Monday, December 24, 2007

Merry Christmas. . .

I must admit I've been feeling a little Grinchy lately--all the trappings and trimmings, ribbons and bows, noise and traffic have been getting the best of me. Add to that the fact that the days are short and the dark comes on quickly, and it's made for a bit of a slump--spiritually and emotionally. Plus, I've got a cold--something that inevitably happens just before the BIG DAY every year.

Today, I've been feeling a little better--we're coming down to the wire for the Chrsitmas Eve services at church, and I'm geared up for worship tomorrow. Now I just want to focus on watching the kids have a great holiday, and remembering the true reason for the season--naps.

Yes, I know that the birth of Christ is important, but the ability to take some time off and actually be able to nap is a rare thing indeed. So, I'm looking forward to some R&R time, which should remove some of the Grinchies from me.

Tonight as I lead the congregation in worship, I resolve to remember that it is the message of this night that keeps me (and them) coming back, year after year, to that lousy stable in Bethlehem, to stand in the cold night air and marvel once again at the fact that God has come among us--not as a king or a ruler, but as one who is in need of a diaper change. God is in the helpless, the homeless, the hopeless, the distraught. God is in the Grinches. God is in the ribbons and the bows, the trees and the trimmings. God is in you. God is in me. Thank God for that--it's the only thing that keeps me going, some days.

Merry Christmas, and God Bless Us, Every One,


Tuesday, December 11, 2007

A Christmas Letter

This was the letter I published in this month's "Messenger," our church newsletter. I hope that others will find it useful:

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ!

Much has been said in the media over the past few years about the “war on Christmas.” We hear tales of stores banning employees from saying “Merry Christmas” to customers, and schools or other public institutions banning religious references during the Christmas season. I’m writing to you today to say that I’m not bothered by it.

As I’ve said before, our Christian faith is not dependent on the government or popular opinion. In fact, I’m not sure the Christian faith has ever benefited from being tied to the government or those in power. We function best when we remain who we are—a body of believers who go against the grain, and dare to celebrate the fact that God would come to us in human form in order to save us all from violence and sin.

The “war on Christmas” is nothing new. In 1627, the Parliament of England (ruled by Christian Puritans) banned the writing and singing of Christmas carols, declaring them to be part of a “worldly celebration,” and thus unworthy of “a Christian nation.” For this reason, there were very few Christmas carols in existence in English society around the time of the Wesley’s and their folk. Charles Wesley, who wrote over 9,000 hymns and poems in his lifetime, sat down to try and convey the sense of the holiness of Christ’s birth using hymns and carols that would stand the test of time and taste. He managed to write several Christmas hymns, but the one for which he is most remembered is “Hark! the Herald Angels Sing!”
Hark! the herald angels sing,
"Glory to the newborn King;
Peace on earth, and mercy mild
God and sinners reconciled!"

The words of this hymn are sung many times each Christmas, and often, we don’t recall their radical nature unless we pause to look at them clearly. This is not just a sentimental song about a cute baby. This is a hymn to the Almighty God, who came in the form of a baby, because that is the only form in which he could come that would not seem as threatening (at first) as if he were to come in his true form. The world has always been against Christmas—not because of political correctness or civil libertarians—but because the world is never ready to admit that we are all in need of God. The world would have us believe that we can make it on our own. God reminds us that even he needed the help of a mother in order to make it through the first years of his earthly life.

The real threat to Christmas is not in the halls of government or in the malls of this country, but in those who are unwilling to confront God as God truly is—a crying baby needing help; a homeless man who wanders the countryside teaching others to love; a condemned man hanging on a cross to save the whole world from itself. This is the reason for the season. This is why it will always be a Merry Christmas, no matter what the person behind the counter at Wal-Mart says to you.
My wish for you and your family this Christmas season is that you will find the love of Christ being born anew in your midst. From the MacDonald Family to you—Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year!

Your Servant in Christ,

Pastor David

Monday, November 19, 2007

Social Justice and the Internet

Recently, while watching my daily dose of CNN, I came across a story about how Yahoo (my default search engine, and the web page my browser automatically opens up to) may have helped the Chinese government put a journalist in jail, by giving the government information from this person's Yahoo account and activity. (See story here.)

This turn of events leads me to ask the question--how can a person who seeks to live a life after the example of Christ, and who is concerned about social justice, participate in, subscribe to, or do business with an organization or business that seems to take an off-hands approach to issues of social justice? For that matter, how can one not do business with corporations or companies that seem to not care about issues of social justice? It seems like so many companies have gotten so big that they can't keep tabs on all their sub-contractors and regional offices. How can we be sure that every company we do business with is socially responsible? The answer (sadly), is that we cannot. We may be able to win moral victories now and then (I have stopped using Yahoo), but changing the world will have to be a "long term" goal on our agenda.

Sounds hopeless, doesn't it? It should, because individual efforts often are. Together, though, and with the help and power of God, we may be able to make a difference in the long run.

God bless the renegade journalists, and those who support and aid them,


Wednesday, October 24, 2007

"The Peace of the Lord Be With You"

These words went through my head today as I was thinking about the sacrament of communion. A traditional part of the communion liturgy is the "Passing of the Peace," in which the people exchange signs of peace before coming to the Table. To me, this is a significant part of the sacrament, as integral to it as the bread and wine, because it is the peace shared between brothers and sisters in the faith of Jesus Christ that provide the basis for our "Great Thanksgiving" which blesses and sets apart the elements of the bread and the wine.

Why is peace among brothers and sisters in Christ so important?
For one thing, it sets a good example for outsiders, who so often can use the ammunition of our actions as Christians in our weaker moments against us, calling us hypocrites because we preach lovde and practice division. For another thing, the peace gets us in the right state of mind to receive the Body and Blood of Christ. For it is only when we are at peace with others that we may be at peace with our selves, and it is only when we are at peace with our selves that we may come to be at peace with God, and thus fully participate in communion.

So, may the peace of the Lord be with you. Now and always.


Monday, October 08, 2007

A Name Tag Lost in the Woods

Last Thursday, I took a day off--not really a day off, since I worked in the evening, but a day off in the sense that I wasn't in the office all day, and I didn't do any "minister-y" stuff for the bulk of the day. Instead, I took a day to go off to the woods: to pray, meditate, and write; just me and my dog. Mack was a very well-behaved boy. (Don't tell anyone, but I let him off the leash for a little while when we were in the deepest part of the woods--he loved it! Ran around in the stream, chased squirells, and generally had a grand time getting dirty.)

When you walk in the woods, especially in a public park or forest, you see places where people have left their mark. The occasional piece of litter dots the trail, or some knucklehead has carved his initials into a tree trunk. But on this day, I found something that, in my writing/spiritual/seeking after knowledge mood, got me to thinking. It was a name tag--one of those blank "Hello my name is. . ." kinds of things, that had somehow lost its stickiness and come off the shirt of the person wearing it. I won't publish the person's name on it, but for now let's say her name was Jenny. I wondered to myself who Jenny was, and what had brought her (and her name tag) to this particular park. I surmised that she was probably a child (there were lots of kids at the park that day, on a school trip, no doubt), and that the name tag was there to help the teacher/room mother identify her easily. I wondered what wonders Jenny had seen on her day at the park--had she seen the flat, smooth stones that lay next to the stream, worn down over the years by the gentle flow of water? Had she pondered over the longevity of the trees around her, realizing in that moment that she was both part of something bigger than herself and yet insignificant in the grand scheme of all things?

As I looked at the name tag lying there on the wet ground, I pondered what lessons Jenny might have taken with her on her day at the park. And then it dawned on me. The names carved into trees would eventually become scars--still slightly readable, but soon a part of the bark they were torn out of. The litter (most of it anyway), and Jenny's name tag would all degrade away, leaving no trace of their original owners. Even Jenny and I, and all those who visited the park that day, would one day become food for trees and grasses like the ones at this park. In the end, I pondered, it's not the mark that we leave on the forest, but the mark that the forest leaves on us, that matters most.


Thursday, September 27, 2007

"Too Busy"

Lately, I've heard myself saying "I'm very busy" a lot. Actually, when it all comes down to it--I'm not as busy as some people. I'm certainly not as busy as a single parent who has to take care of a couple of kids while trying to keep two jobs. I'm not as busy as the homeless person who has to walk, sometimes up to twenty miles a day, in order to find food and shelter. I'm not as busy as our legislators in Washington--although, maybe they need to be a little less busy, too!

The point is, I'm busy, but no one should ever be so busy that they can't give time to prayer and meditation. And when I get busy, those are the first things to go out the window. I read somewhere recently about a survey of pastors that revealed that some pastors spend an average of three minutes a day in private prayer and devotions, and some pastors reported that they usually don't pray unless it is in front of a group of people. How sad--but I know how they feel. There are days when I hope for a meeting just so I can have the chance to sit down and pray, and there are days when I get so restless because of all the "work" that has to be done that I can't focus on my meditation time. If it's this way for me, how must it be for that working single parent, or the homeless person, or the man or woman in a position of power and authority.

We are reminded in the Scriptures to "pray without ceasing," (I Thessalonians 5:17), but maybe we need to be reminded that prayer doesn't always have to be about the right words or the right posture of the body or the right anything--except the right state of mind, a receptivity to the presence of God in all times and places.

The other day, I was out walking Mack (our dog), and experienced the kind of praye that goes beyond mere words or postures. It was very early in the morning, and the sun was just coming up. There was a light fog hovering amongst the trees, and the early rays of the sun were just beginning to peek through the branches and leaves. As I looked at this sight, I gasped for a moment at the beauty of it all, and then immediately thought, "I wish I had my camera." But a camera couldn't have caught the moment for me, even if it could have caught the sight. It was, for me, a moment of prayer at the beginning of what would end up being a very "busy" day.

May all your "busy" days begin in such a way, and may God's beauty continually catch you off guard.

On the lookout for prayer moments,


Thursday, September 06, 2007

The State of the Church

Some days, I'm just not sure there is a future for those of us who are "the people called Methodists." Reading through the denomination's State of the Church Report, I was depressed to read the following statistic: At one point in the history of the United States, one in four people considered themselves "Methodist." Today, that number is one in 400.

How depressing! And yet, as I have said many times before, how exciting, too! Such statistics, seen as an opportunity and not as a depressing note, present us with the greatest challenge--and the source of most of our ministry work in the next century or so-- that we have ever seen.

Our job is to not just make Methodists, but to make disciples of Jesus Christ. The best way to do that is to begin to be in mission--around the world, yes, but also right here in our own neighborhoods.

For those of you who read this who are from Niles First UMC, I want to emphasize to you what I've already stated in our newsletter: over the next few years, we need to focus on the areas of Fellowship, Stewardship Education, Spiritual Education, Evangelism, and Missions. Each of these areas--which, by the way, are inter-related--holds a part of the key that will unlock the potential that God has in store for us.

Earlier today, I was in a meeting of pastors, and somebody mentioned a particular mega-church that is often visited by local congregations looking to grow. One of my colleagues made the following comment: "Why visit them? All they did was tap into the power of the Holy Spirit." If we are open enough to the working of the Spirit in our lives, we will find the answers for our time and place in the history of the movement of the People called Methodist, and in teh body of Christ.

Preach the Gospel,
Use Words if Necessary,


Sunday, September 02, 2007

The Potter and the Clay

For those who were in church today, and heard my sermon about the Potter and the Clay, here is a link to the video, "El Barrero," that I mentioned:

El Barrero

Hope you enjoy it. I was particularly struck by the manner in which the potter cuts the finished product in half, to show the viewer what he has just done. If I had just made a vase like that, I would have wanted to fire it as soon as possible--to let everyone know about my accomplishment. When God works with us, like the potter in the video, he knows that there are second chances in life, if we allow ourselves to stay pliable enough to be re-worked.

Working on being pliable,


Thursday, August 30, 2007

"Back to School"

It's back to school time, which used to be a time of great excitement to me as a child--for the first few weeks. Then, when we got into the daily grind of school work, it became less and less exciting. Since we haven't really had anyone in our immediate family who was a "school kid" the last several years, this time of year has not meant much to me. Until now.

Rebecca starts Kindergarten on Tuesday (the fourth of September), and believe me, we can hardly wait! She is currently bouncing around the house involving herself in all sorts of "projects" to keep her busy until the big day arrives. Currently, she is making a "centerpiece" for Kelly's birthday celebration on Friday. Let me tell you, we will all be glad when this pent-up energy is able to find a release in school work!

It is a happy time, though, to see your kids growing up. I thought I might be sadder than this--and I may yet be--but I'm really glad that Rebecca is beginning to make her own way in the world. Soon, she will have all the wonders of reading, writing, and learning at her fingertips, and she will be able to begin to discover on her own the answers to all the questions she has about the world.

Maybe we all need to go "back to school" every now and then. Maybe there's still something for us all to learn--about the world, about ourselves, and about God. Maybe "back to school" is every day that we wake up and take another step on this journey called existence.


Happy Back to School,


Monday, August 20, 2007

Back on the Information Superhighway!

After a long hiatus, I am back on the web! The computer I use in my office crashed at the end of June, and I haven't blogged since then. I finally got the approval to buy a new lap top, and just got it this weekend. I'll be more dilligent now about blogging, since I have the equipment to do it. (And yes, I know I could have blogged from home, but it was so much harder to remember to do that when I had to walk that 100 yards between the office and the parsonage to get on the computer--and when I was borrowing a computer from someone else in the office, I tended to do what absolutely had to be done, and get out of there.)

But, I'm back now, after a nice summer vacation, and an excellent VBS at church this year. Looking forward to the fall, and to our planning day at church this Saturday.

Well, lunch calls. I'll write more later.

Feeling peckish,

Monday, June 11, 2007

Long Time, No Blog

We have been very busy around here. Our church secretary resigned early in May, and I've been working on getting a new one. Plus, I went away for a week to the "Festival of Homiletics" in Nashville. That was fun. Did I blog about seeing Little Richard? If not, I apologize--it was a truly life changing moment!

You'd think that life in the summer would be easier for a pastor--but it's not. In fact, I may be busier now than I was when I first moved to Niles--that seems like so long ago that it feels like I've been here a year already when it's only been three months. I still have meetings, visits, and office work to do, but now I also have to help get ready for Vacation Bible School, have Youth Annual Conference, and Annual Conference to attend. Don't get me wrong, I love all those parts of my job--in fact, the summer activities are some of my favorite of the whole year, but it can get a little hectic.

I am reminded of a wall-hanging I saw in an Amish country store a long time ago that had this old chestnut of wisdom: "The Hurrier I Go, The Behinder I Get." Sometimes, we all need to remember to not get so hurried and to take it all in stride.

Taking it in stride (when I can),


Tuesday, May 08, 2007

Brother, Can You Spare an Autoharp?

Looking for an autoharp--

Anybody got one?

An autoharp is a stringed musical instrument which uses chord bars (wooden bars lined with felt) to block off certain strings, leaving a certain combination of strings open. When these strings are strummed or picked, they then form a chord--the chord printed on the bar you just pressed!

There are many very skilled autoharp players (the older folks might remember Mrs. Carter's autoharp, and others may recall June Carter Cash's proficiency at the 'harp), but it can also be useful for folks like me, who love the music making but have trouble making chords on traditional stringed instruments.

So, I'm looking for an autoharp. I want to use it for storytelling, accompanying small groups in singing hymns, and personal use. Let me know if you have one, and if you'd be willing to part with it for a reasonable price.

Strumming the strings of my heart,


Wednesday, May 02, 2007

We had a good vacation last week--so good that I didn't even get a chance to post to the blog! I am back now, and feel pretty refreshed and ready to move forward on a lot of the important work that lies ahead for the church and for me personally.

I am reading a fascinating book right now called Introduction to Internal Family Systems, which applies the principles of Family Systems thinking to internal/personal struggles. The author, Dr. Richard C. Schwartz, created this approach, which helps people to recognize the "parts" that we create within our psyches in order to protect us from hurt or fear. These parts essentially obscure our true "Self," which in theological terms I would describe as the "imago dei" (image of God) that is within all of us.

I will write more as I read more, but for now, I find it engaging and powerful reading.

Peace on Earth,
Goodwill to All,


Wednesday, April 18, 2007

The Labyrinth of Life

Last night, I traveled to Cleveland again to walk the Labyrinth at Trinity Episcopal Cathedral. (Note to United Methodists-- we really gotta get us some cathedrals--but that's a post for another day!)

The labyrinth, for those who don't know, is a little like a maze, but very different from a maze. In a maze, you have to find the right path from one spot to another, while avoiding dead-ends and wrong turns. In the labyrinth, there is only one way in and one way out, and there are no dead-ends or wrong turns. You walk the same path in and out, and the labyrinth always leads to the same place--the center (sometimes called the rose).
The center of the labyrinth represents closeness to God, or the center of our souls, or whatever place you find yourself journeying towards.
The labyrinth at Trinity is based on the one at the Chartres Cathedral in France, and is open on Tuesday evenings from 6 p.m to 9 p.m.

This time, while walking the labyrinth, I had a revelation (I usually do). As I was walking towards the center, there was another man who was walking out from the center. At one point, though we were technically on different trajectories, we ended up walking side by side. This caused me to feel deep within my soul this truth--though we all walk on different paths, and sometimes find ourselves on different stages of our journeys through faith and life, we all walk side by side from time to time. This is what allows me, as a thirty year old kid, to walk beside my brothers and sisters who are much older than I am, and to be a pastor to people who could be my parents or grandparents. This is possible because we all take the same journey through life, and we meet each other along the way as fellow sojourners who can share in times of both joy and sadness.

Speaking of sadness, my heart grieves with the people of Virginia Tech this week. They were one of the subjects of one of my "rose prayers" at the center of the labyrinth. Pray for peace in their hearts and minds, and for a spirit of calm and safety to envelope that campus.

In nomine Patri, et Filii, et Spiritus Sancti, (look it up)


Tuesday, April 10, 2007

He is risen!

Christ is risen!

He is risen indeed!

(End of sermon)

This story was told to me this Sunday by a member of the congregation here in Niles. It was told of a Lutheran pastor, who stood in the pulpit, declared the words above, and then sat down. What a testimony to the power of the story of Jesus' resurrection--mere mention of the event is enough to call it to our minds!

My prayer for anyone who reads this blog (I hope that someone is reading it!) is that you will be able to call his resurrection to mind not just during this Easter season, but at any time when you need the presence of God in your life--the life-giving, loving, saving God of Jesus Christ.

He is risen, indeed,

Monday, April 02, 2007

A Wee Discovery in the Wee Worship Book

This morning, while doing my usual morning prayers, I decided to use the resource "A Wee Worship Book," from the Iona Community of Scotland. I have been cycling through their morning liturgies, and this morning, I happened upon Morning Liturgy D (This will only be helpful or interesting to you if you happen to own the book. If you don't--go get it!)

Anyway, this morning's prayers included a line that struck me as I read it:
"Let us pray for those who may be born today and bless them in Jesus' name." It struck me partly because of the novelty of the thing, but also because of the concept. Obviously, I don't know anyone who might be born today, but that shouldn't stop me from pausing to think about those who do, and giving thanks before God for them. What a way to embody the Body of Christ, which includes even the smallest and most helpless among us!

The prayer also calls for us to remember those who may face death today. Again, I can't say I know anyone who fits that category (although we might all be said to be facing death all the days of our lives), but it's been uplifting to my spirit to lift up those who might be in that situation, and to remember them before the throne of God's grace.

I was also blessed by the closing words of the liturgy:

Leader: The peace of God,
The peace of God's people,
The peace of Mary mild, the loving one,
and Christ, King of human hearts,
God's own peace. . .

All: Be upon each thing our eyes take in,
Be upon each thing our ears take in,
Be upon our bodies which come from the earth,
Be upon our souls which come from heaven,
Evermore and evermore, Amen. (a)

What earthy spirituality are the prayers of the Celtic peoples! Thanks be to God for their gifts to us.

Evermore and Evermore,


(a) A Wee Worship Book by the Wild Goose Worship Group; Glasgow:Wild Goose Publications; 1999. The introduction to this liturgy states that the prayers in the liturgy came originally from Alexander Carmichael's book Carmina Gadelica (Songs of the Gaels), which was published at the end of the 19th century.

Saturday, March 24, 2007

"And Then There Were Six"

Yesterday was a big day for the MacDonald clan! We took a trip to our local shelter (The Trumbull County Animal Welfare League), and found a wonderful new family member!

His name is Mack (appropriate for a MacDonald dog!), and he is a rottweiler/sheperd mix. For those who knew them, he looks like a mix between my old dog Duchess and my old dog Mel.

Mack is gentle, and loves the children very much. When Rebecca came downstairs this morning, his tail was wagging at about 90 miles an hour!

As soon as we have pictures, I'll post them here.

Carpe Canum (Sieze the Dog),

Monday, March 12, 2007

"It's the Most Wonderful Time of the Year"

No, I don't mean Christmas (although that is a wonderful time), and I don't even mean the holy season of Lent, which we find ourselves in the midst of right now. In fact, what I'm referring to is that magical time of the year--one month only-- when Shamrock Shakes are on sale at McDonald's! Normally, thanks to a recent change in our lifestyle away from fatty foods, Kelly and I avoid Mickey D's like crazy, but there's just something about the siren song of the Shamrock Shake that pulls me in--the rich, creamy texture; the way it cools your tongue as it slithers down your throat; the minty freshness of it's flavor--they all entice and intrigue me so, and have done since I was but a wee lad.

Of course, it all comes about because this is also the time of year when we celebrate the great Saint Patrick, the patron of our Irish (Scots-Irish, really) ancestors. He took the faith of Jesus Christ to the people of Ireland, and routed out all the snakes, to boot. His example, of picking up, leaving a life of luxury, and heading for a place where he was once held captive in order to spread the gospel is an inspiration to every pastor or priest who's ever had to pack up and move to a new locale (as we have done recently).

So, drive to your nearest purveyor of the grease, order a 2 for $3.00 fish sandwich deal, and wash it down with a nice cold one--a Shammy Shake, that is! Happy St. Patrick's Day--may the luck of the Irish be with you!

May you have love that never ends,
lots of money, and lots of friends.
Health be yours, whatever you do,
and may God send many blessings to you!
--Irish Blessing

Dia dhuit,
God Be With You,


Friday, March 09, 2007

New Home

It's beena looooooong time since I last posted. Actually, it's been a long time since I first posted! In the intervening many months since the last post, I have been re-appointed to a new church--First United Methodist Church of Niles, Ohio. We just moved last week, and are finally beginning to find our way around--the house. The congregation here is very nice, and we're enjoying life in the big city of Niles.

Life comes with a lot of changes--we grow old, families grow and change, we change jobs, and health and financial circumstances are constantly in flux. But the one thing that doesn't change--in this life or the next--is the constant love of God, and God's Son, Jesus Christ.

I'm hoping to keep this blog updated more regularly now that I have a faster internet connection. Pray for that.

Yours in Christ,