Pastoral Ponderings—Not just Turkey Day 

When Thanksgiving is just outside our doors, and the aromas of deliciousness start to fill the home, it’s tempting to start thinking in terms of “Turkey Day,” which is CERTAINLY a tradition to be thankful for!  But traditions along the lines of the holiday as a time of truly giving thanks have been a part of religions and cultures around the world since time immemorial.  As we talked about in church, the ancient Israelites celebrated multiple harvest festivals each year in ways similar to our Thanksgiving, but virtually all peoples everywhere across time, too, have recognized the importance of regular celebrations for remembering and being thankful.

Closely related to celebrations to remind us of how important it is for us to express our thankfulness, is the related theme of hospitality through which blessings are shared with others.  And have you ever noticed that often it is those who have the least who tend to be most thankful for the blessings they DO have, and most motivated to share through hospitality with others?

I noticed in my own life when I was growing up, it was in some of the darkest times when my dad in his early recovery introduced hospitality traditions that are still a part of our family traditions today.   At Thanksgiving in particular, but other holidays as well, my dad would find some other poor lost soul trying to put their life back together and with no place to go, to come and share in our blessings, meager as they sometimes were.  Over the years we have also usually welcomed those whose situations need a little help.

I’m so proud to say in recent years, our kids have started getting in on these ways to be a blessing.  For several years, it’s been our son who has been bringing in those who need extra blessings over the holidays, and even the extra cats we’re caring for these days, are not just our watching Kaz’s cat, but poor lost cat souls from one of Kaz’s friends that wouldn’t otherwise have a place to stay.

What traditions have you and your family developed to share the blessings this time of year?  I’m always eager to hear and help celebrate!  And if you’ve not developed such traditions yet, it’s never too late!

Sharing the blessings—Rev. Jim


Pastoral Ponderings—Filter

When I’m away on Army duty, I’ve got to make sure I take care of things on the home front first, which always means what do I need to finish before I head out?  Only a water heater this last time—but shouldn’t I change the water filter before putting in a new heater?  So, a new filter it is.

I had the filter on my mind when at the airport and on the flight for that trip—not a water filter, but other filters we use without even thinking about it.  Just think about all we filter out in order to have any focus.  On the cramped airplane with just a quick glance around, I see 27 different hair styles with at least 17 hairs out of place, four different novels being read that I can wonder about, at least half a dozen magazines, 13 conversations I’m overhearing, 9 different sports logos (most are Packers and Vikings—now what does that mean?), one guy studying something that looks interesting, three different movies in my line of sight, just to name a few.  Then the layover at O’Hare—multiply everything by about 100– I need filters!

SO WHAT? you might say.  Well,  And What’s Important, what is (or SHOULD be) foundational to Everything we see, think and do as disciples of Jesus, is that assurance of God’s hand at work throughout it all, and God’s calling on us to be a blessing through it all—rather than being distracted by a hair out of place, a team we don’t like, or countless other glimpses of drivel that maquerades for what is Important.

And just like at our house in the country where we need to check and update the water filter on a regular basis, it would probably be a good idea to check and update our spiritual filters on a regular basis too, in order to make sure they’re helping us focus on what Really Matters.  How are your filters? It’s really not that difficult to check… Rev. Jim

Pastoral Ponderings— Bumper Sticker Science

Isn’t it funny how certain things tend to catch your eye?  I guess it’s no surprise that a big black pick-up truck with foot-long colorful eyelashes would catch my eye.  That was just for my evening giggle, though, which is nice enough on its own, but what really caught my eye wasn’t so much the eyelashes—lovely as they were—but the big sticker on the window that read “Kindness is joy.”  Simple, direct, to the point, and such a powerful truth.  Have you ever noticed how people who express kindness a lot tend to be more joyful and happy?  With the opposite also true—people who are generally Unkind, likewise seem to be grumps who rarely find joy or happiness.

Assuming these observations are generally accurate, scientifically speaking, you still have the question of whether the relationship between kindness and joy (as well as the lack of both) is merely a correlation, or is one somehow causative of the other?  I understand most people probably don’t really care or ask these questions, but welcome to the nerdy way my mind works…

I’ve probably mentioned already that there’s a relatively new discipline called Positive Psychology in the field of the social sciences that’s doing research in this kind of thing, and has “discovered” that if you “hunt the good stuff,” you’ll tend to find more of the good stuff, be happier, and by the way, that doing kind things elicits happy hormones throughout your body.  Who knows how many millions of dollars were spent on research to make these “discoveries.”  I doubt those psychologists would admit that such great wisdom was already available in the free Bibles in hotel rooms and churches across the country, but science is funny that way.

Isn’t it great when there’s no conflict between faith and science?  The verdict is in from both–if you want to find joy, be kind.  If you want to be happy, do kindness, whether you feel like it or not, and you’ll grow your happiness within.  If you’re stuck in a rut—you guessed it—be kind, because the bumper sticker science it accurate.  (Or “BEE kind”—since I didn’t get a picture of the other sticker…)

Bee kind every day—Pastor Jim

That's one way to deal with change...

Pastoral Ponderings- A Tail of Two Kitties

Our Bed and Breakfast is in business!  Sort of.  It seems we’re getting our start not for people, but as a cat hotel.  We had expected it with our kiddo Kaz’s cat, which we brought home back in the summer, knowing Kaz would soon be deployed to Europe. But then two weeks ago we got another call from Kaz—“How about two more cats?”  One of Kaz’s good friends from West Point, Ruth, whom we had come to know when they were at school, was just given word that in less than a month, she would be deployed for the coming year too.  For whatever reason, Ruth’s parents are not able to take the cats, and her roomie, who had expected to care for them, also got word of a quick deployment, so Ruth’s two cats could be homeless!  So now we find ourselves in the midst of A Tail of Two Kitties.

When Ruth dropped the two off, she said the black one, named Bagheera after the Jungle Book character, would likely be the quicker to adapt and more playful, while Texas Pete, also sweet and cuddly, tends to be more cautious.  But a week later, Bagheera is still hiding in the basement.  We tried to catch him yesterday and bring him upstairs to help him adapt better, but found he could have been named Greased Lightning for how fast and impossible to catch he is!

The one Ruth thought would be the brave one turns out to be the scaredy-cat.  But Texas Pete is adapting great, and is cuddly as can be.  I don’t know if cats experience happiness the way two legged people do, but it sure seems like Tex is a lot happier so far than Bagheera.  Like these cats, we all face unfamiliar, uncomfortable situations from time to time.  So often it seems like if we pull back and hide from it, it will somehow get better, it will all go away, or mama will come back to take us Home.  But it this case, that’s not going to happen for another year or so—and we’d sure like to be able to help Bagheera have a bit better time!  Meanwhile, Texas Pete was uncomfortable for about a day or so, but now he’s purring and playing, and even winning our Catain America over as a playmate.

I can only speak Cat a little—but I think Tex is saying that though he’s missing the mama too, he’s gonna make the best of it.  I don’t know what Bagheera’s saying—he’s still hiding.

Our world is not the most comfortable these days, and crisis, such as the pandemic, only accelerates change.  Two kitties, and a lesson from two very different responses to crisis and change.  ‘Nuff said.

I so wish I could purr too.  That would help SO much in challenging times!  Rev. Jim

“There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear” (I John 4: 18)

Pastoral Ponderings- Hit the Brakes!

When our nephew, Mike, was just a little guy, three or four years old, he sometimes seemed in his own world, but other times so aware that he would often call out “Hit the brakes! Hit the brakes!” on his family’s or on our travels together.  I’ve got both Mikey and brakes on the mind today—now nearing 40 years old, he and his wife are in the midst of a move from Cleveland to NYC.  We’ll be missing them!

And I have brakes on my mind too, as I am again with greasy hands doing one of the few things I’m still able to do for our cars that seem to have become hybrid computerized robots that provide transport.  Though we’ve been getting “lifetime warranty” brake pads, they don’t last that long at all, because of the rotors the brakes press against have been going bad.  I knew the rotor needed to be replaced last time, but I just couldn’t get it off to replace it.  I kept hearing the wisdom “get a bigger hammer,” but ran out of time, and had to put on the new pads knowing they wouldn’t last.  Now I have a bigger hammer, and have had to literally brake the part to pieces to get it off.

As long as they’re working right, we typically don’t think about brakes that much—until we need to “hit the brakes!” as little Mikey used to say.  But you’re not going to get to where you’re going without brakes keeping you out of the danger zone (movie reference, anyone?).  And in a broken and sinful world, we have plenty of “danger zones” where we need to hit the brakes before we get ourselves into trouble!  Neither is driving nor our faith are really all about hitting the brakes, even if some people seem to think religion is a long list of “don’ts,” and “stop this, stop that.”

Brakes are needed on our cars to keep us and those around us safe, and to make turns when needed to shift directions.  Spiritual “brakes” in the same way, keep us and those around us safe too, but that’s not what our faith is all about!  I’ve heard some people put it along the lines of “I’m too busy loving and being blessed with what we DO do, to worry that much about what we shouldn’t do!”

So whether it’s time to be thankful for the brakes that keep us safe in our cars and in our faith, or if someone you’re talking to thinks faith is only about hitting the brakes, it’s great to be reminded that brakes are wonderful tools we can’t life without—but life and faith are much more about the journey and loving those around us than just about hitting the brakes!  Keep on keepin’ on—sure, hit the brakes when you need to—but hit the gas when it comes to zipping around on the journey of blessing the world around us!  See you ‘round the next bend—Pastor Jim

God and Ghoulies

These are two words that rarely seem to go together in the same sentence or thought—God and ghoulies.  But they’re really a natural if you thing about it—God’s got the Holy Spirit that He is easy to posses us with, ghoulies are some kind of spirit thing, too, right?  Or better yet, God is eager to have us connect with our communities, and churches doing ghoulie kinds of things around Halloween are a perfect opportunity to connect with our neighbors!  After all, how often do we have kids and families from outside the church walls, eager to knock on our doors?  Halloween is one of those rare exceptions!

You often hear of folks sharing some concerns about churches doing Halloween events, as it can seem like we’re supporting “the dark side.”  But throughout the history of the Church, Church leaders have realized that taking somebody else’s party and making it our own is a wonderful way to connect with those who would not otherwise visit a church. Ever wondered why we celebrate Christmas on Dec. 25 when the Bible says nothing about when Jesus was born?  Some researchers say it is because of a big pagan god’s birthday celebrated on Dec. 25 in Roman times—so rather than the Church being a downer and saying “DON’T celebrate” your god’s birthday, the Church saw this as an opportunity— “come party with us as we celebrate OUR God’s birthday!”  And if you read through both the Old and New Testaments, you’ll see the God likes a good party too!

So Twin Falls is having a Halloween party in the form of a Trunk or Treat event, this Sunday afternoon from 4:30-6:30.  Trunk or Treat is a simple but powerful thing—we bring treats to share with the neighborhood!  And for our creative chefs, it’s a great opportunity to flex your cooking muscles with all kinds of creative snacks to bring (just type in “Halloween snacks” in your favorite search engine if you need some inspiration!).

It’s an outside event, so a great opportunity dress up your favorite furry friend to bring.  If you’re a minimalist, just bring some treats!  If you like getting more into the spirit, decorate up your car’s trunk for guests to enjoy!  We never know how many might stop by, but it is similar to our Messy Church events, which have brought out anywhere from 15-25 folks, so that might be a good range to target if you’re sharing some of the fun from your kitchen.

Costumes are encouraged!  But have a good story to go with it to add to the fun.  I’m coming dressed as Lumiere from Beauty and the Beast—because Jesus is the Light of the world, and I’m gonna let my little light shine!  Give Diane or myself a call if you’d like to COME and participate, or if you’d just like to share your kitchen magic, so we can make sure we have more than just ghost cookies (and certainly NOT Ghost Pepper cookies!).

We’re looking forward to it, and we hope to see you there!  Pastor Jim

Pastoral Ponderings— I Love to Tell the Story

Pastoral Ponderings— I Love to Tell the Story

As I was driving through Cuyahoga Falls this morning, I saw a couple well-dressed folk standing on the sidewalk in front of a café.  I was wondering what I was seeing, until I stopped at the light.  I could see they had some kind of literature stand, but it was facing away from the street.  I was still wondering until I saw a label for something like Bible teachings.  Even the preacher that I am, I thought it a bit odd these days to have such a thing set up on the sidewalk that seemed to be no special place or event, with them, I suppose, trying to “tell the story,” though no one was walking by.

My dad always said the song “I Love to Tell the Story” was his favorite hymn, and the energy that comes out when we sing it at Twin Falls, it seems it’s a favorite for a lot of our family here, too!  But do we really “love to tell the story”?  How often do we actually tell the story to those in our lives outside of the church walls?  It was likely easier in years past to be able to share our story, but times are changing, aren’t they?

We have all kinds of practices—for sports, dance, other competitions, public speaking, which of course makes us both more confident and competent with whatever we practice.  Why don’t we ever have practice for telling the story we claim to love to share so much?  Now I don’t think I’ll ever be one of those “street preacher” types, and though I’ve been with groups that share fliers with passers by and knocked on doors, I recognize that may not be the most effective or feasible these days.  So how do we share the story?

I’m starting a stewardship series in worship that is built on our church membership vows.  Most of us are likely familiar with the vows we made when joining some United Methodist Church in your past, to support the church with “our prayers, our presence, our gifts, and our service.”  In 2008, the UMC added “witness” to those vows, recognizing that, with our changing culture, what had been long assumed had been falling from practice, and needed to be made explicit again, that Jesus’ call to “love your neighbor,” necessarily includes sharing the best of Good News one can hear—that our imperfect love is a mere faulty reflection of God’s perfect love, that brings hope and light to every wounded life.

As a part of this series, I’d like to help us have a little practice—NOT with street preaching or sharing fliers, but with sharing our own story in our own way of God’s transforming grace in Jesus.  So if you do “Love to Tell the Story”—might you be able to share for about 90 seconds with your church family?  Especially if you have a good story about your prayers, presence, gifts, service or witness.

Let me know, but don’t be surprised if I ask!  Do we love to tell the story?  Maybe a little practice will help!

Keep being a blessing as you do in SO many ways, and let’s tell the story we love so much!

Pastor Jim

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