A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

"But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory (nikos) through our Lord Jesus Christ." - I Corinthians 15:57

Sunday, September 30, 2012

Update on the Jesus/Wife Coptic Papyrus Fragment

Evidently, things are beginning to unravel regarding the coptic papyrus that vaguely referred to Jesus having a wife.  At this point, signs are definitely pointing to a forgery and possibly a modern forgery.  It's a shame that we live in a culture that is fascinated by conspiracies (ie - Jesus had a wife) but when they are shown to be highly doubtful, this new information doesn't appear on the cover of Time magazine.  

For a brief update, Dr. Craig Evans, a New Testament scholar shares this information on the topic.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Sermon (September 30) - "Extravagant Generosity: Relationships from the Heart"

     Do you like Country and Western songs? Sometimes these are called “somebody-done-somebody-wrong songs.” You might have heard the joke that if you play a country song backwards you get back your truck, your dog, your job, and your wife or husband.    
     Perhaps these lyrics are popular in our culture because they acknowledge our difficulties with relationships, but they also speak from the cynical or negative aspects of our culture.
     In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul encouraged the church to think more positively.  Specifically, Paul encourages us to consistently think on things that are true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable, and praiseworthy (see Philippians 4:8). But our cynical culture makes it hard to focus on these things, doesn’t it? Sometimes, even the church struggles to shift focus from the cynical and negative. That’s why we began a journey last week to consider matters of the heart.
     From the great Shema of the Torah in Deuteronomy to the teaching of Jesus found in John 13, this focus on loving relationship is at the root of the scriptural values of our faith. 
Deuteronomy 6:4-6. Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord alone. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Keep these words that I am commanding you today in your heart. (NRSV)
John 13:34-35. “I give you a new commandment: Love each other. Just as I have loved you, so you also must love each other. This is how everyone will know that you are my disciples, when you love each other.
     In the Christian faith, we attend to the teaching of the Shema
     If it helps any, Jesus found this very difficult throughout his ministry.  At the heart of his ministry was to love people but he encountered all kinds of resistance, especially from his religious peers. 
     When he tried to heal somebody on the Sabbath, somebody complained that he was violating one of the Sabbath laws.  When he tried to touch somebody who was bleeding, they accused him of becoming religiously unclean.  When he talked about loving your enemies, they became angry at him.  Some would say that it was because his heart was totally filled with love for God and neighbor, that people wanted him to be crucified.  When you live in a cynical culture where people are suspicious of each other, it’s kind of hard to follow the ways of Jesus, isn’t it?
     Relationships are a vital part of our spiritual journey.  Today, we thank God for people who have invested in us with their time, guidance, and unconditional love.  Thanks to their extravagant generosity we have been richly blessed. And because of their positive impact, we want to do the same for others.  Relationships that are from the heart are born out of extravagant generosity. 
     A few weeks ago, we sent out a mailing to our congregation that included a card that asked us to list people who have made a difference in our spiritual lives.  It was pure joy for me to read your responses this past week.  Here is a sampling of what I read:
     Parents, Sunday School teachers, and friends.
     The pastors, my Sunday School teachers, youth fellowship leaders, and my family.
     A dear friend who brought me back to my church after a long absence due to living in two different cities for a while.
     Many  members of our church who have been willing to welcome me and discuss problems with me.
     A young adult pastor when I was a young adult.
     All the people who came to see me and all those who prayed for me.
     Women in my Circle study group.  Everyone in my bible study.  They all make a big difference in my spiritual life.
     Small groups we have been involved in over the years.
     Youth leaders in high school, Sunday School teachers, pastors, and people through the Emmaus program.
     Thank you for sharing these with me and there are many others I could have shared.
       One of the greatest joys I have as a pastor it to hear about your faith journey.  Joe Palmer is one of our young adults in the church. He serves on our Staff/Parish Relations Committee.  I’m going to invite Joe to share about the people who have made a difference in his spiritual life.

     Good Morning.

     My name is Joseph Palmer, and most of you probably know me or someone in my family fairly well.

     My parents are Shawn and Ann Palmer and my grandparents are Bill and Betty Whitmore and Carl and Barb Palmer. My mother and here parents, Bill and Betty, all were members of the choir at one time, and and Carl is currently still singing. My father's mother, Barb, rang bells in the bell choir, was the church's wedding coordinator for years, and was a very active member of the clown ministry.

    With such an active church family, I pretty much grew up here. So many memories of my childhood are here at First United Methodist Church. I remember spending my summers in vacation bible school and being ornery in Sunday School.

   I remember performing in the clowns as Carrot Top with my Grandma Palmer. I would explain how carrots come from carrot seeds and i would correlate this with the growth of your faith. Sorry I left the makeup and wig at home today.

  I remember my grandfather' seeing eye dog poking its head out between those curtains on the balcony and then how she would fall asleep during service and her snoring shaking that entire section.

  I remember the Christmas Eve service where I played Joseph in the Christmas pageant. Once I reached the manager on the alter I quickly realized that I was on the wrong side. So what did i do. I simply hiked my robe up and quickly hurdled the baby Jesus to assume my correct position.

  As I got older I went through confirmation and was part of the largest confirmation class in church history. We all became very involved in youth group and Sunday night small groups. With the help of Sam Halverson, youth group leaders like my parents, Bill and Gina Pressler, Tim and Jill Warner, Judy Hug, Hobey and Susie Griset, and others were able to guide and help shape our faith and moral compasses.

  After graduating high school and moving on to college I was thrown into the real world. I met new people from around the country and the world. With the difference in cultures came varying beliefs and faith and then long in depth conversations about beliefs and faiths. Thankfully I was able to keep my faith and morality intact mostly impart due to my upbringing in the church and thanks to the numerous people in who helped guide and shape who I am today.

  However, after graduating from Ohio State I found it hard to find my place here at the church. I'm not a high school kid anymore and I'm not my parents. Becoming a young adult and trying to evolve in the church is not easy after being away for so many years.

  The summer after I returned from school I was asked to serve on the Staff Parish Relations committee. In hind sight, this was the turning point in the continuing growth of my faith as a young adult. Being on Staff Parish brought me closer with individuals on the committee and I finally felt accepted as a young adult member of this church.

  While on Staff Parish , this past Spring I felt the need to be part of the Unbinding Your Heart program. I was not expecting how much I was going to gain from participating. Being able to opening discuss my faith and beliefs and have in depth conversations with other members of the church was an amazing experience. I have never felt so welcomed and respected here. For that I want to personally thank Nancy, Kelly, Dan, Linda, Debbie, Jeff, Ann, Scott, and Regina.

  I want you all to know that your generous financial investment enables the church to move forward, fund ministries that touch lives, and make a difference in our church and community. But more importantly, your generosity is an important way you can express your love for God and grow in your faith.
     Thank you for sharing your faith journey with us, Joe.  Extravagant generosity is all about relationships from the heart.
     Many of you are aware that my mother passed away this past June.  She had dementia over the past several years.  Until the very end of her life, she was able to attend her home church, the Stewartstown United Methodist Church, in Stewartstown, Pennsylvania.  I used to take her to church with me when I would go in to visit.  And yes, we always sat in the same pew.
     The visitation and the funeral service for my mom were both held at the church.  During the funeral visitation, this one lady who appeared to be in her mid 50’s came up to me and said, “You don’t know me but your mom had such a positive impact on my life.  She is why I joined this church a few years ago.”
     She went on to tell me that about five years ago, she attended the church for the first time.  She sat in the same pew as my mom.  During the welcome and greeting time in the service, mom introduced herself and warmly welcomed her to the church.
     She told me that she felt so welcomed because of my mom that she came back the next Sunday.  And again, my mom welcomed her during the greeting time.  Mom didn’t remember her from the previous Sunday, but she again welcomed her and shared her name.
     This happened the following Sunday as well.  And this woman said to me, “It was that Sunday, that somebody explained to me that your mom had dementia which is why she kept forgetting that she had already met me.  But it didn’t matter,” she said.  “Your mom was so sweet to me and I decided to make this my new church home.”
     I thank God for all of the many relationships that are formed in our church.  Those conversations that take place in our parlor in between services, or in Sunday School class, or in the pews during the welcome time, help our church to feel like a family. 
     The teenager that you invited to McDonalds for a coke will never forget how you reached out to them and offered your love and support.  The member you sent a sympathy card to at the death of a loved one is still propped up on the corner of his desk reminding him that his church cares about him.
     These are the ways that we live out the two great commandments that Jesus encouraged us to keep at the center of our faith.  Love the Lord your God with all of your heart, mind, soul, and strength, and your neighbor as yourself.  It’s pretty simple isn’t it?  Relationships are a matter of the heart.  Relationships remind us that we don’t stand alone.  We are here today because of the people who have gone before us and the people who surround us in our faith journey.
     As we continue this second Sunday of our stewardship focus on Extravagant Generosity, many of us are reading through Robert Schnase’s devotional guide, Practicing Extravagant Generosity.
     In the Friday reading of this past week, the author describes how practicing Extravagant Generosity is a basic part of our faith because we ourselves have been recipients of Extravagant Generosity.  Listen to what he writes:
     Every sanctuary and chapel in which we have worshiped, every church organ that has lifted our spirits, every pew where we have sat, every Communion rail where we have knelt, every hymnal from which we have sung, every praise band that has touched our hearts, every church classroom where we have gathered with our friends, every church kitchen that has prepared our meals, every church van that has taken us to camp, every church camp cabin where we have slept—all are the fruit of someone’s Extravagant Generosity.
     We have been the recipients of grace upon grace. We are the heirs, the beneficiaries of those who came before us who were touched by the generosity of Christ enough to give graciously so that we could experience the truth of Christ for ourselves. We owe the same to generations to come. We have worshiped in sanctuaries that we did not build, so to us falls the privilege of building sanctuaries where we shall never worship.
     This week you celebrated the people who have made a difference in your spiritual lives. Consider an appropriate way to express your appreciation of these gifts of grace in your life.  You might want to thank someone who was there for you and who prayed for you during a very difficult time in your life.  That’s the church at its best.  And we can’t help but to offer our best gifts to Christ and his church because of the many gifts we have received from others and the incredible difference they have made in our spiritual journey. 
      When I came into this sanctuary for the first time over three years ago, my first impression was how this sanctuary has a family feel.  The pews are angled so that we can see each other instead of some sanctuaries where there are two long rows of pews that simply go straight back.
     And then I noticed the wooden floors in the pews and how they have that worn look like an old comfortable shoe.  I thought about all of the people who have sat in these pews over the 100 plus years of this building.
     I think of all of the ministries that were started because of the people who have worshipped here. I think of the generosity of so many people who have made it possible for us to enjoy this beautiful place and to grow in our faith.  I think of the many prayers that have been lifted up in this place over the years.   We are blessed in more ways that we can even imagine.
     When I was in college, I attended what was then known as the Central Pennsylvania Conference of the United Methodist Church.  I wasn’t a delegate at this conference, but I attended as a visitor.
     I ended up sitting near a pastor who had served my home church several years ago.  His name is Rev. John Wesley Stamm.  That’s a great name for a United Methodist pastor, isn’t it?  John Wesley Stamm. 
     Not thinking that he would remember me, since I would have just been born when he was the pastor of my home church, I told him my name.  I was taken aback when he said, “Oh yes.  Robert McDowell.  I remember you.”  And then with great joy he said to me, “I baptized you.”  He then told me that I was his very first baptism as the pastor of that church. 
     How’s that for a good memory?  And how blessed I felt in that moment that he remembered me.  Thanks to Rev. Stamm and my baptism, I was able to begin a faith journey with Christ that begins through this day.  And along that journey, many people in that church helped to shape and mold me to be a disciple of Jesus.
     I am so glad to be part of the family of Christ! How about you?

Friday, September 28, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - October 14

Sunday, October 14 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, October 17  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Extravagant Generosity: Declarations of the Heart"

Features - Season After Pentecost; 4th & Concluding Sunday of Church-Wide Extravagant Generosity Study; & 2013 Commitment Sunday

Scripture - II Corinthians 8:16-24 & John 3:16-21

Theme - What motivates you to be generous? Can you hear God saying to you, "Well done, good and faithful servant?"

Sunday Worship Preview - October 7

Sunday, October 7 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, October 10 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Extravagant Generosity: Visions & Hope from the Heart"

Features - Season After Pentecost; 3rd Sunday of Church-Wide Extravagant Generosity Study; & World Communion Sunday

Scripture - Joel 2:23-28 & Matthew 6:26-33

Theme - What are the visions and hope God has in mind for the church? On this Sunday, we will celebrate the preferred future that God has in store for us.  A positive vision for the church always leads to extravagant generosity.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Dave's Deep Thoughts - In Loving Memory of Dr. Thom

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.
I first met him my first year out of college.
He had quite a reputation
Anyone who was serious about singing
knew of Dr. Thom.
When I took my first position as a school teacher,
I found myself within ten minutes of his home and teaching studio.
I decided that this was a person I needed to meet
so I called him and arranged for a vocal analysis.
I walked into his Victorian home
deep into the heart of Amish country
fully intimidated by this man
who was a vocal coach to opera & Broadway singers.
What I could not see
was that this was the beginning
of a 33 year coaching relationship and rich friendship.
His studio was filled with stacks of pedagogy books and songbooks.
Photos of well known singers
from the past and present
graced the walls.
Singing that first song in front of him
was more terrifying than
singing in front of a thousand people.
When my song was done, He spoke.
He spoke kindly.
He spoke with great insight.
He spoke as though he had known me for years.
He spoke as though I was his son,
because he considered me (and all his students)
as his vocal children.
To those that we ourselves would go on to teach,
he considered them his vocal grandchildren.
He was a man of great wit.
5 years later when I relocated back to my hometown,
I mentioned in my next lesson that it took me
ninety minutes to reach his studio as compared to the
ten minutes in my first years with him.
Within a few minutes,
he let me know of a student who was
flying in from Germany to take a lesson.
Lesson learned.
My living circumstances changed
several times during the next 5 years
but I was able to remain a part
of his teaching studio.
Bi-weekly trips into Manhattan
to his New York studio when I lived on Long Island......
Summers home from grad school in California,
I would return to his studio.
An hour with Dr. Thom
was not just about singing.
Through the years,
he would come to know about my family,
my work,
my hobbies,
my stresses,
my joys & disappointments,
my faith.
And I came to know much about him.
It didn't take long to know that
Dr. Thom lived out of a deep well of faith.
A scripture would be cleverly
thrown into a teaching situation.
We encouraged each other
through the death of parents.
When I took a two year break to build my home,
he would email me with encouragements.
When he underwent surgeries following an auto accident,
I would send cards and emails to speed his recovery.
This past summer,
my dear friend and teacher Dr. Thom died
suddenly of a heart attack,
one week after my last lesson.
When I heard the news,
something inside me felt like it died.
That is,
until the memorial service.
Three weeks later,
in his church, 4 blocks down from his home,
600 friends and students from across the country & world
came to honor the man
who had so profoundly touched their lives.
Many wonderful words were spoken,
but there was no greater tribute
then when his vocal children arose,
and collectively sang a version of the 23rd psalm,
without rehearsal.
The voices soared throughout the sanctuary
and ultimately to the heavens
as the legacy of Dr. Thom revealed itself.
We meet people who touch us and shape us
into being persons we could not otherwise have become.
Those who are wise
realize when we have met such a person,
and have longingly dipped into the well of that person's spirit,
that we are sent to do likewise.
Dr. Thom,
I thank you for all that you were and are in my life.
Lord, Jesus,
I thank you for blessing our lives
with such people,
so that we may go and humbly do the same.
The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me to lie down in green pastures.
He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.
He leads me in paths of righteousness for His name's sake.
Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil;
for Thou art with me.
Thy rod and Thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
Thou annointest my head with oil, my cup overflows.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life;
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Psalm 23

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

Remembering Rev. Peter Cartwright - 1785 to 1872

Today (September 25) is the death anniversary of one of the greatest of all Methodist circuit rider preachers, Rev. Peter Cartwright.  One of the reasons he is one of the most celebrated of all early American frontier preachers is because of his autobiography which he wrote toward the end of his life.  I even found this book on Kindle version.  For more information about him, click on this link from a previous article and this previous sermon that I delivered at the Lancaster Campground.

Here are some highlights of this remarkable man's life and ministry in proclaiming the good news of Jesus Christ.

-         Methodist Circuit Rider Preacher, 1785 – 1872 (B-day & Death in September)
-         Born in VA and died in Illinois
-         Converted at Methodist camp meeting at age 16 in KY.  Became preacher in 1802. Ordained by Francis Asbury.
-         Was the circuit rider for the Lancaster, Ohio Methodists in 1806 (12 years before the founding of the church.)
-         Was part of the 2nd Great Awakening baptizing 12,000 converts
-         Lost to Abraham Lincoln for US Congress seat in 1846.
-         Autobiography is what has made him most famous Methodist Circuit Rider.  This includes several incredible stories that leave you laughing, crying, and appreciative of Methodists preachers and the challenges they faced during that time period.
-         Called himself “God’s plowman.”
-         Helped found Illinois Wesleyan University.

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Sermon (September 23) "Extravagant Generosity: Ministry from the Heart"

    As we begin our new church-wide focus called “Extravagant Generosity,” we’re going to be focusing on our spiritual health.  The phrase, “heart healthy” is something we hear a lot.  We know that it’s important to eat heart healthy foods and take care of ourselves.  During these four weeks, we’re going to be focusing on our spiritual heart health.
     What’s your pulse rate like today?  Do you know how to take your pulse?  Go ahead and let’s try it.  Can you feel your heart beating?  That’s always a good sign!
     In our scripture reading from I Timothy, the Apostle Paul provides a way for us to take our spiritual pulse.  Paul writes that a healthy spiritual life includes extravagant generosity which will be our theme.  He writes, “They are to do good, to be rich in good works, generous, and ready to share.”
     And right before this verse, Paul explains why people who are spiritually healthy are generous and ready to share.  It’s because they understand that God is the original generous giver.  They give in response to what God has done for them.  And when spiritually healthy people are consistently conscious of God’s many gifts, they can’t help but to do good, be rich in good works, be generous, and be ready to share. 
     I’ve been thinking about this scripture from I Timothy a lot and asking myself, “Does this scripture describe me?  Does this scripture describe our church?”
      Recently, we have been invited to respond to the statement, “Things I love about my church.”  A couple of weeks ago, we sent out a mailing inviting our congregation to respond to this statement and I want to thank you for your many responses.
     I want to invite one of our members, Shelly Ruffner to share what she loves about our church.  Shelly, thanks for being willing to share with us this morning.  (Shelly Shares) 

     My Name is Shelly Ruffner, I am married to Dave Ruffner. We have two daughters and three grandchildren. I've been a member of First church since 2001. I teach 4th thru 6th grad or where ever i am needed. I'm on the pastor Visitation team and a lay speaker.
     First of all I would like to share with you where I see Jesus in our church. I see him in the children's program when I am teaching and we are having fun learning about Jesus. I see Jesus when our church has the dinner feeding our neighbor and helping people to have a good meal. Jesus is all over our church. And what I love about your church and my church is the friendly way people treated me when I first came to visit. I love the way I feel First Church is a family.
     Our church family is so great to be a part of, that I can't wait to be here to hear the Word and help with whatever I can help with. I want to ask if you are here for the first time and you don't have church family and would like to ask you to come join our church family. And if you are part of our church family thank you for being part of my church family because I don't know how people function in life without a great family so please look at the person beside you and say welcome to my family.
      Your generous financial investment enables the church to move forward, fund ministries that touch lives, and make a difference in our church and community. But more importantly, your generosity is an important way you can express your love for God and grow in your faith.
     Thank you, Shelly.
     Let me share some of the responses that you provided to this statement, “Things I love about my church.” Here’s a brief sampling of what you shared.
     “It’s always open.  Beautiful sanctuary.  Welcoming.  There are people who love the Lord.  Opportunities to share.”
     “I am accepted and loved.  The church chases away blue moods.”
     “My church feels like family.  The warmth I feel when I enter the sanctuary.  The feeling of the Holy Spirit.  The hymns, the choir, the music, and all our church leaders.”
     “The staff. It’s history. The people.  The way we help others.”
     “Christian caring. Adult Sunday School.  Opportunities to serve and grow.”
     “Weekly worship celebrations.  Holy week worship services. Time in church prior to services. The choir is fantastic.”
     “Our music programs, the church staff. The direction our church is going.  The variety of programs for our congregation.”
      “My beloved church is always there whether I’m there or not.  No matter how long I’m gone or how quickly I return, the door is always open.”
      And here’s one more from your many responses.  “I love it when Pastor Robert shares his poetry with us. He has an unbelievable gift.  I faint whenever I hear the lyrical beauty that comes from the depths of his soul.”  It just goes on and on like this. I guess I’m blushing.  But seriously…I made up that last one!
     Thank you again for letting us know what you love about your church.
     I see so much generosity and so many good things being done all the time through our church.  This past summer, we heard about a ten year old boy in our community who was paralyzed from the waist down and was waiting to have surgery.  He was confined to an apartment all summer long.  Thanks to your gifts to our monthly pastor’s discretionary offering, we purchased an air conditioner for this boy and his family to help him make it through those hot summer months.
     Penny and I were eating breakfast at Bob Evans here in Lancaster.  When we were about done, the waitress said, “Somebody took care of your check.”  I looked around to see if there were any church members and sure enough, there was.
     And I asked her, “Was it that man there?”  And she said, “Yep, that’s him.  And he does that a lot.”  I said, “Yeah, that’s the kind of person he is.  He’s a member of my church.  He’ll do anything for you.”
     And guess what?  It happened again!  A couple of weeks ago, the pastor at First Presbyterian and I had lunch at Bob Evans.  He wanted to pay for both us, but he noticed that my meal wasn't included on the check.  When he asked the waiter about my meal, he said, "Yeah, somebody paid for him.  He didn't want me to tell you who it was."  The waiter turned to me and asked, "What's the name of your church?"
     One Sunday morning when we were already into our worship service, a new family entered our sanctuary and was looking for a place to sit.  It was crowded and I remembered wondering if they would find a seat for the several members of their family.  A church member who was sitting at the end of his pew noticed this family.  And God bless him.  He gave up his seat so that this family could all sit together in the same pew.  
    Whenever there is a need, it seems like our church is ready to help.  If you take the time to check our church’s pulse, you can easily see that our church has a strong heart beat.
     The Apostle Paul knows that if we are to continue to be a church with a strong and healthy heart, we will need to remember that any good that we do is because of what Christ has already done for us.  The more that we are aware of God’s grace the more that we will be a blessing to others.
     Many of us have been following the first week of daily readings that our congregation is using during these four weeks.  For one of the daily readings, Robert Schnase talks about building nests.  He says how he saw a large Red-Tailed Hawk fly by carrying a long heavy stick.  He smiled as he thought about the hard work that is involved in building nests during the spring season. 
     Earlier in the day, he had seen an American Crow who had carried some straw for the same purpose.  He had also watched House Sparrows tucking threads of grass into the hole in a convenience store awning.
    These birds pour extraordinary effort, time, and ingenuity to the construction of nests, the protection of eggs, and the feeding of their vulnerable young ones.  Every ounce of their effort is devoted not to their own comfort and feeding, but to the survival of the young.
     Robert Schnase then makes an interesting point.  He says how we often talk about building a nest in metaphorical terms as a way of providing for our own comfort.  We use the word, “nest” to talk about shelter, security, and being cozy.  But in actuality, nests are built not for the birds who build them, but for their young and the next generation. 
     This leads the author of our devotional book to ask these important questions:  The buildings, programs, ministries, job descriptions, and gatherings that we build – are they for our own comfort and coziness?  Or are they to further the faith and provide for future generations?  Does our giving serve us and our needs or serve God by supporting the mission of the church to reach new people?
     I would hope that the nests we are building here at First United Methodist Church are for others and not just for ourselves.  What is the purpose of the nests that we are building and maintaining?
     For this first week in our focus of being a people of extravagant generosity, we check our pulse to make sure that our ministry flows from our heart and into the lives of others.  Being generous begins with a heart check and it becomes a lifestyle.
     I like how Paul describes this kind of extravagant living in our I Timothy passage.  He refers to it as a lifestyle by saying that we are to take hold of the life that really is life.  I like that!  We are to take hold of the life that really is life.
     Have you ever noticed how easy it is to just go through the motions in life?  It’s easy, isn’t it?  The same is true in the church.  We can so easily just go through the motions of doing things in the church and forget why we do what we do. 
     I can’t tell you how much it meant this past week to me to read your many responses to the statement, “Things I Love about My Church.”  My heart melted as you shared what our church means to you.  It gave me a new perspective on who we are and why we do what we do here at First Church.  It’s not just about going through the motion of doing good things for people.  Ministry is a matter of the heart.  It’s taking hold of the life that really is life, like our scripture says.
     I really like this way of describing our faith.  It’s a lifestyle.
     We are building nests not for our own comfort but for the sake of the people who are in need of God’s hope and love.  Church isn’t just a thing to do in what is already a busy schedule.  Church is taking hold of the life that really is life.  It’s leading us to be extravagant givers in a community that has so much brokenness and pain. I praise God for our church’s strong heart beat.
     There’s a contemporary Christian song that’s called, “Going Through the Motions” which I think speaks to this first week’s focus in what it means to be a people of extravagant generosity.  The song was written by Matthew West.  Here are the words:     
This might hurt, it's not safe
But I know that I've gotta make a change
I don't care if I break
At least I'll be feeling something

'Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of life

I don't wanna go through the motions
I don't wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

I don't wanna spend my whole life asking
What if I had given everything
Instead of going through the motions?

No regrets, not this time
I'm gonna let my heart defeat my mind
Let Your love make me whole
I think I'm finally feeling something

'Cause just okay is not enough
Help me fight through the nothingness of this life

'Cause I don't wanna go through the motions
I don't wanna go one more day
Without Your all consuming passion inside of me

     As we conclude week #1, how’s your spiritual pulse?  I pray that it is strong. May we all take hold of the life that is really life.

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Meet Our New West Ohio Bishop, Gregory Palmer - Saturday, Oct. 13

On Saturday, October 13, at 10:00 am, clergy and laity are invited to gather at the Grove City UMC, 2650 Columbus St, Grove City for a worship service led by the GCUMC Praise Band. Bishop Palmer will preach. Following worship there will be a Q & A time with the bishop.

At the close of the morning activities, a lunch will be served (financial donations will be received for the lunch). All laity and clergy in the district are invited to participate in the lunch. Reservations are due by October 5. Click here to make reservations for the lunch or call the district office at 614-222-0600.
NOTE: Our church is honored that Bishop Palmer has accepted our invitation to preach at our October 21 Bicentennial Homecoming Sunday worship services.  Our Capitol Area South District Superintendent, Rev. Barb Sholis will also be participating.

Friday, September 21, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - September 30

Sunday, September 30 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, October 3  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Extravagant Generosity: Relationships from the Heart"

Features - Season After Pentecost; 2nd Sunday of Church-Wide Extravagant Generosity Study; & Third Grade Bible Presentation

Scripture - Deuteronomy 6:1-6; Philippians 4:8-9; & John 13:31-35

Theme - Who are the people who have made a spiritual difference in your life? When we think of the eternal impact people have had on our spiritual lives, we want to be a blessing to others and participate in God's extravagant generosity.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Did Jesus Have a Wife? Gnosticism & the New Testament Understanding of Jesus

There has been a lot of media attention regarding a fourth century Coptic papyrus that Harvard Divinity School professor, Karen L. King claims is evidence that Jesus had a wife.  Click on this article to read more about this discovery.

At the center of this debate is the question about the prevalence of gnosticism in early Christian thought.  Most mainline bible scholars agree that ancient documents related to gnosticism such as the Gospel of Judas which offers a distinctively different view of the life of Jesus came much later after our present New Testament canonical gospels of Matthew, Mark, Luke, & John. In my readings of gnostic literature, this understanding seeks to remove Jesus from his Jewish context and instead place him in an "enlightened" context.  For a good summary of gnostic theology and thought, this link is helpful.

Dr. Ben Withingerton, New Testament professor at Asbury Seminary is quoted in the article link above and he offers this countering information about the fourth century gnostic Coptic papyrus discovery:

"The unclear origins of the document should encourage people to be cautious, said Bible scholar Ben Witherington III, a professor and author who teaches at Asbury Theological Seminary in Wilmore, Ky. He said the document follows the pattern of Gnostic texts of the second, third and fourth centuries, using “the language of intimacy to talk about spiritual relationships.”

“What we hear from the Gnostic is this practice called the sister-wife texts, where they carried around a female believer with them who cooks for them and cleans for them and does the usual domestic chores, but they have no sexual relationship whatsoever” during the strong monastic periods of the third and fourth centuries, Witherington said. “In other words, this is no confirmation of the Da Vinci Code or even of the idea that the Gnostics thought Jesus was married in the normal sense of the word.”

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Baseball's Biggest Problem: Mascots

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.
You can buy me some peanuts,
you can even buy me some cracker jacks,
but I DO care if I ever come back.
I really do like baseball.
It's not my favorite sport,
but it's the perfect sport for summer.
You can listen to a game on the radio
while mowing the yard or washing the car.
And on a beautiful summer night,
the baseball park is a great place to be.
That is, except for the mascot.
You know that guy in the fantasy costume .....
The one that conveniently stands on the top of the dugout blocking your view of the game.....
The one who bounces through the crowd high fiving little children
as you pick up the scent of fur and body odor on a 90 degree day......
Yeah, that guy.
I have no problem with the 4th inning race between ketchup, mustard, and relish (bet on mustard).
I can be entertained when a platoon of masked perogies drag the dirt after the 5th inning.
I can even guess who ends up with the baseball
as three crabs play catch me if you can.
But people dressed up in fantasy outfits freak me out.
As a child, I was once trapped in a railroad car on a hot spring day
with a sweaty six foot Easter bunny who wreaked of cigarette smoke on an Easter egg ride.
As far as I was concerned, Peter Cottontail could keep on hopping.......
that is hopping away from me.
At amusement parks,
puffy birds, panda bears, chipmunks,
and all types of action figure come up to me
to either try to dance with me, rub my head, or engage me in pretend sword fights.
And don't even get me started on circuses and clowns.
Try to tweak my nose one time Bozo,
and I can't be held responsible for my actions.
Going to a major league game isn't so bad.
It's a big place so there are plenty of places to hide.
But go to an intimate minor league game and there you are,
you, maybe 1,500 friends, and the mascot.
Just try to escape from Baxter the Bobcat.
You can run from Homer the Polecat but you cannot hide.
And Manny the Manatee has no sense of personal space.
A few years ago, I went to a minor league game,
eagerly looking forward to a relaxing evening and a good game.
What I got was Wally the Warthog.
It took all of ten minutes inside the ball park
till Wally wanted to fist bump me in the french fry line.
For those like me with mascot phobias,
there is one safe harbor in a ballpark ....
the public restroom.
For obvious reasons,
mascots aren't able to effectively use the facilities.
And so when Wally wanted to pinch my cheeks,
I bolted for the the men's room.
I enjoyed 5 pleasant innings watching the hometown Warthogs take it to the Flying Squirrels
Then out came Wally,
armed with his air cannon.
Mascots are one thing.
Mascots and weaponry.....
now it's gone too far.
Wally had time to blast 10 Tee shirts into the crowd
10 shirts
1500 people
and me.
Why am I always the lucky one?
Wally fired and I took it in the chest.
Let me say an air cannon from 12 rows away,
is no laughing matter,
especially when you are holding a full beverage cup.
It was hard to tell in my stunned state,
but I think Wally flexed his furry biceps after taking me down.
Why am I so uncomfortable around mascots?
I think it is because I know that underneath all the layers of pretend,
there is a real person inside.
Now if we are honest,
most of us have an outer layer
that covers the inner self.
Some find it easier
to live much of life showing only the outer layer.
Others have learned
to reveal more of the inner person
in safe settings, with people they trust.
Then there are the few
that have learned that the fullest life
is the life lived with the inner self available to all.
As Jesus was approaching the time
to give up His life for the salvation of mankind,
He went to His Father in what is known as His priestly prayer.
One of the central thoughts in this prayer
is that of being known...
Jesus known to His Father
and Jesus known to His disciples.
In Biblical expressions,
to know conveys many levels of thought.
Sometimes it means to know one sexually,
but it can also refer to the intimacy of knowing someone
at the deepest level of their spiritual being.
Jesus affirmed this relationship with His Father.
He prayed for a world that did not receive Him for who He was.
He prayed for His disciples who knew where He came from,
but He knew that there was more for them to know,
and that would come after His death and resurrection
through the power of the Holy Spirit.
That same Spirit is present for believers today.
The Father wants that intimate relationship with us
and for us to share that with each other.
Jesus gave us access to that intimacy.
The Holy Spirit invites us to live in that intimacy with each other.
No need for furry costumes,
no funny names,
no shows.
And asmuch as I dislike mascots,
I choose to want to know those who know Him,
and to be known by them.
May it be so with you also.
Oh, the tee shirt was from a championship year 4 years prior.
Now that's a prize worth keeping.....
Father, I want those You gave me
to be with me, right where I am,
so they can see my glory, the splendor you gave me,
having loved me long before there ever was a world.
Righteous Father, the world has never known You,
but I have known You, and these disciples know
that You sent me on this mission.
I have made Your very being known to them-
Who You are and what You do-
And continue to make it known,
so that Your love for me might be in them
exactly as I am in them.
John 17:25-26