Lilies

Easter and lilies seem to go hand in hand, so as we’re heading on our final approach to Easter, we might want see some lilies in our live streaming service, I just can’t get that old Gospel chorus line out of my head that goes: “He’s the lily of the valley, the bright and morning star.”  Some of you may also know and appreciate that old Gospel favorite, and be surprised to realize it’s not really any kind of Bible verse.  Lilies and other flowers are prominent biblical themes, but the idea of Jesus as “the lily of the valley,” as a direct connection with Easter comes from somewhere else.

“I am a rose of Sharon, a lily of the valley, a lily among the brambles” is certainly a Biblical text, but it comes from The Song of Solomon, with much more of a romantic than a spiritual tone.  Some Bible commentators over the millennia have seen the love described in the Song of Solomon as an illustration of the love of Christ for the Church—“the Bride of Christ,” which is probably where the connection has come from. 

Connections have been drawn between Jesus and lilies as well—the fruitfulness of lilies, which, like Jesus’ illustration of the vine and branches shows how we grow and reproduce while we stay in the vine, and the sweet savour of the lily fragrance, reflecting the sweetness of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.  So I’m sorry I don’t have a more solid lily scripture connection to share, but that doesn’t reduce the power Easter Lilies bring as an icon of the new life Easter brings.

Please visit our site daily for and CLICK HERE for our Holy Week Bible Study.  Look for SAFE ways to share and be a blessing this Holy Week so you can keep being a blessing! Reverend Jim

Reverse PLOM with a Reverse Easter Egg Hunt

Are you familiar with the PLOM syndrome?  It’s where for various reasons, Bad Things happen, people shift focus on “Poor Little Ol’ Me” (that’s “PLOM”), the Bad Things become the only reality the person can see, and things go from bad to worse.  It’s often a very individual thing, where a person faces a series of failures or losses, until that’s all they can see, and their collection of Poor Little Ol’ Me scripts keep playing in the head.  The isolation of the current crisis is the perfect breeding ground for the PLOM syndrome on a massive scale.   

This crisis coming on the doorsteps of Easter makes me all the more glad that the Powers That Be recognize that religious activity is just as much of a social essential as groceries, pharmacies and medical care, because the practice of faith is the practice of active hope, and the practice of active hope is probably the best treatment for PLOM.  Maybe I’m just making up this phrase of the “practice of active hope” to concisely describe what we churchy folk do, but it fits well.

“Practice” implies continual effort—not just an occasional thing, not something we wait till we’re perfect for, but doing it again and again while we are, in Methodist words, “moving on to perfection.”  “Active” means it’s something we DO, and do NOW, not just sitting back and expecting “faith” or “hope” to happen like a sunrise, without any effort.  “Hope” is that light at the end of the tunnel, that recognition with the ancient wisdom that “this, too, shall pass,” that holding onto the trust when though things can be bad now, new life is coming.  I heard a great preacher focused on this theme with Good Friday in Easter in mind, who kept coming back to the refrain, “It’s Friday, but Sunday’s coming!”

So what can we DO to “practice active hope”?  My son was on the swim team, my daughter on the hockey team in high school.  Both entailed early morning practice—whether you feel like it or not—get up, go in and practice (and dad get up too to drive them in…).  Likewise, whether we feel like it or not, get up to “practice” this active hope—do the things that flesh out the connection with God and with others, even when we can’t get together.  And this is not just for adults, but kids too, as kids are also having their worlds turned upside down. 

Kids and Easter make me think of Easter Egg hunts.  I’ve been really struggling with how we might do one this year, as they’re a great, easy way for churchy type people to take hope and the church outside the walls.  I think I had a visit from the Holy Spirit recently with a little inspiration on how we might put together a REVERSE Easter Egg Hunt—and this is one that families can do themselves, or that churches can organize to make it even better.  Here are some thoughts:

Families still have to go out a bit for groceries and other necessities.   People still have dogs to walk, and on the nicer days, I’ve been seeing more families out taking walks together than in a very long time. Might we be able to turn these kinds of outings into blessings of active hope through a kind of REVERSE Easter Egg Hunt?  Perhaps “hunt” for ways to sneak a little Easter hope into others’ lives, that might be more about sharing the Good News of Easter, and might better reflect our memory verse: “Don’t do anything only to get ahead. Don’t do it because you are proud. Instead, be humble. Value others more than yourselves.” (Phil. 2: 3)

Read on for some thought, both for ourselves, and that may be worth sharing with other churches!

Keep being an EASTER blessing and share!

Rev. Jim Lewis, with other “Easter Eggs” at https://www.smashwords.com/profile/view/jlewis21

Easter Surprises

How to do a REVERSE EASTER EGG HUNT: 

Either with kids or not, when going to the store, when walking the dog or walking in the park, bring your Easter Basket and “hunt” for ways to share through this REVERSE EASTER EGG HUNT!  

To plastic eggs, tape a YARN loop big enough to loop onto any car door mirror (or home door handles).  Remember to have your teams work with clean hands!  Attach a (decorated!) small note to yarn loop, saying something like—

A Touch from Heaven, even when people can’t touch!

To remind you of our Easter Hope—that New Life WILL come!

(remove with key or stick)

This Egg is as EMPTY as Jesus’ Tomb—even death can’t win!

From Neighbors who care at

TwinFallsUMC.org (or YOUR church website!)

STAYING ESSENTIAL

Despite our increasing concern and isolation from the Corona Virus, I was excited to see a bright spot that I hope you’ve noticed too.  Have you seen what’s been high up on the “Essential Services” list consistently across the various iterations of guidance from the Governor’s office and others, is religious gatherings? 

Right up there with food, fire, police and medical is religious services!  

; Continue reading

Cancelled?

Many churches are saying worship is “cancelled” for the time being. But is it really? While church buildings may remain closed, and the worship that happens inside those walls may be on hold for now, churches—that is, the gatherings of the People of God (NOT the buildings, or what happens in them…), are STILL worshipping in varieties of ways. In that very real sense, while services IN many church buildings, including the Twin Falls Church building are not happening this Sunday, worship is NOT cancelled!

God calls us, equips us, and is PRESENT with us, to worship in all times and places. One of my most memorable lessons in seminary was about what IS worship—whenever the people of God gather to pray and share the scripture together, THAT is worship. So please WORSHIP WITH US this morning—not at our building, but in your homes, while you are walking in this beautiful day that the Lord has made, with us digitally on Facebook with other congregations together (link below), wherever you can!

Remember Jesus’ powerful words—“And remember I am with you always, even to the ends of the earth” (Matt. 28: 20)

Let’s worship!

Pastor Jim

CONNECTIONS

One of my all-time favorite passages is where Jesus talks about the importance of staying connected to Him, in John 15, with only a few of those powerful verses here: 

“Abide in me as I abide in you. Just as the branch cannot bear fruit by itself unless it abides in the vine, neither can you unless you abide in me. I am the vine, you are the branches. Those who abide in me and I in them bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. Whoever does not abide in me is thrown away like a branch and withers… “

Though it is one of my favorites, it’s a really difficult one these days, when our physically connecting with one another is so important to our “abiding” in Him– seeing Christ in each others’ eyes, feeling His presence in a holy touch.  Yet now we can’t.  So how can we abide in Him under these circumstances?

Through much of the history of the church, we have the model of the spiritual powerhouses who were hermits—living often for many years in all but complete isolation.  On such monastery we saw while in the Holy Land was literally on the side of a mountain, where people outside the monastery provided for the few hermits’ need there with baskets on a rope.  At least we’re not in as isolated a situation as that!  Yet many of those were mystics whose spiritual insights still move us many centuries later.

Their idea was to try to remove distractions in order to focus on and abide in Christ.  Yet even in our isolation with this virus, we would tend to prefer to fill our lives with distractions instead.  No wonder it can be difficult to abide in Jesus, when it’s too easy to abide in the TV or other distractions. 

Perhaps these coming weeks can be an opportunity to re-discover quiet times with God, a bit of time in the morning or evening to read and meditate on scripture or other spiritual tools, or to re-learn the art of writing—either in a spiritual journal, or as a way to reach out to others in safe ways.  So as some of us are working on being creative in how to cultivate worship from a distance, I would encourage all of us to also be creative in how we find ways to abide in Jesus, even in this pseudo-hermit phase of life.

Keep being a blessing—Pastor Jim

Death and Taxes?

They say the only things you can really count on are “death and taxes.” 

Events of the past week, even the past day, seem to amply testify to that claim.  Not much stability these days.  Borrowing words of the Declaration of Independence: “We hold these truths to be self-evident…”– that most of life is safe, stable and dependable, right?  Not this week.

We proclaim God is all-loving, all-powerful, willing and working toward our good.  But how can we boldly proclaim with St. Paul, we know that in all things, God works for the good of those who love Him and who are called to His purpose, when the world is reeling with this virus crisis that seems to be shaking our very foundations?  

What, then, shall we say to all this?  This memorable passage in Romans 8: 28 is followed almost immediately by even more powerful words, starting at verse 35:

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death?  As it is written, ‘For your sake we face death all day long, we are considered sheep to be slaughtered.’ 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us. 38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.  

Perhaps Jesus’ words in the Gospels, saying whoever does not receive the Kingdom of God like a child will not enter it at all applies here as well.  A child does not have to understand to accept.  Kids are eager to wrapped in the mama’s love, though they can never understand it, just as they are eager to play with digital doodads without any understanding of how they work.  But we, with our adult “maturity,” instead bring an arrogance that says “If I don’t understand how God’s love/grace/healing/care can work in this circumstance, then it must not be true.”

It is a very good thing that the effectiveness of the computer and internet I’m using aren’t dependent upon my understanding how they work!  So why do I insist that I have to understand the mysteries of God for me to rest in the assurance of God’s grace?

It is times like this that, though I am quite the lover of words, I find my words are woefully inadequate. Yet still I trust.  Perhaps a prayer from one of the most powerful services in our Methodist tradition, summing up many of the truths we followers of Jesus hold dear, can serve:

God of us all, your love never ends.  When all else fails, you still are God.  We pray to you for one another in our need, and for all, anywhere, who (struggle) with us this day.  To those who doubt, give light; to those who are weak, strength; to all who have sinned, mercy; to all who sorrow, your peace.  Keep true in us the love with which we hold one another.  In all our ways we trust you…

Keep being a blessing—

Pastor Jim

A New Hope ~ (beyond the movie)

Kids are excited for a new year and getting back to friends and activities at school.  I’m excited when I DON’T have to write out a date to show how slow I am by still writing “2019.”  Kids get excited about all the possibilities of trying new things.  I get excited when I can find a way to get out of trying yet another new thing.  I can’t even type the right numbers into computers—I meant to type in “Matthew 19” to review the context for this month’s memory verse, and got chapter 26 instead.

My mistake was enlightening, though.  Just a few chapters after our memory verse at Matthew 19: 26– “With God all things are possible,” Jesus is already facing plots to kill Him.  I wonder, if Jesus was still thinking that “With God all things are possible” when facing such threats, or when they finally acted on those threats?  I’ve got to tell you, I really struggle with this passage.

Yet it is AFTER all the plotting, and even success in torturing and putting Jesus to death, and after Paul’s own bouts with torture and prison, when St. Paul reiterates the same theme “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me” (Phil. 4: 13).  After all, the Jesus who went through torture and the cruel death of crucifixion, just a few days later, rose again to life!  So while I still struggle with this theme, I must say that I struggle in faith, trusting that where my understanding fails, Jesus’ promise prevails.

There have been MANY times in my parental and teaching life, helping kids struggle through all kinds of challenges big and small (and when the kids have been both small and way too big!), when this promise has seemed so empty.  Yet the old proverb springs to mind “Hope springs eternal”—especially in the eager young hearts of kids.  Perhaps it is our job as parents and teachers to feed that hope, to point to the source of that hope in Jesus, even when Jesus Himself went through so much in His love for us.

Each new year brings A New Hope—not just as the beginning of the Star Wars saga, but a new beginning in each life’s saga.  It is both our privilege and duty as parents and teachers, and any with the opportunity to share wisdom with younger souls, to be “the Force” one might say, to guide others into their own New Hope—most truly found in Jesus!

Let’s not get bent out of shape and lost in struggling to write the new date, but instead get lost with eager young souls around us, in the wonder of the New Hope that always comes this time of year!

May the (TRUE) Force be with you—Rev. Jim

Epiphany Sunday

Daniel 7: 13-14 (Pew Bible O.T. pg.  828)

  In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven.  He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence.  He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all peoples, nations and men of every language worshipped him.  His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed.

EPISTLE READING:  Hebrews 1: 1-3a

  In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he made the universe.  The son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. 

GOSPEL READING:  Matt:2:1-11

After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem  2and asked, “Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?  We saw his star in the east and have come to worship him.”

When King Herod heard this, he was   disturbed, and all Jerusalem with him.

 When he had called together all the people’s chief priests and teachers of the law, he asked them where the Christ was to be born. 

“In Bethlehem in Judea” they replied “for this is what the prophet has written:‘But you, Bethlehem, in the land of Judah

are by no means least among the rulers of   Judah; for out of you will come a ruler
      who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’”

Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 

He he sent them to Bethlehem and said, “Go and make a careful search for the child.

are by no means least among the rulers of   Judah; for out of you will come a ruler
      who will be the shepherd of my people Israel.’
As soon as you find him, report to me,   so that I too may go and worship him.” 

After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen in the east went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. 10 When they saw the star, they were overjoyed.  Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. 

11 On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him.

Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold and of incense and of myrrh.

True JOY

While the song says “‘Tis the season to be jolly,” it sure seems to be the season for a lot more these days.  Networks and media outlets ever putting out more content, so products of the season seems to grow and evolve all the time.  But one of the continuities that seems stable as ever—and unfortunately, even more stable than the role of Jesus in the holiday named for Him—is JOY.

The cynical side of me says “JOY” has this staying power largely because it’s such a short word that can easily be shaped into countless products to be sold over and over again; maybe that, too is part of how God works in mysterious ways!  JOY is certainly a word deeply embedded in our Bible, so it is very much a God word—remember how “the JOY of the Lord is my strength,” and of course this month’s memory verse: “Always be joyful because you belong to the Lord. I will say it again. Be joyful!” (Philippians 4:4 [NIrV])

Perhaps JOY, then, can be our secret witnessing tool this season.  With it being such a powerful word both for the season and for our faith, it can easily become a part of any conversation.  It’s a powerful word, yet one that can also seem to be very elusive, especially for people who have lost, or who may have never had any real sense of rootedness, or purpose for anything other than an endless search for “happiness.” 

Ages ago, St. Augustine—who started out his life as a rich boy chasing happiness with plenty money to buy it. Eventually he realized and put the words into prayer, “our hearts are restless until they find our rest in You, Lord.”  Likewise, centuries later, a brilliant Enlightenment era mathematician named Pascal put it a bit differently to say “inside each of us is a God-shaped hole” that is never satisfied until we fill that hole with our relationship with God. So, that emptiness that many feel, often heightened in this season, is an integral part of the human experience.   It is a part of how God made us in His plan to bring us all to Him.

The nugget of wisdom my mom sent me off with when I left home for the Navy, was a short tool for how to remember the source of JOY—put Jesus first, Others second, and Yourself last. That’s how you find JOY!  I don’t know how to wrap it up and put on a nice little bow, but consider this little nugget your Christmas present this year, and one you can freely share as much as you would like, without ever having to pay shipping!

Merry Christmas- Rev. Jim

Competitive Love

                Fall sports are going strong with every team trying to outdo the other.   Some–like Army’s Women’s Rugby that some of us are following closely these days–are consistently playing champion level games, while others might not be doing so well.  Regardless of performance, all strive for the same goal, coaches encourage teams to BE TEAMS, and to ever strive harder.  Have you ever heard of a coach telling the team, “You’re hopeless, just give it up and try not to get hurt too badly out there”?

                Sports teams—WHEN they are functioning well as a team (regardless of the scores they bring home), are about the best model these days of the kind of relationships God calls us to.  Coaches focused on building a strong team could very well quote this month’s memory verse in their huddles, and make it the team’s memory verse as well– “Love one another deeply. Honor others more than yourselves.” (Romans 12:10) Using the NRSV bible translation makes loving one another into a competition sport and ends with “outdo one another in showing honor.”

                This is a great verse for those of you who have a competitive side, or who have kids who like to outdo each other.  Encourage that competitiveness with this verse—you certainly can’t go wrong if you or the Little Ones in your care are encouraged to compete to “OUTDO one another in showing honor”!  So have that team huddle—whether with the family, your work team, or even the team you might coach—give’em that great pep talk, encourage them, push them, prod them, and end it with this month’s memory verse—“Love one another deeply, OUTDO one another in showing honor– Go, team, go!  Ready, break!

Coach Jim