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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Worship Scripture Commentary - Sunday, June 2

Sunday, June 2 – Music Sunday

II Chronicles 5:11-14

In our Old Testament reading, King Solomon of Israel has the Ark of the Covenant placed in the Temple in Jerusalem. To celebrate the occasion, several singers and instrumentalists offered music in praise of the Lord.

Verse 13 - The music played at this special dedication of the Ark of the Covenant is similar to the psalms that were used when David brought the Ark into Jerusalem.
(I Chronicles 16:34)

Music is an important part of worship. How does music help you worship and praise the Lord?

Revelation 22:1-5

Book of Revelation – Written by John (not sure which John this might be) on the island of Patmos because he was in exile for his faith. He is encouraging the churches in Asia Minor to continue to hold fast in their faith. He is letting them know what is happening in heaven in the present moment. All the saints are worshipping and praising God!

The author of Revelation is also pointing to the future when heaven and earth will be made new. This is the ultimate glorious hope of the Christian faith.

This book has been widely misinterpreted as a book that is prophesying about events that will happen in the 20th and 21st century as if the historical context of the author’s time of writing was unimportant. We need to understand the historical context in which the author was writing (such as the church was facing persecutions by the mighty Roman Empire) and then ask the question, “what do these passages of scriptures mean for us today?)

We also tend to use a concrete understandings of the symbols and images found in this book of the Bible when many of these are metaphors to help describe the presence of evil in our world and the significant ways God is overcoming (and will overcome!) evil.

Key verse (Verse 5) – “The one who sat on the throne said, “Look, I am making all things new.” Where do you see the Lord making all things new in our community and world?  When you see how God is at work in making things new, is your response to worship and praise the Lord?

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Crestview Nursing Home Honors First UMC & Second Saturday Outreach

[Above Picture: A First UMC Second Saturday Outreach volunteer helps a Crestview Nursing Home staff member with the ever popular Saturday morning bingo game. Playing bingo helps the residents with their cognitive skills and provides fun fellowship. The games can also become competitive!]
Chair volleyball, bingo, blankets, fruit & cookies deliveries...these are the many ways that our church has been involved at Crestview Nursing Home through Second Saturday Outreach. Our church was recently recognized by Crestview Nursing Home for the many ways that we help at their facility.

One of our church members who is part of this outreach said, "I'm proud of all the volunteers and our church. Congratulations!"

Second Saturday is a ministry outreach that meets on the second Saturday of each month in the morning beginning at 8:30 am at our Crossroads facility, 2095 W. Fair Avenue. From there, several members of our church go out to to serve in our community in a variety of ways such as cleaning up the parks, painting park benches, serving breakfast at Foundation Dinner, making blankets to give to community agencies, splitting wood to give to people who need heat during the cold season, offering free car washes, and volunteering at Crestview just to name a few.

Join us for our Second Saturday outreach. There's something for everyone to do!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Memorial Day Prayer

Today, we remember and give thanks for those who have served in the military and are no longer with us. We thank them for their brave service to our country.

Prayer for Heroic Service: Memorial Day (Book of Common Prayer)

O Judge of the nations, we remember before you with grateful hearts the men and women of our country who in the day of decision ventured much for the liberties we now enjoy. Grant that we may not rest until all the people of this land share the benefits of true freedom and gladly accept its disciplines. This we ask in the Name of Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, May 24, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - June 9

Sunday, June 9 - (7:30, 9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, June 12 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "You Give a Little Love"

Features - 3rd Sunday After Pentecost & Children's Sing & Praise

Scripture - I Kings 17:8-16 & Luke 7:11-17

Theme - Our scripture readings for this day focus on the plight and vulnerability of widows as well as single mothers with children. Both Elijah and Jesus offer God's love to widows and this leads to hope and new life. How might we offer God's love to people in our community who may be in despair and pain?

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Dave's Deep Thoughts - The Non-V Streak

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.
My life has been filled with streaks,
but only one really matters.
Here's to the others that don't......
I have always been fascinated with streaks.
Many of them involve sports teams.
Cal Ripken's consecutive 2,632 games played.
Joe Dimaggio's 56 game hitting streak.
Cal-Tech ending a 26 year losing streak in basketball.
The Orioles opening the 1988 baseball season with 21 consecutive losses.
The Pittsburgh Pirates 20 consecutive losing seasons,
the longest among ALL sports franchises.
Some streaks are testaments to greatness,
others to ineptness.
But there are other streaks that testify
to fortitude, resilience, and sometimes......good luck.
27 years, 2 months, and 5 days.
That's my streak.
Of what, you may ask?
I will somehow try to explain this without using the dreaded V-word....
27 years , 2 months, and 5 days
that I went without ever losing my cookies.
It is known around these parts, as the non-V streak
That's right.
27 years, 2 months, and 5 days of care free oral-fresh living.
27 years, 2 months, and 5 days of living without that awful moment
when you know something is going to happen momentarily
that will cause even those who love you the most.,
to run for cover.
Many have asked how I even know the length of this streak.
Very good question.
The last time I had a less-than-stellar oral hygiene day
was Valentines Day of my senior year in college.
Save the chocolates and kisses for another day......
this college senior was not in the mood that dark and ominous Valentines Day.
Since that fateful day
roller coaster rides have had no effect over my digestive system.
Mexican restaurants and their chimichangas
have all fallen helpless victim to my voracious appetite.
Flus have come and gone with their fevers and aches,
but they held no power over my tummy.
I have taken medications that were sworn to have strong side effects of nausea,
but my belly refuted them.
There was the appendicitis episode in year 24
and then the mother of all storms.....
the trip to a Chinese restaurant that eventually resulted
in a 2 month go-round with a parasite.
But the streak endured.
If there were ticker tape parades in honor of tough tummies,
I would have been the grand marshall.
If the population-at-large had had my stomach,
Pepto Bismol would have been out of business years ago.
Cal Ripken might have become known as the iron man for his streak,
but I was the Iron Stomach.
That was,
until the 27th year, 2nd month, and 6th day.
It was beautiful spring day.......
the sun was shining brightly,
birds were singing,
butterflies were dancing,
and bees were dancing from flower to flower.
I awoke.
My tummy hurt.
My tummy felt funny.
This was a feeling I had not felt in a long time.
I said to myself,
"This cannot be.
That baked potato with melted butter from last night
will not be the end of this."
I was to drive an hour north to meet a friend for breakfast.
I must admit, as I was trying to will myself back to abdominal fortitude,
I had my doubts.
The yucky feeling would not go away.
And so I took a measure of insurance.
As I left my house, I grabbed an empty plastic bag.
As I drove up the highway,
I tried to will myself back to metabolic mastery.
Then the moment of reckoning came.
As I came over a hill, I saw the ultimate challenge
to 27 years, 2 months, and 5 days of digestive mastery.....
It was the cattle shutes.
One-half mile of road construction
with north and south bound traffic narrowed down to one lane each way
through very narrow arteries.
I panicked.
"What if I lose it in the cattle shutes?
There is no place to pull over."
The adrenaline rush was my achilles heel.
I pulled over a quarter mile before the shutes,
and there at mile marker 37,
the streak ended.
As I stood along the highway
holding my plastic bag of shame,
I came to realize that all streaks must come to an end,
otherwise, they are not streaks.
But there is one streak in my life
that I know will go on to eternity.
That streak as of today measures
38 years, 2 months and 3 days.
That is when I surrendered my life to Christ,
and gained access to a life with Him forever.
I will admit that those 38 years, 2 months, and 3 days
have had their testings,
just as much or even more than the other streak.
But the streak lives on,
because God is faithful,
and no temptation, no disease,,
no circumstance, no cattle shute can change the road on which I now travel.
I wish that you can claim such a streak in your life.
If it hasn't begun,
may it begin soon and may it lead you to similar
amazing life with the God who created you and loves you beyond measure.
If you already claim such a streak,
continue to give all the credit for it to God,
for He is the one who is forever faithful.
And it is He who will lead you to the throne room.
Life is filled with streaks,
but in the end, there is only one streak that really matters,
and it doesn't matter if the streak is one day or 70 years.
What matters is that the Lord stirs within you to begin the streak,
and He carries you on that streak through the rest of your life and beyond.
May it be so with you.
As for me,
my new non-V streak lives on,
just keep me away from baked potatoes please.
I'll let God take care of the rest.
"I have fought the good fight,
I have finished the course,
I have kept the faith."
2 Timothy 4:7

May 26 (Trinity Sunday) Lectionary Commentary

May 26 Sermon – “Unsolved Mysteries”

Romans 5:1-5

Some people think that there’s no point in believing or having a relationship with God. This is mainly due to their perception of who God is. The Apostle Paul wants us to know that God is about relationships and reconciliation. V. 1 says that the result of the gospel is that we have peace with God!

The first four chapters of Romans show how our minds have been twisted because of sin. Sin can keep us from being open to a loving God who wants to be in a relationship with us and give us peace.

V. 2 is Temple language where we can approach God and live in grace and be part of God’s kingdom of love. This is what it means to be fully human.

VV. 3-5 – This is why we can celebrate, even when we suffer. Suffering leads to patience, character, and hope. This is not an overnight process. It’s a life long journey.

John 16:12-15

Jesus is preparing the disciples for the time when he would be leaving them. Jesus will be put to death but will also be resurrected. All of this will lead to the Holy Spirit being sent to the disciples.

Focus verse for this Sunday’s sermon – v. 12. Jesus tells us that there are some things that we just aren’t ready to understand.

Our Director of Christian Education says that it’s often very difficult for us to have an open mind to a new understanding of the scriptures. The tendency is to stick with what we already think is true. We need to remember Jesus’ words that it’s OK to not try to understand everything right away.

Thoughts on these scriptures:

1. On this Trinity Sunday, each scripture passage has references to God as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. What questions do you have about the Trinity? How can John 16:12 help us to not get overwhelmed at the mystery of the Trinity?

2. The Trinity became a doctrine of the church after the New Testament was compiled. A lot of people dismiss the Trinity because it doesn’t make sense logically. And yet, the New Testament again and again affirms the belief that there is one God and clearly indicates that Jesus and the Holy Spirit are associated with the Godhead. For example, we are to offer our worship to Jesus and the Spirit which is something you only do for God.

Monday, May 20, 2013

A Prayer for Oklahoma & How to Help

Our church will be receiving a special offering this Sunday (May 26) for Oklahoma relief efforts through UMCOR (United Methodist Committee on Relief.)  Checks can be made payable to "First UMC" with "Oklahoma" on the memo. UMCOR envelopes will be included in the pews for your convenience.

Donations go directly to relief efforts thanks to local churches paying their annual apportionments and the One Great Hour of Sharing offering that we receive each year in March. This is why being a connectional church is making a difference in our world. It allows the United Methodist Church to offer God's healing presence quickly and efficiently to communities who are in need.

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

- United Methodist Book of Worship

Friday, May 17, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - June 2

Sunday, June 2 - (7:30, 9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, June 5  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - Music Sunday; Holy Communion; & 2nd Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - Psalm 100; II Chronicles 5:11-14; & Revelation 22:1-5

Theme -  Our annual Music Sunday will feature our music ministry teams. Together, we will praise the Lord through the gift of music.

Sunday Worship Preview - May 19

Sunday, May 19 - (7:30, 9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, May 22  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Pass It On"

Features - Pentecost, Confirmation Sunday, & Holy Baptism

Scripture - Acts 2:1-21 & John 20:19-23

Theme - Pentecost is the 50th and final day of the Easter Season. When the Holy Spirit came upon the early church that day, they began to share their faith in Jesus Christ with others. On this confirmation Sunday when several of our young people are joining the church, we are all reminded to receive the power of the Holy Spirit. Our faith is too important to keep to ourselves. We need to pass it on!

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Lancaster First UMC Receives Community Service Award

The ADAMH Board (Alcohol, Drug Addiction, & Mental Health) of Fairfield County recently announced that Lancaster First UMC is the 2013 recipient of the "Friend of ADAMH" award. Our church will be presented the award at a May 28 dinner and program sponsored by the board.

The award states, "We appreciate the remarkable way in which the church champions the needs of persons with mental health and addiction disorders and has supported the work of the ADAMH Board. We are excited to recognize its achievements in a public forum. Thank you so much for your service to our community. We want you to know that the Lancaster First United Methodist Church was voted for unanimously as the best candidate for this award by the ADAMH Board Community Relations Committee and Staff of the ADAMH Board."


Rhonda Meyers, MA, MSW, LISW
Executive Director

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Parties Can Happen Anytime & Anywhere!

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.

Life is a party,
and sometimes that party can show up in the strangest of places.
Each spring our church sponsors a graduation banquet
for the graduating high school seniors.
One of my duties annually,
is to deliver the balloons from a local store
to the church.
I drove my capped pickup truck
to pick up the nine balloon trees needed for the banquet.
Now each balloon tree had five balloons,
so I needed to cram 45 large helium balloons into the back of my truck.
It wasn't until I arrived at the store that I realized I had a problem,
a BIG problem.
During the last year,
one of the plastic windows in the truck cap
had popped out while I was driving.
I was never able to find it and have been
unable to locate a replacement window.
It didn't dawn on me until
the balloons were being brought to the truck,
that I was about to insert 45 balloons
into a not-so-enclosed space.
The missing window measured 1 foot by two feet,
large enough for helium balloons to find their escape,
especially once I began to drive.
The only thing I had in the truck in which to block the window was duct tape,
so I taped over the window opening.
Duct tape has been my salvation in many a tight spot in my life,
but salvation was not to be found in the back of my truck this day..
If I had paid attention in high school physics class,
I would have learned that the flow of air over a vehicle
once it reaches 35 miles per hour,
is enough to create an air foil
strong enough to suction small children,
let alone, helium balloons, out of a duct taped portal.
I was only two blocks from the store
when the first blue & gold balloon tree
decided to makes its break for freedom.
the balloon treeshad an anchor,
so once it escaped from the truck,
it found a resting place on the double line
in the center of the road.
I know that cats have nine lives,
but evidently balloon trees have at least ten....
that would be the ten vehicles (including one 16 wheeler)
that came within inches of deflating its joy.
After the balloon tree had met Jesus for the 10th time in the middle of the road,
I was finally able to capture it.
But I was two miles from my destination,
with no more duct tape, and little hope.
A resident from a nearby home, who had been observing my dilemma,
(with some amusement)
offered a broken plastic lawn chair from her trash
to help block the window.
I thanked her profusely,
as if she had given me a priceless diamond.
For 1.5 miles, the broken plastic lawn chair
seemed to be doing a great job of being a prison guard,
that is until I reached a road construction crew.
This did not seem to be a threat to the safe transfer of 9 balloon trees
as I needed to slow down even more.
What I did not account for, were the bumps in the road
created by the road construction site,
which were severe enough to dislodge the broken plastic lawn chair
from its place as prison guard.
Three balloon trees decided it was time for a jailbreak.
A red and white balloon tree landed on recently poured asphalt.
A blue and gold balloon tree (different than the first escapee)
landed in front of a truck.
The third, a green and yellow balloon tree, tried the most daring escape,
but the anchor brought it into the welcome arms of the crew flagman.
I can't be sure,
but I can be fairly that never before in the history of Department of Transportation roadcrews,
that any roadcrew has ever been greeted onsite with balloon trees.
Oddly enough, most of them thought it was funny.
And even more oddly, not one of the balloons lost their lives
even though within inches of hot asphalt and major construction equipment.
Not so oddly enough,
none of the eight vehicles waiting to get through the worksite were so amused.
Celebrations can pop up anywhere,
sometimes in the strangest of places
My local DOT crew was greeted with a spontaneous party.
The balloons brought laughter to a normally mundane workday.
Tony Campola, a well known sociologist and Christian speaker,
once told of a time when he was in Hawaii,
and because of jet lag,
he found himself at 2pm in a 24 hour diner.
It was there,
he crossed paths was a local prostitute
who let it be known, that the next day was her birthday.
Tony seized the unexpected opportunity
and planned a surprise birthday party the next evening for the prostitute,
complete with balloons, cake & gifts.
The owner of the diner asked Tony
what type of church he went to.
Tony said,
"I attend a church that would throw birthday parties
for prostitutes at 2pm in the morning"
The owner of the diner said,
"There's no church like that. If there was, I'd join it.
I'd join a church like that!" *
The DOT roadcrew was impressed that our church
would go to extravagant means to honor our high school graduates.
Those who serve the King,
know that serving Him can place one in the strangest of situations.
It is in those situations where we can choose to wonder why we are there,
or be in wonder at the importance of the opportunity.
How many Kingdom parties do we miss
because we are too busy, too distracted, or too disinterested?
The next time you find yourself in an unexpected Kingdom party,
seize the moment to celebrate what the Lord of the party is doing.
And don't be afraid if it seems a little crazy.
After all, the host of the party knows all about doing crazy and
extraordinary things for those whom He loves.
And He asks the same of those who serve Him.

Just don't make the mistake of not attending.

I'll see you there,
and I'll bring the balloons!
"And Jesus said, 'God's Kingdom is like a king who threw a wedding banquet
for His son. He sent out servants to call in all the invited guests. And they wouldn't come!' "
Matthew 22:2

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

My New Day Job - Race Car Driver

Lectionary Bible Commentary - May 19 (Pentecost Sunday)

Sunday, May 19 (Pentecost Sunday)

Acts 2:1-21

The Book of Acts is the 2nd part of a two-part volume by St. Luke.

Luke is good at telling us about significant times in how God is at work in the world. See Luke 2:6 & 9:51 & Acts 2:1.  “When the day of Pentecost had come…”

Pentecost fulfills Jesus’ promise in Acts 1:8.

The gospel (good news of Christ) for the whole world and for all languages is a central theme of the Book of Acts.  It begins at Pentecost with the Holy Spirit reaching Jewish people of many nations and will eventually extend to the Gentile world.

v. 19 – This is the way the ancient language described the ending one era leading into a new era.

Thought: Pentecost and the sending of the Holy Spirit upon the church was the beginning of a new era for the church to continue to share the good news of Jesus Christ after he ascended to his throne in heaven. How important is the Holy Spirit in your life? Do you sense the strength of the Spirit prompting you to extend the gospel beyond any boundaries?

John 20:19-23

Jesus gives the Holy Spirit to the disciples. The Holy Spirit will help the disciples to continue the ministry of Jesus in the world.  It’s a commission! (v. 21)

Jesus breathing the Holy Spirit upon the disciples reminds us of the creation story  in Genesis.  The words wind, breath, and spirit are the same in both Hebrew and Greek.

The Spirit is connected with God’s peace (20:21).

Forgiving and retaining are pronounced in God’s name. Forgiving is offering God’s healing love to the world and retaining sins is warning the world of how serious sin is.

Pentecost Questions:

1. How can the church remember to depend on the Holy Spirit for mission and ministry?
2. Think of a time when you sought to serve in Jesus’ name without depending on the Holy Spirit at work in your life. What was that like?
3. Focusing on the Holy Spirit leads us to a discussion of the mystery of the Trinity, God known as three persons and yet as one Being. This is why the church calendar includes Trinity Sunday on the Sunday after Pentecost.

Friday, May 10, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - May 26

Sunday, May 26 - (7:30, 9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, May 29 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Unsolved Mysteries"

Features - Trinity Sunday; Memorial Day Sunday; Peace with Justice Special Offering; & Graduate Recognition

Scripture - Romans 5:1-5 & John 16:12-15

Theme - The Trinity is one of those mystifying doctrines of the Christian faith. How can God be one and yet known in three persons? In addition to the Trinity, there are many other mysteries in life for which we seek answers. As we try to understand these unsolved mysteries, Jesus reminds us that we can't bear it all at once. What we can do is to continue to follow Jesus one day at a time.

Sermon (May 26 Trinity Sunday) - "Unsolved Mysteries"

     Today is Trinity Sunday. I call this Rubik’s Cube Sunday because we usually approach this Sunday thinking that the Trinity is some sort of puzzle we need to solve. How can God be one and yet known as three persons, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit?
     When Jesus prayed, did he pray to himself?  When Jesus died on the cross, did God die in that moment as well?  How do we explain the puzzling doctrine of the Trinity?
     A story is told of St. Augustine who was one of the greatest theologians who ever lived.  While puzzling over the doctrine of the Trinity during a walk along the beach one day, he observed a young boy with a bucket.  The boy was running back and forth to pour water into a little hole.
     Augustine asked him, “What are you doing?” And the boy replied, “I’m trying to put the ocean into this hole.”
     This helped Augustine to realize that part of his problem in figuring out the Trinity is that he had been trying to put an infinite God into his finite mind.
     John Wesley, the founder of Methodism once said, “Show me a worm that can comprehend a human being, and then I will show you a human being that can comprehend the Triune God.”
     Martin Luther, who helped start the Protestant Reformation was even more to the point.  He said, “To try to comprehend the Trinity endangers your sanity.”
     Since I don’t want to jeopardize our sanity this morning, maybe there’s another approach we can take on this Trinity Sunday.  Maybe instead of trying to solve the Trinity like we would try to solve a Rubik’s cube or some other puzzle, we should take a different approach.
     The word, “Trinity” is never mentioned in the bible.  That’s a term that the church and theologians have used to label this puzzling doctrine.  Maybe instead of seeing the Trinity as a puzzle, we should take the advice of Justo Gonzalez, a Methodist historian who said, “Trinity is a mystery, not a puzzle.  You try to solve the puzzle. You stand in awe before a mystery.”
     In thinking about the Trinity, let’s think of it more in terms of a mystery rather than as a puzzle to solve.  Seeing it as a mystery helps me to approach this important topic with more of an open mind. 
     For whatever reason, Jesus never saw the need to explain the Trinity to the disciples.  He didn’t draw up diagrams or use creative metaphors to explain how one God can be known as three persons and yet still be one.  
     In our Gospel reading today, Jesus has the perfect opportunity to present his Trinity powerpoint presentation to the disciples.  He spends four whole chapters preparing his disciples for when he would be leaving them.  What would it have hurt to dedicate one of those chapters to the Trinity?
     Jesus says in our Gospel reading that he has many things to tell the disciples but that they aren’t able to bear them now.  That must have been frustrating for the disciples to hear! “What do you mean, Jesus? We’re right here.  We’re listening.  Don’t underestimate us!”
     And let’s not stop at the Trinity.  Think of the many other unsolved mysteries that Jesus could address in these chapters. I came across an interesting book written by Tom Ehrich, a church consultant, author and Episcopal Priest.  The title of the book is Just Wondering, Jesus: 100 Questions People Want to Ask.
     He wrote the book because of his weekly newspaper column in which he invited his readers to let him know what questions they would like to ask Jesus. Some of the questions include, “Will I see my late husband in heaven?,” “How can I make my marriage more joyful?,”  “Will we ever find peace?” “What do you want of me?”
     My guess is that the disciples would have really liked it if Jesus invited them for a Q & A session. I also wonder if they ever wished they would have asked Jesus some of their specific questions during these chapters.
     Do you ever have one of those dreams at night where toward the end of the dream, someone is about to explain a mystery to you and that’s when your dream ends and you never get to hear the answer?  What’s that all about?
     Several years ago, I attended a church growth conference in Kansas City which was hosted by a leading pastor in our denomination.  He’s a pastor who I admire and respect very much.
     About 2,000 pastors and church leaders attended the three day conference.  This pastor and his church staff shared a lot of great information to help our churches experience growth and vitality. During our three days there, the people of the church were very gracious with their hospitality.  For one of our lunches, they had one of the famous barbeque restaurants there in Kansas City cater the meal since that area is known for their incredible barbeque. Those three days were a wonderful experience, but I still had many questions swirling in my head about what we had learned.
     After I got home from the conference, I had a dream that night. And in that dream, I was back at that church conference in Kansas City.  I was in a room at this church in Kansas City.  And while I was in this room, the pastor who led the conference came in and was standing right next to me.
     This was my golden opportunity to ask him the question that had been on my mind that week. With so many people at the conference, this was my chance.  It was just the two of us! But for some reason I became really, really nervous.  Instead of asking him the question that I had always wanted to ask him, this is what I said to him:
     “Boy, that was some good barbeque!”
     I couldn’t believe that this was what came out of my mouth! “Boy, that was some good barbeque?” Really???  My golden opportunity was gone.  He smiled back at me as he walked out the door. And just like that, my dream was over.
     Now, I’m no psychologist, but maybe the point of that dream was to remind me that not every question comes with a simple answer. Life doesn’t work that way.  Our faith doesn’t work that way. 
     Maybe this is why Jesus didn’t give simple answers to the disciples during his farewell discourse.  Jesus was offering the disciples something better than easy answers to complicated questions. Jesus was offering them a reassuring word that even after he would leave them, they would not be alone.  God the Father will send them the Holy Spirit. And the Holy Spirit will glorify Jesus, the Son.
     This is what the doctrine of the Trinity means for you and for me.  The one God, known as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, wants to be in relationship with us.  God is all about relationships. 
     Even within God’s own being, there is a dynamic relationship between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God the Father is our creator.  God the Son is the human embodiment of God.  And God the Holy Spirit is the presence of Jesus Christ in our day to day living.
     If you find it difficult to understand all of this on an intellectual level, know that you’re not alone.  Even with helpful analogies and images that have been used to explain the Trinity over the past several centuries, it’s still a mystery to us.  But that’s OK because the thought of a loving God who loves us so much and was willing to send us the Son and the Holy Spirit is more than our finite minds can understand and comprehend.  A God who would choose to love us this much defies our human explanations.
     When I hit a low point in my life during my freshman year of college, it wasn’t an explanation of the Trinity or easy answers to life’s unsolved mysteries that turned my life toward God again.  The reason I turned toward God again was because God had reminded me that he wanted to be in a relationship with me.
     And that’s when I knelt down by my bed one day and in the quiet of that room, I received God’s love in a new way.  After that prayer, I had tears of joy.  It was like a heavy weight had been lifted from my shoulders. I felt a peace that I had been missing in my life. I felt God’s love in a very real way.
     The funny thing is that I left from that prayer with more questions than answers.  I still didn’t know what my major in college should be or the future direction of my life.  All I knew was that God loved me and would never leave me. I suspect that this is a little of what the disciples were experiencing from our Gospel reading when Jesus promised that he would be sending them the Holy Spirit.  
     Jesus didn’t answer all of their questions but he did promise that he would continue to be in relationship with them through the presence of the Holy Spirit. Sometimes, it’s not answers and explanations that we need the most.  It’s the reassurance that God loves us and will always be with us.
     A woman who had been attending a church that I was serving met with me at my office one day.  After she sat down in my office, a smile came to her face and she said, “I think I’m ready to become a follower of Jesus.”
     She had been visiting our church for the past several weeks and this was the first time that we had more than just a casual conversation.  She then asked me what she needed to know or to do in order to start following Jesus. Now, even though this is what every pastor wants to hear, sometimes it catches us off guard a little bit. 
     I began to share with her some key theological truths which sounded brilliant at the time.  But the more I spoke, the more I could tell that what I was sharing with her wasn’t really making a connection.
     About halfway through my impromptu Christianity 101 presentation which would have made my seminary professors proud, she politely held up her hand and said, “I’m sure that’s all important information, but I just want to be a Christian like you talk about on Sunday mornings.”
     I said, “O sure. I understand.” I then proceeded to offer her some bible resources that I had nearby on one of my bookshelves thinking that would help her begin her new journey of faith.
     As I began to reach for them, she again politely said, “Thank you, but what I guess I just need is for you to say a prayer for me.”
     This is when I finally wised up and realized what she really needed in that moment.  At least on that afternoon for her, less was more. One of my problems sometimes is that I can over-think things.
     So right there in my office with the doctrine of the Trinity still unexplained and other mysteries still unsolved, I invited her to pray a prayer with me in which she invited Jesus Christ to be the Lord of her life. After that simple prayer, she thanked me, and left my office that day with great joy in her heart.
     Sometimes, Jesus says to us, “I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.”  There will always be unsolved mysteries for us to ponder and many questions seeking answers. 
     But one thing we can know with absolute certainty is that God loves us and wants to be in a relationship with us.  That’s the good news of Trinity Sunday. And for now, that’s really all we need to know.
     In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Dave's Deep Thoughts - The Mothers' Day Before Mothers' Day

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.
It is said that absence can make the heart grow fonder,
but can it do much more?
It has been almost a year
since my family gave Mom back to the Lord.
The year has been filled with daily moments
of sensing her absence from us.
While I can't speak for my siblings,
I can honestly say that my
heart contains more joy than sadness.
Anyone who has watched a loved one
battle with dementia will understand.
It is a cruel disease that steals and robs.
And so I can say,
I have joy,
joy that Mom now has her mind back fully....
joy that she is with Dad, the love of her life.
I must be honest in acknowledging
that Mother's Day and her upcoming death anniversary won't be easy.
It is a part of grieving.
But throughout the years,
I considered that I have always had a 2nd Mother's Day.....
That is, the weekend before Mother's Day,
usually on Friday.
Over the years, it became the day
that Mom and I would spend together,
having lunch,
going to the nursery, choosing flowers,
and coming home to plant them around my home,
and taking plenty of time, just to talk.
Mom loved going to the local nursery
and seeing their vast array of flowers.
She would joke that I would be
purchasing all the red & yellow flowers
in support of my alma mater.
(she wasn't far from the truth)
Inevitably, she would bring me a flower
festooned in blue & gold
(the color's of my school's arch rivals)
Tongue in cheek, she would comment
on how lovely the flower would look in my yard.
In response,
I would grab another tray of red & yellow zenias
commenting that they would look MUCH better.
My Mom loved to work in her flower gardens.
And so she would give me tips on how to best plant the flowers.
No need for expensive fertilizers.
She would send me to the barnyard to shovel the manure.
"Nothing like rich manure to help the flowers grow"
she would say, except as a lifelong farm girl,
she didn't use the word manure.
The last couple of years.
as the dementia robbed Mom of mind and bodily strength,
she would help me for only a few minutes,
then she would sit and watch.
The disease though, could not take the sparkle out of her eyes
as she admired newly planted flowers.
"Don't forget to water them"
she would say, still able to offer motherly advice.
This last Friday was "my Mother's Day."
The ladies at the nursery offered their condolences.
I bought as many red & yellow flowers as I could afford.
I laughed as I boycotted the horrible looking blue & yellow flowers.
I walked down to the barnyard and shoveled the %#^!
And yes, I remembered to water each and every flower.
Though she wasn't there,
she couldn't have been any closer.
Absence can make the heart grow fonder.
It can also remind you of how much you have been given,
and thus remind you of how much you have to give to those who follow.
I know without a doubt that one day we will be reunited.
But until that day,
I will live surrounded by the love
that my Mom and Dad gave to each of us,
and I choose to offer that love to others.
And in doing so,
I find deep wells of joy.
For those who still have your moms,
may you savor each moment you have with them.
To those who have had difficult relationships with moms,
may you find a road to compassion and forgiveness.
To those who have given moms back to God,
may you be flooded with a joy that only comes
from the love in a mother's heart.
Happy Mother's Day!
Just keep your blue & yellow flowers to yourself, thank you.
You did it: You changed my wild lament
into whirling dance;
You ripped off my black mourning band,
and decked me with wildflowers.
I'm about to burst with song;
I can't keep quiet about You.
God, my God, I can't thank you enough.
Psalm 30:11-12
(The Message Version)

Lectionary Bible Commentary - Sunday, May 12

Sermon (Ascension Sunday, May 12) – “Real Power”

Ephesians 1:15-23

Most likely, the Apostle Paul wrote this letter while in prison. In the earliest manuscripts, the word, “Ephesus” does not appear.

This letter is Paul’s breathtaking view of the good news of Jesus Christ.

Power is a central theme in this passage since Ephesus was a Roman city that prided itself in the power of the Roman Empire. Paul wants the Christians in and around Ephesus to know of real power which can be found in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ.

We often forget about the power of the good news of Jesus Christ and Paul doesn’t want us to forget! This power will transform the whole world!

V. 17 – Paul says that to know this power, we need a fresh gift of wisdom and it can be available to us now. (V. 19.)

Paul speaks of Christ being over all rulers and authorities. This reminds us of Psalm 8 because all authorities have been placed under his feet.

Luke 24:44-53

This is an Ascension Sunday scripture! Christ ascended to his throne in heaven to rule over all creation.

V. 47 - This scripture reminds us that the only way for the world to move forward and experience peace is through repentance and forgiveness. This has been made possible through the resurrection of Jesus.

Luke’s Gospel concludes with the disciples worshipping in the Temple (following the ascension of Jesus) and this is also how his Gospel began with worship in the Temple! (Luke 1 – Zechariah) For Luke, worship is at the heart of the Christian life.