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, October 30, 2013

Sunday Scripture Commentary (November 3)

Sermon (November 3) – “A Glorious Inheritance”

Ephesians 1:11-23

The Apostle Paul wrote the letter of Ephesians while he was in prison for his faith. In our scripture reading for today, Paul refers to all of God's people as "saints" who share in a glorious inheritance made possible through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

In biblical times, an inheritance was in the form of land and was handed down from generation to generation. For Israel as a nation, their inheritance was the land of Canaan that God promised to Abraham centuries earlier.

When Moses led the people of Israel to the promised land, this was “the obtaining of their inheritance.”

If this was the inheritance for the people of Israel, what is our inheritance as followers of Jesus Christ? Paul is making the point that our inheritance is more than a sliver of land in the Middle East. Our inheritance is the promise that God will one day renew all of creation when heaven and earth will be fully integrated! The pledge of this inheritance is the Holy Spirit (v. 14.) The pledge of the Holy Spirit is what helps us to hold on to the hope of this glorious inheritance.

The city of Ephesus was known as a place of great Roman power and wealth. Paul is contrasting the power of this city with a much greater power which is the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ (v. 20)

How do we live out the power of the resurrection in our daily lives? See v. 17. We need the gift of wisdom to see what real power really is, the power of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.

Verses 20-21 speak of Christ being above all authorities and rulers including the power of the Roman Empire!

Thoughts on All Saints’ Sunday

We are reminded that those who have gone on to glory are worshipping along with us here on earth! The church in heaven is known as the church triumphant.

It helps us to continue to celebrate those who have gone before us and it helps us to continue the grieving process.

At the heart of the good news of the Christian faith is the promise that one day all of God’s people will be reunited and we will feast at God’s heavenly banquet.

Monday, October 28, 2013

Sermon (October 27) - "Getting Blisters for Jesus"

     During one of our Second Saturday Outreach work projects, a member of our church came up to me and with a smile on his face said, “Let me see your hands. I want to see some blisters.”

     Blisters are a sign that we are getting some work done and that we’re doing something that we normally might not do. I don’t like blisters. They hurt. But over time, those blisters toughen up our skin allowing us to get more accomplished.

     I would imagine the disciples had really rough hands. I don’t even want to think about what they’re hands looked like compared to my soft hands. No comparison.

    That’s what I like about the disciples. Many of them were tough fisherman who left everything to follow Jesus. Instead of pulling in nets full of fish every day, they were now using those same hands to offer God’s healing love to the people around them. I’m sure they continued to fish from time to time, but Jesus had taught them to use their hands to also build up God’s kingdom here on earth.

     Do me a favor and look at your hands. Does anyone have any blisters on your hands? If so, raise your hand so we can see them!

     Of course, I’m referring to blisters on our hands as a metaphor to emphasize the need for all of us to be involved in serving as Jesus’ followers. Maybe you have developed a few spiritual blisters as a result of serving Christ and his church. Hopefully, those blisters were only temporary and now that you have been serving over a period of time, those blisters have been replaced with an inner joy of knowing that you are making an eternal difference in people’s lives.

     In our I Corinthians scripture reading, the Apostle Paul tells us that the church is made up of many different people who have many different ways of serving. This is how God designed the church to function.

     Like parts of the body, each person has God given abilities that contribute to a whole that is much greater than the sum of its parts. And, like a human body, when one part suffers, the rest of the church body suffers with it and must devote its energies to making the body whole again.

     Vernal E. Simms served as the Senior Pastor of Morris Brown A.M.E. Church in Philadelphia. In the book, From One Brother to Another, he shares how he grew up in a rough Boston housing project called Columbia Point in a family of nine children. Although he was a hard working student, paying for college seemed impossible.

     But his mother used to say, “Pray, and the Lord will make a way somehow.” He remembered his mother’s advice and began to pray about being able to go to college. He also felt called by God to enter the pastoral ministry which would mean attaining a Master of Divinity degree as well. Stepping out in faith, this young man packed for college and went to orientation but he still didn’t have enough money to enroll. He was about to pack up and make the 100 mile trip back home.

     And then something amazing happened. An heir to a corporate fortune heard about his plight and paid for his college education. After he graduated, he went to his benefactor’s office to thank him for all he had done and asked him what he could to repay him.

     Imagine him saying to this multimillionaire, “What can I do to repay you?” And the man responded with, “Help somebody.”

     Vernal Simms went on to spend the next twenty years pastoring churches in the drug-ridden, crime-infested inner city as well as in well-manicured suburbs. He followed the advice of his benefactor by applying those two simple words, “help somebody.”

     Help somebody. This is what it means to be committed to Jesus Christ. Each one of us has been given at least one gift to use in ministry. We are all called to get some spiritual blisters for Jesus.

     Susie Griset serves in our caring ministries. Let’s hear her testimony about serving in this important ministry area of our church.

     This morning, I invite you to pull out the commitment form on serving from your bulletin. If you have been attending worship the last several weeks, you’ll notice that this commitment is a lot longer than the other commitment slips we have been using. The reason for this is because our church is involved in over a hundred ministries that are helping us to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

     Many of you have filled out these forms the past few years. First of all, I want to thank you for completing these and sending them back to us.

     And secondly, I want you to know that these completed serving forms have greatly helped our church to include more and more people into the life and ministry of our church family. We are thankful that you have taken time to complete similar forms like this the past few years.

     In the next few minutes, we are going to have the opportunity to indicate what ministries we are serving in now and what new area ministries we are interested in serving for this coming year. And since this is a lot of information at one time, I’d like to walk us through this as we fill it out.

     At the top, please put your name and contact information. That’s important. Sometimes, we receive these forms but there’s no name at the top so don’t forget that first step.

     And then you’ll notice the many ministries in and through our church. There are two columns that you can check. The first column has the letter “n” which stands for “now.” Check this box for any ministry that you are serving in presently. The second column has the letter “i” which stands for “interested.” Check this box whenever you see a ministry that interests you where God might be calling you to serve.

     Now, let’s begin looking at the categories that group the ministries: And as we walk through the categories, go ahead and check the “N” column for any ministries which you are presenting serving. And also check the “I” column for any ministries that you have an interest in serving.

     The first ministry area is Administration. These involve our administrative committees.

     The second ministry area is Caring Ministries. These range from bereavement support to helping with our blood pressure ministry.

     The third ministry area is Children’s Disciples. Lots of opportunities there. And I should say that if you check that you’re interested in being a teacher or a helper, we provide the teaching materials for you to use so you’re not on your own. You’ll have a lot of support if you help in any of these ministries.

     The fourth ministry category at the top of the next column of your form is Craftmanship/Creativity. And there is a long list of particular skills that we often need throughout the year.

     The fifth ministry area is at the bottom there. Discipleship.

     If you turn the page over, the next category is Fellowship/Recreation. Let us know if you’re serving or interested in any of those ministries.

     The next category is Hospitality. This is a ministry area that we really we want to give some additional focus here in our church. You’ll notice that the Crossing Guard ministry is new this year because we have many youth who have to cross Wheeling street to get to Rising House just across the street for our Sunday School programs that are held there.

     The next ministry category is Outreach. We have a very active local and global outreach ministry.

     Service is the next ministry category ranging from assembling mailings all the way to helping with our Wednesday night dinners at Crossroads.

     At the top of the other column is the worship and music category and there are many ways to be part of our worship and music life here at First Church.

     And then you’ll see the Youth ministry category which includes all kinds of ways to support our youth ministry.

     We also saved some room for you to indicate any ministries you would like to do that are not listed on this form.

     We’re going to give you some more time to look these over. When you’ve completed your form, we are invited to place our completed commitment form in one of the covenant baskets nearest you. There are baskets down front here and there are baskets up in the balcony.

     I think we’re ready. May God bless you during this sacred time of commitment.

Friday, October 25, 2013

Sunday Worship Preview - November 10

Sunday, November 10 - (9:00 & 10:30 Services); Wednesday, November 13  (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "What Do You See?"

Features - 25th Sunday After Pentecost & Veterans' Recognition

Scripture - Haggai 1:15b-2:9 & II Thessalonians 2:13-17

Theme - As we think about the future, what does God want us to see? The scriptures offer us a picture of a future that is filled with peace, love, and justice

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Perfect Weddings

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.

Most people expect their wedding day to be perfect,
but do they expect the same for their marriage? for their lives?

Officiating at weddings is one of my favorite tasks as a pastor.
From the first pre-marital counseling session
to the final declaration of husband and wife,
I enjoy every part of the process.

As the officiant,
I try to see that the ceremony goes as smoothly as possible.
Usually they do,
but sometimes, things can get a bit crazy.

Wedding #1
It was a sunny late spring day, Everything was going as planned.......
that is till the final prayer.

Somewhere in between "bless and keep them" and the "Amen"
I heard IT.
You know what IT sounds like.
IT is that dreaded sound when someone is about to lose their cookies.
 It was the flower girl.
Though small and demure, she had great aim.
She nailed most of the communion railing and 3 bridesmaids.

I don't recall receiving specific instruction in seminary
as to what to do when vomit and vows meet in the same room,
so I just plowed on through the prayer.
Meanwhile, bridesmaid #1 attempted to airlift the flowergirl out of the room.
This resulted in a second heave at the doorway.

I learned two things that day...
1)Never feed flowergirls greasy chicken tenders before a wedding
2)Bridesmaids hate it when their dresses get splattered with anything.

Two weeks later,
wedding #2 of the season.

Beautiful music,
a string quartet and brass ensemble.
I led the groom's party into the room as the strings began.
Every step I took, resulted in a sound measuring
somewhere in between a sonic blast and an avalanche.

It was the wireless microphone in my pocket.
Sometime after I had checked the volume levels,
someone had fiddled with the settings.
The volume was now set too high.
Every step I took was  an explosive stride.
Only I, and my pastor friend who was assisting,
knew what  was causing the indoor fireworks sound effects.

Meanwhile the bridesmaids were beginning their processional.
The sonic booms then morphed into full blown feedback.

My friend and I both looked back at the sound station in the rear of the room.
No one was attending it.
My friend dashed back the aisle against the counter flow of the bridesmaids,
like a salmon swimming upstream,
to get to the sound board.
Women were covering their ears,
children were crying,
and men were trying to look brave and in control.

I am sure the strings played beautifully that day
but I have since learned that string quartets and feedback were never meant to co-exist,
no matter what key they were playing in.

Even though in both cases, the couples were successfully married,
I was now mired in a two game losing streak.
I was beginning to lose my pastoral mojo.

Then came wedding #3, a mid-summer nuptuals.
Beautiful flowers, large congregation,
and lovely weather for July.
Excitement in the air.

I was midway through the vows and I thought to myself,
"this is going very well."

Then it happened....
Groomsman # 3, a tall, slender lad fainted.
Let me say, that when someone faints in a public setting,
one quickly learns who the nurses are in the crowd.

The mother of the groom rose without hesitation,
and sprang into action.
Fortunately for the groomsman,
he revived before she needed to do mouth to mouth.
Some wedding photos were just never meant to be taken.

The losing streak had reached three.
3 weddings, 3 surprises.
I studied the situation....
Vomit, Feedback, Fainting
Phonetically, I was onto something....
I began to watch out for anything that began with an fff   sound
(okay, granted vomit was a bit of a stretch)

I had one more wedding that season,
an outdoor fall wedding,
a beautiful Indian summer weekend.
I went to the site for the rehearsal on Friday,
looking for any potential wedding landmines that began with  fff.
I saw nothing, that is till the wedding the next day.
I arrived and lo, what was placed just feet away on either side of where I was to stand??
with FFFIRE!
I  envisioned  my hair caught up in flames.

Somehow I avoided catching on fire that day,
even though I had left my flame retardent hairspray at home.
 The wedding went flawlessly.
Streak over.

The first three couples are doing well in their marriages to this day.
And because of the surprises,
they likely remember their wedding days with greater clarity.

Weddings days dont always go off without glitches or bumps,
and life surely doesn't.

And yet Jesus said that our standard for life
is that we are to "be perfect
  as our heavenly Father is perfect." 

Sounds like a daunting if not impossible challenge.
I don't think I can make it through one day perfectly,
let alone a lifetime, or even a wedding service.

Things happen that are out of our control.
But what about the things that we can control....
our temperament, our emotions, our behaviors?

This quote of Jesus concludes a section of teaching on
how we are to love and live with each other.
God expects more of us than what most of us think is possible.
Loving those who are not loving to us.....
Including those in our lives who it would be far easier to exclude......
Offering compassion, rather than revenge to those who wrong us......

The word perfect might be better translated as  mature or complete.
We aren't going to live mistakeless lives.
After all, our faith as Christians is predicated on the need for a Savior
to rescue us from our very penchant to make mistakes.

What God is asking us to do is to
examine the way He loves and likes us,
and to offer the same to those around us,
in other words, to live in His likeness.

If I would still be on this planet on the fiftieth wedding anniversaries of these couple,
I would hope that I could ask them,
"has your marriage, have your lives been perfect?"
And my hope would be their answer would be,
Despite all the challenges, the sicknesses,  
the tragedies, and the surprises,
we have choosen to live our lives in His likeness."

Now that is perfection,
something that vomit, feedback, or fainting can't touch.
No go, and have a perfectly mature and complete day!

"Therefore, you are to be perfect,
as your heavenly Father is perfect."

                                               Matthew 5:48

Sunday Scripture Commentary (October 27)

October 27 Sermon – “Are You Ready to Get Blisters for Jesus?”

I Corinthians 12:12-20

The Apostle Paul informs the Christians at Corinth that spiritual gifts come through the Holy Spirit and are given as he chooses for the benefit of the entire church.

When Paul uses the human body as an analogy, he is thinking in Jewish/Old Testament terms of when God created human beings. Paul is saying that the church is the new humanity that God through Christ is creating. It’s in the church where we learn to be the human beings God intended us to be!

v. 13 – Paul views baptism as the entry point into this new humanity, the church. When Paul associates baptism with the Spirit, he is reminding us that God will strengthen us as we use our gifts in ministry and service to others.

Spiritual Gifts: We need each other in the church. Every function is important to the whole. Everyone has at least one spiritual gift and these gifts are meant to be a blessing to the whole church (see v. 7) Spiritual Gift inventories are helpful in determining your spiritual gifts. There are approximately 20 spiritual gifts listed in the scriptures.

Mark 1:14-20

After being tempted to misuse his power by the Devil, Jesus has returned to Galilee. He calls on some fishermen to follow him.

The fishermen gave up generations of family fishing to follow Jesus. Jesus called James, John, Peter and Andrew to follow him and they did! This is to remind us of the calling of Abram in the Old Testament when he was called to leave his country and follow God into an unknown land.

What is the Kingdom of God? There are many misconceptions of the meaning of this phrase. It does not refer to a new type of inner spirituality. It refers to the news that God is at work in the world in a new way and is establishing his kingdom on earth.

Over the course of approximately three years, Jesus was able to disciple these fisherman, a tax collector, and several others and form them into a new Israel who would continue to build God’s kingdom following the resurrection. Jesus continues to call people to follow him today!

What does it mean to leave our nets and follow Jesus? In what ways are we inviting people to follow Jesus?

Monday, October 21, 2013

Sermon (October 20) - "Give Till It Feels Good"


     Prayer, bible reading, weekly worship, and witnessing are four key components in what it means to be fully committed followers of Jesus Christ.  We have two more key components to cover. Today, we focus on the vital component of financial giving.

     For this, we turn our attention to a person who often goes unnoticed, who flies under the radar, whose name no one seems to remember, and who often gets lost in the crowd. And yet this same person is the one who Jesus lifts up in our Gospel reading as a shining example of financial generosity.

     Jesus and the disciples were people watching one day. They weren’t sitting on a bench at a shopping mall, but they were watching the hustle and bustle of a large crowd of people making their donations to the Temple treasury.

     There were some big time donations being made by some pretty impressive and well known people. They were dropping in some serious coinage as a display of their power and wealth.

     These are the names that you see in the first pages of the annual financial report under the heading, President’s Club. It’s the annual gift that could buy a new car. It’s such a large gift that you just might get a call and be invited to serve on the board of directors.

     As they watch this impressive display of financial giving, Jesus points out the obvious that it’s so easy to focus on the people who are making the big donations. That’s the easy part. There’s a reason why most people know who you mean when you say Donald Trump or Bill Gates. They’re rich. They have a ton of money. And they donate more money to causes than we can ever imagine.

     And I like it that Jesus doesn’t trivialize the giving of those impressive donors. Everyone is called to offer their financial resources to be a blessing to others. That’s something that we are all called to do.

     But Jesus doesn’t want the disciples and he doesn’t want us to only focus on the dollar amount of the financial gifts. Jesus wants us to focus on something much more important. Jesus wants us to focus on the spirit in which we offer our gifts.

     And for this, he points out a poor nameless widow who drops in her two coins into the Temple Treasury. Those two coins will not get her name printed in the top donor category. She won’t even get listed under that last category called, “Other Contributions.” She will largely go unnoticed. She will remain nameless.

     But Jesus noticed. And Jesus lifted up this poor widow as an example of what it means to be fully committed to God. She gave her financial gift out of her poverty and gave all that she had. Jesus wants us to see that giving is not just about the dollar amount. It’s about the heart.  It’s about the spirit in which we offer our gifts.

     We might even say that Jesus doesn’t just notice the size of our financial gifts. He also notices what’s in our checking and saving accounts. Jesus sees the big picture. He can see what’s important to us. He can see where we place our priorities.

     Someone said to me one day that when you reviewed your spending over the past several weeks, you were shocked with how much money you spend on entertainment. It can be shocking when we do the math and think about how we are spending our money vs. what we say is important in our lives.

     Sometimes, what we say is important doesn’t translate into our practical everyday lives.   We need to do a better job of going from the theoretical to the practical.

     Maybe you heard about the preacher who visited a farmer one day and asked him, “Joe, If you had $200, would you give $100 to the Lord?”  And the farmer said, “Sure, I would!”

     And then the preacher asked him, “Joe, if you had two cows, would you give one cow to the Lord?” And the farmer said, “Well, yeah, if I had two cows, I’d give one of the those cows to the Lord.”

     And the preacher asked him, “Joe, let me ask you one more question. What if you owned two pigs? Would you give one of your two pigs to the Lord?”

     This time the farmer got angry and said, “Now, that’s not fair for you to ask me that question preacher, because you know that I actually own two pigs!”

     Sometimes what sounds great in theory doesn’t always translate into real life generosity.

     This is why the bible talks about the principle of tithing our financial resources. Tithing is the biblical model of giving 10% of our financial blessings to the work of Christ and his church. Some have said that the biblical principle of tithing acts as a great equalizer because if a poor person puts $15 into the offering plate one Sunday morning and a very wealthy person puts in $1,500 that same day, and both gifts represent 10% of that’s week’s income, then their gifts are equal according to Jesus’ math. The call is for equal sacrifice, not equal gifts.

     The widow in our Gospel reading has much to teach all of us about love, trust, and the nature of God. She didn’t have much, but she gave all she had because she loved others beyond herself. She gave because she believed those coins could be multiplied by God for God’s work better than by her. She knew that God could be trusted to be faithful beyond any bank or possession.

     A friend of mine told shared his faith journey with me. Early in his marriage he would attend church on occasion but not very often. A buddy of his invited him to attend a spiritual weekend retreat which he did and during that retreat, he experienced God’s love in a way that he had never before experienced. That weekend became a major turning point in his life.

     When he got home after the retreat, he told his wife all about it. He told her about how he had experienced God’s love and grace in such a real and powerful way and how he made a commitment to be a faithful follower of Jesus Christ during that weekend.  And so he asked her, “How much do we give to the church each week?” He had never asked her what they give each week.

     She told him the amount and he said, “Oh, my. That’s nowhere near what we should be giving. We need to at least triple that amount.”

     Not only did that weekend retreat change him inwardly, it also had a huge impact on his commitments in the key areas we have been focusing on these past several weeks. He began praying and reading his bible on a daily basis. He started attending worship with his wife and family every single week. He became intentional in sharing his new found faith with the people at work. And he began to tithe his income to the work of Christ and the church.

     If you would do the math, even before this man’s spiritual renewal weekend, he was giving a whole lot more money in the offering than the poor widow in our Gospel reading.  But it wasn’t until after that spiritual weekend that he realized that his gift was so small in comparison to her great sacrifice. He was now wanting to make up for lost time. He realized what the poor widow already knew, that our giving is a response to God’s gracious love in our lives.

     Wes and Laura Osborn are faithful members of our church. They recently shared what financial giving to the church means to them. Let’s watch their video testimony.

     I invite us to turn to our commitment slip that is in your bulletin. It’s on our topic today of financial giving and you can see the various commitments that are listed there. I’m going to read these possible responses.

·       No, I am not ready to commit at this time.
·       I would like more information about the Dave Ramsey financial class that our church    will be hosting.
·       Yes, I am ready to commit as follows:

    You’ll see that it says, “General Fund” which supports over one hundred vital ministries through our church.  It then says that from this coming January 1 to December 31 of 2014, that I will give so much money every week or month or quarter or year for an annual total amount of so many dollars.

     And then at the bottom, you’ll notice an option where you can indicate if this will represent a tithe or 10% of your income to the work of Christ and the church. If it’s not a tithe, you can put down whatever % of your income that represents. And finally, you also have the option of checking the last line that says that in the years ahead with God’s help, I will step up toward tithing. This might mean that instead of giving 2% of your income to Christ and the church, that you set a goal to give a higher percentage the following year until you reach the biblical principle of tithing.

     I think the last paragraph is very important with this Sunday’s commitment on financial giving. It says that giving will be the greatest joy in my life. If I miss a week, I will give twice as much the next week to keep my commitment. I will move closer to tithing, giving 10% of my income each year. I will make my contribution to Christ and the church the top priority in my personal budget.  

      As you complete your commitment slip, remember to complete both sides of the slip. You’ll need to tear off where you see the dotted line. Keep the left side of the slip and we are invited to place the rights side of the slip in one of the covenant baskets nearest you. There are baskets down front here and there are baskets up in the balcony.

     I want you to know that we will give these commitments utmost care. We’ll have somebody who is very trustworthy collect these just so that we can be aware of the commitments that are being made today.

     I think we’re ready. May God bless you during this sacred time of commitment.