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, April 30, 2014

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Ain't No Dragon Bigger than My Jesus!

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.


First pitch for the ballgame was set for 7:05pm
so the national anthem  was to be sung at 7:02pm

My youth choir of 38 had the honors that evening.
So we arrived at the stadium guest services at 6:15pm,
just as instructed.

We've sung the anthem at othe pro-sports events
so we knew the drill.

But it takes some time
to organize the rows of singers by section and height,
to practice moving to and from the site,
let alone practice the anthem.

We were still standing at guest services

Still there
The folks at guest services told me that someone on staff
was indeed on their way

Hadn't moved.

I am now more than concerned.
Guest services assured me that we hadn't been forgotten.

I was panicking.
So I asked God what to do.
He helped me understand that there was nothing that we needed to do,
that couldn't be done right where we were.

I gathered the 38 in a back corner of the concourse
next to the popcorn vendor,
and lined the singers in rows.
We practiced the anthem.

The customer at the popcorn stand
didn't know whether to put his hand over his heart
or ask for extra butter.

The popcorn was still moving
but we weren't.

The staff person finally arrived.
We were ushered into the lower portion of the stadium.
Within minutes, our 38 strong were being escorted to home plate.

It was a matter of seconds till we were to sing.
I passed the starting pitch to all voice sections.

That's when I noticed the singers all beginning to laugh at me.
As a male, I could only assume that meant 
my fly was down in front of 10,000 people.
I checked.  I was fine.

Actually I wasn't fine.
Homer, the dragon, the team mascot was inches behind me.
I was attempting to prepare my young people to sing
in front of 10,000 people,
and Homer just wanted to tweak my nose.....

Now call me unusual,
but I do have an aversion to human beings
dressed in stuffed animal/fantasy costumes.

Perhaps I was traumatized as a child 
by red haired clowns at fast food restaurants.

 Maybe its because I can see the eyes of an overheated human being
pleadingly staring at me through the mouth hole.

Maybe it's because no matter what you say to them,
you know they can't talk back to you.

Or maybe, just maybe,
I don't like oversized sweaty paws touching me.

Now, don't call me irrational.
I have no problem with a dancing cow alongside the road
trying to coax me into a restaurant,
or a statue of liberty using his beacon of light
to lead me to tax freedom.......

But put an oversized stuffed panda bear wearing an apron
into my personal space???
then we have problems.

Homer gave me a hug,
a BIG hug.
Then he gave me another hug.
Then he tapped me on my rear.

I was pretty sure if I punched Homer,
I would traumatize thousands of children in attendance,
and likely be evicted from the game.

60 seconds from singing the anthem
and Homer is now attempting to put my head
inside his oversized dragon jaws.

While I normally would have seen this as the final straw in any relationship,
I chose to maturely understand it as a grand opportunity
to speak in private to the human being
 underneath the 6 inches of sweaty dragon padding,

I will not tell you what I said to Homer in the privacy of his jaws,
but I will say that it was enough for this dragon
to release me and move forever to his side of the moat.

Now free from the dragon's grip,
I raised my arm
and 38 young people came in on the downbeat,
and nailed the anthem in spectacular fashion.

I call it the moment of reckoning.
Have you ever had one of those?

That moment when you are in the belly  (or jaws) of the beast
and you need to decide what to do.

Sometimes it needs to be an instantaneous decision,
such as fight or flight.

Sometimes, it's a bigger life decision
and you have more time in the belly to think it through..

Jonah certainly had that experience.
He was swallowed by the great fish,
because he was running from God.
Three days in the luxurious privacy of the fish's digestive system,
showed him that he was headed in the wrong direction.
He was swallowed in as a coward,
and vomited out as a evangelist.

Perhaps you have to decide a response to a difficult situation
in a matter of moments,
or perhaps you have more time to think about something bigger,
a life changing decision.

Whatever it is,
running from God and His will
is never the answer.

If we think we can do that,
we are only fooling ourselves,
for God is in charge of all things.

It's God who is in control of things, not us.

If you are only given a moment to decide,
call on His name.
If are given three days, or three months,
call on His name.

When the decision is made in the name of Jesus,
you won't regret it........... ever.

As we walked off the baseball field,
Homer wanted to kiss and make up.
I high fived him.
Ain't no dragon bigger than my Jesus......

I called out of my distress to the Lord,
and He answered me.
I cried for help from the depth of Sheol;
Thou didst hear my voice.
                                     Jonah 2:2

Upcoming Sunday Scripture Commentary (May 4)

May 4 Sermon – “The Breaking of the Bread”

Psalm 116:1-4, 12-14
This Psalm is one of thanksgiving for God’s presence through a time of illness and trouble. God’s faithfulness is recognized!

Psalms 113 to 118 are known as Hallelujah Psalms. They all contain the phrase, “Praise the Lord.” These were used at the great feasts in Israel.

The Psalmist calls on the Lord three times in vv. 2,4, & 17.

Verse 3 – Sheol is another word for the grave or the Pit.

Verse 8 – Soul means “being.” It’s not a word that refers to the Greek understanding of the soul separated from the body. The Hebrew understanding is more wholistic.

Verses 12 to 19 – This is a vow made by the Psalmist.

Luke 24:13-35
On the Sunday evening after Jesus’ death, two of Jesus’ followers are leaving Jerusalem and walking toward a village called Emmaus.  As they travel, they meet a stranger who changes their lives.

The couple was probably a married couple, Cleopas and Mary. (See John 19:25) Perhaps, they first thought that the stranger was a spy since Jesus’ followers would have been fearful of the religious authorities at this point.

The crucifixion was at first a sign of failure since the 1st century Jewish expectation was that the Messiah would defeat the Romans and not be killed by the Romans!

The couple thought that the Messiah would save them from suffering but it would actually be through suffering that God would rescue the world.

The stranger (Jesus) explains the meaning of the cross and the empty tomb by telling the story of the Hebrew scriptures and how it was all leading to this.

Notice that the strangers didn’t recognize the stranger as Jesus. The risen Christ can be recognizable to his followers but not in an obvious way. (See Matthew 28:17.) In each instance, they only recognize Jesus when they understand the meaning of the cross and the empty tomb.

This Emmaus story reminds us that we need to pray for God to guide and open our minds whenever we read and study the scriptures. Only then, we will come to a point where our hearts burn within us. (Verse 32.)

[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, April 24, 2014

Sunday Worship Preview - May 11

Sunday, May 11 - (9:00 &10:30 Services) & Wednesday May 14 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Perfect Church"

Features - 4th Sunday of Easter & Mothers' Day

Scripture - Acts 2:42-47

Theme Sometimes, we have unrealistic expectations of family members. Mothers are expected to fulfill a lot of roles even though they can only do so much. We also have high expectations of the church. Is there such a thing as a "perfect" church?

Sunday Worship Preview - May 4

Sunday, May 4 - (9:00 &10:30 Services) & Wednesday May 7 (6:30 pm Casual Service @ Crossroads, 2095 Fair Avenue)

Sermon - "The Breaking of the Bread"

Features - 3rd Sunday of Easter & Holy Communion

Scripture - Psalm 116:1-4, 12-14 & Luke 24:13-35

Theme - When the bread was broken at the table, Jesus was recognized at Emmaus. How is God seen in the broken places of our world?

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Dave's Deep Thoughts - A Man's Best Friend

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.

He came running up to the pickup truck,
and that was it.

 November 2002.

It had been 6 months since I had put my last dog down
and it was time to welcome a new dog to the family.

As I got out of my truck,
he came came running from his play area
and greeted me with kisses.

The breeder had not even made it out of the house
and the deal was done.

He was an English Springer Spaniel.
 12 pounds of utter cuteness.

The runt of his litter,
he was the last puppy available.
Sometimes,  the best is saved for last.

I named him Juggernaut,
which means " a powerful force not easily defeated."
I named him for my favorite football team which was
once again becoming a powerhouse.
But in the end,
he was a juggernaut of love,
a love that extended over eleven years.

He bore many names.
While he became Juggy to most,
he was always Juggernaut to me.

To the hip crowd, he was the J-dog.
And because he broke the cuteness meter,
he also took on the nickname "Precious"

As I held this young puppy in my arms,
I had no idea of the journey
on which he would take me.

He loved life on the farm
In his early years, he kept Grandma company during the day
and protected Master in the evening and through the night.

It was on the farm
where the famous skunking incident of 2007 occured.
March 15th to be exact.
 Master learned that day,
that a skunked dog turns a home into a toxic waste site within seconds.

5 scrubdowns did little.
Skunk shampoo was rendered useless.
Tomato juice just turned him pink.
But oddly enough,
feminine hygiene products helped
For the remainder of the year and the stink,
he was known as the "Anti-Precious."

He became one of the few dogs
to make the front page of the county newspaper,
(photo and full article)
when Master's team was scheduled to play the local team.
When interviewed by the reporter,
he just licked the reporter's face.
(This became the J-dog's common response to most questions)
It was then that he truly became the rock star that he was intended to be.

He had a weekly feature in Master's e mail newsletter
called the Juggernaut Update,
letting everyone know what was happening in his life.
This included everything from the antics of Mr. Stupid Gray Barncat
to the arrival of his soon-to-be fiancee, Miss Hannah.
It wasn't very long, that people far removed from Master's world,
knew the power of the J-Dog.

But there were also disappointments along the way.
He auditioned for several of Master's musicals,
but was never cast.

In 2008, he auditioned for the role of Toto but was told
"He didn't quite have the look they were looking for."

In 2007, when auditioning to be an animal for the ark,
he was told that "they were going to use humans to play the parts."

Outdoor Nativity auditions
ended with "We'll call you if we need you."

He did actually make it onstage once.
That was the abduction in July of 2007.
Costumers kidnapped him during a dress rehearsal
and shamed him with a skunk outfit created just for him.
He was paraded onto the stage
but once again, never made it to opening night.

Perhaps his greatest triumph,
besides loving Master,
was when he defended the home against the infidels.
January 1 of 2009.

Somehow the J-dog heard intruders at the other side of the property
over the din of the surround sound Rose Bowl pre-game.
Once Master was alerted,
he leaped from the doorway, over the porch,  to the lawn to ward off the invaders
 who were planting innapropriate signs in Master's yard
and trying to steal Master's football flag.

The lesson learned that day.......
you might be able to fool Master,
but don't even think of messing with a Juggernaut.

He was the only one that was with Master everyday when Master built his home.
He was always there when Master needed a hug.

He was always there.

On All Saints Day, Nov 1, of 2013,
Master said goodbye to Juggernaut
as a cancer became the only thing to ever defeat him.

Do dogs (or other animals) really go to heaven?
In my earlier days, I didn't think so.

But I am re-thinking my view.
Part of it,  no doubt is an emotional response to loss .
But the more reading I do,
the more I am convinced that animals do have a place in eternity.

Elijah was taken up to heaven in a chariot pulled by horses (2 Kings 2:11)
Revelation 6:2-8 and 19:11 speak of enough horses for the vast army of heaven to ride.
And Isaiah 65:25 speaks of the presence of the wolf, lamb, lion, ox,
and sorry, even the serpent.
(though the good news is that it appears  that aggressive behavior
among animals would cease to exist.)

In Genesis 2, Adam is called on by God
to give names only to one other part of creation........

While he worked the garden,
he was not called on to give names to the vegetation.
Clearly, animals had certain qualities that set them
above other aspects of creation
By naming them, God made this relationship most personal.

On Easter Sunday, the day we celebrate resurrection,
my new dog, Bushwacker,
came back to the door from outside playtime.
He had something in his mouth.

It was Juggernaut's favorite toy.
I hadn't seen it in months,
well before his death.

Sometimes God just gives you a sign.

It looks like cancer didn't defeat him either.