A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

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

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Bible Study Summary - Upcoming Sunday's Scriptures

Here at Lancaster First UMC, I am privileged to be part of two weekly bible study groups that study the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.

Here are some of the questions/insights from today's group:

Isaiah 55:6-13

• Timeline of 2nd Isaiah – Called by God to be a prophet to the southern kingdom.
First Isaiah (Chs. 1-39) – Pre Babylonian exile
Second Isaiah (40-55) – During Judah’s Time in Exile
Third Isaiah (56-66) – After Return of Exile & Rebuilding of Jerusalem
• Concluding Speech by the Lord to those about to return from exile. Their covenant with God will be renewed. John Wesley saw this passage as filled with God’s surprising grace able and willing to forgive all sinners.
• The return from exile will be marked by joy and peace – v. 12
• Verse – 12a – Notice that creation itself will offer worship and praise as well.
• Sermon Theme – Verse 13a (Garden imagery)
• Isaiah 55 passage offers a tremendous word of hope to people in exile.

John 20:1-18

• John’s Gospel is like a retelling of the creation story in the book of Genesis.
• Easter scene takes place on 1st day of the new week – Sunday (Jewish week.)
• Mary Magdalene – Comes to tomb while it’s still dark. Nicodemus came to see Jesus went it was dark.
• Mary tells the disciples about the empty tomb. Peter & beloved disciple go to the tomb. What did they think about why the tomb was empty?
• Two burials in ancient world for Judaism – Body in tomb and bones buried in an ossuary about a year later.
• The resurrected Lord greets Mary.
• In what ways do we encounter the risen Christ today?

Holy Week - Wednesday Prayer

Lord God, whose blessed Son our Savior gave his body to be whipped and his face to be spit upon: Give us grace to accept joyfully the sufferings of the present time, confident of the glory that shall be revealed; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Holy Week Worship Preview

Maundy Thursday

April 1 - 7:30 P.M. (A Shorter Version of Service at Noon)
Sermon - "He Washed Their Feet"
Features - Maundy Thursday & Holy Communion
Scripture - Exodus 12:1-14; I Corinthians 11:23-26; & John 13:1-17, 31b-35
Theme - On Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, we remember the story of Jesus washing the disciples’ feet and the surprise that Peter felt when Jesus came to him to wash his feet. Like Peter, we too are surprised that Jesus loves us so much that he is willing to stoop to our level and die on a cross for our sins. What will our response be to Jesus’ love especially during these events of Holy Week?
Good Friday:

April 2 - 7:30 P.M. (A Shorter Version of Service at Noon)
Congregational Reflection - "The Stations of the Cross"
Features - Good Friday
Scripture - Isaiah 52:13-53:12

Palm/Passion Sunday Devotional Message

United Theological Seminary, one of thirteen United Methodist seminaries and where I received my M. Div. degree, provides a weekly podcast based on the lectionary scripture readings. Check out this podcast message and allow it to be another "means of grace" during your lenten journey to the cross.

Holy Week - Tuesday Prayer

O God, by the passion of your blessed Son you made an instrument of shameful death to be for us the means of life: Grant us so to glory in the cross of Christ, that we may gladly suffer shame and loss for the sake of your Son our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Holy Week - Monday Prayer

Almighty God, whose dear Son went not up to joy but first he suffered pain, and entered not into glory before he was crucified: Mercifully grant that we, walking in the way of the cross, may find it none other that the way of life and peace; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Early Thoughts on the Book, "After You Believe"

According to my kindle, I'm 34% through the book, "After You Believe," by Tom Wright. This is a book that focuses on an often ignored but essential topic in our Christian faith that centers on the question, "What is the whole point of our new life in Jesus Christ?" Is the whole point that we get saved so we can go to heaven? Wright says, "no" even though our salvation is an important part of our faith.

Wright suggests that the bible from beginning to end communicates that God's ultimate goal (teleios in Greek) for us is to be rulers and priests in which we lovingly bring to bear God's healing love to the world. Wright offers scripture references throughout the bible which talk about this twin vocation of God's people being rulers and priests.

Even before God brings final new creation upon the world, we as God's people are to anticipate that new future in the way we live in the present.

In the first part of the book, Wright compares Jesus' ultimate goal for this world to be flooded with God's justice and love with Aristotle's ultimate goal which was happiness and where you fit into the Greek-city state framework. Aristotle who lived before Jesus, emphasized the importance of personal character and virtue in order to reach the ultimate goal of happiness. Jesus also emphasized character and virtue but for the larger purpose of remaking God's creation that way it was meant to be.
Developing Christian character is not easy. It takes a daily focus on practicing the disciplines of our faith and depending on the Holy Spirit so that when we encounter experiences in our daily living, we will be able to respond in ways that reflect our ultimate goal in life which again, is bring to bear God's new creation.

Wright knows that since Western Christianity has not emphasized this aspect of our Christian faith that focuses on what we are to be doing following our acceptance of Christ as Lord and Savior, that some might think that we are getting into some kind of "works righteousness." But Wright is quick to point out that by developing Christian character after we accept Christ, we are simply responding to God's grace, not trying to earn approval from God.

So much else could be said about the first 1/3 of the book, but that's enough for now.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - April 4 (Easter Sunday)

April 4 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, April 7 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Story of Three Gardens"

Features - Easter Sunday

Scripture - Isaiah 55:6-13 & John 20:1-18

Theme - In telling the story of Jesus’ resurrection, John, the gospel writer, helps us to understanding the meaning of this good news in the context of the creation story from the Book of Genesis. From beginning to end, the bible uses the image of a garden to help us see God’s plan of salvation for the world.

Friday, March 26, 2010

"In Concert with God" Sermon Series

This fall, (Sept. 12 - Oct. 3) Lancaster First United Methodist Church will be offering a sermon series on the theme, "In Concert with God." Specifically, we will be focusing on four different music genres and viewing them in light of the Christian faith. These include:
  • Sept. 12 - Classical
  • Sept. 19 - Country
  • Sept. 26 - Rock
  • Oct. 3 - Jazz

Since music and the church/Christian faith have such a strong correlation, this sermon series will help us think about why music, and more specifically these four different music genres, can strengthen our faith.

I am interested in hearing your thoughts on how music has informed your faith. What music genre speaks to you the most and why?

Thanks in advance for your responses!

Palm/Passion Sunday Prayer (March 28)

Almighty God, on this day your Son Jesus Christ entered the holy city of Jerusalem and was proclaimed King by those who spread their garments and palm branches along his way. Let those branches be for us signs of his victory, and grant that we who bear them in his name may ever hail him as our Lord, and follow him in the way that leads to eternal life. In his name we pray. Amen.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Bible Study Summary

Here at Lancaster First UMC, I am privileged to be part of two weekly bible study groups that study the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.

Here are some of the questions/insights from the two groups:

Matthew 21:1-11
• Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem (Riding on a donkey – Zech 9:9)
• Most people wouldn’t have own a 2nd cloak.
• This story reminds us of one of Israel’s greatest king made king in defiance of the existing one (II Kings 9:13)
• This story reminds us of the Maccabean revolt 200 years earlier. The famous Jacob Maccabeus arrived in Jerusalem after conquering the pagan armies. He was welcomed to Jerusalem with the waving of palm branches. He was beginning of a new royal dynasty lasting 100 years. Herod and the chief priests had intermarried with the Maccabean family giving them royal status as well.
• Jerusalem was established by King David 1,000 yrs. earlier. To be called “Son of David” had royal implications.
• This would be a different enthronement – Lifted on a cross

Isaiah 50:4-9a
• The 3rd Servant Song of four. (42:1-4: 49:1-7; 50:4-11; & 52:13-53:12) All four used as messianic texts applied to Jesus Christ as the servant who suffers for the sake of others. Isaiah 49:3 associates suffering servant with Israel.
• This 3rd song serves as a blueprint for discipleship: (combining learning with action)
1) Authority – vv. 4-5 (Found in God’s calling.)
2) Commissioning – v. 4 For the purpose of discipleship (He is a pupil)
3) Training – vv. 5-6 Accepts suffering.
4) Sharing of what he has learned as a disciple – vv. 7-9a

Luke 23:26-49
• Jesus would die on the cross and he wanted to protect his disciples to be able to carry forth Jesus’ mission for the sake of the world.
• Jewish expectation was for Israel to go through a period of darkness before they would emerge in God’s new world.
• Sweating drops of blood – Remember that Luke is a physician. This actually can happen.
• Throughout Jesus’ suffering, the disciples don’t understand all of this. They thought he would be a revolutionary king.


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.

If three is the charm,
then consider me charmed......
to death!

March 17 is to me Christmas, the sequel.
Nothing breaks me out of the winter doldrums
like a Shamrock Shake.

Each year,
I make my one trip to that outstanding fast food mecca,
to imbibe on creamy mint.
When the calendar turns to March,
my excitement level rises
like a child giddy to open the first gift under the tree.

That was, until March 14......
That's when I started to feel it...
that slight tingle in the back of the throat.
A sure sign for me, that a cold was on it's way.

It was my first brush with sickness the entire winter.
By March 16,
I was fully immersed in a sneezing, runny nose,
eyes watering marathon.

Daytime was bad enough,
but it was at bedtime when the worst came....
the total collapse of the sinuses....
the inability to breath while laying horizontally.

It was on this 16th day of March,
that a dear friend brought me a Shamrock Shake.
I salivated upon the sighting of it.

Then I remembered that my head
was swimming in a vat of mucous.

It has been said, feed a cold and starve a fever,
but feed a cold some dairy products,
and you might as well head directly to the ER
to have your sinuses drained.

I placed the extra big biggie shake in the freezer,
first noting that it is against all moral codes to
drink a Shamrock Shake on Christmas Eve, the sequel.

It is also against all medical wisdom
to inject your body with creamy dairy products
when you are already swimming in mucous.

I'll feel better tomorrow, I thought
and then I can inhale that big green mound of dairy delight.

Christmas morning, the sequel arrived.
I awoke realizing that I hadn't breathed in oxygen for the last three hours.
Nothing that a hot steamy shower couldn't fix, I thought.
By mid-morning, I was intaking oxygen at a rate sufficient to sustain life
and then I remembered the frothy delight sitting in my freezer.

Oh, I shouldn't, I thought.
So much for thinking......
It took ten minutes to intake that shake.
It took five minutes after that,
for my head to fill up like a block of concrete.

Oh well, it was worth it, I thought.
I can breathe any day of the year.

That was until one of my afternoon piano students
came for lessons with another Christmas, the sequel, gift.

I knew you liked them, so I brought you one, she said with great glee.

I knew immediately, that she expected me to drink it during the lesson.
For the sake of the arts, I knew I had to down shake #2.

By etude #2,
I couldn't hear anything except
a hollow ring inside my head,
My head felt like a freshly poured slab of green concrete slowly hardening.

By early evening,
I was anticipating that trip to the ER
to have my sinuses drained.
That was when my last student came in with....
yeah, you guessed it....
shake #3

If Christmas has twelve days,
then I anticipated being mucoused to death by day four of Christmas, the sequel.
Fortunately it was a small
(which is really a medium biggie).
By the time I got home,
my head was firmly solidified in green.

Another steamy shower,
then insertion of a vaporizing ointment up my nostrils
in an attempt to bulldoze an airway to survival.
As I sat in the most upright position I could muster in front of the TV,
the commercial came on....
the commercial from that fine outstanding fast food establishment

Yeah, I may have been loving it,
but that love was keeping me from oxygen,
I think I will return to my first love....

It's easy to be swayed by all sorts of things that entice us.
Churches and individuals can quickly forget what is most important in this walk of faith.
The church in Ephesus was reminded of the reality of losing its first love (Rev. 2:4)
If we are honest with ourselves,
many of us have done the same in our lives.

Sometimes it takes three Shamrock Shakes to realize
that a breath of air is more precious than cream.

Sometimes it takes us chasing after all the temporary pleasures of life,
to realize that nothing fulfills us like embracing the goodness of God.

As we enter holy week,
take time to ponder
that it took three nails
to give us all
a fresh breath of life......
a life that is eternal.

To that I say...
I'm loving it.
May you say the same this week.

Greater love has no one than this,
that one lays down his life for his friends.
- John 15:13


Sunday, March 21, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - March 28

March 28 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, March 31 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Crosses of Jesus - The Crucifix"

Features - Palm/Passion Sunday

Scripture - Matthew 21:1-11; Philippians 2:5-11; & Luke 23:26-49

Theme - Today is the 6 th part of a six-part sermon series on the theme, “The Crosses of Jesus” in which we are focusing on the meaning of several types of Christian crosses to help us journey toward the cross during the Season of Lent. On this sixth Sunday of the series, our focus is on the meaning of the Crucifix.

Saturday, March 20, 2010

Books Recently Read

I just finished reading "Fabricating Jesus: How Modern Scholars Distort the Gospels," by Dr. Craig A. Evans, New Testament scholar. Dr. Evans will be the featured speaker at United Theological Seminary's Heck Lectures next month which I will be attending. His topic will be on what we know about Jesus from sources outside of the New Testament.

Dr. Evans makes the point in his book that some bible scholars make the assumption that many of the words of Jesus we find in the four Gospels were not actually said by Jesus but put there by the gospel writers several decades later. These scholars tend to argue that at the time the four Gospels were written, there were several variations of Christianity and that our present New Testament list of books represented only one particular expression of Christianity.

One of the reasons some scholars argue that there wasn't one uniform expression of Christianity as expressed in our present New Testament listing of books is because there are other writings that offer us a different understanding of Jesus. For example, there are gnostic gospels of the life of Jesus such as "The Gospel of Thomas" which offers a very different perspective of who Jesus was. Gnosticism is a belief that the world is evil and it's through knowing secret wisdom that one can be released from this evil world.

The problem with this approach, according to Dr. Evans, is that the gnostic Gospels weren't written until the 2nd century, several decades after our present four Gospels were written. In other words, the four Gospels that we have are the earliest materials that we have of the life of Jesus Christ. The modern scholars who claim that the gnostic Gospels represent a more accurate picture of Jesus base this on their belief that these sources were written in the 1st century.

One of the reasons why people today are fascinated to think that there might be a very different Jesus than the one that we read about in our present Gospels is because of several misunderstandings. These include the belief that the gnostic Gospels were written much earlier than they really were and a move to de-Judaize Jesus (remove Jesus from his Jewish self-understanding and context.)

The point that Dr. Evans is making in his book is that when we see Jesus in his 1st century Jewish context, the four Gospels give us an accurate picture of what Jesus actually said and did in his life and ministry.

I look forward to meeting Dr. Evans next month!

Friday, March 19, 2010

Social Justice & Media Misunderstandings

It's been a week now since Glenn Beck compared a church's emphasis on "social justice" as a code name for communism and nazism. And since the United Methodist Church has a strong history of providing "social justice" ministries, I feel the need to offer some thoughts on Beck's comments.

First thought - Let's remember that Beck is in a business that is all about ratings. If the ratings aren't there, people turn the channel and the show ends. So when he holds up poster boards that have symbols of communism and nazism on his show, you have to give the producers credit. It gets our attention.

When I was serving a church in Toledo, Ohio, the newspaper ran an article about "The Confessing Movement" which was basically a conservative/evangelical call directed toward United Methodist pastors and churches. The paper included quotes from two United Methodist pastors, one of whom is a good friend of mine.
The one pastor was very much in agreement with "The Confessing Movement" and my friend's quotes in the article indicated that he was against it. When I asked my friend about his comments the next day, he said that the reporter had called him on the phone to ask for his opinions. My friend said, "All I told the reporter was that I had heard about "The Confessing Movement" but hadn't really looked into it yet." With that comment, the paper made it appear that my friend was against it!
Polarization is a great way to sell papers and have people watch TV shows. But it's not a great way to get at the truth.

Second thought - Forgetting Beck's polarization technique for the moment, does he have a point? Should churches refrain from emphasizing social justice ministries? What exactly are social justice ministries anyway?

Social justice is a phrase that reminds us of two central biblical motifs that run throughout the bible. The word "social" refers to the bible's emphasis upon community. God creates Eve because Adam was without a partner. God calls Abraham to become the father of many people who will in turn become a blessing to the world. Jesus calls 12 disciples. The word, church, (ekklesia) literally means an "assembly." It's really difficult to speak biblically and theologically without using the word "social" or "community."

The word, "justice" is another huge biblical word which is really at the heart of the biblical message. Justice refers to what the world would look like if God was running the show. Justice is when all of God's creation have the basic necessities of life. The prophets continually remind us of this central biblical doctrine. Jesus continued this emphasis on justice in his life and ministry. Here are just a few biblical examples:

But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream.
Amos 5:24

Is not this the fast that I choose: to loose the bonds of injustice, to undo the thongs of the yoke, to let the oppressed go free, and the break every yoke?
Isaiah 58:6

Did not your father eat and drink and do justice and righteousness?...He judged the cause of the poor and needy…Is not this to know me? says the Lord.
Jeremiah 22:15-16

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.
Matthew 23:23

And what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your god?
Micah 6:8
And this leads me to a third and concluding thought - The whole point of the biblical message is not primarily about "how can we get to heaven when we die?" although our eternal salvation is an important part of the good news of our faith. The bigger issue is that one day God's justice and glory will fill creation and until that time comes, we as God's people are called upon to work toward this end.

And this is why the United Methodist Church has a resource called, "The Book of Resolutions" which contains our stance on almost 400 social issues facing our world today. In addition to offering ways for churches to be involved in social justice ministries directly, it also offers ways for churches to be an advocate for social justice through the political process as well.

For Christians who are uneasy about mixing religion and politics, think of William Wilberforce, (ending England's slave trade) Bishop Desmond Tutu, (ending apartheid) and think of the biblical understanding of "social justice."

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Bible Study Summary

Here at Lancaster First UMC, I am privileged to be part of two weekly bible study groups that study the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.

Here are some of the questions/insights from my Wednesday group today:

Numbers 21:1-9
  • This passage has a very disturbing beginning as the Israelites pray to the Lord to defeat the Canaanites and in return, the Israelites will destroy their cities. The Lord answers their prayer. Why would a loving God allow the Israelites to do such a thing? My answer was that this was part of the muddy process of how God would redeem the world by fulfilling the covenant that was made to Abraham for his descendants to be God's people who would be a light to the world.
  • Another troubling question arose as to how a loving God would allow serpents to bite and kill many Israelites for their complaining in the wilderness. Again, forming a people who would be a light to the world is messy business and things could have unraveled in the wilderness if the people would have stopped following God and Moses altogether. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

John 3:14-21

  • By being lifted on the cross, we are able to look to Jesus and be healed and saved from the sins and evil of the world. We paused to reflect on thinking how all of the evil and sin that the world could throw at Jesus, fell on his shoulders in that one moment of history when Jesus suffered and died on the cross.
  • When people ask, "What is God like?" a good place to point them toward an answer is to have them focus on the cross. The cross is a symbol of how God poured his love out for the world.

The Tau Cross

  • We talked a little about how the Tau Cross is associated with St. Francis of Assisi and God's desire to offer us physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual healing. We ended our bible study by praying for the people who would be attending our services this Sunday that they would find healing through the cross of Jesus Christ.

Happy St. Patrick's Day!


Almighty God, who in your providence chose your servant Patrick to be the apostle of the Irish people, to bring those who were wandering in darkness and error to the true light and knowledge of you: Grant us so to walk in that light, that we may come at last to the light of everlasting life; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and ever. Amen.

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

4th Week in Lent Devotional Message

United Theological Seminary, one of thirteen United Methodist seminaries and where I received my M. Div. degree, provides a weekly podcast based on the lectionary scripture readings. Check out this podcast message and allow it to be another "means of grace" during your lenten journey to the cross.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Hoot! Hoot! Let's Go Temple Owls!

Every year for the NCAA Tournament, my heart is with Temple to go all the way. This is where Penny and I met back in 1983. By the way, Temple had a great team that year and beat a great Chris Mullins led St. John's team early in the tournament. Dr. J visited my dorm that year to take our star shooting guard out to dinner.

Over the years, Temple has been known for their defense, low turnover ratio, patient offense, and 5 A.M. practices. Unfortunately, they are also known to not quite get over the hump in being able to advance too far in the tournament, even during years when they have had really good teams.
This year, Temple is in the East region with a #5 seed playing #12 seed Cornell. A lot of the experts are saying that this is the 2nd most difficult region with the Midwest being 1st. For Temple to advance far, they will have to beat a good Wisconsin team and an awesome Kentucky team.

I have great memories from Temple University. Penny and I met there and I was able to participate in three campus ministry groups - Intervarsity Christian Fellowship, Campus Crusade for Christ (I really think they should substitute the word "Crusade" with something else!) and Tenth Presbyterian college ministry. Tenth Presbyterian is an historic church in downtown Philadelphia that Penny and I attended while at Temple. That was the year that I responded to God's calling to become a pastor thanks to Penny, my home church, the campus ministries, and friends at Temple.

Let's go Temple!

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - March 21

March 21 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, March 24 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Crosses of Jesus - The Tau Cross"

Features - 5th Sunday in Lent; Anointing of Oil; & Receiving of New Members

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

Theme - Today is the 5th part of a six-part sermon series on the theme, “The Crosses of Jesus” in which we are focusing on the meaning of several types of Christian crosses to help us journey toward the cross of Holy Week during this Season of Lent. On this fifth Sunday of the series, our focus is on the meaning of the Tau Cross which has a close association with St. Francis of Assisi and of God’s desire to bring healing.

Happy Birthday Second Saturday Ministry Outreach!

Today, a new outreach ministry at Lancaster First United Methodist Church called "Second Saturday" was born as over 80 people gathered at the Crossroads facility to offer God's love by serving at many different outreach areas in the city of Lancaster.

These included:
  • Nursing Homes where people visited with residents, played bingo, read books, and led a bible study.
  • Helping a transitional housing placement for women who are reentering society after prison to move into a new building.
  • Habitat for Humanity ReStore where items are donated to support the ministry of Habitat for Humanity.
  • Assembling Haiti health kits.
  • Installing linoleum flooring at Foundation Shelters.
  • Providing food for Southside Settlement ministry outreach in Columbus.
  • Delivering homemade cookies to law enforcement agencies and nursing home facilities.
  • Hosted a panel discussion on the problems of heroin addiction and how people can find help.

One of the volunteers who served at a nursing home today said that he helped an elderly woman who couldn't see very well to participate in bingo. And then he said that the people of the nursing home all wanted them to come back again because of the new friendships that were formed.

Another volunteer who took homemade cookies to a fire station as a way of saying thanks to those who serve our city said how much their visit and the gift were appreciated.

A man who has a relative struggling with a heroin addiction received helpful information and guidance from the heroin addiction panel presenters.

Before we were unleashed upon the city of Lancaster, these words were read from Luke 4:18-19. "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me (Jesus), because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

Second Saturday will be held on a monthly basis. We're already looking forward to how God will use us to bless our community when we gather again to serve on April 10.

Happy birthday, Second Saturday!

Friday, March 12, 2010

Bible Study Summary

In preparing for this Sunday's sermon, one of the scriptures will be the Prodigal Son story from Luke 15. Here at Lancaster First UMC, I am privileged to be part of two weekly bible study groups that study the scriptures for the upcoming Sunday.

Here are some of the questions/insights from the two groups:
  • Most of us can identify with the elder son in the story and his reluctance (refusal?) to join in the party for his younger brother. He was the responsible one and yet no party was given in his honor.
  • This parable isn't meant to be applied as a parenting technique, is it? Otherwise, it seems that we as parents should reward irresponsible behavior.
  • Someone said that this parable reminds him of the parable of the talents but they have very different endings. In the parable of the talents, the person who hid his talent, was severely judged by the owner and didn't receive mercy. But in the prodigal son story, the irresponsible son was given a party. What's up with that?
  • The parable of the Prodigal Son could possibly have the story of Jacob and Esau in the background. Remember how Jacob (the younger brother) ended up being a deceiver and irresponsible by getting the birthright and the blessing? Esau (the older brother) is angry and chases after Jacob. Later in the story, Jacob comes to his senses (after he wrestles with God and is given a new name) and when he finally meets up with Esau, they embrace and are reconciled. Esau shows mercy (like the prodigal son's father did to the prodigal son.)
  • The Prodigal Son parable could also be called The Prodigal Father since the parable is also about how wasteful (the meaning of "prodigal") the father was when he went over the top in extending forgiveness and mercy to his son.
  • One person said that this parable reminds him to periodically take inventory of his own life and think of times when he has received mercy from others and from God.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Celtic Prayers

As Lancaster First United Methodist Church prepares for our focus on the Celtic Cross (March 14) which is part of the "Crosses of Jesus" sermon series, I am posting various Celtic prayers this week. Enjoy!

"The Deer's Cry" "The Breast-plate of St. Patrick"

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the
Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession
of the Oneness of the Creator of creation.

I arise today through the strength of Christ with His Baptism,
through the strength of His Crucifixion with His Burial
through the strength of His Resurrection with His Ascension,
through the strength of His descent for the Judgment of Doom.

I arise today through the strength of the love of Cherubim
in obedience of Angels, in the service of the Archangels,
in hope of resurrection to meet with reward,
in prayers of Patriarchs, in predictions of Prophets,
in preachings of Apostles, in faiths of Confessors,
in innocence of Holy Virgins, in deeds of righteous men.

I arise today, through the strength of Heaven:
light of Sun, brilliance of Moon, splendour of Fire,
speed of Lightning, swiftness of Wind, depth of Sea,
stability of Earth, firmness of Rock.

I arise today, through God's strength to pilot me:
God's might to uphold me, God's wisdom to guide me,
God's eye to look before me, God's ear to hear me,
God's word to speak for me, God's hand to guard me,
God's way to lie before me, God's shield to protect me,
God's host to secure me:
against snares of devils, against temptations of vices,
against inclinations of nature, against everyone who
shall wish me ill, afar and anear, alone and in a crowd.

I summon today all these powers between me (and these evils):
against every cruel and merciless power that may oppose
my body and my soul,
against incantations of false prophets,
against black laws of heathenry,
against false laws of heretics, against craft of idolatry,
against spells of women [any witch] and smiths and wizards,
against every knowledge that endangers man's body and soul.
Christ to protect me today
against poison, against burning, against drowning,
against wounding, so that there may come abundance of reward.

Christ with me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ in me,
Christ beneath me, Christ above me, Christ on my right,
Christ on my left, Christ in breadth, Christ in length,
Christ in height, Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me,
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks of me,
Christ in every eye that sees me, Christ in every ear that hears me.

I arise today through a mighty strength, the invocation of the
Trinity, through belief in the Threeness, through confession of the
Oneness of the Creator of creation.
Salvation is of the Lord. Salvation is of the Lord.
Salvation is of Christ. May Thy Salvation, O Lord, be ever with us.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Celtic Prayers

As Lancaster First United Methodist Church prepares for our focus on the Celtic Cross (March 14) as part of the "Crosses of Jesus" sermon series, I will be posting various Celtic prayers this week. Enjoy!


God to enfold me,
God to surround me,
God in my speaking,
God in my thinking.

God in my sleeping,
God in my waking,
God in my watching,
God in my hoping.

God in my life,
God in my lips,
God in my hands,
God in my heart.

God in my sufficing,
God in my slumber
God in mine ever living soul,
God in mine eternity.

Encouragement Devotional During Lent

United Theological Seminary, one of thirteen United Methodist seminaries and where I received my M. Div. degree, provides a weekly podcast based on the lectionary scripture readings. Check out this podcast message and allow it to be another "means of grace" during your lenten journey to the cross.

Monday, March 8, 2010

"The Hurt Locker", Mid East Hospitality & The Last Supper

"The Hurt Locker" won best picture at the Academy Awards last night. Our family watched this movie last week. If you haven't seen the movie, the setting is in 2004 post invasion Iraq. A team of US soldiers defuses bombs which creates very tense scenes.

Without giving too much of the movie plot away, the lead character, Sergeant William James, who has nerves of steel to do this work, befriends an Iraqi boy who tries to make money buy selling CDs to the US soldiers. During one of the bomb threats, Sergeant James believes that a boy's body that he has found is the same boy that he had befriended.

This causes Sergeant James to take matters in his own hands. Thinking that if he finds this boy's home, he might find the people wh0 killed the boy, he sneaks into the house and points his gun at a man who claims that he is only a professor at the university and doesn't know who this boy is.

The reason I point out this scene is because even though Sergeant James is threatening to kill this man who he thinks is a terrorist, this professor attempts to calmly explain that there's a mistake. He then offers hospitality to the sergeant by inviting him to sit down and provide food for him. On one hand, this Iraqi professor is doing this to save his own life, but in this scene, the movie does a great job of showing how important hospitality is to people in the Middle East.

Hospitality is one of the five core values of the church where we are to always extend an unconditional welcome and a safe space to strangers as well as to friends. For this professor to offer radical hospitality even with a gun pointed at him in a very dangerous situation just goes to show to what degree people in the Middle East are willing to go to welcome others.

During Holy Week, which is only a few weeks away, churches will participate in Maundy Thursday services in which we reflect on on Jesus' last supper with his disciples. In the Middle East, table fellowship isn't just about eating food. It's about offering hospitality and sharing in a covenant together.

When Jesus was gathered around the table with his disciples during the final hours before his crucifixion, imagine the shock and horror when Jesus revealed that one of them would betray him and that all of them would at some point forsake him. This all came out in the open during table fellowship, a sacred time of hospitality when the disciples were sharing in a special covenant with Jesus.

And yet, even with Judas' hidden agenda and Jesus knowing that the disciples would end up forsaking him, Jesus was still willing to offer them the bread and the cup as an extension of his grace and mercy to them.

The next time we gather at the church to receive the Sacrament of Holy Communion and receive the bread and cup, let's not forget that God's mercy is being extended to us, to sinners who have not always been faithful to Christ, and to a people who have broken covenant with him by what we have done and by what we have left undone.

We know deep down that we shouldn't be around that table with him. And yet, there is always an open space and these words of invitation, "The body of Christ of Christ broken for you. The blood of Christ shed for you."

Shocked to hear such words of grace, we extend our hands, and receive.
Hospitality runs deep with this God.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - March 14

March 14 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, March 17 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Crosses of Jesus - The Celtic Cross"

Features - 4th Sunday in Lent

Scripture - Romans 5:1-11 & Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

Theme - Today is the 4th part of a six-part sermon series on the theme, “The Crosses of Jesus” in which we are focusing on the meaning of several types of Christian crosses to help us journey toward the cross of Holy Week during this Season of Lent. On this fourth Sunday of the series, our focus is on the meaning of the Celtic Cross, which is great timing since St. Patrick’s Day is only a few days after our worship celebration!

Men's Breakfast & Lenten Journey Reflections

On the first Saturday of each month, 8 A.M. to 9 A.M., First UMC offers a men's breakfast at Rising House, just across the street from the church. We begin with a hot breakfast meal and then we conclude our time with group singing and a devotional thought.

For devotions this morning, I read from Luke 9 and focused on verse 51 where Luke records, "When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem." I shared how one of the controlling themes of the Gospel of Luke is how Jesus is on a journey to Jerusalem where he would suffer and die for the sins of the world.

Luke's second volume, the Book of Acts, continues this journey theme with the apostles of Jesus spreading the good news of Easter all the way to Rome.

The Christian faith is more than simply a set of propositions and theological doctrines. At it's core, the Christian faith is a journey. And because it's a journey, we experience adventure, surprises, detours, delays, joys, and heartaches along the way. In the midst of all of these experiences, it's vitally important to remember that we are making the journey WITH Jesus.

To help us remember that we are making this journey with Jesus, the season of Lent encourages us to open ourselves to the many "means of grace" that are available to us. Some of these means of grace include scripture reading, prayer, weekly worship, fasting, serving in the name of Christ, going on a retreat, reading a Christian book, spending time in silence, etc.

We are presently in the middle of the season of Lent. How is your journey to Jerusalem with Jesus going? What are the detours, delays, joys, and concerns, that you may be facing along the way? Think about the means of grace that are available to you during the journey.

And if the journey is feeling too difficult, remember that a new journey will begin not too long from now. This one will begin by the garden tomb.

The Christian faith is a journey.

John Wesley and Giving Up Chocolate for Lent

A nice article on John Wesley's thoughts on the spiritual discipline of fasting is provided by Heather Hahn. So what do you think? Does giving up chocolate or coffee or whatever, trivialize the purpose behind fasting? Here is a portion of her article.

Wesley endorses fasts

Methodism founder John Wesley wasn’t content to limit fasting only to Lent. He fasted twice a week — on Wednesday and Friday — said the Rev. John Farthing, retired Hendrix College professor and now senior pastor of Greenbrier First United Methodist Church.

“His fast did not involve abstinence from food altogether, but allowed for limited consumption of food and drink,” Farthing said.

Wesley also advised moderation because he didn’t want Christians to fast so severely that they damaged their health.

Still, Farthing points out that Wesley’s idea of moderation would seem quite ascetic by today’s U.S. standards. Wesley was adamantly opposed to overindulgence. He also criticized the common Lenten practice in 18th century England of abstaining from pleasant food. In short, Wesley — like Ditmer — was not a big fan of giving up chocolate for Lent.

“I take that to mean that Wesley sees such minimal fasting as a trivializing of something important,” Farthing said. “I think the absence of an emphasis on Lenten fasting reflects Wesley’s desire for fasting to be an integral part of the Methodist lifestyle rather than just an annual observance.”


Prayer - 3rd Sunday in Lent (March 7)

3rd Sunday in Lent Prayer - Particular to Lancaster First UMC (March 7)

Almighty God, your Son Jesus Christ was lifted upon the cross so that he might draw the whole world to himself. Grant that we, who glory in this death for our salvation, may also glory in his call to take up our cross and follow him; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Friday, March 5, 2010

Wesley, The Movie

OK, all of you John Wesley fan club members! The movie, "Wesley," is being released and is being shown in various theaters around the country, but not in the Ohio area as far as I can tell. By going to the movie website, it appears that it might have the same quality as "Amazing Grace," the true story of William Wilberforce which premiered a few years ago.

With more United Methodist churches than post offices, I can see a bunch of DVDs of this movie being sold for use in new member classes, confirmation classes, and classes interested learning about the history of the Methodist movement.

If you read Wesley's journel entries, it's easy to see how there would be plenty of action tense moments for a full length movie.

When I read about this new movie on Wesley, I felt my heart strangely warmed.

Easter Is a Season!

Five months ago, I began preparing my Easter message which I will share at First United Methodist Church in Lancaster on Sunday, April 4. We preachers work extra hard on this particular sermon because there's so much at stake on this one Sunday of the year.

How does one go about conveying the good news of Jesus' victory over sin and death on this one day? There's so much that we want to say in this one Easter message. We want to talk about hope, new life, fresh beginnings, forgiveness of sins, eternal life, changing the world, the fulfillment of God's covenant, as well as a number of other themes related to Easter.

Because one day is not enough to celebrate the good news of Easter, the church has set aside a whole season to celebrate Jesus' resurrection. The church has a great name for this season; "the Great Fifty Days." From April 4 through May 23, Pentecost Sunday, the church will celebrate and explore the good news of Easter.

Easter is season and is too wonderful to confine to just one day on the calendar each year. It needs a full fifty days for us to celebrate it for all its worth. So have a blessed Easter season and to all the preachers out there, relax, you don't have to try to say it all on April 4.

Wednesday, March 3, 2010

March 3 - John & Charles Wesley Remembered

The Anglican and Episcopal church calendars have set aside today, March 3 as a time to give thanks to God for brothers, John and Charles Wesley, 18th century Anglican Priests who started the Methodist movement. March 3 was chosen since both John and Charles died during this month. Charles died in 1788 and John died in 1791.

Methodism began as a reform movement within the Church of England and in 1784 became it's own denomination in America. The denomination began as the Methodist Episcopal Church and in 1939 it became known as The Methodist Church, and in 1968, the the new name of The United Methodist Church was given because of a merger of The Methodist Church with the Evangelical United Brethren Church.

The prayer below recalls John Wesley's famous phrase when he received an assurance of his faith at a prayer meeting in London in 1738 - "I felt my heart strangely warmed."


Lord God, who inspired your servants John and Charles Wesley with burning zeal for the sanctification of souls, and endowed them with eloquence in speech and song: Kindle in your Church, we entreat you, such fervor, that those whose faith has cooled may be warmed, and those who have not known Christ may turn to him and be saved; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


2nd Week in Lent Devotional Message

United Theological Seminary, one of thirteen United Methodist seminaries and where I received my M. Div. degree, provides a weekly podcast based on the lectionary scripture readings. Check out this podcast message for this second week in Lent and allow it to be another "means of grace" during your lenten journey to the cross.

Click on the link below and when you get to the webpage, look on the left side to click on "listen" or you can also download it.

Gospel-pod 2nd Sunday in Lent


Monday, March 1, 2010

February 7th Sermon - "Cross Training - Soul"

Happy 207th Birthday, Ohio! (March 1, 1803)

Since today is the anniversary of when Ohio was officially admitted into the Union, I thought it would be helpful to provide information about Ohio and religion courtesy of research from the Pew Forum which appears at the bottom of my post.

Yesterday, Lancaster First UMC also began a spring new member class and for this first session, we focused on the history of the church and more specifically, the history of Methodism.

In 1773, seven years after the first official Methodist small group formed in America, there were 1,160 Methodists served by 10 preachers in Maryland, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania and Virginia.

By 1816, the number of Methodists had grown to 214,000. The primary reason Methodism experienced an incredible explosion of growth during this time period was due to our frontier friendly system of being able to establish Methodist class meetings and new Methodist congregations through Methodist circuit riding preachers who didn't stay in one place for too long but instead kept following the western expansion of our country.

We can see the fruits of this era of growth by all of the United Methodist churches in the West Ohio Conference that have been celebrating their bicentennial over the past few years.

Over the last forty years, United Methodism has been experiencing a decline from 11 million in 1968 to under 8 million today. And guess what church growth consultants are saying today about what United Methodists should do in order to reach more people for Jesus Christ? Start new worship services and new congregations to reach new populations of people with the good news of Jesus Christ. This is an example of where it would be good for history to repeat itself.

Religion (2008 Pew Research)
According to a Pew Forum poll, as of 2008, 76% of Ohioans identified as Christian.[81] Specifically, 26% of Ohio's population identified as Evangelical Protestant, 22% identified as Mainline Protestant, and 21% identified as Roman Catholic.[81] In addition, 17% of the population is unaffiliated with any religious body.[81] There are also small minorities of Jehovah's Witnesses (1%), Jews (1%), Muslims (1%), Hindus (<0.5%),>