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


Thursday, March 31, 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.

Numbers 13:1-3, 17-26
- The Lord wants Israel to send spies to Canaan to see what the Promised Land is like.
- The spies included Caleb & Joshua. They returned to camp after 40 days and showed them the fruit of the land (the grapes.) But they also pointed out that it will be very difficult to take the land from the people who occupy it.
- Caleb had faith that they would be able to take the land but the others recommended to not take the land.
- The people of Israel complained to Moses and desired to go back to Egypt.
- This story invites us to think about what it means to have faith to move forward and trust God.

Matthew 26:17-29
- This was a Passover meal held annually to help the people of Israel to celebrate the great exodus event, freedom from slavery in Egypt.
- Jesus transformed the meaning of this meal to point to what he was about to do on the cross for the world.
- Reactions of the disciples: Peter is furious. Thomas doesn’t understand. John is astonished with fear. Judas wonders how much Jesus knows about his plan to betray him. What’s your reaction?
- Exodus points to a future hope. Jesus will lead the new exodus!
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Dave's Deep Thoughts


Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

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His mother was only 16 when his mother gave birth to him. As a single mom, she began to raise this child on the long journey to becoming a man. The challenges were many. Eventually she married and the boy had a stepfather. They taught him how to do most things a boy wants to do, Things like riding a bike and throwing a football As he grew up, he was taught to believe that there was nothing that he couldn't accomplish.

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The both had visions of one day becoming an NFL football player. He played for his junior high team. He wasn't a "big" kid, and at first the opponents rolled over him. He soon learned how to hold his own, and instead, he became the one who did most of the tackling. By 9th grade, he became interested in wrestling. He was a quick learner, and although he wasn't very tall, he had all the height he needed if one was measuring determination. He had such a good high school career that he was eventually recruited as a scholarship athlete by a major college. In his sophomore and junior seasons, he won his league title as the best wrestler at 128 pounds. But that wasn't the end. In his senior season, he won the national title at 128 lbs and was voted the tournament's most outstanding wrestler.

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Oh, and one other thing..... He was born without a right leg. His mother cried when he was born. There was no warning that her baby would be born with the limb. Tests after the birth revealed no reasons for the "abnormality". But this young man would lead a life without excuses. I think that is the way God wanted me, he would say, He may not have had a right leg, but he was given a heart twice the size of most anyone else.

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One time during his high school career, his wrestling team had wrestled so poorly in a match, the coach told the team to run laps carrying 20 lb sandbags. He expected everyone to do it.... everyone, except of course his one-legged wrestler. Not to be. The 128 pound wrestler, picked up a sandbag and began to hop with it before falling. He picked up the bag again..... in a few hops, he fell to the floor again. He repeated the act over and over again until all of his teammates had finished their laps. The coach later commented that during the motivation drill, he had to look away because it was too hard to watch. But at the same time, it was one of the most inspirational acts he had ever witnessed.

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Following matches (most of which he won) grown men would come up to him with tears in their eyes. It was no surprise that his was given the nickname, "Braveheart" I think that is the way God wanted me, he would say, opening a can of theological worms, regarding the will of God. But he knew God loved him. And he loved God in return, and that's all that mattered.

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Following his national championship match, he announced that his wrestling career was over. He was going to begin a career as a motivational speaker. He wanted to tell young people his story, to let them no that no matter what their life circumstances, anything can be overcome when God is in your life. Did God make him that way? Did God allow him to be born that way? It's not the point.

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The gospel of John accounts the story of Jesus passing by a man born blind. from birth. The disciples asked a logical question.... who had sinned, the parents or the man that he should be born blind? Jesus said neither, but it was in order that the works of God might be displayed in him. (John 9:1-3) The tragic tale of a person born blind, becomes a surreal story of everyone else's spiritual blindness.

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What we know is that for believers, with God all things are possible, and with God, all circumstances are opportunities for God's glory to be made known. So the next time you are having a pity party about your life circumstances, take a look at your right leg, then see if you would rather get reservations at God's party instead. Trust God, the food at His party will taste much better.

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For more info on this young man, google Anthony Robles.

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Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Gospel of Matthew for Lent (Week of March 27)

During the season of Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Easter Sunday, "The Big Read" led by New Testament scholar, Dr. Tom Wright offers several videos to walk us through the Gospel of Matthew. These videos are under five minutes in length and offer very solid biblical scholarship to help us understand Matthew's particular understanding of who Jesus is.

As a resource during this season of Lent, I invite us to take just five minutes out of our schedules to watch the video and allow this to be a vital resource during our Lenten journey. The reason the focus of these videos is on Matthew's gospel is because Matthew is the primary gospel used in worship for this liturgical year.

I invite comments, thoughts, discussions, questions throughout this lenten cyber study. A link to these videos will also be posted each week on the facebook page of First United Methodist Church, Lancaster, Ohio.

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

New Billboard for April & May in Lancaster, Ohio


This is the new billboard that will appear in Lancaster, Ohio. What wonderful children we have!

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Monday, March 28, 2011

Sermon (March 27) - "An App for That: Prayer" - Pastor Cheryl Foulk


Some people won't give up. Jesus uses such a character in his story: A woman who is determined, relentless about making contact with a judge so she can secure justice. Perhaps she knocked on his door- sat in the hallway outside his office- sent him a text- called out to him as he passed by-- in all ways possible, she was going to interact. Jesus invites us to be as determined and constant about prayer. To pray always and to not loose heart because we are seeking out, not an unfair judge, but the One who gives us life.

In other places in Scriptures, we are told to pray without ceasing, to devote ourselves to prayer, to pray every morning, night and noon. Prayer is the many ways that we are in communication and in communion with God. There is no single way to pray. To pray is an essential part of being human: to be in relationship with our Creator. God yearns to hear from you and to share with you. Prayer is for everyone: not just for a few. Throughout our lives, we are in the school of prayer as we continue to learn how to pray. If you have felt that you could not pray, didn't know how to pray, or you are searching for something more, I think that what I have to share will be helpful. Our app for today is PRAYER .

It has been said that all prayers can be reduced to two words: we are either crying out HELP or THANKS! How can we express ourselves daily to the Almighty? Let's start with “simple prayer” . Richard Foster wrote a book on prayer where he speaks of 21 different experiences of prayer. He begins with “Simple prayer” and explains that form is when we share all that is on our hearts with God. You offer yourself as you are. We don't have to worry about the grammar, or the emotion, or what anyone else would think about our words. We share exactly what our life is like and our response to that life. Many Biblical prayers are in this format and this may be the form that most of our prayers take. It suffices. What happens when we don't seem to have the words to say, or even the strength to say them. How can we pray more often? Is it possible to keep in touch with God throughout the day? Let's look at some ways to pray that have helped Christians throughout the centuries. Praying with Scripture First help: Praying with Scripture. There are prayers throughout the Bible and we can adopt those prayers for our own. The Book of Psalms has 150 psalms which are prayers.

I encourage you to read the Psalms, become familiar with them., and you may find words that are exactly what you would want to say. Psalms can speak for us. Underline phrases that resonate with you. Write them on cards and pray them. Examples: “Protect me, O God, for in you I take refuge.” “Even though I walk through the dark valley, you are with me.” “My soul thirsts for you.” “Every night I think of your love and every morning your faithfulness.” When Jesus was on the cross, he used Psalms for his prayers:”My God, why have you forsaken me?” which is the beginning line from Psalm 22. and “Into your hands I commit my spirit” from Psalm 31. If possible, memorize short phrases from the Scripture and then you will have then in mind to guide your prayers. Throughout the day, you can recall the verses. In times of stress, you can pray: “Lead me to the Rock that is higher than I”; in times of joy, “I will give thanks to you and glorify your name forever.” “You Lord have made me glad.”

Breath prayers. I think we are all breathing out there today! We breathe all the time. A breath prayer is a short prayer of 6-8 syllables. As we breathe in, we say a few words and as we breathe out, we say a few words. How do we choose those words? This takes some thoughtful consideration. Sit quietly. Imagine that you are speaking with Jesus, and he asks you “What do you want?” What would your answer be? Answer from the heart: “what I want most is....” Your answer will rise out of your present concerns so it may be about healing, peace,guidance,forgiveness.

Search for a few words that best express what you need to be whole. Begin your prayer with an address that you commonly use for God such as: Jesus, Lord, Savior, Heavenly Father,Shepherd, Eternal God, Light of the world. Put the two together as: “O Christ, give me strength or “ Father, show me your love.” “Shepherd, lead my steps.” Work with your prayer until it seems right for you. This is your prayer of the heart: you can pray it when you are at at stop light, waiting in line, as you go to sleep at night. It probably won't change from day to day.

Ron Delbane, an Episcopal pastor, shared that when some one is having surgery, he likes to know what their breath prayer is. All the time they are in surgery, he prays it for them. He encourages them to say the prayer as they go into surgery and as they wake up. A breath prayer is your personal prayer that you can express anywhere, anytime. We don't have to use a lot of words in prayer.

When you have spent time in creating your breath prayer than it does express what is deep within your soul. Praying without words Reminder:You don't have to always use words when you pray. It's alright to just sit and be quiet. Listen. Find a quiet place: take a walk in the woods, sit in your backyard, be still in your favorite chair. Think about God's care for you. Story told of a poor peasant who would go and sit in the church sanctuary for hours. Priest asked him “What are you doing in there?” He replied, “ I look at God and God looks at me. And we both are happy.” Even 5 minutes a day in quiet can be times of prayer. Rest in God and allow the Spirit to say what you cannot say.

A childhood memory gave me a taste of “quietness.” I would sit on the porch of my great grandmother's house in the summer at night with aunts and my cousins. After games and conversation had ceased, we sat together in silence enjoying the stars and the night breeze. There was a great sense of peace; we just enjoyed being together with no words needed. Prayer can give us that same sense of resting in God's companionship.

Daily Prayer - This experience is called “daily prayer," or “prayer of the office”, or “common prayer”, or “prayer of the hours.” This practice can help in our frequency of praying. Throughout the Scriptures, it is mentioned that people prayed at certain times of the day. In Psalm 119:164, it speaks of praising God seven times a day. In N.T, we read of believers who prayed morning, noon, evening , night. In the past, bells would ring to remind folks that it was prayer time. They would stop their work in the fields and pray. There are Christians today who pause for prayer at certain times when they will read Scripture, and prayers. There are a variety of prayer books that you can get that have prayers for different times of the day.

In our UM hymnal there are orders for morning and evening prayer. A man was on a plane and having a great conversation with his seatmate, talking about their faith. His new found friend said it is almost noon and that he prayed everyday at noon. He asked “Would you like to join me? “ He got out his prayerbook, and together they took turns reading the Scriptures and joined in the prayers. Even as strangers, they were able to join in prayer together. One awesome thing about common prayer is that you are praying the same prayers with thousands of people all around the world. I just found a new website which emails me twice a day with a prayer /devotion for morning and one for evening (which takes about 12-15 minutes.) There are Scriptures for the day, prayers, Lord's Prayer, It is a reminder to stop my work and pray with others.

These prayers have great variety; their inclusiveness enables me to not always pray about myself! To join in the daily office can stretch our souls. Another resource which Pam George shared with me is called “ pray as you go.” It is a “once a day” prayer time with music and Scripture that you can listen to on your computer, iphone, ipod. Pray -as- you -go.org comes from Christians in England, and is also takes less than 15 minutes to listen to. You don't have to use a prayerbook- just remember to pray at 9 and noon and 6 or whatever pattern suits your life. You can pray when you take your medicines- pray when you let the dogs out...what are the “bells” that will call you to prayer? What are things that you do each day that can be reminders to prayer?

At the heart of our expressions of prayer , is the answer to this question: “Why do we pray? What is the purpose? “ I believe that it is to fall more in love with God. As Richard Foster expresses it, it is really not about getting things, but it is about being in a deeper relationship with God. So start where you are, and be as persistent as the woman in Jesus' story! Find the ways that help you stay connected with God. Whatever it takes: use informal words, spontaneous prayers,private cries, words spoken together in Sunday worship, words written in a notebook, hymns hummed as you work, kneeling without words, 10 second conversations as you drive your car. Pray always and don't lose heart!

Philip Yancey concluded his book on prayer by saying that he remains astonished that God desires an ongoing relationship with him, and that prayer was God's way of bridging the vast gulf between infinity and humans. Like needing oxygen to live, we have to pray.

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The Gospel of Matthew for Lent (Week of March 27)

During the season of Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Easter Sunday, "The Big Read" led by New Testament scholar, Dr. Tom Wright offers several videos to walk us through the Gospel of Matthew. These videos are under five minutes in length and offer very solid biblical scholarship to help us understand Matthew's particular understanding of who Jesus is.

As a resource during this season of Lent, I invite us to take just five minutes out of our schedules to watch the video and allow this to be a vital resource during our Lenten journey. The reason the focus of these videos is on Matthew's gospel is because Matthew is the primary gospel used in worship for this liturgical year.

I invite comments, thoughts, discussions, questions throughout this lenten cyber study. A link to these videos will also be posted each week on the facebook page of First United Methodist Church, Lancaster, Ohio.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - April 3

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

Sermon - "An App for That: Holy Communion"

Features - 4th Sunday in Lent & Holy Communion

Scripture - Numbers 13:1-3, 17-26 & Matthew 26:17-29

Theme -The forty day season of Lent is a time for us to more intentionally practice the spiritual disciplines of our faith. Like the iphone, there are numerous apps to help us grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. On this day, we focus on the spiritual discipline of Holy Communion.
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Wednesday, March 23, 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.

Sunday Sermon – “An App for That: Prayer”

Philippians 4:4-9
- v. 4 – “Rejoice” Not an internal feeling of happiness as we think of today. The Greek word refers to a public celebration. In Paul’s day, the Roman colonies/cities often held festivals to celebrate their gods and the Roman Emperor himself.
- Three aspects of Christian celebration in this passage:
1) Prayer that overcome anxiety (verses 6-7) – In Paul’s day, people were always anxious about the gods who were often seen as “out to get people.” While Christians still experienced suffering in life, they had the assurance that God would be present with them and love them through whatever they faced.
2) Patterns of thought celebrating God’s goodness in creation (v. 8) - It’s easy to become cynical today and lose sight of God’s beauty in creation. Paul writes that this should be our focus.
3) A style of life that embodies the gospel (v. 9) – One of the most demanding ethical commands in the entire bible! Do we live our lives in such a way that in good conscience, we can invite people to imitate us?
- The “peace of God” (v. 7) comes from the “God of peace” (v. 9) Paul has a way with words to make an important point!

Luke 18:1-8
- The parable of the widow and the unjust judge.
- Ancient court practices – You as the citizen had to bring the charge, not the police. This was true for any type of criminal situation including if someone murdered one of your loved ones. “Justification” here means the judge judges in your favor.
- The judge in this parable is not concerned about justice.
- Point of parable – If even a rotten judge can be persuaded to do the right thing, then of course, a righteous judge, upon persuasion will also do the right thing.
- The parable can be viewed on a personal level about prayer but is primarily to be seen on a larger scale where the litigants in the court room are pleading for God to vindicate the work and ministry of Jesus Christ over against the powers and forces that oppose him. The prayers are on behalf of Israel and the people of God who were being oppressed by Rome and the evil powers of the world.
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Dave's Deep Thoughts


Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

It is the one of the most beloved of all fruits.
It has been called "nature's candy",
but to me,
the cherry is the doorway to disaster.

Once a year,
always on St. Patties Day,
I take my pilgrimage
to a certain fast food restaurant,
so that I may imbibe in one of their
seasonal minty milk shakes.

While I am there,
I am sure to order the extra big, biggie......super size
to get the full caloric benefit out of my excursion.

Imagine my surprise,
when my shake arrived,
filled not only with minty, frothy cream,
but with whipped cream and a cherry on top!

Those that have followed my green dairy pilgrimages,
know that the journey in the past
has been fraught with disasters.....

There was the pistachio con job in '08,
the I'm sorry but we're out of them debacle of '07,
and dare I mention
the my cat died fiasco in '09.
(see author if you need further explanation)

The cherry was gleaming like a shining emerald
on a springlike St Patties Day

I could only surmise
that the cherry amidst the sea of whipped cream,
was a symbol of promise and hope
for a bright future filled
shakes minus the disasters.

(If I were a business man,
I would have realized
that the cherry and whipped cream
were simply dairy plagiarism at its finest,
to copy the milk shake presentation
of the very successful fast food restaurant down the street.)

If you are a connoisseur of the milk shake,
you know that the first sip upon virginal taste buds,
is always the best.

Because of the cherry riding high upon the minty waves of froth,
I was now presented with a new challenge
in milk shake etiquette....

Do I eat the cherry first,
or last?

After a moment of thought,
I opted for the strategy of
eating the cherry first,
thus allowing for my
journey to the bottom of the extra big biggie cup
to go uninterrupted.

This required removing the plastic domed lid
(that had been added this year,
to allow room for the whipped cream & cherry).

Now I have never been skilled in the art of
plastic lid attachment.
Rather, then trying to re-affix the domed lid back onto the cup,
I decided to ride with the top down.

As I was driving by the local grocery store,
I remembered that I need to pick up a couple of items.
Knowing that I would only be in the store for a couple of minutes,
I felt assured that my shake would not melt away in the car.

What I hadn't considered,
was that my dog, who was riding shotgun,
also has an affinity for mint and sugar.

In the time that it took me to purchase two items in the store,
(ironically dog food and dog treats)
my canine companion
devoured the entire milk shake.

It is difficult to yell at a dog who now has a green snout
and who has a most wonderful look of contentment on his face.

No, I blame the cherry.
Without the cherry there would have been no domed lid.
Without the domed lid, there would have no removal of such said lid.
Without the removal of the lid, my minty shake would have been my lunch,
and not my dog's lunch.

Sometimes, the simplest little things
can lead to bad places.

Ask Eve about that apple.
Ask Judas about those 30 pieces of silver
Ask an alcoholic about that first drink.

Actually it's not the fault of any fruit, coin, or beverage.
It's about knowing who to go to when faced with choices.

God tells us in His word
that the history of mankind is filled
with those who have fallen into bad places
simply because they trusted in their own wisdom
rather than the wisdom of God.

He goes on to tell us that any of us is fully capable
of falling flat on our faces.
It's not about self-confidence. It's about cultivating God confidence.

So the next time you are faced with a decision,
make the decision based in wisdom.
Just let it be God's wisdom and not your own.

Maybe that cherry won't look so good after all.....

As for next St. Patties Day,
I'd like an extra-big biggie....super sized,
without the cherry please.

No test or temptation that comes your way is beyond the course of
what others have had to face. All you need to remember is that
God will never let you down;
He'll never let you be pushed past your limit;
He'll always be there to help you come through it.

I Corinthians 10:13 (The Message)

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The Gospel of Matthew for Lent (Week of March 20)

During the season of Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Easter Sunday, "The Big Read" led by New Testament scholar, Dr. Tom Wright offers several videos to walk us through the Gospel of Matthew. These videos are under five minutes in length and offer very solid biblical scholarship to help us understand Matthew's particular understanding of who Jesus is.

As a resource during this season of Lent, I invite us to take just five minutes out of our schedules to watch the video and allow this to be a vital resource during our Lenten journey. The reason the focus of these videos is on Matthew's gospel is because Matthew is the primary gospel used in worship for this liturgical year.

I invite comments, thoughts, discussions, questions throughout this lenten cyber study. A link to these videos will also be posted each week on the facebook page of First United Methodist Church, Lancaster, Ohio.

Monday, March 21, 2011

New Crossroads Fund Drive - Second Saturday Outreach

New Crossroads Fund Drive - Creative Ministries

The Gospel of Matthew for Lent (Week of March 20)

During the season of Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Easter Sunday, "The Big Read" led by New Testament scholar, Dr. Tom Wright offers weekly videos to walk us through the Gospel of Matthew. These videos are under ten minutes in length and offer very solid biblical scholarship to help us understand Matthew's particular understanding of who Jesus is.

As a resource during this season of Lent, I invite us to take just ten minutes out of our schedules each week to watch the video and allow this to be a vital resource during our Lenten journey. The reason the focus of these videos is on Matthew's gospel is because Matthew is the primary gospel used in worship for this liturgical year.

I invite comments, thoughts, discussions, questions throughout this lenten cyber study. A link to these videos will also be posted each week on the facebook page of First United Methodist Church, Lancaster, Ohio.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Sermon (March 20) - "An App for That: Sabbath


What’s your favorite day of the week? Friday seems to be the popular choice. For most people, it’s the end of the work week. It’s the beginning of the weekend. And hopefully it’s a time to enjoy some down time before the whole thing starts all over again on Monday.

I don’t know where Monday ranks on the list of favorite days, but my guess is that it ranks somewhere around the bottom. Does anyone seriously look forward to Mondays besides preachers? I guess Monday lovers are out there somewhere.

In our society, we see Monday as the first day of the week, but from a Jewish and biblical perspective, Sunday is the 1st day of the week. And so when the first few verses of the Bible talk about the creation of the first day, it’s really talking about Sunday.

As we focus on these opening verses from the Book of Genesis, it’s obvious that each day of the week is important to God. Each day has its own special place in God’s creation.

And so we have the first day, Sunday. On the very first day of creation, we are told that God created the heavens, light, and darkness. That was all on Sunday.

On the second day we get the creation of a dome or a sky. Maybe if you like to look at the stars at night, this might be your favorite day. That’s Monday.

On the third day, God creates dry land called earth and this leads to vegetation. If you like to do any gardening, maybe this is your day. That’s Tuesday.

On the fourth day, God creates a greater light to rule the day and a lesser light to rule the night. Aren’t you glad that God made the night darker than the day so that we can get some sleep? If you like to get eight or more hours of sleep at night, Wednesday might be your favorite day.

Then comes the fifth day when God creates sea life and birds to fly in the sky. Those of you who like to fish, this is your day. Without day number five, you wouldn’t have your favorite hobby.

On day six, God really got a lot done because it was on this day that we get the creation of cattle and wild animals and what the Bible calls creeping things. Creeping things. By the way, I am the designated spider remover in our home. I’m convinced that God created spiders just to make dads feel useful around the house.

But notice that it was also on day six when God created humankind. Male and female. And it was on this sixth day that God told them to be fruitful and multiply and in modern day terms, to be good stewards of everything that has been created. “Take care of my creation,” God tells us. Why? Because God’s creation is good. If you like to go to the zoo or if you’re a people person, perhaps Friday is your favorite day of creation.

How can you top these first six days of the week? What does God do on the seventh day? We are told that God rested from all this work. The word “Sabbath” gets translated as “rest.” God took a day-long sabbatical on the 7th day. But God didn’t just sleep all day on the 7th day. The Book of Genesis tells us that God also blessed the seventh day. That’s Saturday, the seventh day of the week.

During this Season of Lent, we are taking a look at six important spiritual apps that can help us to grow closer to Jesus Christ as we prepare for Easter. These are six apps that Christians have been using throughout the centuries. Some of these may already be familiar and are ones that we use on a regular basis. By focusing on these more familiar apps we can have a fresh perspective on how they can become even more helpful to us.

Some of these apps may not be nearly as familiar. My hope is that we will take the time to download these apps and begin using them right away.

Last Sunday, we looked at the spiritual app of fasting and I encouraged those of us who are physically able to consider giving up eating at least one meal on either a Wednesday or a Friday each week and to instead use that time to pray and focus on our relationship with Jesus Christ. Fasting on one or both of these two days goes all the way back to the early church. John Wesley encouraged his Methodists to continue this practice of fasting on a regular basis.

Today, the spiritual app for us to download is observing the Sabbath. We often get the Sabbath or Saturday confused with Sunday. In addition to being the first day of creation, Sunday has also become known as “The Lord’s Day” because Jesus’ resurrection and the empty tomb happened on a Sunday.

And we often collapse these two days and turn them into one day. And to some degree, that’s appropriate because as we shall see, there are important aspects of the Sabbath that we should keep in mind for every day of the week.

But first, I think it’s important to note that of the six spiritual apps we’re looking at during this sermon series, fasting, prayer, Holy Communion, following the Christian calendar, and spiritual pilgrimage, the Sabbath is the only one that is in the form of a commandment.

It’s one of the Ten Commandments and it’s listed as the fourth commandment. And remember, these aren’t the Ten Suggestions. These are the Ten Commandments.

The fourth commandment goes like this. “Remember the Sabbath and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a Sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work – you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days, the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the Sabbath day and consecrated it.”

And this brings me to the first thing in how the spiritual app of observing the Sabbath can help us in our faith journey. By observing the Sabbath, it can help us have a rhythm to our faith. Three weeks from now, we’ll talk about the importance of having an annual rhythm when we focus on the Christian calendar, but for today our focus is on a weekly rhythm to our faith which is what the Sabbath can provide us.

Many of us seek to have some kind of weekly rhythm, but that’s not always easy to do in our fast paced society. Recent surveys show that more than half of us are overwhelmed by work. One third of us are chronically overworked. Only 14% of us take vacations of two weeks or longer each year. Americans have the shortest paid vacations in the entire world. And 20% of those who do go on vacation stay in touch with their jobs while on vacation.

Many of us can probably relate to Sisyphus from Greek mythology. Sisyphus was condemned to drudgery and futility by pushing a boulder up a mountain only to have it slip from his hands and watch it tumble down the mountain. And he is forced to begin the process all over again. He has to push the boulder back up the mountain and then watch it as it slips from his hands yet again. This is his eternal fate.

The person who is addicted to work has the misconception that he or she can out-master the fate of work. But it can’t be done. Before too long, it catches up with us and gets the best of us.
This is why the Sabbath is an important spiritual app for us. It helps us to find a rhythm to our faith each week by giving us needed time to rest.

One of the ways that I seek to honor the Sabbath is to pray this same prayer every Saturday morning. It’s a prayer that reminds me of the importance of this day of the week. Here’s the prayer:

“O heavenly Father, who has filled the world with beauty: Open our eyes to behold your gracious hand in all your works; that, rejoicing in your whole creation, we may learn to serve you with gladness; for the sake of him through whom all things were made, your Son Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”

Just that short prayer has a way of helping me to not take my Saturday Sabbath for granted. It’s a day for us to open our eyes and behold God’s beauty.

One of the things that I have done over the years is to have my sermon for the upcoming Sunday finished by Friday of that week so that Saturday can be a time to get outside as much as possible and enjoy God’s creation. And while there are some Saturdays that can be busy with weddings and church events, I still try to find ways to slow down and enjoy the day as much as possible.

So my typical week looks like this. Church on Sunday. Sermon work on Monday. Tuesdays through Thursdays are filled with church events, meetings, and pastoral duties. On Fridays, I do some finishing work on my sermon and try to take the rest of the day off. And I already shared about my Saturdays.

The Sabbath gives us that needed rest on a week to week basis. It doesn’t always work out that way, because that’s just the way life is sometimes, but at least the Sabbath is God’s way of helping us to have a balance in our lives.

The second thing the Sabbath does for us. It helps us to experience joy. Who doesn’t want more joy in their lives?

The bible uses the word, “rest” in referring to the Sabbath.

Many of us can recall blue laws in our country which restricted the sale of goods and products on Sunday as a way to encourage Christians to not work and attend church instead. I already mentioned how Christians have confused the Sabbath with Sunday, but the blue laws have fed into this notion that to honor the Sabbath simply means to not work.

I was in a hotel in the city of Jerusalem. On the Sabbath, the elevators would not allow me to push the button of my floor since pushing an elevator button was considered working. So I had to stop at each floor even if nobody was getting on or off the elevator.

I remember feeling annoyed and impatient that it seemed to take forever to make it to my room. But isn’t that the point? The Sabbath is meant to help us slow down and enjoy all that God has given us.

A better translation of the word Sabbath is “joyful repose.” In other words, Saturday is to be a day that we specifically set aside from the other days of the week to rediscover the joy of God’s creation. It is a day that is to be filled with delight because when God created the world, he called his creation good. God delights in us and we are to delight in God as well.

I like how Dan Allender, author of the book, “Sabbath,” describes what the Sabbath is meant to be at least for him when he writes, “The Sabbath is like hanging out with God in a French cafĂ© drinking an espresso and talking about Simone de Beauvoir and listening to cool jazz.”
There’s a sense of playfulness with the Sabbath. It’s a day to light some candles, savor a delicious meal, enjoy a conversation with a loved one, exercise, go for a walk, read, listen to music, and take a nap.

It’s a day for us to use our senses and experience God’s good creation with all of its color, texture, taste, fragrance, sound, adventure, and sweetness. Those of you who are nature lovers, who enjoy hiking, who love to take walks outdoors, have a lot to teach those of us who are tied to our homes.

One particular Sabbath moment comes to mind. I went for a 30 minute run out by the OU campus here in town. In that one day, two beautiful white tail deer darted right in front of me as I was running on the bike path. I watched the deer gracefully run up the side of a hill.

And after my run, as I was driving home and coming down the steep road along Rising Park, I was blown away by the incredible sunset that pierced through the bright red and yellow autumn leaves. It took my breath away as I savored that sacred moment.
Honoring the Sabbath helps us to experience the joy of God’s creation.

The third thing that the Sabbath can do for us. It can help us offer God’s healing love to the people around us. When we are living balanced lives and taking care of ourselves, than we are better able to show God’s love to others.

Jesus teaches us this again and again throughout the gospels as he heals people on the Sabbath and gets criticized for it. The religious leaders of Jesus’ day had a narrow understanding of the meaning of Sabbath. Jesus responded by telling them that the Sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the Sabbath.

In the Book of Leviticus, we get the commandment to observe the year of Jubilee. The year of Jubilee was held every 50th year and it was during that year that the gap between the haves and the have-nots was erased. Everyone was allowed to start all over again which was especially good news for those who had fallen on hard times and who had incurred tremendous debt.
It was God’s built in way of making sure that wealth was distributed more evenly and that people had a second chance to have a better life.

And this Year of Jubilee was based on the number seven. Just like the Sabbath was considered the 7th and final day of the week, by taking seven times seven years, you get 49 years. And it was on that 50th year, that the people of Israel were to celebrate the Year of Jubilee.

This is one of the reasons why I love our Second Saturday outreach in which we gather at our Crossroads facility on the Second Saturday of every month to go out and be a blessing to our community. Maybe we should rename it “Second Sabbath” because this monthly outreach reminds us of how Jesus blessed others on the Sabbath. Notice that God didn’t simply take a nap after he created the world in six days. We are told that God blessed that day.

As part of our upcoming Crossroads facility fund drive, let’s hear how people are making a difference through our Second Saturday outreach:

(Watch Video)

Whenever we serve others, we are offering God’s blessings upon God’s creation.
And the fourth way that the Sabbath can help us in our faith. It gives us great hope. The Sabbath is to remind us of the time when God created the world and then rested on the seventh day.

The Garden of Eden was this incredible place where there was peace, harmony, joy, love, and everything we needed. It was just as God had created it to be. But of course, we messed it up when we sinned and disobeyed God.

And that’s when we first got thorns and thistles in the garden and we were driven out. And the story of the Bible is really a story of how God longs for his creation to be renewed again. And just when it looks like God’s people make it into the Promised Land or return from being in exile, what would happen next? They would sin and the cycle started all over again. The bible can be a frustrating read!

But there’s another beautiful garden that shows up in the bible. It’s a garden that is pictured for us at the end of the Book of Revelation when heaven and earth come together in a beautiful way. And all of this is made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The bible is a wonderful book because we get to see how the story ends. God wins! We are told that in this garden, there will be no more tears, no more death, no more mourning, no more crying, and no more pain. And all of this is because of what Jesus Christ has done for us.

About a month from now, we are going to observe a very special Sabbath day. A Sabbath like no other. Unlike other Sabbaths, where we enjoy fun and play, this Sabbath will be very different.
On that Sabbath, we will recall how after Jesus was crucified, his body was placed in a tomb during a Sabbath day where it rested. Just as God had created the world in six days and then rested on the seventh day, so Jesus’ body would rest in a tomb on the seventh day.

This is the one Sabbath day during the year when it will not be a day of laughter and sharing jokes with one another. No. It will be a very sad day indeed.

But here’s the good news. That Sabbath will soon give way to an empty tomb, a risen Lord, and the promise of new life.

If you’re looking for a way to have more rhythm, more joy, to make a difference in the world, and to have more hope along your faith journey. There’s an app for that.

And it’s called, the Sabbath.

.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - March 27

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

Sermon - "An App for That: Prayer"

Features - 3rd Sunday in Lent

Scripture -Philippians 4:4-9 & Luke 18:1-8

Theme -The forty day season of Lent is a time for us to more intentionally practice the spiritual disciplines of our faith. Like the iphone, there are numerous apps to help us grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. On this day, we focus on the spiritual discipline of prayer.

The Gospel of Matthew for Lent

During the season of Lent, the 40 day period leading up to Easter Sunday, "The Big Read" led by New Testament scholar, Dr. Tom Wright offers weekly videos to walk us through the Gospel of Matthew. These videos are under ten minutes in length and offer very solid biblical scholarship to help us understand Matthew's particular understanding of who Jesus is.

As a resource during this season of Lent, I invite us to take just ten minutes out of our schedules each week to watch the video and allow this to be a vital resource during our Lenten journey. The reason the focus of these videos is on Matthew's gospel is because Matthew is the primary gospel used in worship for this liturgical year.

I invite comments, thoughts, discussions, questions throughout this lenten cyber study. A link to these videos will also be posted each week on the facebook page of First United Methodist Church, Lancaster, Ohio.

Thursday, March 17, 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.

March 20 Sermon – “An App for That: Sabbath”

Exodus 20:1-17
- The Ten Commandments should be seen in the context of the time when God delivered Israel from being no people to becoming God’s people.
- Seen in this context, the Ten Commandments are the way that we respond to God’s grace and not as a way to earn God’s favor.
- Question: Why do we tend to view the Ten Commandments more as rules to follow, rather than as a way of responding to God’s goodness and love?
- Follow-up Question: When we demand that the Ten Commandments be placed in public buildings such as court houses and schools, do they make sense to people when taken out of context? Why or why not?
- What questions do you have about each of the commandments?
- John Wesley viewed law and grace as two sides of the same coin. He also summarized the law by including “The General Rules.” These can be summarized as 1) Do no harm. 2) Do good. 3) Attending to the ordinances of God.

Matthew 12:1-16
- At question in this text, is the commandment about observing the Sabbath. The religious leaders, in their attempt to observe the Sabbath, had forgotten the context of the laws and of this commandment. The laws were given as a way for us to respond to the goodness and the grace of God.
- Some Jews believed that if all the people would follow all the commandments for a single day, that God’s new age would begin. This is why they were so precise in what it meant to follow the commandments. When taken to extreme, following commandments in this narrow way can actually prevent us from loving people which were what they were designed to help us do!
- This passage is referring to the story of David and the holy bread of presence (I Samuel 21:1-6.) David was the new king and was running for his life from the old king, Saul. David and his men needed to eat and they wanted to eat the holy bread meant only for the priests to eat. By sharing this story, Jesus is telling the religious leaders that like David in the story, he is the newly anointed king of Israel, even though he is not yet enthroned as king. Jesus was anointed as king at his baptism and will be enthroned as king when lifted on the cross.
- Why can it be easy for us to squeeze out God’s love when we seek to following God’s commandments?
.

Wednesday, March 16, 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.

It is said that cleanliness is next to godliness.
If that is the case, then my desk is no heavenly dwelling.

Now I must confess that it is not all my fault.
My desk is like Grand Central Station.
It is a cross roads for all activity happening at my work site.

The avalanche usually occurs every Sunday.
Receipts, messages, files, the kitchen sink,
you name it,
all magically appear on my desk to greet me.

Sometimes I get lucky
and things like gifts or candy
end up on the massive sprawl.

It usually takes till Tuesday for me to reach the bottom of my desk.

Some may say that I am disorganized,
but the truth is that my desk is merely a reflection
of my many layered job.

I admit that sometimes I don't find
the scribbled note on a torn off piece of napkin
to "call me immediately" dated on Sunday,
until Thursday.

And there are times
that I don't notice the piece of cake left for me,
until it has hardened enough to become a hockey puck.

But mostly,
my desk is a highly functional
place of organized chaos....
and it suits me well.

That is, except for the desk gremlin.

You know who I mean.

I think it is the same creature as the attic gremlin,
the little guy that messes with the Christmas lights in the attic
so that lines that worked when they were stored in January,
no longer work by the next December.

The desk gremlin is a bit more aggressive.
Though I have never seen him,
I know he has been there.

He is the one who takes all my paper clips
and links them together.
Who has time to do that?
Apparently the desk gremlin does.

He is also the one
who takes my phone cord
and uses it for a jump rope contest
so that when I am ready to make a call,
it is tied up in more knots then are seen at a boy scout convention.
I guess gremlins need aerobic exercise too.

And when it comes to my stapler,
let's just say there are more jams there
then on the DC beltway at rush hour.

But the most troubling activity of my little desk gremlin,
is the tape dispenser.

My desk is like a dispensary shop.
Scissors, tape dispensers, staplers, markers, pens
all come and go.
Eventually they find there way back.

But it's how the tape dispenser comes back
that is the masterful deviousness of the desk gremlin.

Apparently the desk gremlin
has a lot of work to do in the area of adhesives,
for he often uses up the entire roll of tape.

Now I don't mind that he is determined
to tape the entire world together,
but when he throws out the empty tape roll,
does he really need to throw out the plastic coil???

For those that understand
the engineering marvel that is the tape dispenser,
you know exactly what I am saying.

It's that small piece of plastic
the the tape roll slips onto
so that the dispenser can actually dispense.

I have three dispensers sitting in my office
that no longer have the plastic coil.
Like the baby being thrown out with the bathwater,
the plastic coils have been tossed out with empty tape roll.

Now this may not seem like such a big deal...
after all, it's just a tiny piece of plastic.
But here is the reality........

Tape dispensers without the coil are USELESS.

Oh, you might be able to use them as paperweights,
or perhaps a doorstop.
I even thought of making them into Santa sleighs for Christmas.

I hate to throw them away,
but they simply don't work without the coil.

Sometimes the most seemingly insignificant things
have the greatest value.

An anonymous act of kindness
that lifts the spirit of a discouraged person.

A smile offered to a passerby,
rather than avoidance of eye contact.

A small gift given
when there is little to give.

The widow in the Scriptures
was told of the great value of her mite.

The smallest mustard seed of faith
can grow into a tree.

Little things that don't seem so important
are the essentials of the Kingdom of God.

The next time you hear a little gremlin
telling you that you are insignificant little coil on the big desktop of life,
that you can be tossed away, and that no one would miss you.....

take one of my useless dispensers and throw it at him.

See, everything does have a purpose.

And so do you!

Truly I say to you,
this poor widow put in more than
all the contributors to the treasury;
for they put in out of their surplus,
but she out of her poverty,
put in all she owned,
all she had to live on.
Mark 12:43-44
.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Sermon (March 13) - "An App for That: Fasting"


During this season of Lent, we’re taking a look at six different disciplines or means of grace that have been used by the church for the past several centuries to help people grow in what it means to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ.

We’re calling this sermon series, “An App for That” to help us realize that these disciplines are available and that they are meant to help us in our day to day living.

This past summer, our staff car pooled to a local restaurant for a staff birthday lunch celebration. I went in Peg Parker’s van which included Peg, Pam George, Pastor Cheryl, and me. While we were driving to the restaurant, Pastor Cheryl, who knew that Pam George had an iphone, asked her, “Well, what can your iphone do?”

Now, if you know Pam George and her iphone, you know that she is always attached to it. It never leaves her side. She even has several iphone covers that color coordinate with what she is wearing for the day. The color of her cover always matches her shoes and earrings.

So when Pastor Cheryl asked Pam that question, Pastor Cheryl might have well asked me why I like Penn State football. I mean, you’re going to get a full report. That’s just the way it is!

And sure enough, Pam talked about what every single app on her phone can do, with great enthusiasm. Everything from the app that kept track of her daughter’s pregnancy. To the app that does price comparisons in various stores. To the app that allows her to read books on her phone. To the app that brushes her teeth. I mean, Pam just went on and on about all of these apps.

My favorite app on my smart-phone is the grocery app where our family can send the grocery items we need for that week and it goes into this one central list. No more forgetting grocery lists or writing them on little pieces of scrap paper. It’s all networked right into our phones. And if Penny is at the grocery store and I’m at home and I just remember that I need to add double stuff Oreo cookies to the list, no problem! I just go to my blackberry, type in “double stuff Oreo cookies” and it’s added to her phone in a matter of seconds. I can even see the items that she’s already crossed off her list.

I love this app. It ranks right up there with sending a man to the moon. It’s brilliant!

But what is even more brilliant than smart-phone apps, are the apps we have to help us grow as disciples of Jesus Christ.

Today, we look at the spiritual app of fasting. So I guess I shouldn’t have told you that story about wanting Oreo cookies. Fasting – The spiritual application of giving up a meal and spending that time with God instead.

Fasting is often associated with the Season of Lent. You’ll hear people say that they’re giving something up for Lent, like a meal or candy or sometimes people give up other things like watching TV or going shopping.

But what really is this spiritual app of fasting, anyway? And what’s the real purpose behind using it?

Scot McKnight is a New Testament scholar who is the author of the recently published book, “Fasting.” And guess what? I downloaded this book to the kindle app on my smart-phone! See how all of this ties together? This is a great book so I give Scot McKnight the credit for a lot of what I’m about to cover on our topic of fasting this morning.

Scot McKnight defines fasting this way. “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.”

Now, there’s a lot to unpack in his definition. But the main point of his book is that fasting is not meant to be something we do in order to get results. I know that might sounds strange. Most of us won’t try something unless it will produce results. That’s true of me and probably most of us here. We like results.

Scot writes that fasting could very well lead to positive results for us, but that’s not the point of fasting. The point of fasting is about helping us to respond to significant moments in our lives.

What are those significant moments? To answer that, the bible and the church as early as the 2nd century provide some specific examples.

The first example of a sacred or significant life moment is when the people of Israel, or the church, or even a whole nation realize that it needs to confess their sins and turn toward God. To this day, Jewish people observe what is called Yom Kippur or The Day of Atonement. It’s a day for the people to repent of their sins, turn toward, God, and fast, and it’s observed every year.

Notice that this is a communal fast and not just an individual fast. Fasting isn’t always a communal discipline of our faith, but there are times when it does involve the whole community of faith.

In 1863, President Abraham Lincoln proclaimed a National Day of Fasting, Humiliation, and Prayer. He did this for the whole country to participate. In his address that year, Lincoln shared these words, “We have grown in numbers, wealth and power, as no other nation has ever grown. But we have forgotten God.” A little later in his address, he said, “It behooves us, then to humble ourselves before the offended Power, to confess our national sins, and to pray for clemency and forgiveness.”

A second example of a sacred or significant life moment is when the people of God are in particular need of guidance and direction from God. In the Old Testament, when the people of Judah were still in exile in Babylon, they reached a point where they needed to know if it was finally time for them to return to Judah and Jerusalem. Ezra then took the lead and proclaimed a fast at the river Ahava where the exiles were gathered and it was there that the people prayed that God would grant them a safe journey home.

This was definitely what we would call a sacred or significant moment for the people of Israel. And this is why everyone fasted before beginning their journey back to Israel.

In the New Testament, the Book of Acts, chapter 13, we find Paul, Barnabas and other leaders in the early church fasting and worshipping and asking God for guidance and direction. It was while they were fasting that the Holy Spirit prompted them to set apart Paul and Barnabas to be sent out for their missionary journey.

This connection between fasting and needing God’s guidance and direction is the main reason why I called for our church to observe a day of fasting and prayer by gathering together on a Monday evening this past November. With all that we had been through in 2010, I felt that God was calling us to seek out God’s guidance and direction to help us move forward with hope into God’s vision for us as a church.

A third example of a sacred moment that often leads to fasting is the call for God’s people to care for the poor and the needy. With approximately 2,500 verses in the bible focused on God’s call for us to care for those who are poor and who are in need, it makes sense that the spiritual discipline of fasting would be connected to this important aspect of our faith.

In Isaiah, chapter 58, the prophet Isaiah speaks these words from God to the people of Israel: “Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and to break every yoke? 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 them, and not to hide yourself from your own kin? Then your light shall break forth like the dawn, and your healing shall spring up quickly.”

One of the things that the prophet is emphasizing is that the point of fasting isn’t just to appear religious. The point of fasting is to help us connect with the hunger and the brokenness in our world so that we might do something about it.

When we fast and miss a meal, and begin to feel those hunger pains, that’s when we are reminded that we live in a world in which 854 million people are going hungry even as we worship this morning. Each year 9 million people die worldwide because of hunger. So the purpose of fasting isn’t just to do something that the bible tells us to do. The purpose of fasting is to challenge us to be involved in ministries that help and care for the poor.

A fourth example of a sacred moment that often leads to fasting is whenever God seems absent or distant. During a critical time in Israel’s history, the Ark of the Covenant, which symbolized the presence of God for the people of Israel, had been in the possession of the Philistines. When the ark was finally returned to Israel, Samuel, who was Judge over Israel at the time, called for the people of Israel to fast and turn toward God again.

Often times, grief can make it seem that God is absent or distant in our lives. The Psalmist in Psalm 77 offers a prayer that is filled with deep grief and it expresses his feeling that God is absent.

The Psalmist prays, “I cry aloud to God, aloud to God, that he may hear me. In the day of my trouble I seek the Lord; in the night my hand is stretched out without wearying; my soul refuses to be comforted. I think of God, and I moan; I meditate, and my spirit faints.”

Later in that Psalm, the Psalmist reminds himself of how God is faithful and you can sense that his faith is being restored even in the course of him saying this prayer. And while he doesn’t specifically talk about fasting in the midst of his grief and sorrow, most likely, he probably did fast especially since fasting is often times a natural response to grief.

Maybe this is why people will often bring meals to families who have experienced the death of a loved one. It’s because they know that cooking or eating are the last things on their minds since they are experiencing the early stages of the grief process. It’s difficult to eat when your heart has been broken.

This is why the definition of fasting says, “Fasting is the natural, inevitable response of a person to a grievous sacred moment in life.” Sometimes, we don’t need to consciously choose to fast. It will be a natural response because we just don’t feel like eating when we’re going through a time of grief and loss.

A fifth example of a sacred moment that leads to fasting is when we make a commitment or a recommitment of our lives to Jesus Christ. This has always been a tradition in the church dating all the way back to when the Apostle Paul experienced his conversion from being Saul, a persecutor of the church, to Paul, who became a new person in Jesus Christ, and a leader in the church.

Immediately after Paul experienced that sacred moment when he encountered the risen Christ on his way to Damascus, we are told that he didn’t eat or drink for three full days. There’s a tradition over the course of church history for people preparing for church membership to first be instructed in the faith, then fast, and then be baptized and join the church at the Easter Vigil. Over the course of Christian history, fasting and making a commitment to be a disciple of Jesus Christ have often been closely associated.

So those are the five major examples of what would be considered sacred moments from both the bible and the history of the church that have often led to the people of God fasting and refraining from food. 1) Confessing and repenting of sins. 2) In need of guidance and direction from God. 3) God’s call to care for the poor and the needy. 4) When God seems absent or distant. 5) And when we make a commitment or a recommitment of our lives to Jesus Christ.

These five biblical reasons to fast give us plenty of opportunities to practice this very important spiritual discipline of our faith.

For the remaining time, I want us to think of how we can utilize the spiritual app of fasting in our day to day living.

And the first way is by fasting during the Season of Lent. Lent is a time that people have fasted from meals or from certain kinds of food over the centuries, dating all the way back to the early church.

It’s the Season of Lent when we are reminded that Jesus began his ministry by first going into the wilderness and for forty days, he didn’t eat any food. The forty days in the wilderness is significant because Jesus was symbolically living out the Israelite’s 40 year wandering in the wilderness as they were being rescued by God and led into the Promised Land.

Part of the story of the Israelites journeying through the wilderness includes the time when Moses fasted on behalf of Israel during the time when he was receiving the Ten Commandments.

So when we see that Jesus chose to begin his ministry by going into the wilderness to fast, he is showing that it will be through him, that God’s people will be rescued again. But this time, it won’t be from slavery in Egypt. Jesus will rescue us from the slavery of sin and death through his own death and resurrection.

So every Lent can be a time for us to connect to the mission and purpose of Jesus, and like him, fast and give up meals throughout these six weeks which lead up to the glorious celebration of Easter Sunday.

The second way is by fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. In biblical times, the Israelites would have fasted on Mondays and Thursdays to remind them of their need and dependence upon God.

When the early church first formed and for the next several centuries of church history, Christians continued the weekly practice of fasting, but instead of Mondays and Thursdays, they fasted on Wednesdays and Fridays.

Wednesdays, to help them remember the beginning of the events that led to Jesus being betrayed, and Fridays, to help them remember when Jesus died on the cross for the sins of the world.

John Wesley, the 18th century of the Methodist movement encouraged those early Methodists to continue this practice of fasting on Wednesdays and Fridays. Wesley went so far as to say that fasting was just as important as prayer and that they belonged together.

Since this past fall, I have chosen to not eat lunch on Fridays to reclaim this ancient tradition of fasting. It’s not always been easy. For the most part, I don’t eat lunch on Friday, but once in a while, I’ll have some kind of church event that involves a lunch or I’ll just plain forget. And once in a while I’ll eat just because my will power isn’t all that great.

I admit this to you to show that even with our best intentions, we won’t always follow through. It’s not easy to refrain from eating when you’re hungry. Let’s admit it. But when we do, fasting helps us to be drawn closer in our relationship with Jesus Christ.

I want to encourage us to give up a meal during this season of Lent as a way of preparing us to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus Christ. And I encourage us to give up a meal on Wednesdays or Fridays throughout the year or maybe there’s another day that is more meaningful for you. By fasting in this way, it becomes a weekly reminder of our need and dependence on God.

One last thought about fasting. For health reasons, fasting should not be done by children, or by women who are pregnant or who are nursing, or by those who have diabetes, or by those who have other serious conditions or illnesses.

For those who may wonder if there’s a way to help them offer a natural, inevitable response to a sacred moment in life, there’s an app for that.

And that app is fasting.
.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - March 20

March 20 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, March 23 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "An App for That: Sabbath"

Features - 2nd Sunday in Lent

Scripture -Exodus 20:1-17 & Matthew 12:1-16

Theme -The forty day season of Lent is a time for us to more intentionally practice the spiritual disciplines of our faith. Like the iphone, there are numerous apps to help us grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. On this day, we focus on the spiritual discipline of observing the Sabbath.

New Crossroads Fund Drive - Key Dates


Our new Crossroads fund drive, "Faith Forward to the Finish Line" was launched during worship on Sunday, March 6 with the first of eleven brief videos. Each of these videos tell the story of significant ways our new facility is a blessing in our local community. I'll continue to post these videos here on a week to week basis.

• Bible Studies
• Creative Ministries
• Second Saturday Outreach
• “The Gathering” Worship
• Fellowship Dinners
• Vacation Bible School
• Community Groups – Red Cross Blood Drive/Emergency Shelter, Board of Elections,
UMC District & Conference Events, Seminars…
• Combined Choir Events
• Nativity & Fontanini Display
• Weekly Youth Ministry
• Partnership with Grace Church

Following the first two three year fund drives, we are excited about having this new five-year drive be the one that gets us to the finish line in the spring of 2016! The congregation will receive a mailing the week of May 9 that will include a financial commitment card to complete and bring to worship on Sunday, May 15 for a special dedication. If you want to learn more about our new Crossroads fund drive, join us for one of our information meetings (see below.)

Key Dates:

Sun., March 27, 9:45 A.M. - Information Meeting @ Rising House Parlor
Sun., March 27, 11:00 A.M. - Information Meeting @ Rising House Parlor
Mon., March 28, 6 P.M. - Information Meeting @ Church Sanctuary
Wed., April 13, 6 P.M. – Informational Meeting @ Crossroads, 2095 W. Fair Ave.
Wed., April 27, 6 P.M. – Informational Meeting @ Crossroads, 2095 W. Fair Ave.
Week of May 9 – Congregational Mailing with Commitment Cards
Sun., May 15 – Commitment Sunday (Offering Our Financial Commitments)
Sun., May 22 – Celebration Sunday (Sharing of Commitment Results)

I am so thankful for the donors who have participated in the first two campaigns. Thanks to you, we are able to use our Crossroads facility to reach our community with the love of Jesus Christ. We can now see the finish line ahead!

“Now finish doing it, so that your eagerness may be matched by completing it according to your means.” – II Corinthians 8:11

During the launch of our new fund drive, let's pray this prayer together on a daily basis, “Lord, what would You do through me to accomplish Your will in my church?”

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Friday, March 11, 2011

Happy Birthday, Second Saturday Outreach! Born: March 13, 2010


This weekend marks the one year anniversary of our Second Saturday outreach ministry which is based out of our Crossroads facility. On the 2nd Saturday of each month, we gather at 8:30 A.M. at Crossroads, choose among several projects, pray for God to bless our work, and go out to serve.

In just one year, this ministry has been involved in a number of outreach opportunities such as...
  • Painting city fire hydrants.
  • Building homes and helping at the Habitat for Humanity store.
  • Serving at a transitional house for those who have been in prison.
  • Partnering with Metropolitan Housing to help people find employment.
  • Playing bingo and visiting with nursing home residents.
  • Taking fruit and cookies to police and firefighters.
  • Cleaning up trash along the bike path and in our parks.
  • Helping grocery store customers with their carts in the parking lot.
  • Putting in flooring at Foundation Shelters (ministry to the homeless.)
  • Putting in flooring at the home of a single parent.
  • Providing coins for customers at a laundromat.
  • Hosting educational forums on local social issues.
  • Packing health kits for Haiti earthquake victims.

Happy birthday, Second Saturday!

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A Prayer in Response to the Tsunami


In Time of Natural Disaster Prayer

O God, you divided the waters of chaos at creation. In Christ you stilled storms, raised the dead, and vanquished demonic powers. Tame the earthquake, wind, and fire, and all the forces that defy control or shock us by their fury. Keep us from calling disaster your justice. Help us, in good times and in distress, to trust your mercy and yield to your power, this day and for ever. Amen.

- United Methodist Book of Worship

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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.

March 13 Sermon – “An App for That: Fasting”

Isaiah 58:6-9
- John Wesley often referred to this chapter to warn against using spiritual practices such as fasting to become a way of earning God’s love, rather than as a means to receive God’s grace. Why do we sometimes use spiritual practices as a way of earning God’s love rather than as a way of receiving and responding to God’s love?
- John Wesley and his phrase, “Means of Grace” – These include the two Sacraments (Holy Communion and Holy Baptism), fasting, church attendance, giving, etc. Which means of grace to you tend to practice on a regular basis and which ones would you like to give more focus and attention?

Matthew 4:1-11
- This traditional reading for the beginning of Lent (Jesus’ 40 days in the wilderness) is a story about facing temptations.
- What is our primary vocation as a person of faith? To be truly human which biblically means to be God’s image bearers (reflecting God’s image back on to God which is worship and reflecting God’s image out into the world which is ministry.)
- What are the temptations that seek to keep us from living out our primary vocation?
- Jesus was able to see through the temptations and stick to his vocation – being fully human.
- Matthew is showing us how Jesus is personally reenacting the story of Israel – Jesus’ baptism/parting of Red Sea, Jesus in wilderness/Israel in wilderness.
- Within the temptation story is another Old Testament echo – the story of creation and the temptation of Adam and Eve.
- What were Jesus’ temptations? – This wilderness story, a disciple who advises to not go to the cross, the garden prayer, etc.
- Like Jesus, we are to stay grounded in the scriptures and the means of grace to help us stick to our vocation of worshipping and serving in the name of Christ.
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Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Our Forty Day Journey to the Cross & the Empty Tomb


Today, we begin the long forty day journey of following Jesus to the cross and the empty tomb. It's a journey we make every year but one that is always filled with new understandings and fresh perspectives on the meaning of Jesus' suffering, death, and resurrection.

To help us look at the big picture of how the church is here to help us walk this journey, here is a schedule of our services. Jesus is already on his way to Jerusalem. It's time for us to get up and follow him.

Lent & Holy Week Schedule

• March 9 – Ash Wednesday Services
6:30 P.M. at Crossroads, 2095 W. Fair Avenue
Noon & 7:30 P.M. at Main Building, 163 E. Wheeling St.

• March 13 to April 17 – Lenten Sunday (8:15, 9:45, & 11:00 @ Main Building, 163 E. Wheeling St.) & Wednesday (6:30 P.M. @ Crossroads, 2095 W. Fair Ave.) Worship Services
(8:15, 9:45, & 11:00) “An App for That” Sermon Series

• April 21 – Maundy Thursday Services (Holy Communion)
Noon & 7:30 P.M. at Main Building, 163 E. Wheeling St.

• April 24 – Good Friday Services
7:00 A.M. (Ecumenical Service/Breakfast) at the YMCA, 465 W. 6th Ave. To reserve a $6 breakfast, RSVP to the YMCA, (740) 654-0616 by April 20th.
Noon & 7:30 P.M. at Main Building

Lent Sermon Series – “An App for That”

The forty day season of lent is a time for us to more intentionally practice the spiritual disciplines of our faith. Like the iphone, there are numerous apps to help us grow in our relationship with Jesus Christ. For each Sunday in Lent, we will focus on an important spiritual app. Some of the apps might be more familiar to us than others. All of these apps can make a huge difference in our faith journey. Join us for worship.

Sunday, March 6 (Transfiguration Sunday) – “Finding Our Way Again”
Sunday, March 13 – “Fasting”
Sunday, March 20 – “Sabbath”
Sunday, March 27 – “Prayer
Sunday, April 3 – “Holy Communion”
Sunday, April 10 – “Christian Calendar”
Sunday, April 17 – “Pilgrimage”

Lenten Small Groups

For six weeks beginning the week of March 13, our church is offering ten small group options meeting at different times/days/locations. Each small group will discuss a spiritual discipline (app) from the previous Sunday worship. Contact the church office to sign up for a small group!
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Monday, March 7, 2011

Ash Wednesday Services - March 9

March 9 - 12:00 P.M. & 7:30 P.M. @ Main Building, 163 E. Wheeling Street & 6:30 P.M. @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue

Theme - Ash Wednesday marks the beginning of the 40 day season of Lent and includes the imposition of ashes in the sign of the cross on our foreheads symbolizing our mortality and our dependence upon God. This is a season in which Christians are called to be attentive in practicing the spiritual disciplines and to follow Jesus as he journeys to the cross. The Sunday sermons during Lent will focus on six spiritual disciplines including fasting (March 13), sabbath (March 20), prayer (March 27), Holy Communion (April 3), Christian calendar (April 10), & pilgrimage (April 17.)

Sunday, March 6, 2011

Sermon (March 6) - An App for That: Finding Our Way Again


In recent years, as cell phones have changed from basic phones with which to make calls, to smart phones which do just about everything, iPhones, Blackberry’s, and Droids have all kinds of applications to use for just about every conceivable aspect of life.

If you want to know what the weather is, there’s an app for that!

If you need help counting your calories consumed or burned, there’s an app for that!

Need directions while out in traffic? There’s an app for that!

You probably know better than I do, that there is an app for just about anything you can think of to help you in your day to day journey.

Well, I’m not here today to sell you a phone with a bunch of fancy apps, but I am here as your pastor to help you choose some spiritual applications which will help you and me in our spiritual journey especially as we prepare to begin the Season of Lent this week.

Lent is a time for us to find our way again because we can so easily drift away from our faith.

I was reading a book not too long ago by Christian author Brian McLaren. He told a story about a time when he thought he was just supposed to introduce a famous speaker, Dr. Peter Senge, to a conference room filled with about 500 pastors. Dr. Senge is a scientist and the director of the Center for Organizational Learning at MIT Sloan School of Management.

But when the day of Dr. Senge’s presentation arrived, Brian McLaren found out that he was not supposed to just introduce the doctor, but to interview him as well! And as if finding that out so late in the game wasn’t bad enough, the interview would not be face to face, but rather over a satellite connection with Dr. Senge projected on a big screen!

When the connection was finally made, Brian started off by saying to Dr. Senge, “You probably don’t talk to large groups of pastors very regularly. What would you like to say to this group to start off this morning?”

To which Dr. Senge replied, “Well, Brian, you’re right. I don’t normally speak to pastors. Actually I was thinking about that very question yesterday when I was in a large bookstore. I asked the bookstore manage what the most popular books are these days. Most popular, he said, were books about how to get rich in the new information economy, which didn’t surprise me.”

A ripple of laughter gave Brian a moment of relief. Dr. Senge continued, “Second most popular, the manager said, were books about spirituality, and in particular, books about Buddhism. And so when I thought about speaking to five hundred Christian pastors today, I thought I’d begin by asking you all a question: why are books on Buddhism so popular, and not books on Christianity?”

Brian thought to himself, “Great. Not only did I have to pose questions to a face on the screen, but now I had to field one from him as well. I managed to recover enough to punt the question back to him.” “Well, Dr. Senge,” I said, trying not to sound as clumsy as I felt, “how would you answer that question?”

He replied, “I think it’s because Buddhism presents itself as a way of life, and Christianity presents itself as a system of belief. So I would want to get Christian ministers [and I would add all Christians, not just ministers] thinking about how to rediscover their own faith as a way of life, because that’s what people are searching for today. That’s what they need most.”

That story struck me as very true. We really suffer as Christians when we turn our faith into just a set of statements to believe in, and forget that our faith is meant to be a way of life. Our life is supposed to come to reflect more and more the example of Jesus’ life.

When we cut ourselves off from the spiritual applications that are meant to incorporate our faith into a way of life, we are like an anemic plant that doesn’t get the right amounts of nutrients, sunlight and water in order to grow strong, and to its full potential. We get weak, run down, wilt or wither away.

Moses was one of the persons in the bible who got pretty good at spiritual applications during his lifetime. But it wasn’t always that way. When he was young, he was raised by Egyptians, who worshiped many gods, even though he knew he was an Israelite by birth.

Moses had a pretty hot temper when he was young. You remember that time he saw an Egyptian abusing a Hebrew slave? His reaction was rash; he struck the Egyptian and killed him. When he was found out, he ran for his life into the wilderness. There he stayed for 40 years while God shaped and molded him into someone who could really be used by God.

Of course, one spiritual application that Christians practice is solitude. Waiting upon God in solitude is an important way that we can get ourselves quiet enough to hear God speak.

Those applications we use on smart phones are great, but they can sometimes just add to the noise and the information overload in our lives that make it harder and harder for us to slow down enough to hear God. When we practice solitude, we begin to get quiet enough to hear God’s voice.

When God called Moses to go up the mountain, he said, “Come up to me on the mountain, and wait.”

Moses went up the mountain, and the glory of the Lord covered the mountain. And Moses waited six days before the Lord called out to him.

Moses had a lot of practice being in solitude. The life of a shepherd way out in the wilderness for forty years will do that for you. And here on the mountain with God is another good example.

Please note that solitude is a “practice.” Like any other spiritual application or practice, if you want to get better at it you have to practice. That’s the only way to get better.

In January of 1997 a friend of mine decided that he wanted to run in the Columbus Marathon that year. He had been a runner for a long time, but he’d never raced a distance any longer than a half marathon. He knew enough that to double a race distance from 13.1 miles to 26.2 miles was not possible without some planning and practice.

Slowly, he added mileage to his training routine. Seven mile runs; ten mile runs; fifteen mile runs. He even ran a couple of twenty mile training runs.

He remembers that he really had to plan for those training runs during the summer months. He carefully plotted his practice runs so that he would pass a water fountain every few miles; he didn’t want to overheat or dehydrate. He also planned the courses so that he was never more than a few miles from home, so that if he would became ill while out for the training run, he wouldn’t be stranded far away from home.

By the time the marathon happened in November, that practice paid off, in that he hit the goal time that he had been shooting for all year.

It’s like that with anything that is worth doing.

If you want to get better at swimming, you have to practice swimming.

If you want to play the violin better, you have to practice the violin.

If you want to beat Ohio State, you really need to practice.

If you want to get better at solitude, you have to practice solitude.

If you want to get better at prayer, you have to practice praying.

Scripture tells us that when Moses entered the cloud of God’s glory on the mountain, he remained there for forty days and for forty nights. Again, that is a long time to be alone with God. But it’s when we practice spending time with God alone, that we are able to find our way again.

Something similar happens in the transfiguration of Jesus story too, right?

Jesus invites three of the disciples to go up a mountain with him.
This wasn’t unusual. Jesus often made time to go off to a quiet place alone or bring some of the disciples with him. Throughout the gospels we read about times when Jesus went off by himself to pray, or to be alone in God’s presence.

While Jesus, Peter, James and John were on the mountain, Jesus was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, and his face shone like the sun. The disciples had a very special encounter with Jesus on that mountain, just like Moses had a very special encounter with God.

The event was so moving and inspiring for the three disciples that they wanted to stay on the mountain, offering to build dwelling places so they would be able to stay there.

For two thousand years, Christians have been using many different spiritual applications to draw closer to God in Jesus Christ.

I realize that I am using the word, “application” here, and that it’s not a term often associated with these practices.

More often than not, we talk about spiritual practices, or disciplines. John Wesley often referred to these spiritual apps as the means of grace.

But I think the term application has some merit.

Wikipedia defines a computer application as something designed to help the user to perform singular or multiple related specific tasks. It helps to solve problems in the real world. Likewise, spiritual applications are meant to help us with the problems and challenges we face in life.

Webster’s dictionary also provides a great example of the use of the word, “application” in a sentence: Repeated application of fertilizer will help the grass become green and healthy. This reminds me of the anemic plant example I shared with you a little earlier.

During the upcoming season of Lent which is the time leading up to Easter we have the awesome opportunity to find our way again and to spend time with God in an intentional way.

During this time, we’ll be taking a closer look at some of the spiritual applications that God has provided for us. We’ll learn what some of them are and how they can help us reconnect with God.

Here are a few that we’ll be looking at in deeper detail:

Next Sunday, we’ll begin by exploring the spiritual app of fasting. We’ll see some of the ways that it is used properly as a spiritual discipline, and some misconceptions that we often have about it.

A pastor recently told me about a time in his life when he felt a calling from God to make a career change and enter ordained ministry about thirteen years ago. This major decision that would significantly impact his family’s life led him to fast and pray in order to confirm this calling. He said how fasting was difficult for him to do at first, but that it helped him to really focus on listening for God’s voice.

During week two of Lent, we’ll look at Sabbath as an important spiritual app. Having a day to rest one day a week is not a commandment just for the sake of being a commandment. Practicing the Sabbath is a way that we can reconnect with God on a weekly basis.

Prayer is a probably one of the more familiar spiritual apps we will be focusing on but it’s also one that many of us want to use more in our day to day lives. There are aspects of prayer that can help us such as different postures of prayer; different kinds of prayer; and different ways to pray.

We’ll also delve a little deeper into the spiritual app of Holy Communion. John Wesley, the founder of Methodism believed that Christians should receive Holy Communion as often as possible. We’ll learn how this means of grace shapes our Christian life.

We’ll spend a couple weeks looking at a couple of applications that we don’t talk about very much. One of those is the calendar – the Christian calendar that is meant to keep us in rhythm with God throughout the year.

And we’ll also take a look at another practice we don’t talk about much, and that is the practice of making a spiritual pilgrimage.

I am planning to practice at least one small aspect of each of these applications during Lent. My hope is that I will learn something new about myself, something new about my Christian faith, and something new about God by doing so. I hope you will join me on this journey. It will be interesting if all of us share with each other what we are learning through these applications, and how practicing these disciplines is helping us go deeper in our relationships with Christ and with each other.

On this Transfiguration Sunday, we are invited to spend the next 40 days on the mountain with God and experience a transformation in our lives like we have never experienced before.

I invite you to pray for me and I will pray for you that together we will grow in what it means to be true disciples of Jesus Christ.
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