Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Financial Peace

A promotional video for the upcoming Financial Peace University.

A Doubter's Guide to Faith (4): Evidence and Apology

Audio file for listening or download.

Mark 9:14-27
John 20:19-31
“I believe. Help my unbelief.”
“Do not doubt, but believe.”
We are in the final week of our Doubter’s Guide to Faith. Our first week, we asked the question, “How can I KNOW?”. The second week, we explored the experience of pain and the absence of God. Last week, science versus faith, and whether or not evolution can co-exist with Christian faith. This week, we examine evidence for faith and the defense of the faith.

As Christianity was growing up in the Roman Empire, the empire, the culture, the powers fought back – and fought back hard. One of the early ministries in the church was the ministry of the Apologist, someone who made a defense for the faith, who explained what made Christians unique, who did so with two purposes in mind: (1) to win people to Jesus and (2) to reduce persecution.

Justin, born in Samaria, converted as an adult in the city of Ephesus, was the most famous Apologist. He is known as Justin Martyr because he was martyred under emperor Marcus Aurelius about the year 165 (ECF, 9). Perhaps his apology was not adequately effective!

His writing demonstrates some of the accusations leveled against Christians in that early era, as well as some creative, open-minded ideas towards people who do not follow Jesus. Early Christians were called “atheists” because they did not believe in the many gods of the ancient world.
Thus we are called atheists. And we admit that in respect of such supposed gods as those we are atheists; but not in regard to the most true God (Apologia I, vi; in ECF 58).
From his perspective, Socrates was just such an atheist, and, therefore, just such a Christian – without being one in name:
When Socrates tried to bring these matters to light and to rescue mankind from those demons [false gods] by the critical application of sound reasoning, then those very demons [had him executed]. ... Christ ... is the Word [reason] of whom all mankind have a share, and those who lived according to reason are Christians, even though they were classed as atheists (Apologia I, v and xlvi; in ECF 58-60).
Justin was writing his Apology for a different time, but he addresses obliquely one of the big questions today: What about good people in other religions? Aren’t Christians judgmental and narrow-minded? Justin is a resource, just one fine example of Christian people handling the question of diversity with integrity and openness.

Monday, January 23, 2012

The Bishop Is Coming!

Bishop Jane Allen Middleton, the spiritual leader of United Methodists from Breezewood to Wilkes-Barre, from Clearfield to York, will be with us in worship on Sunday February 5! During the Sunday School hour we'll have a breakfast reception. This pic is of Bishop Middleton dunking Rev. Dave Norris, her executive assistant at the time, at an annual conference event in 2007. And, yes, February 5 will be a fun day!

Celebrate the next karate grandma - The York Daily Record

Our very own Georgia Golden! Congrats, and happy birthday! Celebrate the next karate grandma - The York Daily Record

Sunday, January 22, 2012

A Doubter's Guide to Faith (3): Darwin, Science versus Faith

Audio file for listening or download.

Psalm 8, excerpts (call to worship)
Ephesians 2:10 (kids)
Genesis 1:1 - 2:3 (message)

We are in the third week of our Doubter’s Guide to Faith. Our first week, we asked the question, “How can I KNOW?” and we used, alongside the Scripture, Blaise Pascal – the great philosopher, physicist, mathematician, and Christian mystic – as our tutor. Last week, we explored the experience of pain and the absence of God with John of the Cross and Mother Teresa. This week, science versus faith, with Charles Darwin. And, next week, we’ll examine evidence for faith.

One of the ancient symbols for the Christian faith is the fish. Drawn with two simple curves, it was a covert way to express a life of discipleship to Jesus in a culture that was violently opposed. Why a fish? It was an acrostic. The Greek letters for fish are the first letters of words to name Jesus, to begin prayer: Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior.

In our contemporary setting, the symbol for Darwin has become a fish, with feet, just one of the missing links. And, in a humorous twist, sometimes this fish with feet is depicted swallowing the traditional Jesus fish. Alternatively, the Jesus fish is displayed swallowing the Darwin fish. Science versus faith. If you believe one, you cannot believe the other.

It’s a divisive subject. The room temperature goes up a few degrees in some of these conversations. It put York County on the map a few years ago, as the Dover School District added Intelligent Design (the latest version of Creationism) to their science program. And many uncharitable things are said and done, in the name of Jesus, by people on either side of the debate. That, to me, is most unfortunate. Jesus said that the world would know we are his disciples, not because we agree on the creation-evolution controversy but because we love one another (John 13.35).

As with the other questions we have addressed in this series, there is so much more we could talk about than we have time for. The message notes and audio will be posted online, and references will be included as well. If you want to take things further, you can pursue those references and feel free to stump me with good questions. I don’t have all the answers.

Why has this become so divisive a subject? The rhetoric is powerful. Richard Dawkins, biologist and author of The God Delusion, wrote, “Although atheism might have been logically tenable before Darwin, Darwin made it possible to be an intellectually fulfilled atheist” (The Blind Watchmaker, p 6, cited in Miller, p 14). Then, on the other side, there are those who dismiss evolution saying, “It’s only a theory” (see Miller, Finding, post script p 13). If you believe one, you can’t believe the other. At least, that’s what the rhetoric of the conflict would claim.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Souper Bowl of Caring

We're down to our final four professional football teams - but the winner of Bethany's Souper Bowl will be determined by YOU. Bring your gifts for our food pantry partner, the W.E.L.L., and place them in the box of your favorite of the final four teams. Joe put one more sign up on the Well in the entry - "Also Ran". You'll have to speak with him about his own favorite teams.

Monday, January 16, 2012

A Doubter's Guide to Faith (2): Dark Night of the Soul

Audio available for listening or download

Job 3, excerpts (call to worship)

Genesis 1:1-5 (kids)
Romans 8:18-27, Song of Songs 5:6-8 (read for message)

We are in the second week of our Doubter’s Guide to Faith. Last week, we asked the question, “How can I KNOW?” and we used, alongside the Scripture, Blaise Pascal – the great philosopher, physicist, mathematician, and Christian mystic – as our tutor.

This week, we explore another great area of doubt and struggle, the experience of pain, suffering, and the absence of God. We’ll do so with the assistance of some new tutors, John of the Cross and Mother Teresa. Next week, we’ll look at questions of science, particularly evolution and Charles Darwin. And we’ll finish up this particular series with an examination of the evidence for faith across a number of significant areas.

Today’s focus raises more questions than can be answered in the time we have today. In fact, pain and the absence of God raises more questions than there are answers, period, at least in my own experience. But sometimes all we want is an answer, and now! A former pastor of mine, Dick Woodward, collected biblical texts that gave an explanation for suffering and had, at one point, over 50 different biblical reasons for suffering. His point? Don’t make unwarranted assumptions about the reasons for your sufferings or mine. Instead, seek God. At the time he offered this, over 25 years ago, he had not yet been diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. He is now physically limited by multiple sclerosis, but teaching from his bed.

There are many questions raised of pain and the absence of God. We ask “Why?” We want to locate justice, fairness in everything. Sometimes, we are content to wait for justice in kingdom come, but other times that seems inadequate for the concerns of the moment. And, we want to know who is at fault. We’re not content with “no fault” accidents; we want to pin it on someone, anyone, even God. If you were here last week, I hope you heard that it is biblical to question God – and it can be an important part of our spiritual journey.

Again, we cannot address all these questions in the time we have today. The beginning of the academic and theological response is that we live in a world shaped not only by God’s perfect design but by the presence of sin. And, we tend to underestimate how destructive sin can be, how pervasive it is, how sin and its unintended consequences have seeped into every corner of our world. The pervasive effect of sin in the world is like DDT – a pesticide for mosquitos – now found in penguin fat, far from any mosquito territory. The apostle Paul describes “the creation itself” as “in bondage to decay” (Romans 8:21) because of human sin.

Thailand - 5

Saturday was a welcome day of pure leisure. We spent the morning at the Maesa Elephant Camp, where we watched the elephants and their mahoots (caregivers/trainers) bathe (the elephants bathed, that is, not the mahoots); enjoyed a very entertaining show that highlighted the intelligence and humor of these magnificent animals; and took a half-hour ride on the elephants.

In the afternoon, several folks went to a Celedon factory. Celedon is a form of pottery for which Thailand is known. We say many beautiful pieces of art and some purchased a few small things. We also visited the Umbrella Village in Chiang Mae, where there is an annual festival highlighting the beautiful handmade and painted umbrellas the area is known for. Shopping, of course, happened. Some of our group went on an excursion into the city with Raylena Fields as their guide, and others stayed home and did laundry or just relaxed.

Today we are splitting into two groups to go to two different churches. One is in a rural setting and is the site of the first Thai Christian martyrs. The other is in a more “suburban” setting – a rural church that has grown over the past several years. This will give us further experiences of Christian practices in Thailand. Each community will host us for lunch, giving us an opportunity both to accept their gracious hospitality and to get to know them better.

Here’s hoping your weekend is going well. We pray for you daily.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thailand - 4

Thursday Jan 12: Today was the beginning of our study of Christianity in Thailand.  Once again, we met with an ordained woman in the Church of Christ in Thailand, Ajaan Chilipan, who works in prisons and brothels and with the “least among us.”  She is an amazing woman and someone in whose presence it is a privilege to be.  (Greg, she was deeply appreciative of your book and of being remembered by you.)  We joined the chapel service at McGilvery Seminary and had lunch with some of the students.  We also visited a Catholic Spirituality Center, which is progressive, inspiring, and beautiful.  Several among us walked an exquisite labyrinth there.  We also visited the Henry Luce Chapel, which has a unique architecture, having been built in the shape of a lotus flow floating over water and open to the air above and below.

Friday Jan 13: We began our day with a lecture on Islam in Thailand by Ajaan Suchart, the Director of the Ph.D. program in Peace Studies and a sociology professor who is also a Chinese Muslim living in Thailand. His presentation not only introduced to Islam in Thailand but also to a project he is working on training Muslim youth in Southern Thailand in Peace-building.

We then went to a mosque in Chiang Mae, Masjid At-Tagawa, where we had a lovely lunch prepared by the women of the community. We observed Friday Prayer and then had a conversation with Ajaan Pam about Women in Islam. That generated a lot of discussion later in the evening when we got together to process the day. Today was the beginning of our introduction to Islam. We will meet with Sunni and Shiite Muslims when we are in Bangkok. Our group found the day to be very informative and an excellent learning experience, especially for those who have not been exposed to islam “up close and personal” before.

Tomorrow is a day of fun as we go to the elephant camp! Everyone is excited about this outing.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Five Generations

FIVE GENERATIONS: Marie Snyder, seated left, poses with her family in this five-generation photo. Seated at right is her great-grandson, Steven Snyder, holding great-great-granddaughter Olivia Snyder. Standing are son Curvin Snyder, left, and grandson Blaine Snyder.(SUBMITTED to and printed in the York Daily Record, Jan 4 2012.)

Thailand - 3

Another update from Kathy Clark, adjunct faculty, trip advisor:
Our trip to Mae Sot was a very powerful one. I will leave the individual reflections to each of the participants. But consensus is that we were blessed to be able to witness the lives of the Karen refugees and that they were so open to us. Many in the group have not yet been able to put into words what they are feeling. Celeste is sitting next to me as I write this and she says that for her it was a life-changing experience. We saw both hope and deep suffering, as well as tremendous courage. Our host, Saw Mort, from Burma Issues gave very generously of himself in helping us understand and frame what we experienced. That including sharing the work of his organization which provides education and human rights documentation within the Burmese borders and arranging for us to enter the Refugee Camp which is not something foreigners, especially Westerners, are often allowed to do.

I am attaching a few photos thanks to Celeste. I know everyone will be eager to share this experience back home, once they are able to put it into words.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012


The ceiling in the Gathering Place (water damage) is being repaired this week, as well as the ceiling in one of the stairwells. Thanks to Rick Morgan and Andy!

Epiphany Party

Youth - and helpful adults - enjoyed the Epiphany party, with stargazing, Scripture, cake, and a crazy (and competitive) gift exchange. Thanks to Sharon and her team!

Monday, January 9, 2012

A Doubter's Guide to Faith (1): How Can I KNOW?

Listen online!

Luke 1:5-20

“A Doubter’s Guide to Faith”. Today, we introduce this series with a focus on a wonderful question: “How can I KNOW?” It is the question Zechariah asked of the angel when given some incredible good news. It is a question that the wise men managed to answer with enough confidence to embark on a journey across countries and cultures to find a child. And it is a question that we struggle with to one degree or another, at some times more than others.

 It is nothing new. In the first century, the apostle Paul commented, “Jews demand signs and Greeks desire wisdom, but we proclaim Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles” (1 Corinthians 1.22-23). Paul’s message is still true today. We’re not in the business of miracles and answers, we’re here to offer Jesus (Eugene Peterson). Yet, we all ask, “How can I KNOW?”

It’s nothing new. My children went through that “Why?” phase. Remember that? For kids, it becomes a clever conversational tool that keeps things going without end. So, with parental authority, we declare the end with “because I said so”. And that’s when dissatisfaction with the answer sets in. “Because God says so,” that’s the way it is? Excuse me? Don’t I get a say in the matter? Is there any external, observable evidence? Yes, there is. So, three weeks from now on January 29th, we’ll look at evidence for faith in a variety of areas. How can I KNOW?

It’s nothing new. In the realm of physics, proof is valid if the probability of error, of being incorrect, is 1 in 35 million – or less. That is an extraordinarily high standard, higher than many other areas of science because of the mathematical nature of theoretical physics (“Higgs ahoy!” The Economist. December 17 2011. Mobile edition, no author listed). Newtonian physics, then Einstein’s theories of relativity, and now quantum mechanics are all proven to this degree – and are all still “theories”. So, when someone objects to evolution, for example, as an “unproven theory”, they are actually confusing the definition from the perspective of science. According to Frances Collins, the head of the Human Genome Project and a Christian, evolution is “settled science” (Frances Collins, lecture at Q, 2008). And that raises some very important questions of faith, so our doubter’s guide will address science on January 22nd. How can I KNOW?

It’s nothing new. In some of those moments when we need God the most, it seems that God shows up. We experience healing or comfort or a presence. But, other times, it seems that God is absent, out to lunch, busy, uninterested. It’s an issue of pain, not just any pain, not just the pain of life, but pain of being let down, disappointed, even hurt by God. The band, The Fray, sings, “Where were you? Where were you? Just a little late. ... In the end, everyone ends up alone” (“You Found Me”. 2009. The Fray. The Fray). Next week, January 15th, we’ll focus on those experiences of absence and pain. How can I KNOW?

Thailand - 2

Some pics (Blanca and another student) and an update, below, from the faculty advisor. Blanca is having a great time!

Sunday January 8:
Today was a day of fun and relaxation and several optional activities. Some folks began the day with Sarah Kim teaching and leading them in meditation. Sarah is very skilled at this and the request came from our conversations with Buddhist monks about their meditation practices. Some used the morning as an opportunity to sleep in, especially after such a long day yesterday.

We went together to Sunday morning worship at the First Church of Chiang Mae, one of the congregations associated with the Christian Church of Thailand, which is affiliated with the United Church of Christ as a united and uniting church. We were warmly welcomed and sat together in a special section for visitors that had headphones providing an English translation of the service. We followed the worship service with lunch out together. Then the participants had a free afternoon. Several chose to have Thai massages that were unanimously declared wonderful. In the evening, we went to the Sunday night walking market inside the gates of the old Chiang Mae city and finished the evening with dinner at a Thai buffet. It was a fun and relaxing day and came at a good time in our overall schedule.

We may be out of email touch for the next couple of days. Tomorrow afternoon, we are heading to the city of Mae Sot which is on the border of Thailand and Burma. There we will visit a Burmese refugee camp, an NGO called Burmese Issues that focuses on the internally displaced people inside Burma, and a school and medical clinic that serve the Burmese population in the area. We will spend two nights at a resort outside of Mae Sot and the rest of the time touring and learning about the situation and peace-building efforts in the area. It will be a very full few days. I am unsure whether or not we will have internet access while there, but will certainly email you upon our return in a few days.

Everyone is well, taking good care of themselves, and looking out for each other. We hope that you are well, too, and pray that it is so.

I’ll be in touch again in a few days. Until then, abundant blessings!

Saturday, January 7, 2012


On Tuesday morning at 3:30 a.m., Blanca and other students from Lancaster Theological Seminary headed out on a journey (including almost 24 hours in the air) to Thailand. They join students from another seminary on a three week cross cultural study of religion and Christianity in Thailand.  Pics from the LTS sending service, at the chapel: Juan and Myra (from First Spanish UM Church, York), Jim and Blanca, JP; Blanca and the team from LTS.  An update from Thailand, by the faculty instructor Kathy Clark, sent on Friday:

Today was dedicated to the study of Buddhism, with a very interesting and informative lecture in the morning and a “field trip” in the afternoon to Wat Doi Sutep. A wat is a Buddhist temple and this particular temple is near the top of the mountain outside Chiang Mai that we can see directly across from our place of lodging on the campus of Payap University. We rode to the temple – up a winding and steep mountain road – in the “cattle car” that transported us from the airport when we first arrived. Did I describe that already? It is a large, covered truck (large enough to hold many heads of cattle), open in the back, with pull down-steps for getting on and off, and benches along the sides for seating. I am not sure whether or not it has any shock absorbers, but it seems not. Thomas dubbed the ride “Six Flags Over Chiang Mai.” It was an adventure.

The ride up the mountain offered spectacular views of the city of Chiang Mai, as did the overlook from the temple. The temple itself is the wealthiest in Chiang Mai and, while it is a working temple with a community of monks, it is also a very popular tourist attraction. Ajaan (Professor) John Butt led us on a tour of the temple, explaining the religious and cultural influences on Thai Buddhism, the theological significance of the ornate architecture and symbols, the historical development of Theravada Buddhism, and the meaning of the rituals we observed. He also narrated the life of the Buddha by showing and explaining a beautiful mural that adorns the walls. He is extremely knowledgeable and an excellent communicator, so much so that perfect strangers joined our group to listen in.

There are 300 steps leading to the temple. The majority of the group opted to walk up (and back down) the steps, while a more reasonable group of us opted for the elevator. (J) As a result of the physical exertion in the hot sun, and the lingering impact of jet lag, we have some very weary travelers today.

Moving into 2012

A team of 8 folks helped Barb and Isiaah move on December 31. Congrats to Barb on the new place, and thanks to the team for the hard work (and fun)!  The pics: Jim P., our packing engineer; Sharon unloading; Isiaah posing.  It was a nerdy crew.  Caleb and Jim L. were talking about inertia and the coefficient of friction.