How to be a More Welcoming Church – Putting It Together

Sunday we concluded our sermon series on “How to be a More Welcoming Church.” In my sermon I committed to resurrecting this blog and trying to post consistent posts. Each week I hope to post a few thoughts and questions about the sermon, worship, and what we are doing as Christ’s church in Stroudsburg. We have a lot to do!

During my children’s message yesterday, I asked the children a question: “How can we make church more fun?” I received an answer from Crista Kopec who spoke to me after worship in the Fellowship Room. Her answer on how to make church more fun was this: “Have Sunday School in the summer!” Thank you Crista for sharing your idea on how to make church more fun. Now, we the church, must find the way to make this happen! What can we do at Stroudsburg to have Sunday School throughout the summer months? Perhaps we can create a short-term class for all children, or perhaps even an intergenerational class for all ages. I’d like to hear your creative ideas on how we can make this happen. So, if you have some thoughts or are willing to help in this endeavor please let me know.

Sue Weitzmann also offered some creative ideas for us to advertise our church and invite newcomers to worship. Here they are:

“Our bells are ringing once again. They may be calling you! Please come join us at SUMC.”

“Step our of the cold and into the warmth of SUMC! Please join us for fellowship and friendship!”

It always does the pastor’s heart good when worshippers respond with physical evidence and creative ideas as Crista and Sue did this week. What ideas do you have? How can we make church more fun? How can we invite more people to join us? Keep the ideas coming!

I also want to thank Peggy Stewart for bringing the gatorade to worship yesterday! In case you did not hear this, Peggy heard that everyone gets really excited about the Super Bowl each year, but worship should be exciting, too! So, she brought gatorade so if the preacher preached a super duper, uplifting sermon someone could dump gatorade over his head like the football players do with their coaches. Well, my sermon was not worthy of a gatorade dumping yesterday, but the idea was great! How can we make worship more exciting?

My friend and colleague, Rev. Jeff Garrison, posted a link to an article in his “Reflecting the Face of Jesus e-newsletter” about the 10 signals that say “You’re Not Welcome in this Church,” by Joe McKeever. ) The very first signal listed is: “The front door is locked.” Well, the lock in our front door of the sanctuary broke this week and so our front door was locked on Sunday! This is the first time in my time here that we had this problem. It is being fixed now hopefully before we host the Ash Wednesday worship this week.

Lent begins with Ash Wednesday and I hope you will attend worship as we host our Cluster Wednesday night at 7pm here at SUMC. We also will be changing worship slightly to include some more penitential elements of worship, especially in our prayers. Spoken and silent confession, words of assurance, and The Lord’s Prayer will be used during the season of Lent this year. This is a season to look inward to help grow our faith so the sermon series will be based on spiritual mentors. This coming Sunday we will look at Thomas Merton. He is a pretty well known monk who wrote quite a few books on the topics of contemplation and meditation. I was introduced to his writings when I was in high school. Spiritual mentors are very important of us to grow in our faith and we will explore this topic in the upcoming sermon series.

Have a great week and keep exploring ways so we can be a more welcoming church!



Save the Bells!

Stroudsburg UMC has a serious problem with our bell tower. It is 65 feet in height, made of beautiful stone, but is falling apart. In fact, some of the large stones fell onto the roof of our sanctuary and punctured holes right through the roof as they bounced down safely against the wall of the tower. The stones need to be put back into place and re-mortared. This is going to be a huge job even just to get to the problem area!

Last night we met with a contractor and all I could think about where the walls of Jericho that came tumbling down. The good news is we have a solid plan to address the situation and are hiring an expert in the field who has lots of experience with many other buildings, even some in very large cities like Philadelphia and Washington D.C.

During the meeting we heard about the continuing problem of vibration that can still cause additional damage, so we decided to turn off the bells in our tower to prevent those sound waves from adding to all the other vibrations. Our community is used to hearing the bell tower chimes at every quarter hour and we have heard many people who like to hear them. Now they are silent and need to remain silent until we get this problem fixed.

The other problem is the price tag of this project. Just to erect the scaffolding will be about half of the total price, which is approximately $145,000, and this is just to address the dangerous part, not a full overhaul and not even addressing the second, lower east tower.

So we are reaching out to our church members and the community at large seeking financial help to save the bells that ring in our community in which we serve. Just this morning, I was interviewed by Channel 16 and both the reporter and cameraman bravely climbed up to the very top of the tower to do the interview. I was amazed at their willingness to do such a thing! And believe me, those rickety old wooden ladders are scary!

Here’s the thing I was reminded about today: people are willing to do even risky things to do their job well and get the story so it can be presented. Getting the story is vitally important, but sometimes getting to the place to get the story is dangerous!

But God is always good and provides us with strength and courage. This is a huge project that can easily be accomplished with God’s help and the help of our church members and our surrounding community.

What are you willing to risk in supporting this project?

Worship on Father’s Day

This coming Sunday we are honoring and celebrating all fathers on Father’s Day in worship!

We are getting everything ready for worship on Sunday, but, truthfully, I was amazed at what I found in preparing for Father’s Day worship this week. First, there is just a plain shortage of good resources for Father’s Day. Don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of resources; they just aren’t things I want to use. The problem is that not many good, quality resources for Father’s Day exist. Most of what I found was incredibly weak on the actual subject of fathers or, worse, they portrayed fathers in a weak or benign manner. I could not even find a decent call to worship for Father’s Day, so we will be using a video for the call to worship this week. Too many of the resources try at all costs to be politically correct, so many of them include both fathers and mothers. Come on! Sometimes I fear we try to be too politically correct, so as not to offend anybody, that we miss the boat totally!  Even my own denomination did not have good, quality resources for Father’s Day that I think are worth using.

One year in a church I was serving, it was Father’s Day, and after the sermon a man approached me and said this: “Why do you praise and lift up mothers on Mother’s Day but now on Father’s Day you present us Father’s with a strict challenge?” I think this is part of our culture today. How many good examples of father’s and husbands do you see in the sitcoms and movies? Everybody Loves Raymond, Home Improvement, and even the Cosby Show portray the husband/father in a weak and aloof way. They cannot fix or repair anything and they often appear to be buffoons more than dads. Where do we really see fathers and husbands portrayed in positive and uplifting ways? I fell into this trap, and the man who approached me after worship called me on it. He was right! Thank you Mark, for setting me straight. I do believe that every sermon should provide some kind of challenge, but I was being one way with mothers and a completely different way with fathers.

This Sunday is Father’s Day and we are going to honor and celebrate fathers in worship at Stroudsburg United Methodist Church. Bring your dad to church and if he is no longer with you, bring his memory with you. Father’s Day is a very special day and we will be doing our best to celebrate Father’s Day. Will you join us?

Choir Sunday

This coming Sunday is Choir Sunday at Stroudsburg United Methodist Church!

This means the choir will lead worship from beginning to end and provide a wonderful arrangement of music at both 8:30am and 11:00am worship. Choir members will lead us through each element of worship. Then, you will be in for a real treat to hear the message of music they will share.

Choir Sunday is a long-standing tradition at SUMC. It features the musical talents of the choir and allows them to provide more leadership in worship, besides the anthems they provide throughout the year. It also marks the end of the choir season, which runs from Labor Day through Choir Sunday.

I always look forward to Choir Sunday each year. I know you are in for a treat this Sunday and hope you will be in attendance. Also, this is a great Sunday to bring a friend or neighbor to church. It is a non-threatening Sunday and will be blessing to all of us who will be here.

So, bring a friend and enjoy this special Choir Sunday at SUMC!

Our Vision here at Stroudsburg United Methodist Church

Back on January 19, 2014, I talked about vision in my sermon. I said, “We don’t dream big enough!” I think this is true, but I also think it is natural. Children have big imaginations, but as we grow up, we typically grow away from dreaming and imagining. Proverbs 29:18a states clearly, “Where there is no vision, the people perish.” This is a heavy and serious warning! It is also a call back to dreaming and imagining!

In that sermon, I presented a vision for SUMC. This vision is to double each and everything we do: double the worship attendance at 8:30am and 11:00am, double the size of our Sunday School classes, double the number of people participating in Small Groups, double the size of the choir, double our involvement in Soup Kitchen, double our involvement in Family Promise, double our prayer life, double our spiritual devotion, etc.

I’ve continued to pray and think about this vision since that day. I believe strongly that God is pushing and challenging us to grow wider and deeper. Deeper is the spiritual growth we all need to cultivate and wider is the increase in numbers that God wants us to reach in our community with the love and message of Jesus. We need to look out beyond the stained glass windows in our church and develop a real heart for our community and the people who are our neighbors.

I believe this vision is from God and I am calling it “Double Vision” because we need to be much more serious about doubling up everything we do! Here are some of the things I see through this vision into our future:

  • 300 people worshipping in our sanctuary each week
  • a community church that loves our neighbors
  • more missions, including hands-on mission like adult work trips and Habitat for Humanity
  • a more welcoming and inviting church that makes a fantastic first impression
  • a movement, which is Christ-centered, vibrant, and relevant
  • committed believers who are growing wider (numerically) and deeper (spiritually)

Can you see any of this? This might all seem overwhelming at first. How exactly can we double up on everything? Well, it begins one step at a time. Can you invite one person to attend church with you? That would increase our attendance by one — and that would be one (you) plus another one, so that is a double! Can you get involved in a ministry if you are not doing any yet? What about inviting a neighbor or a friend to get involved, too?

I am pleased to see some significant results from what we started back in January. For example, if you remember, I asked for a show of hands of how many people were actually involved with Family Promise. There were some, but not nearly enough of our congregation who are involved in this vital ministry. Well, just yesterday, I was looking at the signup lists for Family Promise and there was only one blank spot left for the week! We’re making some progress, but I know we can do better with our involvement in Family Promise and in every other ministry, too!

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired of hitting foul balls and some singles for God. It’s time for us to hit more and more doubles!

So, from now own, SUMC has Double Vision! We are going to double up everything we do! Are you with me? Are you ready to live into God’s dream for this church? Let’s get started right now!


The Importance of Prayer

Have you ever gone through a difficult time? How about someone you love–have they ever face hard times? Life is not always easy, in fact, sometimes life is downright difficult! Things can happen unexpectedly and without any warning whatsoever. There is an old saying that goes like this: “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” Well, as a faithful Christian, I like to twist that saying slightly: “When the going gets tough, it helps to pray!”

I know from experience that having people praying for us makes a difference and is a true blessing. I sometimes felt great relief, assurance, and affirmation just from knowing somebody is praying for me! Have you ever felt this, too?

Jesus said that prayer can move mountains. Think about that for a minute… can prayer really move mountains? If this is true, than why don’t we pray more often? There are some mountains in my life and many times I am overwhelmed by the size of these mountains in my life. Prayer is the antidote.

Jesus also said that you don’t have because you don’t ask. Well, today, take some time to pray to God. Pray for those who are sick and under the shadow of an imposing mountain in their life. Pray for those who lost a dear loved one recently. Pray for your own life and the mountains you face. Pray. Just pray. It will make a difference!

You are Not the Most Important Person in the World

This week begins the Lenten Season and we will begin this penitential season with the imposition of Ashes. Some of you may think, oh, that sounds like something only the Catholics should do. Well, no, first it is biblical, but it is also properly in our United Methodist Book of Worship. Theologically this is a very proper way to begin the penitential season of Lent with these words: “Remember that you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

This sounds so countercultural today. After all, we live in a society of enlightenment and self-entitlement. We are told we deserve everything we have and even more! We are told we deserve an easy life! We are told that we are good and the center of the whole universe revolves around me! Over and over in our society, through commercials and jingles, through television shows and movies, even through announcements from politicians… we are told that we deserve more and better!

Guess what: this is not biblical. Rather, the story of creation clearly indicates that you and I were made from the dust of the ground; and to that dust we will return, whether we like it or not! And when that day comes, if anyone says we deserve better or more, it won’t matter one bit!

Lent is a season of penitence and self-denial. The call is for us to get right with God because for way too long we’ve thought much too highly about ourselves. We need to be knocked down about four or eight pegs and realize the universe does not revolve around me.

It always amazes me when I see a self-righteous, self-acclaimed Christian who only thinks their agenda or their needs are the most critical. Is this what Jesus did? Didn’t he shift attention away from himself and toward God? Didn’t he teach us to humble ourselves before the Lord and before others? What must some people think of us?

Humility goes a long way, but it appears to be long-forgotten. People in our society are not being taught to be humble–we are being taught to being selfish and selfish to a fault! It is time we listen to the words of Lent: “Remember, you are dust, and to dust you will return.”

I heard a great story back in seminary that I need to share here:

There are two accounts of Creation recorded in the beginning of Genesis. The first account is Genesis 1:1 through Genesis 2:3 and records how each day God created something different and said it was good. Then, on the sixth day, God created man and woman in God’s own image, and said that was very good! And, of course, on the seventh day, God rested. The second account of Creation begins with Genesis 2:4 and here we learn that man was made out of the dust of the ground.

Why does Genesis contain two different accounts of Creation and why are the accounts so different? Why couldn’t they be joined together in one, nice flowing, easy to read story instead of two very different accounts? Which one do you like better: that God made you in God’s own image or that God made you out of the dust of the ground. So how can we explain these two different accounts of Creation as recorded in Genesis?

Our Old Testament professor in seminary, Dr. Don Gowan, was a great teacher and scholar. He didn’t believe all the hype of many of the so-called critical theologians when it came to interpreting the Bible. On some of the more debated issues, he would agree with a few and disagree with a few more. And so, when it came to this dilemma on our second day of class that semester, he said this about the two accounts of creation.

The source that most likely wrote Genesis 2-3 was ascribed to the early years of the Monarchy (and not everyone agrees with this), perhaps in the time of Solomon. If this is true, then this account was written during a time of national success. If so, then it was very appropriate for such a time , “since it presents a realistic picture of divinely-given potential, temptations, and the devastating effects of becoming one’s own god. So the message was “You are made out of the dust of the ground, and to that dust you will return!”

Genesis 1 is dated in the time of the Babylonian exile. If this is true, then it was written at a time when all was lost, and when the effects of sin did not need to be pointed out by anybody. So the message was “You are created in the very image of God!”

Then, Dr. Gowan relayed this story to us:

“A Hasidic teacher, Rabbi Bunam, summed up the need for both messages in this saying, ‘A man should carry two stones in his pocket. On one should be inscribed, ‘I am but dust and ashes.’ On the other, ‘For my sake was the world created.’ And he should use each stone as he needs it.'”

These days, I think people need to use the side which reads, “I am but dust and ashes.” I do not mean this only for this season of Lent, but for a society, a culture in our church today, and some church members who think way to highly of themselves!