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

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Easter Thoughts - Sharing the Good News

     Last year while on vacation, I met a little four-year old girl who lives next to my niece’s house. She was one of the most outgoing four year olds I have ever met.
     Even though she had just met us for the first time, she engaged us in a conversation that was quite impressive for a four year old. As she was talking with us, her mother told her to tell us about the bug. “Tell them about the bug you saw.”
     The little girl’s face looked really sad as she described in great detail about this bug that looked like it was going to die. We were all wondering why she was telling us this very sad story.
     All of the sudden, her eyes lit up and she began jumping up and down with great joy. “But then it turned into a butterfly! It did! It really did! It turned into a butterfly!” I don’t think I’ll ever forget the excitement in her voice as she told us about the dying bug that turned into a beautiful butterfly.
     As we approach Easter and the good news of the empty tomb, I think of this little girl who was so excited to share her story of life over death with us. May we do the same.

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Sunday Worship Preview - April 13

Sunday, April 13 - (9:00 &10:30 Services) & Wednesday April 16 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "Who Were the Twelve Disciples? Peter"

Features - Palm Sunday

Scripture - Psalm 118:1-2, 19-29 & Matthew 14:22-33

Theme During the Season of Lent, we are focusing on the twelve disciples of Jesus. Who were they? What can we learn from them? What does it mean to follow in their example? On this Sunday, we focus on Peter who was able to walk on water because he was willing to get out of the boat.

Dave's Deep Thoughts - A Tribute to Uncle Quinton

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.

It's nice to have snow days,
but what do you do when you run out of them?

During the mother of all winters
in the year of our Lord, 2013-14,
in south central Pennsylvania,
it is now March 26 and we received yet another snowfall.
 Though the calendar says spring,
the thermometer and the white on the ground say otherwise.

I know I run the risk of sounding like an old codger when I say.
"That's not how it was back in the day."

Oh, I am not talking about harsh winters.
We had plenty of them.
I am talking about snow days.

I remember winters when cars disappeared under drifts in the driveway.
I remember when snowcover from December to February was common.
I remember sitting in school during the afternoon after 3 inches had already fallen,
and not being dismissed early.

What I don't remember is going to school till the end of June,

Because we didn't.
Because we didn't have to.

Something has changed.
And I don't think it is just about climate.
I think it is about perspective.

A few weeks ago,
I visited my dying uncle one last time.
There is a sacredness in knowing you are very likely
 speaking to a person for the last time on this side of the river.

We had a wonderful visit.
We chatted about family memories,
about his comfort level,
about his life,
especially about his years before I was born.

Somehow the topic of all the spent snow days arose.
I asked him,
"Uncle Quinton, did you ever have snow days as a child?"

He smiled.

Looking into his eyes,
I knew I was about to venture into a world far removed from 2014.
After all, he was 97 years old.
He was born in 1917 so his school days would have been during the 1920's.
And school meant a one-room school house.

"Snow days?" he said with a half laugh.
"My goodness, we never had a snow day!"

"Well, what did you do when it snowed?"  I asked.

"On days that it snowed, my father would bring the horse out of the stable,
harness a log to it, and ride to school.
All the kids in the neighborhood would follow along in the path
carved out by the log." he said matter-of-factly.
"We never missed school."

I looked at him and said,
"Uncle Quinton, you were the toughest generation."

There was a twinkle in his eye,
that even the cancer could not take away.

My respect for him had grown to even more than what it had been.
After all, this was a man who.......
 had served our country during the war as a pilot  in the Air Force,
who met his wife at a church musical and courted her thereafter,
who dared to make a real commitment to her by marrying her before living with her,
 and through the 68 years of their marriage, his wife never ceased to be his girlfriend.

And he never took a snowday. Never.

Some would say,
times were simpler then.
Yes, they were,
but they were also harsher.

I don't recall ever having to fire up the wood stove in a bone chilling school
before commencing with grammar lessons.

I don't recall only receiving a pencil and an orange for Christmas
and being happy about it.

I don't recall having to light candles in the school house in order to read
because daytime snowstorms made it seem like night time.

But I didn't go to school in the 1920's.
Life was considerably more comfortable by the 1960's,
and even moreso now in the new millenium.

Are we softer as a culture?
No doubt.
Has that helped us?
I'm not so sure......

My uncle had it considerably tougher,
but he didn't have to worry about a gunman disrupting his schoolday and life.

My uncle didn't have computers to assist his learning,
but he learned enough about discipline and hardwork to forge a very successful career.

My uncle didn't have a cell phone to constantly text his girlfriend-to-be- wife,
but he knew how to communicate with her to cause their marriage to last a lifetime.

We think about things differently when there are no snow days left to spare.
I've noticed our children going to school during the last few weeks
when similar conditons previously kept them safely at
 home in front of their videogames and I phones.

Funny how circumstances can influence perspective,
especially when you are down to your last snowdays, let alone last days.

As we were reminiscing with my uncle,
we  were talking about the challenges of aging.
I mentioned that I wished there was a cure for aging.

We the twinkle still in his eye, my uncle said,
"There is,
it's called passing on."

Now there is someone who knew how to live,
so that he knew how to die.

My uncle was not overly verbal about his faith,
but his life spoke volumes about what it meant to live
as an obedient child of God.

Thanks for teaching me so much Uncle Quinton.
I will think of you each and every snow day.
I'm sure you aren't having those where you are now.
Oh wait,
you wouldn't anyway.

Toughest generation ever......

Wednesday, March 26, 2014

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary (March 30)

Sermon (March 30) - “Who Were the Twelve Disciples of Jesus? James the Greater”

Acts 12:1-5
Our New Testament reading from Acts chapter 12 describes how James the Greater became the first of Jesus' disciples to die for his faith.

Who was King Herod who killed James the Greater by the sword? He was King Herod Agrippa I who was the grandson of King Herod the Great who tried to kill the infant Jesus in Matthew chapter two. He was also the nephew of King Herod Antipas who killed John the Baptist in Matthew chapter six and he was also the father of King Herod Agrippa II who would end up hearing the Apostle Paul’s defense while on trial before Festus in Acts chapter twenty-five.

Since Herod wanted to keep in good standing with the Romans by quelling any possible political disruption in  his region, he sought to stamp out the new Christian movement and keep the status quo. This is why he had James the Greater, one of the disciples killed. This chapter marks the last that we hear about “the twelve disciples” as a group. As the book continues, another James, James, the brother of Jesus, becomes the focus since he is the leader of the Jerusalem Church.

Matthew 20:20-28
The mother of two of Jesus' disciples, James and John asks Jesus to offer her sons places of prominence in his kingdom. In response to this request, Jesus explains what it means to serve in his kingdom.

James & John (and their mother) were making a power play. They were positioning themselves for greater power in Jesus’ kingdom.

Jesus responds by referring to “the cup.” This comes from the OT in which the cup was seen as a symbol of the pain and suffering that will result from God dealing with sin and death in the world. See Isaiah 51:17,22

This scripture shows that Jesus’ understanding of the Kingdom of God was very different than the disciples’ understanding of the Kingdom of God. Jesus’ understanding of the kingdom is in line with Isaiah 53:10-12. Jesus will give his life as a ransom for many.

We are to remember this story when Jesus is on the cross with one on his right and one on his left. These are the “positions of power” in Jesus’ kingdom.

[Note: The resources used for these scripture reading commentaries are based on the Everyone series by NT Wright, The Wesley Study Bible, and the “Montreal-Anglican”lectionary commentaries.] 

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Sunday Worship Preview - April 6

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

Sermon - "Who Were the Twelve Disciples? Judas Iscariot & Matthias"

Features - Fifth Sunday In Lent & Holy Communion

Scripture - Acts 1:15-26 & John 13:21-30

Theme During the Season of Lent, we are focusing on the twelve disciples of Jesus. Who were they? What can we learn from them? What does it mean to follow in their example? On this Sunday, we focus on Matthias and Judas Iscariot. The story of Judas Iscariot reminds us that if we want to continue in our discipleship, we need to watch over one another in love.

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Spring Underneath the Snow

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.

Someone once said,
 "It's always darkest just before they turn on the lights,"
but what if someone already pulled the plug?

I have hugged my snowman.
I have stuck out my tongue to taste cascading snowflakes.
I have made enough snow angels in my yard
to staff an angelic army.

I have embraced winter.
But frankly,
I thought this was just a dating relationship,
 not a lifetime commitment.

There were so many winter storms this year,
that meterologists started naming them alphabetically,
just as in hurricane season.

Hurricanes normally get cute names like Sandy, Susie or Louie.
You know you are in trouble when the winter storms
coming at you are named  Maximus, Titan, and Vulcan.

Storm Atlas was cute.
Everyone likes a little snow in December
to get into the holiday spirit.

Storm Cleon had everyone singing
"I'm dreaming of a white Christmas"

Electra gave us some post Christmas cheery red cheeks
and Falco helped us welcome in the new year.

Storm Gemini followed quickly
and storm Hercules visited us over the MLK holiday

  Storm Janus greeted us right after the polar vortex blast (the first one) had punched us in the face.
We were now measuring in feet rather than inches.

Kronos visited us right after the Super Bowl.
But it was  Storm Lem
who on Feb 5, pounded us with an ice storm
that made anyone with a generator, our best friend.

Maximus lived up to its name by dumping 12 inches of snow in our lap
just before Valentines Day.
And Nika decided that we needed a little more ice to go with our Valentine drinks on Feb 14.

Eight more storms followed bringing us to mid-March,
the time when our hearts beat a bit more quickly at the thought of spring.

By then, my snow blower was crying uncle,
and I had surrendered my last precious handfuls of ice melt.
My property looked like a tornado had ravaged it,
with multiple trees and branches having met their Maker.

I myself, had met Jesus several times on my steep driveway
while snowblowing, tossing ice melt,
or my personal favorite......
chainsawing downed trees on an ice packed 35 degree incline.

We finally caught a break with 4-5 days of temperatures ABOVE freezing,
causing some of us to see Mother Earth for the first time in months.

It was while dragging my 34th large branch to the brush pile that I saw it,
there in the midst of my flowerbed.....
something green coming through the ground.

It had been months since I had seen something green other than  fallen evergreens.
I stared with fascination.
What could this be?
I gasped as I considered the unthinkable.
Could this be......
could this possibly be......
no it couldn't be.......
some sign of spring????

As I drug branch number 34 to its fiery burnpile,
my heart lept with joy,
and I walked with a little more bounce in my step.

Spring was coming
and Old Man Winter was powerless to stop it.
St Patrick's Day was soon upon us and I broke into an Irish jig.
But Ireland is most famous for potato famines and building the Titanic.
My merry jig came to a tragic halt
as I looked more closely at this green shoot of hope.

This was no declaration of resurrection.
It was a piece of plastic greenery that had been on my outdoor Christmas wreath
and was now imbedded in the ground.

Winter was mocking me once again.

There are times when we feel the enemy is mocking us.
Most likely, he is,
planting seeds of doubt about ourselves,
telling us that we can't possibly be more than lost orphaned children,
telling us that life beyond the grave with a loving Father is merely wishful thinking.

Most of us go through seasons when the cold and darkness seem like it just won't go away.
There is more despair than hope,
more discouragement than encouragement,
more pain than joy.

If you are in a winter of your own discontent,
tell the deceiver to leave.
Tell him there is nothing he can do to stop healing from overcoming disease,
there is nothing he can do to stop dancing from replacing mourning,
there is nothing he can do to keep the stone in front of the tomb.
There is nothing he can do to pull the plug on your Spring


Then walk away from him
and declare that even though it is Saturday in your life,
you know Sunday is coming,
even if you can't see it or feel it,

and walk to Jesus
and let Him carry you to the Spring that you can not see or feel.

Forcast for St Patrick's Day?
3-4 inches of snow.
That's okay.
Oh, I believe I will see some green,
It's called a Shamrock Shake.

Now that is seeing through eyes of faith.

Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for,
the conviction of things not seen.

                         Hebrews 11:1