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

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Sermon (January 29) - "Teacher Man"

     How can one ever underestimate the influence of a good teacher?
     Who was your 1st grade teacher?  I’ll start.  My first grade teacher was Mrs. Maddox.  Go ahead and turn to someone near you and tell that person the name of your 1st grade teacher.
     Just in case you were traumatized by your 1st grade teacher and have blocked that person out of your mind, turn to a different person this time and share the name of your fifth grade teacher.  Go ahead.
     My fifth grade teacher was Mr. Smith.  The first male teacher I ever had.  Besides wearing more cologne than any man should ever be allowed to wear, Mr. Smith taught me that you should be excited about learning new things.  Of all the teachers I had in elementary school, he seemed like the one who had the most passion for teaching.  I remember wanting to be just like Mr. Smith.
     How can we ever underestimate the influence of a good teacher?
     Frank McCourt, who wrote the book, Angela’s Ashes and then his second book, “Teacher Man,” had a 30 year teaching career in New York City’s public high schools beginning in the late 1950s.
     Frank McCourt became a great teacher and had a positive influence on his students because he was able to find ingenious ways to motivate them to learn.  To help students appreciate writing in all forms, he had them read cookbook recipes while other students played music in the background.  To help them to be better writers, he had them write critiques about the school cafeteria as well as restaurants in New York City.
     He tells of his second day teaching in 1958 when a fight broke out and one of the students threw a sandwich in anger.  To calm the situation, he simply picked the sandwich off the floor and started eating it much to the surprise of his students.
     In one of his chapters, he writes about a time that he took 20 to 30 rowdy teenagers to a play there in New York City.  He writes that it was one of the most challenging things that he ever had to do to get those teenagers safely to the play and back to the school.
     One of those girls, who was one of the more difficult young ladies on this field trip, ended up having such a positive experience, that it later changed her life.  All because of a teacher who was willing to go above and beyond his duties to help students explore and learn new things.
     In his book, Frank McCourt makes the observation that in America we don’t value teachers like people do in the countries of Europe.   I think he’s on to something. 
      Never underestimate the influence of a good teacher.
     So it shouldn’t surprise us in the least, to read in our Gospel Lesson this morning that one of Jesus’ first miracles happened to be while he was teaching in a synagogue.
     Jesus wasn’t known as a Priest or a Reverend.  People called him “Rabbi” or “Teacher.”
     And there he was one day, early in his ministry, teaching away right there in the middle of a worship service.  Wouldn’t you have loved to be a fly on one of those walls that day? 
     What was he teaching?  What did Jesus tell the people?
     I don’t know, but it must have been really good, since Mark tells us that the people were astounded at his teaching, because he didn’t teach like the scribes taught.  Jesus taught with authority.
     At a farm house retreat center in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania, in the spring of 1984, I sat in utter astonishment, as Dr. Paul Schaeffer was teaching on the Book of Acts.
     Dr. Schaeffer, or Paul as we often called him, was leading a spring retreat for the college students of the Philadelphia area.  I already knew that he was a brilliant man who could speak a thousand words a minute, but it was at that moment of his teaching, that I really began to feel a tug on my heart about entering the pastoral ministry.
     Here was a man who had a doctorate in the History of the Reformation and who knew the Bible backwards and forwards, but who also had the wonderful ability to teach the Bible to college students in ways that we would understand and apply it to our lives.
     I was drawn to him.  And I felt God calling me into some kind of teaching ministry.
     Not too long ago, I got motivated to track down this wonderful teacher, pastor, and scholar.  Figuring that he was no longer at the same church in Philadelphia, I discovered that he is now the Chairman of Religious Studies at Grove City College located in western Pennsylvania.
     I must have caught him in between classes when I called him on the phone that day, because he indicated that he was in a bit of a hurry.  But I had just enough time to tell him that he was one of the reasons that I felt a calling into the pastoral ministry. 
     How can we ever underestimate the influence of a good teacher?
     About seven and a half years ago in Maumee, Ohio, which is close to Toledo, I was sitting in the bleachers during a baseball game, minding my own business when these two giggly girls who looked to be somewhere in their early teens sat a few rows down from me.
     After about an inning, one of the girls happens to turn back to get my attention, and she says in this giggly voice, “Are you Mr. McDowell?  Are you Mrs. McDowell’s husband?” 
     I could just tell that my peaceful late afternoon was about to change dramatically.
     And the one girl says, “Oh goody.”   And immediately, both of them moved on up a few rows to sit next to me. I was afraid that was going to happen.
    And the one girl says, “Oh my gosh.  Mrs. McDowell is our teacher.  And we just love Mrs. McDowell.  We just love how she is so organized.  She has a container for everything.  For paper clips.  For books.  For pens and pencils.  We want to be just like Mrs. McDowell.  What is it like to be her husband?  Is she the same way at home?  Does she keep everything in its place there too?  We just love Mrs. McDowell.  She loves to read.  We love to read.”
     And these two girls proceeded to talk to me non-stop for the rest of the baseball game.  They wouldn’t even pause to take a breath.
     How can we ever underestimate the influence of a good teacher?
     I was just a rookie pastor serving on staff at a large United Methodist Church in Findlay, Ohio.  Even though I had been to seminary and served a little country church for a few years, I really didn’t know what I was doing or that much about pastoral ministry.
     But by the grace of God, the Senior Pastor of this church took me under his wing and taught me a few things and was very helpful to me.
     And these might sound like trivial things, but to him, these were things you should know and practice if you want to have an effective and fruitful ministry.
     The first thing was one I heard over and over again.  Stay focused on Jesus.  “Robert – No matter what you do, always remember to stay focused on Jesus.  Don’t depend on your own strength because you will be tempted to rely on your own abilities and strengths.  Keep your prayer life and your devotional life strong because you’re going to need it.  Remember to stay focused on Jesus.”
     I still have this small bible that he gave me at my ordination that I keep in my car.  In the front, he wrote these words to remind me of this first lesson he taught me, the words are, “Jesus said, “Follow me. He will empower you. Trust him. He has everything under control.”
     Another thing he told me was,
     “Now, when you visit someone in the hospital, always remember to take off your coat before you walk into their room.  If you have your coat on, you might make them feel like you’re in a hurry.”
     On another day, he told me,
     “Keep records of all your calls and activities.  Be aware of how you spend your time in ministry so you can always keep your priorities in order.”
     One day over a cup of coffee, he said,
     “Be aware of your feelings and express your feelings to someone you can trust.  And I hope you know that you can always share anything with me.  You just can’t survive in ministry if you keep your feelings to yourself.  You need someone to go to so that you can stay balanced and focused in ministry.”
     And I can go on and on with several more of these pearls of wisdom, but you get the point.  What is the point again?
     How can we ever underestimate the influence of a good teacher?
     Mark says that things got even more interesting while Jesus was teaching in the synagogue.  He says that “Just then, there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit, and he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth?’”
     Worship got interrupted and the real test of Jesus, the Teacher Man is on the line.  Is this man truly a teacher sent by God?  Can this man truly back up what he has been teaching?
     Jesus, not one to back down from an opportunity to bring healing, commands the unclean spirit to come out of this man and after a few cries, the unclean spirit leaves this man.  And he was healed.
     Now, remember, that even before this miraculous healing, the people were astonished at Jesus’ teaching.   Imagine what they think of Jesus now.  And we are told that they were all amazed.  This Teacher Man is something other.  This Teacher Man brings healing.  And as you read through the Gospel of Mark, you see many more moments like this, where Jesus heals people and makes them whole again.
     I wonder if this isn’t the whole point of the teaching ministry of the church.  Our Sunday School program, our Bible Studies, our Small Groups, the Sunday preaching – to teach and preach God’s Word in such a way, that it brings healing to people who are in desperate need for more of God in their lives.
     Physical healing?  Perhaps.  Emotional healing.  Certainly.  Spiritual healing?  No doubt.
     Perhaps St. Mark is calling us to lift up special prayers this week for those who are involved in the wonderful and exciting calling of the ministry of teaching.
     And while we are thinking about those who teach, this is a good time for us to remember to pray for the adult leaders of our confirmands who are meeting with our young people each week as they prepare to join the church in a few months.  They are helping to teach them a little about their faith journey and how Christ is an important part of their lives.
     Our church is preparing for a congregation-wide six week bible study called, “Unbinding the Heart.”  Our goal is to have 100% of our worshipping congregation receive a free “Unbinding the Heart” book which includes a 40 day prayer journal and sign up for one of the several groups which will be meeting for six weeks beginning less than a month from now.
     Let’s watch this video testimony of how “Unbinding the Gospel” has been making a difference in people's lives.  Let’s watch:
     Many of us have already received our book and have signed up for one of over 30 small group opportunities that will be meeting during a six week period beginning the week of February 19th. 
     Today is a day to celebrate the teaching and preaching ministry of Jesus Christ.  It’s a ministry that astounds us and can even usher in healing and new life.  Allow your life to be changed and transformed by this Teacher Man, this Son of the Living God.
     Why?  Because, you just can’t underestimate the influence of a good teacher.

Sunday Worship Preview - February 5

Sunday, February 5 - (9:00 A.M. Traditional Service & 10:30 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, February 8  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Encouraging Words"

Features - 5th Sunday After the Epiphany; Holy Communion; & Unbinding Your Heart Small Book Give Away/Lent Small Group Sign-Up

Scripture - Isaiah 40:28-31 & Mark 1:32-39

Theme - Encouraging words from the bible sustain us as we go through the ups and the downs of our journey through life.  They offer us great comfort and strength just when we need it the most because God promises to be with us always.  We can even rise up with wings like eagles!

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Bible Study Summary - Upcoming Sunday's Scriptures

Sermon (Jan. 29) – “Teacher Man”

Deuteronomy 18:15-20

-          Known as the Book of Instruction, the Torah.  Emphasizes teaching/learning for all generations. Moses speaks for God as they prepared to enter the Promised Land.
-          Moses is telling the people to not follow the practices of the surrounding religions. This was probably written during the post-exilic period (early 500’s B.C./400’s B.C.)  It was written to help Israel reform following their exile.
-          V. 15 – What is a prophet?  God’s spokesperson.  Not just foretelling the future, but warning and challenging God’s people to be faithful to the covenant.  Jesus is in line with the prophetic tradition. 
-          V. 20 – The dangerous life of a prophet!

Mark 1:21-28

-          How’s this for a full day?  Jesus teaches and heals, then heals Peter’s mother in law, then heals during the evening, goes to a deserted place, and then concludes the day by healing a leper.  Wow! 
-          This takes place in a village called Capernaum.  Jesus’ astounds everyone with his teaching because he doesn’t refer to what Moses said.  Jesus uses his own authority.
-          Jesus was a great teacher.  He instructed, comforted, and challenged his listeners to be prepared for God’s in-breaking kingdom and where God was about to fully reign.
-          Reflect on the teaching ministry of the church.  Sunday School, bible studies, small groups, Unbinding Your Heart initiative, Disciple Bible Study, sermons, counseling sessions, Bicentennial Year (both our local church history and our United Methodist history in general.)
-          Why was it important for Jesus to be a teacher?  Why is it important for the church to teach?
-          My personal teaching ministry: Preparing for sermons, bible studies, and reading books.  Presently I'm reading "Simply Jesus" by NT Wright which explores who Jesus is in his 1st century Jewish context.  I'm also reading, "How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth" by Gordon Fee.  It emphasizes the importance of reading scripture passages in light of the particular genre and in the context of the larger biblical narrative.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Who's Your Trainer? - Dave's Deep Thoughts

Here's Pastor Dave McDowell's weekly devotional that he sends out to members of his church. Dave is my brother and serves as the Music Minister at Stewartstown UMC in PA.
I guess it depends what end of the leash you are on.

I am a big believer in daily exercise.
I try to get in 6 workouts a week.

I like the results.....
it gives me that endorphin rush,
it helps me to focus,
it often becomes a time for prayer,
and it is good for my health.

Some days are harder than others
to get started.

In the past,
I have used the services of a personal trainer
to motivate me and to push me
to reach goals that I might not otherwise attempt.

That's why he caught my eye.

I see him in the morning
as I drive to work......

He is an elderly man.
He comes into my vision as he crosses the street
on his electric scooter.

I call him Scooterboy.

That wouldn't be that unusual
except that Scooterboy also has his dog on a leash.

To the casual observer,
it looks like this tiny dog is pulling the scooter
much like Rudolph pulls Santa's sleigh.

The only problem is that Rudolph
has 8 other reindeer to help tow the line.

Meanwhile, this little Rudolph is on his own
and Santa wants to go at warp speed.

Now this little pup is tiny
and the scooter wheels are large.
I am not the best at algebraic equations,
but my best estimations
are that this little pupster is taking 7 frantic steps
to every one rotation of the scooter wheels.
every morning this little canine
wakes up to a tyrannical Pharaoh trainer
who chases him with an electric chariot.

It might be a great way for the dog to get some exercise........
not so much for Scooterboy.

I'd like to think Scooterboy is taking on some fresh morning air himself,
except that while he is playing jockey,
he is smoking a cigarette.
So much for fresh air.

Meanwhile the little pooch is huffing it,
moving his little legs frantically,
trying to avoid the writing of a pet obituary
that describes how he was run over by a scooter.

Up the hill they go.
The little tyke is now on a 30% incline
and the treadmill showed no signs of slowing down.

They may be only going around the block,
but in miniature dog terms,
Fido is running a marathon
and the finish line is no where in sight.

Soon though,
Scooterboy and his dog disappear out of my sight.
I say a prayer for the little guy,
praying that his little legs hold up for the journey.

I believe that trainers can be a great help
in helping one achieve fitness goals.

But it's hard to listen to a trainer's instructions,
if the trainer himself is out of shape,
or is found behind the gym
trying to appease his nicotine fit.

We listen to trainers
when they practice what they preach,
and we agree with the sermon.

In a sense,
God is our personal trainer,
just not with a leash,
but with a shepherd's crook.

He has goals for each one of us
that are beyond our own comprehension.
Goals that will allow us to
be more than we ever thought we could be.

But they are goals that come from experience.
He understands what it's like to be on both ends of the leash.
He has seen the view both from heaven and earth.

I know I need a trainer.
And so do you.

May we allow the most personal of personal trainers
to take our lives and let them become
all that they were intended to be.

Let Him reveal where you need to exercise.....
prayer, fasting, study,
solitude, simplicity, submission, service,
confession, worship.

It may hurt, and it will cost you,
discipline always does.
But I promise you won't get run over by a scooter.

I will instruct and teach you in the way which you should go;
I will counsel you with My eye upon you.

Psalm 32:8

Monday, January 23, 2012

This Happy Valley

Just after Coach Paterno passed away in the hospital, the family issued this statement: "His loss leaves a void in our lives that will never be filled. He died as he lived.  He fought hard until the end, stayed positive, thought only of others and constantly reminded everyone of how blessed his life had been. His ambitions were far reaching, but he never believed he had to leave this Happy Valley to achieve them."

In the church, we call life after death, "heaven" but I think "happy valley" describes it even better.  State College, located in the scenic mountains of central Pennsylvania is aptly named.  I can see why Coach Paterno chose to stay there for his entire coaching career, even turning up tons of money to coach in the NFL.  It is a beautiful place.

I'm thankful that I was able to make a trip to Happy Valley this past fall to watch the Iowa game.  Sitting in the upper deck, the view of the sunset near the end of the game was breathtaking.  Penn State was wrapping up another win, it was a gorgeous day to watch a college football game, and all was right in my world in that moment.

It was always a thrill for me to watch Paterno on the sideline.  My favorite memory was back in 1998 when I was able to be in Happy Valley for JoPa's 300th career win.  Besides it being near 100 degrees with high humidity that day, my best memory was to hear Coach Paterno thank the crowd for their love and support and then he yelled as loud as he could into the stadium microphone, "Now let's beat Pitt!"

After that game, I watched Coach Paterno leave the stadium in an old beat up pick up truck.  It was a thrill to watch him drive right pass me as he looked out the window.  It was a very happy day.

Because of the child abuse scandal and Coach Paterno's recent death, it doesn't feel like Happy Valley right now.  But I thank God for a faith that points me to another Happy Valley, a place where there will no longer be any pain, suffering, sin, or death.  We get glimpses of that valley in the here and now.  All we need to do is have open eyes, hearts, and minds to see it.

For now, during this time of grief and sadness, this picture of the sun setting over the beautiful mountains this past Fall gives me all the comfort I need.

God is still present in this Happy Valley, thankfully.

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Sermon (January 22) "The Good News of the Good News"

     A family had twin boys whose only resemblance to each other was their looks. If one felt it was too hot, the other thought it was too cold. If one said the TV was too loud, the other claimed the volume needed to be turned up. Opposite in every way, one was an eternal optimist, the other a doom and gloom pessimist. 
     Just to see what would happen, on the twins' birthday their father loaded the pessimist's room with every imaginable toy and game. The optimist's room he loaded with horse manure.
That night the father passed by the pessimist's room and found him sitting amid his new gifts crying bitterly.

     "Why are you crying?" the father asked.

     "Because my friends will be jealous, I'll have to read all these instructions before I can do anything with this stuff, I'll constantly need batteries, and my toys will eventually get broken." answered the pessimist twin.

     Passing the optimist twin's room, the father found him dancing for joy in the pile of manure.      "What are you so happy about?" he asked.

     To which his optimist twin replied, "There's got to be a pony in here somewhere!"

     Some people can be positive in any situation!
     I think it’s interesting that the first four books of the New Testament that tell the story of Jesus are called, “Gospels.”  The word, “gospel” literally means, “good news.”  The story of Jesus is a story of good news.  Our faith is a good news faith.
     And really, the entire bible is one big story of how a loving God who created this world is bound and determined to rescue it from sin and death.  The bible is a story of good news.
     In our Gospel reading for today, Jesus begins his ministry by proclaiming this good news.  And notice that Jesus isn’t saying that this good news is something that will only be for the future.  This good news has already been launched in the here and now.  Listen to the past tense.  Jesus says, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near.”
     This is the good news of the good news!  The good news is that the good news is already happening.  And it has been happening because of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.  Can you think of any gooder news than that?  J  Pardon my grammar!  The good news is that the good news is already happening!
     Where do you see the good news of the good news at work?  Where do you see the good news of the good news in your day to day living?
     We live during a time where there seems like there’s nothing but bad news.  Lack of jobs, increasing poverty, negativity abounds in politics – the list goes on and on.  You can see why somebody would choose to be a pessimist over an optimist.
     But the good news of the good news is that God’s kingdom has already come near.  The signs of God’s grace surround us in any given moment even in the midst of the struggles, pain, and difficult transitions that we face in our daily living.
     Jesus certainly knew how difficult life can be sometimes.  Mark tells us that just before Jesus began to announce the good news of God’s kingdom, that John the Baptist had been arrested.  By referring to this sad event, Mark wants us to know that in the midst of life’s struggles and disappointments, there is hope.  The kingdom of God has come near.
     Speaking of transitions, just think about Jesus calling those first disciples.  They were fishermen.  In Israel, fishing was often a family business going back several generations, even centuries.  And Jesus called them to leave not just a hobby, but their livelihood, their family business of being fishermen in order to follow him.
     When you have a family business that has any history to it, there’s an expectation that this will carry on with the next generation if possible.  And here, these disciples were willing to say goodbye to the world as they knew it.  I can’t think of a more daring step of faith.
     When you read this scripture, you wonder if Mark wasn’t also thinking about Abraham from the Old Testament.  Like the fishermen in Mark’s Gospel, God called Abraham to leave what he was doing, his home, his whole way of living in order to follow God into an unknown future.
     About a year and a half ago, a member of our church, Stephanie Warner decided to serve in the Peace Corps in Botswana, Africa.  She will be coming home this summer.  She has been helping to stop the spread of AIDS through the medical clinic in her village.  I remember meeting Stephanie when I first came here to the church.  She was teaching Sunday School for our High School youth.
     Recently, Stephanie was reflecting on her decision to leave the comforts of her home and her familiar way of life, almost questioning if it’s all been worth it.  But then she writes, “You only have one life to live so you better make sure you are living it to the fullest.”
     When she shared those thoughts, it reminded me so much of the disciples and how Jesus called them to leave everything and follow Him.  The good news isn’t just something that’s way out there in the future.  It’s also breaking into the present.  As Jesus said, “The kingdom of God is at hand.”
     Even in the midst of life’s transitions, God is with us.  This is the good news of the good news.
     Many of you know about my mother who has dementia and lives in Pennsylvania.  This past fall, my brother, sisters, and I decided that it was time for our mom to move from her farm house where she has lived all her life.  All four of us were raised there and we all have strong emotional ties to the house and the farm. But we knew that it was time for our mom to move to a place where she would get much better care.
     We had a big task in front of us.  The four of us met at the farm house this past November to prepare mom’s belongings for an estate sale.  Because of all the memories in the home we grew up in, the four of us had an agreement that we wouldn’t spend time reminiscing since we only had a week to get things ready for the sale.  For the most part, we kept to our agreement.
     In the attic were several large pieces of furniture, boxes and loose items that needed to be carried down two flights of stairs, and then sorted, and tagged.  The cellar which had experienced flooding from a lot of rain this past year needed to be emptied and aired out.  The farm buildings needed to be cleaned and organized.
     Things that we didn’t want to keep or think would sell needed to be thrown into a large dumpster that we had rented.  At the end of each day, I noticed that all four of us were limping from all of the carrying, lifting, and cleaning.  We were quite a sorry sight to see.
     Toward the end of the afternoon of the last day that I was in for the trip, we had finished all our work.  My one sister and I were standing in front of the barn when my brother and my other sister drove up in dad’s old pick-up truck. 
     My brother said, “Let’s make one final trip out to the pines.”  The pines referred to a place on our farm where our dad would go to chop down a Christmas tree each year.  Dad had died in 1989 and so his memory was constantly with us throughout that week. 
     The pines was that place that served as a pet cemetery for our dogs who had died.  The pines was that place where we would go as kids just to be quiet and listen to the sounds of nature.  We drove back to the pines on the same path that our dad would often take on his tractor, a path that was between two cornfields along the sloping farmland of south central Pennsylvania.
     When we made it out to the pines, we got out of the pick-up truck.  The sun was just beginning to set, providing a glow over the recently picked golden cornfields.  It was an unusually warm and calm November day.
     We remarked on how beautiful it was to be back to the pines.  I took a short walk through the woods where dad and I had hunted many years.  So many memories of that beautiful farm.  We felt like kids again as we remembered stories from our childhood.  A large graceful deer interrupted our conversation as it came out of the woods and darted through the cornfield toward the pines. 
     And then we were silent, not saying a word, as we savored that holy moment.  I thought about dad and how much I missed him.  And then I thought about mom and how she would soon be leaving the home where she had lived all her life.
     Just at the right time, as my heart was feeling the ache of the pain of transition, one of us offered to say a prayer.  And the four of us, joined hands and made a little circle.  We thanked God for giving us parents who loved each of us and passed the faith on to us.  We thanked God for giving us the farm as a great place to be raised and that we had these beautiful shared memories that would stay with us forever.
     That holy moment of prayer caught us all off guard.  I was reminded that this is the good news of the good news.  God was present in that moment even in the midst of that time of change and transition for our family. 
     I’ll never forget that one last trip back to the pines.  God is with is us in times of transition.
     Before coming to Lancaster, I pastored a church in Xenia, a county seat town near Dayton.  Xenia is unfortunately known for the large 1974 tornado that destroyed much of the city.  In 2000, I arrived at the church just a few months after Xenia had been hit by another tornado.  The church was hit and suffered a lot of damage and I was there during the rebuilding phase.
     It was a very difficult time for that congregation.  Before the tornado hit the church, they had just completed a one million dollar building expansion.  The tornado destroyed a lot of the new addition.  It was a very stressful time for everyone.  Sunday worship services needed to be held at the local High School.  Sunday School classes met at a Senior Citizen building as well as in other places in the community.  And the congregation was faced with yet another stressful rebuilding project.
      A member of my church wrote this journal entry about her experience during that difficult time in the life of our church.
     “I am discouraged and sad.  Our church was hit by a tornado several months ago. Much of the building was destroyed; the rest was badly damaged.  It will take a year to rebuild. Everyone pulled together through the clean up and the start of the rebuilding. 
     Now, six months later, the weariness of living with construction has hit.  We’ve had flat tires from nails in the parking lot, and the strains of meeting in a dozen places around town have worn our spirits thin.
     We are caught in a conflict over the reconstruction – should we rebuild what we had or redesign for future needs?  We have differing hopes, a deep sense of loss, and competition for inadequate space.
     Fierce disagreements among people who hold different priorities make this a tense and ragged time.  I am beset by ugliness and conflict.  I find myself in tears, wanting to run away from it all.  I desperately want God to gather me up like a sobbing child, hold me against his shoulder and comfort me.
     As I sit in the living room, the cat climbs onto my shoulder, snuggles down and purrs.  I let go of fears and strife and I settle into the peaceful joy of cat-cuddling.
     God gently whispers into my ear, ‘This is how I love you.’
     My anguish diminishes as I understand; as painful as this is, it will pass.  I am not alone.  I am in the embrace of God.”
     For Barb, she was able to embrace the good news of the good news even in the midst of the rubble and the chaos.  She was reminded of God’s love for her in a moment when she needed it the most.
     Barb eventually included this entry in a book she wrote called “Road Grace.”
     Our Gospel reading tells us that as Jesus begins to share this good news that the kingdom of God has come near, he calls on some fisherman to drop what they’re doing and follow him.  “Repent and believe in the good news,” he tells them.  And they followed.
     Jesus’ announcement of the good news isn’t only for those fishermen.  It’s also for the woman whose church has been hit by a tornado and is now facing the stress of rebuilding.  It’s for the four adult children of the mother who aren’t quite ready to let go.  It’s for the young woman who is far from home in Africa. It’s for the optimist AND the pessimist.
     The good news of the good news is for you and for me.

Sunday Worship Preview - January 29

Sunday, January 29 - (9:00 A.M. Traditional Service & 10:30 A.M. Praise Service) & Wednesday, February 1  (6:30 P.M. Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Teacher Man"

Features - 4th Sunday After the Epiphany & Unbinding Your Heart Small Group Facilitators' Commissioning/Book Give Away/Lent Small Group Sign-Up

Scripture - Deuteronomy 18:15-20 & Mark 1:21-28

Theme - Jesus was an amazing teacher and it was through his teaching that the disciples were able to take what Jesus had shared with them and offer the good news of God's kingdom to the people around them.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Want to Know How to Read the Bible?

Just started to read the book, How to Read the Bible for All It's Worth by Gordon Fee and Douglas Stuart.  It has sold a lot of copies over the years, a classic primer to aid in the understanding and interpretation of scripture and to see each verse/passage/book in in it's proper context.

Based on solid mainstream bible scholarship, the authors help the reader to appreciate the different genres of the bible and to read them accordingly.  Here's one example early in the book as to why we need outside sources such as this book if we want to understand scripture in the way it was intended.

When Paul says,  "Make no provision for the flesh, to fulfill its lusts" (Romans 13:14), people in most English-speaking cultures are apt to think that "flesh" means the "body" and therefore that Paul is speaking of "bodily appetites."  But the word "flesh" as Paul uses it, seldom refers to the body - and in this text it almost certainly did not - but to a spiritual malady sometimes called "the sinful nature," denoting totally self-centered existence.  Therefore, without intending to do so, the reader is interpreting as he or she reads, and unfortunately all too often interprets incorrectly.

I'm also reading a couple of other books, but I do want to have future posts on some other examples of being aware of the biases we often bring to the scriptures and how we can interpret it more accurately.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Bible Study Summary - Upcoming Sunday's Scriptures

Sermon – “The Good News of the Good News”

Jonah 3:1-5, 10

-          Many scholars see this book as more of a parable regarding God’s grace toward people outside of the Jewish faith.  It takes discernment to be able to tell what kind of literature each story of the bible/book of the bible is rooted in actual historical events.  This is troublesome to people who equate “truth” only with historical events.
-          V. 3 – Nineveh was a very large city based on archaeological finds.
-          V. 5 - The large city which contained a lot of sin/evil shows how incredible it was that the people actually repented!  This is contrasted with the reluctance of the prophet to offer God’s grace!
-          V. 8 – When even the animals are confessing/repenting, you know the city is experiencing total transformation!
-          Why is it difficult for us to see God extending grace to people we are angry with or believe don’t deserve God’s favor?  Do we forget God’s grace in our own lives?  How can we guard against being “holier than thou?”

Mark 1:14-20

-          It is likely that the Zebedee family had a family business of fishing for several generations that went back centuries!  It’s pretty amazing that they dropped this to follow Jesus into an unknown future!
-          This story reminds us of the Abram story when God called him to leave his home and way of life. 
-          At the center of Jesus’ call is the “kingdom of God.”  The kingdom of God means 1) Turn away from any worldview/ideologies that are not in line with Jesus’ understanding of God’s kingdom.   This was the difficult thing for Jonah to do! 2) Give total loyalty to the God of Israel.  3) Embrace the good news that God is truly the king over all the earth.
-          What is the good news?  God is about to rescue the world from sin and death.  And the good news of the good news is that we can leave our nets and embrace this good news in the here and now!

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Big Juicee Cowboy Boot Cup - Dave's Deep Thoughts

First it was a fireman.
Then it was an astronaut.

It wasn't until I matured to the age of four,
that I realized my true calling was to be a cowboy/sheriff.

I think it might have been the boots.
According to my mother,
I wanted to wear my boots everywhere......
and that included to bed
(secretly placed back on after being tucked in)

My bestest birthday
occurred that year when I got
a leather gun belt & gun
(okay, looking back it was probably fake leather,
but at age 4 it seemed really real)

For about a year
(probably about 3 weeks in adult time)
I wore my cowboy outfit everywhere......
everywhere, except to church.

For some reason, they did not like
children bringing munitions to Sunday School.
I remember reluctantly agreeing to go and worship God,
as a civilian.

I was a top notch cowboy/sheriff.
I must have performed at such a high level
because at Christmas I received a shiny sheriff's badge.

This badge was well deserved.

As much as I can remember,
our ranch was never robbed during my watch.
Stagecoaches always made it safely to their destinations.
Citizens felt safe walking the streets.

The only shortcoming I had
might have been a brief incident on the cowboy side of things.

That's when I tried to brand the steer.
That didn't go exactly as I planned,
but that's another story.

I have wonderful memories of my career as a cowboy/sheriff.

Last year when my siblings and I
were cleaning out our mother's home for sale,
we came upon many memories of our childhood years.

Many things were discarded,
but each of us kept favorite mementos.

And that's when I found it.........
No not the boots,
not the shiny badge,
not the munitions......

I found IT,
my Big Juicee Cowboy Boot Cup.

No, this wasn't your average
Big Juicee Cowboy Boot Cup....

Nooosirrrreee !

This was my Big Juicee Cowboy Boot Cup
complete with spur.

I loved my Big Juicee Cowboy Boot Cup.
It was the only way any self respecting cowboy/sheriff
could start his day.

I would fill it up to the very top.
Sometimes I would fill it so close to the brim
that this cowboy/sheriff's mom
would attempt to give me a straw to safely drink.

As any cowboy/sheriff would,
I always refused the straw.

Have you ever seen a cowboy/sheriff use a straw?

Over the years,
as I moved onto other careers,
I gave up my boots, badge, & bullets,
but I kept my Big Juicee Cowboy Boot Cup close by.

For a while,
it became the perfect place to store my marbles.
Later on, it was the quintessential pencil holder.

Somehow, in the confusion of my adolescence,
I lost track of my Big Juicee Cowboy Boot Cup.
Adolesence does that.

I didn't see my Big Juicee Cowboy Boot Cup again
until this year, some 40 years later.
Time has a way of changing one's perspective on things.

Things rarely look the same, or have the same significance
40 years down the road.

That's why my final career is so important to me.
During those adolescent years,
I surrendered my life to Christ's lordship.

I remember that first moment of surrender
as if it were yesterday, but oh how different I am now.

Unlike my first career as a cowboy/sheriff
which was self chosen,
this career as a follower of Christ
was initiated by God,
and I only needed to respond.

Unlike my childhood passing fancies,
this career is for a lifetime.
And instead of a costume,
I need armor.

No need for cowboy boots.
I wear the breastplate of of righteousness.
No need for a shiny badge,
give me the shield of faith.
No cowboy hat for this one,
I have a helmet of salvation.
No gun nor ammunition anymore,
for I have the sword of the Spirit.

Each one of us has a Big Juicee Cowboy Boot Cup
in our lives.....
something that remind us of when we were a child.

But we are told in His Word,
to put away childish things*
as we take on that which is eternal.

I plan on keeping my Big Juicee Cowboy Boot Cup nearby.
Not because I need it,
but because it reminds me of who I have become.

Just don't give me a straw.

*I Corinthians 13:11

Therefore, take up the whole armor of God,
that you may be able to resist in the evil day,
and having done everything to stand firm.
Ephesians 6:13