Has someone who shined the Light of Christ in your life died this past year whom you would like to remember at our All Saints service this Sunday?  Please send their name and a brief idea of how they’ve made the Light of Christ real in your life so we can have candles for them too!

One of the great classics of Christmas literature, Henry Van Dyke’s “The Other Wise Man” (made into a TV movie in 1985), starts with a gathering in Persia of a group whom we come to know as “The Three Wise Men.”  They and others, including “The Other Wise Man” this powerful story is about, were gathered around an altar with a small fire atop, in which part of their liturgy showed their strong connection to whom we know as God: “we worship not the fire, but Him of whom it is the chosen symbol… it speaks to us of One who is Light and Truth.”

Fire and candlelight have always had strong spiritual power for many, hence our using candles in worship each Sunday to represent God’s presence with us, and our use of candles in special services at Christmas when we celebrate “the Light that shines in the Darkness” first coming into the world.  So it’s no wonder that candles are also often used at All Saints celebrations to honor those who have brought the Light of Christ into the darkness of our lives.  Many churches light candles in this way to honor church family who have been lost across the past year, which we will do this year as well.   If you would like to remember with us someone who brought Light into your life, let me know, and we’ll have a candle of remembrance for them.  Feel free to share a bit about the Light they brought to you if you would like, and I may be able to use that blessing in some way in our time together.  Let your light shine!

The Best of Times, The Worst of Times

I really don’t know why billiards popped into my half-sleeping, half-awake mind this morning. I’ve not thought of nor played any kind of billiards in quite some time, so why now? Throughout the scriptures and throughout my life, I’ve noticed God often uses dreams or impressions in this twilight of consciousness for conveying “dreams and visions” and insights to those eager to have eyes to see. So I have learned to pay attention to what may seem to be random synaptic firings in the brain. Perhaps the Holy Spirit has something to say through the colliding pool balls on a billiard table?

We have a lot going on in our world today that demands our spiritual attention—the resurgence of COVID, Hurricane Ida, Afghanistan, health issues with church and family, the saints moving on to Glory, the season of reports and Charge Conference to name a few. Kinda seems like the opening “break” on the billiard table, with balls colliding with each other, bouncing and rebounding in every direction at once. Such a scene is a great image for the chaos we seem to live in these days.

But wait—I think I’m hearing whisperings of God’s Still, Small Voice from the balls crashing around the billiard table. As chaotic as these balls bouncing off each other and around the table may SEEM, remember that such a scene is only a small piece of a larger, very targeted and intentional game. Even that first play with the cue ball breaking the starting set is aimed and intentional, and every shot after that is also aimed, intentional, and working toward downing specific, seemingly chaotic balls one at a time, often in a specific order. Sometimes the shots seem to go awry, but in the hands of a talented player, even what seems to be a random shot is often setting up the next shot, as with an expert chess player planning three, four or more moves ahead.

We often hear something along the lines that “these sure are crazy times,” as if we are stuck facing unusual challenges in life right now. But the preacher of Ecclesiastes proclaims that nothing is new under the sun. Charles Dickens’ memorable words, most often quoted only in part, are a good reminder that we’re not is such unfamiliar territory as we like to believe: “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

But just as God was busily at work both in Dickens’ time, and in the times about which he wrote—contemporary to the forging of our own freedoms in our baby United States—God is also still at work in our seemingly chaotic times, even though our world, too, reflects the same paradoxes of which Dickens so eloquently wrote. Perhaps we find ourselves now in the opening “break” of a new round of billiards, where everything bouncing around seems to be chaos. But if we trust that God is holding the cue stick and taking careful aim with each shot, perhaps we can find a bit of peace, even if it is ‘’the best of times/the worst of times.”

Rebounding with the Spirit- Rev. Jim


The sun shining and the warmer temperatures are unmistakable signs of the change of seasons that is almost upon us—or even on us already! The changing seasons mean so much more for many people that the earth’s being in a different position in its orbit around the sun. I grew up in FL with very little by way of evidence of the changing of the seasons—Darling Wife Karol even less so, with her having grown up in Miami. Believe it or not, one of the attractions that caught our hearts years ago when we were in seminary in Dayton, and that made us eager to come back, was the dynamics of the changing seasons.

You ever hear the seasonal joke about the guy from Minnesota? As the seasons were changing into fall, he was talking with a friend, who commented, “That was a great summer, wasn’t it?” To which he replied, “I’m not sure, I was sick that week.”

At least our seasons here last a bit longer than just a week! And I imagine for many of us, even though we love to sing about a white Christmas, and that “It’s the most wonderful time of the year…” by this time of year we are more than ready for a change, and eager to feel the sun on our backs rather than “Jack Frost nipping at your nose.” So how come we’re so eager for change when it comes to the seasons, yet in other facets of our lives, we’d rather fight change than embrace it?

As we start to think about SOME day, finally moving past the COVID pandemic restrictions (for which we are also more than eager for change!), I need to keep reminding myself that crisis merely accelerates change, and that what we will some day do to “get back to normal” just won’t be the “normal” we used to know. And somehow, despite how uncomfortable some of these changes can be, can we still have faith that God is somehow sovereign, and can we still say “we know that in ALL THINGS God works for the good of those who love Him and are called to His purposes” (Romans 8:28).

When winter changes to spring, we know the snows will melt, the air will get warmer, new flowers and new puppies will come, and we’ll see the bursting forth of new life all around us—because we’ve seen it happen so many times. But with whatever comes post-COVID, we don’t have these same assurances, because it has not happened in our lifetimes. Last time a pandemic came around, deaths brought on by the 1918-19 Spanish Flu would have caused 2 million deaths in today’s numbers. Yet the world kept turning, and somehow afterward, the sun rose again for a new day, and the same will happen for us. While there will still be uncertainties for our post-pandemic life, just as we can trust that the world will keep turning, we can trust that God is already there, and that God will still be calling us to “make and mature Disciples for the transformation of the world.”

So here’s to change—may we find God’s path both in and through change—but also to the on-going call too, to keep being the Body of Christ in the world, and keep making disciples, no matter how things change!

Rev. Jim

Pastoral Ponderings – What is Truth? Or WWJD– “What would Judas do?”

Not too long ago, “everybody” just knew that the world was flat. We now laugh at such an attitude as being ridiculous, because even though the world may SEEM to be flat, we now know the truth—based on all kinds of evidence—that our Earth is far from flat.

This question “What is truth?” was famously raised by a well-known, if controversial politician of old to try to understand how to do the right thing. We’re seeing too often in the news across this past week how very important that question still is, and how differently people act based on their idea of what truth is. So “what is truth” in deciding how to act?

In many ways, the recent war in Iraq was a war over truth, where the bloody Battle of Fallujah was iconic of those dynamics. The people fighting in those days “knew” they were doing the right thing, based on the “truth” coming from passionate speeches rather than evidence. But something happened not long after Fallujah that led “The Sons of Iraq” to start siding with Coalition forces in what became known as The Anbar Awakening, which was the beginning of the end of the fighting there. Tribes that had been bitter enemies found that working together, even when they strongly disagreed, was more effective toward their common, greater cause, once they started to change their epistemology.

That fancy word just asks “how do we know what is true?” Western society as a whole, and American thought in particular, has evolved to where our primary way of knowing truth (epistemology) is based on either legal or scientific evidence, not clan tribal loyalty. Few Americans now think of themselves as following a tribe or tribal leaders, but any time we identify with a group that helps shape our behavior, we become tribal in a sense–which is not a bad thing–unless our tribal loyalty blinds us to what it true, good and real.

This question of truth was put to one of the greatest moral teachers in history by a politician to help decide what to do. You guessed it, I’m talking about Jesus, but the moral teacher Jesus whose moral code is widely respected by most Americans, whether they follow the religion of Jesus or not. We all recognize the power and strength of his moral teaching, best remembered today in the Golden Rule, in his maxim to love your neighbor, to even love your enemies. And while he did wreck a temple that was twisting religious practice, he also said to “render up to Caesar what is Caesar’s” in a day when his government was far from righteous, and told those taking up a sword in his cause that was not the right way. That infamous politician of old asking the question, though, is most remembered for feeding into the mob rather than holding to the truth.

This is where Judas comes in. Most of us know his story—he was so blinded by hatred of the oppressive government that he betrayed his friend in what seemed to him to be the true and only way to fix it: to incite an insurrection. In doing so, he became one of the most reviled persons in history. So do we really need to ask “What would Judas do?”

Our whole country, religious and not, just finished celebrating that moral teacher as “The Prince of Peace,” as if peace just might be really important to real Americans. While that teacher certainly said “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” probably even more famous are his words “blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”

I don’t know about you, but I’d rather be more like Jesus and called a child of God as a peacemaker, rather than being more like Judas, blinded by hatred, eager to start an insurrection. What, then, shall we say to all this? And will we be remembered as peacemakers by what we do?

Rev. Jim Lewis

Tasty Blessings

Pastoral Ponderings—Tasty Blessings

I grew up in a family that always made Christmas cookies, and Karol and I have continued the tradition for as long as we’ve been together (though I’ll confess that not all the “red hots” candies made it onto the cookies!), but our cookies have never looked anything at all like the “homemade” cookies on the Christmas movies!  Inspired by those movies, I even made an extra effort on my gingerbread people and trees last year, but alas, my (not so) artsy tradition continues. It looks like this Saturday we’re having our son and his girlfriend over to bake this year’s round of cookies, and even after years of practice, I still doubt they’ll look like anything other than cookie images of the Island of the Misfit Toys, and our gingerbread houses will never earn a single column inch in “Better Cookies and Gardens!”

I LOVE the idea of making Christmas cookies to take to our shut-ins!  But remember neither are we Hallmark Christmas movie bakers, nor are our recipients looking for perfect cookies!  In fact, when I see perfect cookies, I automatically think “store-bought”(even if someone I know really IS that talented)–which is nice I suppose, but not seasoned with love in the same way as REAL homemade cookies, with frosting falling off, cross-eyed gingerbread people, Christmas stars that only shine on the taste buds, or cookies that someone might be able to convince you is a Christmas tree if look at it just right.

We’ve always made more than enough, so have always shared cookies with our neighbors.  This year we have new neighbors on each end of the block, so what better way to start a sweet relationship with them?  Whether you’re a baker (or a baker wanna-be as we are!), one who sews, or are gifted with crafting or singing, maybe there’s a way you can use your God-given talents and interests to share a little Christmas cheer with your neighbors.  Some of them probably need that cheer a whole lot more this year than usual, and I bet you’ll find that even if YOU are one needing some extra Christmas cheer, you’ll probably find it while trying to share it with others.

On this thought of sharing Christmas cheer, let me ask for your thoughts—how might our little church spread the cheer with some kind of virtual “ugly sweater” party or contest—especially if we can use it to help share the REAL meaning of Christmas?  I’m wearing one of mine for the first time this year, and it’s already lifted my spirits!  Please share your thoughts so we can have a little ugly sweater fun!

So whether the blessing tastes great like cookies, or is in great taste like our not-so-ugly sweaters—how might you and your crew share Christmas blessings this year?  Keep being a blessing!

Pastor Jim

No Room

Pastoral Ponderings—No Room

My mom was the classic preacher’s wife when I was a kid, running children’s ministries from Sunday Schools to the Christmas Pageant.  She must have thought I was a rising star, because I remember her having me play (whether I wanted to or not) the Little Drummer Boy, The Littlest Angel, or some shepherd or wise guy more times than I had years as a kid!  (Though I don’t remember ever playing an angel—was she trying to say something keeping me out of the angelic role?)

She used a song called “No Room” in those pageants so much over the years, that I thought it was like “What Child is This”—one of the unforgettable classics, until in my ministries from church to church I would always suggest it, but no one knows it!  With a few extra repeats, it goes “No room, only a manger of hay, no room, he is a stranger today; no room, here in this world turned away, no room… No room, here in the hearts of mankind, no room, no cheery welcome could find, no room surely the world is blind, no room, no room.”

Maybe no one knows the song because these days we make sure we have room for Jesus in countless nativity scenes around and on trees, churches and homes.  I know of a couple from one church who has hundreds– a museum’s worth of nativity scenes from all over the world–with room for Baby Jesus in every one!  But how real is that room, or is it no more than another sparkly ornament?

In recent years, barely the hint of a suggestion of a Christmas Pageant—even before COVID—brings cries of “NO ROOM!”—no room in family schedules, no room in church schedules, and no room is schools to even have Christmas anymore!  I’ve heard of some creative types trying to ZOOM pageants with parts literally divided up from home to home, but even though you can’t get kids (of ALL ages…) off their digital doo-dads, “we’re so ‘zoomed out,’ we’ve no room to do yet another zoom…” we often hear.

There’s plenty room for Santa in our Christmases, and toys on both real and virtual shelves.  Toys for Tots has plenty room using a blimp hanger for their collections.  But when shoppers desperate to buy the joy of Christmas seem more like Grinches than humble shepherds eager for Jesus, the words of that old song come again to mind: “no room, here in the hearts of mankind… no room, surely the world is blind, no room, no room.”

Sure, “Santa Claus is Coming to Town,” but there’s no room for Jesus in his sleigh, nor is there room for Jesus in “the real meaning of Christmas” anymore.  Yet families of all shapes and sizes can still find ways to make a “cheery welcome” for Jesus in their celebrations and shine the light of his star in their neighborhoods!  We were checking out some of the household dancing light displays set to music when we found one house with an Electronic Dance Music version of “Amazing Grace” driving their lights! (a cool witness, even though it’s not much of a Christmas Song…)  It made me wonder what other Jesus songs strangers would drive miles to hear if you set it to dancing lights!

A lot of our neighbors could really use and appreciate some extra Christmas cheer these days.  I bet there’s countless ways to make room for Jesus among the cookies, cards, snow shoveling, and other ways families can share Christmas in safer, socially distant ways with neighbors.  And often your kids or grandkids have the best of ideas for how to do so!

I hope that song doesn’t describe your Christmas, or how you share Christmas with others. After all, when we take “Christ” out of “CHRISTmas,” it sounds an awful lot like no more than a “mess”!

Make room—Rev. Jim

Count Your Blessings

Count your Blessings— Nov 25

With COVID 19 numbers and new cases still sky high, we are back to streaming worship only at Twin Falls.  We’re thankful for the blessing that we CAN still worship in this way!  We’re eager both to have those helping bring the music and service to you with us at the building, and to also be with the rest of you joining us via our streaming service.  Yet even now, we still have an abundance of blessings to count and give thanks for, if only we can lift our eyes from the dreary to see a bigger picture.

Not long ago, Karol and I were on the road somewhere on a cold, dreary, rainy day like today.  Approaching a construction zone on a narrow road, we passed close enough by the first flagger to see the droplets of water coming off her hard hat, sometimes in her face, sometimes down her back.  She had the most miserable look on her face, having to be out in that mess all day.

At the other end of the construction zone, we again came close enough to the flagger to see another young adult, also dripping wet in the same cold rain.  But despite the same long day standing soggy in the cold, her expression was definitely not one of misery.  I may have almost seen a smile there instead.  Same cold, wet day, standing all day on the side of the road, but a different enough reaction I could see it passing by in my truck.

I wasn’t able to stop and chat to ease my curiosity to know the difference between the two.  But in my line of work, I’ve seen that same difference in many others enough to be able to make an educated guess on that difference.  As a pastor and Army Chaplain, I’ve been fascinated seeing that difference a lot, and often in situations much worse than just having to work out in the rain and cold one day.  It usually comes down to whatever it is we focus on.

The soggy, miserable flagger was likely focusing on her immediate discomfort, and the rainy day stretching ahead promising more misery.  But just passing quickly by, I couldn’t even a guess at the other worker’s focus.  I doubt it was the cold and rain, though, and I bet it included counting some kind of blessing.  Maybe she was just happy to have a job and not be cooped up inside with the pandemic raging.  Maybe she could count the blessing of the pride she could take in a job well done, or maybe she lives on a farm, and is thankful for the rain coming now after harvest rather than during.  She may have even been living in the blessing of being able to pray for the safety of her team and for those driving by.

“Count your blessings, name them one by one, count your blessings, see what God has done…” is the chorus of a wonderful old song, reminding us not of the times we feel blessed or like giving thanks, but even when we are “thinking all is lost,” reminding us amid challenges “great or small, do not be discouraged, God is over all.”  The magic of God’s peace only just starts with my kids’ favorite prayer, “Thank you God for everything,” but it’s deepened and grows to God’s peace that passes all understanding when we name those blessings “one by one.”

In fact, there’s a recently validated scientifically proven formula for making God’s peace real in our lives (something we church folk have known for millennia), found in Philippians 4: 4-8.  It can be summarized by a few words—rejoice in the Lord always, don’t worry, pray with thanksgiving, “and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds…and be with you.”  Try it if you don’t believe the science or the scriptures, and let me know what you find out!

Count your blessings, name them one by one—and be thankful!  Pastor Jim

The Faith to be All In

Pastoral Ponderings—The Faith to be All In—18 NOV 20

I was praying through the sanctuary the morning as I often do, this time in a more ponderous mood.  Thanksgiving is just a week away, and the theme this Sunday, surprisingly enough, is Thanks GIVING.  So you’d think seeing the Autumnal décor would seem just right.  But perhaps with the subdued lighting of only the morning sun shining through narrow windows, and with Advent and Christmas preparations crowding Thanksgiving out already– not to mention the rolling storms and thunder of COVID reshaping both the season and our outlooks– the festive fall colors seemed strangely out of place.  They seemed to speak more of transitions than a season to embrace.

We all find ourselves in a season of transition this year, from the comfort of what we have known, to no one knows what.  We’ve been hoping it’s a season of transition from our exhaustion of COVID, back toward some sense of a post-COVID new normal.  But we can only hold onto that hope if we ignore the mounting numbers, and more and more personal connections being struck by and stuck in COVID and its quarantines and isolation.

Many churches have traditionally come to this time of year with Thanksgiving and Autumn transitions, with a stewardship drive, a generosity campaign– some way of looking to a future where we continue to be a church blessing our community, or  where we commit together to new ways of blessing our community.  But this year when it’s hard to see into the future at all, it’s easier to feel stuck and paralyzed than to make renewed commitments.

“Unprecedented” is a word too often used to describe where we are, yet in many ways it is far from unprecedented. We come from a long line of generations who faced and overcame seemingly endless dark days.  Whether ourselves, our parents, grandparents or other forebears who overcame personal seasons of hopelessness and loss, or as a community or nation making it through years of war and depression, or, if we read our scriptures– slavery, exile, oppression and persecution—all seemingly endless and hopeless, all overcome.

In fact, one of our most memorable treasures of scripture is a whole chapter long litany of over-comers, starting with Hebrews 11: 1—“ Now faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen…” building to the great conclusion at the beginning of chapter 12—“ Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also… run with perseverance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus the pioneer and perfecter of our faith, who for the sake of the joy that was set before him endured the cross…”  And while nowhere in scripture do we ever even get a hint that this enduring, this perseverance, this overcoming is easy, comfortable, quick, or painless—our need for it, God’s grace which is sufficient for all our needs, and God’s provision for overcoming, are FAR from inaccessible or  “unprecedented.”

While our future is even more shrouded in mystery now than ever, of one thing we can be certain: GOD holds the future, and God is and will be there in the future to bring us through, as much as God has ever been in our past.  And as we commit in generosity to continue to be the church in this place with our prayers, our presence, our gifts, our service and our witness—we are both proclaiming God’s hope to our neighbors and community, and that we are “all in” on God’s winning team.

ALL IN together—Rev. Jim

Lines for Church?

Pastoral Ponderings—Lines for Church?  3 NOV 2020

There has been some concern expressed about people behaving themselves while voting this year, so some community leaders in Akron have been encouraging pastors and social workers to find way to be a calming presence as needed at voting locations.   That was pretty easy for me, as our church is a polling place again, as it has been for years.

I wasn’t originally planning to be here with the lines before polling started, but I couldn’t sleep with being concerned about it, so I got here by about 6:15, with polling starting at 6:30.  There was already a line by the time I arrived, and by the time the doors opened, the line stretched almost all the way back to the street.  I ended up being something of a traffic cop, directing people to park in the grass just like for Flea Market days, because every space in the lot was filled!

I was impressed, though, that everyone was behaving themselves, and as I was wandering along the line, I told some of them that if they don’t like lines, they could come back on Sunday, since we don’t have lines for getting into church!  Well, these days that wouldn’t be such a good idea anyway in our COVID environment to have so many in worship at once, but it was quite the preacher’s fantasy, to have the parking lot overflowing and people lined up to the street to come to hear the Good News of Jesus!

When we read in our history books about “The Great Awakening” events in the 1700s and 1800s, we hear of people by the thousands coming to hear many of those preachers, including John Wesley, the accidental father of our forbearers in the Methodist movement (and all without sound equipment!).  We only had a couple hundred waiting in line to vote, but it was still an impressive sight.  I’ve often wondered why God was moving in such powerful ways back then, but sure seems to be less so now.

This election is the first I’ve seen in a long time with lines like this, too.  So what’s the difference?  Maybe that word is the key—people are eager to “make a difference”– and with this election it seems that either way you vote, you could be making a real difference.  So would that make a difference for us as a church—if we could find a way to let people know that what we do in church can make a real difference too, but for people coming to church, and by helping our church folk make a real difference outside the walls?

Maybe it’s easier as we approach the holidays, when we can remind people that an attitude of gratitude—of “thanks-giving”—makes a big difference in all our interactions.  Or with Christmas—as one book I’ve seen put it “It’s not YOUR Birthday!”  How much of a difference would it make in our own families, as well as in the community around us, if we were to pivot just a little to ask “What do you want to GIVE for Christmas?” rather than the more common question, “What do you want to GET for Christmas?”

I’m sorry to say I’m not expecting our parking lot to be filled and people lining up to the street when we gather next this Sunday.  But maybe if we help people understand that church is all about making a difference, then more people just might find the time to check us out.  Make a difference—not just in your own life, but in your neighborhood, and in our community, so people can see the difference God in us can do!

Rev. Jim

For All the Saints

For All the Saints— 27 OCT

We will be using that great passage from Hebrews 11 this Sunday that reminds us that we are not alone in this journey of faith.  In addition to those we worship with today, we are surrounded by a Great Cloud of Witnesses, both living and dead, who have paved the way in our faith, and who attest with us to God’s faithfulness, even in the face of trying, dry times in our spiritual journey.

“All the Saints” are not just those super-heroes of the faith as are those talked about in Hebrews 11, but ordinary people who have helped us grow in our faith, and helped us know the real presence of God along the way.  Often they are family—spouses, parents, children or others spiritual beacons in each of our clans.  Other times they are our “spiritual battle buddies” or mentors—those who have been there with us through the most trying of times.  Sometimes they are pastors or other church leaders who planted seeds, or nurtured them along the way.

One of my earliest church memories is of my Sunday School teacher when I was in third or fourth grade, Ms. Helen Redding.  She was a spiritual giant in a tiny, wounded body.  I never saw her without crutches, and don’t remember any of the lessons, but remember her as the angel of God’s grace, helping me fall in love with Jesus and the Bible.  I’ve mentioned before my fifth grade best friend, David, and the powerful role he had in my life through very difficult times.

Other powerful angels from years past in my life were Tom Farmer, Bob Bushong, Tom McClosky, Waite Willis, Scott Wojohn, Bill Barnes, Rob Achley,  Caryl and Bert Kelley, Len Sweet, Jim Nelson, Brent Grafton, Janet Neighbors and others.  Some of those I have had long deeper relationships with, others may not even know how much they have shaped me, some I’ve even been able to tell in more recent years what they’ve meant to me.

What saints have helped shape your life, and helped deepen your relationship with God?  And for whom have you been such an angel, building them up in the faith along your journey?  We’ll never know how we’ve touched many in our lives, but when we’re intentional about building others up, at least we can know when we’ve had some impact.

I think of one of the guys who has impacted me without even realizing it.  I called this gas station attendant “Mr. Smiley” for a long time before I came to know his name, because he always greeted me and many others with a big smile, just when getting gas.  I don’t know of his faith journey, but I know how much his smiles have meant to me along the way even from “JUST a gas station attendant.”

Take this time to thank God for those Saints who have helped shape your soul, and pray for God’s guidance and discernment for how you can be that kind of angel for others, as that’s a big part of why God put us on this world to begin with!

Keep being a blessing-

Rev. Jim