Pause with Pastor Joel – November 29, 2022

Last week was a quiet week at church. Our Office Administrator and our Custodian were both on vacation. We weren’t officially open and it was a short work week anyway with the Thanksgiving holiday.
A short week didn’t mean a slow week. In fact, with both of the other staff people out, I was picking up pieces I don’t usually do. Checking the mail, emptying garbage, cleaning, moving tables and chairs, updating the website and scheduling user groups. Phew!
Let me tell you, I was truly thankful on Thanksgiving. I was thankful for the break, but I also found that I was thankful throughout the week for our staff and for all of the people that do different jobs around the church. When I suddenly had to do things I don’t normally do, I was more thankful than ever for the people that normally do those things.
It can be easy to begin to take things for granted. The Thanksgiving holiday has always been an opportunity to stop and consider what we may have started taking for granted and to give thanks and bring a spirit of gratitude back to our lives.
Everything that we have is a gift from God! As the fallen people we are we become ungrateful, we take things for granted, we figure that the things we have are OURS. As people, we must stay connected to the idea of gratitude at all times.
I fail at this as well. It’s why I was SO thankful last week because suddenly I didn’t have the two staff people around that usually do the work they do and so I had to pick up the slack.
As Christian, Thanksgiving is a chance to be thankful again, but each day is also an invitation to be thankful and to reconnect to the reality that we have NOTHING aside from God.
I was reminded of this forcefully this last week. I plan to spend time in prayer this week asking God to help me to not return to that place of taking things for granted, but to instead be thankful at all times.
What are you thankful for?

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Pause with Pastor Joel – November 15, 2022

It’s only been a little over a week since we celebrated the life of the wonderful church member, Chuck Maki.
So often, people say to me after a funeral, “I don’t know how you do it?”
Well, let me tell you. Preparing to celebrate someone’s life in a meaningful way for me is two-fold.
First, it’s about knowing Scripture. One can’t celebrate a Christian’s life outside or away from Scripture. In order to celebrate any life, one has to know Scripture deeply. What it says, what it promises, its stories,  and its truths. This is imperative. Again, there is no way to celebrate a Christian’s life away from or apart from Scripture. So you have to know Scripture.
That’s because the second part of this two-fold way for me to create a meaningful celebration of life is that I look for each person’s life in Scripture.
One of the truths of Scripture is that we are made in the image of God. That means that it’s not hard to see glimpses of someone’s life in Scripture. If you can hear about their life and connect it to Scripture, it’s very easy to celebrate their life in a way that people will find unique and meaningful.
Again, all you have to do is know Scripture and see the person in Scripture. To put it another way, you have to know God and then see God in that person.
These are the two things I think about as I look to mark someone’s life. “How do I do it?” It’s incredibly easy, actually, because one can find each person in Scripture because each of us is God’s child and part of God’s creation and part of God’s story and so if we look to God’s story in Scripture, there we are. Scripture is not something separate from us, we are a part of it, just as we are part of God’s story and God’s creation.
That’s how I do it. With Scripture. With God.

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Pause with Pastor Joel – November 1, 2022

Today is All Saints Day. It’s a day to remember those faithful people we have known that have gone to reside with God until we can see them again.
I know many struggle with this term “saints.” It raises ideas for us of the kind of religious people we could never hope to be. However, repeatedly in the Bible the word “saints” is used to apply to those that are living the faith.
Sometimes we live the faith better than other times. Hopefully, in the grand scheme of things people see us as people whose lives have been made different and better because of our relationship with Jesus Christ. If that’s true, then we’re saints. Because this word has its roots in the idea of being “set apart.” We are to be different than the world and different than people expect – something special – not because of who we are, but because of who Jesus is and because we know him.
All of the saints I know were imperfect people, but their lives pointed to Jesus and spoke volumes to who he was and what he can do in one’s life.
In particular, on this All Saints Day, I’m thinking of a guy named Andy. Andy had struggled with addiction, but his life had been transformed by meeting Jesus Christ. Andy was the type of guy that could make anyone feel comfortable and he was perhaps not what people immediately picture when they think of a church-goer. Yet, he was not only a church-goer, he was a church-liver. He spent every moment of his life living for Jesus and sharing that good news with other people.
Sure, his past was not the best, but his future was guaranteed and I know I’ll see him one day in heaven. For that, I give thanks on this All Saints Day.
If you want to understand a little more about All Saints Day in the United Methodist tradition, this is a great article.
What saints are you giving thanks for today?

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Pause with Pastor Joel – October 18, 2022

Editor’s Note: Back when we published a monthly newsletter we always included a column from the Pastor. Some have expressed that they have missed this. In our new digital format, we are bringing back what Pastor Joel always called Pause with Pastor Joel on a bi-weekly basis. A link will be provided in the Bell Notes e-mail and printed copies will be available at church on Sunday mornings.
An expectation of all pastors in our Conference is that we participate in some sort of covenant group with other colleagues. What does covenant group mean? Any Christian can be a part of a covenant group. It is a group of faithful people that promise – covenant – to support one another.
My covenant group consists of six pastors all close in age. We’re all men and serve in a variety of places. We’ve been meeting together for at least 5 years now.
What does a group of United Methodist pastors do when they meet together as a covenant group?
Well, we eat, of course. But we also support one another during difficult times, pray for and with one another, challenge one another, bounce ideas off of one another and offer resources to each other. Oh, we also laugh together a lot!
This is a great list of what any covenant group should do together. In particular it’s important whether we’re part of an official group or not that we have other Christians that support us and challenge us.
I tend to find that we naturally lean towards one or the other more. I know Christians that are great at supporting others, but if they’re asked to challenge them, they don’t think that’s appropriate. I also know Christians that are great at challenging others, sometimes doing so in a way that isn’t very supportive!
We are called to be people who support and challenge one another. We all need support. It is hard to be in the world. It’s hard to be a person of faith in the world. Jesus says this himself when he tells us, “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me” (Matthew 5:11, NIV). It’s a reality that people may reject us because of our faith. We need to support one another!
However, if all we do is support, we may become complacent. So we need to also challenge one another. We need to point out, kindly and gently, where we each need to grow and move and change and seek Christ!
This isn’t an either/or situation, but a both/and. We need to support and challenge one another. It’s the only way we move forward as Christians in this world. I hope you have people in your life that support and challenge you. If not, then find some! I have found that my covenant group is one of the most life giving parts of my ministry. I want you to experience this same joy in faith.