Pause with Pastor Joel – March 6, 2023

For my birthday I received a copy of the early hymns of the Methodists that John Wesley pulled together into a single hymnal. They are largely written by his brother, Charles, though they also include hymns by Isaac Watts and a few others.
There are over 400 hymns in the collection. I have taken up reading one of them as part of my morning devotional time. At that rate, it will take me until well after my next birthday to finish.
As I read them, I’m struck by two things:
One, we clearly have always been a people that have sung. There is power in song. Well written hymns can share the faith with us memorable ways if the music helps us to remember the words. This was the original intent of the Psalms in our Bible. They were sung and they helped people to remember the truths of the faith by setting those words to song.
Two, not only do we have a long-standing tradition of being singers as Methodists, but some hymns have had long life as well. While this collection of over 400 hymns are largely ones we no longer sing, it does includes some hymns that we still sing and that are still in our hymnal. Hymns by Charles Wesley and Isaac Watts and others that have spoken to us of the power of faith in Jesus Christ for so many years and continue to do so.
It’s the power of song. A two-fold power – one for it’s adeptness that communicating faith to us in memorable ways and also the power of lasting quality and singability and grandeur.
I guess I’ve been struck by how when I sing on a Sunday morning I don’t often think about it or the power it has. Lately I’ve been reflecting on it more.
What’s your favorite hymn? Which hymns will you be singing on your death bed because they are so much a part of you? What songs have changed your life? Which have led you to faith in Jesus?
Music has power. For that we give thanks to God!

Pause with Pastor Joel – February 20, 2023

This week we will mark Ash Wednesday – the beginning of Lent. Lent is a time of preparation for Easter and is meant to be observed through fasting or other austere measures.
On Ash Wednesday we have a tradition of marking people with ashes as a reminder of our own sinfulness and mortality. This hasn’t always been a tradition in the United Methodist Church, but within Christianity, its roots go back to the 10th century.
Sometimes to obtain ashes for Ash Wednesday, the palms from the previous Palm Sunday are kept, dried and then burned. I love this tradition and you will occasionally see me out burning palms for ashes.
Yet a funny thing about ashes is that they go a long way. One bunch of palms will provide ashes for several years of Ash Wednesday. This is for two reasons: one, that not many people like to come and observe Ash Wednesday. It’s not fun to remember that we are sinful and that we are going to die.
The second reason is that a little bit of ashes is all it takes to mark a person. Here, I think is an important point. I know some Christians that always want to focus on the sinfulness of people. I’ve generally found that it doesn’t take too much to convince people of their sinfulness. What I do find is that it takes a lot more to convince them that they are capable of being loved and forgiven by God. I know this isn’t true for everyone and I know that some people look around at the world and see a place that sins with no concern for its affects on their souls.
Still, I think that’s something we only see if we simply look. It’s a lie of the devil. The reality is that the world is hurting and convinced they are unforgivable and so they go on sinning because they figure there’s no hope.
We place ashes on our bodies at Ash Wednesday as a reminder that while we are sinful and mortal there IS hope. Our hope is in Jesus. This is the message we have to share with the world.
It doesn’t take much ashes to accomplish this goal, but it does take the power of the grace of God and that is without limit, unlike the ashes  that I do have to replenish every few years. Praise be to God!

Pause with Pastor Joel – February 6, 2023

It’s important to never forget that we are part of a larger church. We can tend to get focused on our own individual congregation, forgetting that we are a part of the body of Christ not just in Goodrich United Methodist Church, but in Goodrich and in Michigan and in the United States and around the world.
Your pastor is also more than just the pastor of Goodrich United Methodist Church. I currently serve in two positions: one as a member of the committee in our district, the East Winds District, that oversees the clergy and those becoming clergy in our district and the other is as a member of the Board of Directors for the Michigan Area Camping program.
The group I’m a part of in district is called the District Committee on Ordained Ministry and its job is to interview people who are seeking to become pastors and to check in on an annual basis with pastors that aren’t ordained, but serve in local church ministry – we call these people Licensed Local Pastors.
As a member of the Camping Board, we oversee the camping ministries in Michigan. That currently consists of three properties. We oversee and set policies and procedures for those facilities as a whole and also oversee an Executive Director who directly oversees the other staff in the camping program.
These are ways in which I serve in the larger church. As a member of Goodrich UMC, you might not often hear about these activities. I also mentor another younger pastor.
All of this is to say, I’m connected and doing ministry not just in our local congregation, but in the larger church as well.
So are you. You may not realize it, but the ministry you do at Goodrich is part of the larger ministry of the church universal. All believers in Christ unite their efforts to create the kingdom of heaven here on earth.
It’s important that we not forget this. Otherwise we can  become too self-centered and develop a kind of Christian tunnel vision. We must always seek to broaden our vision and see that what we do as Christians does not just matter where we are, but matters around the world, throughout the universe and in the kingdom of God.
People sometimes talk about the “Butterfly Effect,” which is the idea that when a butterfly flaps its wings, while it may seem like a small thing, it still creates a tiny wind current that could affect things around it and throughout the world. This is the nature of Christian life and ministry. We never do anything alone, independent of others.
This is true of the good we do as well as when we sin. Adam and Eve’s sin affected not just them, but all of humanity from then on. It’s the same case with our own sin and with the good we do as well. It has ripple effects that we may not even realize.
Yet, while we may not realize just what those exact effects are, that does not excuse us from being cognizant that they DO HAVE an effect.
Today, I invite you to reflect on the larger church and your part in it. I serve as a pastor not just at Goodrich UMC, but across the conference and each of our own Christian lives is expressed here where we are as well as throughout God’s kingdom and world.
It means we must consider what we do at all times because every moment, every action and every thought is vitally important.

Pause with Pastor Joel – January 23, 2023

Each year in January I work with the Worship Design Team to plan our worship focus and preaching for the coming year. We plan this from July 1 to June 30 each year. This is so that I am planning a year of preaching for which I will be preaching. Usually by January a pastor knows if they’ll be remaining in their current appointment and so it makes sense to plan my next year of preaching.
This past weekend was the time when we did our planning for the coming year. We have been preaching through our Vision Statement: Joyfully reaching out to share God’s love and faith in Jesus with everyone. We are focusing this coming year on the final part – “with everyone.”
This will be a year of invitation, of challenging assumptions, of inviting God to grow our love beyond where it normally tends to have its boundaries. We will be asking ourselves, “Who would God have me love that I’m not loving yet?”
When the team comes together, we start with a little worship and then we brainstorm and come up with ideas. Then we get down to actually creating our worship series for the coming year. It is a process that takes us about four hours.
The amazing thing is that we always start with a blank sheet and just an overall theme. A single idea. And from there we are able to develop 52 sermons. The other day, when we had finished, the team was talking about how miraculous this feels at times. We’ve been planning worship together now for six years. They commented that they figured they would run out of ideas. Yet each year we come up with 52 new sermons. Certainly there are themes that repeat, but the Holy Spirit is also always there providing new inspiration.
This is often how I feel getting up in the pulpit each Sunday – How on earth could I bring a fresh message today? The answer, of course, is that I couldn’t, but the Holy Spirit does. So, each week is something new, different and unique that can speak to our spirits and inspire us to love God more and follow Jesus more closely.
It truly is miraculous. It’s only possible because of the Holy Spirit given to followers of Jesus. Still, even knowing these things, I’m no less amazed at how it happens, how it works, how consistent the Holy Spirit is to show up again and again.
Praise be to God! Where have you seen the Holy Spirit at work lately?

Pause with Pastor Joel – January 9, 2023

As I opened gifts this Christmas I found myself reflecting on gift giving. What is it that makes for a good gift?
I found myself thinking of two characteristics that make for a good gift, to my mind:
  • It’s something that clearly shows the giver knows you.
  • It’s something that brings joy to you.
This Christmas, for instance, I was given some Lego™ Muppet™ figurines. I love the Muppets. When I heard they were coming out with these toys, a part of me wanted them, but I figured that was a ridiculous thing to spend money on.
Yet come Christmas I opened a gift and it was some of these figurines. It was a wonderful gift because it showed how much the giver knew me. They knew I loved the Muppets and would enjoy these little figurines. They may have even known that I wasn’t the kind of person to spend my own money on this kind of thing, but who would enjoy having them.
It also was something that gave me great joy. The continue to do so, every time I look at them. They are truly a great gift.
My musings on gifts led me to consider the gift of Jesus this time of year. God’s gift of Jesus truly meets these criteria. First, Jesus comes to fulfill a need we have that really is only apparent because of how deeply God knows us. God knows we need a savior, even when we may be tempted to think we don’t.
Jesus also brings joy. Once we realize how much we need this savior and what he has done for us then we are flooded with joy. Hopefully on a daily basis. The depth of joy in truly understanding our status as forgiven people, even when we feel we could never be forgiven, even when we can’t forgive ourselves – the joy of that knowledge is unending!
Jesus is truly a great gift given because of how much the giver knows us and also to give joy. Jesus accomplishes both (and so much more) in our lives. Praise be to God for this great gift!

Pause with Pastor Joel – December 26, 2022

Are you recovering on the day after Christmas or are you still in the full swing of celebrations?
For pastors, the days after Christmas are usually quieter. We look forward to that time. At Goodrich UMC, we’re closing the office.
Yet, as is the nature of ministry – even life – something will happen to make life busy even as I seek a little down time. Someone will go into the hospital. Someone will need assistance. Some emergency will present itself.
I will respond. Even Jesus found this to be the nature of ministry. There were times when he tried to get away by himself and the crowds would follow him. He would always minister to them.
In some senses, that’s the best part of ministry. If we are called to do what Jesus did, to be like Jesus, then we have to be ready to serve, even in those times when we’re hoping to experience some rejuvenation.
It’s not that we don’t seek slow times because we know they’ll always be interrupted. No, it’s that we continue to seek those times knowing that often they’ll come as times of rest and other times they’ll present as times of active ministry even as we try to rest.
Jesus found times to rest, pray and reconnect with God just as frequently as he found that those opportunities were interrupted by chances to heal, teach and love people.
The amazing thing is that those moments of ministry are often the most fulfilling. Those times when we thought we’d have a down moment and instead are at someone’s bedside can be powerful – more powerful than the every day ministry we do regularly when we are living life as it usually is.
It’s the day after Christmas. Maybe you’re seeking some down time. Maybe you’re already back to normal. Regardless, be on the lookout for chances to do ministry.

Pause with Pastor Joel – December 12, 2022

I’ve been talking in worship a lot lately about slowing down in the midst of a very busy time. I’ve also admitted that in many ways I’m not the right person to tell people to slow down because I’m always on the move, always going 1,000 MPH and honestly, don’t always know how to slow down myself.
It doesn’t mean I don’t know it’s important. It’s vital to a life of faith. If we are always on the run and always in motion, we are likely to miss seeing God and noticing what God is doing in our lives and in our world.
I know it’s important to slow down. Yet I still struggle to do it.
I have found one thing that has been helpful to me. It’s called Tactical Breathing. It’s a technique used by the military, first responders and law enforcement in order to slow down in the midst of tense situations. It has the effect of actually calming one down and I’ve found it vital in my process of slowing down and taking notice of the world around me.
It’s a simple process:
You breathe in while counting to 5.
You hold your breath while counting to 5.
You exhale while counting to 5.
You hold for a count of 5.
And you repeat.
You’re encouraged to do this 3-4 times to relax, tune in, calm down and lessen anxiety and stress.
It works for me. I find that it’s the beginning process for me to slow down. Usually I’m rushing because I’m stressed about all I have to do or where I have to be. Tactical Breathing stops me momentarily.
It should be no surprise that breathing can be the gateway to reconnecting with God in the midst of a busy life. After all, God is the one that put breath in us to begin with. God fills us with his spirit, which in Hebrew is the same word for breath. As we breathe in and out we can acknowledge that God is there and in a sense we can actually feel God. If breath is spirit and spirit is God, then as we breathe we welcome God into ourselves once again.
We breathe all of the time. It’s not like God isn’t there, but Tactical Breathing reminds us that God is there. That’s all we need to begin to slow down and focus more on God.
Give it a try.

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?

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.

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?