Sabbath Keeping 101

This article is a follow-up from the 9/20/22 worship service where we promised an article on how to keep the Sabbath.  You can view that service here.  I’ve put this in the form of a FAQ so you can skip down to what you’re interested in.  Below you’ll find scriptural teachings on the Sabbath, and in the places where there’s room for interpretation, I’ll share my opinion as pastor at Downs UMC. 

Is the Sabbath still a commandment of God, especially after Jesus? 

Short answer:  Yes. 

Longer answer:  It is true that many Old Testament laws do not directly apply to us today the same way that they did before Jesus.  One example of this would be the legal system laws (like the penalties for stealing in Exodus 22:1-4).  They do not apply because we are not a part of the Old Testament nation of Israel, our country, America has its own laws.  Another example would be the prohibition to eat pork (found in Leviticus 11:7-8).  It no longer applies because it was abolished by the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter 10 as part of a greater teaching about welcoming everyone. 

It’s also true, however, that this principle doesn’t apply to every Old Testament law.  Jesus himself said he had come to fulfil, not abolish, the law (Matthew 5:17-20).   And nowhere in the Bible are the ten commandments described as completed, irrelevant, or nonapplicable.  They would be an example of Old Testament law that we still try to follow, and the sabbath is number four on that list of ten.  So yes, it is something we should be doing. 

What exactly are the rules for Sabbath? 

In the 10 commandments (Exodus 20), we are told to remember the Sabbath day and keep it holy.  One day out of six are we to spend doing no work.  The Bible is very strict in Exodus and Leviticus about how the people are supposed to keep the sabbath, even including a death penalty for breaking it!  No, we don’t keep that death penalty today, because it’s a civic law, but its presence in the Bible points to just how important this commandment is. 

The Jewish community (from Exodus to the book of Matthew) passed and kept a lot of laws and traditions around the Sabbath.  They got very specific about how to keep Sabbath and how to break it.  All those laws were good intentioned for sure, but they had added up to a pile of regulations that had missed the point.  In their simplest form here are the rules for Sabbath: 

  • One period of 24 hours each week where you do no work, and honor the holiness of God
  • To the best of your ability, it should be the SAME period of 24 hours each week.
  • Bonus points if it’s on Saturday as that’s the Old Testament traditional Sabbath. 

BUT there’s some room to maneuver here, as you can see in the next question. 

Is there any wiggle room on how to keep the Sabbath?

Jesus ministered to a community that had a burdensome stack of Sabbath regulations from, literally centuries of tradition.  Jesus helps return their focus to the purpose of the day when he says “The Sabbath was made for mankind, not mankind for the Sabbath.”  (Mark 2:27)

This is huge because it means Sabbath is about you-getting-rest-and-preserving-holiness.  It is NOT about you-not-working-because-God-said-so.  There’s a big difference between those two. 

Personally, I interpret this to provide grace for those of us with schedules that don’t work wonderfully for a classic sabbath: 

  • If you can’t immediately do 24 hours, start with what you can do and make it a goal to slowly grow that time till it is 24 hours. 
  • If you can’t do Saturday, try Sunday. 
  • If you can’t do morning to night, try Sunset to Sunset. 
  • If you try and fail, don’t berate yourself, simply try again. 

What constitutes “work”, Biblically speaking?

This is the million-dollar question, but I’m going to give you some simple answers from a big-picture scriptural and historical point of view: 

  • If you make money doing it, or it provides for you or your family, it’s work.
  • If it’s a ‘maintenance task’ (laundry, dishes, oil change for the car, cooking, cleaning, mowing the lawn, even your regular workout routine, etc) it’s work.
  • If it’s a hobby (doesn’t earn money, you don’t have to do it, and it brings you joy) then it’s NOT work.
  • If it involves buying or selling something, it’s USUALLY work. 
  • If it produces quality family time, quality marriage time, or quality friendship time, it’s NOT work.
  • If it produces real, meditative, peaceful, restful time with God, it’s NOT work. 
  • If you’re trying to game the Sabbath system in order to get something accomplished:  like… let’s all clean the garage together as a family…  It’s work, don’t do that. 

What do you even do on a Sabbath?

Well, the list in the question above should help, but here are a few things my family does: 

  • The Sabbath is the only day you get to sleep in as long as you want.
  • On the Sabbath we read and meditate on (but do not study) scripture.
  • Our food is all preprepared, or we go out to eat together so no cooking or cleaning up. 
  • On the Sabbath we pray together as a family and encourage personal prayer time.
  • We take time on this day to do things together as a family
  • We try to stay off our phones and keep the screen time for “together activities” as much as possible.
  • We allow time on this day for people to do things alone, to pursue their hobbies and non-work interests.
  • You can take naps on the Sabbath and not feel guilty
  • This is a great day for the kiddos to connect with their friends (invite people over, go to other people’s houses, etc.)
  • Same goes for adults too, a good day to connect with friends and family.

You’re asking the impossible, nobody can do this (especially nobody with kids).

Well, this author, your pastor has a family of five and we’ve been keeping the Sabbath for over 20 years.  It can be done, but I won’t lie, it requires sacrifice.  The biggest sacrifice being:  you have to say to your life—no, I can’t do everything.  The world is full of good ideas, fun opportunities, potential resume builders, and more but…  You.  Just.  Can’t.  Do them all.  Neither can your kids. 

Sabbath forces you to look at life’s opportunities and really weigh the input/output.  I’ll be putting x time and x money into this, is it worth it?  To keep Sabbath is to say no to activities, clubs, sports, and events that aren’t worth it to you and yours, and to intentionally invest in the weekly activities that are.  It’s to build time with God into your schedule, and it’s to acknowledge that a 7-day work-week (between your job and your extracurriculars) is a wasting death to the soul.  You were not made to run on empty. 

There’s a lot of sacrifice involved in keeping this spiritual discipline, is it worth it?

I can tell you, with 20 years of experience, that the resounding answer is YES!  It’s absolutely worth it.  You will literally be putting your mind, soul, and body back in sync with the rhythm of the created universe.  Sabbath is kind of cosmic in that way. 

But the truth is, you won’t know until you try it.  Personally, I believe that if you have success keeping two sabbaths (across two weeks, one each week), with even a B- level of following-the-rules, you will see immediate benefits.  It will impact you on a personal level, on a family level, and you will begin to discover the presence of God in new places, spaces, and times. 

You aren’t losing too much by experimenting with keeping a Sabbath for a couple of weeks…  but you stand to gain so much if God is right, and this is a thing that you need. 

Taking your Faith With you on Vacation

Tis the season, as sports teams finish their schedules, and right before we head back to school, our church has many people on the road and looking forward to time off. In this brief little article, I thought I would share how my family and I take our Faith with us as we travel, in the hopes that you might find something that will bless you!

Pray, For Vacation, and on Vacation

Jessica and I try to set aside some time to pray, while we are planning. It’s an intentional way to invite the Lord into our time off, and begin a process of asking for the time to be blessed. You want your vacation to function in a way that is similar to a Sabbath (restful to the spirit and life-giving not life-draining).

Also, I highly encourage morning prayer on vacation. Somebody has to wake up and get things started during the day, why not let it be you, and why not wake up 15-20 minutes early (especially if you have a beach, forest, mountain, lake, or anything like that going on). Take a walk and spend a few minutes with God before the day starts.

Choose a Great Vacation Book

Absolutely banned are any books related to your job. Also, anything that would bring stress. Jessica loves a good mystery novel, I tend to pick up an adventure or biography. Sometimes, if it’s a big road trip, we’ll even get an audio book for the car.

If you aren’t a reader, you can skip this one for sure, but a chance to set down the devices and pick up a book can be a wonderful thing for the soul. Look for something lighthearted, funny, interesting, informative (but not in a work way), you know… one of those ones you always wish you had time for, well, now’s the time!

Design a Worship-Service Playlist

On your music app, you can create playlists, why not download 2-4 of your favorite, most singable worship songs for you and your family (maybe each person picks one). You could even get fancy and choose an instrumental prelude or download the doxology (several artists sing it live in concert).

Keep it on the shorter side, and we find it to be a real blessing in two spaces on vacation: 1) as a private worship service you can listen to anywhere, 2) as an in-the-car worship service on a Sunday morning if you’re heading from place to place.

Stick to the Palms

If you’re going to try and read scripture on vacation, your pastor’s recommendation is to stick to the Psalms. They’re short, they are prayer and experience focused and they aren’t full of plot. They make for wonderful vacation devotions. Try the Psalms of Ascent (they run from 120-130) and were designed for grand Israelite road trips as they headed to the temple on an annual pilgrimage.

Check in with your Kids

If you have kids/grandkids traveling with you, this is the best time to check in with them spiritually. How are they doing in their walk with the Lord (though I have never phrased it like that with my own kiddos). Try to get a sense of where their spiritual strengths and struggles are. God gave them YOU to help them through their trials. Vacation can be a real time of healing and re-connection if you are intentional about it (and by intentional, I don’t mean turn your vacation into a spiritual retreat). Look for the simple, special moments where a conversation can happen, and then be there for that conversation.

Look for God Moments, and Give God Credit for them

When you see a mountain, or any other bit of God’s creative glory, praise the Lord for it. When you experience a blessing, thank God for it. When you have a really neat experience, celebrate it and be thankful to the Lord. You invited the Lord on your vacation with you, so expect to see some “God Moments” and turn those to prayers of thanksgiving.

…and you Thought I was Going to tell you to go to Church.

Seriously, if you want to, go for it, but if it doesn’t fit into your schedule over vacation don’t stress over it either. There’s nothing stopping you from taking 20 minutes or so on Sunday morning and pausing to worship our Lord (which your pastor does highly recommend).

Though if you do go to church, snag an extra bulletin for us, we love to see what other churches are doing!

Blessing

May God bless your time off this summer, may it truly be a time of rest from a world that is far too frantic and busy. May you demonstrate healthy sabbath rest for your children, and may you find the blessing of the Lord in your time off. May the Lord bless you if you are traveling, and bring you home safe, refreshed, and with joyful stories to share.

The Sanctity of Human Life… Why does it Matter?

You are a unique individual, there’s nobody like you.  You were created, and you are loved by a God of goodness and holiness.  That God sent His Son to earth for you, and for each, and every human being, to seek and save the lost, and save through sacrifice.  Your worth and value to God and to creation has nothing to do with your productivity, your circumstances, your experiences, or your status.  Your salvation may be dependent on you accepting God’s love and walking in God’s way, but whether you accept it or not, salvation is always available to you.  You are loved, amazing, and sacred, simply because God made you. 

If you believe even a portion of what’s in the paragraph above, then you stand upon a doctrine of the Christian Church that we call “the sanctity of life”.  While it doesn’t necessarily answer the question of “are you saved?”, it does answer the question of “what is a human being?”

We find this doctrine in many places in the Bible, here are just a few

  • The Genesis account of creation (Gen 1-3)
  • God’s words to the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 1)
  • The Sabbath commandment, which separates your value from your productivity (Exodus 20)
  • The forbiddance of murder in the 10 commandments (Also Exodus 20)
  • The mission statements of Jesus here on earth (John 3, Matthew 22)
  • The great commission to the church (Matthew 28)
  • Christ’s radical inclusion of those whom the first century considered to have low or no status
    • Children and women (Matthew 19, John 4, 8)
    • Romans and slaves (Luke 7)
    • tax collectors and prostitutes (Matthew 9 and 21)
    • Samaritans and gentiles (John 4)
    • Lepers and the perpetually unclean (Matthew 8, Mark 5)

In short:  God treats us all like we are special, beloved, individuals, who are uniquely made.  Human beings bear the Imago Dei, the image of God.  Every human being is offered salvation through Christ.  None of the sacredness of your life is undone by any earthly circumstance, event, prejudice, or evil.  None of those can touch your sacred worth. 

If this is convicting with regard to how we treat one another…  it should be.  The last person that any one of us were really angry at, dismissive, or insulting to.  That person is beloved by The God of the Universe

And…  so are you. 

Historically, this Doctrine is a Deeply Meaningful Aspect of our Faith

The Sanctity of Human Life has been used historically to argue for and support some of the most groundbreaking and humanitarian movements of human history.  As a Historian I can see this doctrine at work in many places: 

  • It motivated Early Methodist Bishop Francis Asbury to meet with George Washington shortly after the birth of the nation to discuss the abolition of slavery
  • It was a part of the journey of John Newton turning from being a slave trader to abolitionist and penning the song Amazing Grace
  • I hear it in the sermons and read it in the writings of Rev. Martin Luther King Jr and his fight against segregation. 
  • I absolutely admit that we as human beings do not always apply this belief perfectly and have often failed to live as though we fully believe in the sanctity of all human lives.  BUT so many moments of goodness have come to human history from the times when we DID pay attention to it.  When we do hear the teachings of God and when we do lift up the poor, the forgotten, the overlooked, the oppressed, the sanctity of human life is a part of that thinking, and Christians can give the world a picture of the Kingdom of Heaven.

The Sanctity of Human Life as it is applied to the Current Abortion Debate

You have the opportunity to engage this debate from a unique Christian point of view.  In the United Methodist Social Principles, the church takes a true Sanctity of Life position on the topic that considers both lives of mother and child.  You can read it here and below are a few short summary points.

  • The church opposes abortion as birth control or gender selection.
  • The church opposes late term abortion.
  • The church understands that rare moments occur when the life of the mother is at stake.
  • Overall, the church strongly encourages those facing an unplanned pregnancy to engage pastoral care and take time to seek the will of God. 
  • The church encourages loving and supportive care for those who have chosen abortion. 
  • The church commits to supporting crisis pregnancy centers and places a strong emphasis on supporting adoption. 

Life is precious, Holy, and Sacred.  The kingdom of heaven is lifted up when we as Christians remember this and incorporate it into our conversation.  That’s one of our jobs here on earth as followers of Christ, to make the Kingdom of Heaven more visible here on earth. 

I appreciate our United Methodist theologians as they wrestle with the sanctity of life in the abortion debate even if I, personally, might want to word a few paragraphs differently.  I hope you can appreciate them too because they set an example of what it looks like to try and apply the sanctity of life to such a challenging question.  May this discussion challenge you to think, direct you to pray, and inform what organizations you choose to and not to support.  May it open your heart with compassion to the women facing such challenging moments and invite you to consider how our church could best be of support, grace, and help in the name of Jesus Christ.     

Making the Most out of Holy Week – Special Focus on Holy Saturday

 This is the week that we remember the last 7 days of Christ’s ministry before his arrest and crucifixion.  A lot happened during Holy week.  Holy Week begins with Christ’s entry into Jerusalem, which we remembered on this last Palm Sunday.  It also contains some very profound teachings of Jesus, which you can find in Matthew 21-25, Mark 12-13, Luke 20-21, and John 13-17. 

Holy Week also contains the last supper, which we remember during our Maundy Thursday service.  It also contains the arrest, trial, and crucifixion of Jesus, which we remember at our Good Friday service.  Should you be able to make either of these, they’ll be in-person and streamed this week at 7 PM.  We hope you can join us for one or both of these, as they help prepare our hearts for Easter. 

But whether or not you make it to one of the weekly services or not, you can still participate in Holy Week, on your own, and even at home through what we call the Easter Vigil

The Easter Vigil is the last day before Easter, often called Holy Saturday.  It remembers a quiet and personal moment in the story of Holy week…  it remembers waiting.  You see, there’s this period of time during the story of Holy Week where the disciples truly did not know what was going to happen, did not know what to do, and were in deep despair.  Christ had died, they had buried him, and Easter wasn’t going to happen for at least another 35 hours (or more). AND…  they still weren’t entirely sure that Easter WAS even going to happen.  It was a time of waiting for the Lord. 

On Holy Saturday the church offers no special services, but instead encourages you to keep your Easter Vigil at home. It’s a time to be with friends and family.

Some will keep their Easter Vigil reading those last profound teachings of Jesus (which are listed above). Others may try to imagine themselves in the place of the apostles on that rough day of waiting but… that might be hard to do.

This is because, you and I live in the light of Easter, not in the waiting period before it.  May I recommend instead of trying to re-live Holy Saturday, that we: 

  • Reflect on Psalm 40
    • I waited patiently for the Lord, He inclined to me and heard my cry…
    • That’s just the first line, but I suggest a full read, it’s perfect for Holy Saturday
  • As you read and reflect, consider the ways that God has already been there for you, and think on them with thanksgiving. 
  • Consider where you may still be waiting for the Lord, and make those situations a matter of quiet and peaceful trust. 
  • If you’re looking for further reading, those last teachings of Jesus are very much worth a look too (they’re listed above).

The Easter Vigil reminds us that the Lord who loves us, who sent Jesus Christ to sacrifice for us, and then raise Him from the dead, will surely not abandon us in our waiting.  God is good, all the time.  And we hope you can join us this Easter Sunday to worship, to celebrate and share the gift of your fellowship. 

  • Sunrise service – 6:30 AM
  • Easter Breakfast – 7:30-9 AM
  • Easter Service 9:30 AM

A Prayer from Patrick of Ireland

Behind all of the green rivers, leprechauns, shamrocks, and woefully inadequate tales of snakes lies the story of a man who changed the world for the cause of Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit. 

Patrick of Ireland was a real person with a real ministry.  He was born in the late fourth century; and if you’re like me and always get centuries wrong that means late 300’s not late 400’s.  We have two actual letters preserved that were written by Patrick.  The oldest known copies are held in the Trinity College in Dublin as part of the Book of Armagh named after the 9th century scribe (remember that’s 800’s) who copied Patrick’s letters word for word into the book (a tradition monks performed all the time, and they were very strict about not changing anything). 

A symbol Patrick might have recognized. It is Jesus (the lamb of God) victorious in the book of Revelation

From those letters we can learn the following

  • Patrick was captured by Irish pirates as a young man and sold in Ireland
  • He grew to know God while serving as a slave shepherd in the Irish countryside
  • He was there for a while, learned the language, and the culture because he had to in order to survive. 
  • God gave him a vision that it was time to escape, and a boat was ready for him, but this required a dangerous cross-country trek as an escaped slave. 
  • He made the journey and God protected him. 
  • Upon return to England, his home, he dedicated his life to the service of the Lord and trained to be a priest. 
  • God sent him a dream where a man named Victoricius (if you’re thinking victory then good job!) comes to him with a huge amount of letters.  The letters begin by saying:  “The Voice of the Irish.”  In the dream as Patrick reads them he can hear the voices “…of the same men who lived beside the forest of Foclut, which lies near the Western sea where the sun sets…  ‘holy broth of a boy, we beg you, come back and walk once more among us!”  He recognizes this as a clear call to return to Ireland as a missionary. 
  • History, and the strong presence of the Irish church demonstrate that Patrick succeeded in Ireland, with the help of God, in a place where many had failed before him. 

Here are a few stanzas from the Lorica of St Patrick, a historical prayer attributed to him.  It’s much longer than what I have recorded below. I do have the full text in my office and would be happy to share a copy with you, simply email pastor@downsumc.org.

Selections from the Lorica of St Patrick

I arise today in a mighty strength, calling upon the Trinity, believing in the Three Persons saying they are One thanking my Creator. 

I arise today strengthened by Christ’s own baptism, made strong by his crucifixion and his burial, made strong by his resurrection and his ascension, made strong by his descent to meet me on the day of doom. 

Christ protect me today against poison, against burning, against drowning, against wounding so that I may come to enjoy your rich reward. 

Christ ever with me
Christ before me
Christ behind me
Christ within me
Christ beneath me
Christ above me
Christ to my right side
Christ to my left
Christ in his breadth
Christ in his length
Christ in his depth
Christ in the heart of every man who thinks of me
Christ in the mouth of every man who speaks to me
Christ in every eye that sees me
Christ in every ear that hears me. 

May you be Inspired

By the bravery and true mission of Patrick to return to the very people who kidnapped him, so he could tell them about Jesus.  If Patrick can share the good news of Jesus with the very pirates who kidnapped him, surely we can share it with the people we love, the neighbors we live by, and the village we live in!  And perhaps we will experience even a small amount of the gift of faith that Patrick was given, as we set out to share Jesus. 

What is Evangelism, and is it my responsibility?

It’s an old church word, but today it can often call up images of overly preachy approaches, tactless tracts, or gimmicky types of church outreach. Against these things, if we want to truly understand evangelism, we should forget the cringeworthy ways it can go wrong, and remember what the word truly means.

Evangelism is a beautiful word.  It’s root in original language of ancient  Greek is a pleasing word to say.  Here it is:  εὐαγγέλιον.  It’s pronounced:  you – ăng– gĕll – eon (the vowels in the 2nd and 3rd syllables are short):  you-ang-gel-eon.  A beautiful word right?  It’s kinda fun to say. 

It means “the good news”.  It’s used in the Bible as a summary word for the message that Jesus Christ came to bring to us.  In the Bible when it’s turned into a verb it means sharing the good news.  “Evangelism” is the English version of that verb.  The sharing of the good news that Jesus brought us. 

This symbol is called the monogram of Christ

Jesus commissions the eleven apostles to share the good news after his resurrection in Mark 16:14-18 and promises the power of God to help them overcome the obstacles to doing so.  It’s tempting to think that the sharing of the good news today is the work of preachers, ministers, and church staff (especially because that first charge was given to the apostles). 

Sharing the good news, however, is for everyone.  Paul teaches that all Christians aught to be ready with an answer for the good news inside of them or what the good news has done for them (Eph 6:15).

At its heart, evangelism is supposed to look something like this:

  1. First we are recipients of the good news:  You remember when you first realized the reality and the goodness of God, often that comes at a time when it is most needed.  
  2. Then it changes us:  There are so many ways this happens:  peace that passes understanding, freedom from addiction, perspective that comforts and sets free, inspiration to do real good in God’s name, a stronger and more loving family, and much much more.   
  3. Then we have good news to share:  Just like it says in the 23rd psalm:  “…my cup runneth over.”  The good news of God has been such a blessing for you, and you have been given more than you need.  You have been given good news to share.  And you do so out of love, not fear of judgement, not obligation or duty, or anything like that, but out of love.    

Evangelism is a beautiful thing, it is meant to be an expression of the love of God that moves through you.  It is a responsibility of all Christians, but one you can share in so many ways:  in word, in deed, in prayer, in friendship, and more.    

A little bit of practical application from your Pastor:

In the last 10 years or so of my life, these are the most common ways that the Lord has opened a door for me to share my testimony, my faith, and the good news of our God with others. 

  • When your friends and family members talk to you about their sufferings and trials, offer to pray for them.  Many won’t feel comfortable praying right then and there, but just letting people know that you are praying for them is a profoundly meaningful thing.  Honestly, if you tell me about your sufferings and trials I’m going to pray for you anyway, so I might as well let you know that I’m asking God to bless you. 
  • Let it be known that you are a Christian and that you go to church.  It’s amazing how easy it is to keep this quiet and private, but it shouldn’t be.  If church and a walk with God is a part of your daily life, why shouldn’t it also be a part of your regular conversation.  The whole world knows I’m a huge star trek fan, I talk about it all the time, why shouldn’t I also I also talk about aspects of my faith and my religion (in the same way I would talk about anything else I do).  When people know you are working on an active relationship with God, they’re more likely to ask about it later. 
  • Inviting someone to church is still a very meaningful way to share your faith, but there’s a difference between a cold invitation “hope to see you there” and a meaningful one “meet me by the welcome desk at 9:15, I’ll walk you around and if you want we can have coffee or lunch afterwards”.  At Downs we try to publicize the sermon topics as facebook headers on our facebook page so that you can let people know what we’re talking about that morning.  We’re working on getting this info to the website front page soon. 
  • Ask God to give you opportunities to share your faith.  Some really impressive and wonderful moments can come from it.  When you and I ask the Lord for a chance to share the good news, and then are mindful to look for it daily, you will find that life presents many opportunities where a simple question, comment, prayer, or action of service on your part is not only welcome, but also opens the door to share the good news. 
  • Be confident with the time you’re given:  I think I can count on one hand the number of times in my life where I got to share the whole story of scripture in one sitting  I mean that would be:  creation, exodus, Babylonian exile, Christmas, ministry of Jesus, Easter, and the start of the church!  Often times you’re only sharing a part of the story of the good news with people (and usually it’s not even a Bible study at all, more like a testimony).  Trust that whatever portion of the good news you share, that’s what was needed then and there, and understand that God will take care of the rest. 

Let your evangelism flow from the abundance that God gives to you.  Let it be an act of love and nothing else.  Sharing your faith can be a profound blessing, and need not be contrived or forced.  If God is a part of your life, then by all means, share it! 

How do we pray for the Nations?

With the recent invasion of Ukraine by Russia, and the many and varied responses of our country and others across the world it’s a worthwhile time to refresh ourselves on the best ways to pray for situations like these.  When anxiety or compassion rises in our hearts for events on the world-stage, that is a true and real prompt from the Holy Spirit to pray, but what’s the best way to do so? 

Begin with Scripture

  • Consider any of the following:  Romans 13:1-7, Psalm 2, Job chapter 12, Matthew 24:1-14
  • Avoid bad theology in your prayer:
    • As far as this pastor understands, no nation of this existing world is completely Godly, 100% flawless, or outspokenly favored by the Lord (in a similar fashion to Ancient Israel in the Old Testament, and even they were far from flawless). 
    • There is a special calling and obligation placed on the leaders of the nations and governments of this world, but that does not necessarily mean that every action of every leader on the world stage is God-ordained, or God-approved. 
    • Even Christ explained to us that nations are going to be in conflict with one another, this is a sad reality of the world we live in.  It is also an opportunity for both individual Christians and the Church to respond with the compassionate love of God. 
    • No nation is so powerful that it can challenge, derail, or circumvent the work of God here on earth (Consider Egypt during the Exodus). 
    • Political concerns and advocacy may be a part of ministry for many Christians (perhaps even an important part), but only in service to our primary mission:  to share the Good News and make disciples.  We are children of God and disciples of Christ first, national citizens after that. 

Start your Prayer with Silence

Beginning with silence allows us to be humble and acknowledge the sovereignty of God.  The Lord is the one with the best perspective on the situation we are praying for.  As Christians we can also trust that the Holy Spirit prays with us (Rom 8:26-27). 

When you do end your time of silence, do so in confidence, knowing that great Bible authors like Paul (Phil 4:2-7) and Peter (1 Peter 5:6-11) encourage us to pray about our worries and anxieties.  They are applying the teachings of Christ on worry (Luke 12:22-34).  So, if events on the national stage have you worried or moved with compassion then the Biblical teaching is Pray about it!  So pray confidently.    

Bring your Concerns before the Lord

  • Pray for the people affected by war and strife, that God would bring them aid and refuge. 
  • Pray for the leaders to be given wisdom, and a compelling call from the Holy Spirit to lead in a way that honors God and exercises right governance, care and compassion for their people.  Pray that when they face an opportunity to make a good and Godly choice, that the Lord will give them strength and courage to do so. 
  • Pray for both Justice and Peace.  You cannot read Biblical books like Ezekiel or Revelation without noticing that God is paying attention to the world stage.  Pray for justice for the poor, oppressed, and afflicted.  Pray for God to bless those leaders, people and countries that work to avoid sin, and walk in the way that leads to life.  It is also right and good to pray for peace where peace is possible. 

Pray for the spread of the Gospel, and for the church in those places.

While the Bible does encourage us to bring all of our cares and concerns to the Lord, scripture is unashamedly biased towards praying for the work of God and the Kingdom of Heaven.  I can almost guarantee that whatever region or area you are praying for, there are faithful Christians there.  We should pray that God will give them strength to face the pressures and sufferings in this time.  In the midst of war and strife the church is still active in ministry, in compassion, in support, and even still in sharing the good news.   Our prayers for these war-torn brothers and sisters in the faith are vital and important.  Pray for the church, that God would protect them, and bless their call to demonstrate Christian love in such a challenging time. 

Return to a time of silence

Once again, we stop to remember that God has the best perspective on this issue.  We trust in the Lord to hear our prayer, and to be able to bring goodness out of all things.  As in all big prayer requests, consider whether or not God is calling you to be active in this area in a way that goes beyond prayer.  Sometimes this is not the case, and prayers like these are powerful ways to support our fellow Christians in hard times, and to pass our anxieties to the Lord in trust.  Other times, there may be a calling within the prayer.  Take some time of silence at the close your prayer and leave room for the Holy Spirit. 

Express Trust in the Lord

Church tradition has tacked on a good closer to the Lord’s prayer in Matthew 6.  We say “…for Thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory forever…  Amen”  God is on the true throne of the universe, not a government, or dictator, or president, or cultural authority.  All are significantly less in power when compared to the Lord.  Trust God to hear your prayer, and move forward in peace, until you are moved to pray again.    

Consecration Service

It’s finally time! We would like to cordially invite you to a very special worship service on October 31st at 9:30 AM. We will begin at the old location (102 S Seminary) with a service of liturgy, song, and scripture as we thankfully take leave of the old location and then travel (carrying the cross, candles, and Bible) to the new location (206 S Highway Avenue).

Both the Choir and the Worship Team will be assisting with music, and it promises to be a very special morning. All are invited, but we especially want to extend an invitation to everyone who has helped make this project a success. May the Lord bless this new site, and may the worship on Consecration Sunday be a blessing to God, and the beginning of a great blessing for the Tri-Valley Area as we build new ways to share the good news of Jesus Christ!

For those with Covid Concerns:

  • Both portions of the service will be live-streamed online. During the break between them, we will play some music and share some photos of the project online.
  • If you are concerned about high crowding in the old location, we invite you to join us at the new location at 9:30 AM where will will show the live-stream of the first half of the service, and you can be present for the second portion.

If you have any questions about the service, please contact the office at 378-2651

Monday Night Prayer

As another way for us to pray together as a church we are reviving Monday nights this fall. Over the last several years we have used Monday night for both worship and prayer services and we’re returning to Monday night during this difficult Pandemic season. May it be a time of prayer and coming together.

St. Benedict, the founder of the Benedictine monastic movement of the church talked about prayer as the most important thing you will do all day. He called it the work of a Christian. It’s something God has asked us to do, is it any wonder that the practice of daily prayer in that tradition is called the daily office?

In prayer we deepen our relationship with God by offering praise and thanksgiving, by bringing petitions and requests, and by sitting silently in the presence of God.

How is that going to work on Monday night? We’ll we will begin by making Monday night a time of continuous prayer. We’re beginning by setting aside 3 hours, from 5-8 PM where we hope to be praying together as a church without a break. Below, you can find a link to a sign-up genius where you can take a 20 minute shift during that time. We’re asking everyone who signs up to be intentional about those 20 minutes and pray in your way and at your home. We’ll supply you with a copy of the church prayer list, and a second list provided by our church staff (specific to the ministries of the church and the concerns of our town, state, and nation). This “prayer sheet” will be updated every week.

Sign up here to help us stay in continuous prayer from 5-8

Sign Up!

You can have prayer requests added to the prayer list and prayer chain by contacting the church office at 378-2651 or by emailing office@downsumc.org

Thanks for making prayer a priority and please know your church is praying for you.

Building Update 7/20/20

Members of the building committee visited the site this morning to take a look at siding and windows, and while we were there we took some great new shots of the exterior.

Here is the front of the building, the side that faces SR 150, you can see that it is prepped for siding and the framing of the entryway is coming together nicely.
Here you can see the south-facing side of the building. If you see something that looks like a little mini-roof peak on the left-center side that’s our new CHAPEL! We have vaulted the ceiling in that room to give it a sacred feel and those two big holes are for a set of beautifully tall windows. The bit coming off to the right is our stage.
Now moving to the NORTH facing side you can see the worship space in the center standing above a side hallway that leads to a nice sized youth room on the left. On the right is where our nursery will enter into an attached outdoor playground for our smallest members. That area is also connected to the fellowship hall.
One more fun shot, just because the clouds were beautiful today. You can see the front and the south facing sides of the building here.

Phase 4 on-site Worship Services

Are you considering joining us for on-site worship during phase 4 of Illinois re-opening plan? This post is designed to give you a clear picture of what worship at the church on Sunday morning will look like, so that you can make your own best decision about whether to join us or to wait. Whichever you choose, we have a worship service for you! The online service will continue, as normal, all throughout phase four. God is with you, and you’re important part of our church. Please make safe and responsible decisions about when to join us in person. Below is a video explaining worship during phase four, or if you would like to read the main-points just scroll past the video.

During Illinois Phase 4

  • If you are sick, showing symptoms, or have been exposed to someone who is ill, it is your Christian duty to stay at home and join us online instead of in person. Our church is here to help support you though, please call the office if you have needs we can assist with, have prayer requests, or are low on supplies.
  • We are strongly encouraging any and all who are in the high-risk categories for Covid-19 to stay home during Phase 4. We’re working hard to provide you with high quality online worship and alternative ways to connect with the church.
  • Worship attendance will be capped at 50 people in the sanctuary
  • Worship attendance will be capped at 25 people in the fellowship hall
  • Masks will be expected no exceptions made. This one of is the best ways we can care for one another at this time.
  • Seating will be every-other pew, those who live in the same house can sit together as a group, all individuals or family-units are asked to keep the 6 feet social distance guidelines.
  • We will dismiss by rows after the service to avoid dense crowds in the entry/exit area.
  • There will be no fellowship meal, no Sunday school on-site, just the one worship event.
  • The doors will open at 9 AM and the service will start at 9:30.
  • There will be music, but there won’t be singing, we have been asked to discourage singing.
  • No attendance pads or offering plates will be passed, and the bibles are temporarily out of the pews (but you are welcome to bring your own Bible) – this is just to try and reduce common contact surfaces.
  • Hand sanitizer will be abundant and available.

Online Worship Services

The link for the worship service is below, as is a chance for you to download the church bulletin. We put the song lyrics in the bulletin in the hopes that you’d sing along. Thanks so much for joining us for worship this morning. Our church is praying for you and we look forward to the opportunity to gather together again.

  1. March 22, 2020 Worship Service

List of Downs UMC Program Updates 4/1/2020

All church programming is postponed until further notice.

Adult Sunday School: Will return when we begin to have worship in the building again. We pray that will be soon.

Confirmation Class: Is going to offer an at-home lesson as a trial, watch your email in the upcoming week.

Coffee with the Pastor: Is postponed until further notice.

Cub Scout Pack 53: March pack meeting cancelled. Boxcar derby postponed. Spring camp-out is still on. Den meetings will be decided individually by each den leader.

Griefshare: Is working on at-home curriculum, please watch your email this week.

Journey Group (Wednesday Night 4 PM): Will be meeting via Zoom.

Sanctuary Hours: Will not be occurring. While we had looked forward to offering this service, with the new restrictions we are asked to keep, sanctuary hours have had to be postponed.

Senior’s Bible Study (Tuesday 10 AM): Has temporarily switched to an at-home reading program. Find the updates here.

Sewing Group: Will have its next meeting on April 14th.

Swap Room: Will be closed for all of March. Individual requests and questions can still be sent to swaproom@downsumc.org

United Methodist Women: Their next meeting will be in August

Wednesday Night Children’s Choir: This ministry will not meet until school is back in session

Wednesday Night Children’s Ministry: This ministry will not meet until school is back in session.

If the ministry you are looking for is not on this list, please contact the ministry leader, or the church office. 378-2651 office@downsumc.org

A Healthy Church

With the large amounts of fear and worry surrounding the rough flu season, and the reports of corona virus this year, we thought we would take a few moments to let you know what Downs UMC is doing in response. 

Short Version: We are still having church on Sunday, but absolutely understand and respect you if your decision is to stay home. We’ll be working next week to provide you with some at-home resources.

We Value Our Time Together:  We really do believe that 50% of what makes church awesome is are the people.  Time together is profoundly important to our spiritual growth as Christians and some things (like praying and singing together) just cannot be replicated without Sunday Morning.  We will always remain a church that values and finds ways to spend time together.  All that said, Christ does ask us to be wise, and the entire book of Proverbs is all about wisdom.  It only makes sense to be wise amid today’s concerns of flu and Corona, so here is how we are going about that at Downs UMC. 

Small Changes in Sunday Morning:  You may notice, there’s a lot more hand sanitizer around, we have placed some at every entrance.  We are also de-emphasizing (just for flu season) portions of the service involving handshaking and hand-holding.  Those parts were always optional, but we may do a little less of them for a while.  We’ve also made a few changes to serving communion to make sure It is even more sanitary than it already was.  You can also find a United Methodist article about responding to Corona here.  Our conference (Illinois Great Rivers) has a site with Corona information here. Some of the social-distancing that is being talked about in the media can also be practiced at church (if you want to leave some more space between you and your neighbor in the pews, that’s no problem). 

A Note From Our Custodian:  Our fantastic Custodian Leigh wants to let you know that she is being extra diligent with all the contact surfaces in the church.  This is not just tables and counters but it’s also railings, knobs, handles, and more.  If it gets touched by hands, it gets cleaned at our church.  Our cleaning schedule is such that the church gets a good once-over after each high-traffic event in the building.  Additionally, we have always asked individual groups and ministries to be diligent in cleaning their area when they are finished. 

Should you Find Yourself Staying Home:  We thank you in advance for staying home if you’ve got a fever, or any major symptoms of the flu.  We miss you and look forward to seeing you when you’re feeling better.  We also understand if you’re holding back from attendance because of concerns over crowed places.  If that’s you, please know that your church is with you, you’re a part of what’s going on here, and we understand if you hold back for a bit.  We also look forward to seeing you soon, when you can make it, you’re an important part of our church.  If you do find yourself at home for a season, the next section of the article is all for you. 

  • A New Page on the Website (Coming Next Week):  Starting next week we’re going to create a new tab on the website, called “Faith at Home”.  While it will have some great “on your own” faith formation techniques, we don’t intend this in any way to be a permanent substitute for church attendance.  You’re just too cool to be away forever and we would miss you.  If, however, you are home for a few weeks check that Tab and you’ll find the following:
    • PDF’s of the church bulletin to keep you up to date
    • A fun article about designing a worship experience at home
    • A conversation about spiritual disciplines that you can do on your own
    • A Devotional from the Pastor (connected to the weekly Sunday Morning Theme)
    • Information on Tithing and Pledging online

New Ministry: Grief Share

UPDATE: The start date for this ministry has been moved back one week, it is now Sunday March 1st, at the same time (4:00 PM)

Downs United Methodist is adding a new dimension to pastoral care for those experiencing grief and loss. Beginning on Sunday March 1st we will be offering a grief recovery program called Grief Share. It will meet on Sunday afternoons at 4:00 at in the church basement. This is a well respected program used by many different churches, and we are glad to be one of them.

Grief Share is a special weekly seminar and support group designed to help you rebuild your life. We know it hurts, and we want to help.

The program uses a work book, so we do ask that you please let us know that you are coming. We want to have enough supplies for everyone. Contact the church office at 309-378-2651 to register, or send an email to office@downsumc.org

Evangelica great Success!

Sunday evening January 26th we had a fantastic night of Fellowship and learning of the behind the scene activities taking place as well as the areas we will be working on this year. The teams are listed below and there is still time to join a group. Just contact the office at 378-2651 and you will be directed to the contact person for that group.

The teams are listed below:

Construction Team: There will be several mini-projects this year where we are pitching in with our own hands and skill to help build the new building. Members of this team will assist with those projects.

Publicity/Hospitality Team: We want to share the good news of Jesus Christ, and the possibilities and joys of the ministries of the church! This team will look for new ways to share that good word, and they will help us plan our grand opening.

Legacy Team: Downs UMC has been in existence since 1833. There is a fantastic story of faith here in our congregation and our village. The members of the Legacy team will create our church’s first historical archive, and find fun and creative ways to display that history in the new building’s chapel and library.

Worship Team: We have set a goal of having a second worship team by the end of 2020. We already have one fantastic worship team at Downs UMC, all volunteer, who bring some great band-led music once a month. This will give us the opportunity to do that twice as often, if you’re musical, we’ve got a spot for you.

Weather Reminder

Just a reminder that if the weather is rough and you cannot make it, we absolutely understand and will look forward to seeing you next week. The church will be open for all who can attend worship, but please make safe choices on the roads and in the cold.

If you are snowed or iced in, we recommend that you still take some time to worship on Sunday morning. Choose a few selections from the book of Psalms, and a reading from the gospel (Matthew, Mark, Luke, or John) to accompany your prayer time. Incorporate music, include other members of the family. Worship does not only occur at the church.

Remember that we do post the sermons on the website, so if we are in a series and you want to hear the Sunday you missed, we try to have it online by Monday/Tuesday of the next week.

United Methodism in 2020

You may have noticed we’ve been featured in a few of the major news outlets recently. As the pastor of Downs UMC I have read several of the articles and found them to be a bit incomplete. I wanted to make sure you have access to all of the information from a United Methodist Perspective. Most of the recent articles have been about a new proposal put forward by a group of United Methodist leaders. You can read about it from our own church’s news service (and read an FAQ) here. The proposal suggests “a restructuring of the remaining global United Methodist Church into regions, with flexibility to adapt church policies, including on LGBTQ inclusion” as well as the formation of a traditionalist denomination which “could continue what they see as Bible-supported restrictions on same-sex marriage and ordination of gay persons as clergy.” This new denomination would be informed/assisted by a group of United Methodists called the Wesleyan Covenant Association or the WCA. You can find their website here.

A note from your Pastor: I know that we have people on both sides of the aisle in our congregation and one of the great things about our church is that we have remained together throughout this denominational argument with good-hearted and passionate people on both sides, yet still holding Christ in common. Please remember that this is just a proposal and that nothing can be finally voted on or decided until May of this year when our governing body (called General Conference) meets again. That said, as far as proposals go, this one is very interesting to me for the following reasons: 1) It looks like they succeeded in getting everyone to the table. I see all the major groups in the conversation represented in the signatories. 2) it was a mediated discussion run by a talented and well known mediator. That means something to me, I’m a fan of mediation when two sides have reached an impasse.

I encourage you to read it on your own, and I am absolutely available to answer any questions you might have. We can chat in person or you can email me at pastor@downsumc.org. Our current Bishop is an avid fisherman and has given some words of wisdom in fishing terms for us and I would like to echo those words. This always has been and always will be God’s church. Your personal relationship with Jesus Christ should be first and foremost. As we prayerfully consider the questions before us let us make sure that we always keep God first, and always offer our neighbors the love of Jesus Christ. Let’s be in prayer for our leaders, and show the world and our village our very best in how we choose to have these necessary conversations in this upcoming year.