A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

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

Friday, October 30, 2009

World Champions in Philadelphia

St. George's, the oldest Methodist building in continuous use (1769) is located in Philadelphia's historic district. In addition to this historical distinction, it is also unfortunately known for a sad chapter in Methodism, the sin of racism.

It was at St. George's in the 1790s that the congregation began the practice of segregated seating which prompted two African American Methodist preachers, Richard Allen and Absalom Jones to leave the church to form the Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Philadelphia. The African Methodist Episcopal Church denomination was formed as a result of this break.

This past Sunday, October 25, as I was preaching here at First United Methodist Church in Lancaster, Ohio, an historic moment was taking place in the city of brotherly love. St. George's UMC and Mother Bethel AME worshipped for the first time together at St. George's.

On the 240th anniversary of St. George's, the Rev. Mark Kelly Tyler, pastor of Mother Bethel AME, preached from the St. George's pulpit and called for people of every generation to continue to work together to end the sin of racism and discrimination.

This just goes to show that it's never too late for Christians and for churches to be open to God's reconciling work through Jesus Christ. With God, all things are possible.

The Phillies might be in the World Series but the real championship was held this past Sunday, October 25 at St. George's United Methodist Church.

Congratulations Mother Bethel AME and St. George's UMC! You are both world champions!

Thursday, October 29, 2009

Nikos Picture

The main picture at the top of this "Nikos" web blog page will be used in this Sunday's sermon at Lancaster First United Methodist Church.

It's a picture that will always remind me of a moment this past summer in which I was able to get a glimpse of a breathtaking view of God's future world.

I'll never forget it.

Wednesday, October 28, 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 in the location.

Real estate brokers preach it,
marketing staffs swear by it,
grocery stores plan strategy around it.

There is a reason that candy, gossip magazines,
and every knick knack known to mankind
are found at check out counters all across this country.
We are influenced by our environment.
If we hang around something long enough,
we are likely to embrace it.

I spend many a lunch hour frequenting
the local grocery store's salad bar.

I make a conscious effort to
take in healthy things for my body.
This is to counter the constant demands
of the sweet tooth that I possess.

I start with the greens, fresh spinach will do nicely....
then comes the shredded carrots,
then the purple stuff...I am hoping that it is cabbage........

I pass on the stuff that looks like
it comes from the underside of my mower.

Mushrooms, cucumbers, and those cool little peas,
all climb aboard my little choo choo train of health.

Milky Way bars

Say what?

Sitting in between all of God's healthy bounty this day,
Is a display case of Milky Way bars.

I have immediately begun to salivate
on command like a Pavlovian dog.

no....No.....NO !!!!

I say to myself.
Mister, you are going to enjoy those lovely sprouts instead.

Having successfully lied to myself,
I continue on.

Cherry tomatoes, green peppers, onions.....

Zagnut bars
Why is there a Zagnut Display on the salad bar?

Okay this is not fair.
With some sense of discipline,
I can pass by a Milky Way bar,
but the Zagnut??
the most amazing candy bar of my childhood????

I draw on my 12 steps program for denial of sweets
I get down to step # 6
and that gives me the courage to move on,

that would be move on to those lovely chik peas......
yes, chik peas and celery too.

I turn the corner of the salad bar
feeling very good about my demonstration of will power.

I will treat myself to a little extra cheese for my effort
I say to myself.
some cubed chicken to boot
and my salad is looking spectacular,
a colorful array of healthiness,
a testimony to the organic lifestyle.

I feel like I could run a marathon,

a splash of salad dressing (lite of course)
and I am reaching for my plastic cutlery and....

a Twix??

This has become cruel.
We are talking chocolate, graham cracker, and caramel.....

the first love of my adult candy.

What if I wrap it in lettuce?
That will probably make it healthy......
I think to myself.

Instead, I walk away,
feeling proud that I have just slain the big three of the candy industry.

Life is filled with temptations,
and they usually come in the most unexpected times or locations.

God never promises to remove temptations from our lives.
Instead, He does two things......
he promises not to lead us into those places,
and he instructs us to flee from those places when we encounter them.
We are told to keep watch, and to pray (Matt 26:41)

And so I did,
that is, until I got to the checkout counter
and they slipped a mini Hershey bar into my grocery bag
as a Halloween treat.

Okay, next time to stay out of trouble,
I will flee the salad bar,
and hang out in the frozen food section.

And do not lead us into temptation,
but deliver us from evil.
Matt 6:13a

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Hope for Preachers & Worship Designers

Apparently, a popular Penn State football t-shirt for fans to wear at "white-out" games is at the center of a controversy. When I heard about this controversy, I thought that maybe it was regarding the message on intimidation.

Instead, it's centered around the solid blue vertical stripe and the words that go across this stripe forming what some folks see as a christian cross. Now, being the sensitive person that I am, and having just preached a sermon on "A World of Many Religions," I'll be the first to call a penalty (sorry for the bad pun) on people who would use a college football design to promote a certain religion over other religions.

But I don't get how this t-shirt design is offensive. I mean, yeah, that solid blue line with the words at the top do form a cross, but it doesn't appear to me to have been done in an intentional way to promote Christianity at a college football game. Is the nike swoosh supposed to represent the crown of thorns? Ok, now I'm getting sarcastic, but I hope you get my point.

Actually, I am glad to know that there are students who have protested the selling of these t-shirts, not that I agree with them, but because at least this tells me that they know what a cross represents. Let's put it this way. If you were the one to have designed this college football t-shirt with the intention of forming a christian cross out of the message and to promote Christianity at a college football game, you would be smiling right now, because my guess is that you never would have imagined that your creative and subtle design would have stirred things up and impacted this many people.

Preachers and worship designers everywhere, envy you.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Stewardship Reflections

This is a season in which many churches are holding their stewardship campaigns as they prepare for a new year of ministries. Here at First United Methodist Church, we will be holding our stewardship campaign on Sunday, November 8. This is my 3rd post to help us reflect on stewardship and it also gives me a reason to post a beautiful picture of the changing autumn leaves! Ok, this time the picture is more about our dogs going for a walk in the leaves.

Stewardship Reflection:

Beginning in 1731, at the age of 28, John Wesley, 18th century founder of the Methodist movement, began to limit his expenses so that he could give more to assist the poor. In that year his expenses were 28 lbs, his income 30, leaving him 2 to give away. The next year his income doubled, his expenses remained at 28 lbs, so he had 32 to give away. As Wesley’s income grew over the years to as much as 120 lbs, he maintained the standard of living established early in his career and used the rest to assist others in a variety of ways.

Wesley used his charitable giving as direct aid to those in need. This was done in part through the “class meetings” which included many who were among the poor. Wesley took the further step to establish institutions to empower those in need to develop skills to help themselves. He helped establish schools for poor children and weaving factories for the employment of widows. He created a loan fund for struggling merchants. He even established medical clinics so that the poor might have health care.

Sunday, October 25, 2009

Just One More Sermon Today

Even if you already heard a sermon today, listen to this brief four minute NAACP speech from U2's Bono. A message of justice and of God's bias toward the poor. Wow!

Sunday Worship Preview - November 1

Sunday, November 1 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, November 4 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - “The Breath-Taking View of God’s Future World”

Features - All Saints’ Sunday/Roll Call of the Victorious (Remembering Church Members Who Have Died Since Last All Saints' Sunday) & Holy Communion

Scripture - Isaiah 25:6-9; Revelation 21:1-6a; & John 11:32-44

Theme - All Saints’ Sunday is a day for us to give thanks for saints who by their faithful example have helped us get a glimpse of the breath-taking view of God’s future world. Saints are those who point us toward that time in the future when God will make all things new. Our three scripture passages offer us four important reasons why God’s future world is breath-taking.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

In a Battle of Germs, Jesus Wins

Here is an excellent article from the United Methodist Church regarding the concern over spreading germs when attending church events.

Our approach at Lancaster First UMC has been to provide hand sanitizers throughout the church building and to announce at the beginning of worship for us to be respectful of those who may choose to not shake hands during our time of greeting/passing of the peace.

Friday, October 23, 2009

Is Goldy Gopher a Christian?

At last Saturday's Penn State/Minnesota football game at Penn State, Penn State defensive end, Jerome Hayes pauses before the game to offer a prayer. Goldy Gopher also decides to bow and pray with him.

Minnesota apologized earlier this week for the incident since Goldy was making light of the prayer, but since confession and forgiveness are at the heart of the Christian faith, maybe Goldy Gopher is a Christian after all!

Thursday, October 22, 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.

I have appointments with the dentist twice a year,
my finance advisor, three times annually,
my barber once a month......

But each summer
it's me and the Big Guy for our once a year meeting.

Don't get me wrong......
I meet with Him everyday for conversation,
encouragement, guidance.

But once a year,
I see Him.

For the past 15 years,
on the first Tuesday of July
I have my annual trek to one of the local grocery stores
where I hang a banner for an annual church event.

On that morning,
I awake with an adrenaline rush,
as if I was going sky diving or cliff diving,
for I know I am going to see Jesus.

On that fateful day in early July,
I drive to the backside of the store
and gaze upward toward the roof
where I know I must go to hang the banner.

Occasionally a trucker who is dropping off cargo greets me,
and tries to talk me off the ledge,
but usually It is just me.....

me, the extension ladder, and a prayer.

For you see, to reach the roof,
I need to scale an imposing 20 foot wall
with my 14 foot extension ladder.

I'm not great at math,
but I know those figures don't add up.

I back my pickup truck to the wall,
lower my tailgate
set my ladder up on the tailgate,
grab the 6' by 10' banner & rope,
and yell to Jesus...."I'm coming!"

The first steps aren't too bad......
there's a little shimmy in the ladder
but I figure that is to get my head in the game.

Somewhere around steps seven and eight,
it has the feel of reaching the top of the opening climb of a roller coaster,
except that you are not strapped in,
and you remember that you forgot to renew your life insurance.

The ladder has a bit more shimmy to it,
and the 90 degree heat begins to make the rungs feel like the inside of a toaster.
Why don't I ever remember to bring gloves?
I think to myself.

It is usually somewhere between step eleven and twelve
that the banner begins to unfurl
but that gives me comfort,
for at least I now have a parachute.

By step fifteen and sixteen
I realize that I am at the top of the ladder.....
that would be no more ladder and four more feet of wall.

It's about that time that I see Him,
I throw the banner (my parachute) up to Him,
and I reach up and grab onto the edge of the roof.....
(that would be the roof which is being baked under a 90 degree sun)
and I pull myself up to meet Him.

Some would say it's like Peter stepping out of the boat
but I would contend that asphalt is a lot harder than H2O.

There is nothing like those moments when you are reminded of your mortality.....
a close call in your car,
waiting in the doctor's office for test results,
a graveside service.

Life is dotted with those moments when you acknowledge
that this life is fleeting,
and you place all your hope in that promise of Life after life.

Each of us needs to take that leap of faith,
I just happen to do it at the top of my ladder
on the first Tuesday of July.

Once I returned to the parking lot this year,
I was greeted by a butcher from the store who was taking a smoke break.
I was ready to explain to him what I was doing,
but before I could speak he said,
"Man, why don't you just use the stairwell inside the store that leads up to the roof?"

Not wanting to look foolish, I said,
"But then I wouldn't see Jesus."

"Beloved, now we are children of God,
and it has not appeared as yet what we shall be.
We know that when He appears,
we shall be like Him,
because we shall see Him just as He is."
I John 3:2

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Today is "Nikos" Day!

The reason my web blog is called "Nikos," pronounced (nee'-kos) is because of today's New Testament passage of scripture which appears in "The Daily Office" readings.

If I had to pick one chapter of scripture as my favorite, it would be this one in which the Apostle Paul is helping the Corinthian Christians to anchor their faith around the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

The word that Paul uses here, nikos, is a greek word that encourages us to celebrate Jesus' victory over sin and death through his resurrection and the incredible good news that one day, those who have faith in Christ, will also be given new bodies when we live in God's renewed creation.

As you go through your day today, remember this wonderful chapter from I Corinthians and these words of good news:

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

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Good News for Church Type People

This word of hope from the gospel reading in this morning's "The Daily Office" schedule of scripture readings is particularly fitting for those who are involved in the daily and weekly grind of ministries of a local church, both laity and clergy.

If you every get discouraged in your ministry, read these words of hope and encouragement from Jesus. This is taken from "The Message" paraphrase by Eugene Peterson.

"Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you'll recover your life. I'll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won't lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you'll learn to live freely and lightly." - Matthew 11:28-30

Monday, October 19, 2009

Stewardship Reflections

This is a season in which many churches are holding their stewardship campaigns as they prepare for a new year of ministries. Here at First United Methodist Church, we will be holding our stewardship campaign on Sunday, November 8. This is my 2nd post to help us reflect on stewardship and it also gives me a reason to post a beautiful picture of the changing autumn leaves!

A couple of years ago a pastor of a church called me and in the course of our conversation he told me this story, “Something wonderful happened yesterday in church. In between services, two teenage boys in our church came up to me and gave me two one hundred dollar bills. And they said, ‘We want to donate this money to the New Orleans Christmas outreach fund that we talked about in church today, and please keep it anonymous.’"

And I said to this pastor, “Wow. That was a big amount of money for two youth to give in the church.” And he said, “Actually, they’re brothers. And instead of the parents giving them gifts for Christmas this year, they gave them each a hundred dollars just a few days ago to spend on anything they wanted and they chose to donate it all to this mission outreach. These two teenage brothers were so moved by the pictures of the devastation in New Orleans during the worship service, that they knew Jesus wanted them to do this."

This pastor went on to tell me, “I’m not going to forget what these two youth did for a long time to come.”
This story reminds me of the time when Jesus was teaching his disciples about stewardship and pointed out to them a poor widow who gave all that she had by placing two small coins into the Temple treasury.
We'll be focusing on the story of the poor widow in worship on November 8. Her act of generous stewardship will not be forgotten.
Enjoy the changing leaves!

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - October 25

Sunday, October 25 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, October 28 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "A World of Many Religions"

Features - 21st Sunday After Pentecost, Reformation Sunday, & 3rd Grade Bible Presentations (9:45 A.M. Service)

Scripture - Hebrews 7:23-28 & Mark 10:46-52

Theme - The Book of Hebrews was written primarily for Jewish Christians who were beginning to have doubts about how Jesus Christ was connected to their Jewish understandings and beliefs. What are some points of common ground that Christians have with other religions while retaining the distinctiveness of Jesus as Lord and Savior?

Friday, October 16, 2009

A Rough & Rugged Preacher

This Sunday, at the first of three new member orientation classes at Lancaster First United Methodist Church, I will be sharing this information about one of the most amazing circuit riding Methodist preachers of the 19th century. I also shared this with our staff at this week's chapel time.

  • He was born in Virginia in 1785 two years after a treaty ended the American Revolution.
  • His family moved to Kentucky and there he became a tough guy in rough Logan County, Kentucky known as Rogues’ Harbor. His mother prayed and prayed for him to turn to God.
  • At age 16 he went to a camp meeting, confessed his sins and became a Christian. He joined a Church and within two years became a preacher.
  • He was known to take on men who disrupted his camp meeting revivals inviting them to a fight in the woods and he would scare them off because of his toughness.
  • Crowds from Kentucky, Tennessee, and Illinois flocked to hear him preach and he often spoke for three hours at a time.
  • 10,000 people came to Christ because of his ministry. Several church buildings needed to be built to make room for the new converts.
  • He championed the start of new colleges to train preachers and he educated himself to help him in his ministry.
  • He experienced lots of hardships in his ministry, at one point going without food for 3 days. He once returned from a traveling ministry with only 6 cents in his pocket.
  • He ran for congress in 1846 losing to Abraham Lincoln. A decade earlier, he had defeated Lincoln in a race for the Illinois legislature.
  • He died at age 87, leaving behind an autobiography which has become a classic and a tribute to this incredible servant of God.

But what’s most interesting to me is that this man was also the eighth preacher to serve First United Methodist Church in Lancaster, Ohio back in 1806. His name? Peter Cartwright, probably the greatest Methodist Circuit riding preacher to have ever lived.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Issue 3 Debate - A United Methodist Response

Rev. John Edgar, a United Methodist pastor serving in Columbus and an anti-gambling advocate,was part of a debate with the proponents of Issue 3 who are seeking to allow casinos to come to Ohio. It should be noted that John Edgar's position represents the stance of the United Methodist Church on the issue of gambling.

Here's my quick summary of the points of the debate:

Proponents of Issue 3
  • The casinos will create thousands of jobs & millions in tax revenue for the state.
  • Ohioans are already spending $1 billion on gambling in other states.
  • Casinos would kick-start development in the downtown areas of the cities.

Opponents of Issue 3

  • Casinos will drain profits from existing businesses.
  • The presence of casinos will lead to higher crime and they prey on vulnerable people leading to gambling addictions.
  • Studies show that a number of non casino jobs disappear because of the presence of casinos.

When I was serving a church in Xenia which is just up the road from the city of Wilmington, a community that was in the process of losing thousands of jobs due to DHL deciding to move their operations to Kentucky, this same issue faced voters. A casino wanted to move into the Wilmington area and they claimed that they would be able to add jobs and boost the economy. And now, the same scenario is facing Ohio again but on a larger scale and during one of our state's worst economic times.

The issue becomes at what cost do we allow gambling to come to Ohio? In exchange for additional jobs, what new challenges would our state face? More broken families. Higher crime. Increase in addictions.

Interestingly enough, some of the leading and outspoken opponents of the Wilmington casino proposal came out of the Wilmington area churches, especially the United Methodist churches.

Because of the strong United Methodist stance against gambling, even extremely difficult economic times couldn't convince Wilmington area United Methodists to change their tune.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Criminal Minds & Knowing Your Heart

My wife got me hooked on the TV show, Criminal Minds in which members of the FBI are able to figure out why criminals do what they do. Based on the FBI's ability to know the intentions and motivations of the criminals, they are able to pick up on important clues to help them solve the case.

Last Sunday, our lectionary text from Hebrews 4 states, "Indeed, the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing until it divides soul from spirit, joints from marrow; it is able to judge the thought and intentions of the heart."

As we open ourselves to the reading, proclamation, and study of the scriptures, we are inviting God to help us know what our true thoughts and intentions are. When we know why we do what we do thanks to the Holy Spirit who reveals these things to us, we are better able to live more authentically as followers of Jesus Christ.

It can be scary to face who we really are, but only when we do so, are we able to be the people God created us to be.

Tuesday, October 13, 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.

She was just sitting there minding her own business.
She was about 16 feet tall,
12 feet long,
and we won't even talk about her utters......

It's not everyday that you see a cow of such proportions
When you are a member of a college fraternity,
it's hard not to pass up an opportunity like this one,
after all........
she was already on wheels,
she seemed so lonely,
asking to be taken for a ride.

And so, 30 years ago,
when I was living out the final days of undergrad life,
my frat brothers and I decided that Bessie needed to go for a ride.

And so,
in the middle of the night,
my outstanding college service fraternity,
went to the local convenience store where Bessie was grazing,
hitched her up to a pickup,
and took her on a tour of the small college town in which we lived.

You would have thought that Bessie would have been tied more securely,
but security was a much looser issue back in 1979,
at least in regards to 16 foot cows.

Oh, we were not only creative,
we were crafty,
In a one cop town,
it is always good to know on which side of town the cop is parked.
And so while the east side of town was secure and safe under law enforcement watch,
the west side was given a late night parade with Bessie as parade marshall.

For future cow parades,
I might suggest that one measures the height of the power lines
across the street,
but that is another story.

The vendors at the pizza shop, gas station,
and other convenience stores
applauded as Bessie passed by
to the sounds of pre-recorded mooing.

Bessie worked her way to the center of the college campus
where she was tied to a large oak tree on the quad.
A large bale of hay was left for her to graze till morning.

Let me say, if you want your day to get off to a rousing start,
there is nothing like watching a group of trustees, professors, and maintenance staff
attempt to figure out how a 16 foot cow matriculated to college.

Let me also say,
that most college students at 7am
in pre-coffee mode
do not even notice a 16 foot cow as they stagger
zombie like to the dining hall,
or if they do,
they love to have photos taken,
particularly involving the udders.

One day this past summer,
I was driving through a small town,
and I saw Bessie,
once again grazing at a local convenience store.
Memories of college days flooded back into my mind,
days when life seemed a lot simpler......
days when having a cow parade down main street in the middle of the night,
seemed like a good use of one's time and energy.

I think Jesus understands why we borrowed Bessie.
I think Jesus probably had a good laugh as well.
Much of the church's imagery is of Christ somberly confronting Pharisees,
or soberly healing a person, or chasing away demons,
or weeping in the garden,
or struggling with cross to Golgotha.

But I also envision Jesus laughing with friends after a wonderful meal,
enjoying a good joke,
or laughing with children and youth.
He came to teach us how to live life fully,
and that includes how to laugh.

I looked at the car I was driving this summer,
and realized with no truck,
there would be no cow parade that day.
But I still broke out into laughter.

"Blessed are you who weep now,
for you shall laugh."
Luke 6:21b

Monday, October 12, 2009

How to Read the Bible on a Daily Basis

There are probably a number of reasons why people do not read the bible on a regular basis. One of those reasons includes not having a sustainable bible reading plan in place, like choosing to read a resource like the United Methodist daily devotional "The Upper Room" or my method which is to use the Episcopal tradition of "The Daily Office."

But another reason which is equally a problem for a number of people is in not utilizing a bible translation that will meet their needs. Our denomination recommends the New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) which is readable and yet attempts to stay close to the literal translation of the Greek and Hebrew. This is the translation we use in weekly worship and one that I use in my bible study/sermon preparation. My Wesley Study Bible uses this translation. Have I told you lately how much I love my Wesley Study Bible?

As wonder as the NRSV is, I think it would help a lot of people who are looking to read the bible on a daily basis to purchase "The Message" translation by Eugene Peterson, a bible scholar and creative writer who has translated the bible in such a way that an initial reading of a passage of scripture will in most cases be immediately understood. Peterson originally wrote this translation for the benefit of the unchurched who might find it difficult to understand complicated biblical terms and phrases. But what has happened is that churched people have gained from this fresh translation of the scriptures, including me!!!

Bible Gateway has an excellent website that allows you to type in a bible chapter/verse(s) and choose a translation of the bible which includes "The Message" translation. Curiously, they do not give you the NRSV as a choice. You can go into preferences and choose a default translation and save this to your favorite places and it will always give you that particular translation every time. I have mine set at "The Message" translation.

So, long story short, if you use "The Daily Office" method, you can copy and paste one of the daily readings in the Bible Gateway website, bring up this scripture from "The Message" and you will be able to have the immediate meaning of that passage using today's language style. I highly recommend "The Message" for people who are looking to read portions of the bible on a daily basis. You will get less frustrated than if you use the more standard translations and you'll be more likely to stick to your bible reading plan since the scriptures will come alive thanks to this easily readable translation.

Thank you, Eugene Peterson, for helping countless numbers of people read the bible on a daily basis with the help of your creative translation of the bible.

September 27 Sermon - "God Is Real in Your Life!"

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - October 18

Sunday, October 18 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, October 21 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Whoever Wishes to Be Great"

Features - 20th Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - Psalm 104:1-9, 24, 35c & Mark 10:35-45

Friday, October 9, 2009

Time to Pray

Enjoyed a nice 3 mile run today on my day off and felt motivated to pray during most of the 30 minutes. Here are some prayers that came to mind as I ran:
  • For Riley, an 8 yr. old nephew of one of our church members who has been diagnosed with an incurable disease.
  • For folks in the hospital and those who are homebound or who are in nursing homes.
  • For the congregation of Lancaster First UMC that we would continue to faithfully make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.
  • For our October 18, 25, & November 1 new member orientation classes.
  • For our November 8, 3:30 P.M. Church Conference which our church is hosting.
  • For tonight's baby shower of a couple from my previous church who have connections with my present church.
  • For President Obama and for peacemaking efforts in the Middle East to continue.
  • For my brother who will be preaching at his church in PA this Sunday on his birthday.
  • For my wife, daughter, son, mother, sisters, brother, and their families
  • Gratitude for sending Jesus Christ to be the Lord and Savior of the world and for the privilege of serving Him.

It's amazing how many prayers you can say in less than 30 minutes!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

The United Methodist Stance on Gambling

"Gambling is a menace to society, deadly to the best interests of moral, social, economic, and spiritual life, and destructive of good government. As an act of faith and concern, Christians should abstain from gambling and should strive to minister to those victimized by the practice. Where gambling has become addictive, the Church will encourage such individuals to receive therapeutic assistance so that the individual's energies may be redirected into positive and constructive ends. The Church should promote standards and personal lifestyles that would make unnecessary and undesirable the resort to commercial gambling-including public lotteries-as a recreation, as an escape, or as a means of producing public revenue or funds for support of charities or government." - United Methodist Discipline, Paragraph 163, G.

Wednesday, October 7, 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.
Sometimes it only takes a moment,
or in other cases, ten minutes.

While I was in high school,
I had established a reputation as a musician.
I was often referred to as The Music Man.
I didn't necessarily mind that label,
but by my sophomore year,
I decided that I wanted to be known for more than music.
While music was my passion,
I also wanted a life filled with other things.

And so I chose sports........
track and field in particular.
I was determined to be known for something other than music.

On the first day of practice,
the coach told everyone but the pole vaulters
to go and run the cross county course.

In that moment, I decided that I was meant to be a pole vaulter,
which is curious, considering how I now love to run.

But for a sophomore who had never run very far,
pole vaulting seemed to be a pretty cool escape.
On days when everyone else would be running
to the point of exhaustion,
the team of vaulters would be working on our craft at the vaulting pit.

On less motivated days, we found that the pit
made for a warm napping mattress as it soaked up the spring sun.

It all sounded good until I actually tried to vault.
Have you ever tried to run with a 14 foot fiberglass pole,
then plant it into a metal box in the ground,
(I do not advise missing the box)

then push into the pole so that it would bend,
thus thrusting one up into the air
like some type of human bottle rocket?

There is something to be said for inverting one's head,
two feet above concrete.

Trust me,
there are somethings that you should never tell mother
upon your arrival home from school.

I wasn't very good that first year
((most vaulters aren't).
It takes time to learn the craft,
and time to overcome the fear.
I finally cleared 9 feet the first year.

By my junior year, I was far more motivated
By the end of the season I had jumped ten feet six inches,
three inches shy of our very modest school record.

As a senior, I was determined to break the record.
Instead of napping on the pit during warm spring days,
I worked on technique.
Working on upper body strength to drive the pole,
learning how to use my body as I vaulted skyward.

In the third meet of the season,
I tied the school record by vaulting ten feet, nine inches.
I received a host of high fives.
I was now more motivated than ever.
There were only three vaulters left in the competition.
The bar was set at eleven feet.
Each height is awarded three attempts.
One of the other vaulters fouled out.
On my second attempt,
I vaulted eleven feet.
There is nothing like receiving the praise from teammates,
or hearing your name over the stadium PA system.
David McDowell has just set a new school record of eleven feet in the pole vault!!!

If ESPN had existed at that time, I am sure they would have reported the event.
I was drunk with excitement.....
so overcome, that I bombed out on the next height.

I was so overcome, that I had not paid any attention to Him.

Him was the third vaulter.

Him was a sophomore vaulter who had just joined the team
He was thin and tall and very quiet.
And oh, yeah, Him's dad was a college vaulting coach,
and had coached the US Olympic team in Japan.

Him calmly bested my school record by three inches,
ten minutes after my moment of triumph.

There is nothing like hearing the following on the stadium PA system...
Him has just broken Dave McDowell's school record in the pole vault.

Him never looked back.
Him and his younger brother eventually would set county, district, and state records in the vault.

As for me,
I overcame my ten minutes of fame
and went on to a career in music.

Life can throw you things in the blink of an eye,
a car crash that comes out of nowhere,
a pregnancy announcement,
a revelation that the test came back positive for cancer,
news of a job promotion.

There are many Hims in our lives,
people or circumstances over which we have no control.

What we do have,
if we have received HIM as Lord
is assurance.
Assurance of life eternal, and in this life,
assurance that no matter how many Hims cross our path,
the one HIM that counts always walks with us.

"Behold, I am with you always,
even till the end of the age."

Matthew 28:20b

I Love You, God!

I love the dogs that raise their heads almost as if they are saying to God, "I love you." Maybe they have a lot to teach us!

Sunday, October 4, 2009

Sunday Worship Preview - October 11

Sunday, October 11 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, October 14 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "A Cutting Edge Faith"

Features - 19th Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - Hebrews 4:12-16 & Mark 10:17-31

Theme - For a variety of reasons, the Book of Hebrews can be a difficult read for many of us but it helps us to see how the good news of our faith can lead us into greater faithfulness in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Our passage today helps us to see that when we open ourselves to the word of God, it becomes like a two-edged sword that helps us to get out of our comfort zones and involved in risk taking mission and service. This is what it means to have a cutting edge faith.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Reflections from Today's Memorial Service

The memorial service at the church this morning went well. And then we proceeded to the cemetery for the graveside service.

Verses of scripture reminding us of the resurrection and of the hope we have in Christ were read to begin the service and then a prayer in which we commended those dear to us to God's never failing love. A short scripture followed and I led in a prayer commending the person's body to the Lord.

What followed was a first for me as a pastor at a graveside service. I closed the service with this benediction which is one of those tried and true benedictions which is supposed to send us off with the knowledge that God is sovereign and will continue to be with us even as we continue to grieve and mourn.

"Now to the One who is able to keep you from falling..."

It was during the word "falling" that I took a small step to help me be closer to the 30 to 40 people who were gathered around the grave. Little did I know as I was concentrating on the benediction, that I was in the process of stepping down about 4 or 5 inches into a shallow part of the ground causing my right knee to buckle. I awkwardly stumbled and thankfully caught myself from falling to the ground.

Acting like nothing had happened, even though a few snickers could be heard as they couldn't help but notice the irony of the situation, I continued in the benediction,

"...and to make you stand without blemish in the presence of God's glory with rejoicing, to the only God our Savior, through Jesus Christ our Lord, be glory, majesty, power, and authority, before all time and now and forever. Amen."

Yes, indeed. The One who is able to keep us from falling, did so for me in that moment. And the good news is that when I stumble again, God will be there to steady me and help me find solid ground.

Sometimes actions speak louder than words.

Friday, October 2, 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.

When he first came to the gym,
no one paid much attention to him.

In my head, I called him Gramp,
because he looked like he had celebrated his 100th birthday.........
10 years prior.

Usually any elderly patron in the gym
migrated to one area of the weight room,
where they focused on reps with light dumbbells
similar in weight
to a can of peas.

Not Gramp......

My first clue that something was different
was when he went over to the pull up bar
and quickly notched 10 reps,
without breaking a sweat.

I quietly did my 15
as Gramp motored over to the incline
where he promptly barked out 20 crunches....
at a 45 degree angle

He must be getting ready for Spring Break,
I jealously thought to myself...

Gramp pulled off another set of pull ups....now up to 12
It was then, I thought, that Gramp must have overheated himself,
because He went to the men's locker room to remove his baggy outer sweats.

When he returned,
He was in gym shorts and a muscle tee.
It was then that the entire gym noticed......

Gramp was ripped.
Really ripped.

He had guns that would have made the NRA happy.
His chest screamed V for Victory,
and his thighs could have passed for tree trunks.

Take away his wrinkle lined face,
you would think this guy was getting ready for his prom.

As I got off the leg crunch,
I began to remove the four 45 lb weights that I was using

"If you're finished, just leave them on there"
Gramp said politely.

I scurried over to the other side of the weight room,
trying to look busy,
but keeping one eye on Gramp.

He took care of my four 45 lb weights,
10 reps as if they were styrofoam.
He then proceeded to add two more to the rack.
I think he was making out his grocery list while pumping,

then two more.....
I think now, he was smoking a cigarette.

He then needed to go to another machine
to pick up 2 more 45 pounders,
because he had used all the ones at the leg crunch.

Inside my head I was feverishly trying to do the math....
10 times 45lb....add the weight of the bar.......
I shrieked at the weight total.
He just leg crunched a small car, I thought.

Gramp came back
and knocked off another set of pull ups (now up to 14),
20 more crunches,
this time while holding a 10 lb weight.

Some younger ladies in the gym
between the ages of 70 and 80
were swooning over Gramp.

In 25 minutes,
Gramp had become a rock star.

My first impulse,
is to look upon the outer appearance.

Jesus warned us about doing so.
Looks can be misleading.....

widows with their mites can be the most the most vital givers,
short tax collectors can become giants of the faith,
women of ill repute become mothers of The Way
An ordinarily looking Nazarene can be the saviour of humanity.

May we all come to a spiritual maturity
where we take time to see what's on the inside of each person,
and not judge solely on outward appearance and behavior.

I no longer call him Gramp.

I call him Champ.

Do not judge according to appearance,
but judge with righteous judgment.
John 7:24

Thursday, October 1, 2009

Ohio - Voting "No" on Issue 3 - A Statement from the West Ohio Conference UMC

One of the remarkable strengths of the United Methodist Church is our concern for issues impacting our society in light of our Christian faith and witness. The West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church has an excellent informational page on Issue 3. Below is information taken from this website.

Let's do our best to be informed, discern our response to this issue facing citizens of Ohio, and vote in a way that best reflects John Wesley's three simple rules which are 1) Do no harm. 2) Do good. 3) Stay in love with God.


Dr. Earl Grinols, a Distinguished Professor of Economics, has con-ducted many studies of gambling’s impact on society. The results? For every $1 gambling generates, it costs $3 in social costs. What are these costs?

In counties with neighboring casinos, 8.6% of property crime and 12.6% of violent crimes are caused by casinos. In counties with casinos, the rates are much higher!

The Indiana legislature passed a special $52 million yearly appro-priation to increase crime patrol around their casinos.

An estimated 40% of white collar crime has its roots in gambling.

A study of Aurora, IL found that only 3% of businesses experi-enced an increase in revenues after the arrival of the riverboat casinos. The other 97% had experienced a decline resulting in loss of jobs.

In Atlantic City, 25% of small businesses closed 3 years after casi-nos opened. Prior to casinos, the unemployment rate in Atlantic City was 30% higher than the rest of the state. 10 years later, it is 50% higher than the rest of the state.

Professor Fredric H. Murphy of Temple University proved in his economic impact study of gambling in Philadelphia there would be a net loss of over 4000 jobs if gambling is expanded.

If gambling is within 50 miles, the chances of people in your com-munity becoming addicted increase by 50% (75% if your com-munity is poor).
60% of casino revenue comes from those making less than $25,000 per year.

Each time casino companies write an proposed amendment to the Ohio constitution, they include language that benefits them. What’s wrong with Issue 3?

The amendment defines transactions to be taxed. Any money made by the casinos on cash games or slot machines would be exempt from the tax, because "cash" is not in the definition of what is taxable.

Penn National is saying that they intend to pay taxes on cash re-ceipts. It does not matter what they say. The language in our Constitution will determine any legal challenges. The only way to change this would be through another statewide ballot issue.

As a publically owned business, Penn National’s investors would be within their legal rights to sue Penn National for paying taxes they are not required by law to pay.
None of the money will go into the state’s General Fund.

The State’s Constitution is the highest legal document. Amending the Constitution to allow for a monopoly is not the proper use of our constitution.

In 2008, Penn National spent millions of dollars to defeat the gambling issue before Ohio voters. One of their own points was that it would enshrine a monopoly in the state’s constitution. Now that it would benefit them, it is no longer a valid point of op-position.

Proceeds will go to all 88 Ohio Counties based on population. Counties suffering from high unemployment and high poverty will not be major beneficiaries of the money. Those who have will continue to receive more.