Flexibility!

Semper Gumby

Remember Gumby who was once a little green slab of clay?  As a character made of clay, Gumby could change, shift and transform to fit any situation, THAT Gumby!  I’m reminded of Gumby and of a common phrase borrowed from the Marines’ motto, uttered countless times in military circles in recent years, “Semper Gumby.”  It’s become so common, you can see countless images and articles popping up on your computer as soon as you enter the term!

We military types learn early on how important it is to always stay flexible. I mention this because just last week my whole unit is having to change our drill schedule because of one person’s retirement ceremony.  Sounds excessive, except that the one person retiring is the highest ranking Chaplain in the US Army Reserves, and is retiring to the area around my new unit.  Unfortunately, he didn’t check our church calendar first, and put his retirement ceremony (near Pittsburgh) right on top of our pet blessing service on Sept. 19.  And it’s a “command performance”: with my being the sr. Chaplain with the hosting command, I need to be there.  Semper gumby!

COVID has brought the Semper Gumby mindset to the church too, flexing to change how we do worship, and even to go back and forth between streaming worship inside and outside.  But like in my Army world where “mission comes first,” that phrase seems to fit our church world well too, where “mission comes first” as well.  I heard a comment recently of someone saying something like “One of the blessings of COVID is that we don’t seem to be arguing any  more about the color of the carpet, but focused how to do ministry instead.”

Our United Methodist mission is “To make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”  Here at Twin Falls Church, we live “Passion for God, Compassion for People.”  Neither of those guiding mottos suggest anything about worshipping in a particular way, place or time, nor do they put many limits on how we do other forms of outreach—only that they be driven by our mission to make and mature disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world!  

A line often attributed to our (accidental) founder of the Methodist movement puts it succinctly in a way that doesn’t even sound all that religious: “Do all the good you can. By all the means you can. In all the ways you can. In all the places you can. At all the times you can. To all the people you can. As long as ever you can.”  Semper Gumby again!

Even within our COVID environment limitations, we can still work that discipleship piece and “Do all the good you can,” even if in ways we might not have just a few months ago.  And if you’re not certain how, I’m sure we could come up with something together—let’s talk!  Semper Gumby!  

Pastor Jim

Living Water

My garden has been needing extra watering lately with our dryer weather.   That’s one of the things we probably don’t think about so much, is the power of water to bring and sustain life, and without a regular supply, things just die.  You might even think of water along these lines as “living water.” 

I didn’t realize until our trip to Israel another way the term “living water” is used.  Among other things, the guide was telling us the difference between wells and other sources of “living water” as opposed to what can often be dangerous, still or stagnant water.  In that sense, “living water” is flowing water that is continually bringing in fresh water, as opposed to water that just sits in a pond or something, where dangerous things can grow in it.

Our next Messy Church is coming up soon, Sunday afternoon, Aug. 30, with the theme of “Living Water.”  With my garden reminding me of the importance of regular watering, and with this theme bouncing around in my head, I’m also reminded how important it is for us to regularly encounter and draw from Jesus’ Living Water.  A good rule of thumb for our physical survival is the rule of 3— we can only survive 3 minutes without air, 3 days without water, 3 weeks without food—and that’s merely survival.  But for thriving, we of course need much more!

The Greek word for Holy Spirit is the same as for wind or air, and if Jesus is the “Living Water”—both remind us of how essential REGULARLY, on a daily basis, living in the Spirit, and drawing from Jesus’ Living Water is, not only for our mere survival, but for thriving as God created us for.  Every time we take a breath, every time we take a sip of refreshing water, can be a living parable of how much we need of the life God gives, not only on Sundays, but every day, every moment.

Keep that daily spiritual focus—and keep blessing others daily with Jesus’ Living Water too!

Pastor Jim

FOCUS!

Dear Lord,
So far I’ve done all right.  I haven’t gossiped, haven’t lost my temper, haven’t been greedy, grumpy, nasty, selfish, or overindulgent.  I’m really glad about that.
But in a few minutes, God, I’m going to get out of bed.  And from then on, I’m going to need a lot more help…

I’d like to give appropriate attribution for this prayer to its original source, but couldn’t find it.  Perhaps because it’s not any ONE person’s prayer, but a prayer for all of us!  How often does our day seem to start going down hill as soon as we think about putting our feet on the floor in the morning?  Why is it so hard to remember that “This is the day the LORD has made!”—even if we’re stuck at home with COVID quarantines, and all we see in the morning news is bad and worse?

I love being around the kind of positive people who, when you do the perfunctory “Hi, how are you?” (not that you’re really interested, being concerned with more important things like the latest crisis, your cold coffee, and the guy who cut you off at the stop sign just a bit ago…) and their response is something like “Living the dream!” (without sarcasm), or in my Army circles at least, responding “It’s another great Army day!”  It’s almost as if people like that have actually read, believe and live the words of Philippians 4: 8—“ whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”

Not that we don’t have bad things to deal with every day—crises still happen, people still get sick and die, people still get nasty at you when you’re trying to be helpful, cars still break down at the most inconvenient of times, coffee even still gets cold—but we don’t have to let any of these externals warp our attitude.  This is STILL the day the LORD has made—we can STILL rejoice and be glad in it, despite what’s going on around us.

God tries to remind us each day, whether with bright sunshine, a breeze in the trees, the beautiful colors of spring flowers, the kindness of a neighbor’s morning wave, the smell of fresh coffee brewing (God is the one who invented coffee beans too!).  Yet we too often keep letting our eyes and hearts lose their focus on the blessings of God, and shift to the more disappointing perspective instead.

But in the same way that no one makes us call a glass half empty, when it’s actually half full, each moment of every day, each of us gets to decide whether to listen to the voice of God and “count your blessings, name them one by one,” or choose to listen to other voices that would have us focus on the thorns in our flesh instead.

Some of you may have seen me writing on this theme before.  Maybe I need to be reminded, too, that this is, indeed, the day the Lord has made, and regardless of what challenges come our way, God is still with us, equipping us to be overcomers, because we are still “living the dream!”

Keep being a blessing—Rev. Jim

Coffee, Tea or Me?

I learned the power of a catchy title ages ago when I was a kid, from a movie having the title “Coffee, Tea, or Me?” It was more a mom kind of movie than a kid movie, so I don’t remember hardly any details.  And back then in my earlier years, I wasn’t even a coffee fan, but the title has bounced around in my head ever since.

I always remember my mom with her morning coffee when I was growing up—along with the coffee battles between her and my dad that often came with it, as her coffee was always too weak for him.  I’m not sure, but instant coffee may have even saved their marriage!  So now that I am a coffee drinker, and have been trying to be more consistent in calling the mama, I try to call in the morning to “have coffee with her.”  Last weekend I had coffee with her talking in the morning sun by my budding new garden, and this morning, NOT by my garden, fretting with her over the risk to my garden from the late frosts today, tomorrow, and maybe even yet again.

The tea with my mom was always iced tea.  The classic “tea time” might be more a mom and daughter thing, doing tea parties, the tea room—I remember Karol talking about her tradition with she and her mom going to the Tea Room at some fancy department store in Miami (to which I was never invited)– or with us at Twin Falls, our Tea Ladies.  (Does that mean if “tea time” is for moms, is “tee time” for dads?  That’s also a great way to share time together!)  But whether its coffee or tea, these hot (or cold) beverages have become icons for time together—for each of us to share the “me” with the mom, or some other close soul friend. 

So as we’re approaching Mothers Day, my morning coffee has taken on that new dimension of bringing out thoughts and time with mom.  And isn’t that what most any mom of any age really wants most anyway?  Isn’t it crazy that in our normal times, we usually complain about being too busy, but many people now with being stuck at home, are complaining about having TOO MUCH time on their hands?  Perhaps we could invest this time more in sharing ourselves with coffee and tea, or to use Jesus’ words, to “abide” together—whether with the mom in spirit or in truth, or with other soul friends whose care is as sweet as a mother’s love– because that’s where our lives are able to bear much fruit.

Is it tea time yet?  Rev. Jim

Just a LITTLE leak…

I MAY be finished with the plumbing problem that raised its ugly head last week.  It was just a LITTLE leak, and several times I got it MOSTLY fixed, leaving again, just a LITTLE leak.  It’s amazing how much damage just a little leak can cause, though, if left to keep dripping away.

I ran across a wonderful ministry years ago called “Mercy Ships.” A travelling ministry of hospital ships staffed by volunteer doctors, nurses, dentists and more providing free medical services.  One of the dentists, when working on patients’ teeth (talk about a captive audience!) would talk about tooth infections, saying “just a little infection, if you don’t take care of it, can grow to rot out your whole tooth or the infection can spread into the jaw, and can even kill you—much like my LITTLE leak ~~just like a LITTLE bit of sin, if left untended, will just keep growing…”

Though I had thought I was done several times with my leak repair, sure enough, I check and still leaking.  How often does just a LITTLE anger, bitterness, or resentment, when left untended, continue to fester and grow?  It can be a real pain to keep on working on the same problem over and over again—whether spiritual or plumbing–I may be TIRED of working on my plumbing, but I won’t give up!

This month’s memory verse seems so applicable, even to my little plumbing leak: “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up”(Gal. 6:9). 

Take care of those little SPIRITUAL leaks too!  Rev. Jim

Better than Easter Candy

I am SO glad that there’s more to Easter than a bunny, eggs, lots of candy, and pretty flowers!  While I love decorating Easter Eggs (and HIDING them!), I’m not that fond of eating countless eggs after Easter, and I’m OVERLY fond of candy, which can bring its own problems!  There’s not only the challenge of the sugar crash after eating too much candy, but the post-holiday let down, if that’s all it was about.  But though Jesus’ resurrection is at the end of all the Gospels, it is the BEGINNING of the rest of the New Testament, and the beginning of this movement we now call the Church, still going after 2000 years!

We commonly call the first book of the New Testament after the Gospels simply “Acts.”  But such a shortened name dilutes what it is about.  The book is properly called “The Acts of the Apostles,” and traces the beginnings of the Church of which we are now still a part millennia later.  This Sunday we will be looking at the beginnings of this Church movement, which starts with Peter proclaiming the story of Jesus’ death and resurrection, with a brief summary at Acts 2: 24—“But God raised him up, having freed him from death, because it was impossible for him to be held in its power.” 

Easter is not just an annual landmark for the beginning of Spring (at least in the Northern Hemisphere), but marks and celebrates our beginnings of being incorporated into the living Body of Christ IN the world!  As we go through the beginnings of the Church in the coming weeks, we’ll see that the Early Church dealt with an even more extended and deadly “quarantine” at the hands of those who persecuted followers of Jesus, putting many to death, torture and imprisonment. 

Yet that time of “quarantine” did not weaken, but STRENGTHENED the budding new movement of the Church, demonstrating that it was not only impossible for death to hold Jesus in its power, but impossible for even death to hold the people of God in its power either!

Jesus and countless Church leaders over the centuries often emphasize the essential importance of prayer both in personal spiritual growth, and in the life of the Church.  Whether by more time or desperation, people are often driven to a stronger reliance on prayer in times of quarantine and difficulty.  While our current limitations get in the way of many ordinary facets of life, they certainly don’t get in the way of prayer, and in some ways, makes more of a focus on prayer even easier!  Perhaps that is a hidden blessing God is working to coax out of this time of difficulty.

So while it is easy to get too much of a good thing with our Easter candy, prayer is so much better, because we can never get too much of the good thing of prayer!  Keep on praying!

Pastor 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

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