Zis-N-Zat From Pastor Asher

God is my conscience, Jesus lives in my heart… this blog is about what I see, what I think, what I do and how I serve God

Thinking Towards Sunday; 9 August 2015

Scriptures for this Sunday: Genesis 19:23-26; Luke 17:32-33; Luke 9:57-62;   Luke 17:20-37; John 12:23-26

You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV // ESV

Hymns for Sunday:

UMH 303 – The Day of Resurrection

UMH 399 – Take My Life and Let It Be

UMH 569 – We Have A Story to Tell to the Nations

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; 2 August 2015; Sacraments

Luke 3:21-22 NIV2010

21 When all the people were being baptized, Jesus was baptized too. And as he was praying, heaven was opened 22 and the Holy Spirit descended on him in bodily form like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.”

Luke 22:14-20 NIV2010

14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again from the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

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These days there are adjectives that are associated with the word “Christian.”

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All these adjectives stem from the fact that our Bible is a complicated, nuanced and wonderfully complex COLLECTION of ancient scrolls that record understandings (plural) of God that have stood the test of time and that were transmitted through generations until they reached you and me.

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In 2 Timothy 3:16-17 we hear:

16 All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, 17 so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.

Our faith is rooted in our relationship with God and we gain our understanding of God based on the stories that are gleaned from the Bible and personal experiences somewhere along our lives’ journeys. That is why all of us have complex and nuanced reasons for why we have faith and how we live our faith and devotion to God. Add to this the reality that our culture drowns our very souls in a cacophony of materialistic noise and the result is that we are no longer challenged to think about our faith and our place in God’s creation. We have faith, we just don’t think about it much. Instead, we try to fit our infinite God into our finite brains. Quite often we do that by trying to define something that is close to being undefinable: that is why different catechesis (or collections of definitions) were developed and written. Those are our feeble attempts to fit an infinite God into our finite brains.

{Illustration from the personal practice of ministry}

God’s Grace reminds us (among other things) that we are trying to fit our infinite God into our finite brains. We talked about God’s Grace last week.

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Because of all that Jesus established the Sacraments of Baptism and Holy Communion. Definitions and adjectives tend to separate us. Ignorance and misunderstandings separate us. Definitions and adjectives lead to arguments. On the other hand, Sacraments remind us that there is only one baptism, there is only one loaf and there is only one cup that all of us share. Sacraments reminds us that there is only one God.

Something is Sacramental when it helps us to evoke the sense of holy around us. When we gather for worship we acknowledge and share our experience of holy around us. Sacraments are liturgies and rituals that we engage, during which we remind ourselves of the foundational stories of our faith.

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Baptism is a sacrament that happens in our lives only once. We are baptized Christian, not Methodist, or Lutheran, or Catholic. Ideally the Sacrament of the Holy Baptism will lead to a certain life style.

{Illustration: A morning prayer from Adam Hamilton: “Loving and Gracious God! As I enter these waters to bathe I remember my baptism and I am thankful. Wash me by your grace, fill me with your spirit, renew my soul! I pray that I may live as your child today and always and honor you in all that I do. Amen.”}

Baptism initiates and/or seals our intimate relationship with God. Baptism reminds us that we are a community because during the event of Baptism God makes a commitment to the person being baptized, the person being baptized makes a commitment to God and to the community in which baptism takes place, the community makes a commitment to nurture the person being baptized in his or her Christian journey. Baptism happens in the context of the community.

{Illustration from the personal practice of ministry}

clip_image016The second sacrament that we celebrate is the Sacrament of the Holy Communion. While Baptism is a once in a life time event, the Sacrament of the Holy Communion is a repeatable event. We gather together to remember Jesus’ life and the story of our salvation; we gather together to put our differences aside and to remember that no community is self-reliant; we gather together to remember that we do not live in a vacuum – we have neighbors; we gather together to honor God and to pray for ourselves and our neighbors; we gather together to ask God to bless our lives and to make symbolic bread and juice to be the body and blood of Jesus so that we may be for the world the body of Jesus purified by his blood and sent forth to be God’s ambassadors (Matthew 28:16-20).

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I think of the Sacraments like kind of a pipeline [or a garden hose] with a faucet. Sacraments are the pipelines of the living water of God’s grace. Our faith opens the faucet. We can open it a lot, we can open it a little, or we can choose to not open it at all.

I also think of Sacraments in terms of ladders or pathways that we can take towards God. When we start our journey towards God, God comes toward us from the opposite direction. Sacred and profane meet in the middle. Contemporary Christian band STARFIELD has a song where they sing, “I want to touch the hand that holds the world.” That what sacraments help us do; they help us to connect with the holy around us, they direct us towards THE HAND that holds the world.

Sacraments remind us that we live in a world redeemed by God’s Grace and they help us to gain a deeper and deeper understanding of our God and the world that we live in. Sacraments give us a glimpse of what it is like to be in the presence of God. Sacraments bring God’s Love and Grace to us.

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In Philippians 2:5 Paul wrote: “In your relationships … have the same mindset as Christ Jesus…” Sacraments remind us about what God has done in our lives and help us to see the world through the eyes of God.

clip_image022Micah 6:8 NIV2010

And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly [some manuscripts “prudently”] with your God.

{Celebration of the Sacrament of the Holy Communion}

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Open Letter to Our Extended Family of Kingswood United Methodist Church in Newark, DE

clip_image002Debbie and I want to take this opportunity to thank our extended family of Kingswood United Methodist Church for accepting and welcoming us into your midst. We feel thrilled and privileged to become part of such a spirited, mission-minded, and tradition-rich community. We appreciate all of your efforts to get the parsonage ready for our move, and for the welcome gifts we found when we arrived. We also want to express our gratitude for your hospitality, encouragement, outpouring of emotional support, and offers to feed us, to help us unpack and to do various tasks related to the move. Rachel and Leah (our cats) also thank you for the treats and toys you left for them!

Although it seems so far away, our physical move into Newark happened only two weeks ago. Your helping hands and welcoming hearts greeted us with graciousness and hospitality and enabled both of us to get off to a good start. As I write this letter, our offices are set up, both of us are able to work and we have made a good dent in unpacking our “stuff.”

As Debbie and I continue to adjust and adapt to our new lives, meet new people and make new friends, we covet your prayers. In addition we ask you to pray for our Bishop Peggy Johnson, the District Superintendents of the conference – (in alphabetical order) Pastor Shirlyn Brown, Pastor Fred W. Duncan, Pastor Kyung-Hee Sa, and Pastor Derrick Porter, as well as all the pastors and congregations who are going or preparing to go through pastoral transition at this time.

As humans, we like stories. We tend to become bogged down in our individual stories; as communities, we foster, cherish and wrap ourselves in our communal stories. After a while, these stories begin to define who we are, and when that happens, they limit our potential.

The truth is that our life is not going to happen in “my” story or even in “our” story as we know it. Our lives are going to happen in the future and “the future” is yet to be imagined and written.

Our Great commission is found in Matthew 28:19-20 and it reads, “…go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you.” The reason Jesus gave us this commission is so that we, the church, could better serve God by serving the world in which we live, and challenge ourselves and our neighbors to be the best version of what we were created to be.

The Great Commission unites us in common mission and challenges us to be bearers of God’s love and hope. I think that at the juncture of history and culture that we live in, our neighbors are seeking hope, meaning and reason to strive to better their lives and the lives of those around them. Study after study finds that our neighbors crave to see the Church that is united and energized by the love of Jesus for the purpose of being salt and light in the world. The Church Universal under the guidance of the Holy Spirit has been infusing lives with hope, meaning, and purpose for two thousand years; we have “some” experience with that.

As our community works to re-imagine what Kingswood United Methodist Church of Newark, DE will become, and to write the next chapter in our story, I pray that God will bless us to be a blessing to our neighbors and to all of God’s Creation.

And speaking of stories… the Great American novelist of the 20th century, Pearl S. Buck, said once that, “If you want to understand today, you have to search yesterday.” In my efforts to imagine tomorrow, I need to take the time to understand today. To do that, I would like to learn about the traditions of our community and how we became who we are today. If you have any stories about the people of our community, old newspaper clippings, or any old pictures, I hope that you would let me scan them. I promise to treat them with the utmost respect and care and will get them back to you promptly.

Debbie and I are excited about sharing ministry with all of you and we look forward to discerning how God will use our community in the future.

Philos

 

Asher & Debbie

Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; July 26, 2015

Scriptures for this Sunday: Romans 3:10-20; James 4:1-8

You can read these Scriptures here: NRSV / NIV2010

Hymns:

UMH 368 – My Hope is Built

UMH 378 – Amazing Grace

UMH 57 – O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing

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Two weeks ago we looked at what it means that we live in a fallen world. Last week we looked at what it means that we are created in the image of God. The obvious question is, “Why are we talking about things that most of us learned in Sunday School when we were knee high to a grasshopper?”

Our church does not live in a vacuum; we live in a community, and the men and women outside the walls of this building have questions of faith and struggle with them just like we do. When our neighbors come through these doors they are looking for God. They are looking for answers to tough questions of faith that they struggle with. That is why it is important for us to revisit the basic concepts of our faith from time to time so that we can better articulate our thoughts and experiences in today’s vernacular whenever the opportunity presents itself.

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Last year (July 30, 2014 to be exact), the Holy Father Francis published a short reflection with ten (10) rules for a happier life. Rule number nine is titled, “Don’t proselytize; respect others’ beliefs.”

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The Holy Father writes, “We can inspire others through witness so that one grows together in communicating. But the worst thing of all is religious proselytism, which paralyzes: ‘I am talking with you in order to persuade you,’ No. Each person dialogues, starting with his and her own identity. The church grows by attraction, not proselytizing” (Inqistr.com).

We all have to revisit the basic concepts of our faith from time to time so that we can stay rooted in Scripture and in the Traditions of our faith. We revisit the basic concepts to see how our personal Experiences reflect the Scriptures and how our Traditions infuse our lives with meaning. That helps us to face life and that helps us to be more effective [or to make rational decisions, to use our Reason and intellect] in helping our neighbors to see the presence of God in the world that we share, so that we can build meaningful relationships. Our hope is that EVENTUALLY these relationships will lead to church growth.

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In his letter to Hebrews, Chapter 11 verse 1, Paul taught that “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence [or conviction] of things [felt and experienced, but] not seen” (Paraphrase, aft). Faith is belief in something that is not based on proof. Faith is NOT about knowledge; faith is about feelings that are felt and experienced on a visceral level. That is why it is so difficult to explain what it really means that we are created in the image of God. That is why it is difficult to explain how and why prayer works. That is why we can correctly use words like “Soul,” “Grace,” “Evil,” and “Heaven” in a sentence but most of us have a difficult time explaining what these words mean in a such a way that our unchurched neighbors, or even recent Christian converts, can relate to or understand.

Our faith is rooted in our relationship with God, and we gain our understanding of God based on the stories that are gleaned from the Bible and our personal experiences somewhere along our lives’ journeys. That is why all of us have complex and nuanced reasons for why we have faith and how we live our faith and devotion to God. Add to this the reality that our culture drowns our very souls in a cacophony of materialistic noise, and the result is that we are no longer challenged to think about our faith and our place in God’s creation. We have faith, we just don’t think about it much. Instead, we try to fit our infinite God into our finite brains.

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These are some of the reasons why God gave us God’s Grace, and that is what I want to talk about today. We tend to use {“} “God’s Grace” as a catchall when we don’t know what else to say; i.e. someone tells us about something that happened yesterday and we don’t know how to respond so we say, “God’s Grace was with you.” In reality maybe it was a miracle, or maybe it was sheer, dumb luck, or maybe God has plans for us, or maybe God is using what happened yesterday to shake us up and get us to start thinking about our lives and our relationship with God, NOT in superficial terms but in REAL, WELL THOUGHT OUT, REASONED AND REALISTIC terms.

{Illustration:  See this video referenced in a post on my blog – CLICK ME)

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So what is God’s Grace? Divine Grace is an ongoing, relationship-building energy that connects God and God’s Creation; that energy is at work everywhere and at all times; it is ALWAYS there. When we make a choice to accept God’s grace, when we make a conscious choice to plug into it; we consciously experience a connection to God, and through God, to each other. As a result communities grow stronger, lives are transformed, bad habits are resisted and there is harmony and tolerance in the community. Divine Grace is God’s empowering presence in the lives of God’s human children, enabling us to be the best version of what God imagined us to be when God created us. Divine Grace magnifies and illuminates for us God’s hopes for our lives as we live them. God’s Grace empowers us to be the best stewards of God’s Creation at the time and place where we live our earthly lives.

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God’s Grace manifests itself in our lives even prior to our knowing or accepting God’s existence. God’s Grace that guides our lives prior to our turning to God is usually called Prevenient Grace. Prevenient grace invites us to recognize that all of us are sinners and that Jesus paid for our sins and transgressions; prevenient grace prepares us to recognize and to become conscious of God’s presence in our lives (“Cloud of Witnesses” Hebrews 12:1).

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In the life of every individual there is at least one moment when we recognize our sinfulness, when we recognize God’s presence and God’s role in our lives (who among has not had our heart broken at least once).

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That is a “moment” of justifying grace; sometimes it is called the moment of conversion; sometimes it is called the moment when we are born again of the Spirit from above (John 3, Jesus’ heart-to-heart with Nicodemus). The “moment” of justifying grace is usually followed by a period of time (or a process) when we come to fully comprehend what the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ actually means to EACH ONE OF US as we live our lives and as we prepare to face eternity.

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Sanctifying grace results in our desire to foster an ever-growing, vibrant and productive relationship with God through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ as we serve God in ALL aspects of our lives.

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Experiencing God’s Grace does change us.

{Illustration}

Story from Nicaragua

Story from Cuba — If God could use Balaam’s Donkey [Numbers 22:21-41], God can use a Santeria Priest

{//Illustration}

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These are just a couple of experiences when I looked straight into the face of God. In these experiences I saw God’s Grace. In these experiences I saw God’s Love and Energy flowing to God’s Creation, and by that Grace I am here to tell these stories.

Jesus came showing his love to his beloved people and to the Church as it was in his time. Jesus came to show that every generation needs new thinking and new blood to confront the future that it faces. That is what God’s Grace is about.

James 4:1-2a, 8 NRSV

4:1 Those conflicts and disputes among you, where do they come from? Do they not come from your cravings that are at war within you?  2 You want something and do not have it; so you commit murder. And you covet something and cannot obtain it; so you engage in disputes and conflicts.

6 But he gives all the more grace; therefore it says, “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”

7 Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. 8 Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you.

Where and when have you seen God’s Grace in your life? Is your heart full of God’s Grace? How has God’s Grace changed the way you live your life? What do you do with that wonderful knowledge?

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Divine grace is an ongoing, relationship-building energy that connects God and God’s Creation; that energy is at work everywhere and at all times; it is ALWAYS there. Are you plugged In?

Works Cited

Inqistr.com. “Pope Francis Lists His 10 Tips For Happiness Drawn From Personal Experience. No 9. Will Pleasantly Shock You .” 01 08 2014. Inqistr. http://www.inquisitr.com/1384969/pope-francis-lists-his-10-tips-for-happiness-drawn-from-personal-experience-no-9-will-pleasantly-shock-you/. 09 07 2015.

A message to the family of Kingswood UMC and surrounding communities.

My office just received a communication that the apartment community of the Vinings at Christiana has teamed up with the Delaware Food Bank to host daily FREE lunch for children 3-18 years old. The program will take place Monday through Friday starting July 20 and ending August 21, 2015 from 11 am till 11:45 am.

PLEASE SPREAD THE WORD!

Thinking Towards Sunday; July 26, 2015

This is the video that was going around Facebook ™ in the last couple of days

Enter video caption here

We now know that the “mystery priest” is Rev. Patrick Dowling of Jefferson City, Missouri

Thinking Towards Sunday; 26 July 2015

Scriptures for this Sunday: Romans 3:10-20; James 4:1-8

You can read these Scriptures here: NRSV / NIV2010

Hymns:

UMH 368 – My Hope is Built

UMH 378 – Amazing Grace

UMH 57 – O For a Thousand Tongues To Sing

Very Approximate Notes for Sunday’s Message; 19 July 2015; What Does It Mean To Us That We Are Created In the Image of God?

Scriptures for Sunday: Genesis 1:26-31; Philippians 2:1-5; 4:4-9

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

Hymns for Sunday

UMH 151 – God Created Heaven and Earth

               (Use melody 355)

UMH 111 – How Can We Name a Love (verse 3)

UMH 144 – This is My Father’s World

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Last week we looked at what it means that we live in a Fallen World. We live in a fallen world because evil and suffering were released and unleashed into the world that God created and declared “GOOD” for us. That evil and suffering was released when Adam and Eve could not resist temptation and made a decision to disobey God. Ever since evil and suffering were released and unleashed into our world, we are prone to suffering and disease and sometimes end-up in pain and in the hospital. It is because of that act of disobedience we live in a world where there is homelessness and hunger, floods threaten our lives and destroy our crops, droughts make lands uninhabitable, and tornadoes, earthquakes, ethnic violence and wars destroy lives and civilizations. Much more trivial, but also related to the fallen world is that our tires go flat, socks are lost, toast is burned, angry words are exchanged, roofs leak, and most of us are having problems with weight gain. I am not trivializing evil and suffering; I am not putting leaky roofs and burned toast on the same level as earthquakes, ethnic violence and wars. The point I am making is that paradise was lost and with that irritations, problems and tragedies became common in our lives.

Living in the fallen world we have tendencies to disregard and overlook God’s presence in our day-to-day lives. Not seeing God as an active presence in our lives makes it so much easier to succumb to evil and temptations.

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Our hope, the Good News of our faith and relationship with God, is that although we live in a fallen world we are created in the image of God (Genesis 1:26-27; Genesis 5:1-3; Genesis 9:6; Hebrews 1:3; Colossians 1:13-15; 2 Corinthians 4:4-7 here is the link to these readings). Today I want to explore what it means that we are created in the Image of God.

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When we talk about humankind being created in the image of God, many of us jump towards the “gender” of God. “Gender” is concrete and is easy to wrap our minds around. Similarly, when we talk about the first human beings created we point out that they did not have belly buttons. It is difficult for most of us to deal with abstract concepts and constructs. That is why we tend to “break” things down into bits and pieces so that we are able to wrap our brains around them. Ideas are easier to understand when we can connect them to concepts that are already familiar to us, but sometimes this leads to misconceptions. So today let’s talk about what it truly means to be created in the image of God.

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When Jesus met the Samaritan Woman at the well he revealed that “God is Spirit” (John 4:24). Having been created in the image of God means that we have been created as spiritual beings. Adam and Eve did not resemble God in the sense of God’s having flesh and blood; God created us male and female because that is how we multiply and perpetuate God’s image in the world.

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All of us are created as rational human beings with the ability to think, to make decisions and to appreciate beauty. All of us can reason and all of us can make choices. This is a reflection of God’s intellect and freedom in us.

When was the last time you had an “A-HA!” moment? When was the last time that you discovered something new? When was the last time that you worked in a garden or tended a tree? When was the last time you wrote a letter or a note to a friend, a poem, a novel? When was the last time that you painted a picture or took a photograph? When was the last time you sang a song or played an instrument? When was the last name you chose a name for a child or a pet? When we do that, we reflect God’s intellect, freedom and creativity in us.

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When we are born, we are born in perfect innocence; newborns have no idea that they are naked nor do they care. That is a reflection of God’s holiness. God saw all He had made (mankind included) and called it “very good” (Genesis 1:31). As we grow and mature we develop and build our “moral compass”; we learn and we decide for ourselves what is right, true and beautiful. That is a reflection of God’s holiness in us.

When was the last time that you made a decision to be a “bigger person?” When was the last time that you made a conscious choice to separate yourself from something that you know is bad or bad for you? When was the last time that you praised someone and rejoiced in someone else’s accomplishments? When was the last time that you felt bad for something that you have done but should not? All those are reflections of God’s holiness in us.

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Human beings are created to live in a society. That is a reflection of our God being a triune God: Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. When we were created and before the fall, the primary relationship that humans enjoyed was with God (Genesis 3:8); God made the first woman because “it is not good for the man to be alone” (Genesis 2:18) and so that we could build a community. That is a reflection of God’s triune nature in us.

When was the last time that you celebrated each other’s accomplishments and milestones? When was the last time you made a friend or hugged a friend? When was the last time we gathered together for and event or a covered dish dinner? Every time that we do that and every time that we gather together on Sunday, we celebrate the fact that our God is with us and in us and within us. We celebrate that we are made to be a community just like our God who created the whole universe.

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Isaiah 41:10 (NIV2010)

So do not fear, for I am with you;
    do not be dismayed, for I am your God.
I will strengthen you and help you;
    I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.

All of humanity (which includes every one of us) occupies a special place in God’s heart and within God’s creation. Because we are created in the image of God, every person has the ability to understand abstract concepts, exercise freedom of will, has the ability and capacity to love, exercise mercy and justice and to seek a relationship with our Creator. Every human being also possesses an immortal soul that temporarily connects our mortal bodies with our immortal God as we travel on the road of life towards perfection.

The Good News is that God understands us and God made a choice to sacrifice God-self in the person of Jesus being crucified and resurrected. (God is a spirit (John 4:24), that is why Jesus had to take the human form so that God could be crucified). In that selfless act all of God’s creation, including humankind, was redeemed. When we make a choice to accept God’s gift of redemption, the Holy Spirit begins a life-long process of molding and shaping us into a new creation (Ephesians 4:17-32).

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Philippians 2:1-5; 4:4-9 NIV2010

2 1Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, 2 then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. 3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, 4 not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.

5 In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus:

4:4 Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! 5 Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. 6 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. 7 And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

8 Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. 9 Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.

Thinking Towards Sunday; July 19, 2015

Scriptures for Sunday: Genesis 1:26-31; Philippians 2:1-5; 4:4-9

You can read these Scriptures here: NIV and ESV

Hymns for Sunday

UMH 151 – God Created Heaven and Earth
               (Use melody 355)

UMH 111 – How Can We Name a Love (verse 3)

UMH 144 – This is My Father’s World

 

Call to Worship
(published on http://re-worship.blogspot.ca/2014/06/prayer-genesis-1.html)

L: In the beginning God created all things,
P: and God saw that they were good.

L: At our beginning, God created us
P: unique and irreplaceable, loved and wanted by God,
known and treasured by God even before He created us.

L: In all our new beginnings, God creates something new
P: so we will seek God in the freshness of this morning,
in the laughter of friends,
in the colors of creation,
and in this beautiful place.

L: Lord God, King of Creation,
All: open our eyes to see your presence,
our souls to sense your presence,
and our hearts to love your presence,
ever here in your creation,
and ever beyond it in eternity.
Amen.

Approximate Notes for the Sunday’s Message; 12 July 2015

Scriptures for this week are: Genesis 3:1-7; Ephesians 6:1-4,10-20

You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV and ESV

Hymns for Sunday

UMH 131 —  We Gather Together

TFWS 2071 —  Jesus, Name Above All Names

UMH 117 —  O God, Our Help in Ages Past

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These days we do not need to go far to find some terrible news. On Tuesday, July 7, 2015 these were the news items on my computer screen:

  • News related to the shootings in North Carolina in Mother Emmanuel church (Woodhall), and debates raging in our society about the confederate flag.

  • For some strange reason thousands of birds abandoned their nests and eggs and left a small island of the coast of Florida. This will have long term repercussions on the ecosystem of the region (Associated Press, Bird Mystery).

  • Bill Cosby admitted to drugging women (Associated Press, Huffington Post).

  • Subway spokesman Jared Fogle is a target of FBI’s child molestation investigation (Hanna).

  • Multiple militant attacks around the world…

  • News of abuse and misuse of power by the people trusted to protect and uphold the laws…

We do not have to go far to get confirmation that we live in a fallen world.

So what does it really mean, that we live in a fallen world?

When we say that we live in a fallen world, everyone in the church knows to point to the story of Adam and Eve eating a piece of fruit from the Tree of Knowledge. All of us know that story from Genesis 3.

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NIV2010 Genesis 3:1 Now the serpent was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?”

2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, 3 but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’”

4 “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. 5 “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”

6 When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. 7 Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves.

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In this act of disobedience, evil and suffering were released and unleashed into the world that God created and declared “GOOD,” resulting in a “fallen world.” Repercussions of that act of disobedience permeate ALL aspects of our lives. Because of that act of disobedience, because evil and suffering were released and unleashed into our world, we are prone to suffering and disease and sometimes end-up in pain or in the hospital. It is because of that act of disobedience we live in a world where there are tornadoes and earthquakes and wars, and hunger and poverty. It is because of this act of disobedience sometimes our tires go flat, socks are lost, toast is burned, and angry words are exchanged.

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Before the “fall,” men and women lived in the constant presence of God. They were aware that God was always with them and they rejoiced in that presence.

After the “fall” God is still with us, but we have a tendency to sweep God under the rug; it is our choice, and we have the proclivity to do so. When we do that it is our hope that God is watching someone else.

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In our fallen world we do not perceive God to be an active part of our day-to-day lives; it is painfully obvious in the silence that falls right after the question, “And where did you see God in the last few days?”

The account from the Book of Genesis is terse; it is less than 200 words. Because of its brevity, it is difficult for us to imagine how it really happened. I was not at the Tree of Knowledge at the time with my camera rolling (although I would have liked to be) but I imagine that it took some time for the Serpent to orchestrate the Fall. It had to be a difficult task for the Serpent, because the reality of God’s presence was always with the first people, they knew him personally and had a relationship with him, and they were happy about that; there was nothing to hide. When we are consciously aware of God’s presence around us, it is as if “the full armor of God” protects us “so that [we] can resist [stand firm against] the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).

When God created the first Man, that Man was instructed to avoid that one particular tree and its fruit (Genesis 2:16-17). Then God saw that “it is not good for a man to be alone” (Genesis 2:21) and God created Woman.

Anyone who has children knows that the best way to get your children to do something is to tell them that they are not allowed to do that particular task. I can almost hear Adam and Eve walking around the tree, contemplating how inviting and shady the grass under that particular tree was; the grass is always greener somewhere where we are not supposed to be. I can imagine them taking a nap in the heat of the day and thinking how much more comfortable they would be under THAT tree. I can imagine them looking at the leaves, smelling the fruit (oh it smells soooo good and looks soooo delicious). A few days later, they might have looked at it and smelled it again… Then after a few more days they might have touched it, then maybe licked it until temptation was impossible to resist and they took a tiny bite.

The Serpent tricked the woman to get her to try the fruit, she also gave it to the man (who was BTW right there with her and could have easily discouraged her from listening to the Serpent). When God asked the Man why he disobeyed God, the man said something like, “she made me do it…” The woman blamed the Serpent and the Serpent had no leg to stand on. Ever since then, blaming others for our misfortunes has become one of our human conditions. All of us do it to some extent. We become mature adults when we learn to take responsibility for our own actions and stop blaming others for all of our misfortunes.

Who among us has not tried to justify to ourselves why we deserve something that deep down we know is not good for us? Who among us has not rejoiced when we got away with something? And by the way, if you are feeling righteous right about now, because there is nothing in your life that is not good for you or because you never had to get away with anything, I want to ask you just one question: when was the last time that you drove 56 miles/hr in a 55 miles/hr speed zone?

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For me, the fact that we live in a fallen world is a great motivator to discern what God is doing in the world around us and to roll up my sleeves. Because we live in a fallen world there are people for whom the love of God is a strange concept and, I know it sounds counter intuitive, but I rejoice in that. The character of lady Violet Crawley, the Dowager Countess of Grantham from Downton Abbey had this line, “”If we only had moral thoughts, what would the poor churchmen find to do?“

God placed us here and now because the world needs God’s love and grace like never before. Being a Christian means that God called all of us to become the best version of what we can become. Being a Christian means that we are called to build bridges to our neighbors and to work with them, regardless of their spiritual beliefs.

That is how we meet our neighbors; by listening to their stories we learn about them; that is how we become friends. And the reality is that we cannot bring strangers or enemies to Christ. In order for us to help someone find Christ’s presence in their lives, we must have a friendly relationship with them first.

{Closing Illustration}

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Works Cited

Associated Press. Bird mystery: Thousands disappear and abandon eggs, nests on island off Florida’s Gulf Coast. 07 July 2015. http://www.foxnews.com/science/2015/07/07/bird-mystery-thousands-disappear-and-abandon-eggs-nests-on-island-off-florida/. 07 July 2015.

—. Huffington Post: Bill Cosby Admitted To Drugging Women In 2005 Deposition. 6 July 2015. http://www.huffingtonpost.com/entry/bill-cosby-drugging-women_559af2d6e4b04a9c98e82247. 7 July 2015.

Hanna, Jason. CNN: Police at home owned by Subway spokesman Jared Fogle. 7 July 2015. http://www.cnn.com/2015/07/07/us/indiana-subway-fogle/index.html. 7 July 2015.

Woodhall, Joel. The Chronicle: Fatal Shootings at Mother Emanuel AME Stun Charleston. 18 June 2015. http://www.charlestonchronicle.net/96421/2152/fatal-shootings-at-mother-emanuel-ame-stun-charleston. 7 July 2015.

Thinking Towards Sunday; 12 July 2015

Scriptures for this week are: Genesis 3:1-7; Ephesians 6:1-4,10-20

You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV and ESV

Hymns for Sunday

UMH 131 —  We Gather Together

TFWS 2071 —  Jesus, Name Above All Names

UMH 117 —  O God, Our Help in Ages Past

Approximate Notes for the Sunday’s Message; 5 July 2015; Weekend closest to the United States of America Independence Day

Scriptures for this Sunday: Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Isaiah 61:1-7

You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV2010 and ESV

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 133 – Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

UMH 171 – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

UMH 696 – America, the Beautiful

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On July 4th, we remember and celebrate the signing of the Declaration of Independence in 1776. Independence, however, was not achieved on July 4, 1776. Independence was won seven years later when the emissaries of the Colonies and representatives of King George III signed the treaty ending American Revolutionary War on September 3, 1783.

King George III did not grant freedom to the colonies in July 1776 by any stretch of the imagination. Freedom was won as a result of seven years of gory battles and skirmishes, sacrifice, hunger and frostbite, and atrocities committed on both sides of the battle lines.

What we celebrate on July 4th is the drive, grit, determination, innovative spirit and sheer will to survive that our forefathers and foremothers put forth to win independence and our freedom.

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Some of us are physical descendants of men and women who won this independence. All of us are physical descendants of men and women who came to this country for a chance at a better life, for a chance to reinvent themselves, and for a chance to start a new leaf in their life’s story.

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The Statue of Liberty became a symbol of the gut-wrenching monumental triumph that previous generations of citizens of this country have accomplished. It also became a symbol of recognition of USAmerican ingenuity, grit, drive and determination by the rest of the world.

{The Statue of Liberty was designed by Frédéric Auguste Bartholdi, a French sculptor, and built by Gustave Eiffel (the same engineer that built the Eiffel Tower). It was dedicated on October 28, 1886. It was a gift to the United States from the people of France.}

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I remember the day when I first saw the Statue of Liberty.

{{ Illustration — Tourist Attraction – – > Precious Symbol }}

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When God created us, we were not created to grovel in the grime of our sins. We were created to be tools of love and grace in God’s hands, to serve God by serving the world in which we live. That is what all of us have inherited from God.

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From our ancestors we also inherited the drive, determination, grit and spirit of innovation that not only won independence, but also made this country great.

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All of us have a double portion of the spirit that Isaiah was talking about in verse 7. One part came from God when we were created to be the best version of what we can be. The second part came from our DNA, from our ancestors who demonstrated the drive, determination, grit, and sheer will to survive. That is the “double portion” of the spirit that will rebuild the space program and will figure out how to train engineers, and scientists, and doctors, how to mend spiritual wounds, and to rebuild what is broken.

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As citizens of the USAmerica, the Statue of Liberty came to symbolize to us everything that is right, true and beautiful with our nation. Although there are issues that our country has to deal with, I am convinced “that there is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America” (William J. Clinton, the 42nd President of the USA).

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As Christians, we have a symbol of spiritual freedom. The Cross of Jesus is the symbol of our hope and redemption. “It is for freedom that Christ has set us free” (Galatians 5:1).

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{{ Cherokee Legend – – Two Wolves }}

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Jesus lived and taught among us, and Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to live in our hearts and souls so that we have the liberty and freedom to choose which wolf we are going to feed.

As I stand before you today we all know that as a denomination we have to deal with some tough issues. As I stand before you today we all know that most United Methodist churches, including ours, have problems. I am also convinced that there is nothing wrong with the C/church that cannot be fixed with what is right with the C/church {paraphrase of quote by William J. Clinton – Applies to both Church Universal and individual churches}.

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In order to help us to keep on, Jesus gave us the Sacrament of the Holy Communion.

We partake of the Sacrament not because it is a tradition or because it is a habit or because everybody else does it. The Sacrament reminds us that we are connected to God, that we are created in God’s image. We partake because the Sacrament infuses our lives with meaning and helps us to be the best versions of what God created us to be.

We wish you Blessed and Safe Fourth of July!

clip_image002The Independence Day that our nation celebrates on the Fourth of July is a day filled with significance and meaning for all the citizens of the United States of America. In reality, however, for some that holiday has become just a “feel good” holiday, an extra day off work.

I don’t know how that happened; I only know that it did. Many of us will go to the beach or to picnics with friends and family where most of us will eat and drink (quite often to an excess), put up with bug bites, excessive heat and sunburn and then enjoy fireworks in the evening. The Declaration of Independence, history and traditions of the holiday, the freedoms that we enjoy, or what it means to be a patriot and a citizen of the United States of America rarely comes up at picnics or at the beach.

As I look around, currently I see two versions of patriotism. The first version deals with protecting our country from powers that might otherwise harm us. On a simplistic level these are foreign powers threatening our shores and borders with aggression. These powers may be sovereign nations, terrorist cells or organizations, or drug cartels that view our country in terms of market share and battle for influence and control. We need to be able to protect ourselves against these forces.

The second version of patriotism that I see and hear around me deals with all of us coming together as a nation for the common good. That might mean contributing to a bake sale in the local church or civic organization, raising money for the local school, taking an active part in issues that affect our nation (the latest debate concerning the confederate flag comes to mind), volunteering in a local homeless shelter or in Hope Dining Room in the basement of our church building. It also means that all of us need to do our share so that our nation and our individual communities have enough resources to meet their needs, protect its citizens and ensure freedoms that we have learned to take for granted.

The first version of patriotism places the burden of its understanding on the government and armed forces. The second version of patriotism recognizes our responsibilities to each other as citizens of this nation and as each other’s friends and neighbors. Both understandings require collaboration, tolerance, flexibility, adaptability, common vision and willingness to negotiate and to listen to each other. In other words, it requires love that is a sum of “joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23).

Unfortunately, in many cases these two very different understandings of what it means to be a patriot clash with each other. The reality is that we need both. We need to maintain our sovereignty as a nation and the ability to protect our citizens, our infrastructure and our lands. We also need a vision and a set of common goals that unite us into one nation. We cannot hide from hard truths that we face as a nation; it is our responsibility to name these hard truths and to own up to them. Jesus taught, “You will know the truth and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32). Only when we are able to define and verbalize our common problems, will we be able to face them and find workable solutions. Willam J. Clinton, the 42nd president of our great country said, “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured by what is right with America.”

Today, all of us are proud to be citizens of the USA because throughout our common history our ancestors had the courage to face hard truths and were willing to stand for and do what was right. It is our turn to bear the standard, to dream of a future and work toward making it a reality.

As Independence Day 2015 approaches, I want to leave you with a couple of questions to reflect upon, “What are you doing to reach out to our neighbors whose views you may not necessarily share and to facilitate dialogue that will result in better understanding and cooperation? What are you doing to help our community of Kingswood United Methodist Church develop a vision for the future where all can feel free to express their opinions, safe in doing so and where all will be treated with love, justice and respect?”

May God Bless America to be a blessing to all of God’s Creation!

May God Bless Kingswood United Methodist Church to be a continual blessing to our neighbors!

Philos

Asher

A note to introduce myself to the community of Kingswood United Methodist Church

To the Congregation of Kingswood United Methodist Church,

The purpose of this post is to introduce myself to the community of Kingswood United Methodist Church. 

Effective July 1, 2015 I am sent by Bishop Johnson and the Cabinet of the Peninsula-Delaware Conference to serve the community of Kingswood United Methodist Church.  I look forward to meeting all of you, learning your stories, and sharing our faith. I look forward to the shared part of our ministry and lives’ journeys.

You would probably like to know a little about me.  I was born and raised as an atheist in the former Soviet Union. Ethnically I am Jewish. My family and I immigrated to the United States almost 35 years ago.

I realized that God exists one day in September 1985 while driving on I-295 near West Deptford, NJ. For me it was a great surprise, and this realization shook everything that I believed to be right, true and beautiful.

In 1989 I had a blind date with my future wife, Debbie; we will be celebrating 25 years of marriage later this year.

I received my call to ministry while in a Disciple Bible Study in October‑November 1997. I was sent to serve my first appointment as a student pastor in 2003. Since that time I completed my theological education in Lancaster Theological Seminary, took two units of Clinical Pastoral Education from Christiana Care and have done several special projects (chaplaincy, mission trips, outreach, etc).

I love Jesus. With all of his life Jesus showed that God did not create us to grovel in the grime of our sins. Jesus lived and taught among us; Jesus has shown us that we are capable being the best version of what God created us to be (John 10:10). Throughout His ministry here on Earth and through the promptings of the Holy Spirit, Jesus encourages us to do that.

I love the Church and especially the United Methodist Church. While all of us are imperfect and every church community has a unique personality, as the Church Universal we are the body of Christ, redeemed by his blood and sent out by the Holy Spirit to be tools of love and reconciliation in God’s world.

I am grateful and eager for the opportunity that God has blessed me with to share in ministry with all of you.  I know that the congregation of Kingswood United Methodist Church has a strong identity and tradition in mission, outreach and involvement in the community in which it lives. I realize what a great responsibility it is to be a pastor of such a vibrant community.

I have no doubt in my mind that God is active in the world in which we live and I know that when we are with God all things are possible. I look forward to working with all of you as we discern God’s will for our church family, and the ways in which we can continue to serve God by serving the world in which we live. 

My contact information is available from the Kingswood UMC church office.

Philos

Asher

Thinking Towards Sunday; 5 July 2015

Scriptures for this Sunday: Galatians 5:1, 13-18; Isaiah 61:1-7

You can read these Scriptures here:  NIV2010 and ESV

Hymns for this Sunday:

UMH 133 – Leaning on the Everlasting Arms

UMH 171 – Jesus, Jesus, Jesus

UMH 696 – America, the Beautiful

BG

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