Thinking Out Loud – September 2015

Pastor DaveFrom Pastor David McMillan

Consider this question: If you were to describe the condition of your spiritual health and the spiritual well being of our church family here at Lincoln Park UMC, what would you say?

As a pastor, I’ve often wondered and prayed over the spiritual condition of my flock. I’m together with folks on Sunday mornings, for evening meetings, and for a small weekly Bible study, but I’ve often wondered about the spiritual health of my congregations throughout the week.

Do they have a vital relationship with God? Do they start and end each day with prayer? Do they read their Bible or spend a few moments each day meditating upon The Upper Room or The Daily Bread? Are they aware of the grace of God in their lives? Do they seek to love their neighbor, family members, co-workers, and strangers as Jesus loves them? Do they talk about their faith with others? Are they going on to be “perfected in love?”

Standing at the front door of the narthex shaking hands and exchanging pleasantries as members of my flock head out the front door and into the world to raise families, work, and pay bills, looking in their eyes, I have often wondered How is it with their soul?

In his letter to the church in Rome, the Apostle Paul recognized how easy it is to become distracted by the cares of the world and to lose sight of our soul’s aim, which (according to the Westminster Confession) is “to glorify God and enjoy him forever.” So he warns us, Do not be conformed to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind so that you might discern what is the will of God-what is good, acceptable and perfect.” Romans 12:2

In a world of distractions and competing claims upon our time and allegiance, we are constantly in need of the renewing of our mind — which is, of course, the work of the Holy Spirit, working from the inside out. To this end, this fall we’ll take on, as a congregation, a short-term spiritual growth campaign entitled Transformed: How God Changes Us.

If, like me, you had to pause for several moments to contemplate the condition of your spiritual health and the spiritual health of our church, I take this as telling: There is still work to be done, a growing in grace that requires our full attention.

Thinking Out Loud – July 2015

Pastor DaveFrom Pastor David McMillan

Jesus Is the Question

You have heard that it was said,… But I say to you… — Matthew 5:27,28

A beloved seminary professor was teaching his last class before retiring. As he finished his lecture, his students stood and applauded the man they had come to admire and trust. Waving gratefully, he made his way to the door. But before exiting, he raised his hand, motioning for one last word. “Remember,” he said. “Jesus is the question to all your answers.”

Through reading, thought, and prayer, Jesus reveals himself to me in ways which question my own answers and assumptions. When I look at places like Ferguson, Baltimore, or New York City, and at the racial tensions still existing, my answer is that racial harmony is beyond us. Then Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan refusing to pass by the Jew who lies beaten and left for dead — reminds me of “who is my neighbor.”

When I despair over the tragedy and loss of life perpetrated in the name of God — or Allah, or Skanda, the Hindu god of war, or Asura the god of war of the Buddhist — my answer is: How will anyone ever come to understand God as love? Then I think of Jesus’ tortured body, hear him loudly declare from the cross: “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do,” and I have hope that even religious extremists will know the love of God.

When I’ve suffered moral failures, wandering from God into some distant country, my answer is that I am beyond reach. Then, Jesus reminds me of a prodigal son, who leaves his father’s house, squandering his inheritance in riotous, dissolute living. When he comes to his senses, he returns, expecting to be received as a hired hand. But, his father meets and embraces him — calling to his servants for his finest robe, ring, and sandals for him. For this son of his was lost, but was now found. He was dead, but is now alive again.

You and I are forever arriving at answers for ourselves that hold out no hope for a future. But Jesus comes to us again and again “questioning our answers and assumptions,” and setting our feet once again upon the way that leads to life. Thank God, Jesus is “the question to all our answers.”

Thinking Out Loud – May 2015

When it was evening on that day, the first day of the week, and the doors of the house where the disciples had met were locked for fear of the Jews, Jesus came and stood among them and said, ‘Peace be with you.’ — John 20:19

Pastor DaveYou may not have guessed it. In fact, it may surprise some of you that your pastor is, by nature, a skeptic: one inclined to doubt in religious and/or spiritual matters. So, you can imagine what went through my mind when my eldest sister Jean called in March to tell me of her close encounter of another kind.

“We’re never really alone and we’re probably being reminded of it all the time.”

Let me preface by telling you that Jean is the most free-spirited in our extended family. Once, she unexpectedly flashed her chest to one of my brothers-in-law, (who was seated at the other end of our dining room table, complaining of weakening eyesight) saying “Here, can you see these?” Fortunately, most of us were looking in his direction.

Jean also likes to hold a needle and thread over the stomach of expecting mothers to predict the sex of their babies…with an astonishing degree of success, I might add. She also grew up during the early 70’s when Mary Jane and other recreational drugs were plentiful. So, you get my picture.

“Dave,” she said with obvious excitement when I answered her call. “You won’t believe what happened to me today. I was in my car on the way to our Poconos home when I came to a detour. I was feeling frustrated, but the next thing I knew Dad was in the car talking to me. I remembered coming to a detour when I’d been in the car with him as a little girl and how he’d reassured me that we would be fine… it was an opportunity to explore unfamiliar territory. And there he was again sitting next to me. I could hear his voice and see his nostrils flaring like they used to every time he was getting ready to say something funny.”

“Then, all of a sudden, he was gone and a hawk appeared, out of nowhere, just outside of my driver’s side window and flew beside me for a long time, flapping his great wings. Hawks have always been my sign bird. And then, when I called Diane (our youngest sister) to tell her what had happened, she asked ‘Did I know?’ ‘Did I know what?’, I asked. “Did you know that today is the anniversary of Dad’s death 11 years ago? So, Dave’ she asked, ‘What do you think about that?’”

Too afraid to tell her what I, the family priest, was really thinking, I tried to match her excitement and said something profound like “Wow!…That’s something!” While I’m a skeptic by nature, I’ve heard my share of similar stories and lived long enough to know that there are certain things that happen in life that are outside of my own experience and seemingly beyond reason. So, who is really to say about these things?

Clearly, for my sister, this had been an epiphanal moment. Who’s to say the dead don’t make themselves known to the living? According to my late Aunt Margaret, Jesus came and appeared to her when she was a young girl making her bed one morning. If you saw her face while she was telling her story, you couldn’t help but believe. In the gospel of John, after his crucifixion and death, Jesus appears to his disciples who are hiding behind locked doors in an upper room. Later, he appears to his disciples along the Sea of Galilee. And, the Apostle Paul writes how Jesus appeared to him in a blinding light on the Road to Damascus.

“That’s something,” I said to her trying to sound convincing. “It’s a thin veil that separates the living from the living. It’s probably more permeable than we think.” Looking back, instead of trying to explain mystery, the pastoral thing would have been to ask her what her experience had meant for her. As a brother, I should have asked how old my father looked and did he have his teeth in.

It’s a mystery this life, but I believe it’s a shared life. We’re never really alone and we’re probably being reminded of it all the time. I guess, it’s whether or not we have eyes to see and ears to hear.

— Pastor Dave

Thinking Out Loud – March 2015

Pastor Davefrom Pastor Dave

“After three days they found him in the temple, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” – Luke 2:26

“Live the questions now. Perhaps then, someday in the future, you will gradually, without even noticing it, live your way into the answer.” – Rainer Maria Rilke

For as long as I can remember, my life has been filled with questions. There were the questions I asked, and was asked, and those I silently carried around with me like a rough stone in my pocket worn smooth over time. There was the question Mr. Rogers repeated over and over again while his dog had me pinned down in his backyard, “Why do you boys keep cutting through my yard when I’ve told you to stay out?” There was Mrs. Loder’s question, my fifth grade teacher, asking “which one of us boys had snuck in early from recess and turned the classroom clock back twenty minutes?”

Most of the questions posed to me while growing up came at home from my mother: “Did you make your bed?”; “Did you remember to put the seat down?”; “Why are you tormenting your sisters?”; “Why are you standing in front of the refrigerator with the door open?”; “Where is your homework?”; and “How did you get these holes in your knees?”

In part, mostly through attrition, I have learned to become more comfortable with questions than I am with answers. In fact, over time, I’ve become increasingly skeptical of those who offer easy answers or simple solutions.

In his book Jesus Is the Question: The 307 Questions Jesus Asked and 3 He Answered, author Martin P. Copenhaver writes, “Easy answers can give us a sense of finality. By entertaining questions, God has a chance to change us. Answers can be offered as a conclusion. Questions are an invitation to further reflection. For the most part, answers close and questions open. It is telling that the word question contains the word “quest.” That is, a question sends you on a journey and often in search of something valuable.

Truth be known, I have rarely if ever felt very certain about anything. This isn’t to say that I don’t have my convictions or that I haven’t done my homework on some of the larger questions of life like “Who am I?” and “What am I here for?” Still, when I feel as though I have finally settled upon an informed opinion, when challenged by new information, a new experience, or a persuasive argument, I often find myself feeling the need to return to the drawing board to start all over again.

Someone once said that “an unquestioned faith is no faith at all,” and I believe that. Jesus was forever asking his disciples and those who challenged his authority questions: “Who do you say that I am?”, “Who or what are you looking for?” “What does it profit a man if he gains the whole world, but forfeits his soul?” In asking, he sends us again on a quest, a search for self understanding and our understanding of the other. I’m finding, If we stay the course, in time, by the grace of God, we come to find that more meaningful than finding answers is living with the questions.

Lent

cross-lent-purple-drape-5

Christians observe Lent for these reasons:

 

• It causes us to STOP. Lent says, “Stop and rest awhile,” as well as “Stop doing wrong.”

• It tells us to LOOK. Look inward for an honest self-examination. Look upward to see the cross of Christ offering healing and love. Look forward to the hope of the Resurrection.

• It tells us to LISTEN. Listen to the words of Christ. Listen to the voice of God. Listen to the winds of the Spirit of God.

 

Stop, look and listen. These three words aren’t only important for our safety in travel; they’re also helpful for our journey through the 40 days of Lent.