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

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Sermon by Rev. Cheryl Foulk (June 23) "Monday Morning Blues"

In the 1970's, The Carpenters, came out with a simple  song about “the blues”. Words and the voice of Karen Carpenter  have stuck in my memory. Some of the lyrics are:

Talkin' to myself and feeling old. Sometimes I'd like to quit; Nothing ever seems to fit; Hangin' around, nothing to do but frown; Rainy days and Mondays always get me down.

This is o
ne of many contemporary songs that express the feelings of depression. The Scriptures  also describe this condition with frankness, particularly in the Psalms. We heard  words earlier  from Psalm 42  that refer to this heaviness; the writer is wondering why he feels so distraught. Psalm 88 ends with saying that “my only friend is darkness.”  The  Bible is very honest about what we deal with as human beings                 
Today we look once again at the life of the Hebrew prophet Elijah and the story today gives us  perhaps a surprising  glimpse into his emotional condition. Elijah  is a man of power who is not afraid to confront the king/queen when he feels they have gone against God.

He defends the worship and allegiance to God against the worship of other gods.  Prior to today's reading, Elijah has been involved in a showdown between himself and the prophets who follow Baal.

 This contest seeks to answer  the question :Whose God controls the rain and the fire? Both sides have made constructions of wood and are entreating the gods to inflame them.  Elijah wins when his sacrifice of wood  is ignited by lightning . As a consequence,the  opposing prophets are killed.

Elijah  had been looking forward to this day for a long time: God's power was finally evident to the people ! It  appears to be a great day of victory; even the three year drought is ended when Elijah prophesies that it will rain.  It could be the best day of Elijah's life!

However the  Queen Jezebel  hearing of the defeat and slaughter of her prophets  sends to Elijah this intimidating message: “Watch your back because you are next !”  With a threat against his life, Elijah runs and  hides himself away. Quickly he goes from jubilation to  darkness.

 His actions of bravery are followed by a time of deep despair. He is described as not wanting to live;  he feels that he is all alone and that  he  has no worth. He is not eating or sleeping well. Exhausted and  in isolation,  it appears that Elijah's pain is great.

The qualities of major depression can be seen in Elijah's life:  depressed mood, no interest in life, fatigued , feeling  worthless, hopeless, with thoughts of dying.    Depression  has been described in these ways: “it feels like I'm swimming in mud”  and  “there is nothing interesting...Yet you keep on. You have to. Others depend on you. There are bills to pay, children to raise, laundry to do, a yard to mow. You put off what you can, doing only what is absolutely necessary. Because just existing takes such effort and you are bone -weary all the time.”  

 Depression  influences how one feels, what they do, and how they think.  Not just  on Mondays, but ever day of the week can be devastating.

You may live with depression or know someone who has: Nearly one in ten adults each year are affected in the U.S.  It can happen to any  of us  and it is expressed in a variety of ways.  It can be a lifetime issue or  a shorter response to a particular crisis in one's life.  Thee are  many reasons and causes for this disease which affects us  physically, mentally, emotionally,  and spiritually.

Even in our day when depression medications are advertised on t.v. and persons in the public arena  have shared  that they deal with depression and other mental diseases, it can still be a   tender topic .

Let's look at some of the misconceptions that have been expressed even by people of faith:

It's all in your head; you could snap out of it.

It is all your fault; you brought this on yourself.

 If you had more faith, if you truly believed  and trusted in God than you would not feel this way.

You need to cheer up and count your blessings.

Something must be wrong with your relationship to God.

You need to be strong .

Your life looks good to me; what do you have to be sad about?

If you don't talk about it, it will go away.

None of these attitudes are true or helpful, and some are very harmful in responding to someone who is hurting.

What can we do  as  followers of Jesus that will promote healing?

A man was questioning his pastor: “Why can't I just pray and that be enough?”  His pastor assured him that we certainly  need God's grace, and many times God's grace and healing come to us through other people.  Here are 7 actions that we can take:

 -As a church, we can provide a safe supportive place where people can feel accepted no matter what they are facing.  This can be a place where someone does not have to be ashamed about their hurts. 

Monica Coleman (minister and college professor in California) :“My faith has been the ground and saving force for me in the midst of living with a bipolar depressive condition. In my most difficult darkest moments I know with every fiber of my being that God is with me, and that God understands what I am going through and how I feel...I feel that God wants my wellness, but sits with me and holds me when I'm unwell.”

-We can offer our friendship and listen to and support one another.   Elijah was alone in the wilderness and God sent two friends,angels that ministered to him.  They comforted Elijah and provided company and food and rest.  Because of their caring, Elijah was able to go on.

-We can offer Scriptures  and songs of faith to be anchors in the storm. (References of hope: Psalm 31:7 Psalm 147:3 Psalm 46:1 Psalm 18:28  Psalm 107:14)

-We can share our faith in a God who loves each of us without qualification. A young woman named Caly  in her depression  felt that she was worthless .She couldn't  believe that God loved her. She said: ” This may sound silly to anyone who has not experienced depression, but it was a triumphant day when I could finally look in the mirror and say 'You are a good person 'and totally believe it. That has made all the difference in my life.”

-When we don't know what to say, we can simply express that we care. We can ask how we might be most helpful.

-We can offer our prayers ,and when folks are too tired to pray for themselves, we can assure them that we will not stop praying for them.. The actress Brooke Shields has said : “When I felt there was nothing I could do to help myself, knowing that I was prayed for was often the only thing that stood between me and despair.”

-I am very grateful for the doctors, counselors, therapists, the groups, medications, and therapies that help bring healing. When we have concerns about someone's behavior, we can encourage them to see their doctor and to get help.

Psalm 34:18"The Lord is close to the brokenhearted; he saves those whose spirits are  crushed. "
We can above all offer HOPE.  We can affirm to those suffering that God wants them to get better.
 Mike Wallace, the journalist known for his work on 60 Minutes,  lived  with depression throughout his life.. He said that he was grateful for the help he had been given during his darkest days but he worried that people would think less of him if they knew about his depression.
That changed one night when he was being interviewed on a late night talk show by Bob Costas.  He realized that people up at 1:00am might need to hear his story. Mike Wallace wanted whoever was listening  to understand how low he had been but that he was getting better every day with treatment and that help was out there for them too. He realized that  telling his story and passing on the hope benefited himself and others.
The image of a sunflower has become the symbol of hope for those who know depression. The flower reminds us of all who are seeking light that will bring wholeness.
The sunflower grows tall and strong as it reaches toward the light.  I am wearing this sunflower in memory and honor of all those in my family and others who with courage and faith live each day  facing their mental illness.
May   the hope of Jesus enable us and all troubled in mind, body and spirit to live in peace this day.
Resources used in this sermon:
"Not Alone: Reflections on Faith and Depression" by Dr. Monica Coleman, 2013.
"Jesus Wept:When Faith and Depression Meet" by Barbara Crafton, 2009.
“Living Well with Depression and Bipolar Disorder “ by John McManamy, 2006.
"When Someone You Love Suffers from Depression or Mental Illness", by Cecil Murphey, 2004
“Mike Wallace's Darkest Hour”  Guidepost Magazine, 5-15-2012
National Alliance on Mental Illness www.nami.org

A New Wedding Ceremony Ritual?

Maybe this will become a new part of the wedding cermony ritual - a combining of the church ceremony with the reception. By the looks of the two ladies who get up and leave early at the 1 min., 32 sec., mark, I don't think they like this new ritual very much. I'm with them. Save this stuff for the reception. I can't tell you the number of wedding couples who confuse wedding service music with DJ music for the reception.
But I must admit, they did it very well.   

Friday, June 21, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - June 23

Sunday, June 23 - (9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, June 26  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Monday Morning Blues"

Features - 5th Sunday After Pentecost & Commissioning of Summer Youth Mission Team (10:30 am)

Scripture - Psalm 42 & I Kings 19:1-12

Theme - Elijah has had a great victory in his life, and yet feels despondent and alone. How do our emotions and our faith relate to one another?

Don't Dodge God's Love!

A church member recently asked me to rebaptize him. "I'm reading my bible, I'm praying, and I'm experiencing a change in my life as I seek to follow Christ. Will you rebaptize me?"

After explaining to him that United Methodists do not rebaptize because we believe that baptism is primarily what God has done for us through Jesus Christ rather than what we do, I asked, "Would you be interested in a baptism renewal service?"  I said, "A baptism renewal is how we respond to God's love and faithfulness in our lives."

With great excitement, he said, "Yes, that's what I want to do!"

Little did I know that just three days later, I would find myself at an impromptu baptism renewal service. No, it didn't include this same church member. This unexpected baptism renewal service was at our mid-week youth gathering and their water balloon dodge fun.

After we had some fun throwing water balloons and dodging them to avoid getting wet, it just seemed right to ask the youth the question, "Anyone here, want to renew their baptism?" Surprisingly, several youth volunteered and instead of dodging my water balloon toss as they had been doing, they gladly allowed me to break water balloons over their heads as I offered the liturgical words, "Remember your baptism and be thankful."

For some, it's during a worship service when God prompts someone to renew their faith in Jesus Christ. For others, it's during a mid-week water balloon dodge fun event.

As we go through our day, don't "dodge" God's love. Let's be open to God's invitation to renew our faith, remember our baptism and be thankful.

Sermon (July 7) "Let it Go!"

     You’ve probably heard of the phrase, “Let go and let God.”  Perhaps you have shared this phrase with somebody who needed a little reminder that things were going to be OK. Or maybe you have been on the receiving end in hearing those words.
     Today’s Old Testament reading from II Kings is a “let go and let God” story.  It’s a story that’s especially helpful for those of us who find it difficult to trust in a God who can make all things new.
     You’ve heard the story.  Maybe you were already familiar with it.  It’s about a foreign military officer who has the terrible skin disease of leprosy.  An Israelite girl who had been captured and forced to serve as this officer’s slave tells him about a prophet in Israel who can heal him of this dreaded disease. The officer tells his King about this and the King sends a letter and gifts to the King of Israel with a request to heal his military officer, Naaman.
     But when the King of Israel receives the letter, he immediately panics. He begins to think about the worst case scenario. “What if we can’t heal this foreign officer of his skin disease? Will this lead to an unwanted war? Is this whole thing just a set-up? Who does this King think I am? God?”
     Have you ever played this game of thinking of possible worst case scenarios? It’s the kind of game that can keep you up at night. It’s the kind of game that can replace your faith with fear. What if the test results come back positive? What if they don’t accept my bid? What if we don’t get enough volunteers? What if they cut my hours?
     I find it interesting that the King of Israel’s first response to the request to heal Naaman was one of fear. Part of the problem is that we just don’t like to deal with change. We all know that each day will have its own challenges.  I’m sure the King already had a lot to worry about for that day.
     Maybe he was worried about relations with a bordering empire. Maybe he was trying to figure out how to deal with a drought in the land. Maybe there was some other huge problem he was dealing with when this letter arrived. Instead of responding to this request by turning toward God for help and direction, he became fearful and went into panic mode.
     The King wasn’t letting go of the things that were beyond his control. What are the things that God is calling you to let go?
     I’ll never forget my first Easter Sunday as a new pastor.  I was so nervous. Even after several hours of preparing the sermon, I kept reworking it over and over again and when it was all said and done, I realized that my first draft was perfectly fine. Instead of worrying so much about the sermon, I could have used that time to enjoy being with my family.
     I was also concerned about the number of bulletins because of the larger crowd we were going to have.  And then I worried about where the Easter lilies were going to be placed around the altar. Our flower volunteer had already set them up and I asked if she could arrange them differently which she graciously did.
     As I looked at the new arrangement from the view of the balcony, I said, “You know, actually, the way you had them before looked nicer.”  I am so glad that this woman was a Christian because anyone else would have made me wear one of those Easter lilies as a hat.
     Knowing that I was worrying way too much about my first Easter Sunday, she calmly approached me and with a disarming smile, she gently said to me, “Robert, you just need to let go and let God.”  She was so right.  I needed to let go and let God.
     I know I’m not the only one who needs to hear those words. We all need to hear those words from time to time, even if you’re the King of Israel.
     Another man in this story who needed to hear those words was Naaman, the military officer who needed to be healed.  Now, we might give him a little slack. After all, he wasn’t even from Israel and didn’t know about their God.
     But when the prophet Elisha tells him that what he needed to do to be healed was to wash in the Jordan River seven times, Naaman became angry because this all seemed so unnecessary. His servants eventually calm him down and he ended up listening to Elisha and he was healed.
     Sometimes, God’s ways just don’t make sense to us. But when we surrender our will to God’s will and do what God is telling us to do, wonderful things can happen. Beautiful things can happen.
     Key leaders of a church had gathered for a vision retreat. They already had a sense that God was calling their aging church to reach the children and young families of their community. 
     They came to this retreat with great excitement. They felt that this time away with God would reveal a specific program that would help them to have a thriving children’s ministry.
     They began their retreat with a time of prayer. They asked God to give them open minds and hearts to how God would lead them toward this vision.  After much time in prayer, the pastor invited everyone to share what kinds of ministries they felt God was calling their church to do.
     To the pastor’s surprise, nobody shared any ideas of specific children’s ministries. He thought someone would at least mention starting a new children’s Sunday School class but not even that idea was offered.
     Instead, someone started talking about an outreach ministry to the nursing home which was on the same block as the church. The pastor said that this was a great idea but they still needed to think of ways to reach the children in the community.
     As the retreat continued on, it became apparent that for whatever reason, God wanted their church to focus on that nursing home. Soon after the retreat, church members began holding mid-week worship services at the nursing home. They also visited the nursing home residents and they took them gifts and made cards for them.
     After several weeks and months of this intentional ministry at the nursing home, something incredible began to happen. Young children and their families started attending worship at their church.
      The reason they started to attend their church was because they were the grandchildren and great-grandchildren of those nursing home residents. Their regular visits to the nursing home had made such an impression on the families of the nursing home residents that they wanted to be part of a church that would reach out to their aging loved ones in such caring ways.
     Who would have thought that the way to reach children would be through a nursing home ministry?  God works in mysterious ways!
     Naaman didn’t think that washing seven times in the Jordan River would ever heal him of his leprosy, but that’s exactly what happened.  Our scripture even tells us that his flesh was restored like the flesh of a young boy, and he was made clean.
     It’s not always easy to let go and let God but when we do, wonderful things can happen. 
     I’ve been thinking of the things that might keep us from letting go and letting God. Here are just a couple that come to mind and you might think of some others this week.
     The first thing that comes to mind is control.  I think this was the King of Israel’s problem in the story. He was trying to control everything.  When he was presented with this request to heal Naaman, instead of turning toward God, he was only thinking about how he could control the situation. He wasn’t even thinking about the prophet Elisha and how God could work through him to bring about healing.
     If our only focus is on what we think we can’t do and not what God can do through us that might mean that we have control issues. God wants to use us but if we are closed to the possibilities that are beyond what we can imagine, we might miss out on what God wants to accomplish.
     The second thing that can keep us from letting go and letting God is pride. This was Naaman’s issue. He almost let his pride prevent him from receiving the healing that he so desperately needed.
     Fortunately for Naaman, his servants helped him to see how his pride was getting in the way. I really like how they caught up with him and said, “So what that this guy wants you to get dunked three times in the river. Just do it and see if that will heal you.”
     Sometimes, we get so caught up in our own agendas that we miss out on what God is wanting us to do.
     If the King of Israel and Naaman are examples of allowing control and pride to keep us from letting go and letting God, then the young servant girl and the prophet Elisha are good examples of what it means to let go and let God.
     The young girl knew that God could bring healing to Naaman even though he was an outsider and the prophet Elisha didn’t let fear get in the way of healing this military officer who was from a neighboring power.
     Sometimes, we just need to surrender and yield to God. That’s all we need to do.
     When I was in college, I reached a low point in my life.  I was trying to do everything my way and it was only leading from one disappointment to another. My own control and pride were getting in the way of the future that God had in mind for me.
     Without a sense of purpose and feeling really down, I finally decided to surrender all of who I was to God. I fell to my knees and I prayed, “God, forgive me for not allowing you to be number one in my life. From this point on, I want to do whatever you want me to do. I want to follow Jesus every day and be his disciple.”
     When I stood up from that prayer, it was like this huge weight was lifted from my shoulders. That’s what it feels like when you finally let go and let God.

Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - June 30

Sunday, June 30 - (7:30, 9:00, & 10:30 Services) & Wednesday, July 3  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Next in Line"

Features - 6th Sunday After Pentecost

Scripture - II Kings 2:1-2, 6-14

Theme - Elijah is passing on his leadership role to Elisha. We will be looking at how we recognize and encourage someone else's gifts and abilities. How do we gratefully "pass on" the mantle?

Monday, June 17, 2013

Highlights of West Ohio Annual Conference, Lakeside, OH (June 9-12)

Our theme this year, “Taken, is the first in a series that focuses on the different steps of the Eucharist, and how they show God’s desire for relationship with us in “becoming the beloved community of Christ.” “Blessed,” “Broken,” and “Given” are the remaining three steps to be covered in future annual conference sessions.
Monday and Wednesday provided an opportunity to hear Bishop Palmer preach, celebrate communion and baptism together, and give our missional offerings.
Monday’s message from our bishop was on being “Called by Name” as God’s spirit and work in our lives brings renewal. He showed that God continues to bring a turning point in our lives, from sinfulness, alienation and desolation; to relationship, reconciliation and hope. Using Isaiah 43 as a backdrop, Bishop Palmer voiced the heart of God in this renewal, saying, “I’ve not only redeemed you, I’ve called you by name. You are precious. You are mine.” Following his message, the bishop held in his arms Aurora Elena Pettingill, newborn daughter to Rev. David and Lindsey Pettingill, and baptized her with the reaffirmation of all conference members present.
On Wednesday morning, Bishop Palmer refined the meaning of the key word from the theme “Taken,” as conference members came to a deeper understanding of being God’s Beloved. As we are taken, we have been chosen by the heart and hands of God. This action is past and has already been completed, though it is continually acted out in the midst of other narratives attempting to direct the story of our lives. And there is a sense of urgency, as Christ offers, “Take and eat.” Without Him, waiting to be worthy or following another narrative would leave us starving, and the bread would be left on the table. Bishop Palmer showed that there is a world in need of his nourishing truth, this life-giving story.“What will you take, as in carry, into the world?” he asked.
Celebration of Life and Ministry Service
A processional of bright banners leading the new candidates along with Elders and Deacons, followed by members of the Cabinet and Bishop Palmer, opened the Celebration of Life and Ministry Worship Service. A solemn bell echoed from the stage with the reading of each name from the Roll of the Victorious. Those who passed away this year were commended to God’s arms and holy peace as a bagpipe played “Flowers of the Forest.” Conference members also recognized and honored the retiring class with thankfulness for their response to God’s call, and for the great good that God has accomplished through their ministries. This retiring class represents an extraordinary 1,218 years served in ministry.
Bishop Callon Holloway, Jr., from the Southern Ohio Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church, spoke of the service of ministers and Christians to the whole church, working together in unity, no matter the denomination. With obedience and trust in Jesus, who holds us all tightly, we are called to overcome fears and differences to do the difficult work of bringing God’s people together for the sake of the world.
Bishop Palmer commissioned 3 Provisional Deacons and 28 Provisional Elders, and ordained 1 Deacon and 11 Elders.
Bible Study
Bishop Palmer invited Dr. Elaine Robinson, Academic Dean and Associate Professor of United Methodist Studies and Theology at Saint Paul School of Theology at Oklahoma City University, to speak on the annual conference theme of “Taken,” during 3 Bishop’s Bible Study sessions.
Dr. Robinson taught passionately that the Eucharist is the central image of our faith because at one table, we have both the redemption and the promise of new life, as well as justification and sanctification, forgiveness and restoration to the image of God. “We are taken by God to be taken with God and to be taken with others.” Through this sacrament, we become the body of Christ to be sent out into the world, and we see the beginning of becoming the beloved community of Christ. When we are taken with God, it is not about being alone with God, but about being part of the beloved community, for we were made to be in loving relationship with each other. In our sanctified human life, we should experience abundance, perfection and peace. She also pointed out that we often think of salvation as going to heaven, but salvation is being saved from sin, being reconciled to God, and being made whole in the love of God and relationship with God in this life. Robinson also made a clear and crucial connection between personal and social holiness, that being taken with God is to be taken into community with believers, and to love others. Making disciples for the transformation of the world comes through radical relationships.
Missional Offering:
Bishop Palmer, along with Rev. George Cooper, Rev. Mike Slaughter, and Rev. Paul Risler announced the launch of West Ohio’s commitment over 3 years of $3.5 M to the Imagine No Malaria Campaign. Ginghamsburg United Methodist Church has dedicated their Christmas Offering this year to the campaign, and pledged $1M. Commitment cards were handed out to members with the opportunity to pledge and/or learn more. Additional information will be forthcoming from the Bishop and Rev. Cooper this summer detailing how to get involved and providing resources. If you want more information on this amazing commitment we have made to help eliminate preventable deaths due to malaria, read this article: West Ohio Pledges $3.5 Million to Nix Malaria
Three workshops were held on Sunday afternoon, and nine Summer Shorts workshops were held on Monday evening. (Originally 10 were scheduled but the “Church Communications” workshop was cancelled due to an illness in the speaker’s family.) I hope you were able to attend at least one of these very informative workshops and take back resources to your churches. Information about each of the three Sunday afternoon workshops is here. Summer Shorts summaries are here.
Laity Session
Tom Slater, the West Ohio Conference Lay Leader, opened the session in prayer and welcomed Bishop Palmer to the stage who provided a welcome and greeting. Guest speakers, Jim and Jennifer Cowart then spoke to the session on the importance of listening to what God is saying to our churches, and examining how we are envisioning and operating our ministries. Jim is the founding pastor of Harvest Church, a United Methodist Congregation, located in South Georgia. Harvest launched in 2001 with an emphasis on reaching the non-churched. His wife, Jennifer is the Christian Education and Emerging Ministries Director at Harvest. Together, they started a church “from scratch,” and have now seen more than 2,000 people come to belief in Christ. Jim and Jennifer spoke about different tools for recapturing the passion of Christ, pointing out that it is vital that the Church regain its passion for sharing Christ to non-believers in our communities. They encouraged leaders to think differently about ministry, and find new ways to reach out to others. And most importantly, they encouraged conference members to start now, to take action on the Great Commission. “Jesus, the king of the universe, knows your name and he calls it,” Jim said in conclusion, “But he also asks you to call out the name of the people who haven’t come to your church, yet.
One of the purposes for an annual conference session is to do the business of the annual conference. Members heard reports each day from various ministries from West Ohio and across the denomination, reporting how West Ohio has involved itself in transforming the world.
  • The 2012 Missional Report gives an overview of West Ohio’s key ministry areas as of December 31, 2012 and is available here for viewing and downloading:
  • Four Constitutional Amendments were voted on in West Ohio and in all other annual conferences across the denomination. Results are collected by the denomination. Information about the amendments can be found on page 19 of the Book of Reports
  • Here’s a quick rundown of the Recommendations voted on by membership. Details about the recommendations can be found in the Book of Reports starting on page 22
    • #1: Passed Council on Finance and Administration
    • #2: Passed Camp Sabroski
    • #3: Passed Commission on Equitable Compensation
    • #4: Passed Board of Pension and Health Benefits
    • #5: Passed Resolution To Support Global Maternal/Child Health
    • #6: Passed Resolution for West Ohio Conference Advance Special
    • #7: Defeated Petition Requesting Conference Education and Conversation on the Nature, Role, Authority and Interpretation of Scripture
    • #8: Withdrawn Formation of a Rural, Town & Country Task Force
Some Basic Stats and Facts:
  • 1132 lay members, 960 clergy, 264 spouses, 292 visitors were in attendance at Lakeside
  • Next year's annual conference dates are June 8-12, 2014
  • 5K Run/Walk had 420 participants with the following first place winners:
    • Men's Run: First place to Logan Perry with a time of 18:23
    • Women's Run: First place to Keri Schmidt with a time of 25:23
    • Men's Walk: First place to Robert Downs with a time of 41:46
    • Women's Walk: First place to Elaine Parulis-Wright with a time of 43:25.
  • Offerings taken during the week:
    • Clergy Development $6,551.68
    • Kits & Shipping $2474.59
    • Imagine No Malaria $100,211.52
  • Denman Youth Award was presented to Nicholas Brown of Lindenwald United Methodist Church
  • Clergy Denman Award was presented to Pastor Mike Berry of Medway United Methodist Church
  • Telling the Story Video Award went to Central Avenue United Methodist Church (Athens) for their video “Just a Chair:259”
  • The West Ohio Conference was presented with the award for the highest total amount of designated giving to the Advance in 2012, $2.6 million.

[These highlights are provided by the West Ohio Conference Media Staff.]

Saturday, June 15, 2013

West Ohio UMC Conference Missions Giving Saving Lives!

What is better than singing and worshipping in the same auditorium during the week of June 9 at Lakeside, Ohio with 3,000 United Methodists representing the West Ohio Conference of the United Methodist Church? While that ranks pretty high on the list, here are some other possible answers to this question.

Answer #1: Hearing the good news that our West Ohio Conference which includes Lancaster First UMC gave over 2.5 million dollars in 2012 to mission work throughout the world!

Answer #2: Hearing the good news that our West Ohio Conference recently received a one day offering of over $110,00 to be used for the Imagine No Malaria Campaign.

Answer #3: Hearing the good news that thanks in part to the United Methodist Church, Malaria deaths have been significantly reduced from 1 million in 2007 to 655,000 in 2011.

Answer #3: Hearing the good news that our West Ohio Conference has set a goal of raising 3.5 million to the Imagine No Malaria Campaign.

As United Methodists, we believe that personal holiness and social holiness go hand in hand and both are vitally important if we are to be fully devoted followers of Jesus Christ. May God bless the churches of the West Ohio Conference that we continue to practice extravagant missions giving for the transformation of our world.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Final Day Tweets (Part II) from 2013 West Ohio Annual Conference (June 9-12)

Tuesday, June 11, 2013

Tweets from 2013 West Ohio Annual Conference (June 9-12)

[Our West Ohio Conference picture: Lancaster First UMC Delegates - Alicia Niceswanger (front right), Brad Niceswanger (Back right), & me (front center.) The other three are wonderful friends in the ministry, even the one who is making the moose ears directly behind me!]
"Taken" has been the theme of our West Ohio Annual Conference this year. The theme, "taken" reminds us that through baptism, God has claimed us and knows us by name.

I have copied and pasted my tweets over the past three days while here at Lakeside, Ohio. Obviously, many more highlights could be shared but these are some of my reflections.  For more information about the week, click on this link. We still have one more day of our conference.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

West Ohio Annual Conference - June 9 to 12 (Lakeside, Ohio)

Clergy and lay delegates from over 1,100 United Methodist Churches in the West Ohio Conference will meet at Lakeside, Ohio Sunday, June 9 to Wednesday, June 12. Brad & Alicia Niceswanger, our lay delegates along with Pastor Cheryl and I will be participating. You can watch the conference live by going to this link.

I believe there are over sixty Annual Conferences throughout the country and they typically meet around this time of the year. Our new Bishop, Gregory Palmer who spoke at our church this past October, will preside over our meetings. Bishops serve four year terms and Bishop Palmer is in his first year in our West Ohio Conference.

Annual Conference has a typical schedule that we follow each year. It always includes inspiring worship with powerful keynote sermons. Probably my favorite part of Annual Conference is when 2,500 United Methodists sing, "O For a Thousand Tongues to Sing" as well as other hymns and praise songs together.

In addition to worship and inspiring sermons, we also celebrate the ordinations of new Elders and Deacons, recognize clergy who are retiring this year, adopt a conference budget, officially set pastoral appointments, and consider several resolutions. This year, we will be addressing the following resolutions:
  • Council on Finance & Administration for Calendar Year 2014
  • Camp Sabroski
  • Commission on Equitable Compensation
  • 2014 Board of Pension & Health Benefits
  • Global Maternal & Child Health through the Healthy Families, Healthy Planet Project
  • Regional Missional Support West Ohio Conference Trial Advance Special
  • Conference Education & Conversation on the Nature, Role, Authority, & Interpretations of Scripture
  • Formation of a Rural, Town, & Country Task Force
As  United Methodists, we are reminded that we are not always of one mind on the matters that come before us but we are also reminded that we are united through our common faith in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Please pray for Bishop Palmer, the lay delegates, and clergy as we celebrate our connectional ministry as United Methodists in the West Ohio Conference.

Thursday, June 6, 2013

Sermon (June 16) - "I Can See the Headlines Now"

     I can see the headlines now:  “Vineyard Owner from Jezreel Put to Death.  Townspeople Relieved.” 
     And just think of all the people who would read this and say things like, “It’s about time this country gets tough on crime.”  “Who was this nutcase, Naboth, anyway?”  “Who cares?  At least he got what he deserved.”  “People like him should be put away for good.”
     Here we have the justice system at work.  The town’s officials find this man guilty, give him the death sentence, and then execute him.
     To be honest with you, I am not a supporter of the death penalty, but I can certainly sympathize with family members of loved ones who were the victims of a violent crime.
     Many of us might remember reading or hearing about a very tragic news story several years ago about a nine year old girl in Florida who was abducted and then killed.  I’ll never forget the day I read that story. 
     Tears came to my eyes as I read the graphic details of what this person did to this little girl.  And then I read how she died while holding one of her stuffed animals.  I wanted to scream.  I wanted to cry out for God’s justice.
     Someone here in our church said to me a while back, “I just don’t understand God sometimes.  Why would God allow a child or people who are unable to defend themselves be harmed?”
     When we read stories like this, we wonder why the world is the way it is.  And we wonder if there will be any justice. 
     Our scripture reading from I Kings tells us the story of Naboth, an owner of a vineyard who was convicted of a crime and put to death.   Here’s a story of someone getting what they deserved.  Here’s a story of God’s justice at work. Right?
     Actually, no.  This is a story of an innocent man who was ordered to be put to death by someone who valued someone’s land over that person’s life.
     King Ahab, who lived next to Naboth, couldn’t help but notice how nice it would be if he had this neighbor’s land for his own private vegetable garden.  So he tried to strike a deal with his neighbor and Naboth declined.  Naboth wasn’t about to sell his ancestral property for any price.
     Ahab goes home and isn’t himself.  He really wants that guy’s property.  So he mopes around the house and is obviously discouraged.
     His wife, Jezebel asks him why he’s so down and after Ahab explains that Naboth had refused to sell him his property, she proceeds to take matters in her own hands.
     She forges her husband’s name on some official letters and sends them off to the leading people of the town, telling them to convict Naboth of some trumped up charges, and to have him stoned to death for his crimes.
     The local politicians, not wanting to disobey the King, follow orders and do just as the King had directed them to do.  They haul him into their assembly, tell him that he’s been charged with a crime, and then they put him to death.
     We’re left to wonder, “Will Jezebel and King Ahab get away with this total disregard for justice?  And what about the townspeople who will hear about Naboth’s alleged crime? Will they ever find out the truth of what really happened?  Will Naboth be remembered as a criminal who was justly punished for his crime?  And where is God in all of this?  Will God vindicate Naboth’s name and do something about Ahab and Jezebel?”
     This story of Naboth’s vineyard is a story that reminds us of the reality of evil in our world, as if we need to be reminded of that reality.  But this is also a story to help us think about the problem of evil as it relates to our faith.
     I was sitting in my 20th Century American History class and minding my own business when my college professor surprised me by saying those dreadful opening words, “Mr. McDowell.”  “I understand you’re planning on becoming a minister.  What would you possibly say to someone who is a Vietnam war veteran, who saw his buddies die in the line of duty, and who also witnessed so much violence and destruction.  What could you possibly say to that person about faith and God?”
       This professor, who had lost one of his legs in Vietnam was waiting for my answer.  All I could think of was, “Well, actually, to be honest, I don’t know what I would say to that person, Dr. Avillo.  But I would let this person know that God loves him and wants our world to be a place where there will be no more wars and violence.”
      I could tell that I didn’t totally satisfy his curiosity, but I guess that wasn’t a bad answer for having been totally caught off guard.
     It’s now been 29 years since I was asked that question, and Dr. Avillo, here’s what I would have said if I had been given a little more time to prepare.
     I still would tell that person that God loves him and cares about our world.  But here is what else I would share with him.
     God cares about justice.  It’s all through the scriptures.  From the Book of Genesis to the Book of Revelation, we read about a loving and just God who created the world and called it good.  But because of sin, God’s good creation is being torn apart.
     And ever since, God has been on a mission to rescue his good creation from sin and death.  God made a covenant with Abraham for Abraham to be blessed so that he and his family would in turn be a blessing to the world.  Through this covenant, God would bring peace and justice to all of creation.
     While God has always been faithful on his end of the covenant, we have not been faithful.  And by we, I also mean God’s people in the Bible.  We continued to sin and to not trust God.  But amazingly, God did not give up on us.
     And this is why God sent us Jesus – who was able to be our representative of what it means to fully live out God’s covenant in being the people God has intended us to be.  Jesus, the very embodiment of the God of Israel, fulfilled this covenant through his life, death, and resurrection.  Jesus did for humanity what we could not do ourselves.
     And even though evil and injustice are still very much part of our world today, through Jesus Christ, we can become God’s new creation.  Through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can live out God’s desire for all of his creation to be renewed one day at a time.
     And Dr. Avillo, what I’m about to share with you next, is what helps me to not lose faith, especially during those days when the headlines lead me to tears.  I believe that there will be a day when Jesus will return, and for those who have placed their faith in Him, they will be made new again, to live in God’s new creation where there will be no more suffering, tears, pain, injustice, wars, terrorism, hatred, jealousy, heartache, abuse, kidnappings, kings stealing land, murder, sin, and death.
     That’s what I would want to share with this Vietnam Veteran, Dr. Avillo.
     I was recently reading the story about Victor Jara, who was killed shortly after the 1973 military coup in Chili.  Victor was an educator, a theatre director, poet, folk singer-songwriter, and political activist.
     They had taken him along with thousands of others as prisoners to the Chili stadium which just a few years ago, was renamed after him.  In the days after they were taken to the stadium, many of the prisoners were tortured and killed.
     Jara was repeatedly beaten and tortured; the bones in his hands were broken as were the bones of his ribs.  Fellow political prisoners have testified that his captors mockingly suggested that he play the guitar for them as he lay on the ground.  Defiantly, he sang part of a song supporting a different political party.  After further beatings he was finally killed and his body dumped on a road on the outskirts of Santiago, his blood soaking into the ground.
     The Psalmist says, “For you are not a God who delights in wickedness; evil will not sojourn with you.  The boastful will not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers.  You destroy those who speak lies; the Lord abhors the bloodthirsty and deceitful.”
     Fortunately, the story of Naboth’s death doesn’t end with him lying in the street.  Verse 17 is the turning point.  We read, “Then the word of the Lord came to Elijah the Tishbite, saying: Go down to meet King Ahab of Israel, who rules in Samaria; he is now in the vineyard of Naboth, where he has gone to take possession.  You shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: Have you killed, and also taken possession?’ You shall say to him, ‘Thus says the Lord: In the place where dogs licked up the blood of Naboth, dogs will also lick up your blood.’”
     In the next chapter, we find that Ahab is killed by a stray arrow.
     And fortunately, the story of God’s desire to rescue the world from sin and death doesn’t end with this story of revenge.
     This story will eventually lead us to another story in which God will send his only Son who will die on a cross for the sins of the world. 
     The blood of the Son of God will trickle down a wooden cross and find its way to the ground. And that blood will cry out and God will hear yet again.
     Only this time, God will defeat sin and death once and for all.  God will raise Jesus on the third day and God’s new creation will begin.
     And God’s people will live with the hope and promise that one day…one day, all of creation will be filled with God’s justice and peace. 
     I can see the headlines now:  “Sin and death have been defeated:  God’s creation is rescued.”
     What a great and glorious day that will be!