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

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Just because there's pink sand doesn't mean you can't pray!

Our church is sponsoring a ten member mission team through the United Methodist Volunteers in Mission (VIM) to help improve the living conditions of the people in Eleuthera, Bahamas. This is the second year in a row our church has sent a mission team to this beautiful area of the world.

A friend of mine jokingly said, "It's going to be hard to pray for this mission team since they will be in the Bahamas during the cold of winter." And I responded, "Just because there's pink sand where the mission work is being held doesn't mean you can't pray for us."

When I was on the plane heading for a mission trip in 2009, I sat next to a teenager who was part of a different group going to serve in Guatemala as well. I asked her if this was her first mission trip and she said, "Oh no. I go every year." When I asked her where she went last year she said, "To the Bahamas for a mission trip." I couldn't help but laugh because that pink sand/blue water image immediately came to mind. And she said, "There is so much poverty on that island and we were able to help a lot of people."

The mission team to the Bahamas will be working with the Bahamas Methodist Habitat just as they did last year. So let's pray for the Bahamas mission team, pink sand and all.

Sunday Worship Preview - February 6

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

Sermon - "Let Your Light Shine"

Features - 5th Sunday After the Epiphany & The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Scripture - Isaiah 58:1-10 & Matthew 5:13-20

Theme - Jesus tells us that we are the light of the world. What does that mean for us? In what ways might God be calling us to shine the light of Christ in our broken and troubled world?

Friday, January 28, 2011

Bible Study Summary - Sunday's Upcoming 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.

Last Sunday’s Sermon – “It’s Not too Late: To Rejuvenate the Church”
This Sunday’s Sermon – “It’s Not too Late: To Participate in Ministry”

Jeremiah 1:4-10
- This scripture has a lot of meaning to me – Read it during a retreat during college and it led me to accept a calling into the pastoral ministry.
- Context of Jeremiah – Prophesied in Judah during turbulent times of late 7th century and early 6th century B.C. Saw the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. But also offered words of hope that God would one day redeem Israel.
- We as the reader know that Jeremiah has received a legitimate call from God. Later, he will be challenged and labeled a false prophet.
- Jeremiah tried to use his “youthfulness” as an excuse to not respond to God’s calling.
- Key verse for me during the college retreat – “I have put my words in your mouth.”
Preaching is being God’s voice to God’s people. Biblical preaching is very difficult. One needs to speak God’s words which are often times challenging and uncomfortable.
- My personal calling into pastoral ministry – home pastor planted the seed to listen for God’s voice. Friends in college noticed that I might have gifts for pastoral ministry.
- The importance of having both an inner and an outer calling.
- Local churches are often the place where young people begin feeling the nudge from the Holy Spirit to enter into pastoral ministry. What can the church do to encourage young people to consider pastoral ministry?

Matthew 28:16-20
- Context of Matthew’s Gospel – Matthew is writing from a very Jewish perspective in which he sees the coming of Jesus as part of God’s central plan to bring redemption through Israel to the world.
- The Great Commission begins on a mountain. For Matthew, significant things happen on mountains – transfiguration, temptation, sermons.
- It’s curious that the disciples are hesitant to continue on with Jesus’ ministry. But then they worship him which is appropriate since this text is to remind us of chapter 1 where Jesus is known as Emmanuel, “God with us.” Did Jesus’ reminder of his name help the disciples in their hesitancy?
- Jesus’ has all authority in heaven and in heaven. He has the authority through his victory on the cross over sin and death. This is why new life and eternal life are possible. This text reminds us that Jesus is already running the world and not just some time in the future. Even though the world is still not transformed, through Jesus, it is being rescued. Through the Great Commission, we get to participate in this rescue!
- Great Commission – 1) Make disciples – invite and help others to follow Jesus 2) Baptize – This marks us out as followers of Jesus. 3) Teach – Specifically, Matthew has in mind the Sermon on the Mount earlier in the Gospel.


Thursday, January 27, 2011

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.

People always complain about rubberneck drivers.
You know who I mean....
those people who slow down to view a traffic accident,
thus slowing traffic on the highway.

But let's admit it,
we are all born curious,
we all slow down...
we all take a look.

It's the same way with a fight.
You may not like violence,
but somehow it's hard not to look.
I understand that there are bound to be onlookers.
I just didn't expect so many would become cheerleaders.

The old joke is
I went to a fight,
and a hockey game broke out.

Last week,
I did go to a hockey game with some friends.
We arrived late,
and before I could get some concessions and find my seat,
it was 2-0,
with one fight.

Soon after, I was munching on my chicken strips ,
it was 3-0, then 4-0.

In football,
that is the equivalent of being ahead 28-0.
Rout on.
And that's when fight #2 broke out.

Hockey is unique in that it is the one team sport
that allows fights to go on.
In fact, it is fair to say
that fights are an expected part of the game.

Head guards, gloves came off...the usual.
#27 of the visiting team became the enemy.
I didn't think much of the fight..
I was a bit surprised though,
not so much that the crowd as a whole got into it,
but how everyone seemed up for a good brawl.

Grandmothers were screaming words
that are never heard during Sunday school.
Young children were jumping for joy
that the game had become
an ultimate fight.

Soon after,
the home team continued the punishment,

One quick trip to the restroom
and I missed 2 goals
and 3 more fights.
(I hate to think what I would have missed if I were a woman )

The situation continued to escalate
as the home team
raised the score to 7-0.
Things were getting, as they say,
a bit chippy.
Fights #6 and #7 broke out,
and #27 had become arch enemy #1
to 10,000 people.

Cameras were flashing,
(mine included)
People were standing shaking their fists at #27
treating him as if he was Darth Vader.

In hockey, that have the equivalent of a time out chair,
it's called the penalty box.
By now they were adding overflow seating
in the penalty box,
to accommodate all the testosterone driven naughty boys.

The announcer after each fight
would read off the penalty list,
which grew longer and longer.
It would have been quicker to say:
Everyone's in the penalty box except the mascot,
and even he was pushing it.

You know you are in desperate times
when a mascot named Cocoa
is calling for blood.

The refs (who let the latest fight go on for 10 minutes)
called the captains to mid rink
and told them to play nice.

Nice lasted about 2 minutes.
By the time fight #10 arrived,
the crowd was pretty jazzed.
I think I even saw the peanut vendor
take out the cotton candy guy.
I can't even write what the hot dog boy said......

We are all subject to being influenced.
We may not admit it,
but each of us has those things
which grab our attention,
things which seek to change us from who we are intended to be.

Jesus said we are to be salt and light,
elements that change the world,
rather than allowing the world to change us.

John called those things
that seek to make us less then we are false spirits,
things that wish to make us slaves,
rather children of the King.

Those spirits can and will pop up anywhere and anytime,
at hockey games,
while driving the car,
in the middle of a sleepless night.

Penalty boxes don't solve the problem.
Only a recognition that the One who lives within us
and is greater than any false spirit,
gives us hope.

So the next time you find yourself rubbernecking
rather than praying for the accident victim,

the next time you find yourself
cheering on a fight,
rather than availing yourself to be a peacemaker,

the next time you find yourself
listening to a false spirit,
rather than the One who marched into Hades on your behalf,

remember who is the one who is greater.
Remember who is the one who won the fight by turning the other cheek.
Remember whose you are.

You are from God little children,
and have overcome the false spirits;
because greater is He who is in you,
than he who is in the world.
They are from the world;
therefore they speak as from the world,
and the world listens to them.
We are from God;
he knows God listen to us;
he who is not from God does not listen to us.
By this we know the spirit of truth,
and the spirit of error.
I John 4:4-6


Tuesday, January 25, 2011

Bumper Sticker Theology

The more I see bumper stickers with brief slogans on some very serious issues such as abortion, salvation, capital punishment, taxes, and gun control, the more I am grateful for my Wesleyan heritage. I cringe when I see these types of bumper stickers because they're often a shallow attempt to approach very serious social issues.

Our Wesleyan heritage offers us an alternative to a bumper sticker approach regarding important issues. It's called, "The Via Media" which is a Latin phrase which means, "The Middle Way." The middle way approach to faith means that as thinking Christians, we will listen to all sides of an issue and that we will interpret scripture in the light of tradition, reason, and experience.

The problem is, as we know, anything worth doing takes a lot of effort and hard work on our part. This means listening to other people's experiences, researching how Christians and the church have approached theses issues over the past centuries, and sharing our thoughtful conclusions in a respectful way so that the conversations can continue.

Once in a while, someone will challenge me with what I call the "pastor litmus test." To test whether or not I'm a real Christian, they will ask, "Do you believe in the sinner's prayer?" or "Do you believe Jesus is the only way to salvation - you have to answer yes or no!" or "Do you believe in hell?" This kind of thing happens to me about 3 or 4 times each year in various settings.

When I was in elementary school, they gave us those blue books to write out our answers in paragraph form but the pastor litmus test demands either yes or no responses. Why do we think we don't need those blue books anymore in our adult years?

What's really sad is that I could give a yes or no answer that would probably help me to pass the pastor litmus test. But for me and for people who claim a Wesleyan heritage, it's not just about yes or no answers. It's also about the journey that leads us to our prayerful conclusions.

And you just can't fit all of that information on a bumper sticker.

Monday, January 24, 2011

A 2011 Daily Prayer - Lancaster, Ohio First UMC

During this past Sunday's sermon, I invited each member of our congregation to pray daily for First UMC throughout this year. It is a prayer for rejuvenation.

Dear God, thank you for First United Methodist Church. Strengthen us through the power of the Holy Spirit to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, and extravagant generosity. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

Sermon (January 23) - "It's Not too Late: To Rejuvenate the Church"

So let’s see how we’re doing since this is the 3rd week into our sermon series. What time is it church? (It’s not too late!)

That’s right. It’s not too late too eliminate poverty. It’s not too late to eradicate the killer diseases of poverty.

And today, we’re going to see how it’s not too late too rejuvenate the church. Let’s watch this brief video.

To start with, let me just say that I love the church. I grew up in the church. My mom and dad raised four children and every Sunday, they made sure that we went to the Stewartstown United Methodist Church located in the rolling farmland of south central Pennsylvania.

It was because of this church; the pastors, the people, the Sunday School teachers, the youth ministry leaders, the Sunday School classes, that I was able to grow in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. Being from a small town of only a couple thousand people, that church really was the hub of social life in our community.

It was in this church that I was baptized, confirmed, and married. This is the church that sent me to church camp where I experienced the presence of God in a way that I had never experienced before. This is the church that gave me hope whenever I was going through difficult times in my life. This is the church that helped me to make a recommitment of my life to Jesus Christ during my college years. And this is the church that helped me to discern a calling into the pastoral ministry.

So as you can see, I’m biased when I talk about the church.

And this is why it pains me to know that the United Methodist Church, the denomination that I love so much, has been declining in membership for the past 40 years. And this is why one of the four areas of focus of our denomination right now is all about rejuvenating the church.

And yet, there is also a lot of hope that God isn’t finished with us, just yet. Think about our history as a denomination.

During the 1800s, which was an incredible century of growth for our new denomination, we grew and grew in part, because we were always on the move, planting new churches wherever the population was forming.

In 1850, 1/3 of the American population was Methodist. One-third of our population! Why that many? Circuit rider preachers! It was because of the circuit riders who were willing to ride on horseback and form new churches in different towns and villages that 40,000 new Methodist congregations were able to be formed.

And here’s how this would work. A circuit rider preacher would come into a town and with the help of some of the town’s people, would get a Methodist class meeting formed. The circuit rider would preach and teach and more and more people would join the new Methodist class. Eventually, the circuit rider would say to those new Methodists that he needed to move on to the next town to begin another Methodist class meeting.

And then he would give them a copy of John Wesley’s sermons and tell them to preach and listen to those sermons to continue to build up their new congregation. Eight weeks later, this same circuit rider would ride back into town to see how they were doing, preach and teach, perform weddings, celebrate the Sacraments, and officiate for any weddings. Before too long, he’d ride off again to the next town and would make a circuit which is why they were known as circuit riders.

This is why the Methodist movement grew so much in the 1800s. These circuit riders were able to form all of these new churches because the townspeople were able to continue on with the ministry while the preacher was on his way again forming new churches.

In addition to all of these new churches, eventually Methodists also established hospitals, soup kitchens, shelters, and schools because they believed that their mission was to spread scriptural holiness throughout the land.

But in the 1900s, the growth started to slow down to the point where we have been in decline over the last 40 years. One statistic that really stands out to me is that when the Methodist Church was really growing in its best years, we were establishing an average of one new church every single day. One per day.

In the 1970s, that slipped the whole way down to only 20 new churches per year. Think about that. We went from starting almost 400 new churches a year to only 20 new churches per year on average. Our previous success had become our greatest weakness. We had become satisfied and lost the hunger to continue to reach new generations for Jesus Christ.

Companies and businesses run into this same problem of success and decline as well. It’s called life cycles. Just take a look at the bell diagram on the screen. Look at the left side of the bell curve. Most businesses when they first get started are excited and enthusiastic about going after their mission and purpose as a company. If things go well, this is the growth phase of the company. They are in their birth, infancy, childhood, and adolescent years where vision, leadership, mission, purpose, and core values are held at a very high level by the organization.

As those early years go by and as the people continue to be excited about vision, leadership, mission, purpose, and core values, a company will hit their prime where they are running on all cylinders and the company is very profitable.

But over time, success, while a good thing, can cause a company to become too satisfied and lose their passion and vision which was the reason for them getting started in the first place. It’s here where the organization starts putting more focus on management and rules and less time on vision and innovation.

Eventually, as you can see on the right side of the bell curve, the company is in need of redevelopment and if they miss that opportunity to reclaim their vision and purpose, they end up continuing down the slope away from their prime and eventually they end up going out of business.

The Book of Revelation, the last book of the Bible, is a book that is written specifically for seven churches that were located in Asia Minor. These are churches that had already hit their prime and they were beginning to lose their vitality and effectiveness.

One of those churches was the church in the city of Ephesus. This is a church that had a proud history with the Apostle Paul who wrote a letter to them bearing their name. This was the church where John, the Gospel writer spent the last years of his life preaching and teaching. And yet, by the time the Book of Revelation was written, this was a church that was on the decline.
And so, in the Book of Revelation passage, this church is told that they have abandoned the love that they had at first.

This is just like the bell curve diagram where a church goes past its prime and is in need of redirection, refocus, redevelopment, and rejuvenation. The Book of Revelation is trying to help the Church of Ephesus understand that this is their opportunity to reclaim their vision, leadership, mission, purpose, and core values. This is their opportunity to return to their first love which is Jesus Christ.

I believe that the United Methodist Church is at one of those critical moments in our history where we can either redevelop and rejuvenate and return to our first love, or we’ll just continue down the slide on the bell curve and lose our effectiveness all together.

But what does it mean to reclaim our first love? It means that we never forget what God has done for us by sending his son Jesus Christ to die on the cross for our sins. It means that we never forget that with God there is always hope. It means that we never forget that our primary purpose for existence isn’t for ourselves but it is all about sharing the love of Jesus Christ with everyone around us through word and deed.

So what can First United Methodist Church do to be a church that has its best years ahead of us rather than behind us? What does it mean for us to be a church that doesn’t lose sight of our first love which is knowing, loving, and serving Jesus Christ?

Robert Schnase is a United Methodist Bishop in the Missouri Conference and he’s written the wonderful book, “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.” It’s a book to help rejuvenate our denomination.

Bishop Schnase claims that there are five core values that every single United Methodist congregation needs to live out for it to be a fruitful and growing congregation.
The first core value is Radical Hospitality.

Let me read something to you and I’ll let you be the judge if this captures where we are today. Here’s the quote and this comes from a famous person. “In a commercial country, a busy country, time becomes precious, and hospitality is not much valued.”

Does that sound like where we are in the 21st century? Well, that quote actually came from Samuel Johnson who was writing in the 18th century! In the 18th century, the industrial revolution took place and all of the sudden, productivity was important and time itself became a precious commodity.

If that was true in the 18th century, think of our own day. It’s gotten to the point where we have relegated hospitality to the restaurant and hotel industry and to other places that rely on hospitality to make money.

Hospitality is at the heart of the bible. Again and again, the scriptures remind us to show hospitality and a genuine welcome to people within and outside our church walls.

I Peter 4:9 says, “Be hospitable to one another without complaining.” Romans 12:13 says, “Contribute to the needs of the saints; extend hospitality to strangers.”

Radical hospitality is the first core value.

The second core value is passionate worship.

In his excellent book, “What’s So Amazing about Grace,” Philip Yancey shares this powerful line, “It is a terrible thing I found to be grateful and have no one to thank. To be awed and have no one to worship.”

This is why Paul can say in our Colossians reading, “And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.” Every time we gather for worship, we are to offer our gratitude and our thanks for what God has done for us through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

After a worship service here a few months ago, one of you came up to me and with tears in your eyes, you said, “The closing hymn caused me to cry as I was singing it, because in my mind, I could see the face of a woman who our church helped this past week and who is caught in the cycle of poverty. My heart just breaks for her.”

This is why worship can be so passionate and meaningful. As we are fully engaged in worship, God speaks to us and often times surprises us with his presence. One person put it like this, “There are some moments during worship where it’s like God enters the room in a way that I had not experienced before.”

Passionate worship is the 2nd key core value to reclaim our first love.

Bishop Schnase then talks about intentional faith development as the 3rd core value. Intentional faith development refers to participating in a bible study group, a Sunday School class, or a share group that can help us support and encourage each other as we move forward in our faith journey.

The Book of Hebrews says to “Do not neglect to meet together as is the habit of some, but encourage one another, and all the more as you see the Day approaching.”

And I might add, this is another of the major reasons why the Methodist movement grew so rapidly in those early years. Those new churches began as small groups or classes as they were called by those early Methodists. These small classes offered encouragement and accountability among the group members which led to spiritual growth.

Risk taking mission is the third core value in order for the church to experience rejuvenation.

Risk taking mission reminds us to not play it safe, but to respond to God’s calling to leave our comfort zones and serve Christ in ways we never thought were possible.

One of the churches I served as pastor hosted an evangelism seminar at our church. About forty members from our church attended. It was a seminar to help us take more risks and to share our faith out in the community. After the first day’s session, the seminar leader gave us a homework assignment. He said, “Between now when you leave from here and tomorrow when we reconvene for our seminar, I want each of you to share your faith with someone out in the community in a specific way.”

Well, this just about overwhelmed the forty of us, because quite frankly, we had never really been that intentional in sharing our faith with others. The next day, after we reconvened, the seminar leader asked us to share how it went.

And to everyone’s surprise, including me, this one person who you would least expect to try something like this, immediately jumped to his feet and could hardly contain his enthusiasm. He told our group, “After we left here yesterday afternoon, Betsy and I went out to dinner here in town. And I struck up a conversation with our waiter and to make a long story short, tomorrow, we’re going to pick this guy up at his apartment and bring him to church with us tomorrow.”

It was priceless to see the joy on this man’s face as he told us this story. And that young man who was a waiter, ended up attending our church on a regular basis, all because of this member’s willingness to step out of his comfort zone to be in risk taking mission.

Risk taking mission can take many forms from sharing your faith with a waiter, to serving a meal for those in need, to going on a mission trip. But it involves being willing to step out in faith.

And the fifth core value for a fruitful congregation is extravagant generosity. Just think of how much God offers to us: eternal life, forgiveness of sins, hope for any situation we may be facing, guidance, strength, abundant life, and the list goes on and on.

Lamentations 3:22-23 says, “The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, his mercies never come to an end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness.”

God’s mercies are endless and we see them every morning. In response to this grace, we are called to be extravagant in our giving to be a blessing to others and to our church.

II Corinthians 9:6 says, “The point is this: the one who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and the one who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully.”

Extravagant generosity is the fifth practice of fruitful congregations.

Radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk taking mission, and extravagant generosity.

I thank God for the many ways that our church is living out these fruitful practices. In preparation for this Sunday, the people who are serving on our Church Council as well as our staff have been praying a prayer for rejuvenation in our church. It’s a prayer that we will be praying each day this year. And it’s a prayer to remind us of this third area of focus. It’s not too late to rejuvenate the church.

You can find this prayer in the bulletin. I invite us to pray this prayer every single day this year. Just think what a difference it will make as we see this prayer become a reality this year here at First Church.

Let’s pray this prayer together.
Dear God, thank you for First United Methodist Church. Strengthen us through the power of the Holy Spirit to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, and extravagant generosity. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.

I love the church!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - January 30

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

Sermon - "It's Not too Late: To Participate in Ministry"
Features - 4th Sunday After the Epiphany

Scripture - Jeremiah 1:4-10 & Matthew 28:16-20

Theme -In order to plant new churches and reach the people of the 21st century, we must raise up principled Christian leaders for the church and the world. God and the church are calling young men and women to explore vocations in full-time Christian ministry and ordained ministry. As we explore the fourth of the Four Areas of Focus, we'll especially see how young people are embracing their own call to participate in the life of the United Methodist Church to reach their generation for Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Not a Typical Thursday

Isn't it amazing how you can go through what seems like a typical day and end up meeting a very special new friend and experience God in a new way?

This happened to me today. It's a Thursday. A day of church staff meetings, preparing last minute changes to the sermon, doing some administrative work, and making a few visits. But this Thursday was very different. I met a new friend who taught this pastor about faith.

His name is Brayden Tacket, a seven year old. Brayden is like most every other seven year old. He loves video games, watching tv, making jokes, and putting puzzles together. But there is one big difference. Brayden has terminal cancer. And he knows that he's going to die.

Brayden told his family that he wanted to be baptized because in his words, if he's going to die, he wants to know for sure that he will be going to heaven. A member of my church who has been working closely with Brayden called me on the phone to see if I could come and baptize him.

And so I went to Brayden's house. Brayden was playing a video game when I arrived. I could tell he was a little unsure of who this strange man was who came to visit him. Even after I explained that I was a pastor of a United Methodist Church and came to get to know him, he seemed a little cautious of this man of the cloth.

But that all changed quickly when he started putting a puzzle together on the floor. "Hey, do you want to help me with this Spiderman puzzle?" It was that puzzle that began a new special friendship between the two of us.

After one puzzle, we began work on another one. And then it was time. Family and friends had moved into the room. The bowl was filled with warm water. And I asked Brayden if he was ready to be baptized. All of the sudden, this talkative, quick-humored seven year old was speechless. A serious look came upon his face and he nodded his head in agreement. Yes, he was ready. Oh how he was ready!

I told Brayden a little about Jesus, how he had lived on this earth a long time ago calling people to follow him and how he helped people come to know God. And I said that he then died on a cross so that we can live with God forever and three days later God helped him to become alive again. I concluded the briefest sermon I have probably ever given by saying that Jesus is alive and is present with us for his baptism.

"Brayden, the reason we use this water for baptism, is to remind you that just as water helps us to get clean in a bath, God cleans us so that we can be with him forever." After this brief baptism instruction, I felt ready to ask Brayden the big question, "Do you have any questions you want to ask me?"

By the way he was concentrating on my every word and knowing he was a very outgoing seven year old, I had a hunch that he probably had something to tell me. As he looked intently into my eyes, and after a long 5 to 10 seconds had elapsed, he finally said to me,

"I have to pee first."

I didn't expect that particular comment in that particular moment but you have to know my new friend, Brayden. Brayden is beyond his years. He knows to cut to the chase and how to dispense with long conversations. When he's ready, he's ready.

Brayden came back from the bathroom with a family member guiding him and after stumbling to the floor since he has some paralysis on one side, he sat back down and said, "I'm ready."

"Brayden, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen." We all laid hands on young Brayden and I offered a prayer that he would always know that Jesus loves him and will always be there for him.

For the rest of my time in Brayden's home, he stared intently at his lit baptism candle which included his name on it. He then spent time looking at a large cross which was another gift. And then he sat on my lap and we enjoyed each other's company.

Depending on his health, he might be able to attend church some Sunday. That would be great. All I know is that in the middle of this typical Thursday, I got to attend church in the living room of my new friend, Brayden Tackett.

What Happens After We Die?

One of our adult Sunday School classes at Lancaster First United Methodist Church will be studying the excellent book, "Surprised by Hope" by New Testament bible scholar, Dr. Tom Wright. The study begins Sunday, January 30, at 11 A.M.
This study helps to explore questions such as:
  • What happens after we die?
  • What is heaven? What is hell?
  • What is meant by the word, "resurrection?"
  • What happened on that first Easter morning?
  • What difference did Jesus' resurrection make?
  • In what ways have we been influenced by non-biblical understandings of the meaning of resurrection?
  • The Apostles' Creed says, "I believe in the resurrection of the body." What does that mean?

The author of "Surprised by Hope," Dr. Wright has carefully researched the meaning of the word, "resurrection" in the context of the biblical/Jewish understanding. By reading this book and participating in this video study, participants will have a much better understanding of how the resurrection of Jesus impacts our view of the after-life, the mission of the church, and the future hope of a renewed creation.

Bible Study Summary - Sunday's Upcoming 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.

Last Sunday’s Sermon – It’s Not too Late to Eradicate Killer Diseases
This Sunday’s Sermon – It’s Not too Late to Rejuvenate the Church

Main Text for this Sunday – Revelation 1:1-4, 2:1-5
- Book of Revelation Context – This book has often been misused primarily because people fail to understand this book in its historical context.
- Historical Context:
Author – John (Not clear which John because of writing style.)
Exiled on Patmos
Writing to the 7 churches of Asia Minor
Apocalyptic – Revealing hidden things of God
- Meant to be a book that offers comfort to God’s people, not fear.
- Main theme – To remain steadfast in midst of a secular/pagan society.
Points people to what is happening in heaven now – martyrs praising and
worshiping God & to the future when heaven and earth will be one and creation will be fully renewed.
- Church of Ephesus – What does John have to say about this church?
Good at discerning the truth and enduring. A church with a lot of energy.
BUT – They have abandoned the love they once had as a church.
- What does it mean to have the love they once had?
- How can a church reclaim that love? List some possible ways:
- The five core values of a growing and healthy church:
Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission, & Extravagant Generosity
- 2011 Priorities (2) – Passionate Worship (Re-launch Wednesday Worship & Intentional Faith Development (Begin At Least Ten New Small Groups)

A Daily Prayer for Rejuvenation
Dear God, thank you for First United Methodist Church. Strengthen us through the power of the Holy Spirit to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, and extravagant generosity. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.


Wednesday, January 19, 2011

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 think the saying goes.....
Do as I say,
not as I do

When it comes to paying bills,
I like to think that I am on top of things.
I am very meticulous in noting due dates.
I always am sure to send out payments days before due dates
so that the funds arrive on time.
That's why the letter that I received was so perplexing

We are sorry to inform you
that the insurance contract
provided by our company
in regards to your car insurance
has been canceled
due to lack of payment.

I immediately ran to my check book
and looked in the register...
There it was.....
check #2363 written and sent
on Nov 23rd,
3 days before the due date

Today was Dec 17.
I had been driving uninsured for 3 weeks.

I called my local agent to solve the mystery.
The agency had never received my check.

Despite my protestations that I had indeed sent the payment,
the agent confirmed that I was a
now considered derelict
and a menace to all of humanity
who ventured onto the roads in our fair state.

I'm not sure that the words derelict and menace to humanity
are words that I am accustomed to hearing
regarding my existence as a human being.

But I sent my check, I protested.

I was an uninsured motorist.
The state now recognized me as a danger to society.

While this might have been the view of
a small portion of people who know me,
I had never before been labeled in such a way
by our government.

If you want to continue driving legally,
you need to bring a check to our office immediately, the agent said.

Let me see if I understand this, I said.
You want me to drive 12 miles illegally and unprotected to your office.

Yes, he said.

Will I be considered insured for those 12 miles
since I have in good faith expressed that I already sent a payment,
and am willing to replace that payment? I asked

Well, technically no, he stammered.

Is that like being technically pregnant?
I asked.

Nervous laughter ensued.

We are often told to live a certain way.
Do this, Don't do that.
It's parenting 101.

It's when those who issue the rules
don't follow them themselves
that we have difficulty living by them.

No parent has ever been completely consistent.
Nor any teacher,
nor boss,
no not even pastors.

When it comes to staying within the boundaries
only one has and is 100% consistent

That would be the Lord of the universe,
the author of the Ten Commandments,
the writer of the Beatitudes.

God is not only author of the Word,
He IS the Word.

John Chapter 1 describes it this way,

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word WAS God.

If there is one thing God can not and will not do,
it is to renege on His word,
for it is His very essence.

It is the logos,
it is the revelation of who He is.
We are given a detailed picture of that WORD
in the person of Jesus.

So the next time you hear,
Do as I say,
not as I do

You can rest assured
it is not God talking with you.

And rest assured,
the next time you need to make a decision
about a behavior or a choice,
ask Jesus.

There will be no nervous laughter from him.
On that, you have His Word.


Monday, January 17, 2011

Sermon (January 16) "It's Not too Late: To Eradicate Killer Diseases"

I’ve often heard it said that Jesus talked about money more than any other subject. That interests me, because I like knowing this kind of information about the Bible.

And that made me curious to know how many times Jesus healed someone from a sickness or a disease in the gospels. I found out that the words “heal”, “healed”, and “healing” are used a total of seventy-six times in the four gospels! That’s a lot of healing that Jesus did throughout his ministry.

In 2008, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church established Four Areas of Focus to position our church to be the Church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century. The four areas of focus are:
1) Eliminating Poverty.
2) Eradicating Killer Diseases.
3) Rejuvenating the Church.
4) Participating in Ministry.

It’s not too late to ELIMINATE…

Today, we’re going to look at how we are being called to help eradicate killer diseases as part of our Lord’s healing ministry in our world today.

But first, let’s work on our rallying cry…What time is it? “It’s not too late!” Say it with me… “It’s not too late!!!”

It’s not too late to eradicate killer diseases. Let’s watch this short intro video on this very important topic:

In this particular area of focus, the church is zeroing in on the major diseases of global poverty: malaria, tuberculosis, and HIV/AIDS.

John Wesley clearly understood the connection between poverty and poor health, as he and his fellow Methodists cared for the poor and sick in eighteenth century England.

Those early Methodists also clearly understood that an internal faith is meant to be practiced externally. So caring for the sick, visiting people in prison, and giving money to the poor was expected.

So today we are standing upon a strong and a rich tradition of making a difference in people’s lives all over the world when we take on the initiative of eradicating diseases that are life-threatening.

It is amazing and heart wrenching to me that some of the diseases which kill the most people in our world today are ones that are totally preventable or curable.

One example is malaria. This disease which is spread through mosquito bites used to be prevalent in the United States. During the first half of the last century, a lot was learned about how this disease spread, how to prevent it, and how to treat it. By 1951, malaria was considered to be eradicated here in the United States.

However, more than 200 million people become sick with malaria every year in our world, and 1 million people still die of malaria every year. Most of the victims who die are children under the age of five who live in sub-Saharan Africa, where malaria is the leading cause of death in children. Ten new cases of malaria occur every 10 seconds in Africa, and a child dies of malaria every 45 seconds.

So, to kick off the Global Health Initiative, the United Methodist Church partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and the “Nothing But Nets” campaign to help wipe out malaria, because as United Methodists have always believed, “the world is our parish.”

At the 2008 General Conference, William Gates, Sr., father of Microsoft founder, and co-chair of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, addressed the assembly. He thanked the delegates who represented our entire denomination for our support. In part he said, “United Methodists have decided to wipe out malaria, because brothers and sisters do not sit back and let each other die.”

He asked the nearly 1,000 delegates to make a personal commitment to help The United Methodist Church eradicate malaria. He said the fight is going to take billions of dollars, more health clinics in more countries, and politicians who make the goal a priority. “But more than anything”, Gates said, “The fight against malaria is going to take a firm commitment to John Wesley’s idea. You are 12 million people armed with the conviction that all the world is your parish. That makes you the most powerful weapon there is (in the fight) against malaria.”

The United Methodist Church is also a founding partner in the Nothing But Nets campaign, which raises money to send insect repellent mosquito nets to people in Africa to protect them while they sleep.

The initial outreach for Nothing But Nets™ was accomplished through former SI columnist Rick Reilly's May 5, 2006 column titled "Nothing But Nets" which raised $1.2 million. More than 120,000 bed nets have already been delivered in Nigeria as a result of Reilly’s call to readers who in the words of his column, had "ever cut down a net, jumped over a net, watched the New Jersey Nets, worn a hair net, surfed the net, or thought of Angelina Jolie in fishnets" to donate $10 to purchase insecticide-treated nets.”

The United Nations Foundation and NBA Cares are the two other founding partners of Nothing But Nets.

During the 2008 General Conference, a basketball was being auctioned off to the highest bidder with all of the proceeds going to the fight against malaria. Thank God for the competitive spirit of our West Ohio Conference delegation! They pooled their money together, and raised $80,000 to win that basketball. It’s great to win the challenge, but even greater to think of the 8,000 children who will not die of malaria because of this gift.

Our own Bishop Ough brought that same basketball to our Annual Conference that year at Lakeside, Ohio. Part of our Love First offering was also going to be used to send mosquito nets to Africa. Our conference raised another $157,000 toward that goal. That represents another 15,700 lives saved.

Are you beginning to get the sense at how true Bill Gates, Sr.’s words are? A denomination of 12 million people following the healing example of our Lord Jesus Christ really can change the world!

This initiative and partnership with the Global Health Fund is making a big difference. Here’s a story of how it’s making a difference in Zambia. The Kapirera family used to be regular visitors at the Mombe Health Center. The mother would bring her children in so often with malaria that when they stopped coming, the clinic went to check on them to see if they were OK. They’re fine – they just don’t get malaria any more.

In Zambia, cases of deaths from malaria have fallen by two-thirds. These results are due to the work of clinical staff like Ignicious Bulongo, who runs the Mombe Health Center.
Last September Bulongo and his colleagues organized the distribution of bed nets to 6,000 houses in the community, as well as spraying them with mosquito repellent known as RDT. The results have been staggering; hardly anyone shows up at the clinic with malaria.

“After the intervention they have stopped coming to the health center and we’ve made a follow-up. We’ve gone to visit them. They are healthy. We are just monitoring if they need to be given more mosquito nets in future,” says Bulongo.

Fewer patients means more time to educate the community on the importance of using the bed nets. Having more time to advise on malaria prevention, clinic staff members are now more able to focus their resources on other forms of illness.

It’s not too late to eradicate killer diseases. In fact, the time is now.

I want to remind us, as followers of Jesus, we care about the health of people because our Lord cares about the health of people. Matthew tells us, “Jesus went throughout Galilee…curing every disease and every sickness among the people. So his fame spread throughout all Syria, and they brought to him all the sick, those who were afflicted with various diseases and pains, demoniacs, epileptics, and paralytics, and he cured them. And great crowds followed him.”

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s web site, Tuberculosis used to be the leading cause of death in the United States. TB is a disease that usually attacks the lungs but can attack other organs too. It’s estimated that one third of the world’s population is infected with the bacteria that causes TB, but most people fight it, develop no symptoms, and it just remains dormant.

However, just like malaria, TB is a disease that disproportionally affects the poor in underdeveloped countries.

A friend of mind remembers being tested for TB at some point in his life. He tells me that he barely remembers that time in his childhood when he compared his forearm that had been pricked to his friends’ arms to see if any of them had TB.

This is why my friend was surprised when he went to Haiti in 2000 as an adult to find out that tuberculosis is still a major cause of death there.

He had the chance to serve at several different places around Port au Prince while they were there, and they toured each place briefly to help them decide where they felt most led to serve.

One of the places they visited was Sans Fil (San feel). This is a home for the destitute and dying run by the Sisters of Charity.

Here is a little of what he wrote in his journal for Thursday, January 27, 2000: “I would estimate that the sisters care for approximately 200 people there. There are men on one floor, and women on the other. Most were able to get up and move about, but some just lay there almost motionless and comatose. We were told that most of the people there suffer from tuberculosis or AIDS. They have no one to take care of them, and no money to pay for treatment. They come here to die. This was a difficult place for me to visit. I felt a little apprehensive and unsure.”

That evening the members of his group talked about where they wanted to go in the morning to work. His head told him, “Go to the orphanage, and play with children,” but his heart said, “Go to Sans Fil.” He had not been able to get the men there out of his mind since he saw them that morning. He felt overwhelmed at the prospect of going there to work and very ill equipped for the task. He wished he could have gone somewhere easier, but he kind of felt like God was challenging him on this one.

Here’s what he wrote in his journal the following day, Friday, January 28, 2000: “Last night as I was trying to fall asleep I kept thinking that God doesn’t call us to do things without giving us the tools to do them. This thought had been planted in my head by a proverb I’d read in a book of Haitian proverbs I’d bought. “If it’s God who send you, he pays your expenses.” This must have run through my mind all night long, because I awoke totally calm, and feeling totally prepared for whatever might come.”

The group caught a tap-tap a little after 8:00 o’clock. A tap-tap is a big, open flatbed truck with a bench down either side for sitting, and a metal rod overhead down the middle to hang onto if standing. He stood as it was very crowded with people. It was a beautiful morning—sun on his face, wind blowing as the tap-tap drove down the mountain from Petionville into Port au Prince.

They got off near the foot of Delmas Street, and walked a good half-mile or so to get to Sans Fil. The streets were crowded with people, vendors, and traffic.

Once at Sans Fil they offered to give a massage to men who wanted one. Many of their limbs seemed atrophied, with muscles that don’t get used much. Many also complained of soreness in their backs and chests, symptoms of TB.

They were taken to a room where the men reside. It was a large room with about fifty beds in it. The floors were concrete, and the beds were only a few feet apart. The windows had decorative bars on them, but were otherwise uncovered with no glass or screens as is common in Haiti.

Not speaking Creole or having a translator by his side, communication was difficult. So, he had a lot of time to think as he gave massage after massage.

The day got hot quickly, and he started sweating. The room became pretty uncomfortable. Then a light breeze would blow in through the window and cool him off, and it would remind him that God cares for our simplest needs.

He thought about how he would gently rub his daughters’ backs at bedtime each night back home. He has done this since they were little, and it was part of their bedtime routine and one of the ways they connect at the end of the day. He felt blessed to be reminded of his own daughters.

His hands, arms and shoulders were getting sore from giving massages.

He couldn’t help but wonder why these men were going to die from a disease that is preventable, and curable. Haiti is only about an hour’s flight from Miami, Florida. Yet the gulf that separates our two countries is much wider than just the stretch of the Caribbean Sea. There were no antibiotics for these men. So, they were doomed to die.

Yes, there is much work to be done still in the area of eradicating killer diseases of poverty. But, it’s not too late! We are making a difference as a denomination. And each of us can make a difference individually or as a family to live out our faith in Christ.

Some resources and ideas are included on your sermon outline this week for you to pray about.

What time is it? “It’s not too late!”

What time is it? “It’s not too late!!”

Thanks be to God as we seek to be agents of God’s healing power in our world.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - January 23

January 23 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, January 26 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "It's Not too Late: To Rejuvenate the Church"
Features - 3rd Sunday After the Epiphany & Holy Baptism (9:45)

Scripture - Revelation 1:1-4, 2:1-5 & Matthew 4:12-23

Theme - The third of the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church is to rejuvenate existing churches and launch new faith communities through radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission, & extravagant generosity.

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Bible Study Summary - Sunday's Upcoming Scriptures

Sermon Series – “It’s Not too Late!”
Last Sunday – “To Eliminate Poverty”
This Sunday (Jan. 16) – “To Eradicate Killer Diseases”

Psalm 103:1-8
- God’s beneficial actions are forgiveness, healing, redemption, glorification, sustenance, and renewal.
- v. 5 “so that your youth is renewed like the eagle’s. A bird associated with regeneration in the Near East.
- Key word for the sermon – v. 3 “diseases”
- Sub-title of this Psalm – “Thanksgiving for God’s Goodness” This is a foundational and critical Christian doctrine.
- God’s desire is for people to experience healing and wholeness.
- This raises the very difficult question about why some people experience healing and others do not?
- Possible viewpoints regarding this question:
1) Does God cause bad things to happen so that something good can happen? This approach denies the foundational doctrine that God is good.
2) Does God not intervene to bring about healing? This denies the many healing stories in the bible in which God is given the credit.
3) Does God bring about healing in certain situations and we are left with the mystery of why other people do not receive healing from a good and loving God?

Matthew 4:23-25
- What drew people to Jesus? His healings!
- The healings were meant to point people to God’s in-breaking kingdom. God’s salvation was at least bursting into our here and now.
- God brings healing today, sometimes directly and many times through the skills and science of modern medicine.
- God wants the church to continue Jesus’ healing ministry by finding ways to prevent killer diseases such as HIV/AIDS and malaria. This is the 2nd of the key area of focus of the UMC.
- The UMC Book of Resolutions Statement on the church's response to Killer Diseases
- The church has been heavily influenced by non-biblical philosophies in which body and spirit are seen as separate entities.
1) Greek Plato Philosophy downplaying eternal significance of the body.
2) Gnostic Theology – The body and material world are evil.
3) Modern rapture theology – our souls will go to heaven and our bodies will be discarded.
- How can the church reclaim the biblical and wholistic view of body/spirit.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

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......
sometimes it is better to do nothing at all.

After 387 days of balancing
work while building a house,
it arrived.

No, not Christmas,
not my birthday...
no, not even Arbor Day,
something even better.....
a vacation,
a real vacation

Not a working vacation
where I tried to make as much
progress on the home construction as possible,

this was a vacation
where I stopped....

stopped planning,
stopped building,
stopped scheduling.

I just stopped.

Stopping is something that we don't do much of
in our culture.
We barely stop at stop signs,
let alone stop our schedules
so that we can rest,
so we can rejuvenate,
so we can enjoy just being.

It would have been easy to plan a trip skiing,
or a cruise to a warm climate,
but that wouldn't have been stopping,
just re-directing my energy.

for seven days,
I did nothing.
Even when I did something,
it was nothing.

When I looked into the refrigerator
that was crying to be cleaned,
I grabbed a snack and walked away.

When I opened the door to the closet
that desperately needed to be organized,
I simply found what I wanted beneath a pile of rubble
and scampered away.

When I thought about writing those
after Christmas Christmas cards,
I instead, took a nap.

This is not easy thing for a type A personality to do.
It takes discipline to do nothing
when one is always about doing something.

One day I put together a jig saw puzzle.
Another day, I took it apart.
Later in the week, I devoted a morning
to not making my bed.

The business of doing nothing
reached it's culmination towards the end of the week
when I decided to watch all three Back to the Future movies
back......to back......to back.

There are not many things that I will do back to back to back,
but give me Marty McFly and the Flux Capacitor
and I am on the couch for the day.

While the rest of the waking world was
trying to restore the economy,
I was popping popcorn.

While the government was trying to
solve the North Korean nuclear crisis,
I was riveted as to how Doc Brown would
avoid a time continuum disaster.

There is benefit to devoting yourself to doing nothing.
A well planned nothing can have many benefits,
if its intention is renewal and rest.

God, the Father didn't merely suggest taking time to rest,
He commanded it.

Jesus, the Son demonstrated it.
He went off by himself,
He gathered with friends at table.
He even found 40 days in his schedule planner to devote to prayer.

Doing nothing isn't the end,
but a means to the end.

The end is when one notices the beauty in an overcast winter day,
when one finds time to breathe in restful moments even during the fastest paced day,
when one realizes they are in constant awareness of their relationship with the Lord.

The refrigerator still needs to be cleaned,
the closet needs to be organized,
and I still want to write greetings to long distanced friends.

Those things will get done.

But sometimes it is better to do nothing at all,
so that rest gives one the strength to do something.

Just like the movie,
sometimes you need to go back,
so that you can go forward.

If you take any of these suggestions,
no need to thank me...
think nothing of it.

And after Jesus sent the multitudes away,
He went up to the mountain by Himself to pray;
and when it was evening,
He was there alone.
- Matthew 14:23

Monday, January 10, 2011

Sermon (January 9) - "It's Not too Late to Eliminate Poverty"

What time is it? Yogi Berra, the famous baseball player was asked that question one day and in typical Yogi fashion, he said, “Do you mean, right now?”

What time is it? Over the next four weeks, we’re going to answer that question each Sunday with the response, “It’s not too late!” Say that with me. “It’s not too late!” What time is it? “It’s not too late!”

A couple of years ago, the General Conference of the United Methodist Church established four key areas of focus that deserve our attention. 1) Eliminating Poverty. 2) Eradicating Killer Diseases. 3) Rejuvenating the Church, & 4) Participating in Ministry.

It’s not too late to eliminate, eradicate, rejuvenate, and participate. So to get us started, let’s focus on how it’s not too late to eliminate poverty.

This past week, many of us have heard the remarkable news story about a Columbus homeless man who has become an overnight celebrity. Just days ago Ted Williams was asking for handouts along roads in Columbus when a Columbus Dispatch reporter stopped to talk to him.

As they talked, the reporter noticed that this homeless man who had been sleeping in a makeshift tent behind an abandoned gas station had the perfect radio voice. When a video with him speaking made it on YouTube, he became an overnight sensation.

Because of his golden voice, the Cleveland Cavaliers have offered him a full time announcing job that would include housing. They jokingly told him that he could have Lebron’s old house. He’s also entertaining job offers from NFL films, MTV, ESPN, and Kraft Foods.

On the Today Show this past week, he was asked to share what people should know about people like him who are homeless. He said, “Don’t judge a book by its cover. Each person has their own story of why they have become homeless.”

Here’s one more interesting part of this incredible story. The Columbus Dispatch reporter who started all of this is a member of the New Life United Methodist Church in Columbus. He says that he always helps the homeless because in his words, “It is a part of his faith.”

This feel good story about a homeless man who is now a celebrity has given a face to the homeless and people who live in poverty.

The key that unlocks the gates to a New World? Isaiah says it’s a key chain of charity—acts of justice, mercy, compassion, sacrifice—these are the magic keys that open to a Jubilee world.

The Hebrew term used to define any charitable endeavor is “tzedakah,” which can be translated as “charity” but literally means “righteousness” or “justice.” Every act of “tzedakah,” or “charity” brings a new world closer into existence. It is exactly this action that Isaiah’s words demand of the people in today’s text. The genuineness of prayers and petitions, fasting and faithfulness, were all measured by works, not words.

Isaiah challenges the worshipers in the temple to get off their knees and onto their feet. God doesn’t need their empty praise. God is not honored when they lie about in “sackcloth and ashes.” What honors Yahweh, the Lord, is for them to walk about, actively seeking those who need help, those whose most basic human needs are not being met.

Isaiah defines the new kind of “fast” that the Lord requires:
Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, and bring the homeless poor into your house; when you see the naked, to cover then, and not to hide yourself from your own kin?(v.7)

This is the kind of “charity” or “tzedakah” that defines the biblical understanding of justice.

Of course, not all charitable acts were deemed equal. Maimonides, the great Jewish scholar/jurist/physician, cataloged eight degrees of charitable giving, eight steps that escalated in establishing true justice.

1) He who gives grudgingly.
2) He who gives cheerfully, but not enough.
3) He who gives a sufficient sum but is asked.
4) He who gives before being asked, but directly to the poor man.
5) The poor man knows from whom he takes, but the giver knows not the recipient.
6) The giver knows to whom he gives, but the recipient knows not the giver.
7) The giver knows not to whom he gives, nor does the recipient know from whom he receives.
8) The highest form: To strengthen the hand of the poor by giving him a loan, or to join him in partnership, or to find him work. In brief, to help him out of his poverty, to help him establish himself.

Each successive level of giving demands more participation on the part of the one who gives and more relationship with the one who receives. The final, greatest type of giving is the establishment of a partnership, a binding relationship for mutual aid, between the giver and receiver, the rich and the poor. At that point there really is no longer a “giver” or a “receiver,” a “rich” person and a “poor” person. There is only a newly created relationship within the community. It is that highest form of “charitable” relationship, the charity that is no longer charity, that really transforms the world.

"If you offer you food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted, then you light shall rise in darkness and your gloom be like the noonday" (v.10).

Arguably America’s greatest living poet, Kentucky farmer Wendell Berry, has a short story called “The Wild Birds.” The character Burly Coulter says:

“The way we are, we are members of each other. All of us. Everything. The difference ain’t in who is a member and who is not, but in who knows and who don’t.”

Biblical justice, righteousness in action, makes two demands. Both are relational demands, and demand relational justice.

First, it declares that there is no understanding without standing under.

Second, the question asked by God of the faithful is not, “What are you standing for?” but “Whom are you walking with?”

Each is a major shift in thinking from how “justice” ministries are conceived and conducted in most churches today which major in principles and minor in relationships. As the head of a rescue mission said to a visiting pastor recently, “Our biggest problem with Christians is that they all want to take stands for the poor, to come here and visit the poor and view the poor, and to “hand-out” food to the poor — especially at Thanksgiving and Christmas. But you can shake a stick at the number of Christians who come here wanting a relationship with the poor.”

As Christian author and speaker, Leonard Sweet says, “In our ‘social justice outreach,’ we need less Mother Goose and more Mother Teresa.” We need less Mother Goose glamour and more Mother Teresa grime. The forces of evil are rampant. Like Mother Teresa, you and I are in the good and evil business. You are going out there to battle evil . . . evil forces of ignorance, poverty, racism, substance abuse, hatred. It’s not about feeling good and happy-clappy highs. Like those worshipers in today’s text, we are attracted to the goosebumps, but what happens when the goosebumpiness diminishes and the bumpiness is all that’s left?

How did we get this way?

The modern church was founded on these three words spoken by Martin Luther almost 500 years ago: “Here I stand.”

In fact, you could argue that the whole of modern culture was founded on those three words, “Here I stand.”

First, “Here.” The enlightenment was all about the “here and now,” the existential moment, and shifting our focus from past to present.

Second, “I.” The enlightenment in some ways invented the concept of the individual as we know it today—-an autonomous, self-defined, discreet person who is free to choose a multiplicity of identities and “selves.” You can even hear the individualism of contemporary culture in our technological toys: iTunes, iPods, iToys, iPhones . .. We can’t even do a Wii without two “ii’s!”

Third, “stand.” The modern world focused on an understanding of truth as rational principles and propositions that led one to “bear witness” by “taking stands,” formulating positions, drawing lines, and passing resolutions.

The problem with all this is that each of these words is wrong for our twenty-first century world and our twenty-second century kids.

First, the time zone of modern culture is not the present or the past, but the future. It’s not any longer about being “here.” It’s more about being “there.”

Second, the individualism of modern culture doesn’t need any more focus on the self, but needs more focus on the community. We’ve taken the “I” as far as we can take it. It is not any longer “I” but “we.”

Third, we’ve been “standing” so much that it is time to move, to take a hike. It’s not any longer “stand” but “go.” As someone has observed, two-thirds of the word “God” is “go.”

In short, the words this world needs to hear from the church are not “Here I Stand” but “There We Go.”

The problem with “Here I Stand” justice is that in the Bible love and justice are yoked concepts, and both are perfectly personified in a “There We Go” Jesus. Bible scholars note how in John’s gospel wisdom is personified. But the uniqueness of Christianity is that truth is personified, and not just in John’s gospel. Truth is personified in the person of Jesus. For us Truth is not a set of principles but a person: God Incarnate, Emmanuel, God with us, God-made-flesh.

What if the “Christian position” on the “hot button” issues of the day was less a statement than a stance, less a principle than a posture? Instead of “where do we stand?” why aren’t we talking about “With whom are we walking?” Isn’t it the nature of disciples of Jesus to be known less for certain opinions about an “issue” than to be known for who we are in relationship with? Maybe our real “hot buttons” are less about “issues” anyway than about “relationships.” Wasn’t it Jesus who made our Final Exam not one of “What do you stand for?” but one of “Whom are you standing with?”

Or as Jesus put it directly, “Inasmuch as you have done it unto the least of these, you have done it unto me.”

So: Who are “the least of these” today? If there is no true understanding without standing under, who are those we need to stop standing over or hiding from, and instead start standing under and acknowledging as our own “kin.”

They’re the people who attend our community kitchen lunches. They’re the folks who need a helping hand during the week. He’s the person who stands at the bridge with a cardboard sign. They’re the unprotected children in our community who suffer from abuse.

In short, our “kin” is everyone and especially those who are caught in the cycle of poverty.

In Isaiah, and throughout the Jesus’ ministry, justice and mercy, compassion and righteousness begin at one’s own door, in one’s own neighborhood. We cannot build a new world, when our own backyard is filled with filth.

Over the past twenty years, America has had the highest or near-highest poverty rates for children and families among the 31 so-called “developed” countries.

16 million Americans live in deep, extreme poverty — poverty defined as a family of four with two children and an annual income of less than $9,903.00. And the numbers are growing: 26 percent from 2000 to 2005, a 56 percent faster growth rate than the overall poverty population grew in that same period. (“16 Million American Live in Deep poverty, Census Analysis Finds,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 25 February 2007, A7)

Today is what is known as “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday. It’s a day to celebrate when Jesus was baptized in the River Jordan and it’s a day to have an opportunity to renew our baptismal vows.
Sometimes people will ask me why Jesus needed to be baptized since he had not sinned and didn’t need forgiveness from God. John the Baptist had the same question but notice how Jesus responded to John.

Jesus said, “Let it be so for now; for it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness.”
Jesus uses the word, “righteousness” to refer to Jesus’ calling and our calling to be involved in ministries that bring justice and hope to all of God’s people, especially to those who are poor.

It was Isaiah’s words that Jesus incarnated to their fullest extent. He offered healing and wholeness, forgiveness and fulfillment, divine love and compassion, to every person he encountered. That is how the “kingdom of God” became both “now” and “not yet,” both present, yet still in the future, for all who follow in his footsteps on “The Way.” Remember, this is how the earliest Christians were known, not as “Christians,” but as “Followers of the Way.” In other words, people who walked the paths of justice and mercy and peace.

Here’s an ancient Jewish story:

I went up to Heaven in a dream and stood at the Gates of Paradise in order to observe the procedure of the Heavenly Tribunal. A learned Rabbi approached and wished to enter. “Day and night,” he said, “I studied the Holy Torah.” “Wait,” said the Angel. “We will investigate whether your study was for its own sake or whether it was a matter of profession or for the sake of honors.”

A Zaddik, the title given to a very devout Jew next approached. “I fasted much,” he said, “I underwent many ablutions; I studied the Zohar (which are commentaries on the first 5 books of the Bible.)” “Wait,” said the Angel, “until we have completed our investigation to learn whether you motives were pure.”

Then a tavern-keeper drew near. “I kept an open door and fed without charge every poor man who came into my inn,” he said.

The Heavenly Portals were opened to him.

Friends, the good news is that it’s not too late to eliminate poverty. It’s not too late to be in ministry with the poor. It’s not too late to step out of our comfort zones to be the church that God is calling us to be for the sake of the world.

As we prepare to come forward to renew our baptism this morning, remember what time it is. Do you know what time it is?

What time is it? It’s not too late!

That’s right! It’s not too late to eliminate poverty. Thanks be to God!

[This sermon is based on a sermon given by Leonard Sweet.]

Sunday, January 9, 2011

A Prayer in Response to the Tucson, Arizona Shooting

God, our refuge and our fortress, we tremble in the present moment: Our strength has gone; we look for light but find darkness; we are undone. Gather us under your wings and fulfill your promise to be with us in trouble.

Offer your healing presence to those who are injured. Comfort those who mourn the loss of loved ones. Bring those who committed such a terrible crime to justice. Show us your salvation as we put our trust in you, through Christ, our Lord. Amen.

Sunday Worship Preview - January 16

January 16 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, January 19 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "It's Not too Late: To Eradicate Killer Diseases"
Features - 2nd Sunday After the Epiphany

Scripture - Psalm 103:1-8 & Matthew 4:23-25

Theme - The second of the four focus areas of the United Methodist Church is to eradicate the killer diseases of global poverty such as malaria, HIV/AIDS, and tuberculosis. We’ll learn what the UMC is doing globally, and how we can get involved locally.

Baptism of the Lord Prayer (Week of January 9)

Baptism of the Lord Prayer:

Living God, when the Spirit descended on Jesus at his baptism in Jordan’s water you revealed him as your own beloved Son. You anointed him with the Holy Spirit. Grant that all who are baptized into his name may keep the covenant they have made, and boldly confess Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior now and forever. Amen.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Bible Study Summary - Upcoming Sunday's Scriptures

New Sermon Series this Sunday – “It’s Not too Late!”
Four Areas of Focus of the UMC

This Sunday – Jan. 9
Isaiah 58
- Represents a post-exilic period (early 500s BC)
- Condemns hypocrisy in worship and faith. How do we guard against hypocrisy?
- Verse 2 – “righteousness.” How do we define this word?
Justice and mercy and fairness for all people.
- Sometimes our religious practices do not line up with
living out our faith by caring for others.
- Purpose of “means of grace” is to love God and love others more fully.
- John Wesley references this chapter of Isaiah several times.

Matthew 3 (Jesus’ Baptism) This Sunday is “Baptism of the Lord” Sunday
- Matthew uses the word, “righteousness” here in Jesus’ baptism. This helps to
answer the question about why Jesus needed to be baptized. Baptism is more than
a symbol of cleansing of sin. It is about participating in righteous living that is concerned for the poor and the needy.
- Verse 17 – God speaks, “This is my son.”
- Jesus will demonstrate what it means to be fully human and live the way God intends
for his people to live.
- What does baptism mean for us today?
1) It means to live in righteousness (see above.)
2) It means to live as the people God created us to be.
3) It’s the entry point into the family of God. The initiation rite.
4) It’s a sign of the Holy Spirit in our lives.
5) It’s meant to be renewed every day and at different occasions.


Tuesday, January 4, 2011

A Christian Approach to Social Networking

Yes, I'm one of the 7% of the world's population using facebook to connect with friends. Just this past week, I became facebook friends with a woman in my church who was born in 1913!

There seems to be a love/hate relationship with facebook. I enjoy facebook because it has put me in touch with former classmates and people that I haven't seen for a while. Sometimes, people post an article about a news item that is really helpful. Even the goofy posts that include a picture of someone wearing a new snuggie gives me a much needed laugh. Oh wait, that was me wearing that snuggie!

But there are also some troubling signs related to social networking. Sometimes posts are made that are meant to be hurtful and nasty and they are often made by adults who should know better. I know of someone who was having family problems and they took out their frustrations by telling the whole world about it on facebook knowing full well that their own family members connected to the situation would be reading their post.

I've seen posts from pastors who have updates that speak negatively about a particular member of their church and I've also seen it go the other way as well. A church member offers a hurtful comment toward his or pastor because of a disagreement and a difference of opinion. No names are mentioned in the post (most of the time) but people close to the situation can usually figure out to whom it is referring.

My heart breaks for youth who post very depressing and angry posts because they feel hurt and alone. When a caring facebook friend tries to reach out to them with words of encouragement, sometimes the return post is met with more anger. You're left wondering how that youth will make it through their day and so you lift him/her up to God in prayer.

My personal rule of thumb is to keep facebook updates light and uplifting. When things get too serious, it's not easy to carry out an in depth discussion in the limited space that is provided. When posts become cynical or sarcastic, those are signs that maybe this isn't the best forum for such an exchange.

Even with some of the downsides of social networking, it is still a powerful tool to offer the hope and love of Jesus Christ through positive updates. It's also a great way to get the word out about upcoming events and news items.

And, for those of us who experienced the Big Ten downer on New Year's Day, it's a way to offer condolences and words of support.

By the way, in case you're interested, I'm typing this blog article at this very minute. And a little while ago, I ate some low-fat yogurt.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Sermon (January 2) - "Reaching for the Star"

Next to the house I grew up in, stood a towering windmill which was taller than our two story farmhouse. The windmill had these little metal steps so that you could climb to the top. Periodically, my dad would climb up every one of those metal steps to fix something at the very top of that windmill.

When I was probably about 13 or 14, dad asked me to climb up that windmill with him one day to help fix something. He needed me to carry some type of metal piece up the ladder with him. Even though the thought of climbing to the top with him scared me half to death, I didn’t want to disappoint him.

I remember gripping tightly onto each of those metal steps as I made that long climb to the top following just below him. Once I made it to the top, I felt really proud of myself that I actually made it the whole way up with him. But no sooner than we were at the top of that windmill, my dad said to me, “Robert – I need you to go back down and bring something else up for me.”

That frightening experience of climbing the windmill with dad helped me to really appreciate what he did for our family every year near the end of November or early December. Every year, dad would go up to our attic and bring down this really, enormous aluminum Christmas star.
And every year, he would climb to the top of that cold windmill and tie that large Christmas star to the top of our windmill.

We thought he was either really brave or just plain crazy for doing this every year. But that annual ritual was dad’s way of making Christmas special. We became known as the family that had a large aluminum Christmas star at the top of the windmill along Plank Road.

I think that Dad was just trying to remind everyone of this scripture reading from Matthew’s Gospel this morning; this extraordinary story of wise men who ended up following a star to the place of the Christ child so that they could offer him gifts of gold, frankincense and myrth.
This morning, I want to talk about reaching for the star like the wise men and what this can mean for our faith.

It’s easy to get discouraged and to get down in life, especially during this time of year.
The story is told of the former heavy weight boxer James “Quick” Tillis, who as a cowboy from Oklahoma started boxing in Chicago in the early 1980s. He still remembers his first day in the Windy City after his arrival from Tulsa.

He says, “I got off the bus with two cardboard suitcases under my arms in downtown Chicago and stopped in front of the Sears Tower. I put my suitcases down, and I looked up at the Tower and I said to myself, ‘I’m going to conquer Chicago.’ When I looked down, the suitcases were gone.”

Welcome to the big city!

It’s easy to get discouraged. Just when we’re looking up and thinking about reaching for the stars, something happens that steals our energy and robs us of our big dreams and plans.

That’s why I like our scripture this morning from Matthew’s Gospel. The story of the wise men following the star. The wisemen were people who not only reached for the star, they followed it all of the way to the Savior of the world.

In what ways can this story help you and me to reach for the star like the wisemen as we begin this brand new year?

First of all, the wisemen teach us to expect the journey to be long, but filled with adventure. Expect the journey to be long, but filled with adventure.

We know from historical records that the wisemen, journeyed somewhere between 1,000 and 1,200 miles in order to travel from Persia to the city of Jerusalem and eventually to the Christ Child. That trip would have taken at the very minimum, three months to travel by camel. It might have even taken them twelve months to travel that distance.

That would be like us leaving today, and arriving to our destination at the minimum, sometime during the month of April and quite possibly later in the year. That’s quite a long trip.

For most of our Thanksgiving holidays we travel to my sister’s house in Maryland which is about 20 miles west of Baltimore. Our trip to my sister’s house is about a 400 mile trip from here in Ohio. If we leave by 9 in the morning we usually arrive at her house sometime late in the afternoon. And even though we make this trip a lot, it doesn’t stop me from complaining about how long that trip is.

Can you imagine how much more I would complain if I would have to ride a camel for 400 miles from Lancaster to Columbia, Maryland? Can you imagine how much grumpier I would be if that trip would take me at least a month and a half to complete riding a camel?

Let me add another piece to this journey of the wisemen. Not only did this journey take three to twelve months, historians say that there were also probably several weeks of preparation before they even began their journey by camel.

Now, we’re talking a trip that could very well have been over a year long when you factor in the weeks of preparation.

But on the other hand, think of the adventure this trip must have been for these wisemen. And by the way, bible scholars are uncertain as to how many wisemen there really were. Folklore says there were three wisemen because three gifts were given to Jesus but that’s just an assumption.

While there could have been three wisemen on this trip, tradition in the Orient favors a total of twelve wisemen. The truth is, we just don’t know. But I do think it’s interesting that the journey was made by more than one person.

Our journey to find a deeper faith often involves other people. We learn so much more when we travel with other people on our journey.

We all know that we have good intentions with New Year’s Resolutions but we also know that we tend to break them after a couple of weeks or even a couple of days.

We can only reach for the star if we expect the journey to be long but filled with adventure. The adventure includes some valleys but it also includes a lot of high and exhilarating moments as well.

The adventure is in the journey itself. As we reach for the star this year, let’s remember the wisemen and remember that our long journey is also filled with lots of adventure. The Christian life should be anything but boring. It will literally change us from the inside out.

The second expectation. Expect the journey to be difficult but filled with joy.

How was the journey of the wisemen difficult? Well, I would say that a three to twelve month journey would be difficult enough for most of us.

But look what happens to the wisemen. After they made it to the child Jesus and presented their gifts, they were warned in a dream to not return to Herod and to take a different road back to their country.

Herod was totally threatened by the news from the wisemen that they were searching for the one who was born king of the Jews. In fact, Herod wanted to use the skills and expertise of the wisemen to help him find Jesus so that he would be able to kill him.

And yet, even though the journey of the wisemen was a difficult one, when the star finally stopped over the place where Jesus was, Matthew tells us that they were overwhelmed with joy. Sometimes it can be so easy for us to be caught up in the difficulty of the journey that we forget all about the joy along the way.

These wisemen were overwhelmed with joy.

I read a while back about a church conference of a mainline Protestant denomination that was held in Omaha, Nebraska. People at this conference were given helium filled balloons and were told to release them at some point in the service when they felt like expressing joy in their hearts.

A few of the balloons ascended during that worship service, but when the service had ended, two-thirds of the people in that service still had not released their balloons. Too often, we forget the joy that Christ wants to give us as we journey with Him.

George Barnard Shaw is quoted in a book written by Jon Johnston entitled, “Courage – You Can Stand Strong in the Face of Fear” in which he says, “This is true joy in life, the being used for a purpose recognized by yourself as a mighty one: the being thoroughly worn out before you are thrown on the scrap heap, and being a force of nature instead of a feverish selfish little clod of ailments and grievances, complaining that the world will not devote itself to making you happy.”
Now that’s a quote that gets our attention!

As we begin this brand new year, let’s remember to be filled with joy throughout our journey of faith. Let’s remember to allow ourselves to be overwhelmed with joy. Let’s remember to let go of our balloons and express the joy that God has placed in our hearts.

There’s a third expectation that the wisemen had that can really be helpful to us in our journey of following Christ in this new year. Expect the journey to be costly but filled with personal transformation. Expect the journey to be costly but filled with personal transformation.
The gifts that the wisemen brought to Jesus are another important part our scripture this morning.

The giving of gifts was in keeping with an Oriental custom. The purpose of the gift of gold was pretty basic. It was to provide money for this very poor family. Mary and Joseph were very poor and so this gift of gold helped them immensely just from a very practical standpoint.

Some people have seen symbolism in the other two gifts which were Frankincense and Myrrh but most scholars do not think that the wisemen had any symbolism in mind when they offered these two gifts. What were Frankincense and Myrrh? They were aromic gum resins that were obtained from shrubs found in the tropical countries of the East.

The point is that the wisemen did not come empty handed. They offered their best gifts to the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.

I can’t even imagine what the wisemen must have felt in that moment when they paid homage to the child Jesus and gave him these gifts. That one moment was the culmination of what could very well have been a journey that lasted for more than a year. In that one moment, what must have went through the minds of these wisemen? The star that they had been reaching for over a year had now brought them to this incredible place.

In January of 1995, I had the opportunity to travel to Israel with the Bishop and with several clergy of our Conference to visit the holy sites of our faith. One of the most incredible moments was going to the town of Bethlehem and kneeling before the place where many believe Jesus was born.

Here I had planned for this trip to Israel for several months, and there in that space and time that I had been looking forward to for so long, I was finally kneeling at the site of Jesus’ birth which is marked by a star on the floor. It was incredible. I left from that spot a changed person. I can’t even come close to imagining what the wisemen must have felt when they offered their gifts to the Christ child in that one moment. It must have been unbelievable for them.

By the way, most scholars believe that the wisemen visited Jesus months after he was born because our text in Matthew says that the wisemen entered a house which is very different from a manger scene. This is the reason why the story of the wisemen always occurs on Epiphany Sunday, to give it a little distance from the Christmas story.

But no matter when it was that they finally arrived to see the child Jesus, I am convinced that in that moment, they experienced a personal transformation like they had never experienced before.

Their lives were never the same again. But even after that moment of being personally transformed, they still needed to continue in their journey and head back home to share this amazing story of how they were led to the Christ child.

What do the wisemen teach us in this text from Matthew? They teach us that faith is a journey. A journey that is long, difficult, and costly. But our faith is also a journey that is meant to be filled with adventure, joy, and a journey that results in our lives being transformed just by being in the presence of God.

As your pastor this morning, I want to close by inviting each of us to bring four important things with us in our journey of faith this year.

The first important thing to bring for our journey this year is a commitment to read the bible and pray on a daily basis. There are all kinds of tools to help us read the bible and pray on a daily basis.

On our information rack in the parlor, we have what is called “The Upper Room” devotional which includes some scripture, some reflection and a prayer focus. Or maybe you want to use a different resource. There are many out there. Choose one that will help you to stay faithful in reading the bible everyday. That’s the important part.

There’s also a method that’s called “The Daily Office” which provides a Psalm, an Old Testament Lesson, a New Testament Lesson, and a Gospel for everyday of the year and it is always based on the church calendar. This is the plan that I use and I find it very helpful. You can find this in “The Book of Common Prayer” or on the internet by typing the words “Daily Lectionary” in the search engine.

I had somebody tell me a while back that they started using this devotional method and they have really gotten a lot out of it. It’s really changed his life.

In addition to reading the bible and praying on a daily basis, if you want to be intentional about the journey, also get involved with a group of other Christians that are also studying the Bible. Maybe a Sunday School class, or a small group, or a bible study group.

Remember, the wisemen didn’t travel alone. They made the journey together and so should we.
Worship is another important part of being on the journey. Worship is our time to gather together for one purpose and one purpose only – to honor and glorify God. That’s why the wisemen saddled up the camels or whatever they do to camels. Their goal was to eventually honor and glorify God.

Reading the bible and praying on a daily basis, being involved in a bible study or share group of some kind, weekly worship, and let me offer a fourth thing to bring with us on our journey as we begin this new year together. Invite Jesus Christ to be your Lord and Savior in everything you say and do this year.

The reason the wisemen left Persia to come to Jerusalem and Bethlehem was because they had heard that an important person had been born. They also probably had some understanding of the Old Testament prophecies that foretold that one day a Savior would be born within the people of Israel. So in a sense, they had already acknowledged this new born King before they even left ancient Persia.

What a difference it makes in our journey with the Lord, when we have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. When you know in your heart that Jesus Christ is your Savior and Lord, it can make all the difference in the world.

I have no doubt that God will provide many opportunities for us to grow in our faith as we journey together throughout this new year.

Before I close, I want to share with you that I’m still not a fan of climbing windmills. And I still complain when I drive long distances. But the story of the wisemen in our scripture reading this morning has reminded me that the steep climb and the long journey are worth it.

John Wesley, the 18th century founder of Methodism knew that the Christian journey can be long and difficult at times, but he also knew that as we move forward in faith, there’s also a lot of joy along the way.

To encourage those early Methodists in England, he put together a prayer which he wanted every Methodist to pray together, especially at the start of a new year. And I invite us to pray this incredible prayer together.

Let’s pray:
I am no longer my own, but thine. Put me to what thou wilt, rank me with whom thou wilt. Put me to doing, put me to suffering. Let me be employed by thee or laid aside for thee, exalted for thee or brought low by thee. Let me be full, let me be empty. Let me have all things, let me have nothing. I freely and heartily yield all things to thy pleasure and disposal. And now, O glorious and blessed God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, thou art mine, and I am thine. So be it. And the covenant which I have made on earth, let it be ratified in heaven. Amen.