A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

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

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - September 7

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

Features -17th Sunday After Pentecost; Holy Communion; Grandparent/Grandchildren Sunday; & Noon Carnival on Church Front Lawn

Sermon Title - “Celebrate Grandparents”

Scriptures - II Timothy 1:1-9a & Matthew 18:15-20

Theme - We will celebrate the relationship between grandparents and grandchildren within the context of our faith. Pastor Rick will share stories about his grandmother Dorothy who set an example of the Christian faith for him. We will explore three points - 1) Jesus delights in children. 2) Parents and grandparents pass on their faith in Jesus to their children. 3) Jesus offers forgiveness and unites the church.

Saturday, August 30, 2008

Labor Day Weekend - Prayers for the Unemployed

This year, I have encountered more people in the church who have lost their jobs or who will lose their jobs than in any other year in my ministry. This comes as no surprise since recent unemployment statistics in our region continue to be on the rise.

The unemployment rate in Ohio is 6.6%, the highest it has been since 1993. In contrast, the national unemployment rate is presently at 5.5% The Miami Valley area has been particularly hit hard because of several companies announcing job closings.

Every Saturday, the Jewish sabbath which reminds us to rest from our work, I pray the following prayer for those who are without employment. During this Labor Day Weekend, I invite all of us to make it a practice to pray this prayer every Saturday, keeping in mind the people in our community and church family who are unemployed and who are finding it very difficult to make ends meet.

Heavenly Father, we remember before you those who suffer want and anxiety from lack of work. Guide the people of this land so to use our public and private wealth that all may find suitable and fulfilling employment, and receive just payment for their labor; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

From "The Book of Common Prayer," Oxford University Press, New York, 1979

Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Prayers, Presence, Gifts, & Service - A Forty Day Journey

Congratulations to Barb Thompson on her newly published book, "Prayers, Presence, Gifts, & Service - A Forty Day Journey."

Barb is a member of Faith Community United Methodist and has written this book specifically for our forty day church wide stewardship campaign which begins on Monday, September 15 and will conclude on Sunday, October 26.

Our church will be distributing one book per family on the following Sundays - August 31, September 7, & September 14. We are invited to begin reading this book on Monday, September 15, and read one chapter a day. Each person will receive a "Prayers, Presence, Gifts, & Service - A Forty Day Journey" workbook containing reflection questions for each day's readings.

Each Sunday during our forty day journey will focus on the the topic of the previous week's readings. We are also encouraging each Sunday School Class, small group, and bible study group to use these materials beginning the week of September 15. Sunday School classes would begin on Sunday, September 21.

Pastor Rick and I will preach on the theme of each week's readings during our journey together. Here's the Sunday schedule:
  • Sunday, September 21 - Introduction to the Journey
  • Sunday, September 28 - Prayers

  • Sunday, October 5 - Presence

  • Sunday, October 12 - Gifts

  • Sunday, October 19 - Service

  • Sunday, October 26 - Commitment/Celebration Sunday

Barb has been so gracious to write this forty day journey book for the primary purpose of helping our church to reflect on the meaning of our membership vows in how we might best offer our prayers, presence, gifts, and service to the glory of God as we prepare for a new year of ministry in 2009.

On Sunday, September 21, Barb will be present at our church to sign books and she will offer a testimony at all three worship services on what it has meant for her to write this book for our congregation.

Mark your calendars - Our 40 day journey begins with the daily readings on Monday, September 15.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

Democrats & the Mission of the Church

During an all day district meeting today, a pastor asked some of us, "What is the difference between the Democrat platform and the church's platform?"

In his speech Monday night, Senator Ted Kennedy talked a lot about helping people who are in need. Without touting one party over the other, this pastor's question was meant to get us to think of what sets the church apart from secular movements which seek to do good in our world.

As you might imagine, this pastor followed his own question with an answer. "The difference is that we believe that Jesus is Lord and that's why the church seeks to help people who are in need."

My friend was making an excellent theological point. The church's mission in the world is rooted in it's understanding that Jesus is Lord. When we believe that Jesus is Lord because of his resurrection from the dead, this empowers us to be his Easter people and to work toward having a world that is filled with peace and justice.

To be real honest...these political parties with all their balloons and fanfare don't motivate me to make a difference in the world. What does motivate me is found in three simple words:

"Jesus is Lord."

Sunday, August 24, 2008

Bill Maher's Comments on the Bible

OK. I have been listening to Bill Maher, the comedian/news analyst on Larry King Live tonight. The interview prompts me to make a few comments regarding a comment Bill Maher made about the bible. I've heard him share this same opinion on another interview as well.

Basically, his argument goes like this: Why would an eternal God decide to have people from the bronze age write down eternal truths that reflect the social morals of that particular time period in history?

First of all, Bill Maher's comments are very patronizing toward the ancients which is a common assumption I hear many agnostists/atheists mention time and time again. The implication is that since the ancients were so below us, we are the superior ones, since we live in the post-modern age. I beg to differ that our post-modern world gives us reason to boast. Didn't the enlightenment bring us Hiroshima and the Holocaust? And this is the time period that Bill Maher believes the bible should have been written?

Second of all, I don't think Bill Maher understands the meaning of biblical authority. The bible isn't primarily a book about timeless truths as if it is a dictionary or encyclopedia to answer our questions. Like it or not, the bible is an amazingly coherent grand narrative which is rooted in different periods of ancient history. The bible is authoritative when we seek to understand the historical and religious context in which it was written and open ourselves to how God is speaking to us in our present context based on these ancient texts.

Of course, when we look at the interpretation of scripture from this perspective, that means we need to faithfully study the historical time period of when it was written, see how it fits in with the grand narrative, and prayerfully seek how this ancient writing speaks to us today.

I'm not sure if Bill Maher has simply chosen to not go to all that effort or if he's just really that closed minded about religion in general.

Having said all of this, I do think he makes some good points and is a great comedian.

Your thoughts?

Xenia Churches Enjoying Fellowship!

Yesterday, several churches in our community gathered for an old fashioned barbecue chicken picnic at the Shawnee Park pavillion.

The Xenia Area Association of Churches decided to sponsor this picnic to help the churches in our area enjoy Christian fellowship and offer prayers for the upcoming September 23 & 24 Impact World Tour, a revival designed to reach children, youth, and young adults in our community for Jesus Christ.

Common Cup, which represents 16 United Methodist Churches sharing in ministry together has been challenged to have at least 100 people receive training to become Impact World Tour Local Links. A Local Link is someone who will attend both of the September 23/24 Impact World Tour events at Xenia High School, come alongside someone who makes a decision to follow Christ, and provide support and encouragement through personal contacts with a new believer over an eight week period.

Local Link training will be provided immediately after our Wednesday Common Cup Food Court from 6:30 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. on September 10 and 17 at Faith Community. Both training sessions are needed to become a Local Link.

Check out the brief interview I had with Pastor Dan Jordan of Xenia Grace Chapel and our Director of Youth Ministries, Susan Fellie, about what this day of food and fellowship among our Xenia churches meant to them.

Sunday Worship Preview - August 31

Sunday, August 31 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features -16th Sunday After Pentecost

Sermon Title - “What Breaks God’s Heart: HIV/AIDS”

Scriptures - Exodus 3:7-12 & Luke 10:25-37

Theme - This is the final part of a four part sermon series on the topic, “What Breaks God’s Heart?” Today we focus on HIV/AIDS.

Friday, August 22, 2008

Sermon Planning Retreat

This September, I will be going on a personal sermon planning retreat to plan sermons and worship themes for each Sunday in 2009. This will include lectionary based sermons as well topical sermon series.

Regarding possible sermon series topics, I'm interested in knowing what topics you would like me to consider addressing/preaching. Here are a few of my ideas going into the retreat. Keep in mind that I am completely in the brainstorming (anything goes stage) at this point.

  • Heresies - A look at past church heresies and how they sometimes surface in the church today.

  • Dog Traits & Faith - Not sure where I'm going with this but dogs have traits that might help us to have a stronger faith.
  • John Wesley's Three Simple Rules - Do no harm. Do good. Stay in love with God.

  • 5 Practices of Fruitful congregations - Radical Hospitality. Passionate Worship. Faith Forming Relationship. Risk Taking Mission. Extravagant Generosity.

  • Note to Self - A look at some crazy things biblical people have done and how we should learn from their mistakes.

In 2008, our sermon series have included, "Why I'm a United Methodist," "Tying the Knot," "Sharing Our Faith," "The Crosses of Jesus," "Busting Myths," Happy Birthday," and our present, "What Breaks God's Heart" sermon series.

Each year, I submit my sermon plan for the upcoming year no later than October 31st, which just so happens to be Reformation Day, an appropriate day since the Reformers emphasized the importance of scripture and preaching!

For this retreat, I'll be taking my laptop, my bible, some commentaries, the United Methodist Hymnal, and a couple of books that might spark some sermon series ideas. I'll begin and end each day in worship and also take some time to take walks, listen to God, and pray for my family and for Faith Community. Retreats have always helped me to renew, reenergize, and reconnect to Jesus. Since preaching is one of my top passions in pastoral ministry, this retreat will be very energizing for me.

I invite you to offer your comments on possible sermon topics. While at the retreat, I'll prayerfully consider what God is calling our church to focus upon in 2009.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Methodists to the Rescue!

Imagine a revival coming to our local community which has the potential of at least 1,000 people making decisions to become followers of Jesus Christ. Who is going to stand next to each of these new believers, many of whom will be children and youth, since the revival is focused on reaching them?

Who is going to offer an encouraging word to a 12 year old who has just said that she wants to be a follower of Jesus? Who is going to make a personal contact of hope and support for a 20 year old over the first few weeks following his decision to become a Christian? Who is going to help the 17 year old find a loving and supportive small group which will help this new believer to begin the journey we call "discipleship?"

The number of Methodists in Xenia and the surrounding area through our Common Cup shared ministry is about 2,000 of us. With our Wednesday Common Cup Food Court/Growth Group program getting ready to start in September, what would it be like if at least 100 of our 2,000 members received training at our Common Cup program to become local links for the revival that will be coming to Xenia toward the end of September?

One of our Common Cup pastors will be available from 6:30 P.M. to 8:00 P.M. (just following the Food Court) on September 10 & 17 at Faith Community UM to provide this local link training for the Impact World Tour revival. You will need to attend both of these training events.

Helping people who have accepted Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior to receive encouragement and support in the beginning stages of discipleship is in our DNA as Methodists. Come to the two training events on September 10 & 17, 6:30 P.M.

Methodists to the rescue!

Tuesday, August 19, 2008

Happy Birthday Mom!

Today is my mom's birthday. For the past 23 years, we have been separated by approximately 460 miles but we have a tradition of seeing each other a couple of times each year. I called her today and told her that she's a wonderful mom.

The older I get, the more I am thankful for what my mom and dad have given me...they have passed on their faith to me and now I am Wesleyan to the bone!
One of the things I most appreciate about my mom is that she and dad gave us stability and a strong foundation. People tell me that I appear to be higher than average in the area of emotional stability. If this is true, I can't take any credit. I have only them to thank.

Happy birthday, mom.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Greetings from Rev. Eric Kalamba Bondapa

Here is a recent e-mail I received from Rev. Eric Bondapa, the pastoral student attending Africa University. Our Common Cup ministry was supposed to host Eric this past June and July as a student intern but his visa was denied. I sent warm greetings to Eric in response to his e-mail and told him how proud we are of his accomplishments.

Eric's Letter:

I greet you in the name of Jesus Christ who is our savior.

We really thank you for your support and prayers from the day we departed from Zimbabwe to DRC, now we are back to complet our education in the final year. We still need your prayers and support while we are here at school.

I greet the Church with a great love in my heart hopping God will make a way so that we meet with you.

I was ordained this summer, thank you for prayers, may God bless you

I love you all and God bless you

Rev Eric Kalamba

Sunday, August 17, 2008

No Line on the Horizon

Hallelujah! U2 is releasing a new album this November. I've heard that the band is calling the album, "No Line on the Horizon." I love the title. U2 is known for their creative ability to explore the depths of the human soul and include echos of the Christian faith in their music. All of this, while still being a secular rock and roll band.

This past winter, I took my daughter to an IMAX theater in Cincinnati to watch the U23D movie which is concert footage from their tour in South America about four years ago. We both commented on how U2 is incredible in how they can combine rock with unexpected moments of worship for 70,000 screaming fans.

Speaking of U2 and Bono's tireless efforts in raising awareness of the HIV/AIDS crisis in Africa, our present "What Breaks God's Heart" sermon series will focus on this issue August 31. Working to end the HIV/AIDS epidemic is one of four priorities established by the United Methodist Church over the next four years.

Sunday Worship Preview - August 24

Sunday, August 24 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features -15th Sunday After Pentecost & Local Missions Special Offering

Sermon Title - “What Breaks God’s Heart: Global Hunger”

Scriptures - Leviticus 25:1-12 & Luke 4:14-21

Theme - This is the third part of a four part sermon series on the topic, “What Breaks God’s Heart?” Today we focus on global poverty. The Old Testament speaks of a year of jubilee to help the poor get a fresh start. Jesus announced the Kingdom of God and the year of jubilee in his teaching and ministry. What does it mean for the church today to proclaim the year of jubilee in a world in which 9 million people die from hunger every year?

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Making the News for the Right Reason

Unfortunately, Xenia, Ohio has recently been in the national news because of a bad decision made by a couple of people at a fast food restaurant. The bad decision? An employee decided to take a bath in the restaurant's sink to celebrate his birthday and someone videotaped it. The health department didn't think it was very funny.

When I ordered at a fast food restaurant for lunch today (not the same restaurant) I must admit that I hesitated before placing my order. The truth is, our bad decisions can lead to other people suffering the consequences.

The Old Testament readings from the Book of Common Prayer have been from the Book of Judges and today's scripture was specifically about Samson who we often revere as a heroic person who helped Israel. But in today's scripture, Samson made a really bad decision. No, he didn't take a bath in a public restaurant sink but he did needlessly kill 30 people and take their possessions just so he could pay off a silly wager that he had made.

The Bible isn't a book about the good guys and the bad guys. The Bible is a book about people (you and me) who have been created to be God's image bearers and who sometimes fail to live the way God intends us to live. Yes, some of our bad decisions are more noticeable and damaging than other bad decisions. (Note to self: don't grab a quick shower at your local fast food restaurant and don't make silly wagers!)

So let's learn from Mr. Samson and Mr. Fast Food Man. If we're going to show up on the nightly news, let's make sure that it's for the right reason...for spreading God's transforming and healing love in our communities and world.

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - August 17

Sunday, August 17 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features - 14th Sunday After Pentecost; Blessing of the Backpacks & Students; Youth Council Commissioning (9:45 A.M.)

Sermon Title - “What Breaks God's Heart - Local Poverty”

Scriptures -Romans 11:1-2a, 29-32 & John 21:12-17

Theme - This is the 2nd part of the sermon series, “What Breaks God’s Hear." We will focus on local poverty. Be exploring the meaning of the Apostle Peter's commission by Jesus after the Easter breakfast we will better understand how his charge and ours as the church to care for people is a reflection of our love for Jesus.

Sunday, August 10, 2008

Christians Having Fun

Salt Shakers is the name of one of my church fellowship groups in which people who at first didn't know each other very well, get together about eight times a year to eat, pray, and have fun!
We recently had our monthly outing playing miniature golf at Young's Dairy. The women beat the men by five strokes, but the pain of defeat was lessened by a vanilla milkshake that was enjoyed afterward. The barbecue chicken dinner before we played didn't hurt either!

In the middle of Young's Dairy, we offered prayers for various needs among our group - not something I usually do on my own in the middle of an ice-cream store!

The Book of Acts tells us that the early Christians often got together for meals and fellowship (Acts 2:42-47.) I don't think it's any coincidence that the church grew because of the deep relationships that were formed among those first disciples in the name of Jesus.

One of the goals of our church is to help every person in the congregation get connected with a fellowship group that will help them grow in their faith and feel part of the larger church family.

Friday, August 8, 2008

Prayers, Prayers, & More Prayers

This evening, as I was silently standing in the corner of a hospital room filled with several friends and family members of a very ill parishioner, an incredible thought came to my mind.

In the silence of that room, I couldn't help but to become consciously aware of the many "little prayers" that were being lifted on behalf of their loved one in that precise moment. All of the sudden, it occurred to me that God wasn't just hearing my prayer. God was hearing many prayers.

Could it be that as we're going through our daily routine, the same is true? In any given moment, my prayer just might not be the only prayer being lifted in that moment and in that particular place.

And here's what really blows me away. Just think of what Sunday morning in church must be like! Just being aware of the many prayers being lifted in a given moment might make me a better preacher and it might also make a huge difference in how we offer our worship.

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Sunday Worship Preview - August 10

Sunday, August 10 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Features - 13th 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 - “What Breaks God’s Heart: Sin, Disease, & Death”

Scriptures - Genesis 3:1-7 & Mark 15:25-39

Theme - This is the 1st part of the sermon series, “What Breaks God’s Heart” and we will be focusing on the big three of sin, disease, and death. For some people, these three painful realities of life have led them away from God and the church. Why would a good and loving God allow so much pain and suffering in the world? Doesn’t God care? Come and join us on this Sunday as we explore these questions in light of the Christian faith.

Friday, August 1, 2008

Common Cup Softball Team - '08

The first ever Common Cup co-ed softball team ended it's Xenia recreational league season tonight with a loss to finish with a record of one win and several defeats. This might seem depressing but consider how expansion teams have fared for their inaugural years:

1962 New York Mets - 40-120
1972 Philadelphia 76ers - 9-73
1976 Tampa Bay Buccaneers - 0-14

Despite the lack of victories in the win column, it was great to see team-like Christian fellowship and the Common Cup shared ministry spirit prevalent at each of our games. We averaged 4.5 fans a game which made it even more exciting!

A big thank you to the Common Cup softball players (some of whom aren't in this photo which was taken at tonight's game) and to Jason and Kristy Christian who served as managers/organizers. Plans are to have another co-ed Common Cup softball team next year and we'll begin advertising early in '09.

Check out the brief post game/post season interview between the Owner/General Manager and Manager Jason "Dusty" Christian.

Distinctively Methodist

Pastor Andy Bryan, a UM pastor in Missouri asks the question, "What makes a congregation distinctively Methodist?" on his web blog which is a question United Methodists would do well to consider at all times. Andy offers a pretty good summary of what makes United Methodists distinctive. To read his thoughts, go to:

If you have any comments on this, please post on Andy's blog as well as here on the Nikos blog.

Vacation Reading - "Surprised by Hope"

One of my goals for vacation was to finish reading the book, "Surprised by Hope," by N.T. Wright, a New Testament scholar and Anglican Bishop who resides in the UK.

The main point of the book is to help Christians get back to an orthodox and early church understanding of the meaning of the word, "resurrection." Too often, people associate the word, "resurrection" with a vague belief that "after I die, I'll go to heaven." Wright argues that after a person who has faith in Jesus Christ dies, that person goes to heaven to be with Jesus, not as a final destination but as a two-part process.

The 2nd part of that process is for all of God's people to be given new transformed bodies when Jesus returns to this earth and sets up his kingdom of justice and peace once and for all. It should be noted that this understanding is very different from the "Left Behind" theology that claims that Christians will be snatched away one day (the rapture) and live in a disembodied state in a place called, heaven, for ever and ever.

From there, Wright explains how this proper understanding of resurrection affirms one of the most basic theological truths of the Christian faith - that God created this world, called it good, and through the life, death, and resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ, has already inaugurated the project of new creation (defeating sin, disease, & death) which will find it's fulfillment when Jesus returns and sets up his kingdom on this earth.

When Christians have this proper understanding of resurrection and of God's desire to redeem and reclaim all of creation, the church's task is then to join God in working toward justice and peace through word and deed. We do this while knowing in advance, that one day we will live in God's new creation and be given new bodies that will not be subject to sin, disease, and death.