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


Tuesday, October 30, 2012

Superstorm Sandy Relief Special Offering & Prayer

 
Our church will have special offering envelopes available in each pew this Sunday for donations to help with storm relief efforts.  The United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) is the disaster response team of the United Methodist Church. All proceeds go directly to relief efforts. Checks may be made payable to "First UMC" with "hurricane relief" on the memo.
 
In Time of Natural Disaster Prayer

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

Sunday, October 28, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - November 11



Sunday, November 11 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, November 14  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "No Small Sacrifice"

Features - Veterans' Sunday & Recognition of Veterans

Scripture - Hebrews 9:24-28 & Mark 12:38-44

Theme - On Veterans' Day, we give thanks to God for those who have gone before us and who have sacrificed their lives for the sake of our country.  Our scripture from Hebrews speaks of the importance of Jesus' sacrifice when he died on the cross for the sake of the world.  We too, are called to live sacrificial lives for the sake of others.

Lancaster Area Shared Youth Ministry Begins!


The Lancaster area United Methodist Churches held their first shared youth gathering event tonight at Shalom UMC.  We shared a dinner, played games, talked about some future shared youth ministry ideas and concluded with prayer and a fun benediction.

Our next event will be a youth live Christmas nativity on the lawn of Shalom UMC along Rt. 33 in December so that people who drive by will see the good news of the birth of Christ. First UMC will be hosting a lock-in event on New Year's Eve. In the top picture, Rev. Craig Arnold is sharing some ideas for shared youth ministry.  The picture below was our closing prayer time. 

Having our United Methodist Churches share in ministry is one of our six vision focuses for 2013.  We're already off to a great start!

Friday, October 26, 2012

Pre-Sunday (Oct. 28) Worship Reflections - Blind Bartimeaus


Our Youth Director, Sandra Yerian recently participated an assignment through her Certified Lay Ministry training led by our West Ohio Conference. In this assignment, the class was asked to write about the Bartimeaus scripture reading which we will be hearing about this Sunday (October 28) in worship.

Specifically, her assignment was to imagine that you are Bartimaeus- write a letter home explaining why you are not on your spot on the side of road any longer.  A big thanks to Sandra for sharing her reflections with us!

Dear brother,

How shocked you must have been coming to the road to get me at the end of the days work, only to find me missing. Did you worry? Perhaps you though I'd been run over by a cart, and discarded. Maybe you feared I'd finally annoyed the wrong Roman, and was now locked up, or being put to death . Were you relieved brother? I know what a burden it must have been to have to care for me. How embarrassing that your brother has no value or purpose other than begging.
Was anyone still on the road when you came?? No? Then you are about to hear a most extraordinary thing!

I sat as always listening to the world pass me by, a few coins fell in my lap, but mostly dust rained down on me. I was thirsty. I was so discouraged and ashamed- I don't think there was even enough money thrown my way to pay for my bread. I began to think of perhaps stumbling into the roadway when I next felt the rumble of Roman horses approach. Perhaps I could die under their hooves, and no longer bear the stigma of blind beggar, burden.

I felt however a different rumble. Footsteps pounding the road excitedly. Many, many sets of feet. Then voices; first an excited murmur, then distinguishable snippets:
“Jesus”
“Healer”
“friend of sinner”
“merciful”
“Messiah”


As the crowd grew near, the excitement grew! This was the Jesus I've heard about- travelling this road- about to pass ME.

I knew in that crowd he would never see a blind beggar on the side of the road, but suddenly I knew without doubt- my being was filled with certainty and hope- here came my savior- the promised one!
It was like he was coming to save ME.


Without thinking I shouted “ Son of David, have mercy on me” I felt anxiety ripple through the crowd around me. Someone slapped me: “SHHHhh fool! keep quiet.” But I couldn't stop, all my hope was now resting in him. “Jesus” I shouted all the more “have mercy on me”

Then , I felt the ground grow still. He stopped! all the voices were silent.
“Bartemaeus” he asked “what do you want me to do for you?” I was stunned. Surely he knew. I felt the crowd shift anxiously.  I didn't hesitate. “Teacher, let me see again”  I held my breath. Expectancy, curiosity hung in the air. I felt a few begin to walk again. Oh no.. Jesus…dont leave me… But He hadn't moved at all. “Come here.”


My heart nearly exploded in my chest! I lept up, bouncing off the others as I stumbled towards him.
His Presence enveloped me. “Go, your faith has healed you”. in a flash, the darkness fell from my eyes, and I beheld the beautiful, penetrating gaze of the Messiah!


What joy filled my heart! I must follow, I cannot bear to leave his side, greedily I feed my soul in his presence. I watch as he heals others, listen as he teaches, and shout out what he did for me every chance I get!

I do not know where we are going- he tries to explain, but I am simple and don't understand, I just know I must continue on this journey with Him. Be well Brother. Praise be to God.

Thank You Staff/Parish Relations Committee!

Our Staff/Parish Relations Committee provided a staff appreciation lunch for us this week.  We are blessed.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Hannah Walks On Water!


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.
 
Miracles happen all around us.
I just didn't expect one in my backyard.
 
I am a great believer that if we have eyes to see,
we can see the miraculous work of the Divine One all around us.
 
Geese flying in impeccable symmetry
speak of the One who has ordered this world into perfect precision.
 
The delivery of a new born baby,
reminds of how amazingly the gift of life is passed from one to another.
 
A unique and exquisite sunset to end the day
proclaims that the Creator is still creating.
 
Miracles happen in many forms and places,
always catching our breath and catching us by surprise.
 
Hannah is a 46 pound yellow Labrador.
In the two months since she came to live in the home,
she has grown from 25 pounds to 48 pounds.
 
Although she is beginning to look like more like a dog than a pup,
she still has plenty of puppy in her.
 
And like her Biblical namesake,
she is filled with passion and beauty.
 
There is nothing that she doesn't become passionate about,
that is when she sees it......
pine cones, sticks, insects, seat cushions,
anything within sight becomes something worthy of passionate exploration.
 
That's why the swimming pool in the back yard was a concern.
Labs are after all, water dogs.
They seek water out like a sojourner in the desert.
 
Two accidental spills into the water during her first days in her new home,
caused Hannah to be very intimidated by the pool.
 
So much so, that she would intentionally steer clear of the pool edge.
It seemed the pool was not a source of intrigue anymore for the beautiful and passionate Hannah.
 
That was, until I covered the pool for the winter.
 
While doing some lawn work last week,
I heard a wimper.
When I turned around,
there was Hannah frozen in fear,
standing on the pool cover.She had traversed six feet from the pool edge
and now realized she couldn't get back to the deck.
Hannah was literally walking on water.
But she was beginning to doubt.
 
I remember how Jesus walked on water,
and how Peter followed suit,
that is until he took his eyes off the Master,
 
Hannah must have been paying attention during Bible Story time
as she now became Peter crying out for her Master.
 
This Master, not being the Lord of the universe,
had no idea what to do.
Hannah was too far into the pool to reach by hand.
Her 48 pounds was just enough weight to slowly begin pulling the pool cover
and the water bag anchors toward the pool center.
 
Hannah was slowly beginning to sink
and quickly beginning to panic.
Hannah was now on the Titanic
and the ship was most certainly going down.
 
The long handle pool brush might have worked to reach her
and nudge her to the edge
but there wasn't time to retrieve it from the garage.
 
And so this Master did what any master would do.......
go into rescue mode.
 
One week prior,
as I was closing the pool,
I thought that was the last time I would be in the pool until next year.
Seven days earlier, the water was a balmy 52 degrees.
She hadn't gotten any warmer since then.
 
Now this master has been known to do a polar bear plunge or two in his lifetime,
just usually with a bit more mental and physical preparation.
But in a moment of crisis,
there is little time to think.
 
With the grace of God
to remind me to first take my cell phone out of my pocket,
I shredded my outer garments,
pulled the closest water bag anchor off the cover,
and hopped into the Arctic Seas of my backyard.
 
One might be tempted to sing Titanic songs in such a situation,
but one finds quickly finds that one cannot sing,
because one cannot breathe.
 
But one can reach and extend one's arms
to grab the paws of a frightened pet.
 
I drew Hannah towards me
and hoisted her in the air.
Let me say that in the moment of hoisting,
I discovered that a wet dog weighs considerably more than a dry dog.
 
Wet dog Hannah reached the deck and quickly scampered away
from the black hole of the backyard pool.
 
Master quickly followed suit.
 
Nothing follows up the miracle of a dog walking on 52 degree water
better than some warm towels and cocoa.
 
Once Hanna and Master were healed of hypothermia (another miracle),
Master went out to restore the pool cover to its original state.
 
After a few minutes,
Hannah came out to the deck to reflect...........
reflect on what a good master she has........
reflect on how her life could have been taken from her that day.........
reflect why her prize toy was laying in the middle of the pool cover........
 
None of us know when a miracle will come into our lives,
that is the nature of miracles.
 
What we do know, if we know the Master,
is that He is more than capable
of miraculously intervening in our lives.
 
Sometimes it is through the activity of a stranger,
sometimes it is through a brother or sister in the faith,
sometimes it is in the sequence of unexplainable events.
 
Maybe we can't count on miracles happening ever day.
But what every believer can count on,
is that in the moment of need,
even if that need is surrounded by doubt and fear,
the Master is there to reach out His hand,
and bring us to a safe place.
 
With eyes that communicate in that special language that only a dog can,
Hannah implored Master to retrieve her toy.
 
And with a voice that only an exhausted Master can summon,
Master said,
Let's go get the long handle pool brush
and see what miracle can happen next.
 
But seeing the wind, Peter became afraid,
and beginning to sink, he cried out, saying, "Lord, save me!"
And immediately Jesus stretched out His hand, and took hold of him,
and said to Him
"O you of little faith, why did you doubt?"
And when they got into the boat, the wind stopped.
 
Matthew 14: 30-32

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Bell Monument Has Arrived!

The beautiful bell monument is now in front of our refurbished church bell.  It describes the history of the bell and the connection with our bicentennial anniversary year.  Stop by to take a look.  It looks great!

Monday, October 22, 2012

Sermon (October 28) - "Following Jesus on the Way"


     Something that stands out to me from the Gospel of Mark scripture reading this morning is in how Jesus related to people who had very different understandings of who he was.  People brought their preconceived notions of who they thought Jesus was and who they thought he should be.
     Our elections have a similar feel as voters seek to understand the candidates, their agenda, and where they want to lead our country.   People were doing something similar with Jesus.  They were looking at what he was saying and doing and trying to understand all of this in the context of their own preconceived notions of who they believed Jesus to be.
     James and John thought they knew who Jesus was.  They thought that he was going to be the new King who would set up an earthly kingdom and they wanted to be the top two people in his cabinet.  A lot of Jesus’ followers probably viewed Jesus as the political and military hero that their own Jewish people had been praying for over the past several centuries.   
     When the other disciples heard about what James and John were asking, they got really angry with them.  They were probably angry that they didn’t think to ask Jesus for those top spots first. 
     Even though Jesus has been trying to help the disciples see that his rule would be different from the earthly type of military rule they were hoping for, they still didn’t get it.  Have you ever noticed that once you get something in your head, it’s hard to readjust and think differently?           This was the problem with many of Jesus’ followers.  It’s a problem that we often have in figuring out who Jesus is.
     Phillip Yancey is a Christian author who has written many excellent books.  In his book, “Soul Survivor” he shares how he grew up in the Deep South.  He was raised in a church that claimed to be biblical, but in reality, this church was very racist and narrow minded.  Their concept of God was according to Phillip Yancey, more like an abusive parent; rigid, legalistic, angry, and wanting to punish people.
     As Phillip was growing up, he became very frustrated with this understanding of God.  He thought that if this was who God really was, then he didn’t want to have anything to do with Christianity.  Thankfully, he loved to read and he started reading books by Christian authors who offered a very different view of God and Jesus.  The more books Phillip read, the more he learned that God is very different than what he learned about in his childhood church.  Jesus wasn’t the narrow minded and legalistic person he was brought up to believe.  Jesus is a loving Savior who offers grace and mercy to all people.
     Discovering who Jesus is takes time and discipline.  It’s a life-long process.  Sometimes, we have dramatic moments where things become really clear.  Some of us can point to a time at church camp where Jesus became very real to us.   Or maybe it was another event in which we experienced a life changing conversion.
     John Wesley who started the Methodist Church is known for his heart warming experience when he went to a prayer meeting one night in London England and out of the blue he felt his heart strangely warmed.  Even though he had been serving as a Priest in the Anglican Church for several years, it wasn’t until that moment that he felt an assurance that his sins were forgiven.  He had been missing this important part of his faith, but once he had it, his life would never be the same.
     I was in college when I had an experience where I realized just how much God really loves me.  With tears in my eyes, I got on my knees and prayed.  Those were tears of joy because I realized in that moment, that I would never be alone anymore.  I knew that Jesus would be present with me through whatever situation would come my way.  I’ll never ever forget that watershed moment in my life.  It was incredible.
     But in addition to these dramatic moments is the steady day to day and moment by moment growth in discovering who Jesus is and what it means to be one of his followers.  In church language, we call this day to day spiritual growth, sanctification.  And this process of sanctification lasts all of our lives.
     Have you ever noticed how the twelve disciples, Jesus’ inner circle, would often not get what Jesus was trying to teach them?  If you look one chapter earlier from our Gospel reading, Jesus had explained to the disciples how he would be betrayed, be killed, and three days, rise again.  I love what Mark says in the very next verse.  “But they did not understand what he was saying and they were afraid to ask him.”
     Truth be told, I don’t know that any of us would have done any better than the disciples.  I don’t think that we would have understood who Jesus was any better.  As I said earlier, once something is in your head, it’s not easy to introduce a new understanding and a fresh perspective.
     The disciples were half right.  Jesus did come to establish a kingdom, but not the kind of kingdom they were all thinking.  This kingdom would not be one of force, military might, or coercion.  This kingdom would be one of nonviolence, peace, and humility.  The kind of kingdom Jesus was establishing was counter-intuitive to his disciples and to us as well.  It’s no wonder that James and John have already started politicking for positions of power.  Instead of embracing what they are hearing and seeing about Jesus, they are trying to force Jesus into their preexisting worldview.
     But it’s not like everybody is totally clueless of who Jesus is.  Just after James and John are pulling a power play over the rest of the disciples, we run into a man by the name of Bartimaeus.  He’s a blind beggar.  During the time of Jesus, someone like Bartimaeus would have been invisible in society.  There was just no place for blind beggars. And we might be annoyed at all of the political survey calls we’ve been getting at all hours of the days, but at least somebody wants to hear our opinion.  Nobody cared about this blind beggar.  He was invisible. 
     And yet, Bartimaeus interrupts the scene and offers a political statement by crying out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!”  This blind beggar has heard enough about Jesus to know that he just might be the one who will change the country and restore Israel to prominence.  You don’t use the title “Son of David” unless you’re talking about a political platform that will lead to the end of Roman occupation over the Jewish people.  Bartimaeus didn’t have a vote, but by the way he called out to him, Jesus was his candidate.
     But Jesus didn’t react the same way to Bartimaeus as he did to James and John.  After calling Jesus’ name a second time, Jesus calls for Bartimaeus to come to him.  And when Jesus asks Bartimaeus what he wants him to do, Bartimaeus asks to be able to see again.  And Jesus heals him.
     Now, as incredible as this story about a man regaining his sight is, I think there’s an even greater meaning to this story.  Notice, that when Bartimaeus calls out Jesus the second time, he doesn’t use the political title of “Son of David” which he did the first time.  This time, Bartimaeus refers to Jesus as Teacher.  And after Jesus heals him, Mark is careful to point out that he followed Jesus on the way.
     This isn’t just a story about someone getting healed.  This is a story about someone becoming a disciple of Jesus Christ.  This is a story that is in sharp contrast to James, John, and the other disciples who still didn’t understand who Jesus was and what it means to follow him.  But this blind beggar, Bartimaeus gets it.  He calls Jesus a teacher because he knows he has more to learn and he’s willing to follow him.
     I like to think of myself as a disciple, a follower of Jesus.  I like to think of myself as somebody who is willing to allow Jesus to teach me his ways.  I want to be more like Bartimaeus who saw that he had so much more to learn by following Jesus.
     Several years ago, I had moved to Toledo to serve a church in the city.  My District Superintendent had all of the new pastors in the city gather on a Saturday morning to walk through the more dangerous and impoverished parts of the city.  He wanted us to get to know the people and the area of where many of our churches were located.
     As we walked on the sidewalks of broken glass and litter with boarded up houses on both sides of the street, our District Superintendent abruptly stopped.  A man in that neighborhood was holding a shovel high in the air to use as a weapon on another man over an argument they were having.  It was a pretty tense situation.  Our group just stood there as we watched the situation enfold.
     To our surprise, our District Superintendent very slowly and gently approached the two men who were having the argument and he calmly asked the man to slowly put the shovel down.  He said, “You don’t want to do this.  I’m here to help.  Let’s put the shovel down and talk this through.” 
     We didn’t know how this man would react but eventually he put the shovel down.  Our District Superintendent told them that we were people from different churches and that we were there to help.
     As I think about that incident, I still ask myself, “If you would have been leading the group that day, what would you have done?”  I don’t know the answer to that question but I do know someone who was willing to follow Jesus on the way in that moment.
     I think of another disciple named Glen who doesn’t have a church home but visited the prayer room at our Crossroads facility last spring.  Glen, an older man who is developmentally disabled, joined me and some other church members in a time of prayer that evening.  After a half hour of sharing joys and concerns and praying, we were about to conclude our time together when Glen asked us if we were going to sing.
     He suggested, “Jesus Loves Me” which we sang with great joy.  We also sang “Amazing Grace.”  Our new friend made our prayer time special that night!  As we were leaving the prayer room, we were wiping tears from our eyes because we had experienced God’s presence in such a beautiful way thanks to one of Jesus’ disciples who encouraged our worship gathering that night to follow Jesus on the way.
     You can probably think of some Bartimaeus’s in your life who have shown you what it means to follow Jesus.  Too often, I’m more like James and John and I try to fit Jesus into my worldview and understanding of who he should be.
     This week, may we be more like Bartimaeus.  Let’s see Jesus as our teacher and let’s be willing to follow him on the way.

Sunday Worship Preview - November 4


Sunday, November 4 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, November 7  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Can You See It?"

Features - All Saints' Sunday/Naming of Members Who Have Died this Past Year, Holy Communion & Daylight Savings Time Ends

Scripture - Revelation 21:1-6a & John 11:32-44

Theme - In writing the letter of Revelation, John provides a picture of a future in which all of creation is renewed and redeemed.  It's this picture of hope that has encouraged the saints of God to persevere and live out their faith.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Ohio Conference UMC Bicentennial Video

Our church has been celebrating our bicentennial year (2012) beginning this past spring when our congregation was officially founded through October when the Ohio Conference was formed. It had been known as the Western Conference.

This six minute video shares the history of the formation of the Ohio Conference.

Lancaster First UMC Bicentennial - 1911 Sanctuary Photo

As we celebrate our church's bicentennial anniversary today, here's a photo of our church sanctuary back in 1911, 101 years ago!  I love old photographs.

Check back later in the day for a couple of bicentennial videos that we will be showing during worship and at our lunch program today.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - October 28


Sunday, October 28 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, October 31 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - Season After Pentecost & Introduction of Confirmation Class

Sermon - "Following Jesus on the Way"

Scripture - Mark 10:35-45

Theme - In putting two stories back to back, the gospel writer, Mark is making a contrast between two views of who people believed Jesus to be. The first story involves James & John who had very political/militaristic views of Jesus. The story of Bartimaeus offers us a better view of who Jesus us and what it means for us to follow him on the way.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Lancaster First UMC Bicentennial Year Reflections


 
Dear Friends,


Throughout our bicentennial year, I’m reminded of something that a former bishop said about church anniversaries. He said that even though it’s our birthday, we are the gift! He’s right. Whenever we gather for worship or celebrate milestone events like a bicentennial, we are reminded of our sacred calling to offer the gift of God’s love to the people around us.

When layperson Ed Teal left Baltimore, Maryland, to start a home in this area of Ohio, he brought the gift of his faith and started a Methodist class meeting. When Circuit Rider preachers Peter Cartwright and James B. Finley rode through this area, they brought their gift of evangelism. When ten lay people made the decision to become an official Methodist church in 1812, they offered their gifts of commitment, organization and leadership.

During our bicentennial year, we have been celebrating the many gifts of those who have gone before us. Their examples inspire us to continue to offer the gift of God’s love in our community and world.

Our bicentennial has been a wonderful year-long birthday party! I am so thankful for our bicentennial committee and all of their planning in making this a special year of celebration. We dedicated our newly refurbished church bell, hosted a Sunday morning Founders’ Day, experienced a 19th century Methodist tent revival, hosted an Art Walk exhibit featuring our beautiful stained glass windows, invited the community to an old fashioned ice cream social, commissioned a bicentennial anthem, and this Sunday, we will honor over 230 people who have been members of the church for fifty or more years.

So, happy birthday, First UMC! It’s been a milestone year! Continue to celebrate! Be thankful for our rich history! Rejoice!

And always remember: it may be our birthday, but we are the gift.

In Joy & Gratitude,

Rev. Robert V. McDowell, Senior Pastor
[Join us for worship on October 21 at the church for our Homecoming Sunday & a 12:15 pm covered-dish meal & brief program at our beautiful Crossroads facility, 2095 W. Fair Ave.]

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Going to the Dentist on Your Birthday

 
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.
 
Birthday agenda:
 
Cake, lots of it.....check
Cards from family & friends.....check
Happy birthday sung in a variety of public settings......check
Dinner out on the town..........check
Presents.............let's hope!
Trip to the dentist...........say what???
 
I like birthdays, especially my own.
 
This one isn't a "big" one with a zero at the end,
but it is a speed limit birthday,
higher than a work zone
but not quite highway driving.......
 
I know there are many
who like to ignore birthdays.
For many, it is just a reminder of our mortality
and the mirror reminds us that things have changed.
 
But all of us are mortal,
and those of us who know our Creator & Savior
are headed onto immortality.
 
And from day one,
we have all been in a process of change.
It didn't begin at age 30.
 
Nope,
I like my birthday.
I see it as a reminder
that I am loved by God, friends, and family.
I matter.
My life has purpose and intention
(for those who doubt, try Psalm 139....)
 
But a visit to the dentist???
It's not exactly birthday party material.
 
Especially this dentist. Dr. Driller.
I'm sure he is a decent human being.
I'm sure he pays his taxes
and feeds his children.
 
Maybe it starts with
his rooting for the rival football team.
There's not much you can do to retaliate
when he is throwing barbs at your team
and you have a minimum of 4 of his fingers in your mouth.
 
And so, instead of Happy Birthday
What I got was
I'll bet that last second loss really hurt......
now rinse please.
 
How many offensive lineman are injured this week?
Two? Three?
 
I suppose I could have bit him,
but with a digging pick in his hand,
I think he would have had the last laugh.
 
After about ten insults thrown at
the best team in the history of the universe,
he changed subjects.
 
Oh my,
that doesn't look good, he said
 
I thought he was still talking about the team offense
but then I realized he meant my teeth.
 
What's wrong??????
I tried to say,
but with cotton balls in my mouth,
it came out sounding like
Charlie Brown's teacher voice.
 
These fillings don't look good.
How old are they ?
 
Now I hadn't had fillings
since I was a child.
Instead of trying to speak the answer in garbled syllables,
I began to flash my fingers in groups of ten.
 
Oh dear,
they're ancient!
 
Ancient?
If there is one word you don't care to hear on your birthday,
it just might be ancient.
 
Man, they are old!
 
Okay, enough!
If anyone was going to be able
to rob me of my birthday joy,
Dr Driller seemed to be succeeding.
 
We're going to have to replace several of them.
 
Okay, can I have my cake now?
I thought as Dr Driller continued to prod and poke.
 
Wow, these have been in here so long
that they are going to cause some problems!
 
I waited for him to tell me it was all a joke
and for all the dental assistants
to storm into the room singing Happy Birthday.
 
But there was no singing to be had in exam room #3,
just some floss and some cinnamon flavored toothpaste.
and the thought of more dates with Dr. Driller.
 
And so I crawled out of the chair,
and slinked to the receptionist
to schedule three more visits to see Dr Driller
and to pay the bill.
(no dental insurance, final kick in the pants on my special day)
 
Each birthday
and the 364 days that follow it,
are gifts that we receive from God
There is no guarantee
that each morning.
our spirits will be returned to us.
 
And so each morning when I awaken,
I thank God for the gift of a new day.
It might be a day filled with sunshine and things that make me smile,
or it might be a day filled with challenges & frustrations,
or a day with the mix of the two.
 
But it is a day to treasure none-the-less,
because once it is gone,
I'll never have it back.
And that makes it the best gift I could ever have.
 
As I headed toward the door,
Dr Driller came through and said,
Oh, Happy Birthday,
Now let's get to work on those linebackers......
 
Happy birthday to me and happy day to all!
 
This is the day which the Lord has made;
Let us rejoice and be glad in it!
Psalm 118:24

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

First UMC Bicentennial Video - Part III


Lancaster First UMC Bicentennial Year Highlights Video


Our bicentennial year has included the April bell dedication, a May Founders’ Day, a June Methodist tent revival, a July stained glass exhibit, an August ice cream social, a September music Sunday in which we commissioned a bicentennial anthem, "Ring Out the Message" which is featured in this video. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

Sermon (October 14) - "Extravagant Generosity: Declarations of the Heart"

    I’ve been enjoying our four week church-wide journey as we’ve been focusing on the theme, Extravagant Generosity.  So many of you have been sharing personal examples of where you have experienced sacrificial giving thanks to someone who was generous on your behalf.
    I’d like to share a personal story as well.  My dad loved to go deer hunting in the mountains of central Pennsylvania.  He even bought a little hunting cabin in that area of the state when I was still in school.
     It was an annual ritual to head up to the mountains on the Sunday after Thanksgiving so that we would be ready for the opening morning of the new deer season.  I always enjoyed going up to the mountains.  But what I didn’t like was getting up at 4 on that early Monday morning which was always bitterly cold.
     It didn’t matter how many layers of clothing and coats I wore.  I knew that in less than two hours, I would be freezing there at my deer hunting post.  But this one year was the worst!
     We had been walking a long time on the frosty ground, wading across small creeks, and going against the chilly mountain wind.  When I finally made it to my spot to watch for deer, I noticed that my feet were already really cold, bitterly cold.  I was probably wearing three pairs of insulated socks so I knew there was a problem.
     When I found dad, I told him that my feet were freezing.  He could see that my one of my boots had a hole in it.  I took it off and discovered that my socks were soaking wet from walking through the little streams of water during the cold morning hours.
    My dad then switched boots with me.  He gave me his good ones and he wore my pair with holes in them.  I knew that dad was cold too, but he sacrificed so that I would be warm.
     This story always brings a smile to my face because that’s who dad was.  He was always thinking of others first.  To help me remember dad and this hunting story from my child hood, I have kept those hunting boots that he gave to me that day.
(SET ON STAND FOR REST OF THE SERMON.)
      These boots are a symbol for me of God’s extravagant giving.
      These kinds of examples help us to see that giving is in our nature.  It’s a God given quality from our birth.
     Probably the most well known verse in the bible is a verse about giving.  John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
     The whole mission of Jesus was that he gave himself totally for the sake of the world.  He died on a cross to offer salvation and redemption to the world.  Jesus was always giving.  As the embodiment of God, Jesus was showing us that God is a giving God.  And as the perfect human being, Jesus was showing that we too have been created in God’s image to be a people who are giving and generous.
     Giving is part of the character of God. Bishop Schnase puts it this way in his book Five Practices of Fruitful Living:
We give because we are made in the image of God, whose essential nature is giving. We are created with God’s nature imprinted on our souls; we are hard-wired to be social, compassionate, connected, loving, and generous.
     The entire teaching of the 2 Corinthians passage leading to verse 24 is about giving. Paul concludes that giving is proof or evidence of our love of God. God doesn’t force us to be generous. When we truly accept the generous gift of God’s love, our only possible response is to live and to give generously.
     Rev. George Cooper, the Council on Development Director of our West Ohio Conference shared this story of extravagant generosity with me back in April.  When he was a pastor in the East Ohio conference, he and his wife would eat lunch out after church on Sundays.  They chose a restaurant that was a little out of the way, but it was quiet and they had good food.
     The person who waited on them was really nice, so George and his wife left a really nice tip of $10 for a $14 meal.  When George and his wife returned to the same restaurant the next Sunday, this same waiter gave them a coupon for a free meal.
     When George asked why, the waiter said, “Well, you gave me such a nice tip the last time that my manager wanted to do something nice for you and that’s why I’m giving you this free lunch coupon.”
     So this time, George and his wife gave the waiter a $20 tip.
     Next Sunday, they return to the restaurant and the waiter offers them another free meal coupon.  And George said, “You don’t have to keep doing this.  We just appreciate your service so much.”  And the waiter said, “But my manager wants to keep being nice to you with these free lunch coupons.”
     Here’s the point that George was making in telling this story.  Extravagant generosity is contagious.  When you share generously with others, it has a ripple effect.  Generosity becomes a lifestyle, a way of life.
     This past summer when we had the really bad storm and so many people lost power, I saw example after example of people who offered to help others. 
     A neighbor across the street who isn’t a member of our church brought his chain saw to help with a tree that had fallen on the street.  An eight year old girl and dad who attend our church stopped by to see if they could help.  They wanted to clean up around our church even though they didn’t have any electricity in their own home.  Deep down inside each of us is this desire to give back.  I am convinced that a big part of being human is a desire to be extravagant givers and to be a blessing to others.
     We’re going to conclude our church wide focus today with an invitation to declare our hearts for this coming year.  During these past four weeks, we have been giving all of our focus to how giving flows from the heart.
     Many of us have received our 2013 Estimate of Giving forms in the mail this past week.  These commitment forms are more than accounting reports.  Each form represents a declaration of our heart as we offer all that we are to Christ and his church.
     A little later in the service, we’re going to invite you to place your completed commitment form in one of the special baskets nearest you.  Just think of how our declarations of the heart will lead our church into greater fruitfulness in ministry this coming year.
     As we prepare to make our 2013 church commitments, I’m reminded of a story told by famous radio personality, Garrison Keillor. A letter was sent from a church to those members who were not present on Pledge Dedication Sunday and therefore did not fill out their pledge cards: "Dear Ann and Joe: We missed you last Sunday which was Pledge Sunday. Since you were not present to fill out your pledge card and to make it easy for you, we have completed a pledge card for you. Thank you for being so generous. Signed, Your Finance Committee"
     Giving generously is part of who we are as people who are created in God’s image.  We give because Christ has given so generously to us.  Giving really is a matter of the heart.

Sunday Worship Preview - October 21


Sunday, October 21 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, October 24 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Theme - Bicentennial Homecoming Sunday, West Ohio Bishop, Gregory Palmer Preaching & Capitol Area South District Superintendent, Barb Sholis Serving as Worship Leader

Features - Recognition of Our Fifty Plus Year Church Members; Church-Wide Covered Dish Lunch/Brief Bicentennial Program @ Crossroads, 2095 W. Fair Avenue; & Season After Pentecost

Theme - On this Sunday, we conclude our church's bicentennial celebration with a homecoming Sunday. In addition to celebrating our history, we will be honoring our long-term members of fifty or more years.

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

A "Reasonable" Faith


The Reason Rally, a gathering of people who have no religious affiliation met in Washington DC this past March.  CNN has an article that references a recent Pew Research study that reveals that this segment of society has grown by 25% over the past five years, growing faster than any religious group. One in five Americans have no affiliation with any religious organization.

Whenever I read surveys and articles like these, I tend to have these initial reactions:

1. Sadness that many atheists and agnostics have a negative perception of the church and sadness that we, the church are sometimes our own worst enemy.  The church is often seen as judgmental, narrow-minded, anti-education/science, and pompous.  I know that this isn't the case for most churches, but this is often the perception.

2. Curiosity that gatherings like, "The Reason Rally" assume that Christianity is not a "reasonable" faith.  Many Christian denominations, including the United Methodist Church believe that our faith should include the use of reason in interpreting scripture and living out the faith.  John Wesley, the founder of Methodism believed that reason and religion go hand in hand.  This is why over a hundred colleges and universities were started by Methodists, many of them Liberal Arts institutions.

On a recent flight back from a continuing education event, I sat next to a young adult who I discovered does not have any religious affiliation.  She asked me the purpose of my trip and I told her that I was a pastor and had just visited a growing United Methodist Church that is having a very positive impact on the city where they are located.  She was surprised to hear that the church is partnering with inner city schools by purchasing playground ground equipment, providing tutorers, and donating mattresses so that children do not have to sleep on the floor.  I said how this involvement and partnership has led to significantly higher test scores.

After sharing many other ways this church is making a difference, I also told her about my church and how we make and send blankets to nursing homes, police stations, and hospice residents.  We also helped to assemble playground equipment for one of our city's elementary schools.  She looked at me with a surprised look and said, "I had no idea that churches were doing things like this."

Before the flight was over, I gave her a small book about Jesus and serving others and encouraged her to find a good church back home.  I also thanked her for reminding me of how important it is for the church to share the many good things that we are doing.

Now, I don't think that sharing of all of these good things will convince every secularist to become a Christian.  I'm also sure that many would continue to be very suspicious in hearing that there are thinking Christians who use reason and rationality in approaching their faith.

Surveys like this latest one from Pew Research show an apparent chasm between religious and non-religious people when in actuality there is more common ground for us to explore.