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

Monday, May 30, 2011

A Memorial Day Prayer

Collect of the Day: Memorial Day
Lord God Almighty, who have made all peoples of the earth for your glory, to serve you in freedom and peace: Grant to the people of our country a zeal for justice and the strength of forbearance, that we may use our liberty in accordance with your gracious will; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - June 5

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

Features - Music Sunday, Ascension Sunday, & Holy Communion

Scripture - Genesis 11:1-9 & Isaiah 66:1-2a, 18

Theme - This is our annual Music Sunday in which our worship services include lots of singing and special music as we celebrate God's amazing grace.

Friday, May 27, 2011

A Brayden Tackett Story

On this day last week, I joined two other pastors in officiating for the funeral of seven year old, Brayden Tackett.  Brayden and I first met on Thursday, January 20.  That was the day I baptized him at his home.  I'll never forget that day when this young boy who  knew that his days were numbered stared intently at the lit baptism candle and his baptism cross.  I was representing First United Methodist Church as I said those powerful words of our identity in Jesus Christ, "Brayden, I baptize you in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit."

As meaningful as that day was, there was another day I spent with Brayden that I will never forget.  I was about ready to leave from my visit with him and Brayden said something really nice about me.  I responded, "Brayden, why are you so nice?"

Without missing a beat, the quick thinking 2nd grader said, "God made me this way.  And he made you that way, too."

As I prepare to celebrate a baptism this Sunday, I will remember those words from Brayden, "God made you that way, too."  We were made in God's image to love God and to love others.

Remember your baptism and be thankful.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Bible Study Summary - Sunday's Upcoming Scriptures

May 29 Sermon – “Every Time I Think of You: Your Seal of the Holy Spirit”

Ephesians 1:3-14

-          This letter begins with a prayer that celebrates the larger story of God transforming the world.  Until we celebrate this larger story are we able to celebrate the small stories which include us. 

-          Verses 4-6 tell us that people of the Messiah have been chosen by grace.    What does this mean about free will/predestination?  It’s God’s grace that enables us to choose!  Our salvation is an important story but the bigger story is God’s desire to rescue all of creation.  We are chosen so that God can work through us. 

-          Underneath this opening prayer of Ephesians is the Exodus story.  Just as God chose Moses to rescue Israel/the world, God chooses us to participate in God’s rescue plan of the world. 

-          Verses 7-10 – The story of Passover is in Paul’s mind here.  The key words here are “rescue” and “deliverance.”  This has been accomplished through Jesus. When we worship, we retell this wonderful story and celebrate God’s rescue and victory over sin and death.

-          Verses 11-14 – In the ancient/Jewish world, an inheritance included land which you could not sell.  In the biblical story, the inheritance from God was the Promised Land of Canaan. 

-          Like the Israelites wandering in the wilderness on their way to their inheritance, the church wanders on its way to our inheritance. 

-          What is our inheritance?  Heaven?  It’s the whole world and not just Canaan!  The church is a symbol of this inheritance.  The Holy Spirit is our guarantee that the inheritance is a gift from God.  Like the cloud/fire that led the Israelites in the wilderness, the Spirit leads us.  The Spirit doesn’t just guide us but also is part of the inheritance!  The Spirit is the presence of God in our day to day living until that day when God will be fully revealed throughout all of creation.  The Spirit is the down payment of our inheritance.  It’s a commercial metaphor to make a point. 

-          If you knew you were to receive a vast inheritance, what would you do?  Our response is worship, praise and thanksgiving.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

I Have a New Date for Harold Camping - It's November 27

Harold Camping of Family Radio International has a new end of the world date.  It's now October 21.  Evidently, this past Saturday was "an invisible judgment day."  We figured there would be a new date.  These kinds of predictions never end.  Notice that his dates fall during seasons of the year when hurricanes/tornadoes are more frequent.

I know what Harold is trying to do.  He wants people to confess their sins and get saved.   The problem with announcing a date when Jesus will return is that scripture is very clear that nobody knows exactly when this will happen.  Prepare, yes.  Predict, no.  Secondly, it becomes another energy drainer as people focus on another particular date rather than on bringing transformation to our communities and world in the here and now.

I have a better date for Harold Camping to offer his focus.  Forget October 21.  It's November 27, the beginning of the four week Advent season which helps us to prepare for the coming of Jesus into the world (both his birth celebration and his second coming.) 

Advent is a season of waiting, confession, anticipation, repenting, serving the poor and needy, and being ready for the appearing of Jesus.  Since most Christians downplay Advent and use those four weeks as an early celebration of Christmas, Harold would do a wonderful service by appearing before a press conference and saying, "It  has come to my attention that the church already has a date for us to prepare for the coming of Jesus and it's Sunday, November 27, the beginning of the Season of Advent.  I call on everyone on that date and for the four weeks following to repent and prepare for the second coming of Jesus Christ."

Harold - If you're reading this post, I hope to see you on CNN tonight.

Monday, May 23, 2011

A Church Member's Question

Here is a question a church member recently sent to me for my response.  I'd be interested in other ways of responding as well.

I have a question that I would like for you to answer from a Pastor's perspective and also a theologian's perspective, Several times the last couple of weeks, different people have told me that they will keep me in their "thoughts and prayers". How many of these people do you think actually do that? Or has this just become a statement that we use without thinking about what we are really saying and what it may mean to the person you said it to. This has been bothering me and I would like to know what you think of this statement. I know that I keep a list of who I have said this to so that I can remember to pray for them. If I didn't, I would forget and then I think how hurtful it was to that person to not follow through. I look forward to your response.

My Response:  Thanks for the question.  This is one I personally struggle with a lot as a pastor.  I receive many prayer requests often when I'm moving from one thing to another without time to write down the prayer request on a piece of paper.  After I get home, I try to think back to conversations and write down any prayer requests that were mentioned but the best method by far is to write it down when I'm with the person. 

Another approach which is my favorite is to pray with the person right there on the spot.  Even a brief 20 second prayer can be a powerful and holy moment as we offer to God the joy or concern.

If I get a prayer request via an e-mail or through facebook, I will often type out a prayer and send to the person and we can share in a cyber prayer.  One of the big advantages of this method is that the person can refer to this prayer again and again.

I use the daily office prayers based on the Anglican/Episcopal calendar.  This includes daily prayers that touch on a variety of topics such as those who are unemployed, those who are serving in the military, and every Monday morning, it includes a prayer for those who are facing medical challenges.  I will insert several names of people in my church including other friends and family members who are in need of God's healing touch.  The Daily Office method is a built in way of helping me to have a wholistice prayer life.

While I recognize that we are only human and it's inevitable that we will forget to pray for someone, I think it's important to find ways to fulfill our promise.  Sadly, I think we too often say comments like, "I'll pray for you," when we know full well that we do not have a method in place to help us to actually remember to pray. 

Maybe there's some other helpful ways that people can share.

How would you respond to this person's question?

Sunday, May 22, 2011

The Bible Always By Your Side

YouVersion is a free online bible for smart phones.  While I have already purchased the bible for my blackberry through Olive Tree, I also really like this smart phone bible.  And it's free!  There are several bible translations from which to choose including the NIV and The Message.  Sadly, it does not offer the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which we use at First UMC.

Once you choose a bible translation, the navigation is extremely easy.  In a matter of seconds, you can locate a book of the bible or a specific biblical verse.  There's also a word search feature.  It gives you font choices including size to fit your needs.  And, some of the translations include an audio reading.

During the sermon at our clergy session last week, the District Superintendent who spoke, was reading verses throughout his message with his smart phone bible.  One of our staff members likes to use her smart phone bible during the reading of scripture on Sunday mornings.  She's always concerned that someone might think she's really playing solitaire or angry birds when she's really reading along with her electronic bible.

Hey, whatever works for you!

Sunday Worship Preview - May 29

Sunday, May 29 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, June 1 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Every Time I Think of You: Your Seal of the Holy Spirit"

Features - 7th Sunday of Easter, Graduate Recognition, Holy Baptism (11 A.M.), & Memorial Day Weekend

Scripture - Ephesians 1:1-14

Theme - We are in looking at the opening of four of Paul's letters to various churches in this sermon series. Today, we focus on Paul's letter to the Christians in Ephesus and how he reminded them that they have been given the seal of the Holy Spirit. 

Friday, May 20, 2011

Wright On!

The next time you write a note or a letter to someone, remember the name of Alcuin (England, 8th century A.D.)  He is the one who is credited with creating this style of writing of ease in communication through connecting letters together.

Also, if you believe that education is important for a strong society as well as for a growing faith, think of Alcuin.  He established several schools and what is kinown as "scriptoria" which is the copying of ancient secular and religious manuscripts for preservation.

Since today (May 20) is when we celebrate Alcuin's feast day on the calendar of Christian saints, you  might want to read a book or write that letter of encouragement you've been intending to write. 

Almighty God, who in a rude and barbarous age raised up your deacon Alcuin to rekindle the light of learning: Illumine our minds, we pray, that amid the uncertainties and confusions of our own time we may show forth your eternal truth, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Bible Study Summary - Sunday's Upcoming Scriptures

May 22 Sermon – “Every Time I Think of You: Your Growth Through Adversity”

II Thessalonians 1:3-5, 11-12

-         By the time of this letter, Paul has gone to Beroea, Athens, and is probably in Corinth when this letter is written.  In each place, Paul boasts about the faith of the church in Thessalonika.  This actually helps the other churches to recognize Paul as an apostle. 

-         The Thessalonian Christians were a community centered around the good news of Jesus Christ.  Together, they were able to face the troubles that resulted in living out their faith.

-         Verse 5 – “God’s righteous judgment” – a phrase which means that there will be a judgment day for the evil people have done.

-         In Jewish understanding, the Jewish Messiah would usher in this time of judgment. 

-         Since Jesus is the Messiah, the world is already reacting to God’s kingdom being made known through churches like the one in Thessalonika. 

-         A question for us today is, “Is our church being faithful to Christ to the point where the community see us as strange?”

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. This is his final devotional this season and will begin again in the fall.

Sometimes when you are in a hurry,

it's the best time to slow down.

A few years ago,

I was on my way to meet with a parishioner

for a evening counseling appointment.

I was pressed for time

but thought I had just enough time

to drop off my dry cleaning

before the store closed.

At that time,

I was transitioning to a new vehicle,

actually a used car that had been my mother's.

But she had reached the season of life

where she was no longer able to drive,

and so I had become the owner.

The car was very new to me,

and it still had some of my mother's items in it,

mixed in with things that belonged to me.

In my busyness

I thought,

I need to clean out this car.

Great, another thing to do on my long list.

It was the middle of winter

and it was dark

by the time that I left the house.

On my way to the cleaners,

my mind was filled with thoughts

anticipating the counseling session.

Because it was the middle of winter

my lips felt very dry.

I reached for my chap stick

to ease the dryness.

I began to grumble about winter.

Knowing that I had no time to spare,

I ran into the dry cleaners.

The attendant spoke very little English,

but she knew what I wanted

and so we were able to

do what we needed to do.

As I left,

I realized I would just make it

to the church on time and started to relax a bit.

I began to think about the dry cleaning attendant

and how friendly she was.....

she had a huge smile on her face,

big enough to light up the world.

I began to ponder how busy and agitated

I must have appeared to her\,

and yet she kept smiling at me.

I then began to think

about the parishioner

with whom I was about to meet.

She was a deeply troubled woman,

and I couldn't help think about

the stark contrast between her

and the dry cleaning attendant.

I reached the church

just moments before the parishioner.

I heard her enter the office

as I was in the next room getting a cup of water.

I was praying that

I would be used in this session

to help her through this troubled time.

As I came into the room,

I looked at her and greeted her.

She looked at me

and she burst out laughing.

So much for being troubled,

I thought.

Then she said to me,

I'm not sure that shade of red is your color.

I ran to the mirror

and saw that what I had thought was chap stick,

had been my mother's lipstick.

Then I realized why the attendant

had been grinning from ear to ear.

Sometimes when you are hurried,

you need to slow down.

And sometimes,

when you feel harried,

you need to stop and take time

and just laugh at whatever is attempting

to burden your soul.

Who knows......

maybe if you do exactly that,

it will bring a smile to someone else's face.

"Then our mouth was filled with laughter,
and our tongue with joyful shouting;
Then they said among the nations,
'The Lord has done great things for us.
We are glad!' "

Psalm 126: 2-3

Have a great summer
filled with many moments of laughter and grace!

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

What Do United Methodists Believe? - Distinctive Emphases

Our United Methodist Church website includes excellent summaries of United Methodist beliefs.  This blog series is meant to inform as well as encourage discussion and spiritual growth.  Let's look at each set of beliefs one at a time and ask ourselves, "Does this describe my foundational beliefs as a follower of Jesus Christ?"

Distinctive Emphases
Wesley and the early Methodists were particularly concerned about inviting people to experience God’s grace and to grow in their knowledge and love of God through disciplined Christian living. They placed primary emphasis on Christian living, on putting faith and love into action. This emphasis on what Wesley referred to as "practical divinity" has continued to be a hallmark of United Methodism today.

The distinctive shape of our theological heritage can be seen not only in this emphasis on Christian living, but also in Wesley's distinctive understanding of God's saving grace. Although Wesley shared with many other Christians a belief in salvation by grace, he combined them in a powerful way to create distinctive emphases for living the full Christian life.

Monday, May 16, 2011

Mr. Quarter Man

Every once in a while, Mr. Quarter Man will slip me a quarter or two as I'm walking by during some church event. One night after getting home from church, I checked my pockets only to find a quarter and an OSU golf tee in my pocket!

How did that happen? Am I that oblivious to people dropping things into my pocket? Oh, that's right. Mr. Quarter Man was at the event. It definitely was him!

Yesterday after one of the worship services, I'm shaking hands at the door as people are leaving. A very nice lady who I didn't recognized shook my hand and said how much she enjoyed the service. As she took away her hand, a quarter fell to the floor. I politely picked it up thinking that it was her quarter which she dropped by mistake.

As soon as I handed it to her, she gave it right back to me and said, "No, this is your quarter." I said, "Are you sure?" Just then, the next person who was with this lady also handed me a quarter. And then the next person. Mr. Quarter Man was up to his tricks again! He planned this whole thing out during the worship service with his relatives who were visiting him from out of town.

Why did this man become Mr. Quarter Man? This is proof that some people do listen to the sermon. I preached a sermon in the fall of 2009 about how I have a problem hoarding quarters. It was my stewardship sermon. Below is an exerpt from this sermon.

And I just want Mr. Quarter Man to know that the four quarters I received from his family members are being donated to the church. I think by giving me these quarters, he has helped me to become a more generous giver.

Thanks, Mr. Quarter Man! But if it's ok with you, I'd like to keep that golf tee!

From the November 8, 2009 sermon, "Big Spender" by Pastor Robert McDowell

I’m not sure why I’m as fixated as I am with quarters. Perhaps it was that time when I was in a major city, pulled into an open parking spot along a busy street, only to find out that the parking meter only took quarters, something I didn’t have at the time.

Or maybe, it’s because you never know when you want to buy a newspaper on the spur of the moment. And you just never know when you might have a hankering for one of those giant size gum balls. What if you didn’t have a quarter in your pocket? That would be terrible.

Whatever my issues are, I just don’t like to part with my precious quarters. And here I thought I was a big spender!

Maybe this is why I am enthralled with this story of the widow and the two copper coins from Mark’s Gospel.

As Jesus is teaching, he decides to do a little people watching with his disciples. They were sitting across from where the Temple treasury was located. The Temple treasury was most likely a large box that had a little opening at the top of it for people to place their money to support the work of the Temple.

It was out in the open where the crowds would walk, so this would have been a great location for Jesus and his disciples to do some people watching. Picture crowds walking by and once in a while someone stepping up to this treasury box to drop in some money.

Evidently, while they were watching all of this, they would spot a few people who had a lot of money to drop into the box. And because they had so much money to donate, they would stand there for a long time dropping in one coin at a time. But obviously, they didn’t give away everything they had, because they were wearing the nicest clothes and they probably had plenty of money to eat at the finest restaurant later that day.

I can’t help but to think that the disciples would have been impressed as they sat there watching all of the rich people putting large sums of money into the Temple treasury. Who knows, maybe the disciples were feeling a little envious as they watched this impressive display of wealth and charitable giving taking place before their eyes.

As one person after another makes their way to drop in their big payments, someone makes her way to the same treasury box and in a very brief moment, she drops in two copper coins, and is lost in the crowd again.

Jesus, who always knew what to look for in a crowd, turns to the disciples, and makes sure they didn’t miss what this unassuming woman had just done. Jesus wanted the disciples to know who the big spender really was during their people watching exercise. It wasn’t the one wearing the nicest clothes and who gave the highest dollar amount. It was the one who gave all that she had to her name. Two copper coins.


New Crossroads Fund Drive - Grace Community Fellowship

This is the video that was part of the May 15 "Every Time I Think of You: Your Faith Known Throughout the World" sermon.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

Sermon (May 15) - "Every Time I Think of You: Your Faith Known Throughout the World"

During this sermon series, I have an image in mind of the Apostle Paul not being able to sleep at night. He’s not able to sleep because he always seems to want to say at least one more prayer for each of the churches under his care.

This is not unlike the nursing home resident who has pictures of her family members all over her wall and on top of her dresser to help her remember to pray for them by name throughout the day. I sometimes wonder just how many prayers each of them receive on any given day.

During this sermon series, we are looking at four different New Testament letters that the Apostle Paul wrote to various churches to let them know that he has been thinking of them and praying for them as they continue to grow in their relationship with Jesus Christ. Praying and offering encouragement to someone is a beautiful gift that God has given us so that we can be a blessing to others. And the Apostle Paul excelled in using this gift.

Encouragement and prayer can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

Theodor was an artist of sorts. He drew cartoons for a living but he wasn't getting anywhere. So, he decided to try his hand at writing and illustrating children's books. After twenty-seven rejections of his book entitled, "A Story No One Can Beat," he was ready to give up. On his way home to burn his manuscript, Theodor ran into an old schoolmate who had just been hired as a children's book editor at Vanguard Press. He suggested that Theodor change his title. The name of his book was, "To think it Began on Mulberry Street." Fortunately it finally made it to press.

Thus began the career of the best-selling children's author of all time, Theodor Seuss Geisel, better known as Dr. Seuss. In addition to winning the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1984, he was also awarded eight honorary degrees.

When Dr. Seuss died at the age of 87, his books had sold more than 200 million copies. What made the difference was a kind suggestion and some much needed encouragement from an old friend.

I had a friend who used to put brief encouraging notes in places where he knew that I would find them. And they always seemed to appear just when I really needed that extra reminder that someone was praying for me.

This morning, we turn our attention to Paul’s letter to the Christians in Rome. In the opening chapter of his letter, Paul writes, “First, I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.”

What a wonderful thing to be known for - a faith that is having an impact throughout the world. And this is what Paul is saying about the Christians in Rome. He is encouraging them by reminding them of the many ways they are extending their faith.

Many of us know about the Westboro Baptist Church located in the state of Kansas. They were in the Columbus news this past week. Westboro Baptist church is known for protesting at the funerals of military and governmental leaders across the country. They believe that these deaths are a judgment from God because of our country’s openness to homosexuality.

The messages on their protest signs are extremely rude and hurtful and they do all of this in the name of Jesus Christ. On their website a few months ago, I read where they have led 44,961 pickets in 816 cities.

A friend of mine and I were talking about this church after one of their protests and she pointed out something very interesting to me. She said, “Isn’t it something that this is just a little church of 50 or 60 members and just look at how well known they are throughout the country.”

And then she said, “Even though their message is one of hatred, think about the sacrifice those church members are willing to make to travel all across the country; the cost of the plane tickets, the meals, the cost of lodging, and all of the planning in preparation for these protests.”

My friend was making a good point that if this one little church can become that well known for the wrong reasons, just think what a difference a church can make in our world for all of the right reasons!

I think of Westboro Baptist Church and their 60 or so members and all of the harm that this one little church has caused others. And then I think of the church in Rome which was probably about the same size church when Paul was writing his letter to them.

In Paul’s day, Rome would have been a city of around a million people and imagine a church of no more than a hundred people meeting in peoples’ homes located in the poorer areas of the city. And yet, because of their tremendous commitment and deep faith, Paul reminds them of that their influence has been extended throughout all the world.

I think that this is a good illustration of how much influence the church can have. Jesus talked about having the faith the size of a mustard seed which is the smallest of all the seeds. When Jesus began his ministry, he only started with twelve disciples. And yet, look at how that small ministry in Palestine made it all of the way to Rome in just a short amount of time. And from Rome, that small church was having a huge impact on the world around them.

A banker was talking to a business acquaintance who had a heart for her community but expressed frustration that it feels like there are just too many non-profit choices from which to choose. She explained her frustration to her friend, “Do I really need to write all of these checks each year to all of these places?”

The banker who happened to be United Methodist said to her, “Well, that’s why I like giving to the church I attend, because I know that my money will be used to help people in a number of different ways, everything from helping homeless and food ministries to supporting colleges and hospitals to helping our own youth group go on a mission trip.”

As I think about that conversation, I remember reading how our denomination has missionaries serving throughout the world in 125 countries. And the list goes on and on with how our faith is known throughout the world in a variety of ways.

Whenever we read about a natural disaster like a flood or an earthquake, it’s incredible to remember how our own United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is more times than not, already present providing our support and assistance in the name of Jesus Christ. It’s a wonderful thing when the church is known throughout the world for the right reasons.

Paul refers to the faith of those Roman Christians. By faith, he is referring to their belief that God has sent us a Savior, Jesus Christ who lived, and died, and rose again and invites us through the Holy Spirit to bring transformation and hope to our world.

This past January, I was interviewed on a local radio station and the person who interviewed me went on and on about all of the good things our church does in the community. He gave several examples, many of them recent examples of how we are serving Christ in a lot of different ways.

And then he said, “Well, you are the city on the hill, right? Just like Jesus said. Your church is a light to the world.”

On one hand, he was referring to our location at the top of the hill on the corner of Wheeling and High Streets. Even more importantly, he was making a theological statement that our church is shining the light of Jesus throughout our community.

Like Paul in his letter to the Christians in Rome, I want to say to the Christians who gather on High and Wheeling Streets every Sunday morning, “I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.”

First United Methodist Church, you are a city on a hill! You are the light of the world! You are a church that is involved in over one hundred ministries that help us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

You are a church that serves meals to the hungry and delivers fruit and cookies to people in our community just to brighten their day.

You offer God’s love through creative ministries such as clowning, magic, and puppets.

You call on people at the hospital and offer a scripture and prayer.

You provide gently used children’s coats, and Christmas gifts for families in need. You serve meals at Foundation Dinners and help at the Shelter. You work at Habitat for Humanity. And you deliver supplies to our partner elementary school.

You sing in the choir and greet people at the door. You work in the nursery and at the book table. You design worship banners and serve as fellowship hosts between services. You travel to other states and to other countries to serve on mission teams. You lead small groups, bible studies, and Sunday School classes. You serve as confirmation mentors. You volunteer to serve as a receptionist during the week.

“I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.”

You are a city on a hill. You are a light to the world.

For the past six years, your faith has been proclaimed throughout our community thanks to the ministries and events held at our Crossroads facility on West Fair Avenue. I want to take a moment to share one of those remarkable stories of faith with you.

Many of you will remember that it was about this same time last year when we had informed the congregation about a significant financial shortfall in our church’s operating budget. That shortfall meant that we needed to reduce several of our staff positions. One of the staff positions that got eliminated was our full time Associate Pastor position.

Since Crossroads is a state of the art multi-purpose building and is located in another part of town, we felt that God was calling us to begin a new worship service there on Sunday mornings. We were planning on having the person in the Associate Pastor position to become the point person for this new worship service. But because of our need to reduce staff, we had to put that vision of a new worship service on hold.

Not too long after we made the decision to reduce our staff, our Bishop called me on the phone just to touch base. And I remember telling him that I was disappointed that we weren’t going to be able to get that new worship service going because of our staff reductions.

And I’ll never forget what he said to me over the phone. He said, “Well, don’t give up, because there just might be someone in your congregation who could begin a new worship service at some point. You never know how God might be at work.”

That was in late May when the Bishop called me to offer those words of hope and encouragement. Six months after that phone call, a new church here in Lancaster that was only a few weeks old contacts us to see about renting our Crossroads facility to hold worship services.

There was a little part of me that wondered, “Is this how God might be answering this prayer. It’s not how I had envisioned it, but who knows.” So in the middle of December, our church entered into a temporary usage agreement with Grace Church to use Crossroads on Sunday mornings for worship. But that’s not the end of the story.

After only about a week or two of this arrangement, I’m walking through the church parlor and I see Jeff Graf who attends our church. He has his bible open and he’s making notes. So I ask him what he’s working on. And this is a moment I will never ever forget. He said, “Robert, God works in mysterious ways. I’m now the preacher for the new church that’s been meeting out at Crossroads.”

I can’t even begin to tell you what I felt in that moment! God was answering our prayers.

Since that conversation with Jeff, our church has decided to enter into a more long-term relationship with Grace Church and we have started to partner together in some of our ministries.

We don’t know where this partnership might lead, but it’s truly an answer to prayer to know that Crossroads is a place that is reaching people for Jesus Christ.

Larry Rogers has been serving as the contact person for Grace Community and we have a video of Larry thanking our church for our new partnership with them.


God certainly does work in mysterious ways!

And to First United Methodist Church, thank you for all of your prayers and financial gifts that make ministries like this possible through our Crossroads ministry.

“I thank my God through Jesus Christ for all of you, because your faith is proclaimed throughout the world.”

The guy at the radio station was right. You are a city on a hill and a light to the world.

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - May 22

May 22 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, May 25 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Every Time I Think of You: Your Growth Through Adversity"

Features - 6th Sunday of Easter & Crossroads Celebration Sunday

Scripture - Acts 7:55-60 & II Thessalonians 1:3-5, 11-12

Theme - We are in looking at the opening of four of Paul's letters to various churches in this sermon series. Today, we focus on Paul's 2nd letter to the Christians in Thessalonica and how he affirmed them for how they were able to grow in their faith even through a lot of adversity.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

A Day with Dr. Walter Brueggemann

Walter Brueggemann: United Theological Seminary, Dayton, OH, Heck Lectures -The OT & Food Fight In the Bible - 5/11/11

1st Lecture:
Monopoly: Accountability for the Food Fight

Egypt & Pharaoh - Because of famine in Gen. 12, Israel goes to Egypt. Become slaves because they were desperate for food.

Joseph Story - Ironic that the nightmare came to Pharaoh who had the most food! Goes to a Jew for an answer to the dream.

Law of Stewardship - People who have the most, have more anxiety.

Joseph becomes Egypt's food czar.

Anxiety to accumulation to monopoly to violence.

Deut. 17 - Charter for kingship: Kings should not accumulate!

I Sam. 8 - A warning that a king will take and accumulate.

I Kings 3-11 - Solomon borrowed from Egyptian governance. Seen as the great accumulator. Set up tax districts to support Solomon's luxurious lifestyle!

Israel is playing out the Egyptian model of anxiety, accumulation, monopoly, violence.

Solomon used forced labor of the Israelites. Economy was coercive.

I Kings 6:20 - Construction of Temple. Solomon used gold.
7:49 -
10:23 - Whole earth came to Solomon, like Israel had come to Egypt for food.

Amos 6:4 - Judgment on accumulation and self indulgence. "Therefore" in the prophets means you need to duck! You will go into exile.

Isaiah 3 - Anticipating exile. On that day, the Lord will take away all of the luxury items! There are 5 "insteads" that point to an economic reversal. This is poetry to point out the economy cannot be sustained.

Ezekiel 16:49 - Jerusalem's twin city is Sodom. Sodom's problem is how they are accumulating food. The phrase, "to eat" is used in talking about how Babylon will eat Israel.

Daniel - Begins with empire having a banquet. Invite important people. They see the hand writing on the wall - literally! By end of chapter, the king is dead.

These OT texts should be used by the church to speak out against accumulation. And it's all about food.

New Testament
Mark 2:16 - Jesus is at a party and Jesus is criticized. He was violating food laws that maintain food control. Maintaining a monopoly! The longer you're on the inside, the more you forget those on the outside.

Luke 12 - Person comes to Jesus about who should get the farm. Jesus tells a story about a farmer who kept building bigger barns. This farmer started speaking to himself. A voice spoke a word of judgment against the rich farmer.

End of 1st Lecture

2nd Lecture
Community: Abundant Food Practiced as Astonished Gratitude

To overcome the scarcity food fight for a more just world:

1. Reaffirm that God is the good creator.
2. Doxology helps us to be grateful and share our food with others. Helps us to break the bonds of anxiety. See Psalm 104/148/150
Psalm 104 is a great table prayer to say before we eat.
3. Sabbath. The hardest of the 10 commandments. Turn off the electronics that day. God rested because God knew that the world would continue on its own for one day.
Sabbath is about refreshment of the soul. Hebrew word for self is "nephish" which should not be translated as "soul" which it usually is. When we hear the word, "soul" we usually think of the body/spirit split which is not the Jewish/biblical understanding. Means God got God's self back! Sabbath is for depleted people. A lot of people are fatigued and anxious. People who get their selves refreshed are able to receive God's gifts and are better at making transforming decisions.

Stories of Abundance:
1. Exodus 15, 16 - Israel wants to return to Egypt just after the Red Sea. God sends manna which symbolizes abundance. They try to gather it up like Pharaoh, but it spoiled.

II Kings - Elisha practices God's abundance. No title but he just goes about doing good. Visits a widow who is destitute. God provides the oil. All of this helped her to pay off the mortgage! This isn't just a story about a miracle!

At end of II Kings 4, Elisha sees a hungry group and feeds them with just a little barley bread.

II Kings 6 - War with Syria. Israel wants to kill him. Elisha says no and instead serves them a great feast and this ended the war. Abundant food can stop the war fever!

New Testament
Jesus enacted God's abundance
Mark 6:31-34. Jesus with hungry crowd in wilderness. Jesus performed the OT story of abundance. And there were leftovers.
Mark 8 - Jesus does it again. He took, he thanked, he gave.
Jesus takes them on the boat but they (the disciples) forgot the bread. Jesus chides them for not grasping the theology of abundance.

Mark 6:52 - Disciples didn't understand about the bread because their hearts were hard - a reference to Pharaoh.

The only remedy for us to move from scarcity to abundance is to be overwhelmed by abundance.

1. People who are generous, cheerful, and loving.
2. A seminary invited alum back and provided food, child care, etc.
We need to provide more examples of abundance.

Scarcity always excludes. See national budget debate.

Luke - Jesus said, "Don't be anxious, not even Solomon (only 1 of 2 references) had all of this.". Was the bigger barn fool a reference to Solomon?

II Corinthians - Paul is raising money for the church in Jerusalem. He told them that Jesus became poor, so that many can become rich. Paul quotes Exodus 16 - the story of abundance.

The eucharist is a challenge to a scarcity

Dave's Deep Thoughts

It is said that
he who sings, prays twice,
but what about the organist?

On occasion,
I am asked to substitute for our church organist.
I enjoy the opportunity
but because I do it so little,
I need extra practice to be prepared.

Last Saturday morning,
I came to the church
to prepare music for the service.

Those who know me,
know that I am often accompanied
by my pet dog.

My dog is prone to seizures.
In order to monitor and record the frequency of the seizures,
I keep him with me much of the time.

As I came to practice,
my dog laid beside the organ
and stretched out for a long nap.
Not an easy task......

Napping while a pipe organ is playing
is similar to catching 40 winks
while a marching band parades through the room,
or while a 747 takes off.

But because he spends so much time with me,
he has become very adept
at napping in unusual situations.

Midway through my practice session,
I needed to leave the room for a moment.
My dog was sound asleep
so I decided to leave him there.

While in the hallway
I met someone from the congregation
and began engaging in some conversation.

As we were talking
we began to hear music coming from the organ.

Though the question was not verbalized,
I could read it in my friend's eyes....

If you are here in the hallway,
then who is playing the organ?

A very good question......

The tones were deep,
coming from the pedals.

I didn't try to answer
the unspoken question....

At first the pedal tones seemed random,
and then came 4 or 5 notes
that sounded very much like the tune

"nobody knows the trouble I've seen"

My friend asked,
Is that a student of yours?

Not really, I said
just a friend,
as I heard some more questionable notes
begin to eminate from the pedals.

He needs some practice, I said,
but what I was thinking was,
He needs some opposable thumbs.

I quickly excused myself
back to the organ chamber.

As I opened the door,
there was my dog....
precipitously balanced on the pedals
like a tight rope walker at the circus..

or more like a soldier
trying to navigate his way through a minefield.

He had quickly learned
that each step taken
produced another monstrous sound.

He was trembling with fear.
It's okay, buddy, I said as I lifted him from
his precarious position as phantom of the church.

I used to get scared at music lessons too!

Sometimes we end up where we don't expect to be....

A career path that takes an unexpected twist,
a change of plans to help someone in distress,
a detour on the way to a destination,
a relationship that ends unexpectedly.

When we find ourselves in an unexpected place,
it can be disorienting, and even frightening,

much like four paws on narrow organ pedals.

and sometimes we feel like singing,
nobody knows the trouble I've seen.

But there is someone who knows
exactly what we are going through.

And much like a master lifting his pet out of trouble,
He is there to lift us to a safer place,
a place where the discordant sounds soon turn into sweet music

Therefore I will give thanks to Thee among the nations, O Lord,
and I will sing praises to Thy name.
He gives great deliverance to His children,
and shows lovingkindness to His annointed."

Psalm 18: 49-50a

Sunday, May 8, 2011

Sermon (May 8) - "Every Time I Think of You: Your Work of Faith"

     There is a church that had an amazing impact on its community and region in spite of incredible odds.  The church got its start during a three week period when one of the best known preachers and missionaries in the world came to town.  His work was shoehorned between two other engagements of a much longer duration.

     After three weeks of very powerful ministry, the preacher was forced out of town by a group of local dissidents who complained bitterly to city officials by saying,"These people who have been turning the world upside down have come here also." They were so enraged, that his hosts had to lead him and his assistant out of town under cover of darkness.

     No one would give this church much of a chance to survive, much less have an impact on the world around them.  Three weeks is hardly enough time to unpack a suitcase.  And with only a few committed people to keep things going, what are the odds that a handful of people, brand new to the Christian faith, could build a healthy and growing church?

    Actually, the church not only survived, it became a powerhouse among the earliest churches.  It is the church described in First Thessalonians.  The city of Thessalonica was strategically located at the crossroads of East and West and North and South.  It was one of the major sea ports in the world at the time of Paul's visit.  The city was a very prosperous and thriving urban setting in the first century.  Even today, the modern city of Thessalonica is the second largest city in modern Greece.

     As well as being prosperous and cosmopolitan, Thessalonica was a religious mix with its citizens involved in a multitude of cults and worship of numerous deities.  Most of the people who made up the early Thessalonian church had turned away from their worship of these gods.  

     It’s hard for us to grasp today just how radical this response to the message of the gospel was.  Most people in Paul's world who worshiped the available gods, simply added new deities to their religious life when it suited them.  It was no great thing to simply add another god to the list of those that appealed to their needs.  It was kind of a religious form of, "The more, the merrier.”

     When the believers in Thessalonica first heard the good news that Paul brought to them, they made a radical commitment of their lives to Christ and turned away from all other religious persuasions and practices.  Paul praised them with his words, "...you turned to God from idols..."  They did not simply add Jesus Christ to their list of household gods.  They completely turned away from one way of living and embraced a new way.    

     For the next four Sundays, I invite us to focus on a common way that Paul begins several of his letters to various churches.  He wants the churches to know that he is thinking of them and praying for them and then he offers each church a word of affirmation on how they are being faithful to Christ.

     Today, we focus on his first letter to the Thessalonians when he affirms them for their work of faith.  Next Sunday, we’ll look at his letter to the Romans and how he gave thanks for that church’s faith known throughout the world.  Three Sundays from today, we’ll look at Paul’s second letter to the Thessalonians and how he appreciated their faith in the midst of adversity.  And for the final Sunday, May 29th, we’ll look at Paul’s letter to the Ephesians and Paul’s encouragement to them that they have been given the seal of the Holy Spirit.

     My prayer is that we will be encouraged in our faith as we focus on each of these opening letters of the Apostle Paul.

    For today, we focus on Paul’s words to the Thessalonians of how he is constantly remembering before God their work of faith.  What does it mean for Paul to affirm them for their work of faith?

     By faith, Paul was referring to their new faith in Jesus Christ.  As I mentioned earlier, the church in Thessalonica was a brand new church, probably only a few months old at the time of Paul’s first letter to them. 

     Since this church is only months old, it’s quite a compliment for Paul to be affirming them for their work of faith.  In such a short amount of time, this church is already at a level of faith that is pretty remarkable.

     The church of Thessalonica was living in a culture that couldn’t understand why you would put all of your faith and trust in this one God who was known through the person of Jesus Christ.  You were supposed to blend in with everyone else, not stand out for your particular beliefs.

     Growing in your faith can be difficult work.  Just ask our 7th grade confirmands who have been meeting every Sunday morning for the past several months to learn about important aspects of the Christian faith.

     When I met with the confirmation class for one of their Sunday morning sessions, they were learning about the three different kinds of God’s grace according to John Wesley – prevenient grace, justifying grace, and sanctifying grace.  They spent time thinking about how those three graces are the same and how they are different?  And they also thought about how any of this related to their everyday lives.    

     On another Sunday, they learned about the Wesleyan quadrilateral and how to read and interpret the bible.  They learned that the best way to read the bible is to interpret it in light of tradition, reason, and experience.  Tradition is how the church has interpreted scripture over the centuries.  Reason is how we use our minds to view scriptures from a rationale point of view.  And experience is when we reflect on how our personal experiences in life can help us understand the bible.

     These were not easy topics.  They required study, discipline, and hard work.

     Like our confirmands, the Thessalonians worked at their faith.  They wanted to learn and grow in what it means to be followers of Jesus Christ.

     I meet in a monthly small group with other United Methodist clergy.  Together we read scripture, pray, plan ministries together, and hold each other accountable.  A couple of months ago during one of our gatherings, one of the pastors shared with us his understanding of a particular theological doctrine. 

     He grabbed the large white board in the corner of the room and proceeded to frantically draw a large grid which he then used to explain this complicated doctrine from a variety of theological perspectives.  We all left from that small group meeting feeling like we learned something new.  It was a great feeling to know that we had helped each other grow in our faith.

     I once attended a church growth seminar that was being held at a church that had been experiencing significant growth.  This church offered several mid-week bible study choices.  The leaders of this conference encouraged us to visit one of the bible studies that evening.

     I didn’t really have a preference so I chose a bible study that was at the top of the list.  When I attended this bible study, I remember being a little surprised that they weren’t using any special curriculum.  They were simply using their bibles and reading through the Book of Proverbs.  The leader would read for a while and then ask what people thought about that passage.

     It was that simple!  This bible study reminded me that working at our faith doesn’t have to be complicated and it doesn’t even have to involve any expense.  All we need is a bible and someone who is willing to facilitate the meeting and encourage discussion.

      A Presbyterian pastor tells the story of a youth in her church who was a member of her small group which met a couple of times a month.  They made a commitment to pray for each other in their small group meetings as well as when they were apart from each other.  This was their way to work on their faith.
     At one of their small group meetings, this pastor became vulnerable and shared with the youth that she was nervous about a prayer she was to give at a rather large church convention that would be held later that week.  She said, “I would appreciate it if you would all pray for me because I know I’m going to be really nervous at this big event.”
     The day after this convention, this Presbyterian pastor is sitting down with her family for the evening meal when the phone rings.  It’s one of the youth from her small group.  “Hi pastor.  So how was your prayer yesterday?”  At first, she didn’t know what she was talking about.  After a few moments of thinking what she meant, that’s when she remembered that she had asked the youth in her small group to pray for her.  This youth went on to say, “I was praying for you all week and at the exact time you said that you would probably be giving your prayer at that big meeting.  I just wanted to call and hear how things went for you?”
     And this pastor, so impressed that this young person was that intentional to pray for her said, “I want to thank you for praying for me, because I felt really good about the prayer I gave.  I didn’t feel nervous at all.  It must have been because of your prayers for me.”
     What a difference it makes when we work at our faith and when we are that intentional in being the disciples that God has called us to be.

     This past week, I met with our Lenten small group leaders.  These groups met on a weekly basis during the season of Lent to discuss the previous Sunday’s sermon, to pray, to share, and to encourage one another.

     The small group leaders went on and on about how the people in their groups really enjoyed discussing the sermon topics and getting to know the other people in their group.  We then talked about having some of our small groups continue to meet since they have had such a positive impact.

     One evening, I was walking by one of the lenten small groups, and I could hear people discussing the topic from the Sunday sermon.  As a preacher, it was the best feeling in the world to know that the sermon didn’t simply end that past Sunday morning.  It was still being delivered thanks to the thoughtful conversations of that small group.

     A little later that same evening, I walked by that small group again and now they were offering prayer concerns.  And again, I remember being so thankful that I was a pastor of a church where people look forward to gathering during the week to not only discuss their faith, but to also lift each other up in prayer.

     One of the key ways for churches to grow in their faith is through some type of small group or bible study that meets on a regular basis.
     Our church is blessed to have many of these groups.  In addition to small groups, these include Sunday School classes, bible studies, sisters groups, youth group, as well as other opportunities for growth.

     Like Paul, I thank you for your work of faith.  It’s when we work at our faith that we are able to grow and be the people that God has called us to be.  

     This past week, I received a college graduation invitation from a former confirmand in my previous church.  She will be graduating from Butler University with a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology.

     Also included with this formal graduation invitation was a personal note from her mother.  Here’s what she wrote:

     Dear Robert,

      Not sure if you remember or not…but many years ago you said you believed that Sarah was bound for ministry.

     Well, you were right!  She’s going to work for Young Life full time following graduation.  And perhaps, will have the chance to lead a youth program at an affiliated Presbyterian Church.

     Couldn’t be prouder of this child.

     And then she signed her name.

     Every time I think of Sarah and our confirmands and each of you, I want you to know that I remember you in my prayers and give thanks to God for your work of faith.  Thank you.