Pause with Pastor Joel – July 24, 2023

 

Lately my daughter has taken to repeatedly hugging and kissing us to say, “goodbye.: She doesn’t just do it one time, she does it multiple times. We will think that we have done our farewell and she will say once more, “Another hug and a kiss.”
It can be hard to say, “Goodbye.” This is true as I transition away from being your pastor and taking on a new position. There are lots of things that have been happening in this process: cleaning out my office, last meetings, last worship services, last funerals and weddings and baptisms! None of it has been easy.
 
How do we bid one another farewell? Paul has some farewell words for the church in Philippi  and they say this:
 
Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice! Let your gentleness be evident to all. The Lord is near. Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.

Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you. (Philippians 4:4-9, NIV)
 
My daughter’s kisses and hugs repeatedly because she’s not happy to have us leave. So, Paul’s words to rejoice seem out of place.
 
Yet on leaving Goodrich UMC as the pastor, these words ring true to me. Rejoice! Rejoice in all we’ve done together. Rejoice because God is still with us.
 
Don’t be anxious. A new minister might bring anxiety, but don’t worry, God is with you!
 
Focus on what is good. We have a tendency to focus on what is bad, but Paul reminds us to focus on the good.
“And the God of peace will be with you.” This is the only way to end. All of it, all of the six years we’ve been together, all of the ups and downs, the pandemic and the denominational strife, the baptisms, weddings and funerals, we’ve gone through all of it because the God of peace goes with us. The things we’ve done together that we rejoice in happened because the God of peace goes with us.
This is where our paths part – but we still have this in common: the God of peace will be with [us].
 
Thanks be to God! Thank you for letting me be your pastor for the last six years. The grace of Jesus Christ be with you!


Pause with Pastor Joel – July 10, 2023

 
One of the pieces of our bedtime routine with our daughter, Maxine, is that we talk about what we’re grateful for.
For a long time Maxine would just tell me she was thankful for her Momma. Lately she just says, “Everything.”
Part of me wants her to be more specific. Isn’t the goal of naming our gratitude to focus on the things that we really are grateful for?
Yet, the more I reflect on being grateful for everything, the more I see the wisdom of a child.
Paul tells us in his first letter to the Church in Thessalonica that we should, “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” (5:18, NIV) Some translations say, “give thanks in everything.” Maybe that’s not give thanks FOR everything, as my daughter is saying, but it does call us to an over-arching spirit of thankfulness.
Christians are meant to be grateful people. Paul says in all circumstances! Even when things are great, we can still find something to be thankful for if we are in Christ.
During my time in Goodrich as your pastor I have tried to show my gratitude by sending out thank you notes on a weekly basis. Hopefully over the course of six years you’ve received one at one point or another.
If you haven’t received one, then this is my moment to say, “I’m grateful for all of you.” I’m grateful for your faithfulness, your generosity, your love, your compassion, your heart for mission and your love of Jesus. I’m grateful even though we are now at a moment when I have to bid farewell. Maybe the circumstances aren’t great at this moment, but I’m still grateful.
Gratitude is one of the things that should set us apart as Christians. The rest of the world complains and assumes we should only be grateful when things are good. As those that follow Jesus, we know that we can be grateful in all circumstances and indeed that even when things are perfect, there is still much to be thankful for.
I’m grateful for everything over the last six years. The ups and downs, the good and bad. I am grateful for my time with you, I’m grateful for this church in this community and I’m grateful that you will continue on as the wonderful community of Jesus followers you are even when I’m no longer your pastor.
Praise God from whom all blessings flow! Amen!

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Pause with Pastor Joel – June 26, 2023

 
I know you’ve probably gotten tired of hearing me say it, but in the last year I’ve fallen in love with motorcycle riding.
I find that people fall into two groups: there are those that totally get it and there are those that explain to me how dangerous it is and would never do it themselves and wish I wouldn’t do it.
I know it’s dangerous. In some ways, I sometimes wonder if that’s part of what I love about it. As I ride I find that I get a rush of endorphins that help me to relax and enjoy life. It is risky to simply climb on a motorcycle, but there’s also something very freeing about it.
Sometimes risk is good. Recently the Administrative Board set aside some time to take a retreat together. We discussed the future of the church and at one point we talked about whether Goodrich United Methodist Church is a risk-taking church. Mostly people said, “No.”
What we discovered is that we are a VERY creative church. We love to think up new ideas, but we are not a risky church and so if the new idea has any whiff of risk, we tend to immediately shut it down.
What if we decided to be a little risky instead? What would happen if we got a rush from doing the things that scare us a little or that don’t have an immediate promise of payoff or success?
This may be the way that we need to start viewing what we do as a church. We need to start being more risky.
I think it’ll be worth it. That’s what I’ve found with motorcycle riding. I’ve also found it to be true when I take risks in faith.
So take a risk! Welcome someone you wouldn’t normally, try something new, fail miserably, waste some time and money. It can sound scary, but one of those risks will pay off and you may just find you end up liking risk more than you thought.

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Pause with Pastor Joel – June 12, 2023

I just returned from Annual Conference Session. That is the gathering of United Methodists within our Conference, which encompasses the state of Michigan. Each year the church gathers together.
It was an interesting year because I wasn’t able to attend much of Conference because I got sick with strep and had to quarantine while the antibiotics did their work to make me no longer contagious.
It’s never fun to be sick. It’s less fun to have to stay alone when you came to an event with the express purpose of working, eating, talking and working with over 1000 people. Yet here I was.
I felt like I was missing out on a lot. I suddenly found myself really relating to the members of our congregation that are homebound. It was an important moment for me as a pastor.
I am aware that these people are in our congregation. I try to do my best to reach out to them and keep them in the loop, but being isolated has the natural result of making us feel disconnected.
I realized I was grateful for the ways in which I could connect. The entirety of Annual Conference is streamed, so I could sit in the condo and watch what was happening.
When the pandemic started, we began streaming as a congregation. I have had lots of people ask when we will stop. The reality is we won’t because it means connection for so many that felt disconnected prior to our streaming.
I also found it frustrating when things didn’t work on the Annual Conference stream. It gave me a better understanding of how frustrating it can be to homebound folks and those that choose to join us digitally when things don’t work the way they’re supposed to.
We are working to make our streaming of our worship at Goodrich UMC the best that it can be. Please keep giving feedback when you can so that we can find ways to make it better.
I wasn’t able to join people for meals or experience the face-to-face interactions that happen when there isn’t business happening at Conference and this is not different than the reality for the people in our congregation that are homebound. Yet I wasn’t totally disconnected. I was able to experience some of Annual Conference, more than I would have been before the technology existed to stream those meetings.
For that I’m grateful and after my experience at Conference, I will continue to work to make sure that those that are homebound will be able to connect with us at church as much as possible.

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Pause with Pastor Joel – May 29, 2023

 
I was recently in Minnesota to visit my parents. They happen to have a playground directly across from their house. Needless to say, Maxine loves this fact and we spent a great deal of time at the park while we were on vacation.
From the moment she woke up until the time she went to bed, she wanted to be over there. We made her come inside for meals and bathroom breaks.
It was a lot of fun. Seeing her joy, being invited to play with her – all of that led to a very enjoyable time on vacation.
As I prepared to come back to “real life,” I found myself dreading certain parts of it. Why? Because I was having fun and often day-to-day life isn’t fun.
Why isn’t life more fun? Specifically, I found myself thinking about how seriously we take ourselves in work. In the 1980 horror film The Shining, the writer Jack Torrance writes repeatedly as if possessed, “All work and no play makes Jack a dull boy.” It’s actually an older proverb borrowed for the movie and it means that we need play in our life.
We need play! I was restored by it. I also found myself thinking, why does work not have to be playful. Why do we take ourselves so seriously?
Especially in church we have a tendency to take ourselves seriously. We are dealing with serious issues, the life of the spirit, but it shouldn’t make us dull because we forget how to play and have fun with God.
I come back from vacation with a renewed desire to be more playful in work and ministry. Sharing the faith we have in Jesus is serious, but should also be seriously fun. It’s meant to have light-hearted moments, humor and playfulness. That’s the way of the Holy Spirit, at least when I experience it.
Let’s have more fun together in ministry!


Pause with Pastor Joel – May 15, 2023

 
We recently held a community meal. We had a dozen workers that gathered at Sims Cafe to help serve food to those that would come.
We were there from 4 PM to 6 PM and in that time we served (drum roll please) eight people. Yes, it was not a tidal wave of people. It can feel a bit demoralizing when you have more workers than you have people to serve.
I’ve been reflecting on that event because right before I arrived, I had just finished reading a book in which the author said that we are now in a time when the church has to stop playing host to others and instead be hosted. He says this is important because fewer and fewer people are interested in engaging with churches and so if we hold events, they may just not come.
I had just read that and then was at this event that we hoped people would show up for and we only had eight people.
We had even held in outside the church hoping that would be less threatening. Still, we may have missed the point completely. Maybe we don’t need to serve a meal to people, maybe we need to go and sit at their tables and let them serve us.
That’s what this author believes. Why? Because at this point, trust in organized religion is at an all-time low, so they won’t come to an event that a church puts on. However, if Christians go to an event that’s already happening and rather than be the host, simply are hosted, we have the opportunity to build relationships and in that process to build trust.
We don’t go with the intention to evangelize. We will get there once we have peoples’ trust. We go to build relationships and to build trust. If we don’t do that first, we’ll never have a chance to share about our faith, Jesus or our church.
It’s a completely new idea to me. I’m not sure I fully get it yet, but after that community meal with eight people, it rings true to me.
How might we go and sit at others’ tables? Be hosted? Be served? Build trust?


Pause with Pastor Joel – May 1, 2023

By now you’ve maybe heard me talk a little about my weekend at Walk to Emmaus. Walk to Emmaus is a retreat designed to help us deepen our walk with Christ and to be God’s representatives in the world.
People have asked me how it was and I respond, “Wonderful.” It’s hard to put to words what exactly you experience on that weekend.
I can relate one thing however. All throughout the weekend, there are little gifts left for you. Pieces of candy, small crosses, pencils, pens, bookmarks and a variety of other things. These are largely given by other people who have been to an Emmaus weekend. It’s a sign of love. They are called Agape Gifts.
Agape is a Greek word for love – the love of God to put it most simply. These gifts are meant to be a sign of how much God loves us. In fact, the main idea of the Emmaus weekend is to point to how much God loves us.
You see, if we know how God loves us, we will follow God. If we are only afraid of God or only duty-bound to church, we will not truly follow God with our whole hearts, souls, minds and strengths. It’s only when we know the depth of God’s love that we are inclined to follow wholeheartedly. At least, John Wesley really believed that to be true and I believe it is attested to in Scripture.
But our day-to-day life easily distracts us from the fact of God’s love. Worse, it tries to actively tell us the opposite – that we are not loved, unlovable, completely broken and worthless, irredeemable.
There was power in those Agape Gifts all weekend. There was power in being reminded of God’s great love for each of us. The goal now is to figure out how to hold on to that fact from day to day. How do I make sure I don’t let the world distract or convince me otherwise?
I think one of the answers is to pass it on. If I start giving Agape Gifts to others, then I’m repeatedly having to articulate what they are about and what they’re for. When we have to constantly tell someone about something, we are not likely to forget it.
Would you join me in showing God’s love in the world this week? Through small gifts, words of encouragement and simply telling others how much God loves them? I plan to make this my own reminder and I hope you’ll join me.


Pause with Pastor Joel – April 17, 2023

 
Last Monday I rested on the day after Easter. Megan and I took Maxine to school and then we took a walk in the woods, got some coffee together and simply enjoyed the beautiful weather.
Usually our church office is closed on the Monday after Easter and I almost always take that day off. We do this because Holy Week is so busy with a combined 4 services that we held between Thursday and Sunday.
Yet as I took my day to rest, I thought about sabbath – this is the religious word we use for that day to rest. It was first established by God as God was creating the world. Genesis tells us that God worked for 6 days and then on the 7th day, God rested.
We often think that rest is a reward for hard work. However, recently a man who calls himself an Organizational Psychologist, named Adam Grant, that I follow on social media posted about how the phrase “you deserve a break,” leads us to this kind of thinking of how rest is a reward. He goes on to say that rest isn’t a reward, it’s a human right and something that everyone deserves.
I appreciate his pointing out the error in the reward for work thinking, but I would state rest not as a right or something that people deserve, but rather as something we NEED. Perhaps then it is correct to call it a human right, as it’s something that we as humans inherently need to survive.
This is what God models for us in the creation story. It’s not that God needs rest, but God knows that we do and so God shows us that pattern or work and rest.
Having the day of rest at the end of the week still causes this same kind of “reward for work” thinking, in my mind. Even the word “weekend,” results in this same kind of thinking.
That’s why the early Christian practice of moving the sabbath to Sunday, the first day of the week, is so radically important. It wasn’t just the day that Jesus was raised to new life, but I believe that just like Christ’s resurrection repaired all that is broken in the world, it repaired our sabbath. It moved it to the first day of the week and reminds us that we need rest. In fact, without rest as part of our rhythm, we can’t do the work that God has called us to do.
No, rest isn’t a reward for when the work is done, rest is a necessity to even begin the work. That’s what I reflected on as I rested after a very busy week. I pray we all can find the rest we need to then do the work we are called to do.


Pause with Pastor Joel – April 3, 2023

 
Holy Week is a wonderful time. That may sound strange to say, but I love Holy Week because there are extra worship services to plan! You may be thinking, “That doesn’t sound wonderful, that just sounds busy!” I’ll admit there’s a little of that, but it’s also truly wonderful.
It’s wonderful because I get to bring my creativity to these extra services. Maundy (or Holy) Thursday and Good Friday are services each year with a particular focus, but my creativity is given the opportunity to rethink how I invite people to connect to these stories important stories in the Christian faith.
Last year for Maundy Thursday I set up tables so that as we remembered the Last Supper, we could look at one another just as the disciples would have sat around the table with Jesus. Sometimes it’s a shock to the system to go as traditional as possible and really feel those ancient practices of Christians through the ages as we mark these times. All I know is that I rarely do two years exactly the same, yet it’s always the same story, the same part of Scripture.
I love being able to be creative. I think it brings out the best in ministry. It doesn’t mean we’re not creative on a weekly basis in worship, we are indeed. But we tend to be less playful and willing to take risks with Sunday worship. During Holy Week, when only a small group tend to attend, it’s a great time to try something, fail marvelously or possibly connect in a way never before!
I think the same kind of love of creativity should come for all of us in ministry in the church. I don’t mean pastors. Remember, we believe that everyone is in ministry. We should be focused on asking ourselves how we can do things differently so that our ministries aren’t always the same, but are always asking how we can offer new connections to people.
Come join us this Holy Week for the extra services. Embrace a spirit of creativity. Carry that into your own ministry. Connect others to Jesus!


Pause with Pastor Joel – March 20, 2023

Last Monday, I had the joy of spending the day at the Goodrich High School being an adult participant in a program called Challenge Day. I encourage you to follow the link to find out more about this great program, but simply put they say that they, “We help build empathy and compassion in our communities.” They do this by hosting programs with youth where they seek to combat bullying by encouraging us to realize that everyone has a story of struggle of some sort or another.
 
The program, to put it simply, was awesome. There was connection through conversation, there were tears of vulnerability, there was a lot of laughter and fun and I believe there was some transformation that happened that day that will mean that there is a better culture at Goodrich High School.
 
Goodrich High School brought this program to Goodrich because it’s been happening in the Brandon Schools and they had reported really positive results.
 
They were right. I think it was really positive. In fact, as I participated (by the way, they called the adults not facilitators, but Participants Plus, because we were there to participate and model behavior, but not really to lead anything exactly) – as I participated, I thought, “This is what church should be.” It was vulnerable, fun, caring, uplifting and encouraged us to break out of bad habits and be the kind people we really want to see in the world.
 
The church should be a place that builds people up and encourages them to be who God created them to be. Instead, we are too often a place of complaints and pandering to behavior that is less than holy. I wish it wasn’t so.
 
Challenge Day challenged me to have the church be what God has called it to be. A place of growth, building others up and of connecting to one another in meaningful ways. If you’d like to take the challenge too, I invite you to join me in being the kind of church we want to see in the world.