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 27, 2016

Dave's Deep Thoughts - Knowing When to Play Fetch

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 been said,
If you want to climb into the saddle, you’d better be ready for the ride.”

I have a secret saddle.
It’s my John Deere.
When I am in my saddle, I am a lone cowboy out on the plains.

When I am out on the range, there are no phone calls, no texts,
no appointments, no projects, no planning sessions.

No, when I am riding my  mechanical horse,
it’s just me, the land, and skies that are not cloudy all day
for this cowpoke and Mother Earth.

No buffalo roaming…….
well, almost none.

When this cowboy is back on the ranch, there is one little buffalo in his life, 
a forty-two pound fur ball of love named Bushwhacker.
Like his master, he sees life as a grand adventure while out on the range.

Often he will gallop alongside me,
his Tonto to my Lone Ranger.

But this day on the prairie was different. Tonto was curiously missing.
As I turned the corner to circle back, there in my path……..
was one of his toy balls.

You see, my little sidekick has a passion as well.
It’s called FETCH. If he could, he would play fetch 16 hours a day.
So I picked up the ball and through it a country mile.

As I mounted my metallic stallion again, I should have known that I had made a mistake.
For there on the second time around,  was the ball lying again on my horse path.
I just wanted to be home on the range but my little partner wanted to play like the deer and the antelope.

I stopped, dismounted, and put the ball in my saddlebag,
and there was my little buckaroo peering longingly for a gallop that was not to come.

The third time around, to my surprise, there was another ball waitin’ to be stampeded.
It appeared that the little cowpoke had a stash of balls that this cowboy didn’t know about.
As the ball went into my saddlebag, the little rancher looked like he was going to cry.

Apparently, the cry session didn’t last very long.
By the time I made my 4th roundup,
my little wrangler had placed another ball out on the plain.
Now I know that while home on the range, there isn’t supposed to be a discouraging word,
but it was time for this cowboy to give one to his little buddy.

Knowing that at this pace, it would take till sundown to git the job done,
it was time to take the little herdsman back inside the ranch house.

Sometimes cowboys just need to do what they gotta do….
We all at times, have to make choices,
choices between what are good things and what are the best things.

There are only 24 hours in each day, and often, more than 24 hours of needs.
Parents know what that feels like,   
business owners know it,
students experience it,
pastors can write a book about it,
even cowboys get weary.

All of us feel that way.
So how does one lay their head down at night
being at peace with what they have accomplished in the day
in a culture that always clamors for more busyness?

Consider the story of Mary and Martha,
a classic story about worrying versus worship. (Luke 10: 38-42)
Jesus didn’t tell  sister Martha that her work was not important 
There is great importance in serving others.
We learn that in the story of the Good Samaritan  (Luke 10: 25-37)

But  notice the story  of Mary & Martha directly follows the Good Samaritan story.

Sister Mary, knowing that time in Jesus’ presence was precious,
chooses to sit at her Master’s feet and listen.

What Jesus reminds Martha is that service that becomes frantic and overcommitted,
distracts us from the ultimate reason for service itself, and that is Jesus.

The key to making choices about what to do with our time?
Serve but don’t be frantic,
sacrifice for the well being of others,
but don’t let it trump intimacy with God.

After the prairie was mowed,
this cowboy went back to the ranch house and grabbed his little partner,
and they played fetch on into the sunset.

Giddy up!

“There is an appointed time for everything.
And there is a times for every event under heaven.”
                                                      Ecclesiastes 3:1

Monday, April 25, 2016

Pastoral Prayer (April 24) - Athens First UMC

[Footprint of Neil Armstrong who famously said, "One small step for man, one giant leap for mankind." This quote fit into Sunday's worship theme of when the Apostle, Peter took a small but important step into the home of a Gentile and offered them the gift of God's salvation through Jesus Christ.]

O God, thank you for that one small step by one of your disciples which extended the gospel to people with last names like Stoltzfus, Butcher, Mather, and Slater. We are humbled to be included in your family.

Forgive us for whenever we establish boundaries that would make it difficult for people in our community to feel included here in our church. Help us to be a church that is welcoming toward all people regardless of our last names or our various backgrounds.

May each one of our small steps toward becoming an open and inclusive church be transformed into one giant leap for the sake of your kingdom. We want to be a church that truly lives out our mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.

Teach us to take a small step in inviting someone to join us for worship.  Teach us to take a small step in joining a small group where we can share our faith with others. Teach us to take a small step by serving others in our community. Teach us to take a small step by saying “hello” to the stranger on the street. Teach us to take a small step by stooping down to say “hi” to a preschooler. Teach us to take a small step by offering a hand to someone in need.  O God, may we never underestimate our small steps to trust and obey.

Even in this time of prayer, we take a small step in praying for people who are going through a difficult time in life, like those who have lost their homes and their belongings in the recent flooding in Texas, for the recent tragedy in nearby Pike County, Ohio, for those who are facing unemployment, for those who are discouraged, for our college students during final exam week, and for those who are in need of healing. Surround all of these persons with your guidance and your love.

And thank you, O God for teaching our church what we can accomplish together when each one of us takes a small step in offering our gifts toward a campaign of making needed church improvements. We continue to praise you for helping us to reach our goal and hopefully, to even go far beyond it.

With praise in our hearts, we join now in praying “The Lord’s Prayer”….

“Our Father, who art in heaven…” 

Sunday, April 24, 2016

Sermon (April 24) by Rev. Robert McDowell - "One Small Step"

     On a very cold winter day several years ago, I was driving on Interstate 75 in northwest, Ohio when I saw a sign for a McDonalds at the Wapakoneta exit and I thought, “A nice hot cup of coffee sounds pretty good right now.”
     So I get off at the exit and turn into the McDonald’s parking lot.  And maybe some of you know which McDonald’s restaurant I’m talking about, because on a wall inside this particular McDonalds’, a New York Times newspaper, dated July 21, 1969 is proudly displayed.
     And the headline reads, “Men Walk on Moon.”  I was standing in the home town of Neil Armstrong who was the first person to step on the moon and the one who said what has become one of the most famous quotes of all time, “That’s one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.” 
     Before buying my coffee, I just stood there, reading this article about this world changing event, perhaps one of the most incredible events of our modern era and just thinking how that event has shaped our thinking.  
     It’s not uncommon to hear people say, “If we can send a man to the moon, we can certainly…(and from there you can fill in the blank.)  “End world hunger.  End homelessness.  Stop crime and violence.  Make broccoli taste good.” 
     OK.  Maybe some things are beyond our reach.
     I was only six years old when Neil Armstrong made history on that summer day in 1969, but whenever I look at a full moon now, I can’t help but to be in awe of that remarkable event. 
     As I left that McDonald’s restaurant on that cold and chilly day, I came away inspired by how one small step made such a big difference in our way of thinking.
     Two thousand years before Neil Armstrong made history on that mid summer day, another man is about to take a small step which will literally change the world.  We know him as the Apostle Peter from our scripture passage this morning, who earlier that day was given a vision from God to begin breaking down the barriers that had existed between people of the Jewish faith and people who were outside the Jewish faith. 
     And because Peter obeyed the vision that God had given him to go to a pagan city and to the home of a family outside of the Jewish faith, Peter’s one small step into this home, led to an entire family receiving Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior.  But unlike Neil Armstrong, Peter will not come back to a hero’s welcome where he will find a plaque commemorating this historic event.
      When Peter arrives home, everyone is up in arms at First Jerusalem Church.  News had already gotten back to them that people outside of the Jewish faith were now joining the church.  They can’t help but to notice all the new faces in their most recent pictorial directory, which wouldn’t be a bad thing, except that a lot of these last names are pagan names like “McDowell” and “Daubenmire.” 
     “These two guys don’t know Moses from Adam.  How did they ever manage to join the church?”
     This is what Peter is facing when he arrives back following his historic mission. 
     And all Peter could tell them was that he had been given a vision from God.  And the vision was a large sheet that had been lowered from the sky containing all kinds of animals, reptiles and birds which were considered ritually unclean.  And this sheet which contained all of these creatures had landed uncomfortably close to Peter there on the ground.
     And that’s when Peter heard a voice, “Get up Peter, kill and eat.”  At first Peter refused because he had always followed the rules of his faith, but the voice kept saying, “What God has made clean, Peter, you must not call profane.”
     And after Peter heard this voice, the sheet disappeared and standing in front of him were three men who had been sent from Caesarea to find Peter and take him to the home of Cornelius and his non-Jewish family. 
     After Peter finished telling his story of how this entire family had become part of their church family through Jesus Christ, the leaders at First Jerusalem Church were speechless.  And then it began to dawn on them that because of Peter’s small step, God’s salvation through Jesus Christ was being offered to the entire world.

     One of the biggest highlights of my life was when I had the opportunity to travel to the Holy Land and visit the area where the city of Caesarea was located during the time of Peter. It’s right along the eastern coast of the Mediterranean Sea, and it was a picture perfect day with blue skies as I stood in that historic area with a friend.
     Our tour guide talked about this same story from the Book of Acts and he said that without Peter’s faithfulness to the vision that had been given him, the church would have very easily kept their faith in Jesus Christ to themselves and within their own Jewish faith.  But because of this story, people with last names like McDowell and Daubenmire are invited to become part of God’s covenant family.
     And when our guide shared this scripture with us, he had us look out at the beautiful Mediterranean Sea and he encouraged us to not keep the Christian faith to ourselves, but to share it with the entire world, just as Peter did in the city of Caesarea and just as the Apostle Paul would later do by going all the way to Rome with the Gospel.
     Have you ever noticed how bold and audacious our church’s mission statement is?  “To make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  In other words, our mission as a church will not be completed until that day when the entire world will reflect the love and goodness of the God of all creation. 
     I don’t know about you, but sometimes, just the city of Athens seems monumental to me.  And then you think about Athens County and you wonder, if we can’t even take care of our own back yard, how in heaven’s name will we be able to change the world?  Peter reminds us that God’s transforming love happens when we focus on taking the small steps.
     This morning, I’d like to think about some small steps that we can take to make a difference in our world.
     The first small step is probably the most obvious small step, but without it, we can’t really even begin to talk about the others.  The first small step is for each of us to ask ourselves, “Do I have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ?”
     Peter was one of the first disciples to follow Jesus.  And not only was Peter one of Jesus’ disciples, but he was also an eyewitness of Jesus following his resurrection.  Peter saw Jesus in his resurrected body and knew that Jesus was the embodiment of God. He knew that through the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus that he was the fulfillment of the covenant that God had made centuries earlier with Abraham and Sarah.
     Peter had taken that small step of being a disciple of Jesus.  Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean that we’re perfect or that we are all of the sudden given a halo to wear around our head.  Remember, it was Peter who often struggled to be faithful to Christ and who had denied Jesus three times. 
     Being a disciple of Jesus doesn’t mean that we won’t stumble and have doubts.  It means that we have placed our faith in the one who promises to walk with us every step in life.
     The second small step is to begin to break down barriers that separate people.  We live in a barrier oriented world where we have Liberals and Conservatives, Methodists and Baptists, Young and Old, Public School and Home School.  We have all of these labels that it’s amazing that there’s any sense at all that we can say we have something in common.
     Brian McLaren is a Christian speaker and the title of one his books is “A Generous Orthodoxy.”  I have never seen a longer subtitle for a book in my life.  Here’s the subtitle of this book. 
     “Why I am a missional, evangelical, post-protestant, liberal/conservative, mystical/poetic, biblical, charismatic/contemplative, fundamentalist/Calvinist, Anabaptist/Anglican, Methodist, catholic, green, incarnational, depressed yet hopeful, emergent, and unfinished Christian.”
     How’s that for a subtitle?  Even just the title of this book covers most of the barriers that we so often find in the church.
     In order for Peter to take his small step inside a pagan home, he first needed to set aside his own agenda in order to take on God’s agenda of extending God’s gift of salvation to the larger world.
     What small step might you take this week to break down a barrier that divides people from one another?
     And here’s a third small step God may be calling you and me to make this week.  Invite someone to a worship service or a church event.  One week from today, my smart-phone alarm will go off reminding me that it is the 1st day of the month which means that I need to be thinking of at least two people to invite to church during the month of May. 
     I will write down names of people who come to mind that I might invite to our church. It’s amazing how God opens up opportunities to extend a simple invitation to come to church some Sunday.  Whenever somebody joins the church, it’s usually because someone has taken the time to personally invite them.
     What small step is God calling you to take this week in inviting someone to church?
      As a parent, I can remember how excited Penny and I were when our kids took their very first step.  We called our families long distance to tell them the good news and we made a big deal about that one small step.
     I just want you to know that every time you or I take one small step in having a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, or breaking down a barrier that separates people, or inviting someone to church, God is overjoyed and heaven celebrates.  Who knows how your one small step will change your life or the life of another person? 

     Your small step might not get you on a plaque in a McDonald’s restaurant.  But that one small step along with my small step, eventually, just might transform the world.

Be Generous with Praise
Small Group Questions
Acts 11:1-18
April 24, 2016

Sunday’s worship focus was on the disciple, Peter and how God gave him a vision to share God’s love with everyone, and not just with those who were Jewish.

Share a time when God has given you a vision to share God’s love with others.

God’s mission for Peter was similar to our mission today. Our mission is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of our community and world.” Discipleship is a process that involves weekly worship, small groups/classes, and service.

How do you feel you are doing in these three important areas of growing as a disciple of Jesus Christ?

Pastor Robert emphasized that God only expects us to take small steps in being the disciple that he is calling us to be.

What small step can you take in each of these areas of being a growing disciple of Jesus Christ?

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Dave's Deep Thoughts - God's Champs

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.

When he first came to the gym,
no one paid much attention to him.

In my head, I called him Gramp,
because he looked like he had celebrated his 100th birthday.........
10 years prior.

Usually any elderly patron in the gym
migrates to one area of the weight room,
where they focus on reps with light dumbbells
similar in weight to a can of peas.

Not Gramp......

My first clue that something was different
was when he went over to the pull up bar
and quickly notched 10 reps………
without breaking a sweat.

I quietly did my 15
as Gramp motored over to the incline
and promptly barked out 20 crunches....
at a 45 degree angle

He must be getting ready for Spring Break,
I jealously thought to myself...

Gramp pulled off another set of pull ups....now up to 12
It was then, I thought, that Gramp must have overheated himself,
because He went to the men's locker room to remove his baggy outer sweats.

When he returned,
He was in gym shorts and a muscle tee.
It was then that the entire gym noticed......

Gramp was ripped.
Really ripped.

He had guns that would have made the NRA happy.
His chest screamed V for Victory,
and his thighs could have passed for tree trunks.

Take away his wrinkle lined face,
you would think this guy was getting ready for his prom.

As I got off the leg crunch,
I began to remove the four 45 lb weights that I was using

"If you're finished, just leave them on there"
Gramp said politely.

I scurried over to the other side of the weight room,
trying to look busy,
but keeping one eye on Gramp.

He took care of my four 25 lb weights easily,
10 reps as if they were styrofoam.
He then proceeded to add two more to the rack.
I think he was making out his grocery list while pumping,

Not finished, he added two more.....
Some younger ladies in the gym who remember World War II like it was yesterday,
were swooning over Gramp.
He then went  to another machine
to pick up 2 more 25 pounders…………
because he had used all the weights at the leg crunch.

Inside my head I was feverishly trying to do the math....
10 times 25lb....add the weight of the bar.......
I shrieked at the weight total.
He just leg crunched a small car.

Gramp came back
and knocked off another set of pull ups (now up to 14),
20 more crunches, this time while holding a 10lb weight.

In 25 minutes, Gramp had become a rock star.

If I am honest with myself, my first impulse is to look upon the outer appearance.
It is an impulse deeply engrained in our culture.

Jesus warned us about doing so.Looks can be misleading.....

Because the Lord reminded Samuel not to look on outer appearances (I Samuel 16:7),                                                                                                                                        
it was small of stature Dave who became the giant slayer and King of Israel.

James reminds us that preferential treatment of others based on appearance,                                                                                                                                                
rises out of our own egos to be judges, and reflects our own evil thoughts. (James2:1-5)

Widows with their mites can be the most the most vital of all givers, short tax collectors can become giants of the faith, women of ill repute can become mothers of The Way, an ordinarily looking Nazarene can be the Savior of humanity.
How grateful I am that God does not judge me on my outer appearance, but on what He knows of my inner being.
We won’t be spiritually mature, until we take time to see what's on the inside of each person, and not judge on outward appearances.
Over time, I talked with Gramp and learned more about his life………
his service to his country in the Korean War,                                                                                                                                                                                                            his love for his children, grandchildren, and great grandchildren,                                                                                                                                                                    his love for the Lord,                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                   
his commitment to physical health so that his last years                                                                                                                                                                                   
would cause him not to be a burden to others, but to allow him to continue to serve others. 

I no longer call him Gramp.I call him Champ.

Do not judge according to appearance,
but judge with righteous judgment.
John 7:24