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JOE’S NOTEBOOK: That Grudge

Holding a grudge doesn’t make you strong; it makes you bitter.

Forgiving doesn’t make you weak; it sets you free.

— Dave Willis

The Holy Catholic Church, part 3

This one’s real simple.

“Catholic” usually refers to “The Roman Catholic Church.”

When the word is spelled “catholic” it means “universal.”

Specifically, it means “all of us.”

And as Bishop Woodie White loves to say, “Every time we pray the words, ‘Our Father, Who are art in heaven,’ we acknowledge a whole lot of family we didn’t know we have.”

Amen?

JOE’S NOTEBOOK: Flowers

Dead people receive more flowers than the living ones because regret is stronger than gratitude. — Anne Frank

The Holy Catholic Church, part 2

All three words mean something.

“Holy” means “set apart.”

Specifically, “set apart for God.”

More specially, “set apart for God’s use.”

Only you can answer this Pop Quiz about yourself: Do I help or hinder the church I’m a part of in our holiness?

JOE’S NOTEBOOK: The Coming Church Split, part 2

2. Bringing People Back Versus Moving People Forward

As the new world opens up, many church leaders seem hyper-focused on getting people back to church.

On the one hand, I get it. It’s been a long, exhausting season. And we all long for normal. I do too.

But bringing people back isn’t a vision. Moving people forward is a vision.

It’s hard to move people forward if you’re obsessed with getting them back.

Increasingly, one of the splits that will happen is between church leaders who are focused on recreating, reviving and restoring older approaches to ministry.

Signs this might be happening include thinking

  • If we could just get a few more people to come back, everything would be okay. 
  • I wish we could just see the room full again.
  • We really need to get back to where we were in 2019, and then we can move ahead.

Pastors who focus on moving people forward instead of bringing people back will have a much better future.

— Carey Nieuwhof

Prayer Request: The Holy Catholic Church

I believe in the holy catholic church

— The Apostles’ Creed

“Been a real interesting last several days there on that blog, Joe,” I was told. “But I gotta ask…why bother?”

I heard that first part as a compliment, and thank you.

I want to answer the question in the second part, the “why bother?” part. It’s a good question.

Plenty of people leave plenty of churches for plenty of reasons.

I haven’t.

Have I been frustrated, angry, saddened, hurt, or ignored by churches? To be honest, yes. Maybe you have been as well.

Have I been welcomed, encouraged, forgiven, helped, or tolerated by churches? Again, honestly, yes. Maybe you have too.

“If you find a perfect church, don’t go there,” a guy I used to have coffee with loved to say. “You’ll ruin it.”

You might remember my favorite understanding of a church: Sinners Anonymous.

Long before any of us came along, someone wiser than I’ll ever be wrote this —-

Basically all of us, whether insiders or outsiders, start out in identical conditions, which is to say that we all start out as sinners. Scripture leaves no doubt about it:

There’s nobody living right, not even one,
    nobody who knows the score, nobody alert for God.
They’ve all taken the wrong turn;
    they’ve all wandered down blind alleys.
No one’s living right;
    I can’t find a single one.

Their throats are gaping graves,
    their tongues slick as mudslides.
Every word they speak is tinged with poison.
    They open their mouths and pollute the air.
They race for the honor of sinner-of-the-year,
    litter the land with heartbreak and ruin,
Don’t know the first thing about living with others.
    They never give God the time of day.

This makes it clear, doesn’t it, that whatever is written in these Scriptures is not what God says about others but to us to whom these Scriptures were addressed in the first place!

And it’s clear enough, isn’t it, that we’re sinners, every one of us, in the same sinking boat with everybody else? Our involvement with God’s revelation doesn’t put us right with God. What it does is force us to face our complicity in everyone else’s sin.

But in our time something new has been added. What Moses and the prophets witnessed to all those years has happened. The God-setting-things-right that we read about has become Jesus-setting-things-right for us. And not only for us, but for everyone who believes in him. For there is no difference between us and them in this.

Since we’ve compiled this long and sorry record as sinners (both us and them) and proved that we are utterly incapable of living the glorious lives God wills for us, God did it for us.

Out of sheer generosity he put us in right standing with himself. A pure gift. He got us out of the mess we’re in and restored us to where he always wanted us to be. And he did it by means of Jesus Christ.

—- That’s Romans 3:9-24 in Gene Peterson’s version called The Message. That’s St. Paul. That’s the Good News of the Gospel.

With which we have been entrusted as part of Christ’s Holy Church. Yes, “we”…as in first person plural. Us. You and me and so many others.

See you back here tomorrow, and let’s pick up right there.

Prayer Request: that all of us can remember Whose we are, and that those of us involved in a church remember Whose church it is.

JOE’S NOTEBOOK: Slanderous!

When the debate is lost, slander becomes the tool of the losers. — Socrates

Prayer Request: For Pastors Leaving a Church

If you’re a United Methodist pastor, this time of year can sometimes mean you’re leaving a church.

For some of us that’s difficult. For all of us who follow a colleague who won’t leave, it’s beyond difficult.

When that happens, we do damage to the ministry of the pastor who follows us; we hamstring and undermine them.

When that happens, we do damage to the ministry of the church we no longer serve; we keep the people who are that church longing for bygone days that were often not as delightful as memories lead us to believe.

Enough said, right?

As more than one Bishop has told us, “When you leave an appointment, leave it.”

Prayer Request: that pastors leaving a church do all they can to help prepare the way for a smooth transition building up both the church and the new pastor, and that the soon-to-be-former pastor actually leaves.

And thanks be unto God for the amazing thing called Christ’s Holy Church, of which we get to be a part!

BONUS BLOG: Prayer of Celebration for Retiring Pastors & More

This time of year often brings Annual Conference for United Methodists, and for some pastors in our system it brings retirement.

Rev. Judy Nance Vidakovich is a long-time real life friend and colleague. She is not only joining the ranks of us retirees, but she is also the preacher at the Retirement Service at our Annual Conference! I am thrilled for her and all others in their time of transition.

Rev. Daniel J. Amey, another real life friend and colleague, is using this Annual Conference season as an excellent time for personal assessment. He has graciously given me his expressed permission to share his testimony he wrote today —

On June 11, 1981, Bishop C. Dale White appointed me to my first church as Associate Pastor at Zion UMC in Clarksboro, New Jersey. It affected the course of my whole life! In addition to launching 40 years of appointed ministry, it was at Zion I met my wife! God is SO good! A little while ago, I ran across this verse from Deuteronomy 2:7 which is my testimony of God’s faithfulness and grace. May Jesus Christ be praised!

— Pop Quiz: what’s this Deuteronomy 2:7 he mentions?

I had the same answer I’ll bet you do: “…uhh….”

Fortunately, he also included the answer to our question —

The LORD your God has blessed you

in all the work of your hands.

He has watched over your journey

through this vast wilderness.

These forty years

the LORD your God has been with you,

and you have not lacked anything.

Celebratory Prayer: for retiring pastors and their families and friends, as well as all who can join Daniel in claiming Deuteronomy 2:7 as their own.

Does that include you?

Prayer Request: Pastors Moving to a Different Church

If you’re a United Methodist pastor, this time of year sometimes brings a change of appointment.

For some it’s a time of, “But why now?! Things are going great here!”

For others it can be, “About time! Been begging for this!”

Perhaps there’s a sense of, “Here we go again, another “super opportunity” awaits, right?”

There are even moments of, “Aha! I knew it — perfect timing!”

Prayer Request: that pastors moving to a different church will trust that God is both still in business and is still involved in our appointment process.

And the pastors they’re replacing? Yup, meet me back here tomorrow.