A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

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

Monday, December 29, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - January 4

Sunday, January 4 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "High Def Christianity - A Clearer Picture of Jesus"

Features - Epiphany of the Lord & The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Scriptures - Isaiah 60:1-6 & Matthew 2:1-12

Theme - As we draw near to the 12th day of Christmas on January 6 (Epiphany) we begin a two-part sermon series on “High Def Christianity.” What does it mean to switch from an analogue faith to a digital faith? The story of the wise men helps us to see a clearer HD picture of who Jesus is.

Friday, December 26, 2008

When a USC Pastor Serves a PSU Church

My older and wiser brother is a United Methodist pastor in our Penn State dominated home church in southeastern, Pennsylvania. He also happens to be a graduate of USC which will be playing Penn State on New Year's Day in the Rose Bowl (4:30 P.M., ABC)

Somehow, the local York, PA newspaper found about this little piece of trivia and recently did a story on what it's like to be an SC pastor in a PSU church. You'll find the short video interview on the right side of the link above.

Enjoy the video.

Monday, December 22, 2008

When to Sing Certain Hymns

One of the most misunderstood aspects of church life is the process used in determining which hymns to use in various worship services. This is most pronounced around the Advent season when a number of people are interested in singing Christmas hymns during the month of December, but it also is an issue throughout the year as well.

Here are some reasons why I think this is one of the more misunderstood issues within the worship life of the congregation:

Reason #1 - The liturgical calendar vs. the secular calendar. The liturgical calendar is the church's seasonal approach to the selection of hymns. Liturgically minded churches are churches that take seriously the worship themes of the particular liturgical season the church is experiencing. For example, Advent (the four Sundays leading up to Christmas) is not a season to celebrate the birth of Christ but instead is a season in which to repent and wait expectantly for Christ's coming/2nd coming. Liturgically speaking, the Christmas season begins on Christmas Eve and lasts for 12 days (as in "The Twelve Days of Christmas" song) until Epiphany (January 6.)

The secular calendar wants Christmas to begin sometime around Halloween, or at the latest, on the famous "Black Friday" shopping day. The church has said, "wait just a minute!" Christ's birth celebration isn't until the Christmas season. We need the four weeks before Christmas to be a time of preparing for his coming, not a time of celebration.

Reason #2 - Even though United Methodists have deep liturgical roots thanks to our founder, John Wesley and our Anglican heritage, not all pastors are liturgically minded. Some pastors are biased against the liturgical calendar because it feels too "Catholic" even though good liturgical practice isn't confined to the Roman Catholic Church. Liturgy is practiced widely by many strands of Christendom. In fact, several newer evangelical churches are beginning to reclaim the ancient/orthodox liturgical heritage which utilizes the liturgical seasons, the rich symbolism, and the more orderly approach to the Christian faith. How ironic that when some mainline denominational members have given up on liturgy, several new and growing churches are discovering how liturgy is connecting to younger generations who are hungry for this type of liturgical expression in worship.

On the other hand, there are also other United Methodist pastors who have used good liturgical practice in their churches and many UM congregations have enjoyed being faithful to the particular seasons in the church year and being distinctive from the secular culture. If some of these liturgically rooted church members would visit a church that has little sense of liturgy, it would feel strange to them.

Reason #3 - There is a sense among some church goers that pastors and worship leaders should choose the hymn favorites of the congregation. I've actually heard of churches who have conducted surveys on their favorite hymns and the pastor has inserted hymns into worship based on this survey. Well, that's OK if you're not interested at all in matching up the scripture readings for a particular Sunday with the appropriate hymns.

It's ironic that many folks who want favorite hymns are also the same folks who hold great reverence for the Bible, and yet personal hymn preferences are often chosen over against the theme of a given Sunday's scripture readings. Again, the Advent and Christmas seasons are good examples of this! The rule of thumb in choosing hymns for worship is that the theme of the scriptures for that Sunday always rule the roost.

Other thoughts: Having said all of this, believe me, I have my own favorite hymns that I would like to sing more than 2 times a year. Maybe my favorite hymn will be selected but it first has to meet the liturgical and scriptural theme test before it even becomes a candidate.

And last but not least, some of the lesser familiar hymns are chosen less for their singability and more for their very appropriate and deeply rich lyrics. And sometimes, the melody will grow on you and this unfamiliar hymn ends up helping you to worship on a deeper level for that Sunday.

For the liturgical calendar, this website, The Voice, is an excellent resource for folks who want to grow in their appreciation for the seasons of the church year.

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - December 28

Sunday, December 28 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "A Sign of the Times"

Features - 1st Sunday After Christmas Day

Scriptures - Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 148; & Luke 2:22-40

Theme - Jesus was a sign of the times for Simeon and Anna. Jesus' presence was a light to the Gentiles and glory to the people of Israel. Simeon and Anna received the Christ child with praise and thanksgiving after Mary and Joseph arrived at the temple. Simeon and Anna encouraged the new parents, blessed their newborn son, and prayed for them day and night. We can find strength in our faith from the people who encourage, bless, and pray for us.

Friday, December 19, 2008

Who Wrote the Book of James?

Yesterday, my Thursday morning bible study began a new series on the Book of James. This first session was only an overview of the book, authorship, dating, primary audience, etc. When we resume on January 8, we will take one chapter at a time and since there are five chapters in this book, we'll be focusing on the Book of James over a five week period.

Real briefly, here are some of the overview highlights and I'll conclude with a summary of the many people with the name of James in the New Testament.

  • The writing style of this book feels less like a letter and more like a summary of proper ethical conduct for Christians within the church.

  • The author presupposes that the Christians are living in an alien world filled with immorality (reminds me of the Book of Revelation in this regard.)

  • The primary audience appears to be Jewish people who have become Christian and who live outside of Palestine.

  • There is an emphasis on the second coming of Jesus Christ.

  • Tradition claims that the author, James, is the brother of Jesus. Because of the sophisticated Greek style of this book and the late acceptance of this book into the biblical canon, some bible scholars think it may have been someone else.

One of the problems in trying to figure out who wrote the Book of James is because James was such a popular name in the 1st century as well as within the New Testament itself. The reason for this is because the English name of James is a variant of the name Jacob from the Old Testament, the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. People would have been very proud to name their sons after this Old Testament hero in the faith.

And now to complicate things...which is why it's good to be part of a bible study to sort out some of these unanswered questions! For all we know, there might be only two people with the name of James in the New Testament or as many as eight different people. Here are the eight references:

  • James the Greater (One of the 12 disciples)

  • James the Less (One of the 12 disciples)

  • James the Just (Listed in the Book of Acts & Brother of Jesus)

  • James the Writer (the author of the Book of James)

  • James the Son of Cleopas (Luke 24:10 & John 19:25 - Is this referring to someone other than the mother of Jesus?)

  • James the Kinsman of Jude the Apostle (Luke 6:16)

  • James the Brother of Jude the Writer (from the Book of Jude)

It's interesting that in our last bible study topic on the book, "The Blue Parakeet: How to Study the Bible" by Scot McKnight, the author sees a connection between Mary, the mother of James/Jesus (her focus on God's concern for the poor: see the Magnificat & the focus on taking care of the poor in the Book of James.) Did Mary teach James when he was a child about taking care of the poor and then he focuses on the poor this in his letter?

Finally, I mentioned that the Revised Common Lectionary which is a three year cycle of readings for each Sunday includes six different passages from the Book of James. We are presenting in the middle of the three year cycle which has five of the six James readings. The other James reading appears in the first year of the cycle.

Next summary on the Book of James: January 8 (when our bible study resumes after the holidays.) And of course, the fun part of this bible study series will be to sort out the whole "faith" (Apostle Paul) vs. "works" (James) debate.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Helping the Homeless

Today, Pastor Rick and I, along with a Faith Community member, visited Interfaith Faith Hospitality Network, a homeless shelter in Xenia. Don Schneider was busy at work with other volunteers getting the building ready.

One of the reasons we visited with Don and IHN was to see about the possibility of Faith Community adopting one of the upstairs bedrooms in the new facility which will mean providing furniture, painting the walls, and making it look nice in time for when the facility opens. Three or four other churches have already signed up to adopt some of the other rooms.

Seeing the building getting closer to completion has been exciting. Presently, IHN is only able to provide housing for up to 14 people. When this new facility is ready, they will be able to host around 24 people in need of shelter. In addition to being able to host several more people, the other huge advantage will be that the families won't have to travel from church to church each week. Presently, this is what the families need to do since their current facility doesn't allow for overnight stays.

The picture above is the largest upstairs bedroom facing N. Detroit Street. That's Don on the left with Pastor Rick and one of our church members. This is one of the rooms that is open for adoption by a local church.

As we get closer to the season of Christmas, we are reminded that there was no room in the inn for the baby Jesus. But thankfully, they found a place for Jesus to be born even if it was where the animals stayed at night.

Let's keep Don Schneider, the staff at IHN, and the homeless families of Greene County in our prayers especially during this cold season. May this become a place of refuge for people in need.

I was so proud to hear that several of our church members have been volunteering their time in helping Don and IHN. Way to go, Faith Community!

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - December 21

Sunday, December 21 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "When Hope Is Not Enough"

Features - 4th Sunday of Advent

Scriptures - II Samuel 7:1-11,16 & Luke 1:26-38

Theme - Sometimes, our level of hope can get so low, that we need something even better than hope. We need to know of God’s presence and faithfulness. Like Mary in our Gospel reading for today, once we are assured of God’s presence, we can’t help but to say, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.”

Friday, December 12, 2008

Final Week #6 - The Blue Parakeet

Yesterday, my Thursday morning bible study group concluded our focus on the new book, "The Blue Parakeet: How We Study the Bible" by Scot McKnight, a New Testament bible scholar.

This final session was basically a summary of our past sessions regarding the themes in this book which is that we are to see the Bible as a grand narrative (Story) which includes several smaller stories within the story. The key to interpreting the bible is to wisely and prayerfully decide the cultural context of each biblical passage and determine what truths are meant to carry over into our present day and age. The author argues that what we tend to do is take short-cuts in drawing conclusions regarding a particular text in scripture.

One example of this is the whole issue of whether or not women should teach/preach. In the United Methodist Church, my hunch is that most people in our denomination see this as a non-issue since women have been ordained in the Methodist church since 1956, however, based on some things I hear from female clergy colleagues, we still have a ways to go!

Our bible study group must be farther along than most bible study groups because we ended up having an honest and insightful discussion on the controversial topic of homosexuality by applying what we learned from the "Blue Parakeet" book. We shared opinions which represented a variety of perspectives on this issue.

Just to make sure that the readers of this book do not forget that the bible is a grand narrative (Story,) the author points to Stephen, the first martyr of the early church, who tells the story of God, (Acts 7) beginning in the Old Testament the whole way through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. We are to be like Stephen and remember to not take any particular part of the bible out of context but always locate a passage of scripture in the larger grand narrative.

For anyone who is interested, our next bible study topic will be on the Book of James beginning next Thursday at 10 A.M. at the church.

Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Annual Christmas Staff Dinner

Each year, our Staff/Parish Relations Committee hosts our staff members and their spouses/guests for a festive holiday meal at the church. They always make it very special by including Christmas decorations and Christmas music.

We have twenty-two staff positions in our church including office support, program, preschool, music, custodial, and clergy. It's very rare that all of us are together in the same place at the same time because of our different functions, but the annual Christmas party gives us the opportunity to enjoy fellowship, celebrate our faith, and reconnect with each other.

The Staff/Parish Relations Committee leaves the entertainment for the evening up to me, so every year I come up with a goofy little icebreaker to bring a little holiday cheer. This year, we sang some Christmas carols and then had some fun with the song, "The Twelve Days of Christmas."

Each staff grouping was assigned two different days of the twelve days of Christmas in which they would stand up when it was their turn and sing their particular day in the song which included a gift that pertained to their particular staff needs. So, for the second day of Christmas, the clergy sang, "On the second day of Christmas, my true love gave to me, two subscriptions to preaching magazines."

By looking at the picture from last night's Christmas dinner, you can tell that we will never be the same again!

From the Faith Community United Methodist staff in Xenia, Ohio, and to all of you:
May God's love made known to all of us through the coming of Jesus Christ bring peace, mercy, and love to you, your family, and to the whole world this Christmas season.

Monday, December 8, 2008

Post AIDS Exhibit Reflection

Last Monday, I went through the World Vision AIDS exhibit at our Miami Valley District location at Stillwater UMC. The exhibit just ended yesterday. It was a powerful display of the AIDS pandemic that is ravaging our world. For world-wide AIDS statistics, go to another article on this blog. I took this picture at the beginning part of the exhibit.

If you weren't able to walk through the 25 minute exhibit, this brief video will give you an idea of what it was like. http://www.wvexperience.org/video_trailer.asp

As I think about yesterday's 2nd Sunday of Advent scripture readings which include the cries of the prophet Isaiah and John the Baptist, I think of how our church can join other United Methodist Churches in offering our prayers, gifts, and love to families and children who are hurting this day because of the terrible disease of AIDS.

"...the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: 'Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight.'" - Mark 1:3

Sunday, December 7, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - December 14

Sunday, December 14 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "Love is the Brightest Light of All" (8:30 A.M. & 9:45 A.M.)

Features - 3rd Sunday of Advent; Commissioning of Confirmation Mentors; Children's Musical (11 A.M.); Holy Baptism (11 A.M.); & Coins for Missions Sunday (Coins placed in the offering will help support St. Paul UMC Outreach Center in Dayton, FISH Food Pantry, the Caring Place Meal Ministry in Xenia, & IHN which provides temporary housing for families in need)

Scriptures - Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11 & John 1:6-8, 19-28

Theme - John the Baptist testifies to the light of Christ. He humbly points people to Jesus by fulfilling the words of the prophet, 'I am the voice of the one crying in the wilderness.' God has sent people into our lives who give testimony to the light of Christ. These people give testimony by serving as leaders in the church, sharing their faith, and offering their gifts. We can thank God for their testimony.

Saturday, December 6, 2008

The Stewardship Crisis

"Christianity Today" has a recent article on a looming crisis facing the church regarding stewardship and church finances.

First, the bad news:

- Over 25% of Christians give absolutely no financial gift to support the work of the church they attend. I was shocked at this high figure. Does this mean that based on our church membership, that almost 200 of our church members don't give anything at all?

- 36% of church goers give less than 2% of their take home pay to the church.

- The average financial amount that a church attendee gives to his/her local church is approximately $200 a year which represents about a half of one per cent of the average person's after tax income.

Here are some reasons why stewardship is suffering:

- People have overextended themselves with house and cay payments. These overextended financial commitments have caused the percentage of fixed living expenses to go from 54% to 75%. In other words, because of tremendous debt, people don't have anything left to give.

- People have a general mistrust of how organizations and in this case, the church, will spend their money.

- Pastors and church leaders are becoming more and more reluctant to talk about stewardship in church. Sadly, more and more pastors are neglecting their responsibility to tithe and to lead by example.

And now some hopeful news which includes a challenge:

- The key in seeing growth in the joy of extravagant giving to the work of Christ and the church is through discipline and good financial habits. As we all know, habits and discipline are not developed overnight but over the course of several weeks, months, and even years.

As I reflect on this article, I think of how the Apostle Paul wasn't shy about encouraging the churches he founded to be generous in their giving not only for their own ministries but for ministries beyond their local area.

I also believe that one of the reasons why many people haven't adopted biblical stewardship habits is because the church doesn't always do a very good job of sharing how our gifts are transforming people and the world for Jesus Christ. We need to share these stories of transformation at every opportunity.

Effective January 1st, candidates for ordination will be expected to be tithers (give 10% of their income to the work of Christ and the church.) Pastors need to lead by example, so this is a good move for the UMC to take.

Happy St. Nicholas Day!

Today, we commemorate one of the great saints from the 4th century who was a bishop in what is the present day country of Turkey.

St. Nicholas was known to have given anonymous gifts to help out a family in need. From this tradition...well you know the rest!

The Eastern Orthodox church has a much better understanding of this special day on the church calendar as they hold special services and reenact this tradition of gift giving on the eve of St. Nicholas Day.

So for the people who like to point out that there is a secular Christmas with Santa Claus that is separated from the religious meaning of Christmas, St. Nicholas Day (Dec. 6) reminds us that many of our present day Christmas traditions are very much connected to the Christian faith.

As we prepare to celebrate the Feast of the Nativity, let us remember to join St. Nicholas in offering our gifts to people in need.

Friday, December 5, 2008

Happy Birthday, Joy Bunch!

Last night, a small group in our church invited me to join them for their December gathering. Not only was the discussion great, (they've been focusing on a small group book on the meaning of Christmas) but one of the couples in the group provided an incredible dinner!

This particular small group began four years ago as part of our church's launch of the PALS model of small group ministry. PALS is based on the four major components for a healthy and growing small group:

P - Prayer. How meaningful to hear the prayer concerns and joys of this small group and to pray with them last night!

A - Action. This small group has reached out to various needs within our congregation and they collect household products for people in need.

L - Learning. One of the members led a discussion on the Christmas bible study book last night.

S - Sharing. This choked me up last night. One of the small group members reminded everyone that December marks the 4th birthday anniversary of this small group. They spent time reflecting on the original members of the group, newer members, marriages, deaths, and other life transitions they have experienced together as a small group. One of their small group members is now home bound but is still part of the small group.

This small group gave themselves the name, "The Joy Bunch" and I can see why. After being at one of their gatherings, you can sense the hope and joy they have through their faith in Jesus Christ. Notice their smiles in the picture from last night's meeting.

Happy birthday, Joy Bunch! And thanks for your Prayers, Action, Learning, & Sharing.

Thursday, December 4, 2008

Week #5 - The Blue Parakeet

Here's a quick summary of our Thursday morning bible study discussion today on "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible," by Scot McKnight. We focused on the author's example of a biblical understanding of women in ministry.

First of all, McKnight points out several examples of women who were involved in ministry which included teaching, preaching, and/or leading from both the Old and New Testaments. His examples from the OT included, Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and Esther. Examples from the NT included Mary, mother of Jesus; Priscilla, Junia, & Phoebe.

Of those examples, the most interesting one to me was Junia which many bible translations which have a biased against women in ministry have as Junias, a male name. Why the different names in various bibles? An ancient Greek manuscript has "Junias" because the copyist assumed a male name, a forgivable mistake since copying the bible is no easy task. However, there is strong textual evidence that the correct name is the female name of Junia. Attestation for this is provided by one of the early church fathers.

Of course, we still have some scripture passages which seem on the surface to imply that women should not be involved in the teaching/preaching ministry of the church. On closer examination, there are cultural reasons for those passages. Furthermore, why would we allow a couple of brief scripture passages to override the wealth of information of several women who were involved in significant leadership positions such as the women mentioned above?

Last but not least, some people claim that the entry of sin into the world in the Book of Genesis points out that men are to rule over women. But as the author points out, the point isn't that this is to be a permanent condition but as a consequence of what happened when sin entered the world. God desires both men and women to serve side by side in ministry. As Paul writes, "In Christ, there is no male or female..."

Next Thursday, we will wrap up our bible study on "The Blue Parakeet."

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Hope in Advent

In this beginning week of the Advent season, I am reminded of God's faithfulness even as we patiently wait to celebrate the birth of Jesus Christmas on Christmas Eve and the season of Christmas. Here's how my day went...

  • I was able to prepare a future sermon and worship service. I'm always in a good mood when I get most of the planning done. Thanks be to God!
  • A parishioner calls me to let me know that she was offered a job after being let go from a previous job. While the salary isn't as high as the previous job, the health insurance is much better. Plus, there's room for advancement. Thanks be to God!

The last Trustees meeting of the year was held at the church tonight and we were able to offer our appreciation to three board members who have faithfully served their term and serve their church well. Plus, someone brought pizza to the meeting and I had missed dinner. Thanks be to God!

For much of the day, a beautiful light snow fell to the ground reminding me of how special this time of year really is. Thanks be to God!

My day started with scripture readings from "The Daily Office" and one of the readings from Isaiah 1 summed up the hope that we find in this season of anticipation and expectation:

26 And I will restore your judges as at the first, and your counselors as at the beginning. Afterward you shall be called the city ofrighteousness, the faithful city. 27 Zion shall be redeemed by justice, and those in her who repent, by righteousness.

May this Advent season be filled with the hope and anticipation of the coming fulfillment of God's promises!

Sunday, November 30, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - December 7

Sunday, December 7 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "An Upside Down Christmas"

Features - 2nd Sunday of Advent & The Sacrament of Holy Communion

Scriptures - Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13; II Peter 3:8-15a; & Mark 1:1-8

Theme - What does it mean to celebrate an “upside down Christmas?” We live during a time when people are finding it more and more difficult to differentiate between the cultural meaning of Christmas with the biblical meaning. The message of John the baptizer is a reminder to the church of what it means to celebrate an “upside down Christmas.” Come and discover what this might mean for us during this season of Advent.

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Happy Thanksgiving!

As I took our dogs for a walk through the windy and cold rain late yesterday afternoon, I heard someone singing. It was the little neighbor girl and you would have thought that it was a Hanna Montana street concert!

She has a wonderful singing voice and it was a gift to hear someone singing joyful music in a place and a time you would least expect. She sounded so much better than any song on my mp3 player. As I rounded the corner with my dogs leading the way (my doggies love their walkie!) this singer in the making spotted us and just like that, the concert was over.

I'm sure she was a little embarrassed but she reminded me of that old Irish proverb, "Sing like no one is listening. Dance like no one is watching. Live every day like it is your last."

During this week of the Thanksgiving holiday, let's remember to sing, dance, and live in response to the overflowing and generous love of God through Jesus Christ.

A Thanksgiving Prayer
Almighty God, Father of all mercies, we your unworthy servants give you humble thanks for all your goodness and loving-kindness to us and to all whom you have made. We bless you for our creation, preservation, and all the blessings of this life; but above all for your immeasurable love in the redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ; for the means of grace, and for the hope of glory. And, we pray, give us such an awareness of your mercies, that with truly thankful hearts we may show forth your praise, not only with our lips, but in our lives, by giving up our selves to your service, and by walking before you in holiness and righteousness all our days; through Jesus Christ our Lord, to whom, with you and the Holy Spirit, be honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Monday, November 24, 2008

The World Vision Experience: AIDS - December 1 - 7

Our Miami Valley District (West Ohio Conference) District Superintendent, Rev. Duane Anders has taken the lead in helping to stop the terrible disease of HIV/AIDS in our country and around the world, particularly in Africa.

His church, Stillwater UMC, 6911 Frederick Pike, which is also the location of our district office, will be hosting The World Vision Experience: AIDS, December 1 through 7. (December 1 is HIV/AIDS National Awareness Day.) The available times to walk through the exhibit vary, but are basically from mid morning through the evening on each of these days. This website will walk you through securing a free ticket to the exhibit (recommended, not required.)

Please allow 20-30 minutes to go through the World Vision Experience. There are as many as 40 open spots for every 30-minute time slot. Once you've selected the date and time of your experience, please confirm there are enough spaces available for you and your group (see the "tickets remaining" box). Then enter the number of tickets desired, your first name, last name, and e-mail address. Shortly after you've reserved your tickets, we'll send you an e-mail confirmation with your reservation details.

The exhibit is a 3,000 square foot interactive exhibit that invites visitors to "step into Africa" by hearing, seeing and walking through an African village to personally experience the lives of children affected by AIDS. The stirring audio tour and captivating photography will transport you into the life of an African child and give you a new perspective on the greatest humanitarian crisis of our time.

Pastor Rick and I will be volunteering at the exhibit and hope that many of our members take the opportunity to experience this educational experience. Helping to stop the spread of HIV/AIDS was one of the sermons that was preached at our church this past August as part of our "What Breaks God's Heart" sermon series.

Below is some information regarding the HIV/AIDS crisis provided by our District Superintendent:

A global pandemic
Nearly 33 million people live with HIV.
Last year alone, more than 2.5 million people were infected.
6,000 people die every day because of AIDS.
. . . another person dies every 15 seconds.
Source: AIDS Epidemic Update, UNAIDS, December 2006

AIDS in Africa
Two-thirds of all people living with HIV are in Africa.
Two-thirds of all new HIV infections are in Africa.
Three-quarters of all AIDS-related deaths are in Africa... in a place that's home to just over one-tenth of the world's population.
Source: AIDS Epidemic Update, UNAIDS, December 2007

Children and AIDS
Approximately 2.5 million children worldwide have HIV.
Right now, there are more than 15 million children who have lost one or both parents because of AIDS.
Every day, another 6,000 children are orphaned due to AIDS.
. . . and most of these children live in Africa.
Sources: AIDS Epidemic Update, UNAIDS, December 2006; Africa's Orphaned and Vulnerable Generations, UNICEF, August 2006; UNAIDS, 2002.

The future of AIDS
By 2010, more than 20 million children will be orphaned due to AIDS.
By 2020, AIDS could kill up to 12 percent of Africa's workforce - as many as 58 million people.
. . . this crisis will not go away by itself.
Sources: UNICEF, August 2006; International Labour Organization, November 2006

World Vision's response
770,000 children in Africa received values-based HIV-prevention training in 2006 alone.
615,000 orphaned and vulnerable children received care and assistance.
11,000 church leaders were mobilized to respond to the AIDS crisis.
. . . World Vision has been on the front lines of the AIDS crisis in Africa since 1990.

Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - November 30

Sunday, November 30 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "A Blue Christmas"

Features - 1st Sunday of Advent

Scriptures - Isaiah 64:1-9 & Mark 13:24-37

Theme - We are getting increasingly negative news about our economy and recognize that Christmas can be a difficult time for families. This Blue Christmas worship service will offer comfort and hope to families faced with economic hardships, grieving the loss of a loved one, or feeling the blues during the holiday season.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Week #4 - The Blue Parakeet

Here's a summary of the Thursday morning bible study (November 20) on the book, "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible" by Scot McKnight.

Chapter 9 - We began by taking a quick test on what we believe should be applied today from the several commandments found in Leviticus 19. We agreed that we should not slander (verse 16) but didn't feel that to not wear clothing with two kinds of material (verse 19) was necessary to apply in the 21st century.

This chapter in the book also pointed out that while we agree that pre-marital sex is wrong that we should also understand that in today's world, in many ways, it's more difficult to refrain from pre-marital sex than it was in the time of the bible. One of the reasons for this includes the observation that people in bible times married a lot younger than people today, making it much more difficult to resist temptation. This doesn't change what is right or wrong but we should be aware of these cultural differences.

Chapter 10 - The author gives examples of how some issues within the bible have been adapted even within the bible. For example, the early church (Acts 15) after a lot of discussion and disagreement, finally came to the conclusion that circumcision was not necessary for non-Jewish males who wanted to become followers of Jesus Christ. Baptism ended up taking the place of circumcision for the Christian community.

Other examples where we see adaptations within the bible itself include divorce/remarriage, styles of Christian women, and the death penalty. Regarding divorce, our group discussed how emotional/physical abuse should be considered as grounds for divorce today even though this issue is not specifically mentioned with regard to marriage in scripture. Jesus allows for divorce in the case of sexual infidelity and Paul allows for divorce if a non-believing spouse wants out of the relationship. The point the author is making is that if the bible adapts on the issue of divorce, we should adapt in our day and age as well as long as we keep in mind the overall grand narrative of the bible and the meaning of marriage.

This session brought out out a lot of group discussion about these many topics on how we should apply biblical commandments in our day and age. The author claims that in order to be faithful to following the bible, we need to use wise discernment in applying the scriptures to our cultural context.

Because of the Thanksgiving holiday, our next session on this book will not be until the first week of December.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - November 23

Sunday, November 23 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "Hope for the Directionally Challenged"

Features - Christ the King Sunday & Sunday Before Thanksgiving Day

Scriptures - Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 123; I Thessalonians 5:1-11; & Matthew 25:14-30

Theme - Are you directionally challenged? Even just a little bit? Sometimes in our faith journey, we find ourselves in unknown territory. How do we find our way home? The prophet, Ezekiel, has a word of tremendous hope for us whenever we wander off the beaten path of our faith.

Saturday, November 15, 2008

What if the church marketed Starbucks?

Check out this 5 minute video from http://www.beyondrelevance.com/ that shows what it would be like for a first time Starbucks customer if the church was behind their marketing.

While "tongue in cheek" this video is a great way to help the church rethink how we are perceived by the unchurched.

Friday, November 14, 2008

Happy Birthday Xenia: Trinity Methodist Church!

On this day, 145 years ago, Xenia: Trinity Methodist Church was born. Trinity was an offshoot of Xenia: First Methodist which traces its beginning to 1808 here in Xenia, Ohio.

Ironically, these two churches with histories already intertwined merged to become "Faith Community United Methodist" and worshipped for the first time at our present Country Club Drive location in 1972. We have been here ever since, "Sharing Faith and Building Community."

Since this is Faith Community's bicentennial year, it's only fitting that we pause on this 145th birthday anniversary of Trinity Methodist and give thanks to God for the faithful people who have gone before us.

In my eight years as pastor of Faith Community, many members of the church will slip into the conversation that they were from the Trinity church. God bless them for how they are grateful for their previous congregation that is now part of Faith Community.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Week #3 - The Blue Parakeet

Our Thursday morning bible study had another great discussion on the book, "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible" by Scot McKnight.

Here are the highlights from today's discussion covering unit #2, "What Do I Do with the Bible?"

Chapter 6 - We were reminded how the Bible contains a "grand narrative" or a larger story as the author of the book puts it. We need to always remember this big picture whenever we read the bible to help us discern how to interpret the bible.

Psalm 119 uses a lot of personal pronouns such as "I delight in your decrees..." "I will walk about in freedom..." showing us that the bible invites us to be in a relationship with God through the words in this ancient book.

When we read a particular book in the Bible, we need to keep in mind the other books as well. r example, the Book of Deuteronomy has a theology of obedience and blessings whereas the Book of Job shows that obedience doesn't always lead to blessings. We need to keep the tensions of various theologies in mind when reading the Bible.

Chapter 7 - To read the bible effectively, we need to be good listeners when we read the bible. Love and listening are connected.

Chapter 8 - The bible is meant to help us live out our faith. It's not just about information but about helping us to live transformed lives to in turn, bring transformation to the world through God's Holy Spirit.

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - November 16

Sunday, November 16 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - “What the Church Can Learn from Tailgating”

Features - 27th Sunday After Pentecost

Scriptures -I Thessalonians 5:1-11 & Matthew 25:14-30

Theme - What can the church learn from tailgating? A lot!! In order for the church to have a “tailgate atmosphere” it must first be ready to accept Jesus’ challenge to give what it has away and invite people to receive God’s healing and forgiving love.

Friday, November 7, 2008

Week #2 - The Blue Parakeet

Yesterday, my Thursday morning bible studied discussed chapters 3 through 5 of "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible," by Scot McKnight.

Chapter 3 - McKnight gives a summary of the three major sections of the Bible to help us read it as a grand narrative:

Beginning (Genesis 1-11)

Middle (Genesis 12 through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus)

End (Matthew 25, Romans 8, & Revelation 21-22)

The problem is that we often take short-cuts in reading the bible as a grand narrative. Here are the short-cuts:

1. We see the bible as morsels of law (the Bible becomes a giant encyclopedia)
2. We see the bible as morsels of blessings and promises. (see the many verse a day calendars. What verses are on those daily calendars? Positive and cheery verses. But what about the verses of judgment and God's wrath? We conveniently screen those out!
3. We see the bible as an inkblot. We project our images of Jesus/God into the Bible. ie - if I'm a Republican I tend to fashion Jesus into a "conservative" Jesus.
4. We see the bible as a great big puzzle. The thinking is that once we complete the puzzle, we don't need to read it anymore. Big mistake!
5. We see the bible from the perspective of Maestros. If the Apostle Paul is our favorite biblical author, we make him the dominating perspective for the rest of the bible.

Chapter 4 - Since the Bible is a grand narrative, we always need to be aware of the context of a particular passage of scripture. The 7 important words of biblical interpretation is, "that was then and this is now." Since the bible was written several centuries ago, we need to be aware of the historical time period in which it was written.

The bible is filled with "wiki" stories. Like wikipedia in which people keep adding information to a topic on the internet, the bible is an adding on of stories to the grand narrative. I know that wikipedia has the problem of incorrect information being added and that's where this illustration breaks down. The point is that the biblical authors added their stories to the Story in order to tell God's story of salvation history.

Chapter 5 - The bible can be broken down into these parts of the plot:

Creating Eikons (the word for humans as God's image bearers) - Genesis 1-2
Cracked Eikons - Genesis 3-11
Covenant Community - Genesis 12 - end of OT
Christ, the Perfect Eikon - Matthew - Revelation 20
Consummation - Revelation 21-22

The problem today is that people are so concerned and worked up over the creationism vs. evolution debate, that we miss the whole point of the creation story in Genesis 1 & 2 in which God created humans to be image bearers and good stewards of God's good creation.

Next Thursday - We focus on chapters 6 through 8.

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Summary of the Bible

Do you ever feel like the bible is such a big book and difficult to summarize?

Or put it this way - If someone would come up to you today and ask you, "Hey, you're a Christian, aren't you? Please explain to me the main message of the bible and how this message can have an impact on my life."

If you have any interest in either of these two questions, I invite you to check out this post by Scot McKnight, a New Testament scholar, who has an uncanny ability to help make sense of this marvelous book we call, "the Bible."

Monday, November 3, 2008

Two Election Day Musts - Vote & Pray

Over the past several months, various Christian/political groups have spoken their mind on who our country should elect as our next president. Some of these groups (many?) have been anything but charitable in their views.

About a month ago, I received an e-mail from one of these organizations encouraging Christians to register to vote. As I read this, I couldn't agree more that it's important for Christians to participate in the voting process. But as the e-mail continued, it went on to explain that Christians should register to vote so that they will be able to vote for the candidate who takes a particular stance on a particular issue. In other words, this Christian organization wanted me to be a single issue voter.

By encouraging me to vote a certain way, this organization was in effect telling me that as a Christian I should discount the stance of my denomination on the issue (United Methodist) and vote the "Christian way." As I got to the bottom of that e-mail, I felt insulted and saddened that the primary purpose of this organization was to point out to me that I'm not a Christian if I don't agree with their particular political stance.

Among my United Methodist pastoral colleagues, I have appreciated hearing differences of opinions on the many political issues that are facing our country (not just one issue!) After leaving these conversations, I sometimes shake my head wondering why they don't share my same political stances on every issue because of course I have all the answers! (Tongue in cheek comment.) What I appreciate most about United Methodists is the openness to hear different viewpoints on the challenges that are facing us and to still see each other as brothers and sisters in Christ.

During this election process, let's vote for the candidate who we think will best lead our country and let's be in prayer for the voters, the poll workers, and BOTH political candidates.

Election Day Prayer

Almighty God, to whom we must account for all our powers and privileges: Guide the people of the United States in the election of officials and representatives; that, by faithful administration and wise laws, the rights of all may be protected and our nation be enabled to fulfill your purposes; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Sunday, November 2, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - November 9

Sunday, November 9 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features - 26th Sunday After Pentecost; Veterans’ Sunday (Veterans will be recognized at all 3 worship services. A band will play for the 11:00 service); & Coins for Missions Sunday (Coins placed in the offering will help support St. Paul UMC Outreach Center in Dayton, FISH Food Pantry, the Caring Place Meal Ministry in Xenia, & IHN which provides temporary housing for families in need)

Worship Theme - "The Ultimate Sacrifice"

Scriptures - Romans 5:6-11 & John 15:9-13

Theme - Today is our annual Veterans’ Sunday in which all veterans will be recognized at all three worship services. We will hear about Milton Olive who gave his life and saved his fellow soldiers during the Vietnam War. We will also hear about the One who offered his life on a cross to take away the sins of the world.

Saturday, November 1, 2008

A Blessed All Saints' Day

We will be celebrating All Saints' Day tomorrow at Faith Community even though today (November 1) is the actual day to observe it. Please pray for the many families of Faith Community (26 member deaths) who have experienced the loss of a loved one since last year's All Saints' Sunday.

As we prepare for tomorrow's annual Church Conference meeting in which we will review our membership roll, the encouraging news is that in 2008, we have already received 15 new members (this doesn't count the new members joining on November 16.) But since we have experienced several deaths this year, we presently have a net loss of membership.

Collect of the Day: All Saints'

Almighty God, you have knit together your elect in one communion and fellowship in the mystical body of your Son Christ our Lord: Give us grace so to follow your blessed saints in all virtuous and godly living, that we may come to those ineffable joys that you have prepared for those who truly love you; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who with you and the Holy Spirit lives and reigns, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen.

Friday, October 31, 2008

Have you seen this soft & cuddly Nittany Lion?

Sometime on Friday, October 31, the soft and cuddly Nittany Lion stuffy, which stands about 6 inches tall, was kidnapped from the front desk of Faith Community church.

A ransom note was placed in my church mail box today which had early elementary age large print on the envelope with the words, "PASTOR ROBERT."

Inside the envelope was a letter from the kidnappers which utilized words clipped from various newspapers and magazines explaining that more instructions will be given if I want to see my Nittany Lion cub alive again. The front office staff did not see the perpetrator take the little harmless stuffy but investigators are presently interviewing staff members and suspicious church members on where they were on the day of the crime.

I can only imagine where lil Nittany is at this very moment...probably in some dark cellar with Buckeye Brutus nearby.

Nittany...if you have internet wifi handy and they haven't taken your smart phone, go to daddy's web blog and know that I will not stop searching for you even if it gets to feel like it's early in the fourth quarter and we're losing 6 to 3. Remember to keep hope. Buckeye Brutus might get careless and fumble the deal and we'll be able to rescue you.

Your spot on my office desk furniture will not be the same without you. Your friend, Pittsburgh Steeler piggie which sits next to you in my office has also made a vow to not blow any more leads until you are found and returned safe and sound.

Hang in there lil Nittany. Thank goodness we have a bye week.

Happy Reformation Day!

On the Eve of All Saints, Day, October 31, 1517, Augustinian Father Doctor Martin Luther, professor of Scripture at the University of Wittenberg, Germany posted an invitation to debate on the door of the Wittenberg Cathedral. The invitation to debate contained ninety-five points, or theses, concerning the sale of indulgences. Luther chose this date for posting his theses because the coming holy day (All Saints' Day) would bring many of the community to services, ensuring that his statements would receive wide exposure.

We celebrated Reformation Sunday last Sunday (October 26) in church and sang the great Martin Luther hymn, "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God" in thanksgiving for the influence of the 15th and 16th century reformers, including Martin Luther.

One caution regarding Reformation Day however - The United Methodist Church has both a Protestant as well as a Catholic heritage. Protestant in the sense that we have inherited the influence of the Reformation from our Anglican Church heritage and Catholic in the sense that the Anglican Church was also steeped in the rich Catholic heritage dating all the way back to the 3rd century in England. Modern day United Methodists tend to forget that the Anglican Church from which we were born through John Wesley, himself an Anglican Priest, has both a Protestant and a Catholic flavor to it. Part of our forgetfulness is due to the American Methodists becoming their own denomination in 1784 and some distancing from our Anglican roots over the past 200 years.

This distancing from our Anglican roots is regretful since both the Protestant and Catholic heritage offer a rich diversity of theology and practice. For example, we don't only emphasize the importance of the Bible (Protestant), but we also want to celebrate the importance of the Sacraments (Catholic).

Reformation Day Prayer:
Almighty God, gracious Father, pour out your Holy Spirit upon your faithful people. Keep them steadfast in your Word, protect and comfort them in all temptations, defend them against all their enemies, and bestow on the Church your saving peace, through Jesus Christ our Lord,who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.

Week #1 - The Blue Parakeet

For the next six weeks, my goal is to provide a brief summary of the book, "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible" by Scot McKnight. This is the topic of my weekly Thursday morning bible study at Faith Community United Methodist.

For this first week, (first two chapters) here are the highlights of our conversation:

Like it or not, all of us "pick and choose" when interpreting verses/passages in the bible. Even folks of the fundamentalist variety who take the bible very literally pick and choose. Examples include Matthew 10:7,8 - why are many of us preaching about the kingdom (verse 7) but few of us are showing the signs of the kingdom through healing (verse 8.) Another example: Why do folks who point out that the practice of homosexual relations is sinful with such verses as Leviticus 20:13a not also apply the punishment for such activity (the 2nd half of that verse.) While we say, "thank God that people don't apply the 2nd half of that verse," the point is that we pick and choose.

  • The point of this first chapter isn't that it's right or wrong to pick and choose. The point is that we can't escape from doing it!

  • The 2nd chapter explains the author's use of the blue parakeet as a metaphor for his book. A blue parakeet is its own bird. That is, when a blue parakeet is around other types of birds, it does not adapt to their habits and flight patterns. Sometimes other birds try to get the blue parakeet to adapt to their ways, but it will stand its ground (its sky?) McKnight says that the bible is like the blue parakeet. Even though we try to fit the bible into our way of thinking and worldview or what we think it should say, it holds its own ground. We need to let the bible be the bible. And the first step in letting the bible be the bible is to admit that all of us pick and choose

  • Often times we get Tradition (capital "T") confused with traditionalism in studying the bible. Tradition (capital "T") is how the church over the centuries has interpreted scriptural passages whereas traditionalism is how we so often take one strand of interpretation and without any critical thinking, allow that particular interpretation of a passage of scripture to be the final authority. In summary, Tradition is vital for the appropriate interpretation of scripture. Traditionalism is the wrong way to go!

  • Looking ahead to next week's bible study (chapters 3 - 5) the proper way to interpret scripture is in remembering these three words:
Story - Listening - Discerning

More on this next week!

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

New Thursday Morning Bible Study Topic

I am blessed to facilitate a weekly Thursday morning bible study at the church which has been meeting for the past couple of years.

We have focused on a variety of topics such as the "Just Neighbors" study on local and national poverty issues, the United Methodist Book of Resolutions which covers over 300 denominational stances on various social issues, the United Methodist Hymnal and the meaning of the hymns, the Book of Romans, the Book of Colossians, the Gospels, the Book of Revelation, several video studies by New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop, N.T. Wright, and more recently, the "Prayers, Presence, Gifts, and Service: Forty Day Journey" stewardship campaign.

Tomorrow, we are excited to begin a new topical study focusing on the newly published book by the New Testament scholar, Scot McKnight, "The Blue Parakeet: Rethinking How You Read the Bible."

This is the kind of book that has a way of upsetting our apple carts because it helps us to see our own assumptions in our personal interpretations of biblical texts. Some of our assumptions are based more on commonly held interpretations about the bible rather than on a careful study of the original meaning of a particular text. McKnight offers specific examples of some of these commonly held assumptions.

What I like most about this book is that the author emphasizes how the bible has an overarching grand narrative which links the texts together. By knowing what the grand narrative of the bible is (the book describes this) we put ourselves in a much better position to interpret a particular passage of scripture.

But what does a blue parakeet have to do with all of this? Come Thursday morning at 10 A.M. and find out!

Sunday, October 26, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - November 2

Sunday, November 2 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features - All Saints Sunday & Holy Communion

Sermon Title - "The Resurrection Experiment"

Scriptures - Revelation 7:9-17; Psalm 34:1-10, 22; I John 3:1-3; & Matthew 5:1-12

Theme - One of the ways that people come to belief in Christ is through the lives of faithful people who live in such a way that helps people see the authenticity of the Christian faith. On this All Saints’ Sunday, we will not only remember the members and loved ones of our congregation who have died since last year’s All Saints’ Sunday, but we will also be inspired to follow their example in offering the love of Christ to the people around us through word and deed.

Friday, October 24, 2008

Being a Christian leader means...

Adam Hamilton, Sr. Pastor of Church of the Resurrection in Kansas City, the largest United Methodist Church in the country which has about 7,500 in worship attendance each weekend, was the opening speaker at the "Change the World Conference" today at Ginghamsburg UMC.

He defined an effective Christian leader as someone who helps followers of Christ become authentically human. Adam spoke at length on the importance for Christians and churches to be genuine and authentic in living out their faith. This is the only approach that will reach younger generations for Christ.

Speaking of young people (16 to 29), Adam shared that 40% of them have left the church because they perceive the church to be too judgemental. Young people are not leaving because they believe church people are hypocrites. They readily admit that they are hypocrites themselves. The difference is that they know they are hypocrites and church people think they aren't. Ouch!

Adam said that the church needs to reclaim Jesus' method of reaching the unchurched or the disenfranchised by authentically and genuinely reaching out to our communities and world through hands on missions like food drives, hunger walks, etc.

In addition to hands on missions, Adam also emphasized that the church of today needs to not oversimplify controversial or difficult issues and questions that people face in life like. Instead, the church should welcome people's questions and not offer them tired and worn out religious cliches. In short, and back to Adam's definition of a Christian leader, we are to be authentic.

Last year, I visited Adam's church in Kansas City, and it was easy to see that his church emphasizes hands on missions and being genuine and authentic in welcoming people, especially those who have honest questions about their faith and the meaning of life.

What does all of this mean for us? For those of us who are United Methodist, it means that the mainline denomination has a lot to offer young people and the unchurched population in general, who are living in this culture. Our own Wesleyan/Methodist theology is one that invites open dialogue and authentic Christian witness that meets people where they are. Today was a reminder for those of us in the church to consciously check our judgemental attitudes at the door and to welcome people as Christ welcomes people. And we need to provide several hands on mission opportunities in which people can participate (both inside and outside the church.)

For those of us who are preachers, our sermons and messages need to connect with people where they are and communicate authenticity and humility as we offer the good news and the hope of the gospel.

Maybe the commercial slogan of the United Methodist Church can be a reminder of what Adam shared with us today. We are to be a people of "Open Hearts. Open Minds. Open Doors."

If you'd like more highlights from the October 24/25 Change the World conference, come to the Wednesday Common Cup 7 P.M. Growth Group at Faith Community on October 29. The Common Cup pastors who attended the conference will be present to share what we learned at the conference. What I shared here is just the tip of the iceberg!

Monday, October 20, 2008

A Visit with Former US Ambassador Tony Hall

This morning, my daughter, Naomi and I had the privilege to be part of a small group discussion with former US Ambassador Tony Hall regarding the vital issues facing our country and world. Tony wanted to meet with a sampling of religious leaders in the Dayton area to share some of his thoughts with us and to hear our comments and questions.

No longer an Ambassador, he continues to serve his country particularly in the areas of global hunger relief and the Middle East peace process. How's that for your mission in life!

Here are some of the specific things he is doing in these areas:
  • Works closely with the organization, "Opportunity International" which provides loans to people living in the poorest nations of the world. Since banks in the third world countries typically only do business with only 5% of the population, this organization provides loans to people who are in desperate need. Interestingly enough, 98% of the loans are paid back in full.

  • Regarding peace in the Middle East, he is working hard to include the leading religious officials of several different faith traditions representing these countries to be officially part of the peace process. In the past, it's been primarily the political leaders who come to the table. But in this area of the world where tensions are due to religious differences, it only makes sense to include the major religious leaders. I believe he said that he's traveled to the Middle East 9 or 10 times this past year. He's returning in November.

In addition to sharing what he has been doing since serving as a US Ambassador, Tony Hall also shared what he believes to be the important issues facing our country today:

  • The National & Global Hunger crisis. Only 1/2 of 1% of our nation's budget is in the form of foreign aid, but he publicly affirms President Bush's because he has done more for the poor who are overseas than any other US president.

  • The health care crisis needs to be addressed. It's wrong that 40 million Americans are uninsured.

  • He has been part of a weekly prayer and scripture gathering with members of congress (both Democrat & Republican) every Wednesday at 4 P.M.

  • He said that he has been motivated to help end global hunger because there are almost 2,500 verses in the Bible which are about caring for the hungry and those who are poor.

There wasn't a lot of time for Q & A, but I asked Tony Hall this question: "In your experience in working to help end global poverty, what are some positive signs you are seeing in the area of third world debt reduction and elimination?"

His answer: "Eliminating third world debt is making a huge difference in these countries, particularly in countries like Ghana and Mozambique. Our world needs to live out the biblical principle of the 'Year of Jubilee' where debts are forgiven and countries can use this money to provide education and food for their people."

It was an honor to be part of this meeting and to be part of the dialogue.

Sunday, October 19, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - October 26

Sunday, October 26 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features - 24th Sunday After Pentecost; Celebration of “Prayers, Presence, Gifts, & Service: A Forty Day Journey;” & Reformation Sunday

Sermon Title - “A Forty Day Journey - Celebration Sunday”

Scriptures - Acts 2:41-47; Psalm 100; & Luke 17:11-21

Theme - This is the final sermon of a six-part sermon series on “Prayers, Presence, Gifts, and Service: A Forty Day Journey.” On this final Sunday of our forty day journey together, we will reflect on the sixth week of readings and celebrate the conclusion of our forty day journey by renewing our commitment in offering our prayers, presence, gifts, and service to God.

Friday, October 17, 2008

A College Football Cheer & Social Justice

Check out this video on the origin of the "We are...Penn State" cheer that is used often at Penn State home games. It's related to the issue of segregation in the 1940's.

Note: You don't need to be a Penn State fan to appreciate this short video.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Hispanic Ministry in Dayton

Our Common Cup clergy served a meal today for the participants of a Hispanic seminar held at St. Pauls United Methodist Outreach Center in Dayton. It was exciting to have a small part in helping behind the scenes for this vital ministry. One of the goals of our Common Cup clergy group is to be involved in a hands on mission outreach at least once every two months as a group.

This week's 40 day "Prayers, Presence, Gifts, & Service" readings at Faith Community are focusing on service and being involved in hands on missions. Personally, I have found that a good way to be involved in hands on missions is by participating in a small group that makes this a priority.

I like the concept of small groups/bible studies/Sunday School classes being involved in hands on mission outreach on a regular basis. Not only does it give group members an opportunity to put their faith into practice, it also deepens the relationships among the group members.

Look at how much fun we had in preparing the meal tonight!

Monday, October 13, 2008

Another Update from Eric Bondapa

Eric Bondapa, the Africa University student who our Common Cup ministry was going to host this past summer and who is studying for the pastoral ministry, sends this word of thanks for the recent love gift our churches sent him. We also gave a financial gift to Africa University.

This past week, Faith Community focused on tithing our financial gifts toward the work of Christ and the church as part of our 40 day stewardship campaign. Eric's letter is another reminder among many of why it is sheer joy to offer our gifts to those in need. Enjoy his letter.

Eric's Letter:

To all members of common cup ministry:

I have come through this letter explain my gratitude and acknowledge receiving 900$ from you, which is directed to my studies at Africa University . Because of the love shown to me, I wanted to thank all the churches that participated in raising this money. For me it is a great benediction to have this money, really this will make a difference in all my life. Because, It will keep reminding me of God's working through his people. It is true that when we receive from God, he also except us to be faithful servants.

I thank the Churches for having this spirit of sharing, because the Bible says "when you do this to the least of these people, you do it to me." "Jesus-Christ"

I realized God's love when I received this money for my studies. This transfer God's love that reaches my life. You are doing it through your hands to touch all my Love; this is an extension of God's love, reaching somebody who is really in need through your sharing of the resources. Moreover, for all my lovely congregations, I have received your love with great joy, the only thing is that this gift reminds me to work faithfully to God and continues to love him forever. Thank you very much for accepting to respond to the Divine duty. May God assist you and bless you all. In the name of the father, the son and the Holy Spirit Amen!!!

Rev Eric Kalamba Bondapa
Third year Student
Africa University

Oversimplifying the Abortion Debate

The topic of abortion is becoming a top media issue in the presidential campaign due in part to recent statements made by Governor Palin. I received an e-mail from an evangelical Christian organization which basically said that if you are a Christian, you need to vote Republican since the McCain/Palin ticket is pro-life.

Personally, I am more in line with Sojourners on how to approach this issue than with what either the far right or the far left offers regarding the abortion debate. Knowing that this is a highly controversial and important topic, I invite you to read this recent message from Sojourners (see below) which in my view is in line with the stance of the United Methodist Church and with Wesleyan theology which embraces both vital piety and social justice. It's something worth keeping at the center of this important debate.

The Meaning of "Life": Seeking Common Ground to Reduce Abortions

Sojourners has advocated for a “consistent ethic of life” approach for years, and we believe our nation is ready for a new kind of politics and leadership on the issue of abortion.The majority of Americans believe that reducing the number of abortions is an important goal that people on all sides of the debate can agree on.

Recent research affirms that social and economic support for women and vulnerable families are effective solutions to lowering the abortion rate, including greater access to health care, poverty reduction, adoption reform, and pre and postnatal care.

Republicans and Democrats must learn to work together on this issue – tell the presidential candidates to lead the way for the duration of their campaigns. We must look forward to the day when both poverty reduction and abortion reduction are nonpartisan issues and bipartisan causes.

Sunday, October 12, 2008

An Historic Day for Common Cup

This afternoon, I had the honor of presiding at an historic Church Conference for Paintersville UMC and Eleazer UMC, two of our sixteen Common Cup Churches. Each church voted unanimously for Paintersville to merge with Eleazer and become one church, keeping the Eleazer name and using the Eleazer church building and property.

Future decisions still need to made regarding the use of the Paintersville building. The historical information and several items in the Paintersville church will need to be incorporated into the new combined congregation at Eleazer.

The United Methodist Book of Discipline is very clear that the purpose of a merger should only be considered if it will help the two congregations to more effectively fulfill their ministry. It's interesting that this is also the purpose behind our Common Cup shared ministry model of sixteen area churches (now fifteen!) The Common Cup mission statement is to be more effective by making disciples of Jesus Christ together for the transformation of the world.

Today, the two congregations shared a meal after worship, conducted the joint Church Conferences, and shared in the Sacrament of Holy Communion. I took the above picture of the members of Eleazer and Paintersville who attended the meeting today. Notice the smiles!

Let's keep the newly formed Eleazer congregation under the leadership of Pastor John Beers in our prayers as they continue their transition of bringing their resources together for the sake of the kingdom.

Sunday Worship Preview - October 19

Sunday, October 19 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features - 23rd Sunday After Pentecost

Sermon Title - Rev. Rick Tettau: “A Forty Day Journey - Service”

Scriptures - Exodus 33:12-23; Psalm 99; & Matthew 22:15-22

Theme - This is the fifth sermon of a six-part sermon series on “Prayers, Presence, Gifts, and Service: A Forty Day Journey.” On this fifth Sunday of our forty day journey together, we will reflect on the fifth week of readings which focus on serving others as a witness to God's grace.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

Church Members in the Community

Today was the annual Partners in Education breakfast/awards program sponsored by Xenia Community Schools. The purpose of Partners in Education is to recognize the support our schools receive through businesses, organizations, and churches.

This year, a new award was created to highlight how being a partner between the schools and the community is a two-way street. The award is for a school group which has helped an organization in the community.

The first recipient for this new award was a Central Middle School class that was taught by Betsy Murray (far right), a member of Faith Community for the work of her class in helping the Xenia Adult and Recreation Services (formerly known as Golden Age Senior Citizens Center.)

Two of the class members, Ashleigh Spahr (4th from right), and Sarah Middlebrooks (2nd from right), were part of the 2007 confirmation class at Faith Community. It's always great to see our church members being recognized for shining the light of Christ in our community. Way to go!

Wednesday, October 8, 2008

How Much Is 700 Billion Dollars?

The recent $700 billion dollar proposed bailout of our nation’s financial system has created a climate of alarm, embarrassment, anger, and disbelief that our country has fallen so far. On SNL’s satirical “Weekend Report,” the news anchor says, “To give you an idea of how much $700 billion dollars is, I can’t give you an idea of how much $700 billion dollars is.”

Most of us already knew that we were a nation living on the edge, feeding off greed and the insatiable appetite of always wanting more toys, but how many of us knew that we were this close to collapse? Even with all of the safeguards surrounding the proposed bailout, we have been painfully reminded of the cost of being part of a culture which promotes the philosophy that enough is never really enough.

Many of our area churches are participating in stewardship campaigns this fall to prepare for 2009. Part of our stewardship campaign includes reflecting on what it means to be faithful with the financial resources God has given us. Obviously, the secular agenda’s approach to handling money (unbridled capitalism) when left unchecked, offers instant gratification, but in the end, will lead us down a dead-end street (the street formerly known as Wall Street.).

Enter the biblical view of stewardship and God’s call for each person to recognize that all good gifts come from God: a roof over our heads, food for the table, skills and abilities, the air we breathe, good health, loving relationships, a caring and nurturing community of faith, and the list goes on and on. When we remember this basic truth that all good gifts come from God, our attitudes and approach to money take on a whole new meaning.

Not only do we become more grateful for what we already have, we begin to see ourselves as extensions of God’s grace on behalf of a world in great need. Our lifestyles begin to reflect the giving nature of God, and we grow in what it means to practice extravagant generosity through the sharing of our financial gifts with those who are hurting.

Recently, our community participated in an annual two-mile Hunger Walk, CROP Walk, in which 25% of all funds collected remain right here with our Greene county FISH food pantry. The remaining money will go to support world-wide hunger relief efforts. Our food pantries are in need of additional financial and volunteer help, especially after the recent wind storm that left thousands of people without power.

As I made the stroll down the Xenia bike path and through the canopy of changing leaves on that warm autumn day, it was obvious that God’s many gifts were streaming down upon us from every direction. Pure gifts. Pure grace. So yeah…I know how much $700 billion dollars is and it’s nothing compared to the immeasurable love of God.

That’s something Wall Street can’t teach us.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - October 12

Sunday, October 12 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features - 22nd Sunday After Pentecost & Coins for Missions (Coins placed in the offering will help support St. Paul UMC Outreach Center in Dayton, FISH Food Pantry, the Caring Place Meal Ministry in Xenia, & IHN which provides temporary housing for families in need.)

Sermon Title - “A Forty Day Journey - Gifts”

Scriptures - Isaiah 58:1-12 & Matthew 6:19-21

Theme - This is the fourth sermon of a six-part sermon series on “Prayers, Presence, Gifts, and Service: A Forty Day Journey.” On this fourth Sunday of our forty day journey together, we will reflect on the fourth week of readings which focus on offering our financial gifts to the work of Jesus Christ and the church.