A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

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

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Meet the New Miami Valley District Superintendent

Some of our staff attended one of several "Meet the New Miami Valley District Superintendent" meetings today held at Normandy UMC in Centerville. Rev. Chris Heckaman (middle of photo) who is presently appointed as Senior Pastor of Sidney First UMC will begin his new position on July 1.

Chris shared his vision for the Miami Valley District by pointing to the history and spirit of our own greater Dayton area and specifically to people like the Wright brothers and Paul Lawrence Dunbar who were able to reach beyond what people saw as impossibilities to accomplish great things.

Reminding us of God's very first word recorded in the Bible, "let" as in "let there be light," Chris wants the people of the Miami Valley District to be a people who "let" God bring transformation to our communities and world through us.

We welcome Chris and his wife, Lisa, also pictured above, and will keep them in our prayers as they make this transition. We also keep our present District Superintendent, Duane Anders, and his family in prayer as Duane transitions back to full time status at Stillwater UMC in Dayton.
Our Miami Valley District is one of eight districts in the West Ohio Conference and consists of approximately 160 churches which includes Faith Community.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - April 5

Sunday, April 5 - (8:30 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional & 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - "Innocence"

Features - Passion/Palm Sunday & Holy Communion

Scriptures - Mark 11:1-11; Isaiah 50:4-9a; Philippians 2:5-11; & Mark 15:1-39

Theme - The story of Jesus' crucifixion is a story of an innocent man put to death on a cross. As we reflect on this tragic event in the life of Jesus, we are invited to receive God's gift of love to us which was paid at a great price, the price of God's only Son.

Saturday, March 28, 2009

A Night of Being "Pie"ous

Tonight, the youth held their annual "pie in the face" night to raise money for missions. The youth will be going on mission trips this summer and the money will go toward these trips.

And yes, I also got a pie in the face. I still feel a little sticky.

Enjoy the brief video of two of our adult youth volunteers getting their dessert, so to speak.

Old Navy United Methodist Church

This is the first thing I saw when I entered the doors of a local Old Navy store this afternoon. As you walk into the story, there are several smiling fake people of different ages and skin color wearing new clothes (see picture above.) It struck me as funny because they each had identical facial expressions - all smiles.

We all know that this isn't how life works. We don't all experience life in the same way. Some of us might be smiling when we go to church because we are in a celebratory mode because of a special sense of God's presence and love in our lives.

But we also might enter church with heavy hearts; the loss of a loved one, an upcoming surgery, a friend who has let us down, the loss of a job, etc. To put a big smile on our face when going through such times, just to have the right "church look," isn't what God expects of us. God just wants us to come to church the way we are...happy, sad, troubled, elated, worried, expectant.

When people enter a church building, they may see all kinds of expressions, not just smiles. But that's OK. People don't have to all have the same look. The beautiful thing about the church is that the invitation to gather for worship is open to all people and one doesn't need to bring a certain look to be welcomed and accepted.

"Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." - Matthew 11:28-30

Friday, March 27, 2009

Holy Week Reflections - Thursday of Holy Week

For the season of Lent, my Thursday morning bible study has been focusing on the book, "Christians at the Cross," by New Testament bible scholar, Tom Wright. Yesterday, they looked at Maundy Thursday of Holy Week. The scripture texts for Maundy Thursday are Exodus 12:1-14 (the Exodus/Passover story) & John 13:1-17, 31b-35 (Jesus' Passover Meal.)

Here are the highlights regarding Maundy Thursday as it relates to Tom Wright's book:
  • Remember, if we compare the reading of scripture to harmony parts, the Old Testament would be the bass part because it tells the story of God's desire to rescue the world from sin and death. Like the bass part of a song, this story undergirds the whole biblical narrative and Jesus' life and ministry should be seen within this context.
  • Jesus used a meal (the annual Jewish Passover Meal) to help interpret how his death would bring fulfillment of the bass part of the Old Testament (God's desire to rescue the world.) Passover/Red Sea/Deliverance are intimately woven throughout the Passover meal.
  • Every time we receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion, we are announcing to the world that the principalities and powers that keep people enslaved have been defeated by Jesus because of his death on the cross.
  • "Maundy" is a Latin word which means "commandment" and it reminds us that at the Last Supper, Jesus commanded his disciples (and us!) to love one another. We are to extend God's love to the people of our community and world so that they will know the good news that through Jesus, we have been rescued from sin and death.
  • As we offer God's healing love to others, the pain and hurt might not happen overnight, but steadily and most assuredly, the healing will come.

180 Wrap-Up

Well, we just got done with the 180 Turn Around seminar held at Redeemer UMC in DeWitt, Michigan. Our group came the farthest so we got gifts - candy and a youth book!

The basic message of the seminar was that although church growth is not easy and can often be a slow process, it's well worth it! The key is to put our energy, focus, and resources into reaching the unchurched in our community through word and deed. Everything the church does needs to be filtered through the mission of the church which is to make disciples for the transformation of the world.

Here are some key nuggets to help make this happen:
  • Decrease the number of meetings to free up church members to be involved in hands on ministry and mission work.
  • To reach new generations, the church needs to change and adapt methodologies in order to speak their language.
  • Signs of growth and vitality will not happen quickly. Lay a foundation for the church to grow and don't give up! Redeemer UMC is an example of this point.
  • Program Staff should not do the ministry, but instead recruit, equip, and empower laity to use their gifts to be in ministry and reach the community.
  • This wasn't mentioned in the seminar, but the church is set up and decorated in such a way that a guest can easily find information and feel welcomed. It was easy for us to see that a ton of intentionality was put into the lay-out of the church. Their information center is a case in point. (see picture above.)

The brief video includes thoughts from our Youth Director and our Worship Chairperson on what they learned from the seminar.

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

180 Turnaround Church Conference

This quick post is being sent from my hotel room in DeWitt, Michigan (near Michigan State University) as I get ready for the 180 Turnaround Church Conference being hosted and led by Redeemer UMC.

Redeemer UMC has been given the title, "Turnaround Church" by our denomination in recognition of their steady and healthy growth over the past several years. I believe they are worshipping around 500 people each week. Twenty-five United Methodist churches in our country have been given this recognition. This is a church that is located in the middle of a very economically depressed area due to the faltering auto industry.

After arriving at the hotel, I drove over to Redeemer UMC. It looks a lot like Faith Community!

I'm up here with a couple of folks from our church. Our goal will be to learn and experience as much as we can so we can share transferable ideas for our particular setting in Xenia. We also might pick up some ideas on hospitality to help our church host the Wesleyan Institute April 23-25. By the way, there is still time to register by April 1 and get the $79 rate.

See you on Sunday!

Dave's Deep Thoughts

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

It's usually begins with looks of curiosity at first.
After all, It's not everyday
that a 55 passenger charter bus pulls up to a homeless shelter.

Curiosity transitions to bewilderment
as 55 teens start emerging out of the bus.

By the time the musical instruments, risers,
sound equipment, and risers
start to be systematically assembled,
our group has their full attention.

Some just observe from a distance.
Others ask questions.
Very few offer to help,
for they have learned that in the world of homelessness,
they are often seen as unimportant.
And there is always someone else who is charge.

We bring music,
and we also bring a message.
Sometimes, that is difficult to do
when music falls upon the ears of those
whose lives are filled with discordant sounds.

Messages of hope
are difficult to receive
when life seems to be without hope.

60 minutes of music,
seeking to plant itself in hard soil.

Our group has engaged in this outreach for years.
There is no doubt that the experience causes change in us,
but what change does it really effect
upon those who sleep under a highway overpass?

The music arouses some smiles.
It initiates some hand clapping.
Once in a while an Amen or Hallelujah is sounded.
It even cause a few to dance in a freedom that is rarely afforded to them.

But ultimately the music ceases.
The gear is packed.
The bus is loaded.

What is for a while
a Kingdom moment in the desert,
appears to fade away.

That is until musician meets the listener.

His name was Brian.
He was originally from Ithica, NY.
He was unable to keep his job.
He had no family to speak of,
and so when his life fell apart,
there was no one to catch him in his free fall to homelessness.

After the music faded,
we sat at table and talked.
He asked,
Why did you home all the way from Pennsylvania to be here?

It was a good question.
It took a lot of fund raisers,
a lot of planning,
many rehearsals,
and a lot of prayer.

Why were we there?

As the question rolled around in my mind,
only one answer came to my mind.

God wanted us to be with you today,
to tell you that you matter,
that He hasn't forgotten you.

It was the only answer that seemed honest.

When Brian heard that,
he smiled and bowed his head.
After a few long moments,
he looked up and said,

That's good to know.
I haven't heard from God in a while.

We took time to pray
that each of us would live each day
in the awareness of God's presence.

I don't understand why Brian walks this earth without a mailing address.
I have no idea if God has something better in store for him in this life.
What I do know is that God cares deeply about Brian.
And for whatever reason,
on a sunny, brisk spring morning,
God wanted me
to let him know.

For God so loved (insert your name) that He gave
His only Son
John 3:16

For many centuries in several European countries, today (March 25) marked the beginning of a new calendar year. First of all, why would a new year begin in March, and secondly, why would a new year begin before a month is even over?


Today is the Annunciation to the Virgin Mary when the angel Gabriel announced to Mary that she would become pregnant by the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26-38.) Christians have observed March 25 as the date to celebrate the Annunciation because nine months later, we arrive at December 25, the day we celebrate the birth of Jesus Christ.

Christians viewed March 25 as the time when the Christian era began since God became incarnate in the womb of Mary on this date.

So what are your new year's resolutions? For some of us, we may need to simply get back to doing what we decided to do this past January 1st. For others of us, today marks an opportunity to make new commitments in our walk with Christ.

Since I just finished reading Scot McKnight's excellent book, "Praying with the Church: Following Jesus Daily, Hourly, Today" which details the importance of praying at fixed times each day, I am determined to be more intentional in my daily prayer life.

Without wasting any time and knowing that Christians all around are praying this prayer today (March 25,) pray with me...
"Pour your grace into our hearts, O Lord; that we who have known the incarnation of your Son Jesus Christ, announced by an angel to the Virgin Mary, may by his cross and passion be brought unto the glory of his resurrection; who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever."
Happy New Year!

Monday, March 23, 2009

"A Photograph in Time" by Steve Robbins

I just received this reading from Steve Robbins in my church who has been on a business trip in Shanghai. This is hot off the press. He has a tremendous gift for writing, as you will see. Read on.

A Photograph in Time

I am sitting at the window of a café
From an exotic locale in the Orient
I am solo again, leaving the entourage behind
As I look out the window it is raining
My thoughts are as scattered as the droplets
It is a cold wet rain creeping into my bones
Just a slow drizzle leaking from a very grey day
I have the dull haze of jet lag in my head
And I am thinking about the journey yet to come
I see my reflection in the glass clearly
It’s a middle aged guy, graying from his youth
With raindrops smearing the runny image into older age
Which adds to the illusion I am not young any more
I stare past this image as an unfamiliar canvas unfolds
I can’t quite get my bearings aligned in this culture
Time zones still clicking by slowly in my head
It seems like I have been here before briefly
But I am lost in recollections from another land and reality
Looking out the window, my focus is distracted
It’s from the corner of my eye at the edge of periphery
A blurred image of a man enters a car, and it’s pulling away
Did he have a beard and long hair?
Quit unusual in a culture this far from home; I thought
It draws my attention like the force from a magnet
And polarizes my full concentration blindly
At this point the surreal takes over and things slow down
As in a sluggish motion with time stopping imagery
You know, the kind where the movie pans in slow motion
As the director instructs the camera’s movement for effect
Where it seems an instant collapses into an eternity creeping
With raindrops and vehicle almost frozen in time
The rain smears the image of the driver completely
Like a shadow running down the window soaking
Which quickly comes out of focus while accelerating away
And enhancing the slow motion effect immensely
As the car passes, our eyes meet for an instant
A heart warming glance from infinity it seems
locked through eternity in a single glance and thought
This image still haunts my memory like a photograph
Wondering who I had connected with as the shutter closed
Strangely blurred beyond true identity or certainty
In a subliminal, yet conscious way the snapshot taken
Leaving me frozen with doubt for an instance, and then he was gone…..

Was that you Jesus?

Basic, No Frills, Foundational, Christianity

Yesterday after church services, our family was in a restaurant and we noticed a teenage girl and a middle age woman eating lunch together. That wasn't such a big deal. After all, they looked like they might be a mother and daughter, and both were dressed as if they had probably been to church.

What took us by surprise was when they moved aside their lunch plates and each took out their personal bibles and started discussing a passage of scripture together. My daughter said, "She's probably a confirmand and that's probably her adult mentor and their studying scripture together." This confirmand/adult mentor approach is what our church is using to help our seventh grade youth prepare for church membership. I nodded in agreement that this was probably as good a guess as any.

Isn't it cool to see things like this, especially out in public? What can be more basic to our faith than having two people team up together to help one another become more fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ?

Discipleship is as basic as this scene we witnessed in the restaurant. In addition to communal worship, a few people coming together on a regular basis to discuss the scriptures and help each other grow in what it means to be a follower of Jesus Christ is a beautiful sight.

It doesn't get any more basic than this.

Sunday, March 22, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - March 29

Sunday, March 29 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - “Isn’t God Wonderful?”

Features - 5th Sunday in Lent

Scriptures - Hebrews 5:5-10 & Luke 12:13-21

Theme - This is the final part of a five-part sermon series on our Lenten season focus on “The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregation.” On this Sunday, we focus on the practice of extravagant generosity. Jesus warned about greed and spoke often about money and possessions to help us know the joy of offering our financial resources to the work of God’s kingdom on earth.

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Go to Your Room!

Today marked the first day our Common Cup churches worked on the bedroom we officially adopted at the downtown Xenia building which is being refurbished for homeless families in Greene County.

Interfaith Hospitality Network (IHN) presently helps homeless families at another site in Xenia which does not provide overnight accommodations. Once this new facility is ready for occupancy, families won't have to travel to other churches each night for sleeping arrangements.

We were small in numbers today, but had a Common Cup flavor with two of our United Methodist churches represented. Today, we sanded down the first application of mud on the dry wall of the bedroom and some of our Common Cup members helped to fix a door (see picture.)

How exciting to know that when this building opens, Common Cup will have contributed to the remodeling of one of the several rooms in this needed facility for the homeless.

A lot more needs to be done to get our room ready, but at least we got off to a good start today!

Friday, March 20, 2009

Painting Over the Smudges - A Lenten Thought

The meeting was just about ready to end when a conscientious church member jumps in with, “I have a new business item to discuss if that’s alright.” Heads nodded so he continued to speak.

“I want to know if it’s OK if I paint over a noticeable smudge that I made with the ladder when I was working by the cross the other day. Does anyone know where the leftover paint is so I can come in some day and paint over it?”

Following the meeting, this man led us to the sanctuary and said, “Well there it is.” It took a while for anyone to notice when someone finally said, “Oh, I see it. Look just to the right of the cross and you can see about a six feet smudge line next to it.” “That’s it,” he said with a twinge of embarrassment in his voice. “That’s because of me.”

So I asked him, “Can you see this mark from where you are sitting during worship?” “Oh yeah, and it really bothers me. I need to fix it.”

Three days later, I’m conducting a funeral service in our Sanctuary and during one of our hymns, I happen to look up at the large cross and for the life of me, I can’t find the smudge mark. A smile came to my face as I thought about this concerned church member and how he had painted over the smudge mark in such a short amount of time. “That really did bother him,” I thought to myself.

In this season of Lent in which we are preparing ourselves for Holy Week and Easter, we are invited to examine our lives to see if there are any smudge marks, subtle and not so subtle, needing a fresh coat of God’s grace applied. Thanks to what Christ has done for us by dying on our behalf, we can become clean again and set aside those things which are distracting us from seeing the meaning of the cross of Christ more clearly.

Maybe this gives new meaning to the punch line of that old joke, “Repaint and thin no more.”

“If we confess our sins, he who is faithful and just will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” – I John 1:9

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Holy Week Reflections - Wednesday of Holy Week

Here's a summary of my Thursday morning bible study on "Christians at the Cross: Finding Hope in the Passion, Death, and Resurrection of Jesus" by New Testament Bible Scholar, Tom Wright.

The scripture lessons for Wednesday of Holy Week are Isaiah 50:4-9 (the Suffering Servant who is betrayed and has hope he will be vindicated by God) and John 13:21-30 (the story of Judas deciding to betray Jesus.)

Here are the highlights of our study this morning:
  • The sin, pain, and evil of the world are all hitting Jesus during Holy Week including lies, injustice, racial prejudice, idolatry, and love of power.
  • As someone trusted by Jesus and the other disciples, Judas's betrayal of Jesus makes this a very painful story to read!
  • When Jesus died on the cross, he took all of this pain and sin upon himself on behalf of the world (including us!)
  • In what ways have we been betrayed personally? In our communities? Other ways? We can either cling to this pain and be victims or name the betrayals and know that Jesus's death on the cross has defeated the dark forces of evil and through him we can live victoriously.
  • By identifying with the Suffering Servant of Isaiah, Jesus saw himself as the one who would need to take on the sin and pain of the world in order to defeat it. This is the picture of the suffering servant.
  • Because of what Jesus has done through the cross, we are empowered to forgive and not allow past and future sin to hold us captive.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Dave's Deep Thoughts

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

Diary of a Shamrock Shake

It happens once a year,
it comes and goes like Christmas morning.
IT is Shamrock Shake Day,
otherwise known as St. Patrick's Day.

Even though they are sold well before the day of the Irish,
I wait until March 17th to purchase.
It is tradition.
It is something to look forward to.It is...Shamrock Shake Day.

Current readers might recall
that the last 3 years have been problematic for this writer....

'06 was the year of "I'm sorry sir, we are out of them."
'07 was the year of the shake that tasted more like a pistachio nightmare than mint heaven.
'08 was the year of the lady who had the cat with green cat diarrhea.

3 long years without an unadulterated shake.

Let it be said that in the year of our Lord, 2009, March 17.........

It was spectacular.

I continued my 3 year boycott of the local fast food restaurant
that serves the foamy greenery before Valentines
and then is out of them before March 17.
(see above)

I found the next closest establishment
and walked up to the counter.

"I would like the extra big, biggie,
and would you king size that please"

I held my breath waiting to hear some reason that I would be denied once again.
But there was none.

That will be $2.96 the cashier said.

I gasped as I looked around for something
that would interrupt this celebration.....
an armed bandit,
a skunk invading the premises,
a terrorist attack.


Just 4 cents returned
and 32 ounces of luscious thick green Shamrock Shake.
Here you are, sir.

Like a child ripping into the first wrapped Christmas present.....

Gulp #1
Absolutely amazing.
There is a tear of joy running down my cheek.
Somewhere off in the distance
I hear the Hallelujah Chorus.

Gulp #7
a homeless child with only one arm crosses my path
and looks directly into my eyes.
Sorry kid, it ain't happening.

Gulp #11
I am starting to feel that sugar buzz...
Bring it on baby!

Gulp #16
Someone is getting mugged in the parking lot,
but it doesn't matter....
Did I mention this is sooooo good?

Gulp #24
I notice that I have already consumed one-third of the shake,
better slow down I think.
it's 364 days till the next one.

Gulp #32
Sitting in my car
I notice the ambulance pulling into the parking lot to help the mugging victim.
Gosh, I hope he's alright
I think as I take another slurp.
Man, this would be good with some fries.

Gulp # 41
I begin to notice that this 32 oz cup
isn't much smaller than the fish aquarium I had in my college dorm room.
This is a lot of shake
I think as I begin to slow down.

Gulp #52
The ambulance has pulled out of the parking lot.
The homeless child is gone...
but more importantly,
my tummy hurts.

Gulp #64
I am down to the bottom third...
Can I get a to go bag for this? I think
Oh wait....this is a to go bag.

Gulp #71
The pace is definitely slowing down.
Not sure I can finish this.
Where is that homeless child?

Gulp #79
Looking for inspiration to finish,
I think of the July 4th hot dog eating contest on Coney Island,
when I realize that the carryout bag can also suffice as a barf bag
That's a very clever marketing technique, I think.

Gulp #83
Almost to the bottom,
I think I'll skip lunch today.

Gulp # 86 (the last gulp)
I can see the bottom of the cup.
Like a marathoner stretching for the finish line and the laurel wreath of victory,
I take one last lunge and siphon the bottom like a wet vac

There is nothing like the gurgling sound
as the straw begins to take in air rather than cream.

And there is nothing like the sweetness of fresh cream upon the first sip.

But what is at one time sweet and delicious
can turn sour.

Many things in life can turn sour,
attitudes, economies, relationships.

Nothing is guaranteed it's sweetness forever,
except for one thing.

And that is the Lord.

And I am so grateful that I don't need to wait even one day for Him.
And with him, He brings all other things
into it the sweetness of its season.

O taste and see that the Lord is good!
Psalm 34:8a

Happy Shamrock Day!
And congrats to Kerry Matson who was closest
in guessing the total gulp number!

Dinner is on me next time I see you!

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - March 22

Sunday, March 22 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - “Risky Business”

Features - 4th Sunday in Lent

Scriptures - Numbers 21:4-9 & John 3:14-21

Theme - This is the 4th part of a five-part sermon series on our Lenten theme, “The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.” On this Sunday, our focus will be on the spiritual practice of risk-taking mission. The story of Jesus and Nicodemus will help us to see the importance of stepping out of our comfort zones for the sake of God’s kingdom.

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Brief Interview with a 6 Year Old Catholic/Methodist

Check out my brief video interview with Gage, a six year old who helped with a funeral lunch at Cedarville UMC today, one of our Common Cup churches. He takes his faith seriously!


Thursday, March 12, 2009

Holy Week Reflections - Tuesday of Holy Week

My weekly Thursday morning bible study (10 A.M. in church parlor) is focusing on the days of Holy Week for our Lenten study this year. This week, our focus was on Tuesday. We're using the book, "Christians at the Cross" by Anglican Bishop and New Testament bible scholar, N.T. Wright.

The book consists of a series of sermons that Bishop Wright preached at Church of the Ascension, located in Easington Colliery, north east England, overlooking the North Sea. The reason he preached a a series of sermons for Holy Week in this particular location in 2007 is due to the tremendous economic hardships facing this former coal mining community which shut down in 1993.

This is also a community which continues to carry the heavy grief of a terrible mine explosion which happened in that community in 1951 (81 miners and 2 rescue workers died.)

The events of Holy Week which led Jesus to the cross is a way to help whole communities facing economic and societal problems like Easington Colliery to work through immeasurable pain and grief and point us forward to a new beginning and a new way of living through the hope and promise of Jesus' resurrection.

During this Lenten focus, members of my bible study will be naming the pain and struggles of our community and surrounding area by printing these on pieces of paper which will then be brought to the cross at our Good Friday service for God to bring about healing and a new way of moving into the future with hope.

Today, we focused on Tuesday of Holy Week. Here are the brief highlights of our study:

  • The scriptures for this day are Isaiah 49:1-7 & John 12:20-36 (The connection is between the Suffering Servant's lament that he has served in vain & Jesus looking ahead to his own death by mentioning the grain of wheat needing to die before it can bear fruit.)
  • Defeating sin and death cost Jesus' his own life. What appeared to be in vain turned out to be God's victory!
  • Based on these scriptures, NT Wright encourages us to do four things: 1) claim the victory that Jesus won on the cross. 2) hold the pain of our community/world in our heart and in light of Jesus' victory on the cross. 3) pray that the grains of wheat that fall into the earth and die will bear much fruit. 4) work for this fruit by being part of God's healing love in a hurting world.
  • We don't know exactly how God will bring about healing in our communities and in our lives, but the story of Jesus' last days and Holy Week are what we need for the present moment. Journeying with Jesus through Holy Week to the cross reminds us that we do not go through this journey alone.
  • Next Thursday, we will focus on Wednesday of Holy Week.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Dave's Deep Thoughts

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

It's all about nomenclature.
Our names identify us with who we are.

If there are two David's in the crowd,
and one of us is called,
we both look up.

I cherish my name.
The meaning of my name is "beloved"

David is the name my family uses
Dave is often used by friends.
Davey is used only by those who have a death wish......

Somehow the receptionist at the gym didn't get the memo.

The first day I walked into the gym,
I, a complete stranger, was greeted with.....
"How are ya, hon' "

It's not that she didn't know my name.
It came up on her screen the moment that I scanned my membership card.
She was just trying to be friendly at level we had not yet reached.

I was tempted to respond with,
"Just great, honey bear!"
but for once in my life
I showed restraint.

I'm not a big fan of slang names
when I don't have some level of familiarity with the person.

The next time I entered the gym,
my identity had migrated to "Sugar"
I wasn't feeling particularly sweet that day,
especially when anticipating a hard workout at 6:30am.

On another trip,
I had somehow become "sweet cakes"
That just made me hungry
and wished that I was eating breakfast rather than pumping iron.

Other days I became "tootsie,"
occasionally, "sugar pie".....
Throw in a "honey bunch"
and I was in the midst of a Motown revival.....

I thought about asking her to address me by my real name,
but instead I decided to do the mature thing....
which was to try to sneak past her when she wasn't looking.

One morning I almost did it.
She was busy folding towels and talking with some other honey bun.
I scanned my card and slithered away.
Just as I reached the locker room door,
the walls of the gym echoed with a resounding.......
'Mornin' cupcake"

Somehow cupcake doesn't quite measure up to beloved,
not to mention the additional calories.

I realize that all of these names are attempts to be friendly, to build closeness
but they don't appropriately define our relationship.

I like how the Lord addresses me.

His first name for me recorded in Scripture was....


What's that?

Doesn't sound very personal,
or does it?

For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only son,
that whoever believes in him should not perish
but have everlasting life. John 3:16

I like being a whoever.

Whoever unrolls the welcome mat of heaven for everyone.
Whoever invites the world to God.
Whoever exports God's grace worldwide.
For anyone who attempts to restrict it, Jesus has a word: whoever *

Later on, we take on more personal, intimate names.
In Romans 8 we are called children of God
To those who follow Him, in John 15, He calls us friends.
In Matthew, the obedient are called brother, sister, mother.

The spiritual relationship between Christ and those of us who believe
is closer than the closest of blood ties.
It doesn't get any more intimate than that.

I may or may not desire to be someone's cupcake or honey bunch,
but oh how I value being beloved of Christ.

After all, it's all about nomenclature

*from Max Lucado's 3:16 The Numbers of Hope

Whoever comes to me I will never drive away
John 6:37

Learning Radical Hospitality from Our Missionaries (Milan, Italy)

One of the four missionary families we support with our weekly offerings and prayers are the Markay's (Rev. David and Rev. Kristin Markay) who serve as pastors of Chiesa Evangelica Metodista in Milan, Italy.

Their unique role as missionaries in Milan, Italy is to pastor a church that offers radical hospitality to people of all nationalities.

The video is a song by their choir this past November. Just by noticing the different nationalities of the people who are singing is evidence of the radical hospitality of this church. Words of encouragement by e-mail may be sent to Rev. David & Kristin Markay at markay@fastwebnet.it

Here is a description of their church from their website:

"The Italian Waldensian/Methodist Church has set as one of its missional goals the hospitality to the stranger. The church seeks to embody the inclusive love of Jesus by offering a spiritual home to persons from places far from their homelands. Intentionally, the Waldensians and Methodists in Italy are striving to "essere chiesa insieme" (be the church together). Therefore, persons with all faith backgrounds, cultural heritage, and church experience are seen as gifts to the community.

The Methodist Church of Milano has members from all over the world: Italy, Sierra Leone, the Philippines, Ghana, India, Nigeria, Canada, the United States, Great Britain, and elsewhere."

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - March 15

Sunday, March 15 (8:30 A.M. and 11:00 A.M. Traditional and 9:45 A.M. Contemporary)

Sermon - “A Year of Living Biblically”

Features - 3rd Sunday in Lent

Scriptures - Exodus 20:1-1, 1 Corinthians 1:18-25, & Mark 6:30-44

Theme - This is the 3rd part of a five-part sermon series on our Lenten theme, “The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations”. On this Sunday our focus is on the spiritual discipline of intentional faith development. We will explore how we are intentional in our faith by offering ourselves to God in worship and in small groups. The story of Jesus feeding the five thousand will give us a model of how God uses our offering to bless others.

Thursday, March 5, 2009

Holy Week Reflections - Monday of Holy Week

My weekly Thursday morning bible study (10 A.M. in church parlor) is focusing on the days of Holy Week for our Lenten study this year. This week, our focus was on Passion/Palm Sunday. We're using the book, "Christians at the Cross" by Anglican Bishop and New Testament bible scholar, N.T. Wright.

The book consists of a series of sermons that Bishop Wright preached at Church of the Ascension, located in Easington Colliery, north east England, overlooking the North Sea. The reason he preached a a series of sermons for Holy Week in this particular location in 2007 is due to the tremendous economic hardships facing this former coal mining community which shut down in 1993. This is also a community which continues to carry the heavy grief of a terrible mine explosion which happened in that community in 1951 (81 miners and 2 rescue workers died.)

The events of Holy Week which led Jesus to the cross is a way to help whole communities facing economic and societal problems like Easington Colliery to work through immeasurable pain and grief and point us forward to a new beginning and a new way of living through the hope and promise of Jesus' resurrection.

During this Lenten focus, members of my bible study will be naming the pain and struggles of our community and surrounding area by printing these on pieces of paper which will then be brought to the cross at our Good Friday service for God to bring about healing and a new way of moving into the future with hope.

This morning, we focused on Monday of Holy Week and the scriptures were from Isaiah 42 (the hoped for servant who would inaugurate God's rescue of creation) and John 12 (the story of Mary pouring out a year's wages of costly ointment on Jesus as a sign pointing to the anointing of Jesus for his burial.)

Who do you identify with most in the story from John 12? Mary who was willing to offer extravagant generosity to Jesus by pouring the costly ointment on him? Or maybe Martha who misses the point of what Jesus is doing and would rather simply be busy with a bunch of tasks? Perhaps Judas who focuses so much on the checkbook balance that he loses sight of what it means to offer our very best to Jesus? Or are you more like Lazarus, quietly sitting in the background, thankful for Jesus who brought you back to life from the dead, but still pondering what all of this means?

And how does all of this relate to the suffering and pain in our community and world and God's desire to bring healing and newness of life?

Dave's Deep Thoughts

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.

It's just a piece of paper.

That's often the comment I hear
from couples who live together instead of choosing to marry.

But sometimes paper is more than paper.

I make several prison visits a year.
Each one involves a rigorous entry screening including
metal detectors, ID checks, and drug screenings.

To my credit, I have always successfully navigated through the process with relative ease.
Each successful entrant is rewarded a visitors pass,
which allows entrance to the visiting center and eventually back to freedom.

The visitor's pass includes my name,
the nature of my visit,
the time of my check-in,
and my age among other things.

Once inside,
I walked down a long hallway,
as I heard the clank of the door closing echoing behind me.
To this day, it remains an unnerving sound.

As I moved into the waiting area,
I realized that I needed to use the restroom.
The guard issued me a lavatory key
and I proceeded inside.

I placed the visitors pass
on the edge of the sink.
Once finished,
I proceeded to wash my hands.

To my chagrin,
I noticed there was no towel dispenser,
just a hot air hand dryer.

I have never liked hot air dryers,
but now I really dislike them.

I pushed the start button
and was stunned how forceful the airflow was.
At least this will really dry my hands
I thought.
As I turned my body ever so slightly,
it must have changed the the direction of the air flow in the small room.

Did I mention that I really dislike hot air dryers?

The air flow changed just enough to catch my visitor's pass,
creating an air foil that caused it to go air born,
until it reached an elevation where the visitor's pass
took a nose dive directly into the toilet bowl.

Now mind you, if I had been aboard an airplane,
an aquatic landing would have been a welcome alternative.

Not so much in this scenario.

There lay my passport to freedom,
in a recently flushed,
but not-so-fresh bowl of toilet water.

I considered whether to curse or cry.
I opted to cry,
at least on the inside.
Throw in a good measure of panic as well.

I did what any lover of freedom would do.....
I fished my passport to the outside world
out of the drink.

I opted not to try to re-wash my hands
as it seemed a pointless task.

As I child,
I am sure that I had more than one shameful miss in the bathroom
But somehow,
this seemed bigger.

As I opened the bathroom door,
I seemed to attract the attention of everyone in the waiting area.
I reluctantly lifted my eyes to meet the guard's eyes
and mumbled....

I had an accident

I do believe I recall using that same line with my mother as a child.
This was not one of my shining moments.

I wasn't sure how to interpret the look on the guard's face,
but he either wanted to laugh directly at me
or rush to his lunch break to share the best prison story of the year.

After a painful few seconds of uncomfortable silence,
he said,

Would you like a zip-lock bag.?

If a thin sheeting of plastic
was my passageway to freedom,
then yes,
I would love a zip-lock bag.

Have you ever tried to insert a wet piece of paper
into a zip-lock bag??
It ain't easy.

It wasn't pretty,
but I got it in there.

And yes, I had a second trip to the lavatory to wash my hands again.

Sometimes paper is more than just paper.

A marriage license speaks commitment.
A visitor's pass ensures passage to freedom.

There is another pass to freedom.
Scripture calls it the Book of Life.
It is mentioned particulalrly in the book of Revelation.
It contains the names of those who confess faith in Christ.

John speaks of it as containing the names of those who overcome the world.
They are those who pass through the soiled situations of life
and come to heaven's gates with the name of Jesus on their lips,
the name that cleanses away all our soiledness.

Along the way, each of us finds ourselves in messy situations,
situations which seek to rob us of our path to freedom.
As we journey through Lent,
as we encounter tribulations and temptations,
don't let the enemy rob you of your pass to freedom.

You might need a zip-lock bag,
but with Jesus,
He guarantees that it is airtight.

To the one that overcomes shall thus be clothed
in white garments, and I will not erase that one's name
from the book of life,
and I will confess his name before My Father,
and before His angels.
Rev 3:5

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

U2 New Album: Song - "Magnificent"

Well, U2 does not disappoint! Showcasing a new song each night this week on "Late Night with David Letterman," last night, they performed perhaps their best song on the album, "Magnificent."

Sounding like a Psalmist, Bono sings out, "I was born. I was born to sing for you."

Our church will be focusing on passionate worship this Sunday as part of our Lenten focus of "The Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations." This song gets at the heart of why we come together each week to magnify the Magnificent.

Here are the lyrics and the song, "Magnificent" performed by U2 on David Letterman last night from their new album, "No Line on the Horizon."

"Magnificent, Magnificent! I was born...I was born to be with you. In this space and time...After that and ever after I haven't had a clue. Only to break rhyme. This foolishness can leave a heart black and blue.

Only love, only love can leave such a mark. But only love, only love can heal such a scar.

I was born. I was born to sing for you. I didn’t have a choice but to lift you up. And sing whatever song you wanted me to. I give you back my voice. From the womb my first cry, it was a joyful noise…

Only love, only love can leave such a mark. But only love, only love can heal such a scar.

Justified till we die, you and I will magnify...The Magnificent. Magnificent. Only love, only love can leave such a mark. But only love, only love unites our hearts. Justified till we die, you and I will magnify The Magnificent...Magnificent...Magnificent."

Monday, March 2, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - March 8

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

Sermon - “Soli Deo Gloria”

Features - 2nd Sunday in Lent; Girl Scouts Sunday; & 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 - Colossians 3:12-17 & Luke 4:14-30

Theme - What does it mean to be a passionate worshipper? Is there any other kind of worshipper? Paul’s words to the Christians in Colossae offer a foundation for what it means to worship with passion. Passionate worship is one of the five practices of fruitful congregations. Come and learn about this important practice as part of our Lenten study focus.

Sunday Morning Road Trip - Eleazer UMC

Cindy Liming, a member of Faith Community, is in the process of visiting all 15 Common Cup churches on Sunday mornings so she can become better acquainted with her fellow Common Cup brothers and sisters in Christ.

I asked Cindy to send me a brief summary of each of her visits as a way of highlighting how Christ is at work in each of our Common Cup Churches. Here are her reflections from her recent trip to Eleazer UMC:

"Yesterday, I was able to visit the beautiful little Eleazer United Methodist Church. The motto is "the little church that cares" and I think that sums up the congregation. The people who were there were as warm and friendly as all the others I have been meeting along my journey. I was able to sit on the "sun" side of the church and so I enjoyed watching the light shine through the stained glass windows.

There is a cedar tree right outside the window and when the wind blew its branches, the light danced on the pew. I really was paying attention, but I noticed this during the quiet times. Pastor John Beers gave a wonderful sermon and again, I really felt like I had been invited to a family's reunion. We sang some very nice hymns accompanied so well by the organ and piano.

The Holy Spirit is strong within and among us, Pastor Robert, and I was witness once again to God's goodness through His people."

Methodists Die Well

Today is the death anniversary of the 18th century founder of Methodism, John Wesley (March 2, 1791.)

Every year for confirmation classes (7th graders preparing for church membership) I do something a bit goofy. At odd times, I'll ask the class, "When was John Wesley born?" And because they have done this a zillion times, they will shout out, "June 17, 1703!!!!!!"

Yes, they even know the month and day! I'm now asking them if they know how much he weighed at birth and the name of the doctor who delivered him. I like to have fun at confirmation!

Since today is Wesley's death anniversary, I think it's important to remember his last words which he said twice. "The best of all is God is with us."

In the 1760s, Wesley began publishing a magazine that focused on death stories of Methodists - a strange niche to fill! But it became popular in England because these stories were testimonies of how Methodists died with an assurance that Jesus Christ was their Lord and Savior and their sins were forgiven. The phrase, "Methodists die well" became a well known phrase during the early years of our Methodist movement history.

One of the things that Methodism accentuates is the assurance we can have that in any given moment nothing can separate from the love of God in Christ Jesus.

Nothing. Not even death.