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

Monday, October 26, 2020

Sermon (October 25) by Rev. Robert McDowell

We’ve had an exciting time these past several weeks looking at what it means to “come to the water” and be transformed and renewed in our faith. Six weeks ago we began by discussing the importance of commitment. Today, we have an opportunity to make some commitments. 

We began this series with the idea of commitment as a way of priming the pump so the water will start to flow. We’ve talked about our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service, and our witness.

In keeping with our water metaphor during this sermon series, my prayer has been for each one of us to have buckets that are overflowing.  Jesus, in using a reference to water said that this is possible by going after a pearl of great price.  

Now is the time to go and buy that pearl—whatever the cost because this is how we can have a growing and vital faith. It’s one thing to see the pearl or to acknowledge that it exists; it’s another thing to actually make the commitment to claim it.

As we we think about priming the pump for a new year of ministry here at Athens First, I want us to remember that we make commitments because God has first made a commitment to us.  We’re not initiating this commitment.  God has already done that through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.

The psalmist says, “God always stands by his covenant / the commitment he made to a thousand generations.” God is faithful!

God invites us to not only receive new life in Christ, but to also respond to God’s gift of grace and love.  God sent Jesus into the world and invites us to live out our faith in Christ.  

This is what it means to come to the water by priming the pump. What does it mean for us to make a commitment in living our our faith? Here are some thoughts that might help us in making our commitments.

The first thing is that commitment involves establishing priorities. And we start asking ourselves questions like, “What does it mean for me to be generous in my financial giving? Or maybe God’s calling you to serve in some specific area, and we might be questioning “Can I do that?” Maybe we’re thinking about what it would look like if we made weekly worship more of a priority in our lives.

Let me share a quick story about someone who made a commitment to make prayer a priority in their lives. In one of the churches I served, an elderly member wanted us to know that she was praying for our church every day.

She pointed at a prayer card which our church had sent out to the congregation over a year ago. We had invited the congregation to take that prayer card and keep it in a place where they would see it often and pray that prayer.

         It was a prayer that said, Dear God, thank you for our church. Strengthen us through the power of the Holy Spirit to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world through radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, and risk-taking service. In Jesus’ name we pray.  Amen.”

It’s a great prayer and I remember how I made a personal commitment to pray that prayer each day. But to be real honest with you, there were many days that I forgot to pray that prayer.  And I’m the one who had encouraged our congregation to pray that prayer on a daily basis.

 Pointing to this prayer card there in her home, this elderly member said, “I’ve been praying this prayer every single day.”

 When I heard that, I thought to myself, “Wow, this member of our church is reminding me of the importance of not only making a commitment but keeping a commitment.  Her commitment shows just how much she loves Jesus and her church.”

This church member was making God and the church a top priority in her life. Commitment is what helps us establish our priorities and to know when we have fallen short.  

The second thing about commitment is that it involves sacrifice.  Today is Reformation Sunday. Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a person who was from the Reformed tradition was a 20thcentury Lutheran pastor who was executed by the Nazis during World War II.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer talked about the problem of what he referred to as “cheap grace.”  That is, we want something that doesn’t cost us much.  Real commitment, however, involves sacrifice.  Jesus said:

If any of you wants to be my follower, you must put aside your selfish ambition, shoulder your cross daily, and follow me. If you try to keep your life for yourself, you will lose it. But if you give up your life for me, you will find true life. (Luke 9:23–24)

  Commitment involves sacrifice.

The third thought about commitment is that it involves planning ahead and looking to the future as members of a church family. The church is an important way for us to live out who God has called us to be. 

 The church is the means by which God brings transformation to our community and world. And this involves thoughtful planning and participation. Commitment helps us to plan both individually and as a community.  

In Luke 14, Jesus says, “Don’t begin until you sit down and count the cost. For who would begin construction of a building without first getting estimates and then checking to see if there’s enough money to pay the bills?” Planning ahead allows us to know where we’re going.  

God will provide everything that’s necessary for us to follow through as we follow God’s direction in how we are to live out that commitment. 

If we fail to plan, then we plan to fail. When a church knows who’s going to serve, what the financial commitment is, that it has people praying, and that it can depend on people committed to weekly worship, that’s a church that is on the move. That’s a church that has a clear mission and focus.  

All we have to do is just push back the boundaries that sometimes have limited the church, and God’s Holy Spirit will work through it.  Commitment involves planning ahead.

The fourth thing is that commitment involves making some choices.  We have to choose what is really important.  

Every Sunday morning when we get up, we’re going to make a choice as to whether or not we will worship.  If we’ve already made a commitment to be in worship during the year, then we don’t really have to make that choice when we get up in the morning.  If we make a commitment to be generous financial givers, then we know what we need to set aside.  We have already made some choices.  And this is what today is all about; planning ahead.   

Penny has a phrase that she has uses a lot. “Make good choices.” She likes to remind the children at her school that they always have a choice and that it’s important to make good choices.

I think the same applies to our faith. We always have a choice to make and it’s important to make good choices through our prayers, presence, gifts, service, and witness.

         Today is all about making good choices. Here’s a thought worth pondering.  A year from now, the degree to which we will be growing in our faith, will be directly related to the commitments and the choices we are making now.

The sixth chapter of Romans says: “Don’t you realize that whatever you choose to obey becomes your master? You can choose sin, which leads to death, or you can choose to obey God and receive his approval.” We’re going to be making some choices in how we live out our faith this coming year at Athens First.

The fifth thing about commitment is that it also involves finishing the task and staying the course. Paul encourages us to persevere when he says in II Timothy, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, and I have remained faithful. And now the prize awaits me.” 

Earlier, he wrote: “This is a true saying: If we die with him, we will also live with him. If we endure hardship, we will reign with him.” 

Commitment is what enables us to grow in our Christian faith.

So, commitment involves establishing priorities, sacrifice, and planning ahead.  It involves making good choices and then staying the course.  

There’s another side to all of this.  God invites us to be committed to one another. We are a team. Commitment helps us to be there for each other. In 1 Thessalonians 5:11, Pauls writes, “encourage each other and build each other up,” and then in Romans 15:7, “accept each other just as Christ has accepted you.”

In the church, there is a lot of diversity. We have different passions, different gifts, different personalities, different faith experiences.  But we are a team when the whole group comes together and each person is able to use his or her resources and gifts to be a blessing to others.  When that happens, the church comes together as the Body of Christ.

Sometime this week, many of us will be receiving a church mailing that will give us the opportunity to make a financial commitment to Christ and his church as we prepare for a new year of ministry.

After we prayerfully make our commitments, we are invited to return those commitment forms back to the church through the mail at our earliest convenience.

Last March, when churches began closing their buildings due to the coronavirus, pastors were wondering what would happen to their congregations. Would the people still participate through online worship? Would people stop giving to the church? Would the church even survive through a global pandemic with so many unknowns.

And what I found even at the very beginning of all of this is that churches are very resilient. Like, you are some of the toughest people I know! 

You haven’t stopped giving. In fact, our giving has been keeping pace as if nothing had ever happened. You haven’t stopped praying because every Tuesday, I see those prayer requests on our email prayer chain. You haven’t stopped worshiping because we continue to receive a lot of comments of how much you appreciate our online services. 

And you haven’t stopped serving because you have found a new way to restart Monday Lunch with curbside pick-up. You have provided a meal for the people at Good Works. And you haven’t stopped sharing your faith because you keep sharing your “thin place” moments over the phone or through your online small group meetings or through your posts on Facebook.

And I think the reason our church has been so resilient is because somewhere way back when, you made a commitment to live out your faith the best you can. You can always trace a church’s vitality back to the time when commitments were made.

And just think. This time next year, we will all be wondering, “WOW, how did our church not only survive, but even thrive after all we’ve been through? How can it be possible that our buckets are not only filled but they’re overflowing?”

And that’s when we’ll remember that it was because we spent these past several weeks priming the pump to be the best church we can possibly be.

[This sermon is based on the resource, Treasures of the Transformed LifeAbingdon Press, 2006.]

Come to the Water: Overflowing Buckets
Sermon Discussion Questions
II Timothy 4:1-8 & Luke 18:18-30
October 25, 2020 

Over the past several weeks, we have been exploring what it means to come to the water and find renewal in our faith. This involves making commitments in our prayers, weekly worship, financial giving, service, and sharing our faith. Today, we conclude the series like the way we started by focusing on the importance of commitment. This is what enables us to experience overflowing buckets of God’s grace in our lives. 

Share a time along your faith journey where you have experienced God’s overflowing grace. In what ways did prayer, worship, generosity, or serving play a part in that experience? 

This week, our congregation is invited to make commitments to God and the church as we plan for a new year of ministry. Making commitments that will last involves these five components. 1) Establishing priorities 2) Sacrifice 3) Planning ahead 4) Making good choices 5) Finishing the task and staying the course

How have you utilized these five components of commitment in your life? Why do you think these are important?

This has been a very challenging year for all of us in facing a global pandemic. Even though the church is not the building, it’s been difficult to not have opportunities to gather together for in-person worship, bible studies and fellowship. And yet, our church has been able to stay strong during this long and trying time.

How has your faith been impacted during this pandemic? How has our church been impacted during this pandemic?

Our church is sending out a mailing to the congregation this week inviting each of us to make a financial commitment for 2021. This is what we have been referring to these past several weeks as “priming the pump.” As we prepare to make our commitments for this coming year, we are invited to offer this prayer:

Holy God, during this week of commitment in which we will be given the opportunity to come to the water and offer you our prayers, presence, gifts, and service, remind us of your overflowing grace and faithfulness in our lives. We trust that you will strengthen our resolve to be your devoted followers especially as we prepare for a new year of ministry. We pray this through Jesus Christ, our Lord and Savior. Amen.

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Online Worship (October 25) Athens First UMC

Welcome to our (October 25) online worship!
Athens First UMC
2 S. College St., Athens, OH 45701

Tuesday, October 20, 2020

Habitat for Humanity Thank You Video

[Ken Oehlers Thank You Video to Athens First UMC]

[Left to Right: HFH Director, Ken Oehlers; Pastor Robert; & Ken Edwards]


[One of Two Bedrooms]

Monday, October 19, 2020

Sermon (October 18) by Rev. Robert McDowell

         Our “Come to the Water” worship focus this fall is designed to help us experience the full and abundant life that God intends for each one of us and for our church. Water is a symbol of life, cleansing, and renewal. 

          Over the past few weeks, we have been thinking a lot about what it means for us to “Come to the Water.” And we have seen that it involves offering ourselves in making a commitment in prayer, in participating in worship, and in offering our financial gifts in support of Christ and his church. Today, we’re going to focus on another important way that we come to the water and that is through serving and sharing our faith with others.

         A long time ago, the church was separated into clergy and laity. That chasm was bridged by the Protestant Reformation where Martin Luther made the point that we are all priests. We are all called to share in ministry.

         The biblical take on the ministry of the church is that the church is the ministry of the laos, the people of God, the laity. So today’s focus is critical because it’s designed to help both laypersons and clergy live out our Christian faith in significant and meaningful ways.

         I’d like us to think about three important questions from a biblical perspective: Why we are called to serve and share our faith?  Who God calls to serve and share their faith? And how are we to serve and share our faith?

         First thing, why should we serve?  Serving is an essential dimension of the Christian life. It’s not meant to be optional.  It’s what we’re called to do. I love being part of our worship services on Sunday mornings. And we talked about the importance of worship a couple of Sundays ago when we focused on the importance of jumping in with both feet.  We emphasized how worship and offering our physical presence here on Sunday mornings or by worshiping online is an important part of experiencing the full and abundant life that God wants us to have.  But it’s also important to remember that the purpose of worship, the purpose of praying, and the purpose of the church is not so that we can simply sit and soak. We are to become stirred to action—to go out and serve and share our faith.

         Serving and witnessing are such important dimensions of the Christian faith. First of all, it’s part of our Christian faith because God serves us. Jesus came to be a servant.  He said, “For even I, the Son of Man, came here not to be served but to serve others, and to give my life as a ransom for many” Jesus serves us, and invites us to serve in his name.

      Jesus also said, “You know that in this world kings and tyrants, and officials lord it over the people beneath them. But among you it should be quite different. Whoever wants to be a leader among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be the slave of all.”

        The expectation that Jesus has for the church is that we are to serve and be a blessing to others.

         Now here’s an interesting sidelight to that: when we serve in the name of Christ and reach out to others, it gives us credibility in our community. If we are to become effective sowers of the message of Christ, one of the best ways to fertilize the soil in which that seed can be planted is to serve. Paul said in First Corinthians, “I have become a servant of everyone so that I can bring them to Christ” When we serve others, we open the door of opportunity for the good news of our faith to be shared.

         Peter pointed out, “Your godly lives will speak to them better than any words. They will be won over by watching your pure, godly behavior” The best sermons aren’t preached in sanctuaries. The best sermons are the sidewalk sermons preached by God’s people when we leave the sanctuary and go out into the world, where we reach out and serve those we meet. What we do often times speaks much more loudly than anything we actually say.

         Here’s another positive outcome when all of us are serving and sharing our faith with others:  It brings us together as church. The New Testament concept of the church is that we are the body of Christ, the community of faith that gathers together and serves together. As different as we are, we all have a common mission, to serve and to witness.

         The love that church members have for one another binds us together and frees us from ourselves and our selfishness. One of the best witnesses a church can give to its community is exhibiting unity in how it reaches out to the needs of others.

         The Apostle Paul says in I Corinthians 3, “We work together as partners who belong to God” and in Ephesians chapter 4, he says, “Under his direction, the whole body is fitted together perfectly. As each part does its own special work, it helps the other parts to grow, so that the whole body is healthy and growing and full of love”

         Our serving and witnessing give us credibility and it also brings us together as a team. And teams can get a lot more accomplished than individuals.

         The second question this morning is who should serve?  And the answer is that everyone is to serve and witness. There is a place for every person in the life of the church to use his or her God-given gifts to make a difference in our community and world. Here are just a few suggestions of how to determine where we should serve.

         First, we should serve where we can use the gifts and abilities that God has given us. 

         This past May, Don Shula, probably one of the best coaches in the history of the NFL passed away. We might remember him the most for when he led the Miami Dolphins in 1972 to an undefeated season and Super Bowl victory. 

          Another year that I remember him for is eleven years later in 1983 when he coached the the Miami Dolphins and they played the Washington Redskins in the Super Bowl. That year, Don Shula was credited with a great deal of the Dolphins’ success because he evaluated the talents of his players and built his system around those talents. That was different from other coaches, who usually built a system and tried to make the players’ talents fit the system. 

          I like Coach Shula’s approach. I believe we as a church can be successful when each one of us uses the gifts and talents God has given us for the one common vision of sharing the love of Christ with our community.

         Part of the church’s task is to help people discover what gifts they possess and then provide an opportunity for those gifts and abilities to be used. In his letter to the Christians who were in Rome, the Apostle Paul said:

“God has given each of us the ability to do certain things well. . . . If your gift is that of serving others, serve them well. If you are a teacher, do a good job of teaching. If your gift is to encourage others, do it! If you have money, share it generously. If God has given you leadership ability, take the responsibility seriously. And if you have a gift for showing kindness to others, do it gladly.”

        God has gifted each of us in some way.

         It’s still exciting for me as a pastor to see people discover what their gifts are. If you’re not sure what your gifts are, there are resources such as spiritual gift inventories that can be used to help you discover them.

         In addition to using our gifts to serve and witness, God can also use our past experiences. All of us have been through some tough trials, and coming through them has given us a unique faith story to share with others. We’re advised in Galatians: “Make a careful exploration of who you are and the work you have been given, and then sink yourself into that”

     Second Corinthians says something similar, “He comforts us all in our troubles so that we can comfort others. When others are troubled, we will be able to give them the same comfort God has given us.” 

     I’ve noticed that the people who are most effective at serving in the life of the church are those who have experienced Christ’s guiding hand through some difficult times in their lives. Coming through those adversities has taught them how to serve others who might be walking through similar situations.

         Another reason that we are called to serve is so that we can meet particular needs.

          If you look at the example of the church in the book of Acts, in the second chapter, that powerful passage of Scripture which begins with verse 45, it says that the people pooled their resources, found needs, and then began to fill them.

         So who should serve?  Every single person in the life of the church.  Why?  Because God has gifted each one of us.  God can use our unique experiences.  And because God can use each one of us to meet particular needs.

         One last question:  How should we serve?  First of all, we should serve enthusiastically: “Never be lazy in your work, but serve the Lord enthusiastically,” we find in Paul’s letter to the Romans. 

     When people are enthusiastic about what they do in the life of the church, it becomes an invitation for others to come. Those who are the most enthusiastic about sharing their faith are also the most enthusiastic about serving.

          Have you heard of the Pareto (Pah-Ray-Toe) Principle, also known as the 80/20 rule? This rule says that in most cases, only 20% of the people will end up doing 80% of the work.  If you do the math with a worship attendance of around 150 people, that means only 30 people in our church would be involved and actively serving and witnessing through the life of our congregation.  

     But can you imagine what it would be like if 80% or 120 people in our church would be actively using their gifts to serve and share their faith through the life of our church?  What a difference that would make!

          By the way, here’s a side benefit when the majority of people are serving and sharing their faith:  There’s a positive spirit and attitude. As the old saying goes, people rowing the boat rarely have time to rock the boat. When people are enthusiastically serving, they don’t look for things that are wrong, they look for the things that are right.

         In addition to serving enthusiastically, we are also to serve unselfishly where we are more concerned with the people we are seeking to bless than we are with the focus being on us. We are to serve unselfishly. 

         A third way that we are called to serve is with humility. We serve as Jesus served.  In I Peter, we read, “All of you serve each other in humility for ‘God sets himself against the proud, but he shows favor to the humble’” The most beautiful mental picture I have of Jesus is of him kneeling to wash his disciples’ feet. In the church we’re not to look for the top, we’re to look for a towel—a place where we can serve in humility.

         And the fourth way that we are called to serve is with the intention of seeking to please God alone. The point of serving in the life of God’s church is not to please people or to draw attention to ourselves. The Apostle Paul says that we are to “serve God whether people honor us or despise us, whether they slander us or whether they praise us . . . ” 

          Serving is at the very heart of how we express our Christian faith, opening doors through which we can be messengers of Christ.

         Serving others is offering a drink of the water of life to others. Jesus said, “If anyone gives even a cup of cold water . . . because he is my disciple . . . will certainly not lose his reward.” (Matt. 10:42). 

          Notice that serving in the name of Christ can be as simple as offering someone a cold drink. Several years ago, I was on a mission trip to Guatemala. During the trip, we helped to dig a water line trench to help provide clean water for a small and impoverished community.

          I got sick from working in the soil and ended up missing two days of work because I became so dehydrated. One of the members of the mission team came back early from the work day and knocked on the door of my room and said, "Robert, I have an orange popsicle. Would you like it?"

          That sounded so good and I yelled back, "Yes! Thank you!" He might has well asked me, "Robert, do you want a million dollars?" because that popsicle was just what I needed! Not only did it lift my spirits, but he felt good to know that I appreciated it so much.

         I think this is Jesus point about when we offer something as simple as a cup of cold water to someone. When it’s given and received at just the right time, that simple gesture can mean so much.

         Serving and sharing our faith are essential parts of what it means to live transformed lives.

[This sermon is based on the resource, Treasures of the Transformed Life, Abingdon Press, 2006.]

Come to the Water: Offering Others a Drink
Sermon Discussion Questions
Ephesians 4:1-16 & Matthew 10:1, 40-42
October 18, 2020 

We are now in the 5th of a 6th week series on “Come to the Water.” This series has included a focus on the importance of commitment, offering our prayers, participating in weekly worship, supporting Christ and his church with our financial gifts, and today we focus on serving and sharing our faith with others.

Why do you think these spiritual practices are foundational in having a growing and vibrant faith?

We offered these three reasons for why it is important that each person actively serves and shares their with faith others. 1) Jesus came to serve us and calls us to serve in his name. 2) Serving others gives the church credibility. Our words match our actions. 3) Brings us together as a church.

Which of these reasons for serving stand out for you? Can you think of other reasons why our faith should include serving and sharing?

Here are three ways to serve and share our faith with others. 1) By using our unique gifts and abilities. 2) By using our unique past experiences that have shaped us. 3) By seeking to meet a particular need that will help others.

Which of these ways of serving stand out for you? Offer an example of how one of these ways has helped you to serve and share your faith with others.

Here are three important attitudes in how we are to serve and share our faith. 1) Enthusiastically 2) Unselfishly 3) Humbly 4) Reverently

Which of these attitudes in serving and sharing your faith with others stand out for you? Why are these attitudes important?

Next week, our congregation will be receiving a mailing that will invite us to make a financial commitment for this coming year in support of Christ and his church. Pray this prayer as we prepare to offer God our 2021 commitments:

O God, as we prepare to come to the water to be renewed and to receive the abundant life you so want us to have, we know that involves commitment on our part. Bless all the commitments that are about to be made next week as we think ahead to a new year of ministry.

Thank you for these past several weeks where we have been priming the pump to allow your living water to not only fill our lives but to also overflow through our church and into our community and world. We can’t wait to see what you will be able to do in and through us!

In the name of Jesus who offers us living water, we pray. Amen.

Sunday, October 18, 2020

Online Worship (October 18) Athens First UMC

Welcome to our (October 18) online worship!
Athens First UMC
2 S. College St., Athens, OH 45701

Monday, October 12, 2020

Sermon (October 11) by Rev. Robert McDowell

   What does it mean to offer our tithes and offerings?  We’re going to focus on this very important topic and how it relates to living transformed lives.

     In keeping with our water image, the title of the message today is “Pennies in the Fountain.”  When you throw pennies into a fountain, you release them and give them away.  And that’s really what we are doing when we offer our gifts to God and the church.  We release them and give them away.

     Think about how God is a generous giver.  Listen to Psalm 103: “Praise the Lord, I tell myself, and never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He ransoms me from death and surrounds me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things.”

     Our whole concept of giving corresponds to how God has given to us. Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, “Thank God for his Son—a gift too wonderful for words!”

     Giving is an integral part of the Christian faith because God is so generous to us.  But it also carries with it an implication that we are to share these blessings with others.  God doesn’t give to us so that we can keep these gifts to ourselves.  God gives to us so that we can experience the joy of giving.

     Jesus commanded: “Give as freely as you have received!” In Paul’s second letter to the church at Corinth, we read: “God will generously provide all you need. Then you will always have everything you need and plenty left over to share with others.”

     Part of the essential nature of our growth in the Christian faith — and part of receiving all that God wants to give us as we move on toward perfection — is understanding that giving in freedom is a crucial aspect of our Christian life.  God is very generous to us, and God expects us to pass it on.

     Since giving can be a very touchy and personal issue, let’s focus on the question: why should we give?  For today, I’d like to offer three reasons from what really is a lengthy list of reasons on why giving is one of the essential ways that we experience transformation in our lives.

     The first reason is that giving reminds us that God has given us everything we have.  The idea of stewardship is that we don’t own or earn anything.  Instead, God gives to us and we are called to be good stewards of what we have received. 

     Deuteronomy, chapter 6, contains this reminder: “When you have eaten your fill in this land, be careful not to forget the Lord.” Then in Deuteronomy, chapter 8: “You may say to yourself, ‘My power and the strength of my hands have produced this wealth for me.’ But remember the Lord your God, for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth . . . ” May we never begin to think, “Look what I have accomplished,” but rather remember it is God who has given us all food, land, property, wealth, prosperity, and more.

    1 Chronicles 29:1 says, “But who am I, and who are my people, that we could give anything to you? Everything that we have has come from you, and we give you only what you have given us!”

    The key understanding of stewardship is that we give because God has given us everything.

    A second reason for giving is that it reveals our priorities. The Bible says we are to seek God’s kingdom first. How do we know that God is first in our lives? I think that our giving can reveal our priorities.

     Deuteronomy 14:23 spells it out for us: “The purpose of tithing is to teach you always to fear the Lord your God.” Jesus also made it clear when he explained one of the bedrock principles of life found in Matthew 6:21 “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and your thoughts will also be.”

    A great way to see who or what is first in your life, is to review your bank statement. Where we spend our money, time, and energy indicates what is really first in our lives, what we really worship. “Wherever your treasure is, there your heart and thoughts will also be.”

     There’s a powerful third reason for giving: It offers us an opportunity to see how God is present in our lives.. Malachi 3:10 offers these words:

     “Bring all the tithes into the storehouse so that there will be enough food in my Temple. If you do,” says the Lord Almighty, “I will open the windows of heaven for you. I will pour out a blessing so great you won’t have enough room to take it in! Try it! Let me show how I am present in your life.”

    As we give generously, we are able to see the many ways that God is present with us.  Positive things happen in our lives and in our church when we offer to God our very best.

    Let’s look at another question: How much should I give? This is a question that we are all invited to think about.

    You often hear the word, “tithe” mentioned a lot. What is a tithe? Well, it literally means a tenth. And the reason that word is used when referring to our financial gifts to the church is because the people of Israel were told to give back a tenth of their produce. That tenth or that tithe symbolized their many blessings from God.

   And so every time we set aside a portion of our financial income each year and then write out checks or make online gifts, it reminds us that the gifts and blessings we have are all from God. Penny and I had always written checks out to the church but when we came here we set up an automatic payment through the church’s online giving.

    At first, I wasn’t sure if I would like this new method of giving to the church, but whenever I get a notice that a payment to the church was made, it’s still a way to be reminded that God has blessed us in so many ways.  

     For some of us, it might be difficult to imagine setting aside an amount each year to give to the church.  

     A pastor shares the story of a single mom who was in that situation. She hadn’t grown up with setting aside a portion of income to give to God and the church. Her parents had given once in a while to the church without putting a whole lot of thought into it, so that was her experience with giving while growing up as a child. 

     Well, she heard a sermon on giving one week. And she felt motivated to begin thinking about giving a portion of her income to the work of Christ and his church. It was difficult to add this as a new expense in her budget, but she did anyway because she just knew deep down in her heart that it would be a significant way to show her appreciation to God for the blessings in her life.

      So even though she had very little left over after paying her expenses each month, she re-examined her spending habits and she was able to include a generous amount to give to the church. And every time she wrote out a check to put in the offering at church, she would think about what a difference God was making in her life and how her gift would help to bless other people through her church. 

     After a few months, she noticed something interesting. Even though her income remained the same and she added giving to the church as part of her budget, she somehow had more money in her bank at the end of the month than she ever had before she started to tithe. Her faithfulness seemed to be leading to even greater blessings in return.

      I can tell you that one of the most freeing and liberating things that’s happened in the lives of so many people is when they came to the point that they said “God, I want you to be first place in everything that I do.” And a good place to start is with the level of generosity that we seek to bless God and others.

     As a pastor, I think one of the things that keeps us from experiencing true transformation is when we forget just how much God has blessed us and the joy it can offer us in knowing that we are extending God’s love toward others. Where we put our money indicates where our values and our priorities really are.

     Now, the last question: how should we give? We talked about why we should give and how much we should give.  But let’s think about the attitude in which we give. Here are three brief thoughts on this.

     First thing is…to give willingly. We’re not to do it because the church is going to make us feel guilty. We’re not to do it because we want to impress somebody. We are invited to do it willingly. Joyfully. 

     Secondly, to give sacrificially. It’s important to give willingly, and also sacrificially. I’m reminded of a C. S. Lewis quote.  He said “The only safe rule is to give more than we can spare.” Consider the story in Luke about sacrificial giving:

     Jesus went over to the collection box in the Temple and sat and watched as the crowds dropped in their money. Many rich people put in large amounts. Then a poor widow came and dropped in two pennies. 

     He called his disciples to him and said, “I assure you, this poor widow has given more than all the others have given. For all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.”

     We would expect the disciples looked at him in amazement. They probably said something like, “You don’t really understand much about economics, do you? She didn’t give the most; she gave the least.” 

     Then Jesus would’ve explained, “You might understand economics, but you don’t understand people. This woman gave all that she had. Others just gave a token out of their surplus.”

      We are invited to give willingly and sacrificially. And we’re invited to give expectantly.

     In Luke chapter 6 we are told, that if you give, you will receive. Your gift will return to you in full measure, pressed down, shaken together to make room for more, and running over. Whatever measure you use in giving—large or small—it will be used to measure what is given back to you.

    Like prayer and weekly worship that we have looked at the first two weeks of this series, our giving is another that God waters and refreshes our souls. It’s how we experience transformed living.   


*This sermon is based on the resource, Treasures of the Transformed Life, Abingdon Press, 2006.

Come to the Water: Pennies in the Fountain
Sermon Discussion Questions
Deuteronomy 8:11-18; II Corinthians 8:7-15; & Luke 20:45-21:4
October 11, 2020 

We are in the 4th week of a six-week series on “Come to the Water.” For the first three weeks, we focused on the importance of priming the pump of our faith through commitment, drawing water through prayer, and jumping in with both feet through weekly worship. Today, we are invited to come to the water by offering our gifts to be a blessing to Christ and his church. 

Have you ever thrown coins into a fountain? What did it feel like to release those coins? 

Releasing our gifts freely is reflected in what the Psalmist says from Psalm 103: “Praise the Lord, I tell myself, and never forget the good things he does for me. He forgives all my sins and heals all my diseases. He ransoms me from death and surrounds me with love and tender mercies. He fills my life with good things.”

How do you remember the good things God has done for you?

Giving our resources generously to Christ and his church helps us to live a transformed life. Giving generously 1) reminds us that God has given us everything, 2) reveals our priorities, and 3) helps us to see how God is present in our lives.

Which of the three areas listed above stand out for you the most? Why?

Our attitude toward giving to Christ and his church is very important. In the sermon, we focused on the important of giving 1) willingly 2) sacrificially, and 3) expectantly.

Why do you think that these three attitudes toward giving are important? 

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Online Worship (Oct. 11) Athens First UMC

Welcome to our (October 11) online worship!
Athens First UMC
2 S. College St., Athens, OH 45701

Wednesday, October 7, 2020

Monday, October 5, 2020

Sermon (October 4) by Rev. Robert McDowell

         We’re right in the middle of a very exciting study here called, Come to the Water.  The first week we looked at preparation and commitment, because that’s what primes the pump.  Last week we talked about prayer, the drawing the water.  When we commit ourselves to God through prayer, we experience renewal and transformation.


         Today we’ve come to the next commitment in our study -- the commitment of our presence, our church attendance. Weekly worship not only is an important way that we connect with God, but it’s also how we connect with each other, whether we are online or in-person. 


     I’d like to look at five things today concerning what it means to be committed to presence and making worship whether it be online or in-person a weekly habit.


     To be committed to weekly worship means that we are willing to jump into the water with both feet. This is our image for today. Jumping in with both feet. Our goal is to be completely committed to be God’s people, rather than just dipping a toe in the water and not fully taking the plunge. 


      Weekly worship is how we all pull together.  Being a team is very important.  We’re brothers and sisters in Christ, and we’re all in this together. We’re family. 


     The Bible describes the gathering of believers as the community of faith, and the family of God -- the church. And actually, the word, “church” in the Greek language means “an assembly.”


     Each of us is called by God to do our part through our worship life together. I want to share some things about what it means to be part of a church by supporting it with our presence.


     First and foremost, God invites us to be part of his family.  That’s included in God’s design and plan.  God created us and God loves us. And God desires for us to be a part of his family. 


     In 1 Peter 1:3 we’re told, “God has given us the privilege of being born again,” so that we are now members of God’s own family. 


     In Ephesians 1:5, Paul said, “God’s unchanging plan has always been to adopt us into his own family by bringing us to himself through Jesus Christ.  And this gave him great pleasure.”


     The church is important because it’s God’s family. It’s God’s desire for all of us to be a part of that relationship, and to be a part of a special family, a congregation, a worshipping community.  God has adopted us and we become members of his family


    Second: the church is God’s family on earth.  In 1 Timothy 3:15, Paul said that God’s family “is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth.” 


     In Colossians 3:15, we’re told, “For as members of one body you are called to live in peace.”  God came into the world and lived and died and rose again to redeem us so that we might be a part of his family.  His family is the church here on earth.  So the church is extremely important.


     Third, consider the example of families who meet together regularly.  It’s important for people in a family to connect with each other. 


     There are a lot of characteristics that form a healthy family instead of a dysfunctional one, and getting together is a big factor.  It’s healthy for us to commit to being in attendance often, and to be an active part of the people of God. This creates a healthy relationship among family members.


     The psalmist said, “I was glad when they said to me ‘let us go to the house of the Lord’” That’s the attitude we are invited to have toward being part of a church family and participating.  


     Jesus had that attitude.  One of my favorite passages of Scripture is when Jesus went into the Temple “as was his custom” The key phrase is, “as was his custom.”  The habit of Jesus was to be in the place of God for worship.


     Here are some reasons why it’s valuable for healthy families to worship together. It helps us to set our priorities.


    There was once a great Methodist preacher named Sam Jones.  He was as prominent and respected in the late nineteenth century as Billy Graham was. I once read a story about how Sam Jones noticed a couple of farmers and a little dog walking to town one day.  For a little while, the dog walked beside one of the farmers, then he walked alongside the other farmer. 


   Someone nearby questioned, “To which farmer does the dog belong?  He seems to be with both of them.”


   Sam Jones replied, “Well, there’s one way you can tell.  When the two men get to the fork in the road, one of them will go to the right and the other will go left.  Then you’ll know to which farmer the dog belongs because he can’t go both ways.  He’ll follow one farmer or the other.” 


    Making a commitment to be involved and participate in weekly worship is an important way that we make God more of a priority in our lives.  Worship is a visible expression of how we are part of God’s team.


     Here’s an interesting fact about teams; this has been demonstrated at both the college and professional level over the years.  The teams that have won the national championship and the teams that have won the Super Bowl aren’t necessarily the teams with the greatest individual players.  


     Instead, the teams that play together have won.  Some call it chemistry, but it’s also called teamwork, and it’s all about people coming together.

     Two great baseball players who retired from baseball several years ago are Alan Trammell and Lou Whitaker. They played for the Detroit Tigers and were instrumental in helping the team win the 1984 World Series.  They also established a record that has not been broken and probably won’t be for many years.


     Trammell and Whitaker played for Detroit together for nineteen years, setting the record for the most games played with a teammate in American League history.  Over their years as players, they had opportunities to leave the team and each other, but they never would.  They knew the value of teamwork, loyalty, humility, and staying together for the long haul.  


         The church is a team, a family, a community.  Healthy teams and families make meeting together a priority.  Let me share some things that come from meeting together regularly.  One is that we can help each other.  Each of us is in need of help, and as a church, we can begin to do that.


    In the fourth chapter of Ecclesiastes it says:


    Two people can accomplish more than twice as much as one; they get a better return for their labor.  If one person falls, the other can reach out and help.  But people who are alone when they fall are in real trouble. . . . A person standing alone can be attacked and defeated, but two can stand back-to-back and conquer.  Three are even better, for a triple-braided cord is not easily broken.


   We can help each other. 


   There are times that some of us might be on a mountaintop and others might be in a valley.  But at times like those, we can reach our and help each other.  Sometimes, it’s the other way.  We might be in the valley and others might be on the mountaintop to help lift us up.  


   There is no institution in the world that is better constituted in its mission to help each other and to reach out and to support than the church, especially when it functions with passionate, prayerful people who rely on God and each other for support in living.


   Another reason we are called to meet together is to encourage each other.  The word “encourage” literally means “to put courage into.”  Regardless of who you are, there are times when each of us needs encouragement.  The church is a healthy, functioning unit when we do just that.


   Hebrews 10:24–25 tells us to think of ways to encourage one another that lead to outbursts of love and good deeds. Those verses say, “and let us not neglect our meeting together, as some people do, but encourage and warn each other, especially now that the day of his coming back again is drawing near.”


   I love worship on Sunday, and see people connecting, and offering words of encouragement. A healthy church is one in which people are constantly offering encouragement to one another.


   Not only do we help and encourage, but we also can teach each other.  This is important.  Colossians 3:16 implores: “Let the words of Christ, in all their richness, live in your hearts and make you wise.  Use his words to teach and counsel each other.”


   The best teachers are those with whom we associate all the time.  The best lessons are not those that are taught in front of a class, but those that are actually experienced.  Sidewalk teachings are the best sermons.  We learn from each other, and we also teach each other.


   One other reason that healthy families meet regularly is to celebrate.  As a church, we can worship God and celebrate God’s goodness together.


   I always like to watch the end of any great sporting event, be it the World Series, Super Bowl, or the Final Four.  I like to watch the winners celebrate. When a team wins, they celebrate together and it’s contagious!  It lifts everyone’s spirits!


   Worship is a time of celebration. In Ephesians 5:19–20, the Apostle Paul said: “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”

     One of my favorite worship services with you as your pastor was in February of 2017 when we held our first worship service in our newly renovated sanctuary. The placed was packed and the whole service was so inspiring. We gathered to celebrate what God was able to do through us with all of our building improvements. 

     And by the way, I think it’s interesting that this was the first time we were able to worship back in our sanctuary after five months of needing to worship down in our Fellowship Hall. Our congregation knows a thing or two about improvising for worship like we have been doing these past six months with our online worship recordings due to COVID19 concerns.


     That Sunday back in February of 2017 was a worship service to remember. We even had several former pastors join us that day along with our District Superintendent and his wife following that worship service as you can see in the photo. That was a special day!

     But it’s not just on those special occasions that we celebrate. Every Sunday is an opportunity to celebrate and worship together.  Every time we come to worship, we can celebrate the life, the death, the resurrection, and the coming again of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.  That’s important.


    Think about some things that might keep us from gathering together as a family besides a global pandemic.These are some hindrances, some walls, that we have to overcome.


     We might say, “Well, I’m just too busy.”  Now if we’re too busy to worship, we might just be too busy.  


   What if our most important appointment we need to have is to worship God? 


   In Luke, chapter 10.  Jesus came to the home of Mary and Martha.  Martha was busy taking care of the guests and the household work, but Mary sat at Jesus’ feet and listened to all he said.  Upon Martha’s plea for Mary to help, Jesus said to her:


     Martha, Martha, you are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed.  Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.


     We can get so busy that we miss what is really important in life. Watch out for being too busy for God.


     Another reason people might not worship regularly is because someone said something that hurt their feelings.  Well, as long as you have the church, you’re going to have people.  As long as you have people, folks are going to get their feelings hurt. 


     If we’re willing to jump in with both feet, that means we will probably need to also be willing to ask for and receive forgiveness with others.


     In Colossians, the third chapter, Paul said: “You must make allowance for each other’s faults and forgive the person who offends you.  Remember, the Lord forgave you, so you forgive others” 


     Sometimes, we don’t’ make worship a priority because we feel like the church isn’t meeting my needs. This is a tough one because I know how hard the church works at providing for people’s needs but if that becomes the primary purpose of the church, we’ll fall short of what it means to be the church.


     Paul wrote to the church at Philippi:


     “Don’t be selfish.  Don’t live to make a good impression on others.  Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourself.  Don’t think only about your own affairs, but be interested in others, too, and what they’re doing.”


     I think it’s interesting that when we’re meeting the needs of others, our own needs get met as well.  I’m reminded of a middle-aged woman who moved to a new city without knowing anyone.  She joined a church, but that church didn’t specifically have a ministry for singles or older adults, so making friends was difficult for her.  


     This person saw a need in the church for help with a mid-week meal, and she began serving and cleaning up after the meals.  Soon she was in charge of the Wednesday night meals, and she met other volunteers and workers.  Before long, she had lots of friends.  


     She didn’t set out to get her needs met, but God knew what she needed and she received so many blessings by serving in that ministry.  For this initially lonely woman, her unselfish service to her church became life giving for herself and others.


     Another reason people decide to not make worship a priority is that they see their faith in a very individualist and private way where they don’t see how other people can help them grow in their faith.


    Every single member of the church family is valuable. No one is considered unnecessary.  In 1 Corinthians, chapter 12, every part of our body is individually noted—fingers, hands, ears, eyes, feet—but each part also contributes to the team, creating the unity of who we are and what our body does.


     Just think if we all jumped in with both feet in making worship a priority. As commitment primes the pump and prayer draws on all the strength and power that God offers, our presence puts us in a community of faith where we have so much to give and so much to receive.  We work together as a team.  Worshiping together is what helps us to encourage, help, teach, learn, and celebrate on a weekly basis.


     In addition to prayer, it’s another way that we come to the water and experience transformation and new life. 


[This sermon is based on the resource, Treasures of the Transformed Life, Abingdon Press, 2006.]

Come to the Water: Jumping in with Both Feet
Sermon Discussion Questions
Hebrews 10:19-25 & John 15:9-17
October 4, 2020 

We are in the 3rd week of a six-week series on “Come to the Water.” For the first two weeks, we focused on the importance of priming the pump of our faith through commitment and drawing water through prayer. Today, we are invited to jump into the water with both feet through weekly worship. Ideally, weekly worship includes being present with each other. COVID19 has made this part of our faith very challenging since we have needed to rely on moving our services to online.

How has COVID19 and the challenge of not being able to have in-person worship together impacted your faith over these past several months? What have you learned during this challenging time as it relates to weekly worship?

Here are some important features of making weekly worship a priority: 1) We are an important part of God’s family, the church. 2) We are the visible expression of God’s family here on earth. 3) We can encourage each other. 4) We can accomplish more together than we can alone. 5) We can celebrate God’s presence in our lives and in our church.

Which of these features of worship stand out for you? Why?

Here are some reasons why people do not make worship a weekly habit: 1) Global Pandemics! 2) Too busy. 3) Someone in the church hurt our feelings. 4) The church isn’t meeting my needs. 5) We see our faith as very individualistic and not communal. 

Do you struggle with any of these reasons that can keep us from worshiping regularly? What can help you to overcome these challenges?

Are you ready to “jump in with both feet” and make weekly worship a priority in your life? If so, what specific commitment can help you make this a reality especially as we prepare for a new year of ministry?