Pastoral Ponderings—Stronger Together

Pastoral Ponderings—Stronger Together


FINALLY, we have the foundation poured for the addition to our place—got poured on Monday!  Makes it FEEL like we’re almost done—but I’m betting that as is often the case, our journey with this place will never really be “done.”  But it you’ll pardon the too obvious pun, it’s a concrete sign of some real progress that’s really hard to beat!


I’m always fascinated by the magic of a team of hard workers coming together to make dramatic, visible changes—and using heavy equipment just makes it all the more exciting.  The simple elegance of concrete is wonderfully satisfying to see, too, how such simple ingredients—gravel, sand, water, and the magic of Portland Cement—can come together to be stronger and more versatile than any of the separate ingredients all together.


But only if you do it right.  Remember that old M*A*S*H episode when they were pouring concrete floors for their “mobile” operating room?  They got the mix wrong at first—so they just had a mess!   Then when they got it right—it was a wonderful blessing to all those souls worked on their—they cut down their infection and post-operative death and other challenges immensely.


For us in the Church, it’s not just the mix of us being “Together—As One” as our recent series discussed.  But the magic of us coming together to be more strong and versatile than ever we could be on our own, under the transforming magic of the Holy Spirit working together in and with us, as the Portland Cement transforms all those separate parts into one Body.


I imagine for the poor little pieces of gravel being mixed together, though, can be a dizzying, topsy-turvy experience as the mixing is happening.  Maybe that’s what’s going on in our churches when the change gets dizzying—it is God mixing it up with us through the Holy Spirit to create something even more strong and versatile!  Lord, open our eyes to see what You might be doing in mixing it up with us through the magic of Your Holy Spirit, so we, too, can become more strong and versatile together for Your calling in our communities!


Keep being a blessing as we continue to grow—stronger together.  Pastor Jim

Pastoral Ponderings—Real connections?

Pastoral Ponderings—Real connections? 


It’s all about the connections—do we have a theme developing, as if staying connected might be rather important?  This time it is again coming from our remodeling project:  We’re having to replace an old set of stairs that had some obvious dangers with inconsistent risers, but I found an even more scary problem when I was taking them apart (like a haunted house, appropriate for Halloween I suppose?).  It looks like the stairs I’m replacing had no real, solid connections to the surrounding stairwell it has been mounted in for the past 80 years.  How has it not collapsed?


The danger of the tenuous connection was hidden, though, and it is nigh unto miraculous that the stairs haven’t fallen yet.  So with our new stairs, we’re obviously building in more solid connections, which even with the concrete blocks the stairs are mounted between, is not too difficult—IF we are intentional to build in those connections from the start.


The importance of connections—with God, with family, with other support systems, is SO very important in our lives, both in a spiritual and in every other sense as well.  When things go terribly bad in a person—whether resulting destructive behavior toward self or others—is most often linked to either a lack of real connections, or often a hidden lack of real connections (as has been the case with these stairs!).


How are your connections—with God, with family, with community, with others?  Are they REAL connections, or barely there?  And like with my stairs, it’s really not that difficult to build in much more secure, dependable connections—but it does take intentional effort.  Let’s build some better connections!  And in fact, one of the best ways to build those connections is a wonderfully tasteful and tasty way to go—Eat together!  Bake cookies, share a meal or a cup of coffee—as simple as that!  Let’s connect better—it’s not really that difficult to build new connections…


Pastor Jim—making connections!

Pastoral Ponderings—Artifacts of Connection

Pastoral Ponderings—Artifacts of Connection

Darling Wife Karol and I went to the Habitat Re-Store over the weekend to look for a window, but of course explored other things as well.  The old furnishings always catch my eye, even some true antiques, as was the case this time, with an old Victrola in very good condition.  I love antiques—part of my fascination with history I suppose.  I was reflecting on why they fascinate me so, and I started developing a theory: perhaps it is because so many antiques are artifacts reflecting how people connected to one another over the years.

Whether antique jewelry, reflecting the convergence of both intimate and public connections (how often does jewelry and its stories form conversation and memories of key relationship events?), cars and trains and how they connected people, or perhaps my favorites, home furnishings, and how they shape personal interactions.  The Victrola I saw fits right into this theory, with both how families connected around them, and how they brought voices of others from far reaches of society together.

So I’m seeing a pattern of a love of antiques looking like it might be a love of a history of how people connect.  But the Victrola story might also teach us something about how we do church.  When tracking down the date of the machine we did end up buying—a 1923 model—I also discovered a history of dramatic decline.

The Victor company was one of the most successful and fastest growing companies in America less than ten years before ours was made.  But by time our 1923 model was made, the Victrola was fast becoming irrelevant because of the new “passing fad” (or so the Victor company thought) of radio that had just burst onto the scene.

Key observation—people were still CONNECTING—but around radios rather than phonographs.  So what can we in the church learn here?  People are eager as ever to connect—but HOW and around WHAT we connect changes over time.

Let’s ponder together—what artifacts can we now use, or grow into using, that we can use to help people connect with Jesus (which may or may not be in a pew)—so we don’t follow the Victor company on their path (sold off in 1929)?

Keep on connecting—Rev. Jim

Pastoral Ponderings—The Cat Came Back

Pastoral Ponderings—The Cat Came Back

There’s an old song Darling Wife Karol has told me about called “The Cat Came Back” about a cat that just keeps coming back no matter what.  Our missing cat has come back—but only with hiding out and fighting it for several days.  This was the cat who was hiding in the basement the whole first week he was with us, who I’m sure was eager to get home, but still not coming out.  I finally found him under the kitchen door stairs—literally inches from the threshold of food, warmth and safety.  But I had to drag him out from under the stairs to get him back in, but once back in, he is more cuddly than ever.


How often are we like that in our relationship with God, hiding just outside of the threshold, scared and lonely, eager to get home, but unwilling to take that last step, only coming back kicking and screaming?  But in the song Karol was telling me about—you couldn’t keep the cat away!  Over and over again the cat was away from home, but kept coming back, so eager to get home!  How eager are we to rush back into God’s arms when we get lost?


These days with our GPS systems, we don’t get lost nearly as often as “back in the day.”  But can we say the same in our spiritual lives—do we keep our spiritual GPS as ready at hand as we do the GPS on our cell phones?  Do we even know how to access our spiritual GPS?  Checking in your Bible is a good place to start!


I hope we’re more like the cat who kept coming back than our silly cat who would rather stay under the stairs outside the door in the cold!  Keep coming back!  Pastor Jim

Pastoral Ponderings—Good ol’ Days

Pastoral Ponderings—Good ol’ Days


Does it make me weird that I act like a history detective for fun?  I’ve always been a fan of history, and for the better part of the past ten years, Darling Wife Karol and I have been dreaming toward acquiring and moving into an historic farm space.  We finally bought that property early last spring, and it’s been driving us crazy ever since.  The tax records show the old farmhouse as having been built in 1900, but its hand-hewn beams held together with mortise and tenons and wooden pegs tell a different story.  And as I get a few minutes here and there, I’m being the history detective exploring clues I find to discover the REAL story behind our new/old home.


Our move to the farmhouse is an effort to embrace “The Good Ol’ Days,” yet the realities those Good Ol’ Days are often full of surprises.  We all struggle with change, and often think of change as undermining good things we love, yet the Good Ol’ Days we often embrace as iconic of what we love, is a story of embracing change as both a necessity and as desirable for The Good Life.  My history detective work is continually finding examples of this.


We love our hand-hewn beams, but can you imagine the thrill the guys doing the back-breaking and dangerous labor of hewing those beams would have felt when they could change to using a sawmill for that heavy labor?  And I also found according to documents in the Ohio Historical Archives, “reaping, binding, and shocking an acre of wheat in 1829-30 took two men approximately twenty hours; sixty-five years later the same amount of wheat could be reaped, threshed, and sacked in about eighteen minutes”(Hutslar, p. 237).  ONLY 18 minutes!  That’s not only bringing a heck of a lot less work, but such change meant bringing families closer to The Good Life they saw depicted in so many ways by Currier and Ives.


We bemoan the change we see in our churches now as compared to in our own “Good Ol’ Days.”  Yet after sawmills started saving lives and backs from the labor of hand-hewn beams, can we even imagine some of those old-timers complaining about the labor-saving sawmills, and saying “I wish we could just use our axes again…” or “Gee I wish it still took me 20 hours to process the grain I can now do in 18 minutes…”?  That’s inconceivable! (bonus points for getting that movie quote!)


So we’ve changed from more independent congregations to three churches working together, and that change brings a full range of challenges.  Not as dramatic as mechanized grain processing or sawmills, but significant nonetheless.  The core process of old Ohio farmsteads was the dual mission of sustenance and grain production for profit- farmers caring for themselves, and feeding the community.  All decisions on those farms were made around facilitating those core processes.


The core process of churches, both in The Good Ol’ Days and now, is making and growing disciples of Christ for the transformation of the world.  Our decisions, too, are made around facilitating our core process, which is also twofold- caring for our own, and “feeding” the community.  Jesus set that mission Himself, telling Peter “Feed my sheep,” and telling the gathered disciples to preach the Gospel make disciples, even to the ends of the age.


How we process the grain and build the house is an adventure in change—but the core process is the same.  Let’s focus on making disciples—and following Jesus’ lead to “feed my sheep.”                              — Pastor Jim

Pastoral Ponderings— Failure and Loss

Pastoral Ponderings— Failure and Loss


I lost my bees.  All of them.  Last week when I checked, they seemed good, this week, bees and honey all gone.  In my inexperience as a newbie, I likely missed the mites and disease they carry which led to my “colony collapse.”  I have failed as a bee-keeper.


Darling Wife, the Rev. Karol recently told me she ran across a church that celebrates failure.  Not really failures themselves, but what the failures represent—if you don’t have regular failures, that means you’re not trying anything new, because not everything succeeds.  This truth applies whether in your personal life, or in our lives together as a church—no failure means no new efforts, means we’re only embracing a stagnant past, not embracing a transformative Gospel of Hope.


My experience with my bees was not only a failure, but a loss, a loss of something I was committed to, invested into, that was at least a piece of who I am.  Isn’t that true with any loss, whether a loss of a church or treasured friend, a loss of a loved one, a loss of a way of life?  If failure is evidence of an investment in effort, perhaps in the same way, loss is evidence of a real investment in life and connections, in love.  In the same way that no failure points to no real effort, no loss points to no meaningful love or connections.


So if we can celebrate failure because it shows we’re truly trying to make a difference, as much as we hate loss, we can also celebrate loss as it is the truest sign of real love.  Now, I certainly can’t claim to have loved my bees in the same way as one loves a life-long friend, a parent, a spouse, a child, a church, or so many other defining connections we sometimes lose.  But this relatively small loss is a good reminder to celebrate those truly powerful loves while we can.  As Ecclesiastes reminds us, “there is a time for everything under the sun… a time to weep, and a time to laugh, a time to mourn, and a time to dance…” and never forget as that passage is drawing to a close, we are reminded too, that “he has made everything beautiful in its time.”


Odd as it seems, times of failure and loss can truly be times for celebration.  Celebrate those loves that define us while we can, remembering the beauty they bring in their own time—and then entrusting those loves to God when their time has come.  Keep loving, though it means we will keep facing loss, keep blessing, though it means we will continue to find failure along the way.  He who is the God of all our loves, is also the God who holds us in all our losses.


Rev. Jim


Pastoral Ponderings—Coffee Pot Parable

Pastoral Ponderings—Coffee Pot Parable

I came into the office to an empty coffee pot

“Woe is me!” I grump and groan, is this really all I’ve got?

There’s coffee in the cabinet, the water’s in the tap,

the filter’s in the cabinet too—a problem, or simple “to do”?


Believe it or not, some people just don’t understand how a guy could wax poetic about coffee, but here it is, my poetry for the day!  So how is the empty coffee pot a parable?  I’m glad you asked!


How often do we come into a situation—like an empty coffee pot—and only see it as a problem and not an opportunity?  I suppose I could look at that empty pot and be disappointed—“Woe is me! There’s no coffee to be had!” (whimper, wine, grouse and groan…), or I could just make a pot of coffee, and enjoy the opportunity!


One of the things I really treasure about the Rev. Darling Wife Karol (even though she could never understand waxing poetic about coffee!), is that any time she comes to a new situation in ministry, she sees not the empty pot, but the abundance of opportunity!  See an empty room—is that a loss for what once was, or an opportunity for what could be?  See a financial challenge– is this an obstacle, or a source for creativity, building faith, and highlighting our call to stewardship?  See an older congregation and get frustrated wondering where the kids are– or see a building full of adoptive grandparents, eager to lavish love on any young desperate for relationship?


It might be said that the key to creativity is what we see—or perhaps more accurately, what we notice, and whether our eyes are attuned to opportunity, or focusing on only seeing loss or obstacles.  I’m sure I’ve mentioned this before, but my current favorite Bible passage from Philippians 4:8 (NASB) that helps give us eyes to see: “Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”


A lot of Bible translations render this “THINK ON these things,” while this NASB version gives us a better clue to this wisdom by rendering that line “DWELL ON these things”—don’t just recognize, but FOCUS on the positive, the opportunity!  Not that our focus on the positive takes away nor even pretends that loss, sadness, or other challenges are NOT real, but we get to choose where we live—whether we “dwell on” the positive or the negative, is it too simple to say that we focus on what we focus on?  And when we SEE and FOCUS on opportunity (even if amidst challenges), that drives what we decide to do—will I make the pot of coffee, or lose out by only groaning about it and not make the effort to put the opportunity to good use?


So what will you do with the empty coffee pots that God shows you today?  Let’s have coffee… Rev. Jim


Pastoral Ponderings— Of Apples, Grammar and a New Future

Who is we?  Bad grammar, or good for provoking thought?  Welcome to the family, Ravenna and Charlestown, meet the rest of our “we,” the Twin Falls Church family in Munroe Falls, just down the block past Kent, in our new adventure starting together this week.

One of my Army buddies moved to the Cleveland area near his wife’s family a couple years ago in his shift from Active Duty to being in the Army Reserve.  Just after moving in, they started planting fruit trees for their kids to grow up with, and he was so excited to share one of his first fruits with me, suggesting I plant it at our new place.  I was excited for it too—until Darling Wife Karol told me you can’t just plant apple seeds and expect good apples to be produced.  Apples as we know and love them come from ingrafted stems known to bear good fruit, into hearty root systems.  Not all plants do well on their own, but when good fruit bearing branches are ingrafted together with good roots, good fruit grows in abundance.

So now who is we?  When I write these love letters to you, I often refer in some way to the “we” of the church—but which church?  The “Church Universal,” all churches everywhere (secret code—that Church starts with a CAPITAL C), to our United Methodist family, to our local congregation (both with a lower case “church”) or some other congregation?  And now, to Twin Falls, or to Charlestown, or Ravenna, or we three together in our newly ingrafted family tree?  And how shall we refer to this new “we,” a new trinitarian three in one, we who are ingrafted together?  And what does that mean, anyway?

The answers to some questions are still being knit together, as are the tissues of our three congregations being now knit together as we are surgically joined into a new creation, one in which we are three, yet one, three branches, each bearing good fruit, grafted together for a stronger foundation.  When a branch is ingrafted into a new root, the branch is the same—yet enhanced with a stronger root, and I hope we (see what I mean with this complex word?) can all grow well together to bear even more and sweeter fruit together.  At the same time, the whole body grafted together is something new, something “better together.”

We invite you, this new family this week (is this “we” just Karol and I, our Conference leadership pulling us together, or what?), to join together in worship this Sunday.  Twin Falls in celebrating United Women in Faith Sunday—a great celebration in itself!  But one allowing the Rev. Karol and I to celebrate our new ingrafting together at Charlestown and Ravenna churches, with their services being live-streamed (watch later at for Charlestown, and for Ravenna—AND for the Twin Falls service!).  We’ll start exploring our identity together in Christ—and who we each are as ones ingrafted into the Body of Christ.

Not much is guaranteed—except that it is sure to be an adventure, and that God is with us every step of the way, and has, in fact, already prepared the way for us, and is calling us from the other side of this open door!  Let’s join together in our passion for God, and compassion for our neighbors in all three of our communities.  We’ll see you out there in ministry.  Keep being a blessing!

Revs. Jim and Karol Lewis—Twin Falls, First UMC Ravenna, and Charlestown Churches, ingrafted together!

Pastoral Ponderings– Vacation?


I’m away on what is officially called “vacation,” but it sure doesn’t feel like it. Back home we’ve been spending every spare moment doing major remodeling at our new place, with the deadline of having it to a certain point by our son’s wedding at the end of the year. So for this “vacation” we headed over to Ft. Riley, KS, to help our other kid with major remodeling there, as Kaz, just back from a rotation in Europe, and will soon be moving on to the next assignment and selling this “fixer upper” house. Ends up we’re taking a break from remodeling at our place to go do more remodeling over here! 

I do enjoy the creativity, the hands-on nature of the work, and getting to spend more time with Kaz, who is normally so far away. But will it ever get “done”? Likely not. But isn’t that the way it is with our life of faith as well—a never-ending journey of growing, even “remodeling” of our lives to shape them to be more like Jesus? The Church has used fancy words over the centuries to describe this process, including “sanctification,” meaning becoming more holy, or more Christ-like–but that word doesn’t seem to communicate so well these days. With our Wesleyan/Methodist heritage, we’ve often used the term “moving on to perfection,” but that’s probably even worse, as “nobody’s perfect,” and that smacks of arrogance to even claim to be trying– though it might communicate the growing process a bit better. 

My current favorite is “discipleship,” the word used a bit in the New Testament that’s at least a little more familiar in Methodist circles, but I think we need a better word. “Spiritual remodeling” might communicate the idea bit better, but that’s a bit awkward, isn’t it? Along similar lines, though, how about since “landscaping” is about cultivating growing things, might “soul-scaping” work? 

Whatever we call it, like remodeling a home, it’s rarely quick and easy, it’s often painful (I couldn’t tell you how many boo-boos I get almost every day!), it’s always messy, it often involves mistakes and wrong turns, but is ever exciting as we see the gradual process of growth and creativity at work. Sounds a bit familiar, doesn’t it—at least if you’ve been involved in soul-scaping for a while in your own life, or in helping others in that process. 

So how are you doing in your soul-scaping project? It might not feel like much of a vacation, but isn’t it well worth it when you see the difference it makes, and even more so, when you’re able to see your soul-scaping efforts become a blessing for others? I have noticed that like remodeling, soul-scaping usually works best as a team effort—so keep cheering each other on, and go, team, go! 

Rev. Jim 

Pastoral Ponderings- Greety vs Greedy

Pastoral Ponderings- Greety vs Greedy

We’ve talked a bit in church about the Lighthouse Church designation for Twin Falls, and we had our second training event for that yesterday, but I just realized I’ve not yet shared anything with you from our trainings—not directly at least.  You probably HAVE noticed the introductions I’ve been trying to remember, both for myself and for others leading the service—well that’s a part of it.  You see, the Lighthouse church thing is really all about ramping up our hospitality, although you’ve been doing that so well, I’d say you’re the most hospitable church I’ve ever served!  But we can always improve, especially when it comes to our blind side, our on-line service hospitality.

A couple weeks ago when I was away one Sunday doing my Army training, very shortly after our first Lighthouse training, I had a great living example of this weakness.  The other guy I was with and I were so obvious as guests that we stuck out like a sore thumb at the Army chapel service we went to at Ft. Lewis.  They had a bunch of “regulars” there, as we usually do too, but though we and perhaps others there were obviously new, the several people leading the service never introduced themselves in the service, so we were left to guess who was who, who even were Chaplains there!  And to top it off, only ONE of the 70 or so people there ever spoke to us, though I think one other might have at least acknowledged our existence.  They seemed to be a friendly enough service—to each other at least!  But they weren’t very hospitable.

It’s distracting, and can be uncomfortable not knowing what’s what and who’s who in a service like this, and it’s not very welcoming.  Our regulars with us every Sunday know these details—but hospitality is even more for those who don’t know us.  We need to be just as hospitable with introductions and such NEXT week (and every week that follows) as we are THIS week, for those first checking us out on-line, or when we have guests in person (“guests” are expected and desired, visitors- who knows?), it’s important to make those connections.

Two key insights from this week’s training, too—first, is our hospitality GREETY, or GREEDY?  As in GREEDY- just to meet OUR needs (we want new people!) or GREETY- genuinely hospitable, focused on THEIR needs, not ours?  And secondly, every guest with us has their own “why” to their visit—they never stumble in by accident!  So God’s calling on us as the Body of Christ, is to see them as GOD sees them, and to do what we can to meet their needs where they are, not try to make them feed our need.

Hospitality makes you feel like you belong and are wanted—even after just a brief acquaintance.  A big smile and laughter go a long way to bring that feeling.  We all know ways to truly welcome others—but do we choose to use them with our church guests, or will we just be “friendly” with those we already know?

Pastor Jim