Trunk or Treat!

Everyone enjoys a little time in the make believe and Trunk or Treat is the place to be!  Decorate your trunks and pass out treats along a friendly Halloween trail.  Come and watch the parade  and enjoy cider and treats fireside at the Twin Falls Pavilion.  4:30 to 6:30 pm  Sunday October 23, 2022

Pastoral Ponderings– Play with Me?

Our cat had his first birthday last week—does that mean he’s no longer a kitten?  He is still QUITE the playful critter, even if he’s technically all grown up.  He has a habit of laying in the walkway, so every time you pass by, he acts as if he’s always wanting to say “play with me?”—and then he attacks any passing feet!

Over the summer we picked up our kiddo’s cat from Kansas—Kaz has a deployment coming up soon to somewhere in Europe for some important Mission for indefinite period of time, so we get to be pet grandparents for a while.  Catain America, our cat, gets along great with Kaz’s cat, Tacat.  But Tacat does NOT get along well with Catain America.  Sometimes Tacat tolerates our furry friend, but very often we can hear the hissing from anywhere in the house—when Catain America is only trying to say, “play with me?”

It’s good cheap entertainment—but a bit sad, too, with all that kitty love going to waste every day!  Coming from a preacher you can probably guess what comes next—sounds a lot like God’s kind of love doesn’t it?  The few times in my life I’ve not been with pets—largely in my military life—I’ve really missed that daily reminder of different facets of God’s love that comes through our furry friends.

One of the things I’ve really appreciated about coming to Twin Falls is how much you all love YOUR pets, and how you’ve used that love to fuel the annual Pet Blessing outreach event.  It’s coming up this Saturday, and I’ve been really looking forward to it this year, as I have every year!  We still have need for a few more servings of pet snacks and people snacks to feed our pets and pet lovers at the event in the pavilion out back of the church at 10.  Please feel free to share this note with your human friends, and come out to enjoy the morning and our furry friends!

I’m sure we’ll all have a purrrrty good time, but if it’s too ruff to bring your friends, feel free to bring a picture of your small (or not so small!) reminder of God’s love to help convey the blessings of the event.  I’ll likely be only bringing pictures too—Catain America would dash off into the woods to play with the squirrels, and Tacat would just hiss at everybody (SHE’s the one that REALLY needs the blessings!).

See you soon!  Pastor Jim

Pastoral Ponderings—Duckweed

Our new property has two small ponds on it.  The larger one, maybe 100 feet long and 30 wide, isn’t in too bad shape, but the smaller one is completely green with duckweed right now.  At least it’s a pretty green– but that still means it’s not a very healthy pond.  We took a little time over the long weekend to go out on the pond with our canoe, trying  clean it up a bit by starting to scoop off some of the duckweed with our old pool screen.  We didn’t have enough time to make a big dent, but we made some progress.

We quit when my brother and his crew arrived.  Karol got off the canoe first to go welcome them, and then I started trying to get the canoe in over a steeper part of the bank.  I figured I’d raise the front of the canoe up a bit to then beach it, by scooting as far back in the canoe as I could, rather than stepping out into the thick pond much to pull it in.  But that didn’t quite work out as planned.  I lost my balance and ended up in the muck anyway, and found out that under the green duckweed and the top layer of water is about two feet of not-so pretty black muck my feet were sinking into!

So my first swim in our pond was not as pleasant as I would have liked, but it reminded be how much of a mess a pretty surface can cover.  The pond has been untended for years, and surrounded by reeds, trees, bushes and weeds as it is, it’s no wonder the bottom of the pond is several feet think with rotting vegetation from the abundance of life that has fallen into the pond over the years.

How often do our lives end up like that little pond, pretty at first glance, but filled with the rot and decay of what was once vital, but is now lifeless decay?  Now we’ve got to remember that rot is a good thing—God’s creation as a system of recycling, using that which is lifeless to feed new growth—I’m eager to get some of that muck and organic matter into the poor soil of my garden!

But I understand that much of the mess of unhealthy ponds comes from a lack of oxygenation or aeration of the water, so that essential to the cure of a sick old pond is getting more air into the water.  In the New Testament, “air” is “pneuma”—the same word the Greek of the Bible uses for “Spirit.”  The heart of the cure for rot and decay, is more pneuma, more Spirit.   And isn’t that the same with our lives outside of the pond, too?

Our lives are always going through cycles of growth and vitality, as with the vibrant greens of the vegetation around and in our pond, interspersed with seasons of loss and brokenness—like the branches and leaves falling into the pond.

Are there weeds in our lives that function like duckweed, showing a need for more air/pneuma flow in the spirit?  Pumping more air/pneuma through the water helps ponds—so maybe a bit more pneuma pumping is needed in our spirits when we’re feeling stuck in the weeds!

“Chaos calls but all you really need, Is to just breathe…” is a part of the chorus in a song by Johnny Diaz called “Just Breathe”–  might be a clue to how to start…  Rev. Jim

Pastoral Ponderings—Flock of Blessings—

I was getting my breakfast recently and happened to glance out the kitchen window to see a flock of turkeys wandering past.  I counted 14 in all that I could see past the car and shed—I don’t think I’ve ever seen such a big flock of wild turkeys!  The sight of them gave me my first smile of the morning, smiling at the 14 fancy feathered blessings just a stone’s throw away.  Of course I imagine they were wandering across our yard because they found and abundance of blessings to nibble on here as well, and since among other things, they make meals of what I would call the annoying insects underfoot, they’re even more of a blessing!

Sounds like a Humphrey Bogart kind of thing—“I think this is the beginning of a beautiful friendship,” with that waddling flock of blessings.  They bless me, we bless them—isn’t that the way it’s supposed to be?  It was probably after making my coffee and turning to go enjoy that blessing when my eyes happened to glance out the window to see that lovely little flock.  They still would have walked by had I not looked out at just the right time.  I’ve seen one or two here and there on the property too, so it’s even likely that all or some of those blessings had walked by that way before, and I just hadn’t noticed.  Makes me wonder how often blessings walk right past us and we just don’t notice, and then miss the blessing.

A few years ago I started signing off on my notes and letters, “Keep being a blessing,” which many of you have seen, and which I hope has made you think a bit.  A lot of people end their notes with something like “blessings,” or “be blessed.”  But considering we are already all so blessed in such an abundance of ways, that seems to be a bit redundant and trite.  However, remembering that God calls us turn our blessings into blessings for others, a little reminder that it’s not all about us can’t hurt.

We don’t usually wander around in flocks passing out blessings, but it’s really not that difficult to do when we’re on our own either.  Just sending a smile to folks you pass each day—especially to those who look like they could really use one—is an endless supply of blessings to share.  How you connect with people is the same.  We were just at Home Depot the other day, and not one, but TWO of their team were so exuberant it offering to help, I couldn’t help but be blessed.  Sure, they were just doing their job—but too often these days you interact with grumpy people “just doing their job,” or those who act like you’re inconveniencing them when placing an order or whatever.  Big difference there!

Sometimes our Christian brothers and sisters act more like they are doing undercover operations with their faith—don’t let you be that guy! St. Paul reminds us in his letter to the Philippians how important it is for those around you to not be surprised by the faith we carry–

“Always be full of joy in the Lord. I say it again—rejoice!  Let everyone see that you are considerate in all you do” (Phil. 4: 4,5).

Such a simple thing to keep being a blessing—so don’t keep them to yourself!  Rev. Jim

Priorities

We just yesterday finally got the first piece of siding up on our new place that desperately needs to be re-sided.   I’m sure hoping Martha’s favorite saying, “beginning—half done…” applies to the BEGINNING of our siding project—now “half done”?  We keep getting distracted with other priorities—most recently recovering from our bout with COVID, and the myriad of priorities of daily life that get put off with illness.  And don’t forget the lawn needs to be mowed, the groceries picked up, the brakes need to be done… What about the priority of our siding and roof?

The same happens with our lives at church.  We all know the priority of proclaiming Jesus, and of growing discipling disciples.  But we have that Church Council meeting this week, Church in the Park and Messy Church this weekend to get ready for, of course the Charge Conference coming up that’s got Nominations and paperwork and all, and another flea market to look toward, then the craft show…Does that mean the holidays are just around the corner?  We’d better start getting on the ball with planning for our Advent and Christmas specials, too, then… So where did our priority of proclaiming Jesus go?

I’m handicapped, though I’m not sure what to call this handicap.  I’ve used the wisdom a lot over the years from the book “Men are Like Waffles and Women are Like Spaghetti,” the title of which almost says it all.  I’m a waffle kind of guy—the waffle of my life has a whole bunch of separate boxes that I’m ever bouncing through—my preaching box, my planning box, my praying box, my Mr. Fixit box, my marriage box, my kids box and so on.

Each box has its own focus, so if I’m in my Mr. Fixit box, I’m not usually in my share Jesus box, so I find myself often being handicapped in this way.  I struggle with the spaghetti approach, where everything is all tangled and touching each other all at once: where the Jesus discipleship piece is all tied up with every other noodle all at the same time, even though that’s the life Jesus proclaimed.

I need to remember that, while every waffle has all its separate boxes, every waffle is also held together by that ever important foundation piece holding it all together—the part that holds the syrup (or jelly in my case) so nicely in every separate box.  For our lives as individuals and for our lives together as a church, that foundation that holds it all together, that holds all the sweetness in every box of our lives, is our life in Jesus, our own journey that makes us discipling disciples, ever welcoming others into the family of Jesus.

If that foundation undergirds all that we do, then our Church Council meeting, our Church in the Park, our flea markets, even our Charge Conference paperwork all hold us together as a people who are discipling disciples, ever proclaiming Jesus through all facets of our lives together.  Easier said than done.  But in one facet of our scriptures for Sunday, Jesus reminds us “Even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice.”

“Practice” is a good word.  Even this takes practice, and we’ve plenty opportunity to practice on our plates!  I remember my Little League and high school soccer practice was all every day.  Maybe making discipleship a part of all we do should be an every day practice as well.

Time for practice!  Rev. Jim

Parable of the Osprey—26 JUL 22

Our summer travels often take us to the top of the Chesapeake Bay in Maryland, to a place where Osprey, or sea eagles, love to nest and play.  They are marvelous birds, masters of the winds, often making it seem effortless to just hang motionless in the air.  They spread their broad wings to catch the breeze just as they were created to do, suspended on the wind in an awesome display of the power of what can neither be seen nor touched.

Sometimes people say that God can’t be real, as God can neither be seen nor touched either.  But just as that makes the wind no less powerful and real for the osprey, the fact that God can never be seen nor touched can also never be “evidence” that God is not real.  And just as the osprey were made to effortlessly soar and rely on the wind that can never be seen nor touched, we, too, were made to effortlessly soar and rely on the invisible and untouchable, though awesomely powerful God.

I love the fact that the Greek word used in the Bible for “Spirit” is pneuma, the same word used for “wind.”  We were made to soar on the power of pneuma—the Holy Spirit—in the same way that osprey were made to soar on pneuma—the almost constant wind on the coast.  But baby osprey don’t soar right away—they have to grow their wing muscles and learn to trust that they were made to soar—not to stay earth-bound, just to watch and envy others that do soar.

We, too, need to grow our muscles for soaring on the power of the Spirit.  And just like the osprey, the only way we can soar, is to eventually trust the power of the pneuma, and take a leap of faith.  Osprey safe in the next aren’t very impressive.  But when they soar, they are glorious, and reflect, if ever so dimly, the glory of their Creator, just doing what they do best.  When we take a leap of faith and do what God created us for—blessing others at every turn—that’s when we truly soar!

Spread your wings to catch the power of the invisible, untouchable pneuma, to soar like the osprey–and be a sign of the glory of the God who made each of us to soar in our own way!  Or just sit in the nest—but that’s not where any of us were made to stay!

“… and God will raise you up on eagles’ wings…”  Pastor Jim

Isaiah 40:31

Concrete Fix

—12 JULY

We’ve had a problem with the concrete walk heading to our back door for the whole 21 years we’ve been in our home.  It’s been on my fixing to do list ever since we moved in, but like usual, the fix only comes when we’re moving out.  It’s a small enough fix that after the prep work late in the afternoon, I was able to do the patch after a meeting last night.  When I was trying to get the mix of concrete and water right, I was reminded of the old M*A*S*H  TV series episode in which they laid a concrete operating room floor.

The bunch of medical folk at M*A*S*H 4077 had no idea about how to mix or work concrete, so CPL Klinger piped up to offer “I helped my uncle with some concrete when I was a kid…” so he instantly became the expert.  They really SHOULDn’t have gotten mad at him when the mix didn’t work—had had been only a kid helping occasionally, after all—but the first effort was a disaster!  But they finally got it right, and when I finally got my concrete mixed right, I knew there had to be a message mixed into the concrete as well.

Concrete is a mixture of water, aggregates and portland cement.  The aggregates are normal things like gravel and sand.  The magic is in the portland cement paste that is formed when mixed with water, and when it completely covers, surrounds and encases the aggregates.  The chemical reaction that then occurs forms a growing number of nodes on the cement particle that grow together with surrounding cement particles, that become virtually as hard as stone.

The cement paste, as it surrounds and encases all the aggregates and forms links with one another, is what provides the magic of the strength of the final product.  This sounds so much like how God created us to work—we, like the ordinary aggregates in concrete, are nothing special in and of ourselves—until surrounded, held together, and encased in the power of the Holy Spirit.  The spiritual reaction occurs in us, much like the chemical reaction occurs in the concrete, when we’re shaped by the water of our baptism, to then become intertwined and interconnected as the Body of Christ, one strong, malleable substance to be shaped by God’s master Mason’s hands.

Don’t you just get covered with spiritually excited goosebumps when you hear how this works?  I just LOVE seeing in the most ordinary things around us how the hand of God works!  And it does sometimes seem like we have the intellectual prowess of a box of rocks when we get away from the all-encompassing power of the Holy Spirit.  Though it might not always feel so good to be hosed down and scrambled all together for a while, those trying actions are the catalyst that envelopes us into the Holy Spirit, so are essential to our spiritual growth.

Dive with me into the mix that God has in store for us.  It can be a rocky ride sometimes, but it’s a small price for the priceless gift of being a part of the living temple God is building with us to be His presence in the world!

Ever in the mix–Rev. Jim

Yesterday— 7 JUNE 22

Yesterday Karol and I celebrated 35 years of marriage.  But how can that be?  It barely seems like it was yesterday when I first met her by stealing her pillow, or when I first heard those three most magical words from her lips?  Yesterday we just heard from both our kids, deeply involved in their own adult lives of touching others, but how can that be, when just yesterday was filled with sleepless nights of colic with one, and endless worlds of toddler discovery with the other?  Yesterday I called one of the Veteran organizations to help with some challenges with my impending Army retirement, but wasn’t it just yesterday when I was first swearing in, then going on my first deployment?

Today’s moments and blessings are too easily lost when they so quickly slip into yesterday without our noticing it.  While this is hardly a new thing— it was almost a million yesterdays ago when the wisest of men, after gaining the world, but nearly losing his soul, first wrote in Ecclesiastes: “vanity, vanity, all is vanity… (it is all) a chasing after the wind…”  Is there any way to somehow stop all our yesterdays from being just a chasing after the wind?

I’m sitting back on my new porch as I write this, being kissed by reminders from the gentle morning chasing raindrops across the yard, that while many of those raindrops are merely drizzling into the mud, many other of those raindrops are watering the freshly planted blessings of our herbal prayer labyrinth just a few feet away.  And while others of those raindrops are quenching the thirst of the evil mice trying to invade our citadel in paradise, others are watering the also freshly planted veggies around back.  Those herbs and veggies may not be much of a blessing yet, but each one is full of the promise of perhaps blessing our palate, or better yet, blessing others of whom we as yet know nothing.  So are those raindrops merely a chasing after the wind?  Some may be, yet others provide the essential gift of life, provided by nothing else under the sun.

So what of our yesterdays?  Perhaps some have merely been a chasing after the wind.  Some may have even fed the evil mice of our lives, sometimes merely pests, sometimes worse.  Yet 35 years’ worth of those yesterdays have watered my beautiful marriage; twentysomething years’ worth are investments as nothing else under the sun could be, in the countless unknown blessings my kids will bring into their worlds, often to people as yet unknown.  And I can pray that a lot of those yesterdays have watered the blessings and washed the tears of many of the other souls God has put in my path across years of yesterdays.

The morning breeze caresses me again, and the raindrops become more insistent in their reminders that though many do seemingly just vanish into the mud, each brings its own kind of blessing that nothing else under the sun can– bringing a bright life to what otherwise would be yet another lifeless rock drifting in space.  Perhaps chasing after the wind is not so bad after all.  Here’s to sending as many blessings into our yesterdays, as are the blessings of each raindrop!

Thank you, Lord, for the reminders chasing me in the wind.

Rev. Jim

Ebeneezer

Pastoral Ponderings- Ebenezer- 1 JUN 22

We have all kinds of monuments these days as memorials– whether a tombstone for a loved one, or the big monuments gracing our nation’s capital to help remember our heroes who made us free.  Memorial Day calls us to remember those who have died in their service to our country.  But Memorial Day has also become an important family day.  It was a perfect day on Monday to be Cedar Point for Memorial Day.  How such getaways are a facet of the remembering of the day, I’m not sure, but sometimes we make sacrifices for family…

Our son Kristopher had to bring some of his meds, so we ended up at the first aid stations at the park with their very helpful teams several times across the day.  During one of those stops, a mom stopped by, already in a huff, asking for something minor they couldn’t help her with, and she left even more angry than before.  While I’m not THAT big a roller coaster fan, SOME would say this is one of the best parks in the world– and on as a beautiful day as you could get, with no big crowd, and blessed to be with family, could it get better than this?  Yet the mom was still angry, for what seemed to be a rather minor issue (she WAS rathe talkative about her anger…), rather than living in an attitude of gratitude for the blessings of the day.

I was at another “pit stop,” so only came in at the end of the exchange as she was angrily walking out, but Darling Wife, Karol, caught me up on it while we were waiting.  Karol had said she tried to share with that mom a little ebenezer–a reminder of blessings—but the mom in the midst of her anger, wasn’t very receptive.  In that brief interaction, I had a flash of insight into a lot of the anger we seem to be stewing in across the board these days, an insight about memorials, ironically enough, on a Memorial Day trip.

The Old Testament is full of piles of “memory stones,” in at least one case, set up by Samuel, called “Ebenezer” (I Sam. 7:12), a word meaning “stone of help,” or a commemoration of divine assistance.  So an ebenezer is a reminder both of all God has done to bring us to where we are, and a reminder as St. Paul said about his “thorn in the flesh,” that God’s grace is sufficient, God’s power works through our weaknesses, and that “when I am weak, then I am strong” (I Cor. 12: 7-10).

Might the thick soup of anger our society seems to be stewing in these days, point to a need for better ebenezers– reminders of the gift of God’s grace, reminders of how thankful we COULD be—especially on a beautiful day with family at a great place to spend time together?  Anger often comes when we lose our “attitude of gratitude,” and think we’re entitled to what we’re not getting, or when we’re not getting our way.  I seem to recall someone saying something about “blessed/happy are the meek…”

That mom wasn’t particularly receptive, but what about us?  Are we receptive to the need for reminders of how God has blessed us and our forebears before us?  What memorials or ebenezers work for you to remind you of how blessed you are, of how blessed we all are, so we can stay in that place of meek gratitude, and be thankful, rather than losing that attitude, and falling into the bitter stew of anger?

While Robert Robinson’s 18th century lyrics may not fit our world so well these days, the intent of his song certainly does: “Come, thou Fount of every blessing, tune my heart to sing thy grace;… Here I raise mine Ebenezer; hither by thy help I’m come;… O to grace how great a debtor daily I’m constrained to be! Let thy goodness, like a fetter, bind my wandering heart to thee.  Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love; here’s my heart, O take and seal it, seal it for thy courts above.”

What’s your ebenezer?  Keep being thankful—Rev. Jim

Run For Missions

I’ve never been that fond of running.  And yet when people come together for running events, it becomes a powerful, magical experience.  While I certainly can’t say for all of them, for those I have been involved in– as a runner, as a supporter, or just experiencing a glimpse of them in passing– it’s almost like I’m seeing a glimpse of the Kingdom of God.  Even though such events may not be faith-related at all, and many involved wouldn’t want anything to do with “the Kingdom of God,” many still consider their running to be spiritual experiences.  I’ve never been in a more supportive environment, where it’s common, even in a competitive “race,” to see those who finish early to go back and run alongside and encourage those who are lagging and struggling to make it.

What can we as a church, eager to show God’s hospitality and encouragement to others, learn from running events that too often seem more like a taste of the Kingdom of God than church gatherings do?  Maybe you’ve had some experience with such events you could reflect on to help explore this question.  While I certainly don’t have all the answers, some observations I’ve made might include:

–          It’s a judgement-free zone—those who are there are eager and happy to help others of all levels of skill and experience come and join the fun.

–          Themes of encouragement and building each other up—essential to our calling as Jesus people according to I Thes. 5: 11, are lived out more than anything else

–          The community is built by shared purpose, accomplishment (and suffering?) is a community of support

–          The community recognizes that essential to encouragement is accountability, and helping each other “run the race with endurance”

–          ALL of any skill level, capacity or disability are welcomed, embraced, encouraged and have a place of belonging!

–          The culture of encouragement empowers even the reluctant (like me!) to embrace the opportunity, the community, the experience

–          They’re not afraid to talk about money, an essential tool for making it all happen

I’m eager to hear more insights, and how we might be able to put them to good use in our own hospitality!  Perhaps we might even consider sponsoring our own run?

“let’s rid ourselves of every obstacle… and let’s run with endurance the race that is set before us” (Heb. 12: 1)—Rev. Jim

Money raised by pledges for runners for the Annual Conference Run for Missions on June 9 will go to the Conference Board of Missions grants for community engagement.  I will be one of the runners, and pledges or donations could be made through the church or through the website.  The run will be out and back at Canal Park in Akron, and even if you’re not involved nor a part of the Conference, they’re encouraging our church folk to come out and cheer along those of us who will be running.  The event is slated to start at 6, so folks will start gathering by 5:30, and most people will complete the run in about 30 minutes, so it won’t make for a long evening, but a good one to practice coming out and cheering people on!