Friday, November 28, 2008

Friday Top 10: Best Things About Thanksgiving

1 - An Excuse (as if one is needed) to thank God

2 - An Excuse to spend time with family

3 - Lots and lots of football

4 - Turkey (yum!)

5 - Dressing (yum, yum!)

6 - Potatoes (more yum!)

7 - Gravy (seriously...good with anything)

8 - Pumpkin pie (how can you not love this?)

9 - The Macy's parade & the unofficial start of the Christmas season!

10 - Indians & Pilgrims (It's the only day of the year when Calvinists are actually cool.)

Monday, November 24, 2008

Thanksgiving Letter to JUMC

I am a firm believer that God is very active in today’s world, still moving in exciting ways and often doing the unexpected. Because I believe this to be true, I can say that it is no accident that Thanksgiving Day is celebrated during the same month as All Saints Day.

"I will bless the LORD at all times; his praise shall continually be in my mouth. My soul makes its boast in the LORD; let the humble hear and be glad. Oh, magnify the LORD with me, and let us exalt his name together!

“I sought the LORD, and he answered me and delivered me from all my fears. Those who look to him are radiant, and their faces shall never be ashamed. This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. The angel of the LORD encamps around those who fear him, and delivers them.

“Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good! Blessed is the one who takes refuge in him! Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints, for those who fear him have no lack…
The LORD redeems the life of his servants;
none of those who take refuge in him will be condemned.”

- from Psalm 34 (ESV, adapt.)

We have many things for which we should be thankful to God: family, friends, food, shelter, and, above all, Jesus himself, through whom we can share life eternal and abundant.

But as the smells of potatoes and gravy mix with the cool autumn air, do not forget that we celebrate our national day of Thanksgiving in the shadow of All Saints Day. This is a reminder to us that in addition to the familiar experiences of the holiday, we are to be exceedingly thankful for our loved ones in the faith who have already been received into the arms of our Heavenly Father. This is a reminder to us that in Jesus Christ, by the prodigious, unexplainable power of the Holy Spirit, we are united with these saints in a way we cannot yet fully comprehend, and in a way this broken world in which we live can never understand. In a very real way, these saints – with Jesus – are present at our tables of celebration.

Look around you as you share the holiday meal….see the turkey, the dressing, the pumpkin pie…hear the sounds of football, clanging silverware, and pleasant conversation…smell the bounty of excellence before you…and know that you are not alone in your joy. Sitting with you, enjoying the day more than you ever could, reveling in the delight of family laughter, delighting in the gathering of love, smiling energetically at the wondrous festivities, is Jesus, the one who loves you most of all. And, as is often his way, he is not alone; he has brought guests with him to the table, who are also filled with gladness and the kind of peace that defines eternity.

Know that the love you experience at this banquet is but a foretaste of glory, and that the One who makes it all possible is filled with joy as you give him richly deserved thanks. So, light a holy candle this Thanksgiving in honor of the guest of honor, that crazy, loving preacher from Nazareth. And light another to honor those who in the past have shared the meal with you…and continue to do so because of the life, death, and resurrection of that preacher. And may this holiday find you to be truly, abundantly thankful.

In Jesus,
Pastor Keith

Friday, November 21, 2008

Friday Top 10: Study Bibles

1 - Reflecting God Study Bible (NIV; Zondervan/CHP, 2000) - out of print

2 - Wesley Bible (NKJV; Nelson, 1990) - out of print

3 - Oxford Annotated Bible (RSV/NRSV; Oxford, 1977) - I prefer the first two editions to the third

4 - ESV Study Bible (ESV; Crossway, 2008)

5 - Renovare Spiritual Formation Bible (NRSV; Harper, 2005)

6 - New Interpreter's Study Bible (NRSV; Abingdon/Cokesbury, 2003) - I'd place this higher if it weren't so bulky and unwieldy

7 - NIV Study Bible (NIV; Zondervan, 1985)

8 - NLT Study Bible (NLT; Tyndale, 2008)

9 - Spiritual Formation Bible (NRSV/NIV; Upper Room, 1999)

10 - Life Application Study Bible (NIV/NKJV/NLT/NASB/KJV; Tyndale, 1987)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Excerpts from Church Conference report

Church Conference for JUMC
held at First Bethel UMC, 7 PM,

“…holiness befits your house, O LORD, forevermore.”
– Psalm 93:5

It is a joy to be a part of the family of Jefferson United Methodist Church as we celebrate our 165th year of ministry. The congregation has a wonderful legacy of love and mission, and I feel blessed to be a part of her story. Our area is growing, and our circle of influence grows with it.

Some exciting things have been happening in our congregational family:

* While numbers are rarely a primary indicator of missional faithfulness, our average participation in Sunday worship has increased significantly in the past 2 ½ years; our baptisms and our new members are vastly outpacing funerals and transfers, which is a positive “turnaround trend”;
* We continue to get more visitors each week, and are retaining most of them;
* We have completed a bold building plan to improve and modernize our physical facilities, connecting our worship center with our education building and making some much needed repairs;
* Our new folks have been getting very active in the life of our congregation, in study groups, leadership opportunities and mission;
* We utilize our technological capabilities more efficiently, making use of power point and video in worship and in study;
* In the community, I have been meeting with area clergy in the hopes of gaining greater cooperation in ministry, and our West Jefferson Hills Ministerium continues to do wonderful things, from worship gatherings to collaborative missional efforts.

It has been a busy and positive year! And yet, there are even greater things in our future...

2009 will be my third full year in ministry at Jefferson church, unless our Bishop and his Cabinet determine that a change is in order (which is always a possibility in our connectional system). As I prepare for my third year, the number “3” has been running through my mind. With my love of music and respect for the great hymnody of the Church, the hymn “Holy, Holy, Holy!” has been a frequent refrain. This beautiful classic, with an 1826 text by Reginald Heber, extols the glory of the Triune God:

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
Early in the morning our song shall rise to thee.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity!

Holy, holy, holy! All the saints adore thee,
casting down their golden crowns around the glassy sea;
cherubim and seraphim falling down before thee,
which wert, and art, and evermore shalt be.

Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee,
though the eye of sinful man thy glory may not see,
only thou art holy; there is none beside thee,
perfect in power, in love and purity.

Holy, holy, holy! Lord God Almighty!
All thy works shall praise thy name, in earth and sky and sea.
Holy, holy, holy! Merciful and mighty,
God in three persons, blessed Trinity.
I have been reflecting on this hymn for the past several months, praying it several times a week as part of my devotional life. I believe we are being challenged by the Spirit to focus in 2009 on “holiness”…the holiness of God and our own calling to be holy for Jesus’ sake in the midst of a broken world. Holiness, after all, was a crucial aspect of John Wesley’s ministry and the early Methodist message, and is an important part of our faith heritage.

Holiness is more than just living simple, healthy lives (though that’s important); it is being fully devoted to Jesus. The Kingdom of God is described as ‘the Way of Holiness’…

“…a highway shall be there,
and it shall be called the Way of Holiness.”
– Isaiah 35:8

How might we be more holy? Spend more time in prayer with our Heavenly Father? Read and study Scripture more effectively? Be more intent about our marriage and family commitments? Serve the poor, the lonely, and the lost with greater passion? Be more obedient regarding our attendance and participation in congregational worship? Stand against societal sins such as racism and sexism with more vigor? Love one another and our neighbors with less compromise?

Rather than listing goals for the next ministry year, I will be urging us to reflect on the theme of holiness in 2009 - what it means to serve a holy God and what it means to be a holy people. My expectation is that as we reflect upon this theme, the Spirit will open to us new possibilities for growth and effective disciple-making. We serve a God who honors faithful, honest reflection!

My only goal, then, for 2009, as a pastor and a leader of this wonderful congregation, is that we “take time to be holy”, and seek Jesus’ holy character in our own lives. I believe that we will be transformed in significant ways, as will our community.

May God continue to bless the people of Jefferson United Methodist Church and all that we do to build Christ’s Kingdom.
Pastor Keith H. McIlwain
November 4, 2008

Friday, November 14, 2008

Friday Top 10: Best Records in Rock and Roll History

1 - "Good Vibrations" (1966) by the Beach Boys

2 - "Be My Baby" (1963) by the Ronettes

3 - "Like A Rolling Stone" (1965) by Bob Dylan

4 - "Strawberry Fields Forever" (1967) by the Beatles

5 - "I Heard It Through the Grapevine" (1968) by Marvin Gaye

6 - "Johnny B. Goode" (1958) by Chuck Berry

7 - "Runaway" (1961) by Del Shannon

8 - "River Deep - Mountain High" (1966) by Ike & Tina Turner

9 - "Reach Out I'll Be There" (1966) by the Four Tops

10 - "Respect" (1967) by Aretha Franklin

Note: This is not a "Best Songs" list, nor it is a list of "Most Important Records"; those would be decidedly different lists.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Home from Jumonville

I returned home today from Jumonville, a beautiful camp and retreat center which is an important part of the ministry of Western PA Conference. I was facilitator for a retreat of our newest pastors (those commissioned to ministry in June), focusing on worship, liturgy and sacramental theology and practice in the United Methodist tradition.

It's a good group of pastors, and I'm encouraged that the future of the United Methodist Church here in western PA has talent, diversity and theological seriousness. I'm also encouraged that this is a group - like my own - which takes mission seriously but don't take themselves too seriously. They like to laugh and have fun, which is half the battle in ministry, in my opinion.

It's always good to get back to Jumonville. In June of 1983, I knelt at the altar of Whyel Chapel and surrendered to the Lordship of Jesus. This weekend, I was able to facilitate discussion of Christian worship in view of what for me is the planet's holiest spot. Way cool.

In addition, I was able to spend some time with the Right Rev. Randy Costolo, who serves in Hopwood (where Jumonville is located). Randy is a good friend and true brother in Christ, and he's also one of our Conference's best pastors; we served together in Dawson, PA several years ago. We ate junk food together, talked a lot, and watched the Cardinals/49ers game on Monday Night Football. Good times.

Tomorrow, it's off to beautiful downtown Reynoldsville, PA for a meeting with my accountability group...Thursday to Slippery Rock, PA with my oldest son for a college visit. Busy, busy week.

Not a very theological post, I know, but time for reflection is a luxury I haven't yet had this week! Nevertheless, God is very, very good!

Friday, November 07, 2008

Friday Top 10: Best U.S. Presidents

1 - Abraham Lincoln

2 - George Washington

3 - Theodore Roosevelt

4 - Ronald Reagan

5 - Franklin Roosevelt

6 - James Polk

7 - Andrew Jackson

8 - Thomas Jefferson

9 - John Adams

10 - Grover Cleveland

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

A Prayer for Presidential Leaders

Gracious Heavenly Father, whose glory is in all the world: We commend this nation to your merciful care, that, being guided by your Holy Spirit, we may dwell secure in your peace. Grant to President George W. Bush, President-elect Barack Obama, and to all in authority the wisdom and strength to know and to do your will. Protect them and their families; fill them with the love of truth and righteousness, and make them ever mindful of their calling to serve, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Saturday, November 01, 2008

Halloween 2008

Christian, Kate, Claire, Elliot (2),
and our Jack O'Lanterns