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, November 30, 2011

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, you just aren't sure which way to go.
I live in a garden.
It is beautiful countryside
with rolling hills, forests, and streams.

I have lived here much of my life,
so you would think I would know my way around by now.
I have lived here long enough,
that when people ask for directions,
I reference them to landmarks
that exist only in my memory.......

I've been known to say.......

Yeah, that's easy to get to.
Go down the road and turn left at the Smith's barn.
They tore it down a few years ago.
Then just turn right at the old Miller farm.
They are all dead now.

Yep, that's me.
Some help, I am.
I am pretty good with directions.
I have a strong sense of north, south, east, and west.
But just across the highway,
there is this town and surrounding region
that even I can't figure out.

The town is located at the base of some extreme hills.
It appropriately has the word Glen in it's name.
It's not an easy place to get to.

School buses have to squeeze their way
through one lane railroad underpasses
as they navigate blind curves and crying children.

I have driven roads over there
with curves that I am sure
far exceed 360 degrees,
thus making me feel like I am being flushed down a toilet.

Every rainstorm
turns into a flash flood
as every drop of rain works its way
to the center of town.

Straight, level roads do not exist in this zipcode.
But it's not just the geography
that confuses me.
It's the road signs.

Many of them start with the word Glen.
Glen Valley Road
Glenvue Road
Glen Ridge Court

My GPS quivers when I punch in this town's name.
Google Maps cringe with fear when I mention this zip code.

Occasionally I take food supplies
to this labyrynth that begins with Glen.
There is a ministry for single woman and children
to which we donate food.

As many times as I have somehow managed to arrive
at this hilly destination,
you would think I would know how to get there.

Not so much.
The folks there consider each donation of food
to be their miracle of the day.
I consider my arrival
to be the true miracle.

A trip to this ministry
is like playing a game of Chutes and Ladders,
but for me there are always more chutes than ladders.

A few days after Thanksgiving,
I was once again dared to cross the highway
and enter this land of hill and dale and misdirection.
This time,
I came away with proof.
It's not just me.
What do you do when you get to an instersection like this?
Sometimes you just reach confusing intersections in life.
Middle school felt like that.
College felt like that.
Many seasons of adulthood have felt like that.
Sometime's it's difficult to know which way to turn.
I am unlike most males.
I believe in asking for directions.
That includes prayer.
Sometimes you receive specific direction.
But sometimes you don't get clearcut answers.
Do I take this job offer,
or should I go another way?
Do I pick this school,
or is there another school out there for me?
Do I stay in this abusive relationship
or should I leave?
Sometimes the Lord give clear direction.
And sometimes, the Lord trusts us enough
to rely on the wisdom, information, and history
that He has provided us.
I believe there are times in our lives
when we aren't sure whether to turn right or left.
But I also believe that God is bigger than our decisions.
That whether we choose this path, or another,
all paths remain in God's ultimate will.
for those who put their trust in Him.
Are you at an intersection in your life,
where the road signs aren't helping?
The disciples were known to cast lots
when a clear decision wasn't on the horizon.
Perhaps the emphasis shouldn't be so much on the decision,
but on the One who will carry us through the decision.
After all, He has a pretty good track record.......
He has never been known to get lost,
even across the highway.
And we know that God causes ALL things
to work together for good
Romans 8:28

Share Your Story - Thank You, Fred Craddock!

Fred Craddock, one of the greatest preachers of our time was recently featured on CNN.  Considered one of the top twelve preachers in the English speaking world, Craddock has been known for his narrative style of preaching.  My preaching class in seminary used his excellent text book on the art of preaching. Thanks to Fred Craddock, preachers have been able to reclaim the importance of storytelling in the crafting of sermons. 

Reading this article on Craddock has reminded me of one of the basic aspects of the Christian faith. We are called to share our faith story.  And yet, sharing our faith story is something that has largely gone by the wayside especially in the mainline church. 

A pastor friend of mine recently told me how his congregation loves it when he weaves in real life and personal stories in his preaching.  Another preacher claims that people in the pews view the sermon time as an opportunity to eavesdrop on hearing how God is active in the day to day life of the preacher.  I like that thought.  People who are curious about faith want to know how God is at work in your life.

And this focus on the importance of sharing your story is a very biblical concept since the bible is largely in story form.  This narrative approach lends itself for us to find where we are located in God's story.  I've been reading the book, "The King Jesus Gospel" by Scott McKnight who makes the point that the word, "gospel" refers to the story of how Jesus is the completion of the Israel story.  His critique is with Christians who have reduced the bible to a set of propositions setting aside the bigger story picture of the scriptures.  McKnight reminds us that the bible is the story of God's salvation and it invites us to see ourselves in this story.

A lot of people shy away from the word, "evangelism" because it has been used in negative ways.  At its heart, evangelism is simply God's people sharing their story of how God is at work in their lives.  It's when we share our faith stories with others that people are able to hear the good news of Jesus Christ and see that God is real.

Just think what a difference it would make if we find more ways to share our faith story/stories with people inside and outside the church.  People would be able to see how God's story is being lived out in the day to day living of ordinary people.

Thank you, Fred Craddock for how you have helped the church to share our story.


Sunday, November 27, 2011

Christmas Play Introduction - "Democratic Republic of the Congo"

     The Democratic Republic of the Congo is one of four United Methodist mission partnerships that our West Ohio Conference has throughout the world.  The others are with United Methodists in Mexico, Russia, and Vietnam.  Our international partnerships remind us that our faith is a global faith and one that includes different customs, languages, and ways of expressing the good news of Jesus Christ. 
     The United Methodist Church has a long and far reaching presence in the Democratic Republic of the Congo.  When fighting broke out in 1999, the local United Methodist Churches reached out to assist the internally displaced persons who had arrived as refugees from the wars in Rwanda and Burundi.  The United Methodist Church of the DRC has been recognized as a major contributor among the faith based community in helping the peace process take hold.
     In 2002, our United Methodist Committee on Relief (UMCOR) opened an office in the country to offer programs that focus on health, nutrition, and agriculture.  To date, the United Methodist Church has helped to stop the spread of Malaria through the distribution of 30,000 nets reaching 13,557 households including 15,461 children under the age of 5 and 3,634 pregnant women.
     Over 26,000 individual house to house awareness visits have been made to share information about Malaria and how the United Methodist Church can be of help. 
     72,000 people directly benefit from the food security program of the United Methodist Committee on Relief.
     I’m pleased to announce that our church will be sending a $1,000 gift out of our church budget to support our United Methodist ministry outreach in the DRC, Mexico, Russia, and Vietnam.
     Christians in the Democratic Republic of the Congo have a lot to teach us about preparing for Christmas.  For one thing, they don’t focus on presents like we do here because of their deep poverty.  Instead, they prepare for the holiday by acting out the Christmas story through plays.  On early Christmas Eve, people in the church will gather and act out different scenes from the bible.  They’ll time these skits just right so that when the clock strikes midnight, Jesus is born.  But even then, they continue on through dawn with more skits and the singing of carols.
     Because of this, we thought it would be fun to join our brothers and sisters in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, by celebrating our own Christmas play.  So sit back and enjoy.
     And as they say in the DRC, “Mbotama Malamu!”
     Merry Christmas!

1st Sunday of Advent Prayer (Week of November 27)

Almighty God, give us grace to cast away the works of darkness, and put on the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life in which your Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility; that in the last day, when he shall come again in his glorious majesty to judge both the living and the dead, we may rise to the life immortal; through him who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - December 4

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

Sermon - "Christmas Around the World: Mexico"

Features - 2nd Sunday of Advent

Scripture - Isaiah 40:3-5, 9-11 & Mark 1:1-8

Theme - This year’s Advent Season will focus on the four mission partnerships of our West Ohio Conference. These include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico, Russia, and Vietnam. On this second Sunday, we focus on Mexico and we will participate in a traditional Las Posadas service. 

Monday, November 21, 2011

Here's to a Tension Free Thanksgiving!

This has circulated around the cyber world many times but it is worth repeating here during the week of Thanksgiving.  May your holiday be filled with peace and happiness and void of tension and the feeling that everything has to be just perfect.  I think the story below is actually true.  It's the food equivalent to Bridezillas.  Enjoy!

From: Marney

As you all know a fabulous Thanksgiving Dinner does not make itself. I need to ask each of you to help by bringing something to complete the meal. I truly appreciate your offers to assist with the meal preparation.

Now, while I do have quite a sense of humor and joke around all the time, I COULD NOT BE MORE SERIOUS when I am providing you with your Thanksgiving instructions and orders. I am very particular, so please perform your task EXACTLY as I have requested and read your portion very carefully. If I ask you to bring your offering in a container that has a lid, bring your offering in a container WITH A LID, NOT ALUMINUM FOIL! If I ask you to bring a serving spoon for your dish, BRING A SERVING SPOON, NOT A SOUP SPOON! And please do not forget anything.

All food that is to be cooked should already be prepared, bring it hot and ready to serve, warm or room temp. These are your ONLY THREE options. Anything meant to be served cold should, of course, already be cold.

The Mike Byron Family

1. Turnips in a casserole with a lid and a serving spoon. Please do not fill the casserole all the way up to the top, it gets too messy. I know this may come as a bit of a surprise to you, but most of us hate turnips so don’t feel like you a have to feed an army.

2. Two half gallons of ice cream, one must be VANILLA, I don’t care what the other one is. No store brands please. I did see an ad this morning for Hagan Daz Peppermint Bark Ice Cream, yum!! (no pressure here, though).

3. Toppings for the ice cream.

4. A case of bottled water, NOT gallons, any brand is ok.

The Bob Byron Family

1. Green beans or asparagus (not both) in a casserole with a lid and a serving spoon. If you are making the green beans, please prepare FOUR pounds, if you are making asparagus please prepare FIVE pounds. It is up to you how you wish to prepare them, no soupy sauces, no cheese (you know how Mike is), a light sprinkling of toasted nuts, or pancetta, or some EVOO would be a nice way to jazz them up.

2. A case of beer of your choice (I have Coors Light and Corona) or a bottle of clos du bois chardonnay (you will have to let me know which you will bring prior to 11/22).

The Lisa Byron Chesterford Family

1. Lisa as a married woman you are now required to contribute at the adult level. You can bring an hors d’ouvres. A few helpful hints/suggestions. Keep it very light, and non-filling, NO COCKTAIL SAUCE, no beans of any kind. I think your best bet would be a platter of fresh veggies and dip. Not a huge platter mind you (i.e., not the plastic platter from the supermarket).

The Michelle Bobble Family

1. Stuffing in a casserole with a serving spoon. Please make the stuffing sans meat.

2. 2.5-3 qts. of mashed squash in a casserole with a lid and serving spoon

3. Proscuitto pin wheel – please stick to the recipe, no need to bring a plate.

4. A pie knife

The June Davis Family

1. 15 LBS of mashed potatoes in a casserole with a serving spoon. Please do not use the over-size blue serving dish you used last year. Because you are making such a large batch you can do one of two things: put half the mash in a regulation size casserole with lid and put the other half in a plastic container and we can just replenish with that or use two regulation size casserole dishes with lids. Only one serving spoon is needed.

2. A bottle of clos du bois chardonnay

The Amy Misto Family (why do I even bother she will never read this)

1. A pumpkin pie in a pie dish (please use my silver palate recipe) no knife needed.

2. An apple pie in a pie dish, you can use your own recipe, no knife needed.

Looking forward to the 28th!!


Sunday, November 20, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - November 27

Sunday, November 27 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, November 30  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Christmas Around the World: Democratic Republic of the Congo"

Features - 1st Sunday of Advent, Holy Communion, & Holy Baptism

Scripture - Mark 13:24-37

Theme - This year’s Advent Season will focus on the four mission partnerships of our West Ohio Conference.  These include the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mexico, Russia, and Vietnam. On this first Sunday, we focus on the DRC and their Christian tradition of nativity skits/plays with our own fun Christmas play.

Christ the King Sunday Prayer - November 20

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

A Look Down Memory Lane - OSU vs. PSU

Ever since Penn State joined the Big Ten in the early 90's, this Pennsylvania boy living in Ohio has enjoyed some good ribbing over the annual OSU vs. PSU football rivaly.  From a Penn State perspective, Ohio State and Michigan have replaced the old Penn State/Pitt annual rivalry in terms of game build-up and excitement.  From an Ohio State perspective, Michigan is still the game circled on the calendar for all Buckeye fans, but the Penn State game is not that far behind.

Having said all of this, what a strange pre-game week this has been!  Gone is the ribbing and the good natured trash talking.  The child abuse scandal at Penn State has changed everything.  While the game today will still be filled with a lot of passion and emotion, the real focus for many who watch this game will be on this tragedy and the missed opportunities by a university that has provided itself in following the motto, "Success with Honor." 

Instead of fun jabs being exchanged between me and my congregation this past week, I have received e-mails, facebook messages, and phone calls from wonderful Buckeye fans offering their support and prayers for everyone involved in this child abuse scandal.  All of this has reminded of how our faith supersedes any pride or passion in winning "the big game."  Another case in point is the recent news of the tragic death of the two basketball coaches of the women's team at Oklahoma State University.  There was definitely a cloud over their game with Iowa State last night on ESPN.  I was moved by what the Iowa State announcer told the people in the stadium just before kick-off last night.  He referred to this being "our" loss as well as "their" loss.   College football tends to be an "us" vs. "them" game, whereas faith is about "us."

While this year is void of any good natured trash-talking due to the nature of the events that have transpired leading up to this game, I thought it would be more appropriate to simply make a trip down memory lane of the OSU vs. PSU rivalry as it relates to a Penn State pastor living in Buckeye country.  Here are some of the highlights:

  • The year that I was forced to wear an OSU varsity jacket during worship after an OSU win.
  • The year that my Associate Pastor (an OSU alum) had to briefly wear a Penn State hat during worship after a PSU win.
  • The year when someone in my congregation kidnapped my Nittany Lion stuffed animal from my office and sent me ransom notices each day leading up to the big game.  The words in the ransom notes were newspaper clippings to protect their anonymity!  Eventually, Nittany was returned to me but only after I interrogated each of my staff members.  I even made the maintenance supervisor put his hand on a stack of bibles by the altar in the sanctuary and proclaim his innocence.  I never did find out who the culprit was.
  • The year when the people of my new church surprised me when I came into worship one Sunday morning and the chancel railing was decorated with OSU items and many in the congregation wore OSU clothing! 
  • The year when I wore my Penn State jersey to the bible study before the big game. (See picture above.)
  • The year when an anonymous OSU gift giver from a previous church sent me a Penn State navy blazer (with Penn State written all over the inside lining) as a Christmas present.
  • The year I officiated a wedding in the Shoe.  The famous "Buckeye Guy" was in attendance and tears came to his face after the service when he told me that he was so moved by my wedding homily.  He gave me an autographed picture.
  • Same wedding but during the rehearsal dinner, the bride and groom gave me a Buckeye necklace that included the letters, "B-E-A-T-P-E-N-N-S-T-A-T-E."
  • The year I officiated at another wedding and the rehearsal dinner was held in the President's suite at the Shoe.  The Buckeye alumni band surprised us by interrupting our dinner and paraded through the room playing, "Hang on Sloopy."
This is why I'm not as concerned about the final score of the big game today.  I will always remember this year as the year where our focus should be on much bigger issues like child abuse prevention and doing the right thing.  My Buckeye church members have taught me this with their kind words and support.

I can't believe I'm about to do what I'm about to do, but only for this one year only! 

                                                                  "O - H!"
                                      "I - O!"

Some things are more important than whether you win or lose a football game. 

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Some Shopping Tips at Church In the Mall

A church member and I joined a couple of people from another church to check out a new United Methodist church start in Heath, Ohio.  This new church isn't located in a rented out school space or in someone's home.  This church is located in a shopping mall.

After just eight months, they are averaging over a hundred people on Sunday mornings.  The two staff members met with us over coffee in their coffee house feel church space located across from a Deb's clothing store.  Coffee is a theme throughout the worship space.  One of the children's Sunday School class is called, "Little Lattes."  Isn't that cute?  "Little Beans" is the name of another children's Sunday School class.

To encourage mall shoppers to check out the new church, the room is designed to provide a welcoming entry space for people to drop by, get a cup of coffee, and stay as long as they'd like.  One of the striking features of the worship space is the altar. (See above.)  This altar is a beautifully decorated small dining room table with table settings and chairs and a cross behind it, to convey the intimacy of God's desire to dine with us.  What a great way to convey the warmth of the Sacrament of Holy Communion!

Here are some helpful "shopping tips" that "Church In the Mall" uses that are helpful in any setting, including traditional church settings.

#1 - Place people with the gift of hospitality in key places to help people feel welcomed but not overwhelmed.  Their goal is to make sure that each person receives a warm welcome.

#2 - Don't assume that people who visit the church understand church/religious language.  Communicate in a way that people will understand.

#3 - Leaders of the church need to consistently communicate the vision.  This means telling brief faith stories of how the church is making a difference in people's lives.

#4 - Utilize your space as much as possible.  There's a back entrance into the church space that was very unattractive.  As more people were using this back entrance, the leaders realized that they needed to clean that area and decorate it.

#5 - There biggest challenge is in getting small groups started to help people grow in their faith outside of Sunday worship.  Training and equipping mature church volunteers to lead small groups takes a lot of time, effort, and prayer. 

#6 - Be good neighbors to the other mall stores.  Whenever another store person or security guard stopped by, the staff members were great at inviting them in for coffee and engaging in conversation.

#7 - Respect people's desire to be anonymous.  They do not want anyone to feel uncomfortable in their church setting which is why they have several coffee tables in the back of the worship space for people to kind of fly under the radar.  However, each table has a registration card so that they can follow-up with them.

#8 - The church utilizes facebook, twitter, and their website for most of their communication which is typical of what their demographic uses.

Bible Study Summary - Upcoming Sunday's Scriptures

Sermon (Nov. 20) – “From Rags to Riches”

Ephesians 1:15-23
-         Ephesians was written by Paul while he was in prison.
-         The theme of Ephesians is God’s power which is appropriate since the area of Ephesus was a place of imperial power and pagan/magic power. 
-         Paul is pointing them to a different power – the power of Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection.  This is a great text for “Christ the King” Sunday!
-         Jesus was the ultimate/perfect human being image bearer.
-         Paul explains that this power in verses 20 & 21.  Wow!!!
-         Verse 22 – “Under his feet”  A reference to Psalm 8, which was a favorite Psalm of the early church.
-         Verse 17 – You need a fresh gift of wisdom to see this power in Christ.
-         Verse 23 – The church is Jesus’ hands and feet to continue the powerful work of God in the world.  Do we realize this as the church?

Matthew 25:31-46
-         A scripture that points out humanity’s longing for justice in the world.  Justice is the hope that things will be “made right” again. 
-         Central Jewish belief – A loving creator God is seeking to redeem the world and bring justice.
-         Sheep and goats graze together in the Middle East but are often separated at night because the goats need more warmth than the sheep.  It’s difficult to tell them apart.
-         Verse 32 – Jesus’ judgment is on the “nations” and the people who have persecuted God’s people.  Verse 40 – “The least of these” refers to God’s people.  This is a judgment upon the pagan world for how they  have treated God’s people.
-         This passage is often seen as a judgment against us when we don’t care for the poor.  While this is a part of the passage, the main emphasis isn’t so much a judgment against people in general who don’t care for the poor, but it’s a word of comfort for God’s people who suffer injustice from the outside world. 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

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 cliches are so.........well, cliche
We use them so often that we don't even need to finish them....

There's no place like _________
Any friend of yours is a ______ __ _____
Absence makes the heart grow _________

We say them at funerals in our attempt to comfort people
If you need anything at all, just ____ me.

They pop up when we get philosophical about life....
the best things in life are ____

We use them to encourage people
Everyone has their cross to _______

Graduation ceremonies are littered with them.
My all time favorite.....
Every ending is a _________.

As predictable as cliches can be,
much of the time, they can be true,
because they are often based on the reality of life.

The last two weeks,
as my siblings and I prepared for
an estate sale on the family farm,
we were flooded with memories
of our life together.

As we cleared out room after room,
we were reminded of all those circumstances and events
that had shaped our lives,
that molded us into who we are today..........
that made us family.

The cliches were everywhere.

The couch in the living room
spoke of our mother
who while she worked a night shift,
would come home and sleep on the couch,
so that she could look after our aging grandparents during the day
Mom indeed burned the candle at both ends, and in doing so,
taught me the importance of caring for family.

The table in the dining room
reminded me of all the family holiday gatherings
where the table would be filled to overflow,
and our eyes were larger than our stomachs.
The after-the-meal discomfort
reminded me of how much we had been given.

The upstairs bedrooms
in a farmhouse where only the lower level was heated......
in the winter were as cold as a cucumber,
Yet while my brother and I
would battle it out on the electric football field,
wearing our winter coats,
we were as happy as a lark.
Our playtime in those early years,
forged the deep love we have for each other.

The kitchen was the center of the home.....
and how I loved sneaking to the kitchen, where more than once,
I was caught with my hand in the cookie jar.
It reminded me of all the nourishment we received.....
physically, emotionally, & spiritually.

The paddle in the closet
that mom rarely used but when needed, reminded us of.
Those famous words she would utter
when there was no other recourse....
This is going to hurt me more than it hurts you.
My parents were faithful to discipline us,
to teach us about right and wrong,
to teach us about actions and consequences.

I walked outside and looked at the end of the driveway,
where one day I had gotten off the school bus,
THEN remembered that I had driven the car to school that day.
To this day, I continue to forget things,
like where I placed my keys, or my glasses.

I am reminded that I would lose my head if it wasn't attached.
But the bigger lesson I was taught,
was that for those who are patient and who trust
every situation has a way of working itself out.

I looked down at the meadow
and saw the once proud tree that had been reduced to a stub by multiple lightning strikes.
And though it is said that lightning never strikes the same place twice,
the tree tells me otherwise,
and that in life,
anything is possible,
and one is wise to be prepared for that reality.

The sidewalk from the house to garage,
where both mom and dad
would daily pilgrimage to and from work,
to bring home the bacon,
reminded me the extent at which my parents worked
to meet the needs of all 4 children.
I was taught the value of hard work,
work that benefit others.

The barnyard fence,
where as the brother six years older,
I convinced my little brother,
that if he just believed enough,
he could jump off the fence and fly.
To some, this would be flying by the seat of your pants.
For me, I have since learned
that what I say and what I do
influences people,
so I must be wise in both speech and conduct
(and thankful that my brother didn't hurt himself)

Perhaps every ending is a beginning of some kind.

And so, as our preparations for the sale wound down,
my siblings and I journeyed to the center of the farm,
to the grove of pine trees.

The place where family pets were buried,
the place where Christmas trees were cut down
and delivered by Santa's tractor,
the place where one would walk for times of quiet reflection.

In the moments as the four of us looked around
taking in the beauty of the land,
we realized that time flies when you are having fun,
for we all wondered where the years had gone.

Though we were not rich by man's standards,
be it ever so humble, there is no place like home.
None of us would have traded
our childhood for any other.

Because the words farm and extravagance do not exist
well with each other,
we learned that the simplest gifts are indeed the best gifts,
The deer that leaped across the field at just the right moment,
reminded us of that.
Home, health, and love cannot be bought.
As we prayed,
we gave the farm back to God
for we were entrusted with its care for only a while.
We realized that this ending is really a beginning,
that God is always doing a new thing.
And we have every reason
to be thankful for the past, the present,
and the days to come.
Thanks to God,
and to Norman and Janelle McDowell.
We are who we are because of you.
May you find thanks in all the cliches of your life.
Happy Thanksgiving to all!
always giving thanks for all things,
in the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ
to God, even the Father.
1 Thes 5:20

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Churches Sharing in Ministry Together

This week reminds me of the value of churches sharing in ministry for the sake of God's kingdom.  This morning, I'll be meeting with pastors of six other United Methodist churches in the surrounding area for our monthly small group.

We will spend time praying for each other, sharing our personal and church ministry goals, reading scripture, planning future shared ministry events, and celebrating Holy Communion.  By meeting together, we are seeking to strengthen each other in being faithful followers of Jesus Christ. 

Tonight, I will be presiding for the annual church conference of one of those churches.  In our United Methodist system, the District Superintendent assigns an Elder to preside at this meeting which prepares the congregation for a new year of ministry.  The assigning of another pastor is a powerful reminder that there are no lone ranger churches.  We are connected to one another. 

Tomorrow, I will be joining folks from a non-denominational church to visit and learn from a church that is involved in very innovative ministries in reaching people for Christ.  We will be learning together.  This is another example of the advantage of churches remembering that we are connected through Jesus Christ.

Yes, there are theological differences between churches, but we also seek to live out Jesus' prayer, "I ask not only on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one.  As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me." - John 17:20-21

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Sunday Worship Preview - November 20

Sunday, November 20 - (8:15 A.M. & 11:00 A.M. Traditional Services & 9:45 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, November 23  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "From Rags to Riches"

Features - Christ the King/Thanksgiving Sunday, Holy Baptism & Receiving of New Members

Scripture - Ephesians 1:15-23 & Matthew 25:31-46

Theme - On this Sunday of the church year when we celebrate the reign of Christ (Christ the King Sunday) we also celebrate God’s blessings in our lives (Thanksgiving.)  In Ephesians, Paul helps us to see how these two themes beautifully come together  when he writes, “so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints.” 


Friday, November 11, 2011

Colin Cowherd, Penn State, & Religion

I listened a little to Colin Cowherd's ESPN talk show today.  Of course, he spent a lot of time talking about the Penn State scandal.  Like many people, including myself, a life-long Penn State/Joe Paterno follower, Colin rightfully aired his disgust at the irresponsibility of Penn State officials in handling the child abuse incidents.

But I do take issue with Colin on a couple of points.  Colin made the point that even before the scandal broke out, that the Penn State football program was being held back by the legendary coach.  He was implying that if Penn State would have made a change years ago, that Penn State would be a more elite team in terms of wins/losses.

Colin just doesn't understand that there is more to college football than being an elite program year after year.  One of the positives of the Penn State system has been to not sacrifice academics at the altar of being an elite team.  Schools like Penn State, Stanford, and Northwestern have high graduation rates in their football programs making it more difficult to have several strings of no loss or one loss seasons.  It's been amazing that Penn State has won two national championships and has had several top 10 finishes without sacrificing academics.  Quite frankly, this is the main reason why I have been a passionate follower of Penn State football over my lifetime.  As tarnished as Joe Paterno's legacy will now be, that is a positive that I hope will not be forgotten.

The other problem I had with Colin's remarks today was with his take on religion.  Colin made the point that western religions such as Christianity indirectly lead to moral failings such as the scandal at Penn State.  His reasoning was that Christianity is a religion that directs it's worship outward to God.   He then implied that when people do this, they can also easily direct their worship toward individuals which can be unhealthy as with the case of Penn State fans adoring/worshipping Joe Paterno.  Colin then pointed to the benefits of eastern religions as religions that have people primarily look inward rather than outward so we can see our weaknesses more clearly.

I think Colin is confusing western religion (Christianity) with western culture.  In western culture, we are so busy that we often fail to look inwardly to think about who we are and who we can become.  Christianity teaches that we are to look BOTH inwardly at ourselves AND outwardly to God.  We look outwardly because God has created us to be fully human and a reflection of God's image.  We look inwardly to examine if we are becoming more and more like God.  Again, western culture does not encourage this kind of introspection.

If we didn't have the outward part of our faith, the looking to God as our creator, what hope is there if we look inside ourselves and see only our weaknesses?  If you're only option is to look inwardly and the only hope is found there, that can be pretty depressing!  But you don't have to just look inside.  You can also look to God for strength, guidance, and support.  This doesn't mean that we don't have a part to play in our moral undertaking.  It just means that God is the source to help us become who we are created to be.

In summary, here's my response to Colin: "I love your show.  I agree with your disgust of what happened at Penn State.  But don't forget the importance of academics in college football.  And, don't confuse western religions with western culture."

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Bible Study Summary - Upcoming Sunday's Scriptures

Sermon (Nov. 13) – “God-Given Talents”

Matthew 25:14-30

-         Common understanding of this story of the talents – Jesus is preparing his disciples for when he would leave them by telling them to use the talents he has given them to continue his ministry.  When he returns, he will judge us on whether or not we have used our talents.
-         Problems with this understanding: The original hears of this story who were Jewish would have understood this story as a story about God & Israel.  (Luke has a very similar story in Luke 19:11-27 in which he makes this connection.)
-         Talent = A unit of money equaling 15 years of wages.
-         What talents did God give Israel?  The law, the Temple, & the covenant promise that through them, God would bless the whole world.  God gave them these talents.
-         Did they use these talents and invest them?  No.  The scribes and Pharisees (worthless slave in the parable) hid their talents!  And now, the master has returned (Jesus) to judge them. 
-         The punishment: The impending destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple by the Romans which would happen 30 years later. 
-         Who are the first two slaves who invested their talents well?  The ones who hear and respond to Jesus’ call to follow him to be the people God had always called them to be. 
-         Verse 30 is a verse that is often used to warn people to respond to Jesus and not go to hell.  Another meaning is that it’s a glimpse of what will be happening to Jesus when he is hung on a cross in the darkness to die for the sins of the world (Matthew 27:45-46.)
-         This is a story that reminds us of God’s love for us and for the many talents he has given us, and how Jesus offered all of his talents by dying on the cross on our behalf.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

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.

That's the time it happened.

I'm talking about the sneeze.
No, not me,
my dog.

He might be allergic to dust,
but his Master is allergic to wake up calls
that occur 90 minutes before sunrise......

I am a light sleeper.
And this was a BIG sneeze.
And so I laid in bed, now wide awake.


I live by the 15 minute rule....

If I don't fall back to sleep within 15 minutes,
then I am off and running......
well....... off and dragging.

I had a busy day scheduled
and my mind began to race with what I needed to get done.

I was to prepare a family dinner for that evening,
but I needed some items from the grocery store.

Since there was a 24 hour store
just down the road,
I decided that I could make good use
of my extra two hours
by getting a head start on the meal preparations.
I also decided that at 5:25am,
no one cares what you wear to a grocery store.
So off to the store I went wearing what I had worn to bed.....
my flannel pajama pants & T-shirt of my favorite football team.
Add my slippers and I was out the door.

It's dark at 5:25am.....really dark.
I got out of my car and headed for the door of the store.

Excuse me, can you help me?

I didn't see anybody,
but then it was REALLY dark and
I was still half asleep.

Excuse me, do you have jumper cables?
This figure came toward me out of the dark
and I was only armed with a bedroom slipper.
At first I thought it was a man,
but then realized it was woman.......
a very large, masculine looking woman.

Could you give me a jump, she said
as she pointed over to an 18 wheeler on the edge of the parking lot.

I stopped to take a nap,
and she won't start up.
It's the battery.

All I could think about was my dog.
If he hadn't sneezed,
I wouldn't have even been here in a dark parking lot at 5:25am.....

I had many concerns as I
I handed over my jumper cables.

I feared that this monster 18 wheeler
would suck the life out of my compact car battery.

I feared I would get grease on my flannel pajama pants.

I feared that this immense woman
could beat me up in the dark.
(She absolutely could)

As we matched electrodes, she said

This is my first day working for this company
and I need to get to Virginia this morning.
I don't want to lose my job.

Now I felt like a fool.
I live my life bearing the name of Christian,
and here I was regretting this opportunity
I had to serve someone in need.

Her engine turned over.
She thanked me and drove off.

I realized how cold I was
and dashed into the store.
I found it's not easy to dash anywhere in bedroom slippers.

I got my items quickly as the store was virtually empty....
that would be except for the 3 people waiting in the one available checkout line.

Waiting in line is not how I want to start my pre-sunrise day.
Stupid dog! Stupid sneeze! I was thinking....

Especially since the person in front of me
was wearing the shirt of my team's rival.

Nice shirt I said to the woman
in an effort to start some pre-dawn conversation .

Nice pajamas she said to me.
Can't say as much for the T-shirt, she fired back.

We began to engage in small talk as we waited.
She began to explain why she was at the store so early.

Her husband had been diagnosed with cancer,
and she often used the early morning hours
to run errands before her children arose.

Suddenly, my dog sneezing at 4:48am didn't seem like such a big deal.

Small talk had just become soul talk.

I told her I was a pastor and that I would pray for her husband and family.
And then I realized I needed to do more than promise to pray.
I needed to pray for her right there.
We prayed,
there in the checkout line,
at 5:45am.

It is said that God works in mysterious ways....
I'd like to think that he also works in ingenious ways.

A dog sneezing
results in me helping a truck driver keep her job.

A dog sneezing
causes rival fans to drop their pom poms and
see the immense worth of the other.

A dog sneezing
allows me to pray for a family I have never met.

God does work in mysterious and ingenious ways.

We are approaching the season when we celebrate God's mysterious ways.

An angel announces to a common woman that she will bear the Son of God
without ever having been with a man.

The woman's relative who had been previously barren
will bear a child to prepare the way for the coming of the Messiah.

A baby, born in a cattle trough, will change the course of history and humankind.

God often starts in small quiet ways,
and leads to amazing results.

For me it started when the dog sneezed.
How does it start with you?

As for God,
his way is perfect.