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, January 30, 2013

Lectionary Bible Commentary - For Sunday, February 3

Sermon (February 3) – “The Jeremiah Leadership Training Course”

Jeremiah 1:4-10

-       Jeremiah began his ministry around 627 B.C. Babylon had taken over Assyria for control of the Middle East. God called on Jeremiah to be a prophet to the people of Judah (southern kingdom) during very troubling political time.
-       Verse 5 – “Yashar” means “formed.” Like a potter forms clay into pottery.
-       God calls Jeremiah who is without experience or authority to be a spokesperson.
-       This scripture was what led me to accept a calling into the ordained ministry.  When I read that God was placing his words in Jeremiah’s mouth, that gave me
confidence to know that God would do the same for me in my ministry.  What reassurances do you need to say yes to God’s calling in your life?

Luke 4:21-30

-       This picks up from last Sunday’s lectionary scripture from Luke.
-       Jesus gets into trouble with the religious authorities because Jesus is saying that his ministry will go beyond Israel to people who were considered enemies. This was very similar to what got Elijah and Elisha in trouble in the Old Testament.
-       Jesus chose the Isaiah passage to read in the synagogue because he saw himself as fulfilling the call to be a light to the nations.  This was supposed to be Israel’s mission all along!
-       A gospel that reaches beyond ourselves to the greater world will always create a reaction especially from the people who see themselves as the insiders.  How can we guard against an insider mentality?

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Rare Hockey Civility

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, your parents go to a tropical island
and all you get is a lousy T-shirt.
Sometimes, I go to a hockey arena
and I only get a hockey game.
Let me explain.....
There is no other sport like hockey
in that fans go to games expecting to see fights.
(Okay, maybe fans go to boxing matches or ultimate fights to see fights as well)
Fights at hockey games
are part of the experience.
That's not true in baseball, nor basketball.
or in a rough sport such as football,
where fights lead to ejections from games.
If you are not a hockey fan,
it might be difficult to understand.
When one is on the outside of a culture looking in,
some things just seem strange.......
Eskimos rubbing noses
camel wrestling matches in Turkey
(I did not make that up)
Fights at hockey games
are just as much of the game
as tossing a hat onto the rink after a hat trick
(for those in the dark about hat tricks, go directly to Wikopedia......)
or blowing on a cheap plastic horn when a goal is scored.
I look forward to going to hockey games
in the winter.
It's a fast paced sport
played in a relatively small space,
which leads to tempers flaring and fists flying.
Imagine my excitement
when I realized that for the first time in my proud hockey history,
I was going to have a first row seat.
For the uninformed,
that made me a Plexorite.
A Plexorite is one who gets to see the action at ice level,
who gets to pound fists on the plexiglass,
and who gets to yell at players
whose faces are being smashed up against the plexiglass.
It is a privilege that is not to be taken lightly.
With fists clenched,
I was ready to for the first scrum to occur inches in front of me.
I was ready to cheer on the fighters as they battled on the other side of the plexiglass.
But then the strangest thing happened......
The hockey game got nice.
Period one ended.
No fights,
not even a scuffle.
I think I heard a player say excuse me
as he bumped into an opposing player.
I'm sure the zamboni driver was even whistling
"zippity doo dah"
as he drove around the ice during the break.
I made a mad dash for nachos during the intermission.
The nacho line is always long and filled with
hungry, carb-starved crazies.
Not this evening.
The line was short
and filled with fans exchanging pleasantries.
The cashier even smiled at me.
That's when I knew I had entered the hockey twighlight zone....
I got back to my seat in Plexorville
just in time to get ready to pound the glass.
The home team was down a goal
and the announcer aimed to rev up the crowd.
Okay, I was convinced that the 2nd period was going
to be some serious in-your-face hockey.
Not so much.
The arena remained unusually quiet.
Fans behind me were talking about what flowers they were going to plant in the spring.
One woman was knitting.
Now I have nothing against knitting.....
it's just not the type of activity usually seen in Plexorville.
I waited......
waited for the first scrum in front of me,
waited for the first fisticuffs,
waited for the first faced flattened up against the plexiglass.
Absolutely nothing.
all I got was skaters skating by,
enjoying a nice cardio workout.
There weren't even many penalties called
for players to enter the "time-out" chair.

I had come to see a hardcore hockey game
and instead had been transported to Niceville.
Second intermission
The dirigible was circulating the arena dropping cash coupons onto the crowd.
This usually incites a riot as people scramble
for a piece of falling paper that will give them a free small fountain soda
at a local convenience store.
Not this evening.
Children were seen surrendering coupons to wheelchair bound fans.
One polite fan instead of snatching the coupon out of the air,
looked at a nearby fan and said, "after you."
In the bizarro world that I had entered,
the Stepford Wives had invaded a hockey game.
Third period.
The refs call several questionable penalties against the home team.
Okay, I thought, now we are going to see some hockey angst.
Never happened.
The visiting team scored to go up by two.
Normally diehard fans started to file out of the arena.
As the seconds ticked off the clock,
I hoped for one fight,
one bloodied nose.,
one black eye.
What did I get instead.........
a hug,
A hug from Coco the mascot.
Nothing says hockey mania
like a furry bear offering a warm embrace.
Sometimes you don't get what you are expecting.....
A surprise rain shower on your outdoor event.
A new job that turns out to be quite different than you had hoped.
A relationship that doesn't develop into what you expected.
A situation where you spend time with those you don't particularly like.
We don't always get what we hope for.
It's called life.
And life should not be equated with God.
Christians are no more guaranteed a rosy path in life
than non-believers.
In fact, the more faithful the believer,
the Bible tells us to expect to be rejected,
to receive harsh criticism,
and to encounter difficulties.
Sometimes you expect a sunny day,
and you get rained on.
I expected a rough tough hockey game
and instead was given an exercise in etiquette.
But, I was still given a night out
with a great friend.
No matter what our expectations,
we are still given each day to savor.
There is something of value in each experience.
There is something to be learned in each challenge.
It has been said,
when you are given lemons, make lemonade.
I say,
just hit the concession stand.
On a night like I had,
you'll probably get a free glass with your purchase of nachos.
Here's to making the most of each day.
I'll just save my fist pounding for another day......
That you may be children of your Father who is in heaven;
for He makes His sun to rise on the evil and on the good,
and sends rain on the just and unjust.
Matthew 5:45

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Lectionary Bible Commentary for January 27

Sermon (January 27) – “Been There, Done That!”

Nehemiah 8:1-3, 5-6, 8-10

-       The books of Ezra and Nehemiah form one story. Ezra begins with Cyrus of Persia’s decree, in 538 BC, permitting the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and to rebuild the Temple, a venture in which they are to be materially aided. Cyrus orders that the sacred vessels taken from the Temple in 587 be returned. More than 42,000 leave Babylon for Judah. The altar is erected on the site of the destroyed Temple; the priests again offer burnt offerings. Construction of the new Temple begins: a more modest structure than Solomon’s.
-       Ezra, a scribe and priest is commissioned by King Artaxerxes to return with the exiles teach the statutes of Israel to the people of God.
-       V. 1 – “The book of the Law” is probably Leviticus. (see vv. 14-15)
-       V. 8 – They had to translate from Hebrew to Aramaic for the people to understand what was being read.

Luke 4:14-21

-       What caused Jesus to get kicked out of the synagogue and sent to a cliff to throw him over? (Note that early in Luke, the devil had promised to rescue Jesus if only he would jump off the Temple!)
-       Even while teaching in the synagogue, Jesus can tell that the people do not want to follow him. They are taunting him much like it will be one he is hanging on the cross – see Luke 23:35
-       In response, Jesus identifies himself with the great prophets from the OT and how they were willing to help people outside of Israel! This was not what the people of Israel wanted to hear in Jesus’ day.  They wanted to hear the opposite.
-       Jesus quoted Isaiah in the synagogue which is a picture of the servant/Messiah to come. Jesus interpreted this to mean that God was choosing this time to offer grace to all people.
-       When the Gospel is proclaimed, some will celebrate the message while others will be disappointed and even become angry.

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Swim Meets & Other Complicated Mysteries

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. 
The Bible says, blessed are those who have eyes to see and ears to hear.....
but what if they forgot to turn on the lights?
Or provide adequate acoustics?
I was invited to a high school swim meet
a couple of weeks ago.
I am a great fan of many sports
but I had never been to a swim meet.
I was anxious to support some young people whom I know
participate in this sport of repetition and endurance.
I was also anxious to learn more about competitive swimming.
I think I did okay in the support department,
but not so sure about what I learned.......
Okay, I did learn one thing.
Despite the weather outside,
(10 degrees as I write this)
do NOT wear wool sweaters and winter socks to swim meets.
Upon entrance to the natatorium,
I was immediately blasted
with enough hot, steamy air to restore the rain forest.
Some say its not the heat, it's the humidity.
I have news for them.......it's both.
I have a strong aversion to heat
so I immediately began taking off layers of clothing,
trying to stay withing legal limits for public attire for most of the continental states.
If I learned anything that day, it is this.....
if you are going to remove excessive layers of clothing
do not do it while seated next to a young teenage girl.
Security officers and parents don't seem to think this is a good idea.
I knew the girl through church.
Because she regularly attends meets,
I thought she could help explain the proceedings to me.
Second mistake.
Young teenage girls who attend swim meets
are there to talk to their girlfriends, eat candy,
and look at all the boys who are dressed in speedos.
When it comes to knowing the procedures of swim meets.......not so much....
I did learn from her that the swimmers dive into the water
and swim as fast as they can to get to the end of the pool first.
And there are about 20,000 events and I should expect
to break curfew before the meet is over.
Lesson learned.
The meet had already started.
Unlike other civilized sports,
athletes not participating do not sit on the sidelines during the competition.
Instead, they line the edges of the pool.
This allows them to cheer on their teammates
despite the fact that I doubt that one can hear underwater.
It also allows them to fraternize with swimmers of the opposite gender
(did I mention they were wearing speedo suits?)
It also allows them to block the view of any pastors in the crowd
who are now showing the early effects of heat stroke.
This particular natatorium has some issues.
In addition to the poor ventilation system,
(I think there was algae growing on the bleacher next to me)
the sound system was a cross between Charlie Brown's teacher's voice
and a traffic jam in Times Square.
I have no idea who was ever swimming in lane 3........
I have no idea who won any of the events..........
I can't even tell you which team won the meet.
That would be because of the scoreboard,
or should I say, lack thereof.
I know my tax dollars should go first to buy algebra books,
but couldn't the school splurge and at least
get poster board and a sharpie?
Somebody set a school record?
Never knew it.
Next event up?
Not a clue.
Preliminary swim or the finals?
I might as well be guessing heads or tails.
There was one effective method of communication at the meet.
That would be the bull horn.
Just when the sauna like atmosphere was causing me to lose consciousness,
the meet director (or maybe a 7th grader with nothing better to do)
would blast the horn thus announcing
that the swimmers who you could not see
were entering the last leg of the event you did not know.
This bull horn had the decibel level
of a police siren being sounded inside a small tiled bathroom.
When it sounded, the cheering crescendoed as the swimmers who I could not see
neared the wall of the pool.
One might think that the reaction of one team would reveal the winner.
That would be wrong.
Both teams cheer widely at the end of each event.
Perhaps it is because the sport is so mentally and physically grueling,
or perhaps it is because they are no one event closer to being done and going to McDonalds.
Somewhere between event #165 and 166,
and several blasts from the bullhorn,
I realized I needed to leave.
Although I really can't say I saw very much,
nor say that I heard much except for Charlie Brown teacher voice,
the crowd noise, and the incessant bullhorn,
I had the satisfaction of witnessing young people give their best for a very challenging sport.
Even though I did not have ears to hear, and eyes to see very much that day,
I can say that I was there for young people of whom I am very proud.
Plus, my young friend sitting next to me,
shared her candy with me.
That's a good day.
Sometimes my life is like going to a swim meet.
There are things that I see or that I hear,
that I do not understand......
violent attacks on innocent peoples,
forces of nature that destroy people's lives,
attitudes that don't reflect love, compassion, nor mercy.
2 Corinthians 5:7 says we are to "Walk by faith, and not by sight."
It is a profound thing to have the Word of God revealed in one's life.
Knowing the truth of God is a rock upon which one can build one's life.
But the revelation is not yet complete.
It will only be made fully known at His 2nd coming.
Till then, He has also given us His Spirit to guide and comfort us in the confusing times.
We will see and hear things that we do not understand.
And that is okay.
If you are having one of those days, weeks, or years where you lack understanding,
remember that if your eyes and ears are set on Jesus,
you know who wins.
As for me,
I opened the sports page the next day to see which team had won.
"Results not reported by press time"

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

A United Methodist Voice - Rev. Adam Hamilton

When John Wesley, the founder of Methodism died in 1791, the movement continued on thanks to the concept of "holy conferencing." Wesley had put into place a system that would bring the preachers together to make important decisions to help Methodism continue to grow and flourish.

Even with this system in place, everyone continued to look to Wesley for guidance and direction.  After his death, many of them probably had WWWD bracelets made (What Would Wesley Do?) The influence of Wesley goes to show how influential he was as a leader for this rapidly growing reform movement within the Church of England.

As Methodism began to spread into America, there was a need for this movement to become a new denomination due to the unique situation of the American Revolutionary War. Very few of the American colonists wanted to be buddies with a group of Methodist type people who continued to use the Church of England franchise label. Wesley, an ardent supporter of church unity very reluctantly agreed to allow for this separation only because of these very unique and unpreventable circumstances.

Over the course of our Methodist history, we have continued to depend on "holy conferencing" and the collective wisdom of church representatives to make critical decisions related to the issues facing the denomination. To this day, the United Methodist Church is structured in such a way to help as many people as possible have a voice in our denomination.  Our Bishops facilitate in this process and they provide an important prophetic and pastoral voice through their sacred office but we no longer have that singular voice like Wesley to speak for the denomination as a whole.

In the absence of that one voice, Methodism has been blessed with individuals who have "stood out" during their particular era.  Francis Asbury, Peter Cartwright, and in the 20th century, noted Methodist historian Dr. Albert Outler come to mind.

In more recent times, that voice has become Rev. Adam Hamilton, Senior Pastor of Church of the Resurrection United Methodist Church in Leawood, Kansas, which is the largest UMC congregation.  If you have attended a United Methodist Sunday School or bible study for at least a year, chances are pretty good that you have used some of Adam's resources such as "Confronting the Controversies," "Why? Making Sense of God's Will," and "Christianity & World Religions."

More recently, Adam has completed the third part of a trilogy of resources called "The Way" which covers the healing and teaching ministry of Jesus.  The other two parts included studies on the birth of Jesus and Jesus' death and resurrection.

Adam and his church host annual leadership seminars.  This past fall, our church sent three of our staff members to the conference and came back with a lot of great resources and ideas to use in our own setting.

One of Adam's many gifts in ministry is in his communication/teaching/preaching skills.  He approaches the scriptures and theological understandings with an open mind and utilizes Wesley's quadrilateral approach (scripture is best interpreted by being informed by church tradition, reason, and experience.)  By using this approach, Adam spends a lot of time reading and studying a topic. His pastoral experience also helps to shed light on various issues that face the church today.

This more open minded and centrist approach has resonated with many people who are tired of the old worn out labels of conservative and liberal.  Adam offers this third way that bridges the gap.

For the last couple of years, Adam has been the keynote speaker at several of our Annual Conferences.  He has been sharing key thoughts on what it means to be a vital church in the 21st century.

For all of these reasons, the Inaugural Committee has invited Adam Hamilton to preach the service at the Inaugural interfaith prayer service at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C. beginning at 10:30 am today. You can watch it live at this site or listen to it when it gets archived beginning sometime tomorrow.

In many ways, Adam Hamilton has become the unofficial spokesperson of the United Methodist Church. We still have our "holy conferencing" structure which is designed to include many voices but sometimes, we need that one voice to speak a hopeful word to a broken and hurting world.

I'm glad that voice is Adam Hamilton.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Lectionary Bible Commentary for January 20

Sermon (January 20) – “A Marriage Made in Heaven”

Isaiah 62:1-5

-       Persia has conquered Babylon and has permitted the people of Israel to return to a small parcel of land round Jerusalem. The land is ravished, and after initial elation, the people feel that God has ceased to care for them.
-       Isaiah was writing after the people of Judah had been living in exile (6th century BC.)
-       Isaiah offers a vision of Zion (another name for God’s people & Jerusalem) that they will once again be a crown of beauty.
-       Verse 4 – Your land shall be married (Hebrew – Beulah.) This is where we get the phrase, “Beulah-land.”
-       Zion is pictured as a bride. This image of Israel as a bride and God as the bridegroom is a metaphor that we find throughout the scriptures.

John 2:1-11

-       Jesus’ first of seven “signs” (miracles) in the Gospel of John. The others are healing a royal official’s son, healing a paralytic, feeding the 5,000, Jesus walking on water, healing the blind man, & raising Lazarus from the dead.
-       The “signs” of Jesus are times when heaven breaks through into our time and space. Where do you see those “breakthroughs” in your everyday living?  The Temple was seen as heaven and earth connecting.  And of course, John tells us that the Word became flesh (heaven and earth touching.)
-       This shows God’s overflowing and gracious love through Christ’s action of turning water into wine.  The scriptures often depict salvation as a feast like the wedding feast in this story. (See Rev. 21:2)
-       We only meet the mother of Jesus twice in the Gospel of John – here and at the foot of the cross in chapter 19.  When Jesus died on the cross, heaven and earth met as God’s glory overcame that terrible event.
-       Running out of wine was seen as a social disgrace.  Mary says “do whatever he tells you.” Jesus brings transformation to us like he transformed water into wine.  What areas of your life need God’s transformation?
      -     What do you think John means by this all took place on “the third day?”

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - February 3

Sunday, February 3 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, February 6  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Jeremiah Leadership Training Course"

Features - 4th Sunday After the Epiphany & Holy Communion

Scripture - Jeremiah 1:4-10 & Luke 4:21-30

Theme - There are all kinds of leadership training resources but have you heard of the Jeremiah Leadership Training Course? This course offers incredibly useful information to help you be the leader that God is calling you to be.

Dave's Deep Thoughts - The Cubicles of Life

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.
You should always pick door #3.
Or maybe it is door # 1,
No, it must be door #2......
The travel agency of which I am a member
is well prepared to help its members.
A row of 3 cubicles,
each with an eager staff member
ready to assist you.
Though you can't see the people
in the cubicle next to you,
you can surely hear them.
I took cubicle #2.
The new year can be a time to plan for many things....
trips to tropical places
car insurance.
Nothing says "I wish I was doing something else" than
a 34 degree rainy day
while sorting through different insurance plans.
Meanwhile next to me in cubicle #1,
a couple had just sat down.
"We want to plan our first family Disney vacation!"
they shrieked with excitement.
On the other side of me in cubicle #3,
an equally cheery couple squealed...
"We are so looking forward
to getting away for some beach time!

"So we are here to look at car insurance options?"
my host in cubicle #2 said with a cheery smile.

Here's how life in cubicles 1, 2, & 3 went that day........
#2 Let's talk about deductibles........
#3 The cruise ship has 37 restaurants,
including choosing from 18 buffets,
64 cuisines, and 7 smorgasbords.
#1 You are going to love the Polynesian
Family Resort. The mangoes are out of this world.....
#2 I see that you had a traffic citation 2 years ago.
That will influence pricing.
#1 You will love having lunch with Snow White,
Prince Charming, and all the Disney characters!
#3 Swimming with the dolphins is such a great option
for you to pick!
#2 Let's talk uninsured motorist coverage,
specifically bodily injury.
#1 The parade and fireworks show
are such a great way to end your day!
#2 It's important to consider combined
personal bodily injury and property damage.
#3 I recommend the 24 hour room service.
There's nothing like having your breakfast
served to you on your own personal deck overlooking the ocean.
#1 Nothing says excitement like the Action & Adventure Park.
The zip line is amazing!
#2 You should be sure to include a work loss benefit.
You never know........
#3 If you are into fitness workouts,
we have Tai Chi, Yoga, and Pilates!
You will so enjoy the Full Serenity Spa
and Thermal Suite afterwards.
#1 Tee times? All you have to do is say when!
#2 You can't leave here without thinking about
the funeral expense benefit.
#1 lf you want excitement,
then Spiderman is the man for you.
#3 I recommend
the Brazilian Steakhouse.
The food will melt in your mouth.....
#2 Big decision time...... limited or full tort options?
#3 The tarts in the cabana house are amazing.
#1 Scuba in the pool, para-sailing, rock climbing??
Yep, we have all that!
#2 Good news! I see that you are a mature driver.
You receive a discount!
#3 Karaoke night is so much fun!
#1 The couple has now broken out into song.....
"It's a Small World"
#2 I'm sorry, this policy does not provide
for extraordinary medical expense coverage.
Some days feel like a cubicle #2 day,
trying to keep up with the everyday demands of life,
and also the unexpected bumps in the road....
Once in a while we might be favored with
days at cubicles 1 or 3,
when everything feels just right.
It is easy to be envious of the people
in cubicles 1 and 3.
But they have had their days in cubicle 2 as well.
The apostle Paul
gives instruction about finding peace and joy in life.
It isn't dictated by circumstances,
but on the One with whom you walk this life.
This from a man who lived at the  highest levels
of prestige and power,
and who later was shipwrecked and also imprisoned.
This is what he says.....
"I have learned to be content in whatever circumstances I am.
I know how to get along with humble means,
and I also know how to live in prosperity;
In any and every circumstance I have learned the secret
of being filled, and going hungry,
both of having abundance and suffering need.
I can do all things through Him who strengthens me." Philippians 4:11-13
Whether your team won or lost,
whether the surgery goes as planned or not,
whether it is sunny and 80 or rainy and 36,
He is there to strengthen.
Whether you got the job or not,
whether the tree fell on your property or your neighbors,
whether you were accepted to the university or community college,
He is there to carry you.
As for me,
I left cubicle #2 having saved myself $178 annually
and although I may not be squeezing sand in my toes in the near future,
I know that I can do what I need to do,
because I choose to live THROUGH HIM.
Whether you are having a deck party,
or painting the deck,
May it be so with you.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

A Message from Pastor Robert - Being a Church of Radical Hospitality

Someone once told me that the most important time of a meeting is what happens immediately before and immediately after the meeting.  "But what about the agenda part of the meeting?" I asked. "Yes, the agenda part is important but not the most important part," he reassured me.

This wise friend of mine was on to something. It's all about first impressions, isn't it?  And it's all about lasting impressions.  "If you don't believe me," my friend went on to say, "give it a try with your family when you see them after work today and let me know if it makes a difference. If you offer a positive and welcoming greeting at the very beginning when you see them, it will set the tone for the rest of the evening. See if I'm not right."  He was right!  A warm and genuine greeting can turn even a bad day into a good one.

The more successful hotels have learned this important truth about first impressions. They know that weary travelers can easily be in a "not so happy mood" when arriving at their hotel destination after a long and draining trip. This is why the wise hotel staff will be very intentional to help you feel at ease when you check in.

First and lasting impressions also apply to the church.  Our church is already blessed with a very dedicated and hospitable team of ushers! Every Sunday morning as I enter the sanctuary for worship, I am greeted with a smile, a handshake, a hug, and a bulletin (ushers like to make sure I have an extra one just in case!)

One of our five core values at First UMC is to be a church of radical hospitality.  2013 is a year to build on the wonderful foundation of hospitality that we already have.  Listed below are some thoughts on how we might continue to be a church of positive first and lasting impressions.
  • United Methodist consultant, Bill Easum says that if we truly want to be a church of first impressions then parking lot greeters are the way to go.  Imagine a first time worship guest coming to our church for the first time and seeing designated people in our parking lot ready to help you find a spot and briefly greet you as you get out of your car. If it's raining, the kind volunteer pulls out a golf umbrella to guide you to the closest church entrance.
  • Our building isn't the easiest building to find your way especially if you are new to the church.  Where's the sanctuary, the nearest restroom, and the nursery?  When is Sunday School? What is the Rising House and where is it located? Imagine a greeter at each of our entrances to not only offer a second warm welcome, but to help someone get to where he or she needs to go.
  • People tend to expect someone to greet them as they enter the sanctuary for worship. Our church does this very well.  We would like to add a positive lasting impression by stationing greeters at each exit after worship to simply smile and say, "God bless you. We're glad you came."
  • We will be adding welcome stations in our parlor and narthex areas in which volunteers can provide information about our church, escort people to an unfamiliar room, and provide a gift bag for first time worship guests. Not only does this provide another way for people to find answers to any questions they may have about our church, it also helps us to reach out to our first time worship guests.  It's also an opportunity to have the worship guest provide us with their name, contact information, and any prayer needs so that we can follow-up with a friendly personal contact within 24 hours. We are finding that very few of our first time worship guests are providing their contact information in our attendance pads during the worship service.
Thanks to hospitality training sessions this past fall, we already have volunteers serving as church door greeters on the first Sunday of each month.  We are in need of more people to help with this on the other Sundays of the month.

Our next priority is to put our two new welcome stations in place (the parlor & narthex) and have two volunteers at each of those two stations throughout the morning.  The first shift would be 8:45 am to 9:10 am & 9:50 am to 10:15 am.  The second shift would be 10:15 am to 10:40 am & 11:10 am to 11:35 am. Both of these shifts will allow for the volunteers to be in worship for most of the service.

Once we have our exterior door greeters and welcome station greeters in place for each Sunday, we want to add the parking lot greeters. Our radical hospitality goal is a big challenge for us this year.  It will take a lot of people who are willing to give some of their time, their smiles, and help people feel at home in our church.

We are already known as a church that is friendly and welcomes all people. Let's continue to help people have a positive first and lasting impression of First UMC. 

Yours in Christ,

Pastor Robert

To sign up to help serve at a welcome station, contact the church office, 740-653-3330 or church@lancasterfumc.org

Saturday, January 12, 2013

Grace Helps Us to Be the People We are Called to Be

In each and every moment, God is extending grace to us.  Grace is God's unconditional love to help us be the people we were created to be.  This is probably one of the most foundational concepts of the Christian faith, but one that we either take for granted or forget about too often.

Imagine this. Every second of the day, God's grace is available to us.  This  means that in every moment, I can know that God loves me, that I'm not alone, that I can make appropriate decisions, that I can resist temptation, and that I can do the right thing in the situation I'm facing.

Every time someone joins a United Methodist congregation, they respond to these three questions:

Do you renounce the spiritual forces of wickedness, reject the evil powers of this world, and repent of your sin?

Do you accept the freedom and power God gives you to resist evil, injustice, and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves?

Do you confess Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole trust in his grace, and promise to serve him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened to people of all ages, nations, and races?

The first membership question reminds us that sin and evil are very real in our world.  We don't have to look too far and we will quickly see the presence of sin.  We don't just have to read about it in the news.  We can also see it lurking within our own lives. This is why meditation and confession are important.  These spiritual disciplines remind us of our brokenness and our need for God.

The second membership question reminds us that even though sin and evil are very real in our world, we don't have to be their victims!  We can accept the freedom and power God gives us to resist them.  This tells us that in any given moment, God's grace is available to help us identify and resist sin.

The third membership question reminds us that God's grace comes to us through Jesus Christ and to put our whole trust in his grace.  This is probably the most difficult part of the three membership questions.  It's not always easy to place our whole trust in God's grace. How do we nurture a faith in which we are constantly open to God's gift of grace?

The spiritual disciplines of meditation and confession are a good start.  They help us to not "pull the wool over our eyes." They help us to confront the reality of sin in our own lives and turn toward Christ for forgiveness and support. Whether it be dealing with unbridled anger, impatience, pride, cynicism, laziness, or some other sin, these need to be revealed to us so that we can allow God's grace to help us overcome them.

Participating in a small group with people who also want to trust in God's grace moment by moment is another helpful way. When people share about how they are trusting in God's grace in their everyday lives, it encourages us to do the same.

Making it a priority to be open to God's grace each day can help us respond to situations from a faith perspective.  Maybe a short prayer in the morning asking God to help us be more aware of the gift of grace throughout the day can help open our eyes and hearts to God's presence.

Sometimes, we won't think about God's grace during the day, but that doesn't mean it's not present to us.  We call this prevenient grace which means the grace that is present for us even when we're not aware of it.  Not all is lost when we don't recognize God's grace.  God's grace is always working on us and preparing us to respond.

There are other times when we are very much aware of God's grace and we have an "Aha!" moment and we say, "Now, I get it!  All along, God was reaching out to me and now I see it.  Thank you, God."  We call this justifying grace and sanctifying grace.  Justifying grace is when we accept the relationship God is offering us in Jesus Christ and sanctifying grace is when we continue to respond to God's grace through acts of devotion and outreach.

The exciting thing is to know that in any given moment, God's grace is available to us.  We just need to receive it and be the people God has called us to be.