First United Methodist Church of Ellwood City
Monday, July 28, 2014
416 Crescent Avenue, Ellwood City, PA 16117 -- Reverend Patricia Cleary -- 724-758-6278

The Pastor's Perspective Archive (Durlesser)

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

May 2011

 

"The King James Version of the Bible:  Happy 400th Birthday"

 

 

     Did you know that this year, 2011, is the four-hundredth anniversary of the publication of the King James Version of the Bible? It is! The King James Version of the Bible was first published in 1611, four hundred years ago! And many special events and web sites are being planned in observance of the occasion. For comprehensive coverage of the “birthday celebration,” check the following two web sites frequently:

 

http://www.kjv400celebration.com/

 

http://www.kingjamesbibletrust.org/the-king-james-bible

 

For those of us who are Baby Boomers and older, most of the Bible verses that we learned as children in Sunday School would have been from the King James Version (or the KJV; also known as the Authorized Version, the AV). Ah yes, Memory Verses in Sunday School: Do you remember them?

 

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16).

 

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ephesians 2:8-9).

 

The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever  (Psalm 23).

 

And, of course, the famous Christmas Story according to Luke --- in the King James Version:

 

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that all the world should be taxed. (And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.) And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:) To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child. And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn (Luke 2:1-7)

 

Luke 2:1-7 is so familiar in the King James Version that, for some of us who learned these verses in the KJV, it is difficult to read them in any other version.

But how did the King James Version come into being four hundred years ago? The following is excerpted from “A Brief History of the King James Bible” by Dr. Laurence M. Vance.

 

As the reign of Elizabeth (1558-1603) was coming to a close, we find a draft for an act of Parliament for a new version of the Bible: "An act for the reducing of diversities of bibles now extant in the English tongue to one settled vulgar translated from the original."… Nothing ever became of this draft during the reign of Elizabeth, who died in 1603, and was succeeded by James 1, as the throne passed from the Tudors to the Stuarts….

One of the first things done by the new king was the calling of the Hampton Court Conference in January of 1604 "for the hearing, and for the determining, things pretended to be amiss in the church." Here were assembled bishops, clergymen, and professors, along with four Puritan divines, to consider the complaints of the Puritans. Although Bible revision was not on the agenda, the Puritan president of Corpus Christi College, John Reynolds, "moved his Majesty, that there might be a new translation of the Bible, because those which were allowed in the reigns of Henry the eighth, and Edward the sixth, were corrupt and not answerable to the truth of the Original."

The king rejoined that he:

 

Could never yet see a Bible well translated in English…I wish some special pains were taken for an uniform translation, which should be done by the best learned men in both Universities, then reviewed by the Bishops, presented to the Privy Council, lastly ratified by the Royal authority, to be read in the whole Church, and none other.

 

Accordingly, a resolution came forth:

 

That a translation be made of the whole Bible, as consonant as can be to the original Hebrew and Greek; and this to be set out and printed, without any marginal notes, and only to be used in all churches of England in time of divine service.

 

The next step was the actual selection of the men who were to perform the work. In July of 1604, James wrote to Bishop Bancroft that he had "appointed certain learned men, to the number of four and fifty, for the translating of the Bible." These men were the best biblical scholars and linguists of their day. In the preface to their completed work it is further stated that, "there were many chosen, that were greater in other men's eyes than in their own, and that sought the truth rather than their own praise. Again, they came or were thought to come to the work, learned, not to learn." Other men were sought out, according to James, "so that our said intended translation may have the help and furtherance of all our principal learned men within this our kingdom."

Although fifty-four men were nominated, only forty-seven were known to have taken part in the work of translation. The translators were organized into six groups, and met respectively at Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford. Ten at Westminster were assigned Genesis through 2 Kings; seven had Romans through Jude. At Cambridge, eight worked on 1 Chronicles through Ecclesiastes, while seven others handled the Apocrypha. Oxford employed seven to translate Isaiah through Malachi; eight occupied themselves with the Gospels, Acts, and Revelation.

The work began to take shape in 1604 and progressed steadily. Four years were spent on the preliminary translation by the six groups. The conferences of each of the six being ended, nine months were spent at Stationers' Hall in London for review and revision of the work by two men each from the Westminster, Cambridge, and Oxford companies. The final revision was then completed by Myles Smith and Thomas Bilson, with a preface supplied by Smith.

A dedicatory epistle to King James, which also enhanced the completed work, recalled the King's desire that "there should be one more exact Translation of the Holy Scriptures into the English tongue." The translators expressed that they were "poor instruments to make GOD'S holy Truth to be yet more and more known" while at the same time recognizing that "Popish persons" sought to keep the people "in ignorance and darkness."

The Authorized Version, as it came to be called, went through several editions and revisions…

From the middle of the seventeenth century, the King's Bible has been the acknowledged Bible of the English-speaking nations throughout the world simply because it is the best. A revision which embodied the ripe fruits of nearly a century of labour, and appealed to the religious instinct of a great Christian people, gained by its own internal character a vital authority which could never have been secured by any edict of sovereign rulers.

 

The King James Version of the Bible set the stage for all of the modern English translations that have emerged since the American Revised Version of 1901. It set a standard in literary beauty that has been seldom matched in the translation of scripture.

 

 

Dr. Jim Durlesser

 
 
 

 

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

March 2011

 

"The Lenten Journey to the Cross of Christ"

 

Lent and Easter are late this year; very late. The first day of Lent this year, Ash Wednesday, is March 9. (We will be having an Ash Wednesday service at the Church at 7:00 P.M.) So that means that the First Sunday in Lent is March 13 and that Easter is not until April 24.

The season of Lent is a pilgrimage, a spiritual journey, a journey to Calvary and the Cross of Christ. And like many journeys, the journey through the weeks of Lent is not something that we do just to get from Point A to Point B. Rather, like many journeys, the journey through the weeks of Lent is done for journey's own sake. Part of the benefit of traveling to the destination is to be found in what we gain during the journey, in what we gain on our way to the destination. And so, on Ash Wednesday, we begin our journey to the Cross of Christ and on Sunday, March 13, we begin the Sundays in Lent.

This Lenten season we are going to be focusing in our worship services on the idea of pilgrimage. We are going to use the Songs of Ascent in the Psalter, Psalm 120 through Psalm 134, to help us reflect on what our destination is and to help us reflect on the fact that God travels with us on the journey. The Psalms of Ascent, Psalms 120-134, are “Psalms for the Journey.”

The Psalms of Ascent would have been sung or chanted by the ancient Israelites as they were “going up” to Jerusalem, as they were “ascending” the holy hill of Zion to worship at the Temple. That is why these psalms are referred to as “Psalms of Ascent.” They were psalms that were sung while “ascending” the hill of the LORD. According to Exodus 23:14-17, the ancient Israelites were supposed to “go up” to Jerusalem, to “ascend” the holy hill of Zion to worship at the Temple, three times a year: Once for the Festival of Passover and Unleavened Bread, once for the “festival of the harvest,” which in later Judaism came to be known as Pentecost (see Acts 2), and once for “the festival of ingathering at the end of the year.” Here are the verses from Exodus 23:

 

14 Three times in the year you shall hold a festival for me. 15You shall observe the festival of unleavened bread; as I commanded you, you shall eat unleavened bread for seven days at the appointed time in the month of Abib, for in it you came out of Egypt.

No one shall appear before me empty-handed.

16 You shall observe the festival of harvest, of the first fruits of your labor, of what you sow in the field. You shall observe the festival of ingathering at the end of the year, when you gather in from the field the fruit of your labor. 17Three times in the year all your males shall appear before the Lord God.

 

Three times a year, twice in the spring and once in the fall, ancient Israelites journeyed from wherever they lived in the Land of Israel to Jerusalem. Three times a year, ancient Israelites “ascended” the hill of the Lord to worship at the Temple. Three times a year, ancient Israelites would have sung or chanted Psalms 120 through 134 as they traveled their spiritual journey from their homes to the House of God on the holy hill of Zion.

Since the Psalms of Ascent were used by the ancient Israelites while they were on pilgrimage to Jerusalem, there is a very real likelihood that Jesus and his disciples would have sung or chanted these Psalms while they were journeying to Jerusalem that last time right before Jesus’ crucifixion. As Jesus and the disciples journeyed to Jerusalem and prepared their hearts for the Passover, they would have begun with Psalm 120, maybe up around the Sea of Galilee somewhere where they would have started their journey. And, as they climbed the last hill up to Mt. Zion, as they ascended the last steps up Mt. Zion in Jerusalem and reached the Temple Mount, they would have chanted Psalm 134:

 

Come, bless the LORD,

all you servants of the LORD,

Who stand by night in the house of the LORD!

Lift up your hands in the sanctuary

and bless the LORD.

May the LORD, maker of heaven and earth,

bless you from Zion.

 

I hope that you will join me for the Lenten Journey this year beginning on Ash Wednesday, March 9 and on the First Sunday in Lent, March 13.

 

With you on the Lenten Journey,

 Dr. Jim Durlesser

 


The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

February 2011

 

"Think about Philippians 3:13-14"

 

During Sunday morning worship for eight weeks, we are looking at the letter of the Apostle Paul to the Philippians. Philippi was a city in Macedonia, located on the Via Egnatia, one of the primary roads that linked the eastern and the western parts of the Roman Empire.

There are a couple of verses in the third chapter of Philippians that I want us to think about in this Pastor’s Perspective: Philippians 3:13-14:

“…one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, (14)I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:13-14).

 

Paul is using athletic imagery here to talk about the Christian life. Specifically, Paul is talking about running a race.

Did you know that people once thought that running a mile in less than four minutes was an impossibility?  Sports commentators claimed that it simply couldn’t be done. Physiologists believed that the human body and mind would rise up and rebel against the strain of such a race. The four-minute mile came to be seen as a barrier that no human being would ever be able to break.

But in the spring of 1954, Roger Bannister broke the four minute mile. He was a British medical student and runner for the Amateur Athletic Association, a young man absolutely determined to break the barrier. Bannister knew that many outstanding milers had attempted to achieve the goal, including one who had missed by a mere 1.5 seconds. But Bannister would not allow the four-minute threshold to intimidate him.

On a cold and windy spring day, he took his place at the starting line of a track in Oxford, England. There were about 3,000 spectators in the stands. The race was carefully planned, and Bannister was aided by two other runners who acted as pacemakers, Chris Brasher and Chris Chataway. As they began the race, Brasher took the lead and Bannister fell in behind, with Chataway running in third place. When Brasher began to wear out, Bannister called for Chataway to take over.

Then, just about 200 yards from the finish, Bannister exploded into first place with a final burst of energy. He sprinted to the finish line and collapsed into the arms of a minister friend, Nicholas Stacey. A hush came over the crowd as the announcer read Bannister’s time. “Three minutes, 59 seconds ….” Roger Bannister had broken an unbreakable record and ran what came to be known as the “Miracle Mile.”

We can relate to Bannister and others who thought a four-minute mile was impossible. We have our own impossible four-minute miles. Think about it. What personal goal seems to you to be attractive, alluring, exciting and enticing … but also elusive and maybe even inconceivable?

The apostle Paul had a particular four-minute mile in mind: the goal of knowing Christ and the power of his resurrection (3:10-11). He was so committed to attaining this goal that he threw himself completely into the race, and said, “Forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the heavenly call of God in Christ Jesus” (vv. 13-14). Did he achieve his goal? No doubt about it. And so can we. The good news for us today is that we can run a Miracle Mile.

In the end, it is the spiritual Miracle Mile that matters the most. World records in running are remarkable, for sure, but they rarely last very long — and certainly not forever. Roger Bannister’s record was broken about six weeks after he set it.

The most important race we’ll ever run is the Christian life. Straining forward to what lies ahead, we are challenged to keep our eyes on Christ and to trust him to show us the way to go.

 

Running the race with you,

 

Dr. Jim Durlesser 

 


The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

January 2011

 

"Five Practices After One Year"

 

 

This time last year, we had just completed the program “Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation,” designed by United Methodist Bishop Robert Schnase. But “Five Practices” is more than a program. It lasts more than five or six weeks. “Five Practices” is a Christian lifestyle. It is a five-focus guide for Christians and the Church in bearing fruit for God and the Church of Christ. The “Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation” are:

 

Radical Hospitality        Passionate Worship

Intentional Faith Development

Risk-Taking Mission & Service

Extravagant Generosity

 

Throughout this past year, the “Five Practices” have been before us. Throughout the year, I have heard the Practices mentioned in meetings and conversations. One Practice mentioned here in the context of a meeting, another Practice mentioned there in the context of a small group, and so on. The Practices are beginning to influence our thinking and planning and, as they influence our thinking they influence our ministry. The Five Practices need to become second nature to us in our Christian lives. And it is by practicing the Practices, that we can be fruitful.

Now, after one year, in this Report of the Pastor to Charge Conference, I want us to look briefly at how we as a congregation are living the “Five Practices.”

 

Radical Hospitality

Folks in the congregation are becoming more aware of the need to be welcoming to others. I hear people talking about engaging in Radical Hospitality. While there is always more that we can do in our practice of Radical Hospitality, some advances are being made. I do see more people talking to each other on Sunday morning and welcoming new people at worship. As the Worship Committee discussed at the its last meeting, over the past year, and especially over the past several months, we have seen a dramatic increase in returning visitors; not just visitors who come once and we never see them again, but returning visitors who have become regular in attendance, who begin to take part in activities beyond Sunday morning worship, and who, eventually, join the church. Because of Radical Hospitality and Passionate Worship, we are seeing visitors returning, and becoming active participants in the congregation. In an era when, in many years, barely half of the United Methodist Churches in the Conference welcome even one Professing Member into the congregation, we welcomed eight Professing Members this past year: four in the confirmation class and four adults. Through the Concert on the Lawn, the Soup Luncheons, the Apple Dumpling Booth, and the various catered meals that are served in the church, the visibility of this congregation is heightened, people are welcomed to the church, and people get to know about the church.

 

Passionate Worship

Many individuals work with me weekly to contribute to our inspired, Passionate Worship each week: Our organist / choir director Candace Aikins and the members of the choir, our bell choir director Velva Hildebrand and the members of the bell choir, Jerry and Sandi Rectenwald, who have been leading praise choruses in worship, Brenda Oliver, our communion steward, and her helpers, and all of the ushers, liturgists, and readers who participate in worship year round. Increasingly, people are talking to me throughout the week about the music, the sermon, the prayer, or even the service as a whole. Increasingly, God is moving in people’s hearts and transforming lives because of the Passionate Worship.   

Intentional Faith Development

The intentional development of the faith of the people in the congregation took many forms this past year: Sunday School, Confirmation Class, United Methodist Women, the Mom’s Group, the Men’s Group that met last winter for discussion, the Tuesday Prayer Group, Under 21 Bible Study, Adult Bible Study, Scouting ministries, fellowship activities, and service projects. And the service projects lead to the fourth Practice.

 

Risk-Taking Mission & Service

This congregation does Mission and Service very well. We take a leadership role in the Carpenter’s Project. The Confirmation Class went to the Eastbrook Mission Barn and folks from our United Methodist Women’s group have gone to the Mission Barn. We pack the various UMCOR kits. We support the Yellow Ribbon Girls in their efforts to mail packages to the troops. Each month, Moments for Missions raises up some aspect of United Methodist Mission and Service. Each month, we gather food for the local food bank.

 

Extravagant Generosity

I am amazed at how extravagantly generous many people in this congregation are with their time and talents. Many people in this congregation are constantly giving of themselves to the service of the Kingdom of God and the Church of Christ.

Giving of our time and talents is an important part of stewardship, an important part of Extravagant Generosity. The Stewardship Committee is going to continue to highlight ways in which we can be good stewards of all areas of life, realizing and affirming that all that are and all that we have is from God.

It is not easy to be Extravagantly Generous with our money in times like these. We here in Ellwood City and in Lawrence County, continue to struggle financially. Did you know that Lawrence County continues to be hit especially hard with unemployment? Unemployment figures for our region were announced last week:

            Region: 8.2%                   Lawrence County : 9.7%
            Butler County: 7.7%         Beaver County: 8.1%
            Allegheny County  7.9%

 

Our region, especially Lawrence County, is still hurting financially. Families and businesses throughout the County are hurting. Churches throughout the County are hurting. It is our prayer that God will continue to, in the words of Harry Emerson Fosdick’s great hymn of the Church,

 

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,

For the facing of this hour.

 

There was an interesting article on the UMC.org web site this past week that highlighted what it means to be a vital church; a church filled with vitality. The article, by Rev. Patricia Farris, was called “Church vitality is not just a matter of numbers.” Church vitality, Rev. Farris said, is seen in, “a clear, deep, sacramental and liturgical ecclesiological foundation, to say nothing of an explicit focus on life- and world -transforming mission.” It is seen in, “prayer, relationship-building, service and sabbath renewal.” I see a lot of this kind of vitality as I reflect on the year at First Church. As I reflect on how First United Methodist Church of Ellwood City has begun to live out Bishop Schnase’s Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation this past year there is a great deal of vitality in the church. There is a solid sacramental and liturgical  foundation. We are engaging in a life- and world- transforming mission. We pray and engage in relationship building and service. All signs of a church with vitality; all signs of a church that continues to practice the Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation.

Bishop Robert Schnase is coming to Pittsburgh next month for a retreat at the Four Points by Sheraton, Pittsburgh North. What a wonderful opportunity for the leadership of this church to hear directly from Bishop Schnase about living the “Five Practices,” not just of “a Fruitful Congregation,” but also of “Faithful and Fruitful Lives.”

Thanks to everyone who has served in any area of ministry this past year and my thanks in advance to everyone who will be serving in 2011.

 

My thanks to Joy, my partner in life and ministry for thirty-three years, for her love, support, and sharing of life this past year.

May God bless us in the coming year as we continue to be a vital church, living out the Five Practices of a Fruitful Congregation.

 

 

Dr. Jim Durlesser 

 


 

 

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

December 2010


"Advent and Christmas 2010"

 

Advent is a season of hope and anticipation. It is a time when we await the fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 40:9: “Here is your God!” This wonderful theme of God’s coming is the one of the primary themes of the Book of Isaiah, especially in Chapters 40-66. On the second, third, and fourth Sundays in Advent, I will be focusing in my sermons on “Great Advent Prophecies in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah.” These are wonderful passages that give us “Previews of the Coming Christ.” They help us to prepare for Jesus’ birth at Christmas and to better understand the significance of his coming.

 

The three sermons in the series are as follows:

 

Previews of the Coming Christ: Great Advent Prophecies in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah

December 5, Second Sunday in Advent: Isaiah 64:1-9. “What Are You Waiting For?”

December 12, Third Sunday in Advent: Isaiah 40:1-11, “Are We Ready?”

December 19, Fourth Sunday in Advent: Isaiah 9:1-7, “What Do You Do When the Lights Go Out?”

The Choir will also present some special Christmas music during worship on December 19.

 

Christmas Eve at First United Methodist Church Christmas Eve at First UMC will feature two very different services:

A 7:00 P.M. service, which will be based on “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols” and an 11:00 P.M. service, which will be “A Contemporary Christmas.” Both services will be in candlelight. The 7:00 P.M. service, “A Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols,” is based on a service that is celebrated annually on Christmas Eve at King’s College, University of Cambridge, in England. The service includes nine scripture readings, which, in the words of the liturgy, enable us to, “hear again from Holy Scripture the saga of the loving purposes of God from the first days of our sin until the glorious redemption brought to us by this holy Child.” Interspersed between the nine scripture readings are pieces of Christmas music, which the liturgy calls, “our carols of praise.” King’s College, Cambridge, was founded in 1441. The King’s College Chapel, where, in addition to daily worship services, the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols is celebrated on Christmas Eve, took over a century to build and was completed in 1547. In the early 1930s the BBC began broadcasting the service on overseas programs. Each year, millions of people worldwide listen to the broadcast of the service from Kings College, Cambridge. This year, for the third time, First United Methodist Church will host its own Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at 7:00 P.M. on Christmas Eve. For more on King’s College, Cambridge, and The Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols, see the King’s College website at www.kings.cam.ac.uk.

The 11:00 P.M. service, “A Contemporary Christmas,” will feature contemporary acoustic music and will end with a candlelight service. Enclosed in this issue of the newsletter, you will find a Christmas offering envelope. I hope that you will make a special Christmas donation to the church, joining the Wise Men in offering a special gift to the Christ Child.

 

The “Three ‘Cs’” Join us December 26 and January 2 for Christmas Cola and Conversation

The summertime favorite, Cola and Conversation, is back for Christmas. Following morning worship on December 26 and January 2, Joy and I would like to invite you to join us for some “holiday cheer,” to join us for the “Three ‘Cs’: Christmas Cola and Conversation.

Worship on December 26 will feature an informal Carol Sing. Following worship, spend some informal, relaxed time with your church family chatting about Christmas, family, and fun. Have a blessed Christmas, and I hope to see you at many of the Advent and Christmas services.

 

Dr. Jim Durlesser
 

  

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

November 2010


"God of Grace and God of Glory"

 

I was invited to preach in Chapel at Pittsburgh Theological Seminary on Tuesday, October 19, 2010. As a part of my sermon, I talked about one of my favorite hymns, “God of Grace and God of Glory.” The words of this great hymn were written in 1930 by Harry Emerson Fosdick, founding Pastor of the Riverside Church in New York City.  He wrote "God of Grace and God of Glory" to be sung at the opening service of that great church. Here are Fosdick’s thoughts from his autobiography The Living Of These Days:

In 1929 we began using the lower levels of our new building for the church school and at last on October 5, 1930, we occupied the completed structure, dedicating it formally on February 8, 1931. This was a crowning day after a long wait. Looking forward to it, I had written a hymn, which was sung at the dedicatory service:

God of grace and God of glory,

On Thy people pour thy power;

Crown Thine ancient church’s story,

Bring her bud to glorious flower.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,

For the facing of this hour.

That was more than a hymn to me when we sang it that day ----- it was a very urgent personal prayer. For with all of my hopeful enthusiasm about the new venture there was inevitably much humble, and sometimes fearful, apprehension.

Fosdick continued:

Very frequently in these days people come to me and say, the new church will be wonderful. My friends, it will not be settled yet whether the new church will be wonderful. That depends on what we do with it. If we should gather a selfish company there, though the walls bulged every Sunday with the congregations that would not be wonderful. If we formed there a religious club, greatly enjoying themselves, though we tripled our membership the first year; that would not be wonderful……..

If all over the world, at home and abroad, wherever the kingdom of God is, the support of this church should be felt…that would be wonderful. If young men and women coming to that church should have Isaiah’s experience, seeing the Lord high and lifted up, his train filling the temple, and if they should discover there their divine vocation and should answer it, that would be wonderful…And if in this city, this glorious wretched city, where so many live in houses human beings ought not to live in, where children play in streets that ought not to be children’s playgrounds…if we could lift some of these burdens and lighten some of these dark spots and help solve some of the problems of these communities, that would be wonderful.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,

For the facing of this hour.

The hour that the world was facing when Fosdick wrote the hymn was the Great Depression. But "For the facing of this hour" is a timeless phrase, because there is never a time when we do not need God's help "for the facing of this hour."

But its is the fourth verse that speaks most powerfully to me:

Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore;

Let the search for thy salvation be our glory evermore.

Grant us wisdom, grant us courage,

Serving thee whom we adore, serving thee whom we adore.

“Save us from weak resignation to the evils we deplore.” How easy it is to give up. How easy it is to look at brokenness of the world and, with weak resignation, turn our backs and refuse to respond with sometimes risky investment in the Kingdom of God. But that is not what God called Harry Emerson Fosdick to do. And that is not what God called you and me to do.

What Fosdick offered the world in 1930 and, what we are offering a broken world today are deeds and words of hope in a hopeless world. This is what we, as God’s people, have to offer each other and this broken world: The hope of God in Christ; the hope of the Kingdom of God.

 

Blessings,

Dr. Jim Durlesser

 

 

 


  

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

October 2010


"Thoughts on September 15"

 

This past Wednesday, September 15, I turned fifty-seven years old. I had a good birthday. I got up and taught my 8:30 A.M. class at the Seminary. Then I had lunch in the Seminary cafeteria with my mentor Dr. Donald E. Gowan, a retired Old Testament professor, with Dr. Jim Davidson who is a Lecturer in Greek, and with the Rev. Rich Byerly, one of my former students, who was at the Seminary that day working in the Kelso Bible Lands Museum. After lunch, I went back to the apartment and Joy and I relaxed for the rest of the day. We spent some time in the Seminary library and had a nice dinner together.

Since my birthday, I have found myself pondering the idea of getting older. Maybe it is because I am more aware of my own physical well-being this year. Maybe it is because I have become more aware this past year of the limitations of my body. Maybe it is because I got really sick this past year, spent 9 days in the hospital, 4 of them in ICU, and had one of my doctors tell me, “You know, Jim you were really in bad shape.” Yes, since my birthday, I have found myself pondering the idea of getting older. Fifty-seven years old: I keep asking myself, “Should I be feeling older?” “Should I be feeling old?” I really don’t. I don’t feel older, and I certainly don’t feel old. 

When I turned forty years old, being someone firmly rooted in the Old Testament scriptures, I told myself, “OK; you are forty years old. You are done wandering in the wilderness and now you have reached the Promised Land.” When I turned fifty years old, again with my firm Old Testament foundation, I told myself, “OK; you are fifty years old. You have now reached the Jubilee Year” (See Leviticus 25:10). But now I am closer to sixty years old than I am fifty, and shouldn’t I be feeling just a little bit old? And I have no idea what foundational Old Testament concept I will be inspired to cling to when I reach sixty.

Actually, I feel good about turning fifty-seven years old. I feel good about getting older. I told Joy the other day that I feel as if I am getting closer to a goal. I am not sure what the goal is – Retirement? Maturity? Wisdom? (Psalm 90:12 prays that God will “teach us to count our days that we may gain a wise heart.”) Senior Citizen discounts? – but I feel as if I am getting closer to it.

I suppose there is a sense in which I am like the ancient Israelite sage who wrote the book of Ecclesiastes in the Old Testament. The author of the book of Ecclesiastes (some folks believe that it was Solomon himself) was a wise old Israelite looking back on his life, reflecting on his successes and on his failures; on the good times and on the bad times; on his times of companionship, when he was in joyous relationships with others and on his times of loneliness and frustration. The aging Israelite wise man, reflecting back over his full, rich life penned a justifiably famous poem on the times and the seasons of life. His poem is found in Chapter 3 of the reflections on his life that we know as the book of Ecclesiastes.

 

3 For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven:
 2  a time to be born, and a time to die;
     a time to plant, and a time to pluck up what is planted;
 3  a time to kill, and a time to heal;
     a time to break down, and a time to build up;
 4  a time to weep, and a time to laugh;
     a time to mourn, and a time to dance;
 5  a time to throw away stones, and a time to gather stones together;
     a time to embrace, and a time to refrain from embracing;
 6  a time to seek, and a time to lose;
     a time to keep, and a time to throw away;
 7  a time to tear, and a time to sew;

     a time to keep silence, and a time to speak;
 8  a time to love, and a time to hate;
     a time for war, and a time for peace.

 

And so, I am another year older, another year closer to my goal, whatever that goal is, still married to my wonderful wife Joy, praying that I will stay healthy this year, and recognizing, with the ancient Israelite sage that, yes, “For everything there is a season, a time for every matter under heaven.”

 

Dr. Jim Durlesser

 


 

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

September 2010

"A United Methodist Martyr"

 

In my sermon on August 8, 2010, “Spirituality in the Real World,” I talked about Archbishop Oscar Romero and theologian Dietrich Bonhoeffer, both of whom were martyred. We received this past week (the week of August 8) that one of the ten aid workers killed by the Taliban in Afghanistan on August 5 was Daniel Terry, 64, a United Methodist lay person who served in Afghanistan under the umbrella of our United Methodist General Board of Global Ministries. The United Methodist Church remembers a modern martyr.

 There is a local connection: Dan Terry’s son-in-law Chris has been serving as Seminary Intern at the New Wilmington Presbyterian Church. Chris’ wife Anneli is the martyred Dan’s daughter. Chris and Anneli will be traveling to Afghanistan for Dan’s funeral. The following is an excerpt from an article from the United Methodist News Service:


Daniel Terry spent 40 years of his life working as a volunteer with those most in need in Afghanistan.

Fluent in several regional languages, the 64-year-old United Methodist layperson had a deep understanding of the Afghan culture — an understanding that he used to guide the staff of international nonprofit organizations.

So it came as a shock when leaders of the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, which has supported Terry for 30 years, learned that he was among the 10 aid workers killed Aug. 5 in a remote northeast section of the country. The Taliban later claimed responsibility for the murders.

Only one other United Methodist aid worker has been murdered in recent decades. In 1977, Glenn Eschtruth, a doctor who served in a Kinshasa mission hospital in the African country then known as Zaire, was killed by mercenary forces.

“It is almost beyond belief that Dan Terry would be murdered in Afghanistan,” said Thomas Kemper, chief executive of Global Ministries. “He loved the country with a passion and worked tirelessly on behalf of its most marginalized communities.”

One of Terry’s skills was building relationships with the Afghan people, said David Wildman, a Global Ministries executive and Afghanistan expert. “He understood the wisdom of poor communities,” he added. “In all his work, he was always asking, ‘What can I learn from the community I’m with?’”

At an Aug. 9 press conference in Kabul, Dirk R. Frans, executive director of International Assistance Mission, confirmed that the 10 people killed were volunteer members of the group’s missing Nuristan Eye Camp team.

“This is a sad day, particularly for the relatives and friends of those killed,” he said. “Our thoughts and prayers are with all of them. We pray that they will find strength in their faith and in the communities to bear this unbelievable loss.”

Frans disputed Taliban claims that the team was proselytizing and distributing Bibles in the Dari language.

While registered as a Christian organization, International Assistance Mission functions solely as an aid agency. He pointed out that their teams would not be invited back to the villages where they work “if we were using aid as a cover for preaching.”

He also presented letters at the press conference offering proof that the team had permission from the Afghan government to conduct its eye camp.

 

Such instances of modern martyrdom are sobering and, at the same time, humbling. I have shared with you before, the courageous testimony of one of my former students. Pittsburgh Theological Seminary sends our students on mission trips every year. For the last several years, we have been sending students to Viet Nam, a communist country where it is dangerous to openly live a Christian life. My Hebrew students who go to Viet Nam always return to the U.S. with their understanding of Christianity changed; indeed, with their lives transformed, because they get to spend some time with people for whom Christianity is not something nice and comfortable that you do on a Sunday morning. No, for Christians in Viet Nam, Christianity really is a life and death matter. One of my former very fine Hebrew students decided to return to Viet Nam after she finished seminary to teach at a church-run mission school there. She stayed in Viet Nam for about six years and decided just last year that she had had enough. About three years ago, when she was home on leave, she stopped at the seminary to see me. I asked her how her ministry was going. She said, “Dr. Durlesser, honestly, I fear for my life every day.” I will always be humbled when I think of my student’s faithfulness and commitment to her Lord and Savior.

In Mark 8:34, Jesus declared, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me.” For those who take up their crosses, where might that lead? It might lead to martyrdom. Just as Jesus was martyred, so might his followers be martyred. As we face our daily struggles, probably not life and death issues, just normal daily struggles in an often very secular world, may we have the faith and courage to take up our crosses, whatever they may be, and faithfully follow our Lord, wherever that may lead.

 

Blessings,

 

Dr. Jim Durlesser

 

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

July/August 2010

Reflections on Annual Conference 2010

 

With the adjournment of Annual Conference a little after Noon on Sunday, June 13, I completed my thirty-fourth year in ministry and my thirty-fifth Annual Conference. Jerry Rectenwald served as our congregation’s Lay Member of Annual Conference. Trudy Wigton attended as a District Equalization Member.

 

As I reflected on the events of this year’s Annual Conference, held at Grove City College June 10-13, I realized that it was a conference of unity. Two signs of unity were prominent:

 

First, on Friday, June 11, Bishop Thomas Bickerton of Western PA, and Bishop  Eben Nhiwatiwa of Zimbabwe signed a Cabadza Partnership Agreement. In his sermon during evening worship, Bishop Nhiwatiwa described Chabadza as a Shona word that describes a community spirit of helping someone who is already at work. The agreement has been under development since the conference-to-conference partnership was approved at last year’s annual conference. Building on the history of Western PA support for Zimbabwe through development of Africa University in Mutare and the recent work of the The Nyadire Connection group, the agreement provides that the two areas will work together to:

·         Develop Principled Leaders.

·         Create New Places for New People and Renew Existing Congregations.

·         Engage in Ministry With the Poor.

·         Stamp Out Killer Diseases that contribute to the Cycle of Poverty by focusing on primary health care issues.

 

The second sign of unity came on Sunday morning, June 13, when Bishop Kurt Kusserow of the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America’s Southwestern PA Synod preached at the ordination service. Bishop Kusserow preached at our Annual Conference’s ordination service as a way of celebrating the “full communion” agreement between the United Methodist Church and the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, an agreement that was thirty years in the making. Bishop Bickerton preached at the ELCA Southwestern PA Synod last year.

 

In August 2009, the ELCA voted to adopt a “full communion” agreement with the United Methodist Church. Our denomination gave our approval to the agreement in an 864-19 vote at our 2008 General Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.

 

Full communion is not a merger, but means that the two churches express a common confession of Christian faith and mutual recognition of Baptism and sharing Holy Communion. Full communion means that we agree to mutual recognition of ordained ministers for service, upon request, in either church. It means that we express a common commitment to evangelism, witness and service.

 

There are 4.7 million members in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. The United Methodist Church has 11.2 million members worldwide. The ELCA already has a full communion agreement with the Episcopal Church, as well as with four other denominations. It is the first such agreement for United Methodists.

 

Of course, for me, the highlight of Annual Conference is always the Sunday morning Ordination Service. Although it is a very long service (and this year’s was short at just a little over three hours), it always has some very personal moments for me. For it is at the Ordination Service that I get to see my former students from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary ordained. A total of four Pittsburgh Theological Seminary graduates received their Elders Orders and Full Membership in Annual Conference this year. Two of them were my former students. One studied Biblical Hebrew with me five years ago, the other studied Biblical Greek with me all the way back in the Spring of 2001.

 

Further, at the Ordination Service, as all of the clergy process into the arena in our robes, I get to process with my former students who are now in active service in the churches of our conference. This year, I got to sit two seats away from one of my very fine Hebrew students and to talk to several more former students who serve in distant locations in the conference. One of them said he still thinks of me as “Dr. Durlesser, his Hebrew professor” and he still remembers Joy’s delicious tuna salad sandwiches.

 

Until Annual Conference 2011,

 
Blessings,

 

 
Dr. Jim Durlesser

 


The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

June 2010

God's Plans for You

Sunday, May 16, 2010

So many people commented on my sermon this morning that I decided to use an adaptation of this morning’s sermon for my column for this month’s Pastor’s Perspective.

 GOD’S PLANS FOR YOU

 

It has been three years and one month since a student at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, VA killed thirty-two people and wounded many others, before committing suicide. On April 16, 2007, in two separate attacks, the perpetrator committed the deadliest peacetime shooting incident by a single gunman in United States history, on or off a school campus.

Among those killed was Mary Karen Read, nineteen-years-old, a first-year-student majoring in inter-disciplinary studies. She was born in South Korea into an Air Force family and lived in Texas and California before settling in the northern Virginia suburb of Annandale.  She went to Virginia Tech after graduating from Annondale High School.

Mary was a devout Christian. When her family went to her dorm room at Virginia Tech to clean out her belongings, they found an index card posted on her desk upon which she had written a Bible verse. The Bible verse was Jeremiah 29:11, and Mary had inserted her own name into the verse:

For surely I know the plans I have for you Mary, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 

The people to whom Jeremiah was originally speaking the word of God were living in desperate times. The future looked bleak. Life in the city of Jerusalem was collapsing all around the people. Life in the nation of Judah was collapsing. All that Jeremiah and the people knew and held dear was about to come to a violent end. The Babylonian army had laid siege to Jerusalem and the city, including the Temple of God, was about to be destroyed. In the face of such violence, in the face of such hopelessness, in the face of such desperate times, Jeremiah had the audacity of faith to declare the word of God:

For surely I know the plans I have for you, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

 

  Jeremiah spoke to Mary Karen Read the same message that he spoke to the people of his own time and place. Jeremiah speaks to you and me the same message that he spoke to the people of his own time and place. The time in which we live is filled with uncertainty. Sometimes, life can seem hopeless. Sometimes, like in Jeremiah’s time, all that we know and hold dear seems to be collapsing around us. But Jeremiah speaks God’s promise to us today.  God has plans, good plans, for you and me. God has plans for our welfare. God has a future planned for us, a future with hope.

Mary Karen Read took God’s promise through the prophet Jeremiah seriously. She took God’s promise so seriously that she inserted her own name into the verse:

For surely I know the plans I have for you Mary, says the LORD, plans for your welfare and not for harm, to give you a future with hope. 

Mary wrote the verse, Jeremiah 29:11 on an index card and posted it on her desk. I want you to do the same thing today. I have provided Jeremiah 29:11 in a box below, with a space where you can insert your name. Personalize Jeremiah 29:11 by inserting your name into the verse, like Mary Karen Read did. Then cut out the box and post it on your desk or some other location where you will see it. Read this promise of God to you each day. Believe this promise of God to you each day. Know that God has plans for you, plans for your welfare and not for harm, plans to give you a future with hope.

 

For surely I know the plans I have for you,

says the LORD, plans for your welfare and

not for harm, to give you a future with hope.

 


The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

May 2010

Reflections on Having Patience

 

The Apostle Paul wrote to the Galatians that “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. There is no law against such things” (Galatians 5:22-23; NRSV).

 

Let’s run through that again. The ways in which we are called to bear the fruit of the Spirit include, “love, joy, peace, patience...” Ah, patience! Paul echoed this fruit of the Spirit teaching when he told the Colossian Christians, “As God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience” (Colossians 3:12).  There it is again: patience! I suspect that, for many people, patience is the hardest of all of the ways in which Paul called on Christians to bear the fruit of the Spirit.

 

Ours is not a patient society. We are not a culture that likes to wait. We have been pushed ever faster by our desire to hurry up.

 

How do you react when you are stuck in a traffic jam? Are you patient? As long as I am stuck in a traffic jam and I don’t have anyplace that I have to be, I am fine. If, however, I am stuck in a traffic jam and I have to be someplace at a particular time, it isn’t long before I find myself tapping the steering wheel with my fingers and muttering things under my breath (as if that is going to move traffic along).

 

My patience was tested this past week when Joy and I got stuck on the turnpike for 2 ½ hours. That’s right, 2 ½ hours! This past Wednesday afternoon, we were driving to the Seminary. We had just passed the Warrendale / Cranberry Connector cloverleaf and there it was on the message board overhead: “Accident at Mile 36. Traffic Stopped.” As we got closer to mile 36, we passed a portable message board along the side of the road: “Accident at Mile 36. Traffic Stopped.” Soon we passed a couple of fellows putting out flares. And then we stopped. We had just passed the Mile 34 marker. A minute or two went by and I heard truckers beginning to turn off their engines. I did too.

 

After about 45 minutes, traffic moved a bit. But it was just to tease us and to try our patience more. Everyone started their engines and, with great expectation, we all shifted into drive! We’re moving! But the movement was short-lived. We only went a couple tenths of a mile. Then we stopped. And this time, we stopped for good! Once again, engines were turned off. Vehicle doors were opened. And the occupants of the vehicles got out and began to walk around. You know that you are really in a traffic jam when your vehicle is sitting on the turnpike and you are out of the vehicle, walking around.

 

The total time that we were stopped on the turnpike while emergency crews cleared away the accident was 2 ½ hours. After about 2 hours I commented to Joy, “It’s a good thing we didn’t have to be somewhere at a particular time.”

 

I kind of surprised myself. I didn’t lose my patience. I wasn’t “antsy.” I remained calm through the whole traffic jam marathon. I suppose it was shortly after we passed the one- hour mark that the “fruit of the Spirit” passage came into my mind: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience…” “Patience, Durlesser,” I thought. “Patience. Bear the fruit of the Spirit.”

 

Around the two-hour mark, I found myself trying to remember a part of Dr. Seuss’s Oh, the Places You'll Go! 

 

The Waiting Place...for people just waiting.
Waiting for a train to go
or a bus to come, or a plane to go
or the mail to come, or the rain to go
or the phone to ring, or the snow to snow
or waiting around for a Yes or No
Or waiting for their hair to grow.
Everyone is just waiting.
Waiting for the fish to bite
Or waiting for wind to fly a kite
Or waiting around for Friday night
Or waiting, perhaps, for their Uncle Jake
Or a pot to boil, or a Better Break
Or a string of pearls, or a pair of pants
Or a wig with curls, or Another Chance.
Everyone is just waiting.

 

Waiting patiently,

 

Dr. Jim Durlesser


The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

April 2010

 

A Visit to the Mission Barn

 

 

 
     Imagine what 12,000 UMCOR health kits would look like. One health kit is maybe ten inches long by eight inches wide by four inches in depth. Now multiply that by 12,000! That’s how many health kits were boxed and ready to be shipped from the UMCOR Mission Barn when the confirmation class and their mentors, parents, and class leaders visited the barn in Eastbrook on Saturday, March 20. We had a dozen people for the visit and we arrived at the barn with two boxes of health kits.
 
     The Rev. Nelson Thayer, Pastor of the Eastbrook United Methodist Church met our group outside the barn in the parking area and told us that the health kits that we brought might end up in Haiti,
Afghanistan, or some other place in the world where UMCOR is doing God’s work.
 
 
     Taking our group inside the barn, we saw the “verification room,” where health kits, flood buckets (now called cleaning buckets), layette kits, and birthing kits are prepared for shipment. From the “verification room,” we were lead through a maze of rooms in the barn, some with construction still going on. 
 
     In 2000, the Eastbrook United Methodist Church acquired the former dairy barn as part of its purchase of a new parsonage.  After several years of struggling to discern a ministry use for the barn, the facility became a center for building UMVIM-designed modular handicap-access ramps for residents of Lawrence and Mercer
Counties, which our group saw on the upper level of the barn. In 2008, the church decided to offer the heated office area of the old dairy as a winter storage site for UMCOR flood buckets, since these needed to be protected from freezing.  By 2009 a plan was in place to develop the barn into a full-fledged UMCOR Depot, serving the entire WPA annual conference. 
 
     
The Eastbrook Mission Barn is now an official "HUB" of Mission Central in Mechanicsburg, PA, and is working toward a formal affiliation with the Sager Brown UMCOR Depot in Baldwin, LA.
 
 
     Visiting the Mission Barn in Eastbrook as a part of our confirmation were Roy Champion, Lori Rectenwald, Cecelia and Katarina Weingart, Madyson Widmaier, Brenda Oliver, Jack and Kathy Sapp, Jerry Rectenwald, Jason and Trina Weingart, and Dr. Jim Durlesser.
 
 
     It was wonderful for our group to have a chance to see Methodism in action beyond the local church. And I am very happy that our confirmation class had the opportunity to participate in a mission project that is a part of a worldwide ministry and a very tangible way of showing God’s love to people in need. 
 
 
 
Blessings,
 
 
Dr. Jim Durlesser

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

March 2010

Our Lenten Journey, Our Life Journey

 


     Confirmation Class has begun! As a confirmation curriculum, Joy and I use an adaptation of the old Follow Me resource, probably the best confirmation resource that the United Methodist Publishing House has ever produced. The name of the curriculum is derived from Jesus’ call to his first disciples:
     As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea--for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, "Follow me and I will make you fish for people." And immediately they left their nets and followed him. As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him (Mark 1:16-20).
 
 
     “Follow me,” Jesus urges us. To follow someone suggests that we are going somewhere. We are not staying where we are; we are moving on to someplace new. To follow Jesus means that where he goes we will go and whatever he does we will do. To follow Jesus is our faith journey. At this time of year, to follow Jesus is our Lenten journey. And to follow Jesus, hopefully, will become our life journey. Our faith journey should shape our life journey.
 
 
     The Follow Me curriculum begins with the story of the beginning of Abraham’s journey of faith:
     Now the LORD said to Abram, "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you. I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great, so that you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and the one who curses you I will curse; and in you all the families of the earth shall be blessed."
     So Abram went, as the LORD had told him; and Lot went with him. Abram was seventy-five years old when he departed from Haran. Abram took his wife Sarai and his brother's son Lot, and all the possessions that they had gathered, and the persons whom they had acquired in Haran; and they set forth to go to the land of Canaan. When they had come to the land of Canaan, Abram passed through the land to the place at Shechem, to the oak of Moreh. At that time the Canaanites were in the land. 7Then the LORD appeared to Abram, and said, "To your offspring I will give this land." So he built there an altar to the LORD, who had appeared to him. From there he moved on to the hill country on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; and there he built an altar to the LORD and invoked the name of the LORD. And Abram journeyed on by stages toward the Negeb (Genesis 12:1-9).
 
 
     This story has always amazed me. I have always marveled at the faith in God that Abram (=Abraham) demonstrates in this story. It is as if God told Abram, “OK, pack up all of your belongings, rent a truck, load everything on the truck, and start driving. I’ll tell you where you are going when you get there.” What faith! What a faith journey! To trust everything to God in life!
 
 
     As Joy and I study the story of Abraham with the members of the confirmation class, we think about our life journey, our faith journey. And we make a map of our life journey – so far. Of course there will be more to our life journey, but how do we map our life journey up to this point? Have there been mountains that we have climbed? Have there been valleys that we have had to go through? Have there been ruts in the road? Have there been obstacles in the road? Have we lived in different places and experienced different things in the different places where we have lived. I have always found it fun and interesting to map my own life and faith journey. Perhaps you will want to do the same. And, this Lenten season, I hope that you will join the members of the confirmation class in hearing Jesus’ call: “Follow me.”
 
 
Blessings,
 
 
 
Dr. Jim Durlesser

 

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

February 2010

The Haiti Earthquake: UMCOR's Losses

 

      UMCOR, the relief agency of the United Methodist Church, is one of the many faith-based relief agencies that are in
Haiti bringing life and hope to the people of that small island nation who have suffered so much.
 
     
     We at First United Methodist Church of Ellwood City have started to help.  Besides our monetary donations, we are starting to put together health kits to send to Haiti through UMCOR.  Joy and I are hoping to get the confirmation class involved in the health kit project for Haiti.
 

 

     Everywhere we turn on television, the radio, and the Internet, we are bombarded with images of destruction and death, suffering and sadness, buildings that collapsed, hopes and dreams that have collapsed.  Unfortunately, the losses are coming close to home with the deaths of two UMCOR staff members and the death of an UMCOR volunteer.  For the rest of my column this month, I am providing parts of beautifully written articles from the United Methodist News Service remember telling of the lives, and deaths, of these saints of Christ’s Holy Church:

 

A UMNS Report by Linda Bloom

 

Updated Jan. 16, 2010 / 5:30 p.m. EST

            The Rev. Sam Dixon came to

Haiti to make life better for the poor and afflicted.

            As the leader of the United Methodist Committee on Relief,

Dixon traveled the world assisting Indonesians who homes were washed away by the tsunami, Africans whose crops had withered under unrelenting drought and Americans needing shelter after tornadoes destroyed their neighborhoods.

            So it came as a shock Jan. 16 when, after four days when hopes dimmed and were raised again with reports of his survival, church workers learned that Dixon died of injuries received after being buried in the rubble of a collapsed hotel following the Jan. 12 earthquake in

Haiti.

 

            “He lived his life following the commandments of Jesus to feed the hungry, care for the sick, and love the least of these-all over the world,” said United Methodist Bishop Janice Riggle Huie of Houston, UMCOR’s president.

            Dixon was attending meetings in port-au-Prince when the earthquake struck

Haiti.  He was one of six staff from two different relief agencies who were at the Montana Hotel when it collapsed.  Four people in the group were rescued from the rubble of the hotel late on Jan. 14.

            Dixon died before rescuers could free him, contrary to earlier reports from church leaders that he was pulled out of the wreckage alive.  Another United Methodist colleague who was with him, the Rev. Clinton Rabb, was in critical but stable condition in a

Florida hospital.

            “Sam Dixon was a tireless servant of the church of Jesus Christ on behalf of all of us,” said Bishop Joel N. Martinex, interim top executive of the Board of Global Ministries, UMCOR’s parent agency.  “His death is an incalculable loss to Global Ministries, UMCOR and our worldwide ministry of relief to God’s most vulnerable children.  Our directors and staff extend their condolences to Sam’s wife, Cindy, their children, and their wider circle of friends and colleagues.”  In addition to his wife and children,

Dixon is survived by two grandchildren, his mother and three sisters.


By Linda Bloom

UPDATED 1:16 PM EST, Jan. 17, 2010 /

NEW YORK (UMNS)

            A second United Methodist mission worker has died of injuries sustained during the earthquake in Haiti.

            The Rev. Clinton Rabb, 60, who organized mission volunteers for The United Methodist Church, died on the morning of Jan. 17 in a Florida hospital.  He had been trapped under a concrete slab at Montana Hotel in Port-au-Prince for some 55 hours.

 

            Officials at the United Methodist Board of Global Ministries, where he was a staff member, announced his death.  On Jan. 16, those officials had confirmed the death of another employee, the Rev. Sam Dixon, top executive of the United Methodist committee on Relief.

            Rabb and Dixon were part of a group of six church-related aid workers who were meeting at the Montana Hotel when the earthquake occurred on Jan. 12.  Four others – the Rev. James Gulley, an UMCOR consultant; Sarla Chand, a United Methodist with IMA World Health; and two of her co-workers, Rick Santos and Ann Varghese – Returned home on Jan. 15.

            Both Rabb and Dixon had been pinned under fallen concrete for several days, but information on the extent of their injuries has not been released.

            Rabb had finally been freed by French rescue workers and airlifted to Florida later on Jan. 15, where he had remained in critical condition.  Family members, including his wife, the Rev. Suzanne Field-Rabb, arrived there on the afternoon of Jan. 16.

            Rabb, a clergy member of the Southwest Texas Conference, has served with the board’s Mission Volunteer unit since July 2006 and has been on the agency staff since 1995.  During a span of almost 20 years as a pastor and chaplain in Texas, Rabb was engaged in domestic and international volunteers in Mission teams.

 

A UMNS Report by Joey Butler

 

UPDATED 3:18 PM EST / Jan. 15, 2010

            A member of a Dallas mission team providing eye care to Haitians died of injuries suffered in the Jan. 12 earthquake.  “Jean Arnwine” passed away overnight in Guadeloupe.  Doctors there tried to revive her, but were unsuccessful,” Highland Park United Methodist

Church announced Jan. 15.  Arnwine was 49.

            A group of 12 missionaries from Highland Park United Methodist Church in Dallas was working in the village of

Petit Goave when the clinic building collapsed.  Volunteers had to dig out people buried in the rubble, the church said.

            Highland Park has been making medical mission trips to

Haiti since 1976.  The Haiti Eye Clinic was built in 1985, and a surgery building was completed in 1999.  Both offices are staffed by Haitian doctors supported in part by the church.  These facilities provide special eye care weekly.

            “Jean was very happy to be there,” said team member Alexandra Paz.  “She loved the Haitians; she loved helping them.  It was her first time, and she was already talking about coming back next year.”

            I want to conclude my column with a prayer from the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Discipleship’s web site:

     O God, we have been stunned once again by an event which seems so unnatural and yet is called “natural disaster.”  We have no words to answer that “why” which we feel, no wisdom to explain away the unexplainable areas of life.  Keep us from attributing this event as a heavenly reprimand, or from a certain haughtiness that tempts the distant soul.   Give us to be compassionate and gently, servants to those in need.  Remind us of your gracious love in the midst of sorrow, and your ability to work miracles when hope is faint.  We pray for those who suffer in

Haiti even now and for those who await rescue.  For relatives, for the children, for mothers and fathers, sisters and brothers, grandparents, aunts and cousins.  For the survivors who question what more they might have done.  And for those who must keep on keeping on, in spite of.  For the leaders, for those who bring aid and those who await news.  Strengthen and encourage them we pray.  Now unto you, O God, we take the burdens of this hour and place them in your divine care.  For all you do and are doing, seen and unseen, we give thee thanks, Eternal God of All Creation.  Amen.

 

            Please pray for the Haitian people, for the UMCOR workers and for all who are doing God’s work in Haiti.

 

       Dr. Jim Durlesser


The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

January 2010

January Thoughts: Looking Back, Looking Forward

 

     In Roman mythology, there was a deity named Janus. He was the god of gates and doorways and he was the god of good beginnings. But also, Janus was usually pictured looking in two opposite directions: backwards and forwards.

 

     That’s why our month “January” is named for the Roman deity “Janus.” January is the “doorway” or “gateway” of the new year when we hope for “good beginnings.” And, in January, we have the chance to look back on the past year and to look forward to the year to come. This is what I would like to do in my January “Pastor’s Perspective.” I would like to look back, and I would like to look forward.

 

     First, on a personal note, looking back into December, I would like to thank the congregation for the many prayers and cards during my sickness and hospitalization. Your support meant a great deal to me. And I would like to say that I was very impressed with Ellwood City Hospital and its staff. I got wonderful care during my stay at the Ellwood City

Hospital. The ICU nurses were wonderful. The nurses on the third floor were wonderful. The respiratory therapists were great. So, thanks to all of you for your prayers and support during my sickness and hospitalization.

 

     Second, looking back over the past year, I would like to thank everyone who served on any board, committee, or work area. If a local church is going to function well, it needs many capable, talented people who are willing to serve in many ways on many different committees and boards. So, if you served on a committee or board this past year, I want to thank you. Your service to the Kingdom of

God is deeply appreciated.

 

     Now, looking ahead: If you are going to be serving on a committee, board, or work area in the coming year, I want to thank you for your willingness to serve. God has called you to a particular ministry at this particular time. And you have accepted that call. Now, trust that God will empower you for service, to carry out the ministry to which you have been called.

 

     A copy of the slate of officers that was approved at Charge Conference is being mailed out as a part of this newsletter. A couple of additions will need to be made at the January Church Council meeting. But the slate of officers that is in this newsletter is pretty much the list of individuals who will be serving as the leadership of First United Methodist

Church in the coming year. Please be in prayer for each and every individual who will be serving the church in any way. Keep each individual, each board, each committee in prayer.

     As we look ahead into 2010, we see the new Church Council, with Bill and Marynelle Kness serving as co-chairs. It is an exciting time as First United Methodist Church moves into its new administrative structure. Please keep the new Church Council in prayer. 

     The first meeting of the new Church Council will be on the fourth Monday of January, January 25, at 7:00 P.M. The work areas (Education, Missions and Evangelism, and Worship) are encouraged to meet on the old Council on Ministries night, the second Monday of the month, January 11, at 7:00.

      As I look back on 2009 and as I look forward into 2010, I think of Psalm 90:1-2:

  1  Lord, you have been our dwelling place
 in all generations

 

 2  Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.

 

Whether we are looking back or looking forward, whether it is 2009 or 2010 (or 2011 or 2012 for that matter), God is still God! God is still our “dwelling place.” Regardless of the year, God is still the everlasting God, everlasting in the past and everlasting in the future.

 

Have a wonderful New Year, 

 

 

      Dr. Jim Durlesser


 

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

November 2009

" Extravagant Generosity "

 

 

            As I write this month’s “Pastor’s Perspective,” we are in the middle of the “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.”  The “five Practices” are Radical Hospitality, Passionate Worship, Intentional Faith Development, Risk-Taking Mission & Service, and Extravagant Generosity.

 

             Since the fifth practice of a fruitful congregation is “Extravagant Generosity,” we are merging our stewardship program with the Five Practices program.  This year, our stewardship program focuses on “Extravagant Generosity” as a way that we can bear fruit for God.

             I want us to think for a little bit in this column about what it means to practice “Extravagant Generosity.”  When the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, he told them about the folks in the churches in

Macedonia:

We want you to know, brothers and sisters, about the grace of God that has been granted to the churches of

Macedonia; 2 for during a severe ordeal of affliction, their abundant joy and their extreme poverty have overflowed in a wealth of generosity on their part.  3 For, as I can testify, they voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means, 4 begging us earnestly for the privilege of sharing in this ministry to the saints (2 Corinthians 8:1-4).

             There were at least three Christian churches in Macedonia: at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Beroea.  The churches in

Macedonia were not wealthy.  In fact, they were desperately poor and suffering persecution for being Christians in a very non-Christian world.  The poverty of the Macedonian Christians was probably a part of the poverty of the whole province, which had suffered under the Romans.  Few converts to Christianity came from the upper classes.  Small shopkeepers might find their trade going elsewhere because they had converted to Christianity.  Many were of very low economic position.

             The persecution and poverty of the Macedonian Christians had not, however, caused them to cease their extravagant generosity.  Paul had not asked them to contribute, but when the Christians at Macedonia heard about the collection for the church in

Jerusalem, they begged him to be allowed to participate.  Once included they gave not merely what might have been reasonably expected but beyond their means.  They contributed extravagantly out of their own free will.

             Like the Christians in Macedonia, many of us are going through difficult times economically.  Many of us are unemployed or underemployed.  Many of us have lost significant resources in the stock market or in our pension funds.  But can we learn from the Christians in

Macedonia?  Can we continue to practice “Extravagant Generosity,” even in difficult economic times?  The Macedonia Christians “voluntarily gave according to their means, and even beyond their means” (v. 3).  How about us?


             Yes, these are difficult economic times.  But the church needs your support now, in these difficult economic times, just as it always has.  And we hope that you will prayerfully consider increasing your giving to the church as a sign of your fruitfulness, as a way that you can show “extravagant generosity.”


             In our Five Practices program, “Extravagant Generosity” Sunday will be November 8.  Our Commitment Sunday will be November 15.  At the conclusion of our worship service no November 15, the Stewardship Committee invites you to a light lunch featuring fruit, cheese, and crackers.  I hope that you will join us!


     Blessings,     

     Dr. Jim Durlesser

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

October 2009

"Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations"  IT’S ALMOST HERE!

 

 

Yes, it’s almost here! Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations. During the month of October, First United Methodist Church in Ellwood City will be engaging in a five-week sermon series and church-wide initiative based on Bishop Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.

 

 

In his book, Robert Schnase identifies five characteristics that are consistently and persistently practiced in congregations that are vibrant, fruitful, and growing:

 

      Radical Hospitality     

      Passionate Worship

      Intentional Faith Development

      Risk-Taking Mission & Service

       Extravagant Generosity

 

 

There will be several components to our “Five Practices” observance:

 

First, the book of daily readings. Copies of the book of daily readings focusing on the “Five Practices” are available now one per family. You can pick up your copy in the church library or in the sanctuary narthex. Be sure to pick up your copy and begin the daily readings.

Second, the Concert on the Lawn. The Concert on the Lawn from 3:00-6:00 P.M. on Saturday, October 3 will kick-off the “Five Practices.” Featured musicians at the Concert on the Lawn this year will be  Jeff Wiley, Shelly Reiser, Sandi and Jerry Rectenwald, and the First UMC Choir.

Third, Sunday morning worship. Each Sunday morning between October 11 and November 8 during our 11:00 A.M. worship service, we will look at one of the “Five Practices.” October 11 will be Radical Hospitality Sunday. As a way of highlighting the idea of hospitality, a fellowship time will be held in the church library area following worship.

Fourth, Stewardship of life. Since the fifth of the “Five Practices” is Extravagant Generosity, this year’s stewardship program will be merged with “Five Practices.” During worship on Sunday, November 8, we will look at “Extravagant Generosity” in all its forms. Then, on Sunday, November 15, we will conclude the Five Practices observance with a stewardship commitment Sunday. More on this in the November newsletter.

Fifth, Sunday School. Some of the adult Sunday School Classes will be studying the “Five Practices” book.

Sixth, Bible Studies. I will be leading Bible Studies on the “Five Practices.” Two options are available for you. The Tuesday Noon Brown Bag Bible Study will be studying the “Five Practices” on October 6, 13, 20, 27, November 3, and 10. The Tuesday Brown Bag Bible Study meets from 12:10-12:50. Bring your lunch with you. Beverages are provided.

The second “Five Practices” Bible Study option that is available for you is on two Saturday mornings: From 10 A.M. until 12:00 Noon on Saturday, October 24 and 31. Brunch will be available.

 

If you can come to some of the Tuesday Noon “Five Practices,” but not all, feel free to come on one of the Saturday mornings. Similarly, if you can come on one Saturday morning, but not the other, feel free to attend some of the Tuesday Noon Bible Studies. You can move back and forth from one Bible Study option to the other.

During the Saturday morning Bible Study times, 10 A.M. until 12:00 Noon on Saturday, October 24 and 31, Joy Durlesser will be offering “Under 21 Bible Study” for those in grades 5 and up. Some of what she will be doing will be “Five Practices” for the “under 21” set.

The “Five Practices” program will end in the middle of November. But hopefully, our practice of the “Five Practices” will continue well beyond the middle of November. Hopefully, through the “Five Practices” program, we will become more aware of how we live out

      Radical Hospitality

      Passionate Worship

      Intentional Faith Development

      Risk-Taking Mission & Service

       Extravagant Generosity

 

each day in our Christian lives. Hopefully, our practice of the “Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations will never end!

 

 

Blessings,

 

Dr. Jim Durlesser
 

The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

September 2009

"Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations"  GET READY...

     During the month of October, First United Methodist Church in Ellwood

City will be engaging in a five-week sermon series and church-wide initiative based on Bishop Robert Schnase’s Five Practices of Fruitful Congregations.  There are a variety of ways for you to invest yourself in this initiative.  Get a copy of the book and read through it, either on your own or as part of a small group.  The Concert on the Lawn will kick-off the “Five Practices” focus on Saturday, October 3.  The five Sundays of the “Five Practices” focus will be Sunday, October 11, 18, 25, November 1, 8.

 

      In his book, Robert Schnase identifies five characteristics that are consistently and persistently practiced in congregations that are vibrant, fruitful, and growing:

 

                        Radical Hospitality

                         Passionate Worship

                         Intentional Faith Development

                        Risk-Taking

                         Mission and Service

                        Extravagant Generosity

     When Bishop Schnase spoke at the United Methodist Congress on Evangelism in

Nashville he took the opportunity to explain the five practices.  Here is some of what he said (the following content in excerpted from the United Methodist News Service):

 

           

 

          When I talk about radical hospitality, it’s got to pervade the whole life of the congregation – every cell has to vibrate with… (an) outward focus… Churches that  practice (radical hospitality) are constantly examining every on e of their ministries and saying, “How do we become more…attuned to the call of God to reach out to other people?”…

 

 

           When I talk about passionate worship, I’m talking about worship that is authentic, that is true to the gospel, that is life changing.  Worship that we enter into with an air of anticipation that something significant might actually happen in this time together… I’m talking about worship that really connects people to God…

 

 

           Intentional faith development has to do with all those things that a congregation offers to help people grow in faith outside of the Sunday morning service…  (This) is central to our self-understanding as United Methodists, of the sanctifying grace of God… And churches that are vibrant, fruitful, and growing are those that provide rich opportunities constantly for people to grow and mature in the faith…

 

 

           But you can’t go very far in engagement with Scripture, or learning in community, growing in Christ – this “inner holiness” – without being struck by a call of God to make a positive difference in the lives of people around you.

 

 

           And that leads us to risk-taking missions and service…  (These are) the things we do out of our commitment and obedience to Christ that we would not have done if we had never known Christ… Risk-taking mission and service stretches us, and churches that practice risk-taking mission and service… (are) looking at the gifts and abilities of the people in their congregation and the needs of their community and the world, and they’re (asking), “Where do these intersect?”…

 

 

           Now, extravagant generosity.  I’ll just say it up front, what I’m talking about is teaching, preaching, and practicing the tithe, among other things-and just being unapologetic in our proclamation of that.  Churches that are growing and vibrant and fruitful talk about generosity-not about the church’s need for money, but about the Christian’s need to give.  They focus on generosity as an aspect of Christian character…The practice of tithing-of putting God first in everything-starts changing how we feel and experience everything else.

 

    

     These five practices of fruitful congregations – radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking missions and service, and extravagant generosity – will be constantly before us beginning in October.  I will preach on them.  We will have study groups thinking about them.  They will appear in our bulletins, in our newsletter, and on our website.  Memorize them and ponder them.  Ask yourself what you as an individual can do to put each of the five practices into practice.  I would like to see every group in the church think about how it can advance each of the five practices.  Together, we can practice radical hospitality, passionate worship, intentional faith development, risk-taking mission and service, and extravagant generosity.

 

 

Blessings,

Dr. Jim Durlesser

 

 


The Pastor's Perspective

by Dr. Jim Durlesser

August 2009

John Wesley’s Four Ways that We Know God


How do we know God? How can God’s thinking become a part of our thinking and our will become God’s will? How can our own life experiences be experiences lived in relationship with God? As I write this, I am preparing to preach the second sermon in a series on how we know God. I will preach the sermon on July 19. We are approaching this topic as good United Methodists. That is, we are approaching this topic as Wesleyans, guided by the preaching, teaching, and writings of John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist movement in England.

Albert Outler, one of the foremost Wesley scholars of our time, spent his career sudying John Wesley’s sermons, teachings, and writings. He noticed that four things served as Wesley’s guiding principles in life: Scripture, Reason, Experience, and Tradition.

These four things, Scripture, Reason, Experience, and Tradition, have come to be known as “the Wesleyan Quadrilateral.” In short, these four things, Scripture, Reason, Experience, and Tradition, are four ways that we can know God. John Wesley believed that the living core of the Christian faith was revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, lived out in personal experience, and confirmed by reason (from The Book of Discipline).

Scripture, as it should, holds the highest place. But we approach and read scripture in light of what is going on in own lives at that time. We read scripture in light of our experiences and with our own unique perspectivies. So, using John Wesley’s ways of knowing God, whenever we look at a passage of Scripture, we read it, we think about how Christian tradition has dealt with this Scripture, we examine how this Scripture fits with our own personal experience, and we think it all through using our God-given reason. Scripture, Tradition, Experience, and Reason.

When we approach the Scriptures not as a stagnant document, but as a text alive with the breath of God, then we can acknowledge that God is still speaking in our time and in our world. When we view the Scriptures not as an artifact of the ancient world, but as a text that we are participating in, as a narrative not only about the people of Bible times, but also about us in our own times, then we can affirm that God is speaking to us.

Reason: There is a wonderful poster that displays a picture of Jesus with his arms wide open as if on the cross, and then the caption:

 

 

 

He came to take away your sins, not your mind.

 

 

 

 
John Wesley would have agreed!

 

Experience: Folks who study religion typically list six things as being a part of all religions: sacred story, doctrine, liturgy and ritual, institutional frameworks, moral codes or ethical systems, and experience. Usually, “experience” is listed last. But really, this isn’t how religion actually works, because without experience religion is just an empty shell, an interesting but hollow intellectual construct. To put it more plainly, experience links people with God. And experience links us with other people. Whenever the power of God is at work in our lives, whether it is in an ordinary, everyday experience or in an extraordinary, once-in-a-lifetime experience, our experiences can transform us and help us to know God and God’s will for our lives.

The Church today is rooted in tradition. The Church in the 21st century does not exist in a vacuum. It did not just pop into existence without any history or heritage. No, the Church in the 21st century is rooted in tradition, in the historic Apostles’ and the Nicene Creeds of the Church. As United Methodist Christians, our traditions include “The Articles of Religion,” which John Wesley adapted from the “Thirty Nine Articles” of the Church of England, and the “Confession of Faith” of the EvangelicalUnitedBrethrenChurch.

How can you know God better? God and God’s will for your life is revealed in Scripture, illumined by tradition, lived out in personal experience, and confirmed by reason.

  

 

 

Blessings,

Dr. Jim Durlesser