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


Friday, June 29, 2012

Lancaster First UMC Early History Video - Part II


This video was shown during our June 24th worship services as part of our year long bicentennial celebration.  The Part I video can be found here.  Enjoy!

Thursday, June 28, 2012

A Methodist Sun Tan at Rehoboth Beach



As I heard the waves of the Atlantic Ocean, children playing with their sand buckets, and leisurely conversations all around me, I was reminded of the tranquility that a trip to the beach provides.  Today is my first day back to work from a week's vacation, and I feel refreshed, renewed, and spiritually alive thanks to my trip to the sandy shores of Rehoboth Beach, Delaware.

Relaxing on a bench along the long boardwalk, I noticed a historical sign about Rehoboth Beach across from me.  Above is the picture that includes the history of this place of spiritual refreshment.  To my surprise, I discovered that this was no ordinary vacation resort.  This was holy ground (or should I say, "holy sand.")   Like so many of our country's hospitals and nursing homes, even this scenic beach resort was started by early Methodists!  This prompted be to read more about this Methodist connection which I found on this website.

In 1872, the Reverend Robert W. Todd, of St. Paul's M. E. Church in Wilmington, being very feeble from weeks of camp meeting services, visited Ocean Grove Camp Meeting on the Jersey Shore. Returning to St. Paul's, greatly restored in health and spirit, he told of his experiences in a sermon, using as his text the words, "And the sea hath spoken."

This holy renewal experience led this Methodist clergyman to establish "The Rehoboth Beach Camp Meeting Association of the Methodist Episcopal Church" on January 27, 1873.  The name, "Rehoboth," had already been given to the nearby bay by 17th century English explorers from the Virginia colony. They had chosen this name from the bible because it means, "broad places." Reverend Todd's desire was to provide a place where people could come to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and to experience the beauty of God's good creation along the Atlantic Ocean.  This Methodist preacher who had experienced God's renewing love on his recent trip to the beach, wanted others to experience this transformation as well.

This vacation came at just the right time for me.  It was just a couple of weeks ago that my mother died unexpectantly.  I was feeling emotionally drained and tired in the days that followed.  In short, I was not myself.

Now, I'm back home.  And like Reverend Todd, I feel renewed because of my "holy sand" experience.

"The sea hath spoken."

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Sermon by Pastor Cheryl Foulk (June 24) - "The Life of David: Battling Giants"


      
David and Goliath : the  tale  about a giant and a kid with a sling shot!

This video gives us a short recap  of the story:

This was a commercial that aired during  the Super Bowl of 1995 advertising Wilson sports equipment.

Probably most of the football fans that day recognized the story even if they knew little about the Bible.

This story is  the grandfather of all “underdog versus the champion” tales. We hear the term “David versus Goliath”  as a description often:

The small college team versus the university squad,  the individual versus a large corporation,

the  lesser known candidate versus the incumbent, the amateur  versus the professional. The term is used to describe what appears to be a lopsided situation.  On occasion,we enjoy cheering on the underdog to an unlikely victory.  But underdogs can triumph!

This is one of the early stories about David and his youth. We've been told previously  that he is the youngest of eight children, that he is a shepherd for his father's flocks,  and that he plays the lyre. He has also been anointed by the prophet Samuel secretly  and in the future, will lead his people as king.

If we have any doubts about David's abilities, what makes this kid special, our doubts are answered in the Valley of Elah where David  faces a threatening  enemy to  his people.

Tensions are great in the valley; for 6 weeks the challenge has been offered by the Philistines daily: who will come and fight one on one with Goliath? It is a fight to the death situation.

Goliath is a large man with heavy armor and advanced weapons. He also has a big mouth with no respect for the God of Israel nor for the Israelites, or for young  David.

On the side with the Israelites is their king Saul who is not stepping forward to fight.  Apparently none of the soldiers want to take on the intimidating Goliath.

David, who is  younger than the others,volunteers to go out on the field. Quickly he uses his weapon and Goliath is silenced. He falls to the ground and David uses Goliath's own sword to mortally wound him .The threat of the Philistines is gone for now. David is on his way to becoming a man who will fight many battles.

Besides being a great underdog story, what can we learn from David's actions?

We will be looking at five areas and I'll be asking five questions.

David recognized that the threat was not just to him, but to all his people.  He was responding to a concern that affected all of them. He had to take a stand for his people who were in trouble. Their homes, their families, their way of life was being diminished by the Philistines. David felt called to step forward.

Rev. Corey Brown is a pastor at New Beginnings Church on the South side of Chicago. His neighborhood is torn by violence, drug use, economic problems. In one year, he had 10 funerals for young  men in the neighborhood; his heart was breaking for what was happening around him.  

 He pitched a tent on the roof of  a nearby abandoned motel to raise awareness of what was happening in his neighborhood.  He lived in the tent for 3 months to determine what God would have him to do . His church raised enough money to buy the lot and tear down the old motel. On that site they want to build a community center for the youth and families of the neighborhood. Today Pastor Brown is walking across America  from New York City  to Los  Angeles. Through walking, he hopes to talk to people in other cities about urban violence and to raise the needed monies.
“God wants me to do something larger than this church”  he has told his congregation.   He is facing an incredible giant of violence but he  and others  are stepping out  literally to say that there is hope for their cities.  What breaks your heart about our community?

David did have courage, and was perhaps reckless in his eager response to Goliath, but most of all he relied on his past experience with God. He remembered how God had been with him in times of danger.

In taking care of his sheep, he had defended them against wild animals. David depended upon God to do what he could not do on his own.  God had helped him as he protected his lambs, and David could not forget this.

Psalm 18: I love you Lord, my strength. The Lord is my rock,in whom I take refuge.”

How has God been faithful to you?

David did not let the others persuade him that he couldn't fight. His  older brother questioned his motives, and King Saul doubted his abilities and his stamina.  David acted regardless of their opinions.

In life, sometimes people get it wrong when they evaluate us!

Walt Disney was told by a newspaper editor that”he lacked imagination and had no good ideas.”

Oprah Winfrey was fired as a t.v. reporter and was described as being “unfit for t.v.”

Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball  team in N.C.

Fred Astaire , after a movie screen test, was  described as someone who  “Can't act. Can't sing. Slightly bald. Can dance a little.”   

 I've heard some discouraging words along the way; we all have. Question is: how does God see me? And what does God expect of me?

David used what he had and who he was to respond to the challenge. Saul's armor did not fit him ( too heavy and restrictive) and he had no sword.  David had his own lethal battle weapon- the slingshot with 5 river rocks.    Use what you have and what you can do in your battles with giants.

At  Annual Conference, we were introduced to a teen who is 14 years old.. When she was 4 years old she heard about Grace Children's Hospital in Haiti and wanted to help the children there. 

Grace Children's Hospital    brings much needed care and healing to children with tuberculosis , AIDS,and other diseases.  The hospital was damaged by the earthquake in  2010   but has continued, with alterations, to provide medical care for the children.  This young woman has raised money each year for the hospital  by making Christmas ornaments . This past year she could not make the ornaments because of a health condition that she has, but she did make Easter candy for sale. She raised over $1000 dollars, and  presented her gift to the Bishop  in a Glad bag!

For 10 years she has battled the giant of disease in Haiti with what she could do. Next summer, she is, with great excitement, going on a mission trip to Haiti to see the dream that she supports year round.  Are we trusting in God and in our abilities as we respond to the cries of the world?

David sounded off to those who felt that they could not act, who were afraid, who were at a standstill.

“They were dismayed and greatly afraid” reads the description in the Scriptures. David  proclaimed to the Israelites   their true identity: that they belonged to the Creator of earth and heaven, the One who chose them as his people and who had led them and sustained them. David, for some,is known for his military might and for his ruthless actions  to obtain whatever he wanted. But to me, David is important  because of his constant witness to God's presence. When we have our doubts ,when we are  facing a challenge, will you be the one to tell us once again that the Lord is with us!

There are  many giants that affect the whole world: poverty, homelessness, human slavery, disease, addictions,ethnic hatreds, lack of clean water,famine, economic turmoil, illiteracy, war, damage to our earth.   Problems seem immense, the answers complicated,  these giants don't seem to go away.

Philistines were not completely defeated in the valley . The Israelite history  tells us that there were many more battles between these two peoples in the years ahead.  We may feel, what's the use,what do our small efforts matter?

David's story is more than “under dog wins” headline. It is a story of how God is diligently working in our lives and in our world in impossible situations with unlikely people !   Like us.

In the valley of Elah, the people saw the one who was considered invincible, FALL.  Giants are tumbling in our world. The hungry are being fed, the sick are being healed, the imprisoned are being freed,  weapons are being turned into plowshares.  Enemies are becoming friends,  hearts are opening to the grace of Jesus Christ, love is breaking the bonds of hate.

Paul wrote: I can do all things through Christ who gives me the strength.

Remember the story of David and his battle with Goliath , the weak who was made strong through his faith in Yahweh.

Let us act and be encouraged by the empowering presence of God.

And don't forget your slingshot.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - July 1


Sunday, July 1 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & NO WEDNESDAY SERVICE THIS WEEK DUE TO JULY 4 HOLIDAY  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Life of David: Good Grief"

Features - Season After Pentecost; Independence Day Weekend; & Holy Communion

Scripture - II Samuel 1:1, 17-27 & Mark 5:21-43

Theme - When Saul and Jonathon died, David experienced deep grief.  When we experience a loss in our lives, God is here to comfort us and to help us grieve in a way that will lead us into a new understanding of God's presence and love.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

And Now, She Knows


With only a few bible studies left before our summer break, she approached me at the end of our weekly time together with a request.  "Sometime, I'd like you to explain the Trinity at one of our bible studies."

This was not an unusual request.  She would often catch me following a bible study to ask me a question, offer one more thought from our discussion, or share something that she found really insightful from our time together.  For the past three years, it has been very obvious to me that she is a learner, a true student of the bible and someone who wants to know how it connects with our daily living.  In short, a pastor's dream.  In many ways, she reminded me of my mother who was about the same age and who also enjoyed reading and studying the bible.

In response to her request, I replied, "Trinity Sunday is only a couple of weeks away, so for our last Bible study of the season, I'll offer as much as I know about the doctrine of the Trinity.  It's not easy to explain, but I'll give it my best shot."  A great big smile came to her face and she said, "Oh, that would be great. Thank you!"

At our final bible study gathering, I came prepared.  I listed the many scripture passages in which each of the three persons of the Trinity have divine attributes that are only associated with God.  I also referred to Jesus' baptism and his transfiguration as examples in which all three persons of the Trinity were present at the same time.  For example, when Jesus (the Son) was baptized, a dove (the Holy Spirit) descended upon him, and a voice came from heaven (the Father) stating that this is my son with whom I am well pleased.  I also shared that while the word, "Trinity" is not used in the bible, it's the best word to explain how God is known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, especially when we read a verse like Matthew 28:19 - "Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit."

After offering my best effort to explain the Trinity, I then told the bible study group that it's still a mystery.  How can God be one and yet be known as three persons?  The scriptures point us to the doctrine of the Trinity, but they don't remove the mystery that is behind it. "We accept the doctrine of the Trinity by faith," I said to them as we concluded our final session before our summer break with a prayer.

As I was packing up my bible and notes, she was one of the last to leave and I knew that she wanted to speak with me before I left.  "Thank you for helping me to understand the Trinity.  That really helped.  And I really like it that you admitted that it's still a mystery to you."

I left from that bible study feeling like I accomplished something.  Her kind words following that bible study lifted my spirit.

In just a couple of weeks after Trinity Sunday, this wonderful student of the bible passed away unexpectedly.  I saw her son and daughter at the church yesterday as they were planning their mother's funeral service.  I told them what a wonderful mother they had and about this story of how she wanted to know more about the Trinity.

As I told them this story about their mother and how she wanted to know more about the Trinity, it suddenly dawned on me. 

And now, she knows.

[In loving memory of Rosemary Miller, February 2, 1929 - June 18, 2012]

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - June 24


Sunday, June 24 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, June 27  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Life of David: Battling Giants"

Features - Season After Pentecost

Scripture - I Samuel 17:1a, 4-11, 19-23, 32-49

Theme - The story of David defeating Goliath is a story of how God strengthens us to take on the giants in our lives.  What "giants" are you facing in your life, now? Know that God will help you overcome!

Monday, June 18, 2012

Sermon by Pastor Cheryl Foulk (June 10) - "The Life of David: Watch Out What You Pray For"


When we pray are we expecting that change will come and are we ready for the outcome?

Let me tell you about Tabernacle Baptist, a large white columned church in downtown Richmond, Virginia. Tabernacle Baptist  has been there for over 100 years. At one time many people worshiped there. But the neighborhood has changed through the years, and people left  the city for the suburbs. Houses were divided up into apartments. The membership had dwindled down to a small group.  They prayed for God to bring them new members especially ones with children. 

In 2007 they received a new pastor, and his two children doubled the size of their  Sunday School ! He worked with the church to reach out to others and they continued to pray for new members especially those with children.  The church got a call from an agency working with  refugees from Burma who had settled in Richmond. Could they help welcome these persons?  Slowly Tabernacle Church responded with helping children register for school, teaching English classes, other projects. They discovered that many of the refugees were Baptist because of missionaries that had gone to Burma in the past. They knew the same Baptist hymn tunes, just in different languages. The Burmese families began to attend the church.  The church continued to pray that God would send them new members, especially those with children.     

Folks of Tabernacle Baptist came to the realization that the new families that they had been praying for had arrived ,after all, by way of South East Asia. Today they have close to 200 people worshiping- some have been there many years, and some for just a short time.  They like to think of themselves as “the little church that could.”

Watch out what you pray for because you just might get it!” 
                
In our reading from I Samuel, we find that the Israelite leaders  had come to the prophet Samuel at Ramah, and had pleaded for a king. This is the response that Samuel offered to them: consider carefully the request that you are making. The Israelites wanted to be like the other nations who had kings,  organized armies and weapons,  plenty of wealth.

The request for a king was understandable. Israel's tribes had no centralized leadership. They were at the mercy of others, like  the  Philistines who lived on the coast,and  were successful traders. The Philistines had a military with iron weapons, and controlled the crucial highway between Egypt and the Mid-East.                                                                                                                  
While Samuel was well aware of the limitations of his people,and the advantages in having a king, he also knew that there were also many disadvantages.

 The biggest disadvantage was that Israel already had a king, the Lord God! If only they would have recognized the Lord as their king, they wouldn’t be in the position they were in now.

The second disadvantage was that an earthly king would demand tremendous sacrifice on the part of the people. And Samuel goes on to spell this out. “He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive orchards and give them to his couriers. He will take one-tenth of your grain and of your vineyards and give it to his officers and his courtiers. He will take your male and female slaves, and the best of your cattle and donkeys, and put them to his work. He will take one-tenth of your flocks, and you shall be his slaves.”

And then Samuel asks them one more time: “Do you still want a king? Be careful what you pray for because you just might get it.”
Samuel then consults the Lord about what he should do and surprisingly the Lord tells Samuel to go ahead and grant their request. Samuel warned them that a monarchy would come with a great price.

Israel does get a king:  Samuel anoints Saul  Over time, Samuel’s words of warning proved to be true. In the future,some of the Israelite kings were good and some were not. More battles were lost than won. Conquering armies will come again and again until the Israelite people are taken away as captives.

Over the next several weeks, our Old Testament readings will focus on the life of one of the best known names in the entire Bible, King David. There is more written about David's life in the Scriptures than any other person. David became Israel’s second king after Saul, and is known as a man  after God’s own heart.

As we study his story we will realize that David was far from perfect.

But as king, David led the people of Israel during their  years of becoming a nation and of finding a faith. He was a warrior, a ruler, a poet,a musician, and one who yearned for God.  When we trace the genealogy of Jesus,we trace it through the ancient house of King David.  David will be our main focus throughout these summer weeks as we look at his life of triumphs and tragedies.

For today, as we think about  Israel’s desire to have a king, I want us to think about the importance of being bold with our prayers. That’s the way our prayers need to be. Bold with expectation!  They need to be the kind of prayers where someone like Samuel  would say : “Watch out what you pray for because you just might get it.”


Remember several months ago, when we were preparing for our church wide focus on prayer and faith sharing called “Unbinding your Heart.” We had a very ambitious goal of having 40 small groups with 400 people participating in those small groups.

 There were some difficulties trying to form these groups  right before the Christmas and New Year’s holiday. The goals had not been accomplished when the planing team met to discuss the situation. There was discouragement because there had not been positive responses in recruiting small group leaders.

At the meeting someone reminded the group  that all that was needed  was to pray. And so they did, they  prayed and gave their concerns to God.

It wasn’t that long after the celebration of Jesus' birth in December that a change happened. In a matter of a week and a half, the number of people willing to lead a small group almost doubled. We were much closer to reaching our  goal.

We had ordered 450  books to give out to our congregation during the next six weeks. After just one Sunday, we had already handed out all of those books and we needed to order more books! The response was wonderful! God was answering our prayers!
When the  planning group met later that same week, Pastor Robert  jokingly told them that maybe they needed to stop praying because now we couldn’t keep up with God!

If we pray we should not be surprised  at the results that will happen.

When  the Rev. Will Willimon was Dean of the Chapel at Duke University, he got a call from a parent,  very upset parent. “I hold you personally responsible for this,” he said.


Me?” Willimon asked.

The father was upset because his graduate school bound daughter had just informed him that she was going to chuck it all, “throw it all away” was the way the father described it and go do mission work with the Presbyterian Church in Haiti.

Isn’t that absurd!” shouted the father. “A BS degree in mechanical engineering from Duke and she’s going to dig ditches in Haiti.”

Well, I doubt that she’s received much training in the Engineering Department here for that kind of work, but she’s probably a fast learner and will probably get the hang of ditch digging in a few months,” Willimon said.
Look,” said the father, “This is no laughing matter. You are completely irresponsible to have encouraged her to do this. I hold you personally responsible,” he said.

Me? What have I done?”

You, you ingratiated yourself with her, filled her head with all that religion stuff. She likes you, that’s why she’s doing this foolishness,” he said.
Now look, buster,” Will said, struggling to keep his ministerial composure. “Weren’t you the one who had her baptized?
 
Well, yes,” he said.

And then, didn’t you read her bible stories, take her to Sunday School, let her go with the Presbyterian Youth Fellowship to ski in Colorado?”

Well, yes, but…”

Don’t but me,” Will said. “It’s your fault that she believed all that stuff, that she’s gone and thrown it all away for Jesus, not mine. You’re the one who introduced her to Jesus, not me.”

But all we ever wanted her to be was a Presbyterian,” he said, meekly.

Sorry. You’ve messed up and made a disciple.”
Watch out what you pray for...

The Israelites who came to Samuel might not have had the best of intentions when they asked Samuel to give them a king. Like us, so much of the time, they didn’t fully realize the impact that their request would have on them and on their nation as a whole. Having David as a  king would set them on a whole new direction, and an exciting adventure in being God’s people.


David was  a person  who lived boldly, who prayed fervently, and who lived courageously. We'll learn more about him this summer and more about ourselves as we pray with anticipation.


Watch out what you pray for because you just might get it!

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Sermon (June 17) - "The Life of David: Looks Can Be Deceiving!"


     A small country church was in need of a guest preacher to fill the pulpit one Sunday morning so the pastor arranged for someone he knew to come and preach that morning.  The person who was asked to preach had never been to this church before and he also had a heart for missions and the homeless.
     Since the congregation had never met him before, he decided to take advantage of his anonymity by being a little sneaky but also creative in preparing for his sermon.  Here’s what he did.  He dressed up as a homeless man and arrived at the church long before the first people arrived. 
     Wearing a tattered old coat, smelly jeans, and torn shoes, he huddled near the entrance of the church to see how the church members would react.  When it would be time for worship, his plan was to then enter the sanctuary and surprise the people by being their guest speaker.  He was then going to preach a sermon on how God calls us to reach out to people in need.  That was the plan, anyway. 
     The first few people who arrived that morning were horrified to find this man huddled next to their church door.  They didn’t know what to do so they ignored him and came into the church and found their place in the pew.  This was pretty much the response of everyone else who arrived that chilly fall Sunday morning.  They just walked right by this man in disguise and prepared for worship.
     It was time for the service to begin but there was still no sign of the guest speaker.  The congregation assumed that he had either gotten lost or that he simply forgot.  One man decided to use their extra time to take care of the problem of the homeless man and so he called the police.
     My pastor friend who was telling me this story said that his guest speaker friend was startled when the police cruiser pulled into the tiny church parking lot.  His plan had taken a twist that he didn’t anticipate.  After explaining to the officer that he wasn’t really homeless and that he was actually the guest preacher, can you imagine the expressions of shock and horror as this man took his place in the seat next to the pulpit?
     You have to hand it to him.  He made his point.  Looks can be very deceiving!  One thing is for sure.  The people in that little country church will probably never forget that Sunday when a homeless man preached the sermon.
     The Story of the choosing of David as the King is one of the most familiar and favorite of the Old Testament stories. We already heard the story.
     Samuel is sent to Bethlehem to find the farmer Jesse to select from among Jesse's sons a new king for Israel because the sitting King of Israel, Saul has lost God's favor.  So one after the other, the sons of Jesse are paraded before Samuel.
     And what a family this is.  What a proud father, Jesse must have been.  He had it all.  He was a prominent man in his community and probably well off.  And just look at his picture-perfect family.  We’re introduced to Jesse’s first son, Eliab.  Picture in your mind, six foot five, 220 lbs., handsome.  And he’s just the first of several sons introduced to Samuel.  I mean, any of his sons would be potential recruits for Urban Meyer.  These are five star prospects.
     This is the family that would definitely want to send out Christmas cards with a family photo and a description of how each son is either in law school, studying to be a doctor, or getting ready to compete in the Summer Olympics.  This is that kind of family!
     Samuel immediately thought Eliab was the one.  “Well that was easy.  Eliab, the Lord has chosen you to be…Wait a minute, what was that Lord?  What do you mean he’s not the one to be the next King?  He’s perfect.  Why wouldn’t you want him?”
     But the Lord tells Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” And one after the other, each of Jesse’s impressive sons are rejected by the Lord.
     Finally, the youngest of the sons, David, is brought forward—almost as an afterthought.  Compared to his brothers, David is more of a delicate and ruddy-skinned boy. “This is the one who is to be King,” the Lord whispers in Samuel's ear. Samuel immediately anoints David as king in the presence of his brothers, and “the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David.” For God sees what we cannot see.
     Looks can be deceiving, can’t they?
     I must say that I’m a little conscientious of this whole height thing.  The McDowell family has never been known for being that tall.  Taking a family picture when we get together is a problem because when the person with the camera asks the taller people to stand behind the others, nobody moves.
     My brother has a sign at the top of his stairs leading to his home office warning people to duck because of the low ceiling.  The sign says, “If you are taller than a McDowell, you’d better duck your head!”

     Many of you might remember when basketball legend, Jerry Lucas visited our church a couple of years ago.  Well, here’s a picture of Jerry and me during his visit with us.  I don’t know if you can notice the height differential in this picture.  It may not be obvious.

     Outward appearances or what we might think of as surface oriented qualifications aren’t all what they’re cracked up to be.
     Remember Susan Boyle?  She was the unknown soprano who in April of 2009, appeared on the TV program, “Britain’s Got Talent.” The crowd laughed at her when she came on stage.  One of the judges, Simon Cowell thought it was some kind of joke because of her unkempt appearance.
     You’ve probably already seen this, but here’s her performance that night.


     Oh my, how looks can be deceiving.
     This story about God choosing one of Jesse’s sons to be the next King of Israel reminds us that God’s calling isn’t just for the one with the degrees, the charismatic personality, and the movie star looks.  God’s call also comes to the one you’d least expect, especially to the one you’d least expect.  Like my father.           
     Dad always felt like he lived in the shadows of his older brother.  I remember him telling me several times how he always wanted to be more like my Uncle Mac.  When my dad would be out in the garage having trouble fixing a motor, he would say, “Your Uncle Mac would have been able to fix this in no time.”
     In one way, dad was complimenting his brother when he said those things.  But I don’t think he truly realized what a wonderful man he was as well.
     The story is told that when mom and dad came back from their Florida honeymoon in 1950, dad was the one who suggested which church they should begin attending together as a married couple.  That Methodist church located in a small south central Pennsylvania town became the place where they would raise their four children in the Christian faith and where two of those children would go on to become United Methodist pastors.
     This past fall, as the four of us were cleaning out our mom’s attic, we were surprised to find a diary that belonged to our grandmother, our dad’s mother.  It only covered three years from 1970 to 1972 and each entry was only a sentence or two.  One of the entries talked about the astronauts being in trouble.  That’s all it said.  She was referring to the astronauts that were on the Apollo 13 mission.
     In another diary entry, my grandmother wrote that my dad had stopped by to visit with her after he had dropped me off for a youth group meeting at the church.  That little diary entry reminded me that even though dad didn’t talk a lot about his faith, his church and his faith were very important to him.
     When I went to college, somebody in the church told my mom and dad about a troubled teen who was homeless.  It was my dad who said, “We have room in our home.”  It was the love of my mom and dad that helped this person know that somebody cared.
     My dad didn’t need to live in his brother’s shadow.  He was quietly living out his calling to be a great dad and a follower of Jesus.
     In this story of the Lord calling David, the last of Jesse’s sons to become the new King of Israel, there’s a very important verse that I want to leave us with today.  It’s the last verse, verse 13.  “Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed David in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward.”
     The reason that the Lord doesn’t worry about our outward appearance or how tall we are is because when God calls us, it’s the Holy Spirit that empowers us to do what we are being called to do.  We can step out in faith because it’s not about our strength or our looks.  It’s about the Holy Spirit at work in our lives.
     A couple of months ago, someone shared with me how someone here in our church responded to God’s calling following worship one Sunday morning.  It was the Sunday that we focused on the importance of prayer and praying for others.  We had these little heart post-it stickers where we invited the congregation to write a prayer request on the heart and then stick it to the prayer door.
     Well, one of you felt called by God to take this idea beyond our church walls that very day.  After worship, you went to the prayer door and you peeled off several of those heart post-it notes to take with you.
     You then went to the hospital and gave several patients one of these hearts in which you had written the words, “Praying for you – First United Methodist Church.”
     But you weren’t done.  You left the hospital and visited one of our nursing homes giving people these hearts with the same message.  You responded to God’s calling that Sunday morning.
     And my goodness.  You’re only half as tall as I am, and just seven years old.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Scriptures for Mom


Particular scriptures can often help us during times of transition.  This was especially true for my family last week as we spent time with mom before she passed away on Saturday, June 9.  Here are the scriptures that helped us during that week of saying  goodbye to our wonderful mother.

Ecclesiastes - It was interesting how this book of the bible was the Old Testament reading from The Daily Office scripture readings.  The Daily Office is the Episcopal/Anglican Church method of reading a brief Old Testament, New Testament, Gospel, and Psalm reading each day.  Ecclesiastes which speaks of life being like a vapor reminded me of how short life is.  It's like a vapor.  We need to cherish and live in each moment and remember that life is a gift from God.

Psalm 23 - Early in the week, we shared this Psalm with mom from mom's New King James Bible.  But as we began to read it, we all slipped into the old King James Version which is the version mom used as a child in memorizing this Psalm.  In a very weakened condition, she was able to speak portions of this Psalm by memory.  It was a holy moment for mom and the four of us to share in this well beloved Psalm together.  It's a psalm that speaks of the Lord as our loving shepherd.  The psalm also speaks of green pasures which reminded us of mom and dad's farm which meant so much to them. This is why we chose this psalm to be included in the funeral card that people received when they came to the visitation.

Isaiah 40:28-31 - I read this scripture to mom one morning this past week.  It's a scripture that offers the promise that by trusting in the Lord, we will renew our strength, we will mount up with wings like eagles, we shall run and not be weary, we shall walk and not faint.  We believe that mom is in a place now where this promise has been fulfilled for her.  We also believe that it was the Lord who sustained us as we spent that difficult week with mom by her side. 

Romans 8:31-39 - How could we not include this scripture during our time with mom?  This is probably one of my favorite scriptures and one which my brother chose to read during one of our morning devotions with mom last week.  Listen to this great word of promise and hope: "For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor rulers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth,nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us form the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord."  This is the hope that we have in our faith.  Through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, nothing can ever separate us from God's love, not even death.  Praise God!

Psalm 139:1-18 - Several years ago, when mom pre-planned her funeral arrangements, she asked for this Psalm to be read at her funeral.  Probably the most famous part of this Psalm is, "For it was  you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother's womb.  I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.  Wonderful are your works; that I know very well."  In 2000, mom wrote a three page hand-written letter about her life which she gave to her children and grandchildren.  This scripture was included at the end of that letter.  We read this letter to our family the evening before the funeral.  This letter was also read at her funeral.

John 14:1-4, 18-19, 25-27 - Mom's United Methodist pastor chose this as the Gospel reading at mom's funeral.  This is where Jesus promises the disciples that even though he needs to leave them, that he is going to prepare a place for them.  "In my Father's house, there are many dwelling places."  Pastor Barry spoke of how mom was born in the house that she had lived all her life.  Just as God provided mom a room in her earthly dwelling, God has also prepared a room for her in his kingdom.  

What gave us great comfort when we were with mom last week was to know how important her bible was to her.  She read it daily and took it with her to Sunday School and worship.  The bible was her source of light and hope throughout her life.  What a gift to hear God speak to us through his Word, especially as we go through times of transition.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - June 17


Sunday, June 17 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, June 20  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Life of David: Looks Can Be Deceiving"

Features - Season After Pentecost & Fathers' Day

Scripture - I Samuel 15:34-16:13 & Mark 4:26-34

Theme - The story of how God chose David to be king of Israel reminds us that God is more concerned about the state of our heart than our outward appearance.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Hymn Sings for Mom


[Our Mother, Janelle McDowell; Daughters, Teresa & Dena; & Sons, David & Robert]

It's been a while since I've been to an old fashioned hymn sing but I just experienced several of them in the past few days and I wasn't even in church.  My mom, 82 passed away today, June 9 at my brother's home in Pennsylvania where her four kids were gathered by her side this past week.

During one of our evenings with mom this past week we decided to sing some hymns without accompaniment.  My brother sang harmony and I struggled to keep the melody but those old hymns still sounded great.  From mom's perspective, God had mysteriously transported us into a heavenly church sanctuary where all of God's people were singing out God's praises even though this was all taking place in my brother's family room.  At the close of our last hymn, mom managed enough energy to clutch her hands in front of her in a posture of prayer. 

The next hymn sing was two evenings later when my brother pounded out the great old hymns on the piano so that our mom could hear them from the bedroom where she was now confined.  Each hymn spoke of the assurance we can have through our faith in Christ.  "This is my story.  This is my song.  Praising my Savior all the day long."

Around 3:15 in the morning, we experienced our third and final hymn sing of the week.  This one had a much different feel.  Instead of loud praises, our sister, the nurse who was with mom during those early morning hours, gently woke us up to join in singing a beautiful song offering her to the Lord.  We sang her into heaven at 3:36 A.M. 

As we struggled to sing the song over and over again to our mom, we could sense that our voices were being drowned out by the angelic heavenly voices welcoming her home.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Our Church's Bicentennial - The Importance of Prayer


[Methodist Circuit Rider Preacher, Rev. Peter Cartwright, 1785-1872 who was assigned to our New Lancaster, Ohio class meeting for one year 1806.]

Our next big bicentennial celebration event will be an old fashioned Methodist tent revival on Sunday, June 24, 5:00 P.M. at our Crossroads facility.  At this event, we will meet the most famous Methodist horseback circuit rider preacher, Rev. Peter Cartwright who covered this area back in 1806.

Peter lived from 1785 to 1872 and wrote an autobiography of his life toward the end of his illustrious ministry.  I read it this past winter in preparation for our church’s bicentennial.  It helps give a picture of what the Ohio frontier was like in the early 1800’s and the hardships those early Methodist preachers endured as they traveled from town to town preaching the good news of Christ.

Peter actually lodged in Ed Teal’s log cabin who was the founding layperson of our church.  Peter was warned that Ed would expect him to join him for early morning prayers.  When Peter woke to join Ed for prayer, he was surprised and disappointed that Ed didn’t include the rest of his family for the morning prayer time.  Later that day, Ed chastised Peter for not joining him.  When Peter explained why he didn’t pray with him, Ed thanked Peter for making his point. 

I’m glad that stories like these from our church’s history often include a deep commitment to prayer.  As we continue our bicentennial year, let’s remember to make prayer an important part of our daily living and let’s include others to pray with us.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

Sunday Worship Preview - June 10


Sunday, June 10 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, June 13  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Life of David: Watch Out What You Pray For"

Features - Season After Pentecost & Holy Baptism (11 A.M.)

Scripture - I Samuel 8:4-20 & 11:14-15 & Mark 3:20-35

Theme - This summer, we focus on the life of David, one of the most important figures in the Bible.  We begin this series by focusing not on David, but on the prophet Samuel.  The people of Israel demanded Samuel to give them a king, but Samuel reminded them of that old saying, “Watch out what you pray for.  You just might get it!”

My Top Church Celebrity Names


Over the years, I have been priviledged to be the pastor of several well known celebrities.  OK, at least by name association.  On the lighter side of pastoral ministry, here are some of the celebrity names who were members of my church along with their "real" occupations.  I'll add others as they come to mind.

Pete Rose - A very successful farmer but I never saw him wear a Reds hat.
Jim Carter - I believe he was an educator and I don't think he was from Georgia.
Cindy Crawford - I golfed with her and officiated her daughter's wedding!
Charles Brown - He was a great organist but I hear that Schroeder was even better.
Charlie Brown - He loved our contemporary service unless Lucy was in attendance.
Rick Smith - He doesn't give lessons to any pro golfers but he sure is a great cook!