A United Methodist Pastor's Theological Reflections

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

Monday, May 31, 2010

West Ohio Conference Recommendations (June 6 - 10)

Our West Ohio Annual Conference consisting of approximately 3,000 lay and clergy representing 1,150 United Methodist churches meets June 6 to 10 at the historic and scenic Lakeside grounds, in Lakeside, Ohio, along Lake Erie.

In addition to inspiring worship services, the ordination of Deacons and Elders, the approval of the conference budget, and times for learning and growth, Bishop Bruce Ough will preside over our legislative meetings. This year, we have seven recommendations to consider as an Annual Conference.
This year's theme is "Love in Action: Building Bridges Out of Poverty" which is one of four denominational goals for this quadrennium (2008 - 2012.)

Please keep Lancaster First UMC's representatives, Scott & Regina Gottliebson, Cheryl Foulk, Sam Halverson, and me in your prayers as we prepare to participate in this year's Annual Conference.

Recommendation #1:
Resolution To Support Abolishing Human Trafficking
Recommendation #2:
Recommendation #3:
Commission on Equitable Compensation
Recommendation #4:
Board of Pension and Health Benefits
Recommendation #5:
Resolution To Support Fair Trade
Recommendation #6:
Ministerial Sexual Ethics Policy
Recommendation #7:
Encouragement To Respond To Convictions Related To Modern Times

Sunday, May 30, 2010

Post May 30th Sermon Thoughts

Following today's sermon on "The Language of Faith" and how our religious and "churchy" language can sometimes become a barrier when we share our life of faith with the unchurched, think of some other church words we use on a regular basis. The list really adds up!

"Churchy Words from Today's Sermon"

1. Narthex - The space when you enter the front entrance of the church.
2. Sacristy - Room where altar supplies are stored.
3. Nave - The seating area of the worship space.
4. Cherub - Could refer to an angel or to the name of a children's choir.
5. Liturgist - Person who assists in a worship service.
6. Hymnal - Book of church worship songs and prayers.
7. Altar - Table located in front of the worship space
8. Acolyte - Person who lights the candles on the altar.
9. Trinity - A doctrine that says God is one but known in three persons (Father, Son, Spirit.)

Other "Churchy" Words
10. Partake - This comes from my brother who says we say this a lot for Holy Communion.
11. Bulletin - Program of the worship service.
12. Traditional/Contemporary - In referring to worship styles
13. Circle - As in United Methodist Women's Circle meetings which are prayer/study groups.
14. Chancel - Area surrounding the altar
15. Vestibule - An entrance area in the church.
16. Nicene & Apostles' Creed
17. Catholic - meaning "universal" as in "Holy Catholic Church" of Apostles' Creed.
18. Episcopal - Church governing system that has a Bishop assigned for a number of churches
19. "Extend the right hand of fellowship" - Phrase for "greet your neighbor."
20. "The Word" - Phrase referring to the Bible. Also can refer to Jesus Christ.
21. Sermon - Message given by the Pastor during worship.
22. Potluck - Church meals where people bring a dish to share.
23. Baptism - Water used on person signifying intiation into the congregation.

OK, I can go on and on. What churchy words/phrases come to your mind?

Sunday Worship Preview - June 6

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

Features - Music Sunday; 2nd Sunday After Pentecost; & Holy Communion
Scripture - Exodus 3:1-6; 4:1-5, 10-17 & Psalm 30:1-5, 11-12

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Happy Trinity Sunday! (May 30)

Trinity Sunday Collect (Prayer)

Almighty and everlasting God, you have given to us your servants grace, by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity, and in the power of your divine Majesty to worship the Unity: Keep us steadfast in this faith and worship, and bring us at last to see you in your one and eternal glory, O Father; who with the Son and the Holy Spirit live and reign, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Open for Sermon Suggestions!

In the month of August, I will be attending a sermon planning retreat and putting together a preaching schedule for 2011. Here are my specific goals for this year's retreat:

  • Spend this personal retreat time reconnecting with God through prayer, scripture, quiet reflection, Holy Communion, long walks, running, and worship.
  • Pray for First UMC, Lancaster, Ohio, that the sermon themes in 2011 will help us grow in what it means to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.
  • Enjoy God's beautiful creation.

Specifically related to the 2011 preaching schedule, there are three vital areas I will keep in mind in my planning:

1) Be faithful to the church's annual liturgical calendar which helps us to stay in rhythm with the church seasons such as Advent, Christmas, Lent, Easter, etc.

2) Reflect on the past, present, and future needs of the congregation.

3) In addition to sermons which will be based on the pre-selected scripture readings from the lectionary, I want to design several sermon series around various themes. I have discovered that sermon series can be effective since a congregation can spend an extended period of time on a topic, rather than just one Sunday.

Regarding the planning of themes around sermon series, I want to make sure that I have at least one sermon series per the following four categories - 1) evangelism 2) discipleship 3) pastoral care needs 4) equipping for ministry/service

If you have a particular topic that you would like me to consider addressing through a sermon series in 2011, let me know by the middle of August. I might not be able to incorporate your idea because of a limited number of Sundays, but the more ideas I receive, the better the brainstorming will be! Some of the sermon series ideas that I thought would make the cut for 2010 didn't make it because of the specific needs of the congregation.

The picture with this post was taken at last year's sermon planning retreat. I stayed at a friend's beautiful summer home which was located by a scenic lake.

A Tribute to Youth Leaders

Yesterday, my daughter, an adult youth mentor in her church, called me about a situation involving a troubled youth. She wanted some advice on how she might approach this very difficult situation. Actually, she has already done a great job in assessing the situation, knowing who should be involved, and realizing what her role is and what her role isn't as a volunteer.

After I got off the phone, I thanked God for my daughter as well as for the countless numbers of adult youth mentors and Youth Pastors who encounter these kinds of issues facing our young people on a regular basis. To all who minister to the youth of the church, thank you for the many times you go above and beyond the call of duty in offering the hope and love of Jesus Christ for our young people as they grow up "in an unsteady and confusing world."

A Prayer for Our Youth

God our Father, you see your children growing up in an unsteady and confusing world: Show them that your ways give more life than the ways of the world, and that following you is better than chasing after selfish goals. Help them to take failure, not as a measure of their worth, but as a chance for a new start. Give them strength to hold their faith in you, and to keep alive their joy in your creation; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen

Thursday, May 27, 2010

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.

Some say that no news is good news.
I say no to that.

The call came in the middle of the day.
It was mid-March
I wasn't home at the time,
so the message went to voice mail.

It was from the organization that I participate with
to sponsor a child.

My sponsored child, Jean Bernard,
lives in Haiti,
or at least I hoped he still lived in Haiti.

On January 12, 2010
a massive earthquake struck the poorest nation
in the western hemisphere.
The results were (and still are) catastrophic.

As I heard the news,
my first thoughts went to Jean Bernard...
Is he still alive?

Weeks went by,
the news from Haiti
appeared to get worse,
as a nation that had nothing to begin with,
struggled to survive
when even the the nothing was taken away from them.

When I retrieved the voice mail,
my heart raced
when I heard it was from the sponsoring organization,
I knew it must be about Jean Bernard.

It was an automated call,
very expected since they had thousands of children
to account for following the earthquake.

Mr. McDowell,
you are Jean Bernard's sponsor.
We want to inform you that.....

The worst possible thing happened at that moment.
No, I wasn't informed that he was dead.

No, the message became unintelligible.
I couldn't make out the last part of the sentence.

The worst possible thing isn't receiving bad news,
it is receiving no news at all.

Weeks continued to roll by.
I sent in an additional check for a birthday
that Jean Bernard might never celebrate.

A previous sponsored child of mine in Africa
had died from the measles,,,,,,

I remember the empty feeling at that time
when a child that I had never met, but loved,
died of a disease
that in America,
is merely a week off of school.

It was that child's death
that led me to the sponsorship of Jean Bernard.
And now,
the earthquake.

Last week
I received a letter from Jean Bernard.
I usually receive a letter every three months.
The earthquake only caused me to miss one of his letters.

He told me that God has blessed him,
he only suffered a broken arm,
but an aunt and a uncle had died.

His school was badly damaged,
but his church was still standing.
Each week he continues to go to Sunday School
and mid-week programs,
where he learns of God's love.

He said that he prays for my family
and that he hopes that I can visit him some day.

I hope that day comes soon.
I want, no I need to meet this young man
who in the midst of a catastrophic disaster,
can testify to love and faithfulness of God.

Some say no news is good news.
I say no.
The good news is that there is eternal good news
in the person of Jesus Christ.

And no earthquake
can shake that news away.

Happy Birthday Jean Bernard!

How lovely on the mountains
are the feet of him who brings good news.,
who announces peace
and brings good news of happiness,
who announces salvation,
and says to God's people,
"Your God reigns!"

Post Bible Study Reflections

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.

Prayer for Trinity Sunday
Almighty God, you have given us grace, by the confession of the faith of your holy church, to acknowledge the mystery of the eternal Trinity and, in the power of your divine majesty, to worship the Unity. Keep us steadfast in faith through the reading and hearing of your holy word and bring us at last to see in your eternal glory, one God, now and forever. Amen.

Psalm 8
• Verses 4-7 – (See Hebrews 2:5-9 where this is attributed to Christ.)
• Verse 4 – “ben adam” or “mortals” literally means “children of earth.”
• Verses 5-8 – Reflects the 6th day of creation (Genesis 1:26-30) Human beings are meant to be priests and rulers under God’s rule. This is a lofty purpose for human beings!
• Verse 5 – The words used for “God” is plural. Does this reflect the Trinity?

1) What does it mean for us to be priests and rulers under God’s rule? How can we refrain from being triumphalist and rule with Christ-like humility instead.

Romans 5:1-5
• Look for the purpose/mission of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit in this passage.
• Verses 1 & 2 – Celebrates our access into the presence of God. This is the language of the Temple.
• Verse 3 – We can celebrate IN our sufferings not BECAUSE of our sufferings. It builds character and shapes us into the people we were created to be.
• Verse 5 – What is the Holy Spirit in relation to this verse?

John 16:12-15
• Jesus uses imagery of giving birth to express what is going to happen through is suffering, death, and resurrection. (See v. 21)
• New creation (Genesis creation story) is about to be birthed. The outpouring of the Holy Spirit will bring about this new creation. But, like childbirth, there will first be pain and struggle.

Monday, May 24, 2010

"I Felt My Heart Strangely Warmed"

John Wesley's Journal Entry - May 24, 1738

In the evening I went very unwillingly to a society in Aldersgate Street, where one was reading Luther’s preface to the Epistle to the Romans. About a quarter before nine, while he was describing the change which God works in the heart through faith in Christ, I felt my heart strangely warmed. I felt I did trust in Christ, Christ alone, for salvation; and an assurance was given me that He had taken away my sins, even mine, and saved me from the law of sin and death.

I began to pray with all my might for those who had in a more especial manner despitefully used me and persecuted me. I then testified openly to all there what I now first felt in my heart. But it was not long before the enemy suggested, “This cannot be faith; for where is thy joy?” Then was I taught that peace and victory over sin are essential to faith in the Captain of our salvation; but that, as to the transports of joy that usually attend the beginning of it, especially in those who have mourned deeply, God sometimes giveth, sometimes withholdeth, them according to the counsels of His own will.

After my return home, I was much buffeted with temptations, but I cried out, and they fled away. They returned again and again. I as often lifted up my eyes, and He “sent me help from his holy place.” And herein I found the difference between this and my former state chiefly consisted. I was striving, yea, fighting with all my might under the law, as well as under grace. But then I was sometimes, if not often, conquered; now, I was always conqueror.

Gulf Oil Spill Prayer

This was recently posted on my daily scripture/prayer devotional site. It's a prayer to help us cry out to God with our prayers and confessions regarding the Gulf oil spill.

Litany for the Deepwater Horizon Disaster

This is wrong.
Lord, have mercy.

This will be wrong for a long time to come.
Lord, have mercy.

We bless greed, and we, ourselves, are filled with greed.
Lord, have mercy.

We demand more energy for our homes, autos, farms, industries, war machines
Lord, have mercy.

We demand more plastic things that begin from oil: things big and small, things exotic, things expensive, things ordinary, things cheap. And, we do not know or knowing, choose to forget, that all these things come to us at a very high price, indeed.
Lord, have mercy.

And we have come to this.
Lord, have mercy.

On the souls of the 11 men who died in the explosion in the Gulf of Mexico
Lord, have mercy.

On the bodies and souls of all injured in that explosion
Lord, have mercy.

On the families, friends, and co-workers of these people
Lord, have mercy.

On the ocean, your marvelous creation,
Lord, have mercy.

On all the creatures that live in the sea
Lord, have mercy.

On all the creatures that live on the sea
Lord, have mercy

On all the creatures that live near the sea
Lord, have mercy

On the executives of British Petroleum, Transocean, and all other associated companies
Lord, have mercy

Bless them to understand and to acknowledge what they have done
Lord, have mercy

And bless us to understand and to acknowledge that we should not have made and can no longer make the demands we have been making.
Lord, have mercy.

How Did I Miss this Book?

How did I miss seeing this recent book, "The Mystery of the Cross," by Judith Couchman, published by InterVarsity Press? For this past season of Lent, I put together a sermon series on "Crosses of Jesus," in which we focused on six different crosses of Jesus to help us reflect on the meaning of Jesus' sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world.

This book would have come in really handy if I would have stumbled upon it sooner. Since there is a wealth of information regarding the crosses of Jesus thanks to Christian tradition and historical sources, the research for this sermon series wasn't too much of a problem. The difficulty was in deciding what information to include and not include for each sermon.

When I stumbled upon Couchman's book this morning, I couldn't help but to imagine how this would have been really helpful six months ago when I began preparing for the series! And the real kicker is that her book is available on Kindle, my favorite way to read.

Speaking of preparing for future sermon series, for our fall stewardship program, I'm presently reading Jim Tressel's "The Winners Manual," as a source especially for the Sunday in that series when we will be talking about the importance of making and keeping commitments. This is a series that will explore the five United Methodist membership vows of prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness, and what those vows mean to us as we make commitments in each of these areas for the coming year. The title of that sermon series is "Marks of a Christian."

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - May 30

May 30 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, June 2 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Language of Faith"

Features - Trinity Sunday & Memorial Day Weekend

Scripture - Psalm 8; Romans 5:1-5; & John 16:12-15

Theme - Have you ever stopped to consider how many religious words we use in the life of the church? It seems that we have a religious word for everything! On this Trinity Sunday, we will think about “the language of faith” we use and how it can lead us into a loving relationship with the God of all creation.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Pentecost Sunday - What Does It Mean for Us?

Pentecost (Sunday, May 23rd) is the final day of the Easter season (the Great Fifty Days.) It's the 50th day from Easter Sunday in which the church is called to celebrate the good news of the resurrection of Jesus Christ. The resurrection of Jesus Christ is good news for a number of reasons:

1) It's the launching of the long awaited biblical hope of new creation so that the resurrection of Jesus is the foretaste of that time in the future when death and sin will be swallowed up forever. 2) It's the vindication of Jesus showing the rulers of the world who the true ruler of the world is. 3) It's the confirmation that through faith in Christ, one day, we too, will be given new bodies that will not subject to sickness or death. 4) It's the announcement that Christ's followers are called to live out the new creation project in the here and now. Which leads us to the significance of Pentecost Sunday:
Pentecost Sunday is the day when the Holy Spirit came upon the disciples empowering them to live out their resurrection faith by establishing God's rule for the world through acts of compassion and justice. Jesus, who ascended to his rightful rule in heaven on the fortieth day after his resurrection and who promises to reappear in the future when God will renew all of creation, enables us to live out God's kingdom rule in the present through the giving of the Holy Spirit.

For me, the key point about Pentecost Sunday is that it reminds us that we are not alone in building God's kingdom in our present day. The Holy Spirit empowers, indwells, equips, prods, and comforts us to live out our faith with courage and boldness until that time in the future when Jesus will reappear. God will take all that we have done through the power of the Holy Spirit and through a special act of his grace, will renew all of creation and there will be no more mourning, injustice, sin, or death. Heaven and earth will be joined together once and for all.

Pentecost Sunday Collect (Prayer)

O God, who on this day taught the hearts of your faithful people by sending to them the light of your Holy Spirit: Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things, and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort; through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Your Favorite Verse

At yesterday's West Ohio annual clergy session, the names of twenty-nine clergy members who are retiring this year were read. Over my years of ministry at these annual meetings, there has been a number of ways that the retirement class has been acknowledged.

When I first came to the conference in the late 80's, each newly retired clergy member for that year was given an opportunity to speak about an experience or two or three at the podium. This was one of my favorite parts of Annual Conference, to hear heart-felt real life pastoral ministry stories as well as humorous stories about pastoral ministry. It almost felt like comedy club night in a good way. This all ended one year when one of the retired clergy said some inappropriate things at the podium and for the next several years, they had two designated members of the retirement class share prepared speeches.

For some other years, each newly retired clergy would walk across a make-shift bridge as their names were read to symbolize this new transition in their lives (from active pastoral ministry into retired ministry.)

Yesterday, we tried out a new way of acknowledging our retired clergy by inviting each one to come to a microphone as their names were read and they took turns reading a bible verse that has meant a lot to them during their pastoral ministry. This ended up being a very powerful and meaningful experience to hear the verses that were chosen. As the verses were read, I couldn't help but to wonder what experiences in pastoral ministry led the person to share a particular verse.

One of the repeated verses I heard was Romans 8:28 - "We know that all things work together for good for those who love God, who are called according to his purpose."

As I heard this verse read more than a few times, I thought about the collective wisdom of these newly retired clergy and how they have learned over the years to trust in God's faithfulness especially when going through experiences of doubt, uncertainty, and heartache.

At the end of the sharing of bible verses, I was thinking that it would be nice to hear church members share their favorite bible verses. Just hearing those verses, lifted my spirit and reminded me of how the scriptures are an important "means of grace," as we go through life's experiences.

What verse would you choose?

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

When United Methodists Disagree

Evidently, delegates to our West Ohio Annual Conference (June 6-10) will be discussing a controversial issue when we gather at Lakeside, Ohio in a few weeks. Delegates, which include both clergy and laity, have been given guidelines for how we are to discuss and debate this issue so that we do so in a manner that is Christlike.

These are the same guidelines used by General Conference which meets every four years and debates and votes on several issues, some being controversial. I think these are excellent guidelines and ones that we should keep in mind in the local church as well as in our day to day conversations. What do you think?

Guidelines for a Christlike Dialogue

Every person is a child of God. Always speak respectfully. One can disagree without being disagreeable.

As you patiently listen and observe the behavior of others, be open to the possibility that God can change the views of any or all parties in the discussion.

Listen patiently before formulating responses.

Strive to understand the experience out of which others have arrived at their views.

Be careful in how you express personal offense at differing opinions. Otherwise dialogue may be inhibited.

Accurately reflect the views of others when speaking. This is especially important when you disagree with that position.

Avoid using inflammatory words, derogatory names or an excited and angry voice.

Avoid making generalizations about individuals and groups. Make your point with specific evidence and examples.

Make use of facilitators and mediators.

Remember that people are defined, ultimately, by their relationship with God - not by the flaws we discover, or think we discover, in their views and actions.


Monday, May 17, 2010

Christian Mentoring

Christian mentoring is pretty simple. It's when a follower of Jesus connects with another follower of Jesus who is farther along in the faith journey to receive encouragement, growth, and support. Of course, in some ways, this is a two way street since we can all learn and grow from each other. But in another way, being able to connect with someone who is a more mature and experienced Christian is invaluable.

A couple of nights ago, I called my Christian mentor of more than twenty years on the phone. A retired United Methodist pastor with over forty years of pastoral ministry, his great wealth of experiences and wisdom have helped me to stay grounded not only in my personal faith but also in my professional life.

In his usual way, he shared with me about other churches that have experienced similar situations and was able to offer some thoughts on how I/we might proceed. After our phone conversation, I felt different. I felt affirmed. I felt renewed confidence. I didn't feel alone. And I felt the presence of the Holy Spirit in a new way.

I'm so glad that he's only a phone call away.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - May 23

May 23 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, May 26 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - Pentecost Sunday (Wear red clothing to symbolize the outpouring of the Holy Spirit upon the church.)

Scripture - Acts 2:1-21; Romans 8:14-17; & John 14:8-17

Friday, May 14, 2010

May 9th Sermon - "Trying to Put a Faith to a Name"

Post Bible Study Reflections

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.

Genesis 25:24-34
• The great Partriarchs – Abraham, Isaac, Jacob
• Jacob is born just after twin brother, Esau
• Verse 23 – “The elder shall serve the younger” is a common theme in the Old Testament. Examples: I Chronicles 5:1-2; Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon.
• Name, “Jacob,” is a word play (one who supplants)
• Esau is an outdoorsman & Jacob is a tent dweller
• Jacob tricks Esau for his birthright. What’s at stake? See Deut. 21:15-17

1. Verse 30 – What do you think the “red stuff stew” tasted like?
2. The Old Testament points out how the preferential treatment of one child over another by parents can have negative consequences. What does this say about family relationships today?
3. Is the bible trying to say something to us by having so many examples of role reversals – the elder ending up serving the younger?
4. Think about the rest of the Jacob/Esau story. Jacob also steals the blessing from Esau while Abraham is on his death bed. Jacob flees from Esau. Jacob gets swindled by his uncle Laban. Esau and Jacob eventually get reconciled. What does this story tell us about the possibilities of forgiveness and reconciliation?
5. Who made the biggest mistake in the story? Jacob for taking advantage of his brother’s hunger or Esau for allowing himself to be in a position of being desperate for food?
6. The larger story over this story of Jacob & Esau, is the covenant that God made with Abraham for Abraham’s family to be the means by which God would bring salvation to the world. God seems to take a great risk to entrust salvation with people who would end up cheating each other. What does this say about who God is and who we are?

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Happy Ascension Day!

Ascension Day is one of the key dates on the church calendar. It is the day when we celebrate Jesus' ascension to sit at the right hand of his heavenly Father, after having spent 40 days with the disciples in his resurrected body following Easter Sunday.

On this day, we are reminded that Jesus Christ has rightfully taken his rule over all creation and will one day reappear and all of creation will be renewed and restored forever.

Happy Ascension Day!

Almighty God, whose blessed Son our Savior Jesus Christ ascended far above all heavens that he might fill all things: Mercifully give us faith to perceive that, according to his promise, he abides with his Church on earth, even to the end of the ages; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, in glory everlasting. Amen

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Post Fainting Humor

This past Sunday morning in the middle of worship, this preacher did something a preacher would not want to do on any Sunday but particularly not on Mothers' Day, let alone Confirmation Sunday.

The church was packed, friends from out of town were sitting with the wife, I step to the podium, and down I go. The next thing I remember is one of the confirmation leaders waking me up after I had fainted in the chancel area. The culprit? Food poisoning. Or more dramatically, as Ralphie from the movie, "A Christmas Story," says it so well with just one little word change to fit my situation, "It was...food poisoning."

Long story, short, by Tuesday, I was back to my normal self. On Wednesday morning (today) I conducted a funeral. It was pretty large, about 75 people in attendance. It's my first public appearance leading a service since the fainting incident and the first scripture I read is one I use often at funerals - Isaiah 40:28-31.

"Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power the faint, and strengthens the powerless. Even youths will faint and be weary, and the young will fall exhausted; but those who wait for the Lord shall renew their strength, they shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint."

I couldn't help but to smile as I read that text. God really does have a sense of humor.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Sunday, May 9 Pastoral Prayer

As Lancaster First United Methodist Church is going through a staff restructuring, I wrote out this pastoral prayer to be used for the May 9th worship services.

Let us pray: Gracious God, when you were preparing your disciples for that time when you would be leaving them, you shared with them words of hope and promise. And even better, you said that you would be sending them the Holy Spirit, the Advocate, the Helper. In this Season of Easter, we are trusting in your promise that your Holy Spirit will indeed come, just as the Spirit came upon those first disciples on the Day of Pentecost when they were gathered in the upper room.

Come Holy Spirit, come and surround First United Methodist Church as we go through this time of significant transition facing our staff and congregation.

Come Holy Spirit, come and surround us in our uncertainty, in our pain, in our questions, in our frustrations, and in our fears.

Come Holy Spirit, bind up the brokenhearted and for those who have been entrusted with the responsibility of caring for our resources.

Come Holy Spirit, come and remind us what it means to be your disciples in the midst of turmoil and adversity.

Come Holy Spirit, come and surround this great church as we seek to find unity in the midst of our diversity and what it means to walk side by side as brothers and sisters in Christ.

Come Holy Spirit, come and empower and equip your church on this Confirmation Sunday, so that we can be the church that you have created us to be.

Come Holy Spirit, Come Holy Spirit. Come Holy Spirit. Amen.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Sunday Worship Preview - May 16

May 16 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, May 19 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Features - 7th Sunday of Easter & "Sunday Shop" Worship

Scripture - Genesis 25:24-34

Theme - Leaders from our Sunday School children's program called Sunday Shop will be leading all three worship services and helping us to see what goes on during this very innovative multi-media time every Sunday morning at 11 A.M. in Fellowship Hall. The theme will be "waiting until later for what you want now."

Thursday, May 6, 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:

Acts 16:9-15
• Paul’s ministry in Phillipi, a Roman colony.
• Notice Paul’s approach to sharing the good news of Jesus Christ. He doesn’t just walk on main street preaching about Jesus. The authorities would stop you. Paul needed a base of operations which was often, the local synagogue.
• There was no synagogue in Phillipi, so Paul went to an informal Jewish prayer gathering by the river. Probably this consisted of Jewish women with Greek husbands. Lydia, in this story isn’t even Jewish, she is a God-fearer, meaning a Gentile who sought to follow Judaism.
• Lydia was a businesswoman, working with purple cloth which would have meant she was dealing at the top end of the market!
• Lydia’s conversion – Lord helped her to pay attention to what Paul was saying. She had already been praying so she was open. She and her household were baptized. Paul and his companions stay at her home and this allowed them to have a base for their ministry. To host this many people, meant that she was wealthy.

1. What are our base of operations to help us in sharing the good news of Jesus Christ? Is a church building all we need? Think of creative places that Christians can have a base of operations in sharing the good news of Christ.
2. Lydia’s household was baptized. What does this say about the members of her family who were baptized? Did they have a say in the decision? Do you think they welcomed it?

John 14:23-29
• Jesus is preparing his disciples for when he would be leaving them. He promises them that the Holy Spirit will come to them, reminding them of what he has taught them.
• If the disciples stay focused on Jesus, they will experience God’s peace, a peace which the world cannot offer. This peace assures them of Jesus’ presence and assures them that Jesus will be with the Father.

1. How does the Holy Spirit help you to remember the things that Jesus taught and did?
2. This passage speaks of the importance of the Holy Spirit. Do you think we emphasize the Holy Spirit in our faith? Why or why not?
3. This passage is often used at funerals because it focuses on the peace that Jesus wants to give to us in times of heartache and need. When have you felt God’s peace during a troubling time?


April 25th Sermon - "Big Questions: Is the Bible Reliable?"

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Often Repeated Words of Hope

This Sunday at Lancaster First UMC, we will hear these wonderful words of promise during worship from the Gospel reading:

"Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled, and do not let them be afraid." - John 14:27

We often hear these words at a funeral service or at a graveside committal as we say goodbye to a loved one. But they are also very comforting words during other storms of life like when we feel betrayed or we face a challenge greater than what we know we can handle or we step out of our comfort zones to be involved in risk-taking ministry and service.

This is a good verse to tuck away in our memory. And if you're concerned that you may forget this promise when you face your next storm, Jesus even has something to say about that concern. Read John 14:26

Monday, May 3, 2010

I'm Praying for You

This morning, out of the blue, I receive an e-mail from a member of a past church I served letting me know that she is praying for me today. She read something in her daily devotional reading that talked about praying for pastors so she took the time to send me a note of encouragement.

As I went through the day facing difficult decisions and moments of uncertainty, I found myself thinking back to this person who had sent me the e-mail earlier in the day. At the time, I didn't realize how important her prayers would be. But now, at 11:30 P.M. and looking back on my day, I don't know what I would have done without them.

And thankfully, I'm sure there will be someone else taking up the cause to pray for the preacher when the sun rises again.

Thank you for the prayers, Kelley.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

April 11th Sermon - "Big Questions - Is God Real?"

Sunday Worship Preview - May 9

May 9 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, May 12 (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Putting a Faith to a Name"

Features - 6th Sunday of Easter; Confirmation Sunday; & Mothers’ Day

Scripture - Acts 16:9-15 & John 14:23-29

Theme - Jesus prepares his disciples for the time that he will be leaving them and promises them that the Holy Spirit will come to remind them of all of his teachings. How does the Holy Spirit help us to remember the life and ministry of Jesus Christ? Even for those of us who don’t do well in remembering things, we might be surprised just how much the Holy Spirit can help us!