saw themselves as a family. In the 1st century, a family often all shared in a common trade/business. They saw themselves as one. Baptism reminds us of this oneness! We have a common purpose and mission. It can be hard to feel as one when there are so many people (not just the 12 disciples!)

They probably sold extra property that they possessed, not their primary homes. This was significant since land was tied to their ancestral heritage. This meant that the early church had a lot of commitment among the people.

The early church had love (agape) which is why they shared their possessions.

People (the unchurched) are often attracted to this unique way of living and being “community.” That’s why people were being saved and becoming part of the early church.


Tuesday, October 26, 2010

10-25-10 Funeral Sermon in Memory of Brian Sampson

On behalf of Brian’s family, I want to thank everyone for the support, prayers, and love you have shown them over these past several days. Brian has touched many lives and your presence at this service tonight shows just how much Brian has meant to all of us.

I want to thank Superintendent Rob Walker, Principal Jack Greathouse, the high school staff, Coach Carpenter and his staff, those who shared reflections of Brian’s life during this service, and Sandy McCoy who is providing our music.

I am proud to have been Brian’s pastor at First United Methodist Church. It was about a year ago, that I first got to know Brian, soon after arriving here at my new church. Brian and I met on several occasions to talk about his battle with cancer, his faith, and we also found time to talk about football and life in general. I guess you could say that we became buds over this past year.
When I met with the family on Sunday to plan for this service, they mentioned how Brian was kind, honest, and a man of high principles. He loved old cars and boating. Brian loved his family and he lived and breathed football.

One of my last conversations with Brian was when he was in the hospital here in Lancaster. Brian was pretty weak, but amazingly he was able to have a conversation with me. As he was lying there in the hospital bed, I couldn't’t help but to notice how big and strong his arm was. And I said to him, “You know, even with all you have been through, I’m sure you could still beat me at arm wrestling. You’re one tough guy, man.”

He smiled and kind of shrugged off the compliment.

Brian was one tough guy, though. The football players would probably agree with that. Coach Sampson knew how to motivate you to play at your very best level. And you certainly did that this past Friday night. Coach would be proud! Way to go guys!

And when he really wanted you to play at your highest level, he would yell out the word, “Tomahawk!” And you knew that this meant you better give your very best for the next play. It meant that you better get the job done. “Tomahawk!”

The bible tells us the story of how God gave us his very best. God gave his very best when he created the world and called it good.

God gave his very best when after Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, God made a covenant with Abraham and later with the people of Israel, for them to be the means by which God’s good creation would be healed and transformed.

God gave his very best when he sent prophets to his people whenever they strayed off course and failed to be the people that God had called them to be.

God gave his very best when he sent Jesus, his only Son, who was able to do what God’s people had been unable to do, by living a life that was totally dedicated to God.

Jesus gave his very best, when he went to the cross and took upon himself all of the pain and brokenness of our sins, so that we might have forgiveness and eternal life.

And God gave his very best, when on that first Easter morning, the tomb was empty, and Jesus appeared to the disciples in his resurrected body.

Good Friday and Easter was that ultimate tomahawk moment when God won the victory over sin and death.

The victory of Easter is an advance sign that the victory is already won and we are called to be God’s people in bringing about God’s transforming love to our community and world. Brian lived his life in such a way that he was living out this good news of his faith through his words and actions.

Brian did this through his teaching, his coaching, and his participation in the life of his church. We only need to look around to see the influence he has had on so many people.

But there’s another person who has also served as a witness to her faith during this very difficult time and her name is Amy, Brian’s wife. Amy was somehow able to hold things together throughout Brian’s battle with cancer.

Just think about this. Last week, she flew to New York City to be with Brian. On Friday morning, she catches a plane back to Ohio to give herself enough time to join her family at the football game which Brian would have wanted.

On Saturday, she makes arrangements for this service. And on Sunday morning, Amy and her family still came to church for worship.

Amy, I know Brian was a tough guy, but you have been unbelievable through all of this.

Would you show Amy your love and appreciation? (Applause)

Even though Jesus won the victory at Easter which is a foretaste of that time in the future when God will make all things new, we are still painfully aware that we live in a world that is filled with disease and death.

After the disciples met the risen Lord, they continued to face problems and setbacks, but it was Easter that gave them the hope they needed to live out their faith.

One of the best ways that we can honor Brian’s life and live out our faith is to do our part in sharing God’s love with others through our words and deeds. That’s what Brian would want us to focus on as we leave from this place, to do our part in making a difference in our world and to be a people of hope. With the power of the risen Christ, like Brian, it’s time for us to get it done.


When I was here at the high school this past Friday, there were many tears throughout the day at the news of Brian’s passing. And yet, even in the midst of all of the sadness and sorrow, as I walked through the halls and the cafeteria, I would see pink shirts, pink hats, pink shoes, pink sweat bands, and pink ties as a reminder of the school’s commitment to raise awareness about the disease of breast cancer and cancer in general.

When I left from the High School, one of the first things I did was to go to a store and buy this pink necktie. Peer pressure can be a good thing!

It was by seeing the color pink throughout the school this past Friday that I was reminded again and again of the gift of hope and of God’s presence in the midst of such deep sorrow and loss. God works in mysterious ways.

In the Book of Revelation, the writer is seeking to offer comfort to God’s people as they were facing persecution, suffering, and death. In the midst of such dark times of sorrow and despair, these words must have stood out like the color pink and reminded them of the hope they had in Jesus Christ.

“See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself with them; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be mo more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more.”

One of the fastest growing churches in the country is a United Methodist Church in Kansas City called Church of the Resurrection. It started just 20 years ago and now has 7,500 people in worship every weekend.

It’s very interesting to me how this church chose its name. When they first began 20 years ago, they didn’t have a building and they met in the homes of the handful of members for worship. But as they continued to grow, they needed to find a building where the people could meet in one place.

A funeral director in the area heard about their need for a building and invited their pastor, Adam Hamilton to lunch one day. He said, “Adam. I believe in what you’re doing with this new church, and to help you out, I’d be glad to donate the use of my funeral home to your growing congregation on Sunday mornings free of charge. But I will understand if you would rather not meet in a funeral home since it might make some people feel uncomfortable.”

Adam accepted this funeral director’s very kind offer and then told him, “We’re not afraid of death because we are a people of the resurrection.”

And this is why this United Methodist Church took on the name, “Church of the Resurrection.” All because their first building was in a funeral home and the good news of Easter was more powerful than the presence of death.

May the hope and promise of the resurrection of Jesus Christ bring comfort to you this day.

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Why "Commitment" is Important in the Christian Faith"

Being a Christian isn't easy. Being a faithful member of a church isn't easy. Being a preacher isn't easy. While there are many, many joys along our Christian walk and faith journey, there are also many setbacks, disappointments, and difficult decisions to make. Being a member of a church is a lot like marriage because any relationship will have its share of challenges along the way.

This is why every person who desires to become a member of a United Methodist Church makes a commitment in front of the new church family to participate by their "prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness." We make this pledge upon joining the church, because these are the areas that will most likely be tested at different points during our church membership.

During yesterday's fall new member class, we watched a video segment which included entries from John Wesley's journal. As you read these entries, it's no wonder why commitment is a key component for a Christian who desires to be a faithful member of a church. John Wesley shared his face of setbacks within the church he was seeking to reform.

John Wesley's Journal Entries

Sunday, May 7th: I preached at St. Lawrence’s in the morning, and afterward at St. Katherine Cree’s Church. I was enabled to speak strong words at both; and was therefore the less surprised at being informed that I was not to preach any more in either of those churches.

Sunday, May 14th: I preached in the morning at St. Ann’s, Aldersgate; and in the afternoon at the Savoy Chapel, free salvation by faith in the blood of Christ. I was quickly apprised that at St. Ann’s, likewise, I am to preach no more.

Friday, May 19th: I preached at St. John’s, Wapping at three and at St. Bennett’s, Paul’s Wharf, in the evening. At these churches, likewise, I am to preach no more.

Friday, November 3rd: I preached at St. Antholin’s; Sunday, 5, in the morning, at St. Botolph’s, Bishopsgate; in the afternoon, at Islington; and in the evening, to such a congregation as I never saw before, at St. Clement’s, in the Strand. As this was the first time of my preaching here, I suppose it is to be the last.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - October 31

October 31 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, November 3 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Marks of a Christian: Commitment"

Features - 23rd Sunday After Pentecost; Stewardship Campaign Commitment Sunday; & Reformation Sunday
Scripture - Acts 2:41-47 & Luke 19:1-10

Theme - On this final Sunday of our “Marks of a Christian” sermon series, we will have an opportunity to dedicate our commitments of our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness for 2011 in support of Christ and his church. This will be a special Sunday of celebration and consecration.


Saturday, October 23, 2010

Learning to Witness Like "Grandma"

She was cleaning up the leftover trash from the students who had just left the school cafeteria. And as she was spraying the tables and wiping them down she said to me, "Pastor, I'm a Christian. And I know that I'm not supposed to force my faith on any of these students. That's why I simply try to sow some seeds of my faith here and there with these kids. They call me 'grandma' around here because of my age and I think they feel that they can talk to me if they're having a problem."

"God bless you," I said as I was leaving the cafeteria. And as I drove home from the school, I thanked God for the people he places throughout our schools and community who "simply try to sow seeds of their faith here and there with others."

As our church focuses on the fifth mark of a Christian this week, "witness," it's an opportunity for us to think about and pray about how we are sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with those around us on a daily basis.

"Lord, help me to be more like 'grandma' who makes witnessing seem so natural and simple. Amen."

Thursday, October 21, 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.

Out of sight, out of mind.
That's my opinion of the ice vending machine.

It was one of those scorching days this summer,
with temperatures headed for the upper 90's.
Since I have been without a kitchen,
I have learned not to take things for granted,
especially the ice maker in the refrigerator.

Without that household convenience,
I have had to buy bags of ice on a regular basis.

As I approached the cashier
I made sure I was ready so I could get through quickly....
value points card.......check
bio-friendly canvas shopping bags........check
debit card.....check

My debit card had been faulty.
Because it was old, sometimes it swiped cleanly,
other times it didn't

This morning, I was lucky.
The card cleared and I was off and running
in record time.

As I maneuvered to my car
I was feeling good about my grocery performance.
(When you are under construction,
you find that every minute counts)

I had loaded my groceries
when it dawned on me.
I didn't get a bag of ice.

The vending machine is at the entrance to the store.
It is one of the few items that you pay for,
then pick up on your way out of the store.

In my attempt to rush through the checkout,
I never remembered to purchase ice.

Out of sight, out of mind.

I pondered a week with iceless iced tea,
soda without cubes....
The thought was too overwhelming.

Life under construction is difficult enough
without losing the simple pleasure of ice chips.

I decided to go back into the store.
Fortunately, the same cashier was free.
I explained that I had forgotten to purchase ice.

No problem.
That will be $1.89

I swiped my crusty old debit card

Another try


The cashier tried the old
"swipe the card using a plastic grocery bag trick"
(I have never understood why that works)


By now,
a line was forming behind me.
I began to feel the pressure.

She asked if I had cash.
I didn't

Did I have another card?

I pulled it out.
I felt the relief of the 4 people behind me
that were now willing to start a fund raiser to pay for my bag of ice.

I swiped....

Maybe it's the computer system, I said.
That was a suggestion that seemed so silly
as every other cashier was sending their patrons
off into the world in record time.

She looked at the expiration date,
July 31

I gulped,
it was Aug 1

I probably could have found $1.89 under my car seats
but I had no way to pay for a simple bag of ice.

Because the cashier knew that my debit card had worked during my initial visit,
she took it to the service desk.
This seemed to create great displeasure
with the newly enlarged group of 8 people.

It has been proven by clinical study of sociologists
that the hard stares of a group of people
can initiate a response of perspiration
in the person who is the subject of such stares.

I now have found this to be true,

The cashier returned.
I am sorry sir,
the card doesn't work anymore..

This also initiates the response of perspiration.

As I was about to concede to a week with iceless iced tea,
the lady behind me said,
Here's $2, I'd be glad to help you

This is a moment of grace unlike no other.
You know you will likely not see this person again,
and you know if you don't receive it,
you become the likely target of assassination attempts
by the now 10 people who are waiting behind you.

Humbly I thanked the lady,
and slithered out the exit...
and yes, I did remember to pick up my bag of ice.

What I didn't remember was that ice melts,
in rapid fashion in 90 degree heat.

As I was putting the bag of ice into the car,
I was greeted by someone I knew but hadn't seen for a while.

It takes at least ten minutes to share the last two years of your life with someone.
It takes about the same amount of time
for a bag of ice in 90 degree heat to become a slushy.

I learned many lessons that day,
one of which is a slushy bag of ice when refrozen
becomes one big block of ice,
highly unsuitable for a cup of iced tea.

Out of sight,
out of mind.

Perhaps that is why
receiving Christ is difficult for so many.
It is hard to place your life into the hands of one that you do not see.
All the more reason, for those who do know Him,
to be living examples of Him.

We live with many people who will "checkout"
and walk into the next life without the One thing that they need to most.

help me to be a visual reminder
for those who live...

Out of sight,
out of hope.

Let your light shine before men,
in a such a way that they may see
your good works
and glorify Your Father
who is in heaven.
Matthew 5:16

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 worship services.

Below are the notes from this week's bible study:

Exodus 4:1-17
Verses 10-17 are key verses for this Sunday’s sermon on being a witness and sharing our faith with others.
- Moses is to be a spokesperson for God. This is an awesome task. No wonder Moses offered an excuse!
- The Lord offers reassurance to Moses: 1) A reminder that the Lord has created him. 2) The Lord will be with him when he speaks. 3) The Lord will continue to teach him.
- Moses still resists – v. 13
- The Lord provides a solution – Aaron, Moses’ brother can speak. The buddy system! Notice that Aaron is already on his way (v. 14). The Lord works fast!
- Moses is to tell Aaron what the Lord wants him to say. Moses isn’t off the hook. He still has a part to play by instructing Aaron and he needs to be attentive to what the Lord wants to say through them.
- Verse 16 is a good verse on the task of being a witness/preaching.

Matthew 5:13-16
- This is a call for God’s people to know who they are and who they have been – salt of the earth and the light of the world! Why do we forget who we are and what we have been created to be?
- We are to be the light of the world (Isaiah 42:6 & 49:6). Are we shining the light or are we making things darker?

Thoughts on Being a Witness for Jesus:
1. Share your faith story!
2. Think about the Apostles’ Creed. It’s a summary of what we believe.
3. Like Moses and Aaron, use the buddy system in sharing your faith with others.
4. Like Moses, keep in daily communication with God so you know what you are to share about God and your faith with others.
5. Step out of your comfort zone!

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

United Methodist Membership Vows - Is "Witness" the Most Difficult for Us?

My church has been participating in a month long focus on our membership vows which include prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness. We've covered the first four already and this week leading up to Sunday worship, we're focusing on witness.

These five membership vows are repeated over and over again in United Methodist churches whenever we receive new members. Witness, the new fifth vow was added a few years ago. It took me a while to remember to include witness when repeating the list of vows but now it has become a habit to include it.

Witness appears to be the most challenging of the vows for most United Methodists. With the exception of some who have a passion and spiritual gift to witness to others, most of us are hesitant and feel ill equipped to share our faith in Jesus Christ.

For this reason, I'm glad that witness was added to the membership vows. Without it, we can easily rationalize that we don't need to share our faith with others and instead share our faith with our actions. But that's why we have "service" as one of the membership vows. I believe the intention of adding the word, "witness" was to reinforce our need to verbally share our faith as well as show it through our service.

We tend to do the same thing with gifts when we say, "I don't give financially since I give of my time." They're not one and the same, although they do overlap to varying degrees. All five are vital parts of what it means to make a commitment to Christ and his church.

There's so much to be said about how we can strengthen our witness to others, but one of the key ways is to simply share how God is active and real in our lives. I like that approach a lot better than trying to convince others with arguments. By simply sharing how we see God at work in our lives we help others to know about the good news of Jesus Christ.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview

October 24 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, October 27 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Marks of a Christian: Witness"

Features - 22nd Sunday After Pentecost
Scripture - Exodus 4:1-17 & Matthew 5:13-16

Theme - On this 3rd Sunday of our “Marks of a Christian,” sermon series, we’ll consider what it means to make a commitment to offer our witness in support of Christ and his church.

Thursday, October 14, 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.

Superman has his kryptonite,
Samson had his hair loss.....
We all have things in our lives that
can bring us to our knees.

Those that know me,
know that I coil into fetal position
at the touch of a peach.

There is something about the texture of that awful little fruit
that just sends shivers up and down my spine.

It's like chalkboard & fingernails.
My hands are quivering as I write this, just thinking about it.

I live my life in avoidance
of that furry little fruit.

Now that it is the autumn,
I thought I had survived another peach season and could relax once again.
Think again.

As I am reaching the end of my house building,
I thought I had been through the worst
that building a house can offer.

Stuffing insulation into crawl spaces.....
working on hot roofs....
digging fieldstones out of the ground.....

There have been a lot of discomforts this year.,
many challenges.
But none can match
what has brought me to my knees this week.


Oh, it's not the drywall itself.
It's the sanding of the drywall spackle.

No, not once,
not twice,
but three times
one must spackle and sand to achieve the finished look to the walls.

I had never sanded drywall before
but the moment I took my first swipe with the sandpaper against the spackle
I knew that I was in trouble.

The shiver went up and down my spine,
my teeth started to quiver,
as I reacted to the sound of the scraping.

You might as well have thrown me into a truckload of peaches.
and then blasted peach fuzz over me.

I'd rather be subjected to Chinese water torture
or electro shock treatments
then face what I had to face with my drywall.

After talking myself off the ledge,
I tried to convince myself that I could do this.
After all,
I needed to do it if I was ever going to finish my house.

Each push of the sander
sent my teeth into a frenzy.

I tried playing music so loud
that I could not hear the scraping.

I tried ear plugs,
to rid myself of the horrid sound,
but I could still feel the scraping.

It has been two weeks and I am still sanding and cringing.

Most people go to their homes to find rest and retreat.
I go home to face my worst nightmare.

I can't say that it has gotten any easier with repetition,
but somehow as I sand
I find that
putting my tongue between my teeth seems to help.
And so does focusing on the promise of my finished house.

Sometimes you just have to face your worst nightmares,
your greatest demons
if you are going to build something

Helping to build God's kingdom
can, no will lead a follower to many moments of challenge,
times of personal discomfort.

It might be an inconvenience,
a sacrifice of time,
a surrender of material possessions,
an expenditure of energy,
death to self..........

No one wants those kinds of things in their lives.
But when you have the promise of something far greater
than the trial of the present moment,
you might be surprised what you are willing and able to do for God.

As for me,
ask me anything,
but just don't ask me to paint my walls a peach color.

And Jesus summoned the multitude with His disciples,
and said to them, "If anyone wishes to come after me,
let Him deny himself, and take up his cross,
and follow me."
Mark 8:34

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

A Psalm in Celebration of the Rescue of the Chilean Miners

Psalm 40
Thanksgiving for Deliverance and Prayer for Help
To the leader. Of David. A Psalm.

1 I waited patiently for the Lord;
he inclined to me and heard my cry.
2 He drew me up from the desolate pit,*
out of the miry bog,
and set my feet upon a rock,
making my steps secure.
3 He put a new song in my mouth,
a song of praise to our God.
Many will see and fear,
and put their trust in the Lord.


Sunday, October 10, 2010

Politics & Christianity

With political ads on every other commercial, yard signs, candidate phone calls, and slick junk mail, we are reminded that the November elections are just around the corner.

How does our Christian faith relate to the privilege of having the opportunity to vote? Should our Christian witness influence how we vote? If Christians vote based on their faith, then why do some Christians vote one way and other Christians vote the opposite way?

I've heard some Christians claim that unless you vote for a particular political party, you're not really a Christian who upholds the bible. It's my understanding that our country is unique in that a majority of Christians believe that if you are truly a Christian, you will vote a certain way on each and every issue. Christians in other democratic countries tend to allow for a wider umbrella of differences of opinion even regarding the more controversial issues. That's unfortunately not the case here in America.

Regardless of your position on abortion, I have trouble with Christian bumper stickers that try to simplify such a complex issue with one line or phrase. Any intelligent dialogue/debate on such a topic would reveal the many complications and gray issues that surround this issue. Again, it's fine to take a strong stance on this issue, but it's not fine to ignore case by case situations that require discernment and continued prayer on what is the most judicial response in the context of our Christian faith.

If we think about the bible, there are several checks and balances and tensions on various issues that confirm that God's people will not always agree. Depending on the historical time period, the circumstances of the biblical passage, and the intended audience, interpreting the scriptures is not as simple as we might think, but who ever said that our faith is supposed to be a spoon fed faith? So we have the graphic and violent conquest of the people who once inhabited the holy land. Does this mean that today, we can take from others if we believe that God wants us to have land or power?

In the New Testament, we find the early Christian wrestling over the issue of what is required of a Jewish person before becoming a Christian? Do they have to be circumcised? Do they have to follow certain kosher laws? Notice that this issue isn't settled so easily. It first required discernment, debate, and even a heated argument between Paul and Peter!

Over the centuries, the church has relied on prayerful discernment on various issues. So, in the United Methodist Church, we have The Book of Resolutions which is edited every four years by 1,000 representatives (half clergy and half lay) to serve as guidelines for United Methodists in our discernment process regarding over 300 issues.

The Book of Resolutions is a guide to help us know what 1,000 people decided upon after a lot of prayer, study, debate, and discernment. If we don't like the conclusions of the 1,000 people who represent the United Methodist Church, that's fine, but my point is that we shouldn't ignore it.

We've all noticed that our political landscape is becoming more and more polarized year after year, to the point where issues create such a reaction, that the debate can't even get off the ground. Instead of continuing the conversation, the debate ends and we quit listening to each other.

Christians have fed into this polarization through the proof texting of selected verses and by taking shortcuts in the discernment process as if the bible is simply an encyclopedia listing all the questions with the "right" answers. I'm always amazed at how much of the biblical canon is in narrative form which often shows the tensions of various perspectives on important issues related to God's people.

This doesn't mean that this process won't lead us to take strong stances. But it does mean that since we looked at all sides, we will be a whole lot more understanding of people with differing perspectives. And we certainly won't jump to the conclusion that he or she isn't a Christian based on their stance.

Sunday Worship Preview - October 17

October 17 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, October 20 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Marks of a Christian: Gifts & Service"

Features - 21st Sunday After Pentecost; Third Grade Bible Presentation; & Holy Baptism (8:15 Service)
Scripture - I Corinthians 12:4-11 & Matthew 6:19-21

Theme - On this 2nd Sunday of our “Marks of a Christian,” sermon series, we’ll consider what it means to make a commitment to offer our gifts and our service in support of Christ and his church.

Thursday, October 7, 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 worship services.

Below are the notes from this week's bible study:

This Sunday’s Worship Theme – “Marks of a Christian: Prayers & Presence”

Revelation 4 (Focus: Presence or Worship)
Overview of Book – John, on the island of Patmos writing to the 7 churches in Asia Minor to remain faithful until the Lord Jesus reappears. To understand this final book of the bible, we need to interpret it in light of the historical situation of this time period. (Churches bowing to the pressure of the Roman Empire.)

Chapters 4 & 5 – Focus on worship as John gets a vision of worship in heaven.
- John is a spectator in the heavenly court watching as all of creation worships God. This is not a future reality but a present reality!
- 4:1-2 – “coming up to heaven” & “being in the Spirit” are ways of showing how heaven and earth overlap. This is done through worship.
- Scene opens with heavenly throne room (see Ezekiel 1.) The surprise is that we first see how animals are worshipping God. Then the 24 elders, representing all of God’s people (old and new covenants) worship as well.
- “Worship” means “worthy” where we acknowledge the “worthiness of God.”
- Points of passage: 1) God is the creator of all. 2) Task of humans is to join all of creation in worship through our words of praise. See “hallowed be thy name” in Lord’s Prayer.
- This passage reminds us of Genesis 1 how God created the world and called it good, but that sin entered the world. Jesus Christ is the one who can open the scroll and bring God’s plan for redemption to completion. This is what leads to praise and worship.
- The purpose of God is not to save humans from the world but to save them for the world.
- Political dimension of this – Worshipping God in this way is an affront to the Roman Empire and Caesar. This is very subsersive!
- Notice that God the creator and the Lamb (Jesus) are worshipped while maintaining monotheism and not dualism or paganism (worship of many gods.)

Luke 11:1-13 (Focus: Prayer)
The Lord’s Prayer
- Early Christians prayed this prayer 3 times a day.
- God as Father reminds us when Israel was in slavery and needed to be rescued. God told Pharaoh through Moses and Aaron, “Israel is my son, my firstborn.” To call God “father” reminded people that they were an exodus people.
- When Jesus gave us this prayer, he was on his journey to Jerusalem and the cross to rescue us from our slavery and lead us into a new exodus that would defeat sin and death once and for all.
- Daily bread reminds us of the manna to sustain us during the journey.
- Our journey is to be marked by forgiveness toward our enemies, just as Jesus forgave his enemies on the cross.
- Our journey is to deal with the evil in the world just as Jesus dealt with evil on the cross.

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Praying with the Church

As my church thinks about the importance of prayer this week as part of our church wide congregational focus, this interview with Scot McKnight might be a helpful way to think of how we can pray with the church.

Interview with Scot McKnight on Praying With the Church

1. What does it mean to pray with the church?
It means to pray set prayers at set times – that is, to use a prayer book to pray with
others, and consciously join Christians around the world who are also praying set prayers
at set times.

2. Why do we, as Christians, need fixed hour prayer? Don’t spontaneous prayers
work just as well?

The Bible taught Israel to do this as early as Deute 6:4-5; it became a custom in
ancient Israel to stop to pray 3x a day. Spontaneous prayers are designed to the
individual’s heart in tune with God; fixed hour prayer adds two dimensions – learning to
pray from those who walked the path before we did and joining in prayer with the
communion of the saints.

3. What books would you suggest to people who want to begin to pray the daily
My book Praying with the Church! Of course.
I’d begin first with the prayer book of my faith’s tradition; but two user-friendly
prayer books are Paraclete’s The Little Book of Hours and Phyllis Tickle’s 3-volume
Divine Hours.

4. How did Jesus pray? In what ways did he keep Jewish custom, and in what ways
did he add something new?
Jesus prayed both spontaneously and with others; he did the latter three times a
day; he prayed the Psalms and he taught his disciples to pray the Lord’s Prayer and the
Jesus Creed
(Mark 12:28-31).

5. What is the significance of the ancient tradition of praying three times a day?
It is the habit of pausing at each juncture of the day (meal times) to direct our
heart and focus toward God, to join with others to do the same. Pausing three times keeps
a sacred rhythm to the day, constantly reminding us that we are a praying people.

6. What prayers are traditionally said during fixed hour prayer?
Lord’s Prayer
Shema (Jesus Creed is what I think early Christians prayed)
Other set prayers, like the Jesus Prayer.

7. You say in your book that “humans have a knack for turning religious acts in to
meaninglessness.” How can we prevent fixed-hour prayer from becoming rote –
from turning into “vain repetitions?”
Two things: practicing focus by pausing to recollect our thoughts and hearts.
Saying the prayers aloud which keeps us from rushing through them.

8. What is the significance of the Jesus Prayer in the Eastern Orthodox church?
What are the benefits of this famous prayer?
Jesus Prayer is at the heart of the Way of the Pilgrim orthodox tradition; many use
it constantly.
It keeps before us our need of mercy and our sinfulness and that grace comes to us
through Jesus Christ.

9. What are the unique contributions of the Catholic church to fixed hour prayer?
Much – in many ways. First, the regulation of the seven-hour prayer cycle made
famous through Benedict’s Rule. Second, the regulation of praying the Psalms weekly.
Third, the addition of the Canticles of Luke 1-2 in the sacred rhythms of prayer. And
fourth, the use of special spiritual readings at the hour of readings (often midnight or so).

10. How did Thomas Cranmer adapt the church’s tradition of fixed hour prayer for
Anglicans in the Book of Common Prayer?
Cranmer regulated the reading of the whole Bible through annually in a public
setting so that all Christians could learn the Bible. And then Cranmer was a magisterial
writer and his prayers have become some of the most beautiful used in the fixed hour
prayer tradition.

11. How can Christians who aren’t Orthodox, Catholic, or Anglican embrace an
ancient, liturgical method of prayer?
First, see the value in the Bible for such a thing.
Second, learn to pause 2 or three times a day to say set prayers and to say them
aloud so they are meaningful.
This method of prayer is growing fast throughout the Church among evangelical

12. What are the first steps for someone wanting to begin the practice of fixed-hour
Get a good prayer book and learn to use it.

13. How has fixed hour prayer enriched your own life?
It has given structure to my prayers; it has made me more aware of the Church’s
prayer traditions and prayerbooks; and it has given me words to say when words were
hard to come by. Mostly, though, it creates a sacred rhythm to my day so that the whole
day becomes an offering of prayer.

The New Testament Word/Phrase of the Week

The New Testament bible scholar, Dr. Tom Wright, has produced a glossary of New Testament words/phrases that is really helpful for the study of scripture. What I like most about his definition of New Testament words is that he helps us to know what a Jewish person from the 1st century would have understood these words/phrases to mean. Too often, we allow our 21st century world view to get in the way of the original meaning.

The New Testament Word/Phrase of the Week: Herodians

Herod the Great ruled Judaea from 37 to 4 BC; after his death, his territory was divided between his sons Archelaus, Herod Antipas (the Herod of the gospels), and Philip. The Herodians supported the claims of Antipas to be the true king of the Jews. Though the Pharisees would normally oppose such a claim, they could make common cause with the Herodians when facing a common threat (e.g. Jesus, Mark 3:6).

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Jesus & Prayer

As my congregation begins the 2nd day of a month long stewardship daily devotional focus on prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, in addition to today's devotional reading, I read this portion (see below) of the Gospel lesson from "The Daily Office."

One of the distinctive features of Jesus' life and ministry was his prayer life. His healings created quite a stir and as crowds began to form, Jesus knew that in order to stay rooted in his mission and purpose, he needed to rely on prayer.

I'm thankful for how the Gospel writers continually remind us of Jesus and his consistent prayer life. We too, can turn to prayer throughout the day so that like Jesus, we stay rooted in our mission and purpose.

Luke 5:12-26 (NRSV)

12 Once, when he was in one of the cities, there was a man covered with leprosy. When he saw Jesus, he bowed with his face to the ground and begged him, 'Lord, if you choose, you can make me clean.' 13Then Jesus stretched out his hand, touched him, and said, 'I do choose. Be made clean.' Immediately the leprosy left him. 14And he ordered him to tell no one. 'Go,' he said, 'and show yourself to the priest, and, as Moses commanded, make an offering for your cleansing, for a testimony to them.' 15But now more than ever the word about Jesus spread abroad; many crowds would gather to hear him and to be cured of their diseases. 16But he would withdraw to deserted places and pray.

Monday, October 4, 2010

A Hunter's Prayer

Today, my church begins a month long congregation wide devotional reading and half of this week's readings are related to the importance of prayer.

Recently, I came across this prayer, specifically written for hunters. When I was a teenager, my dad taught me to hunt small game as well as deer so when I saw this prayer, it reminded me of my dad.

Hunter's Prayer by The Rev. Eldon Reich

O God, thank you for your creation,
for the land that sustains us,
the game that feeds us,
and the hunt that blesses us.

Grant us wisdom to be safe.
Grant us the patience for a clean shot,
so that we might be good stewards of every life you give.

This prayer also reminded me of an experience I had when I was a senior in High School. I was invited to a friend's home for dinner. It was just before deer hunting season and being the big time hunters they were, here's what the father's prayer was before we ate dinner:

"Father, thank you for this food. And help me this Monday, to kill a deer. Amen."

This is what I call praying specifically.
Sometimes, our prayers could stand being a little more well rounded, but the important thing is to pray about all aspects of our lives.
Including success on the first day of deer season!

P.S. As I'm finishing typing this article, I can't help but notice a man praying over his quarter pounder and fries. Nice!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - October 10

October 10 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, October 13 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Marks of a Christian: Prayers & Presence"

Features - 20th Sunday After Pentecost & Holy Baptism (9:45 Service)
Scripture - Revelation 4 & Luke 11:1-13

Theme - Today, we begin a four week sermon series on “Marks of a Christian.” This series will center on the five membership vows a person makes when joining a United Methodist Church which includes, prayers, presence, gifts, service, & witness. As we look at the first two vows, we will consider what it mean when we make a commitment to offer our prayers and our presence in support of Christ and his church.